I was visiting family near Richmond, Va. area over the past few days for the holidays. My decision to stay downtown was a strategic one because I desperately needed content for TravelReider, and, in 41 years, I have never stepped foot in the city.
Growing up, Richmond was a passthrough from Washington, D.C. to other points south, mainly the Outer Banks of North Carolina and Florida. From the backseat window traveling north to south on I-95, all I can remember was moving my eyes from the low-rise Robitussin manufacturing facility on the right, to dilapidated row houses on the left, to VCU’s concrete buildings on the right, then to the stately Main Street Station–its rich, brick beauty brutally robbed by an eerie, futuristic interstate–on the left, and finally, the big cigarette welcoming travelers to Philip Morris on the right.
Blink a few times, smoke up if you’re one to indulge, and continue on. That was Richmond to me.
It wasn’t until I started reading about the Shockoe neighborhood downtown that I became interested in actually visiting the city.
Shockoe, seated on the James River and bordering the financial district to the southeast, has roots dating back to the 1600s when it was used for trading and commerce. Over the decades, it’s been restored, revitalized, and repurposed.
For someone who doesn’t own a car, it’s also a walker’s dream.
Here are some highlights on where to go and what to do while on foot in Shockoe:
- Arrive: Oddly, Richmond’s Staple Mill Road Station, located on the outskirts of town, has more arrivals and departures during the day than its Main Street Station. To reach downtown by train, you will need to book your ticket to arrive at the Main Street Station. In my experience, however, trains from Washington, D.C. arrive in the morning and depart in the evening the next day. Perfect.
- Sleep: Stay at the Berkeley Hotel on East Cary Street. It’s about a seven-minute walk from the Main Street Station. The hotel, built in 1988, looks much older style-wise and complements Shockoe’s architecture. It’s spotless, elegant, and reasonably priced, even during the holidays. The daytime front desk manager and concierge, Starlett, is a breath of fresh air and offers visitors efficient and much-appreciated personalized attention.
- Eat: You’re going to need some food and caffeine for your urban hike around Shockoe. Check out the Urban Farmhouse Market & Café a block down from the Berkeley Hotel at E. Cary and S. 13th Streets. The café offers coffee, snacks, and lunch options in a cozy, coffeehouse environment.
- Visit: Conjure up your days as a student of literature and indulge your gothic sensibility by visiting the Edgar Allan Poe Museum on E. Main Street past the Main Street Station. The building where it’s housed is the oldest standing building in Richmond.
- Hike: Follow E. Main Street to Libby Hill Park and hike the steps to the monument. There, you will have amazing views of the James River and downtown Richmond.
I’m sure there are countless places I’ve omitted, particularly as one ventures out to other neighborhoods. As a result, I have several reasons to return in the future.
Photos will follow soon in the photo galleries. In the meantime, check out these links: