Spending a few hours at the museum doesn’t have to be a bore. It’s actually not just informative, but can be extremely entertaining and downright fun. Richmond’s museums run the gamut of having historical significance to hands-on, interactive play for children. What’s even better is the prices are affordable (or free) and some are even open 365 days a year.
Children’s Museum of Richmond
Though the Children’s Museum of Richmond is for, well, children, adults are sure to have a great time with the interactive exhibits. Starting at the art studio is a great place to begin. Kids can use the provided supplies to create fun drawings and leave them to dry as you explore the other exhibits, which include a car-building service station, a news channel, and a water play zone. The playtime is fun, but each exhibit also focuses on motor skills and STEM development. And no trip is complete without a ride on the carousel, which costs an additional fee for kids, while adults stand for free. Also, the museum participates in Museums for All, which provides $2 admission for up to four people as long as an individual shows their EBT or WIC card.
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) is located right in the Museum District and is an absolute must for art lovers or anyone who appreciates a scenic view. The museum has undergone quite a few expansions and renovations since opening in 1936, but you can consistently find almost 50,000 pieces of permanent art from every corner of the world. At nearly 500,000 square feet, you can easily spend the entire day here browsing and grabbing a bite to eat at the cafe or restaurant during breaks. The exterior of the museum is just as beautiful as the interior too. Greeting guests near the entrance is Kehinde Wiley’s Rumors of War, which is permanently housed at the VMFA and is inspired by the J.E.B. Stuart statue that was erected on Monument Avenue along with other Confederate statues. The doors are open 365 days a year and general admission is free.
Black History Museum & Cultural Center
Located in Jackson Ward, the Black History Museum & Cultural Center of Virginia tells the stories of notable and forgotten Black people who have shaped the United States. The lower level of the museum has interactive features that children will love, and the large Arthur Ashe statue plays homage to Richmond’s Grand Slam tennis champ. Other exhibits highlight important markers in Black history like emancipation, reconstruction, and the civil rights era. Even the building itself is historical. Though the museum has been open since 1991, in 2016 it moved to the Leigh Street Armory, which in 1895 was the armory for Richmond’s first African American regiments.
Richmond Railroad Museum
The Richmond Railroad Museum is appropriately located in a restored train station. Kids who are fascinated with trains and adults who can appreciate the role locomotives played in American history can enjoy this hour-long tour. Original fixtures and railroad equipment are on display in the space. The grounds of the museum also feature a steam locomotive, a few track cars, and a caboose. There are also tons of artifacts and even access to thousands of photos and documents, if you make an appointment.
While speaking about the atrocities of the Holocaust is never easy, the Virginia Holocaust Museum handles the subject with care and honesty. The museum was co-founded in 1997 by Holocaust survivor Jay M. Ipson and averages more than 42,000 visitors a year. This is an insightful visit for individuals or families. The first floor of the museum houses hundreds of permanent artifacts and the recounts of local Holocaust survivors. Past exhibits have included artwork by Holocaust survivor Margot Blank and portraits of survivors. Admission to the museum is free, but due to the nature of the subject, it’s not recommended for children in grades 6 and below.
Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site
Maggie Lena Walker may not be a household name but she’s a legend in Virginia, especially Richmond. The educator, activist, and entrepreneur was the first Black woman to charter a bank in the United States. Walker’s Jackson Ward home is now a National Historic Site and the location for a 30 to 45-minute ranger-led tour. The interior of the home has been restored to its 1930s appearance and features heirlooms from the Walker family. Kids on the tour can even complete an activity booklet to receive a Junior Ranger Badge or Patch.
Institute for Contemporary Art at VCU
Virginia Commonwealth University’s (VCU) Institute for Contemporary Art a fairly new addition to the Richmond scene, first opening in April 2018. The 40,000-square-foot building is a Broad Street marvel designed by Steven Holl. There’s an outdoor sculpture garden with ginkgo trees and eco-friendly features that heat and cool the building and even utilize rainwater. The non-collecting museum doesn’t feature permanent exhibits but at any given moment, there’s a contemporary display of art in every medium in the four gallery spaces.
American Civil War Museum
The American Civil War Museum is actually one museum with three different sites. One is in Appomattox, two hours west of Richmond, and the other two are in the city, less than 2 miles apart. The American Civil War Museum’s Tredegar campus is housed near the James River in a 30,000-square-foot space. It has one permanent display that explores the origins of the Civil War and there’s a rotating exhibit. A short ride away is the White House of the Confederacy. This National Historic Landmark was the home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. The guided tour examines the lives of the people who lived and worked in the home.
Edgar Allan Poe Museum
Though famed American writer Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston and died in Baltimore, Richmond is the place he called home for many years. The author of "The Raven" and "The Tell-Tale Heart" never actually lived at the location of the museum in Shockoe Bottom, but the space does have tons of the writer’s personal possessions. That includes his childhood bed that was donated to the museum in 1979, a walking stick, and a garden paved with actual bricks from the home where Poe began his writing career. There’s even a staircase that was taken from one of the artist’s childhood homes. This is truly a gem for anyone who loves Poe’s work or who wants to simply marvel at the artifacts.
Science Museum of Virginia
Anyone can marvel over the Science Museum of Virginia's exhibits, whether you're a science geek or not. There’s not one, not two, but three floors of exhibits with many of them encouraging hands-on play. You can learn everything from the world of bugs to how energy works, and even more than 50 exhibits on how speed operates. But one of the coolest features of the museum has to be The Dome. You can enjoy an immersive experience watching planetarium shows with the HD projectors or catch the occasional movies shown on the 76-foot screen.
Also, the grounds of the museum are pretty cool. The former train station actually has a few train cars on tracks and you can’t leave the museum without checking out the Earth Kugel at the entrance. It’s a 29-ton granite globe that can be moved with your hands, thanks to the help of some water jets.