With the James River running (and sometimes raging) right through its center, Richmond, the capital of Virginia, is a city that’s deeply in touch with its natural side. Even in the very center of town, you’re never more than a quick walk away from some green space, whether it be wooded wetlands or manicured pocket parks.
Here’s our pick of some of the city’s best parks.
James River Park System
Best parks for accessing the river
A series of parks situated along several miles of the James River, the James River Park System includes 550 acres of shoreline and islands. Visitors use the park’s trails to hike and bike, and take to the water for swimming as well as canoeing and kayaking the Class IV rapids.
Some popular spots in the James River Park System include Pony Pasture Rapids on the Southside (for kayaking, fishing and tubing), Belle Isle (for hiking and sunbathing on the rocks) and Floodwall Park (for unique views of the city skyline).
Libby Hill Park
Best park for watching the sunset
Get your geographical bearings when looking out over the city from this seven-acre park perched high on a hill. Located in Richmond’s oldest neighborhood, Church Hill, Libby Hill Park was one of the first five city parks designed as “breathing places” for residents in the 1850s. It’s also home to the “view that named Richmond” – a vista that so reminded William Byrd II of Richmond-upon-Thames in England that the town was ultimately named after it.
Besides some stellar views, Libby Hill Park offers several benches for watching the sun set over the city. For similar views of the skyline, you can also head to nearby Jefferson Park.
Best park for frisbee and farmers’ markets
In Richmond’s Northside near the I-95 interchange, Bryan Park is a 262-acre park that’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In the summer of 1800, this land was the planned site of Gabriel’s Rebellion, a large-scale uprising by enslaved men in the region. Though details of the uprising were leaked and it was consequently thwarted before it had begun, it remains a significant moment in the US civil rights movement.
Today the park is home to several ponds, soccer fields and a disc golf course. On Saturdays, the park draws crowds to its bustling farmers’ market, the RVA Big Market.
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Best park for leisurely strolls and jogging
With hundreds of acres of rolling green hills, three tranquil ponds and the picturesque Carillon bell tower rising above it all, Byrd Park is one of the most beloved parks in Richmond.
Located in the city’s Near West End between the Carytown retail district and the Maymont Estate, the park boasts a tennis complex, softball fields, an exercise trail, the Dogwood Dell amphitheater, a playground and a very active dog park. The ponds are used for fishing, paddle-boating or just strolling around, while the field in front of the Carillon, a WWI memorial, is a gathering spot for picnics and Frisbee games. The paved trails that wind through the park are frequented by runners, cyclists, dog-walkers and parents with strollers.
Forest Hill Park
Best park for a forest frolic
Just south of the James River, Forest Hill Park is an expansive green space with a long, colorful history. Over the years, the land has served as a quarry, a protected estate and an amusement park.
Today, visitors enjoy hiking and mountain biking through the park’s winding woodland trails. There are also tennis courts, picnic shelters and a playground. In the fall, it’s the site of the South of the James farmers’ market on Sunday mornings, and it’s a well-known sledding spot in the winter months.
Best park for an urban escape
One of a handful of pocket parks located in Richmond’s historic Fan neighborhood (which derives its name from the way its streets “fan” out from Belvidere Street), Scuffletown Park is tucked away behind the buildings on Park Avenue, Strawberry Street, Stafford Avenue and Stuart Avenue, and feels like a hidden oasis in this bustling district.
The park might be petite, but it packs in the charm with lush landscaping, a community garden and picnic tables that are perfect for enjoying takeout from nearby pizza place, 8 ½. If you’re lucky, you might even run across an impromptu concert taking place in the park.
Best park for spotting local wildlife
This bucolic 100-acre estate feels like it was transported from the English countryside, yet it’s located right in the heart of the Virginian capital. At Maymont, you’ll find impeccably maintained gardens, including the magnificent Italian Gardens and the oldest public Japanese Garden on the east coast.
The Robins Nature Center features exhibits on the ecology of the James River, while the Maymont Farm and wildlife habitats gives visitors the opportunity to glimpse animals ranging from goats and horses to black bears and bison.
Pump House Park
Best park that time forgot
It might look like an abandoned Gothic cathedral, but the imposing structure that anchors Pump House Park once served as Richmond’s primary water pumping station. The Victorian Pump House was built in the 1880s and has fallen into disrepair in recent years, though plans are in the works to renovate it in the future.
The surrounding area is great for strolling and quiet contemplation, with trails running through scenic woodland, past historic canals and alongside a rocky section of river.
Best park for history buffs
On the east side of Richmond, the 30-acre Chimborazo Park is a National Historic Landmark that was a major center for military activity during the Civil War. It was home to one of the largest military hospitals in the Confederacy, and after the war, the buildings were reused to create a Freedmen’s community (a settlement where enslaved people who had been emancipated lived).
Today, the park is the site of the Richmond Medical Museum, which is dedicated to the interpretation of the former hospital. Visitors can stroll the park’s winding carriage roads and take in the 180-degree views of the surrounding area. The park also has a dog park, playground and a replica of the Statue of Liberty.
E. Claiborne and Lora Robins Sculpture Garden
Best park for art lovers
The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts’ public Sculpture Garden is a local favorite for picnics, meet-ups or just lounging beneath the shady trees. The 3.5-acre space features works by numerous artists including Dale Chihuly, whose vibrant modernist sculpture Red Reeds looms large above a pretty pond, and Richmond-based sculptor Paul DiPasquale, who contributed a bronze statue of the Roman god Neptune.
There’s also a cascading waterfall, styled gardens and colorful seating set up throughout the grounds. The garden is part of the Richmond Garden Trail, a collection of eight sites scattered throughout the city.