Richmond, Virginia is the former Capitol of the Confederacy. It is one of those state capitals no one can remember, kind of like that place in Wyoming, you know... umm... doesn't it start with a 'c' or something? At any rate, Richmond is a nice town, where your nearest neighbours are not too far away to be seen, but there are enough trees inbetween houses that you don't see them all the time.
There are essentially five areas in the city:
The Downtown area includes most of the town's businesses and industries, as most downtowns do. Everything there is really expensive, at least from the point of view of a student; but, it's one of the best people-watching spots anywhere, because the entire city goes out to lunch and eats around one of about a dozen fountains. This is also the location of all the dance clubs and many bars, but they are nothing terribly special.
The East End includes Church Hill, a decidely split-personality neighbourhood. It is an insulated three square block area of mega-expensive mansion-type places, surrounded by 30 blocks of housing projects and poverty. This is also the area where all the crimes in Patricia Cornwell mystery novels take place.
Areas of town are mostly named by their relation to downtown. The West End is the suburbs: families, malls, skating rinks... you get the idea. Many students rent rooms in some of the larger apartment complexes out there. They seem to like it.
So named because it is south of the James River, which runs through the middle of the city. It's a great place to go if you want truck parts, palm readings, or stones thrown at your car. Many promising developments are taking place in the South Side, but there are a lot of painful problems to overcome. The area never really got the attention it needed after being burned to the ground in the Civil War.
This is where the heart of Richmond really lies. Stretching between Downtown and the West End, it consists of post Civil War historic districts with neighbourhood bars and long-time local businesses. You can't pitch a brick without hitting six good restaurants, three National Landmarks, six scottish terriers and two Catholic schoolgirls. The Fan includes places such as Sally Bell's Bakery, established in 1882. Of course, it was established as 'Sarah Lee's Bakery', but was forced to change its name by a certain corporate giant, who has a similar name but was not incorporated until 1946. Go figure! Anyway, they make absolutely the best cupcakes on the planet.
Advice for the Visitor
If you sit downtown by one the fountains, you will notice people from about every walk of life, including a few you have never seen before. This is because there are tie-clad corporate drones, hung-over student slobs, the ever-colourful art school crowd from VCU1, cops on bikes, cops on horses, cops in little golf carts, transvestite prostitutes, and just about anyone else you can imagine. No matter what you look like or how you smell, you'll blend in.
Taxis are expensive. The bus is cheap, and if you tell the driver you forgot your student ID, they will usually let you ride on the bus for free. The city is a bit spread out, but you can get anywhere on a bike in 20 minutes. Just watch out for the cobblestones, they are kind of randomly distributed on the streets and can surprise you.
It's everywhere. There are no bad places to eat. Try the 3rd Street Diner or Fourth Street Café, simply because they are cheap, open 24 hours a day, easily located by their names, and sport some of the most attractive representatives of the fine city, who will serve you hot good food. If you really can't afford much, go to the Farmer's Market Downtown and sample the wares there. The gentlemen and ladies who sell fresh produce and other food there are usually quite understanding as long as you are honest and trade some stories for a bite to eat. If you have lots of money, try any restaurant located in an old tobacco warehouse. There are more than a dozen and none them even bother to put prices on the menu. If you need to ask, you can't afford them.
If you have your own transportation, beware of parking in the city. You will get a ticket. You will get towed. You will never find the garage where they took your car. You will grow old and die before the paperwork is processed. Last year, the city hired a private firm to do nothing but ticket and tow illegally-parked cars. Since no one ever really bothered to put up signs where it is legal to park and where it is not, havoc has wreaked across the city. Find a friend in the West End and leave your car out there, or park only in garages with attendants. It is for your own safety as well as your vehicle's.
You can go rafting, tubing, and swimming in the James River.
There are half a dozen parks with bike trails.
There are three micro-breweries, three Irish pubs run by genuine Irishmen where they even make that little cloverleaf pattern in the top of your Guinness.
There are three theatres which put on live performances all year round.
Richmond International Raceway is well worth a look, and, if you can, try and find Mustang Bill, who runs a junkyard and is one the most interesting people ever.
Hollywood Cemetery has a couple of dead Presidents, a wicked view of the river, and a whole host of other famous dead people. There's also lots of Civil War stuff and a load of Colonial America preservation things.
For blood and gore visit the Medical College of Virginia Hospitals with its world-renowned Gunshot Wound Center... no kidding.
And... you've hit gold if you like incredibly attractive people with Southern accents.
That should give you an idea of how to enjoy Richmond. You may find that the city is a nice way station; and, if you just look in the right spots, you'll be entertained, well fed, and maybe you won't be completely broke at the end of your visit.
Richmond city motto - Sic Itur Ad Astra - 'Such is the way to the Stars'
City flower - Iris
Area - 62.52 miles
Population2 - 203,056
Geographic location - Longitude: 77 degrees 25 minutes West. Latitude: 37 degrees 32 minutes North