We do the finger lakes for wine and waterfalls… Nashville for music… the Adirondacks to immerse ourselves in the outdoors. Pittsburgh is for children’s museums; Boston for history; Delaware for beaches; Orlando for the theme parks… you get the picture.
The joy of Richmond is the diversity in all it offers. We experienced vibrant city life, the great outdoors, a diverse food and wine scene, and historic buildings on lush estates – all in one region.
We were in the area for three weeks for an intensive physical therapy program for my son. I figured we’d explore the area for the first week, and then start venturing out to places like Williamsburg and the Natural Bridge to fill our time. We didn’t have time to do anything other than Richmond! Three weeks wasn’t enough to explore the city, museums, history, and outdoor options.
Since most people don’t have three weeks to visit, here are some of our favorite family friendly and wheelchair accessible stops!
Virginia War Memorial
I’m going to be completely honest and let you know that we only stopped at the Virginia War Memorial because it was Monday and most other options were closed. I’m so glad we stopped! It ended up being one of my favorite parts of the trip. This museum was unlike any other that we’ve visited in that its purpose wasn’t to commemorate a war or battle, but rather the people who served.
They do have some neat exhibits on uniforms through the years and a variety of artifacts from war events across history, but the focus is on people. The memorial shares countless names and stories of heroes who have served and paid the ultimate sacrifice. I felt like this was such an important history to be able to share with my children – and something they can’t get from a text book. Bring tissues. Apparently they can’t keep them stocked, and I was a hot mess! There is a separate lot for handicap parking, right by the entrance. The building and memorial are accessible throughout. Admission is by donation.
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is another one that may not have made your list for traveling with kids, but let me tell you why it should.
First of all, admission is free. I was blown away by the incredible exhibits they have from around the world and through the ages – for no cost! This is great with young kids because it’s not a big deal to make it a short trip, or split the visit up between two days.
The museum is easily accessible by wheelchair. Second, the outdoor sculpture garden is an absolutely stunning place for strolling (Ha! Or running…) through the grass or stopping for a picnic. It’s a great outdoor space in the middle of the city. (My favorite hack for getting kids interested in art museums is to have them create a copy of their favorite in each room. Bring a pad and pencil and the day is much easier!)
Belle Isle is such a fun place to explore! Not only are you on an isolated island only available by pedestrian bridges, but there are ruins and structures that are great for little explorers.
The island is accessed by a foot bridge off of Tredegar Street. There’s also an entrance on the other side of the isle off 22nd Street, but it’s a lot of stairs. Map to the Belle Isle Parking Lot – not the isle itself. Once you park, hop on the trail directly beyond the lot and head to your right. You can’t see the ramp from the parking lot, but it’s just beyond the trees. The length of the ramp made it a bit much for my son to do independently. The suspension bridge also has small hills.
The main path is made of packed gravel, which I know can be difficult depending on the wheelchair. My six year old uses a manual chair and complained that it was hard to push in some spots, but he didn’t get stuck anywhere and he was able to do it without assistance. (You can find more on the trails, here.) The only downside was that we didn’t find any accessible access points to the water.
The Virginia Capital Trail
If your looking for a trail that’s easier to navigate… with snack breaks included… check out the Virginia Capital Trail. This trail traverses a variety of environments. It can be a nature break, or you can ride through town. The trail is fully paved for riders and pedestrians and goes the whole way to Jamestown!
Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden
The children’s garden at Lewis Ginter is phenomenal. They have a splash pad, an international village, a hands-on gardening experience, a scavenger hunt (with prizes!), and even a wheelchair accessible treehouse. Unfortunately, the entire section was closed when we visited, but I’d love to return for the full experience.
We were able to experience the butterfly house, which had more active butterflies than I’ve ever seen anywhere. It’s an incredible, up close experience with a beautiful variety of butterflies. The gardens and buildings all have accessible routes and there are plenty of alluring spaces to roam.
Children’s Museum of Richmond
We don’t typically visit children’s museums when we travel because we like to explore what’s unique to an area. We did the Children’s Museum of Richmond as a way to unwind after a particularly long day of therapy. I was impressed by the adaptive art supports in the creation station and the accessible cave!
The playground didn’t have a lot to offer for wheelchair users, but there was a fully accessible splash park and we were able to participate in all of the indoor exhibits – like the miniature restaurant, grocery store, hospital, bank, fossil dig, and play theater.
James River Cellars
Have I ever thrown a winery on a family friendly itinerary?? I was so happy with James River Cellars because not only was it easily accessible, but they had an entire room of games to make your tasting into a family event. I did it as a date-day with my six year old. We played Uno (he won every round) and Connect Four (I won every round) while I sampled some of their Virginia wines. We brought our own picnic because I wasn’t sure what they’d have available for kids, but they actually had a good selection of snacks and charcuterie boards.
Riverfront Canal Cruise
Seeing any destination by water has become a new family favorite. The Riverfront Canal Cruise doubles as a scenic tour and a nostalgic trip through Richmond’s history. I love tours like this because my kids are so distracted by the fun of being on a boat tour that I can actually pay attention to the tour guide and learn something!
In addition to the excellent history tour, we had up close encounters with turtles, fish, and even a heron. The boat has one step to enter, so it would be difficult with a power chair. Once you’re on the boat, you can transfer down to steps to a chair, or stay seated up top in your wheelchair, away from the other seats.
Science Museum of Virginia
The Science Museum of Virginia is a fun one for all ages! We spent a good portion of our time doing wheelchair races in the “Speed” exhibit, but I encourage you to make it past this section to explore the other two floors. There are loads of hands-on, interactive exhibits. You could spend a full day of educational play, here. Overall, the museum had excellent accessibility. We could roll to everything. There were a couple of games/stations that were difficult to reach from a seated position, but we didn’t feel like we missed anything.
This is another area that was under construction during our visit, but wandering the capitol grounds and the surrounding area is easily wheelchair accessible and one of the most beautiful areas of the city. The square is filled with sculptures highlighting Virginia’s history and the architecture is stunning.
Entering the capitol building is free, and there are guided tours available. The main entrance is not accessible. Park behind the building near the courtyard and follow the wheelchair accessible entrance signs. It looks like a service entrance, but the signs didn’t steer you wrong! The paths through the sculpture gardens are easy to navigate with a wheelchair. There were some places where we needed to use the road, because of construction, but there was no traffic for that same reason.
Maymont is often seen as the main attraction for visitors in Richmond. The grounds and estate are beautiful. It’s fun for kids because of the petting zoo and nature center. Unfortunately, accessibility was difficult. Most of the paths through the grounds are inaccessible at points, so you need to re-park near each thing you want to see. There is a ramp to the downstairs entrance of the mansion, but stairs to go up to the rest of the house. If I did it again, I would park at the nature center and explore the parts of the grounds that are accessible from there. This includes the mini zoo!
Park365 is one of the best all-abilities playgrounds we’ve ever experienced. Everything is ramped. Every aspect of the park is created for all children to have fun. We could spend an entire day, here! It’s proximity to the highway also makes it an easy stop on the way through (we make this our lunch break every time we’re heading to Florida for a therapy session).
I’m entering this phase where I’m sick of navigating accessibility (says the disability travel blogger), and DoorDash is becoming my best friend. A lot of credit cards come with a free food delivery membership (here, or UberEats, or other Grubhub). If you eat out often, I highly recommend you look into your benefits! We had Peter Chang delivered and it was absolutely phenomenal. The Original Ronnie’s BBQ is a local favorite, but the hours didn’t work out for us to visit. Capital Ale House was delicious. We went in person, so I can vouch for accessibility (including a beautiful patio area)!
A Note on Getting Around
Richmond is surprisingly sprawling. Some of the places we visited were 30 minutes from each other. We had a vehicle, and that worked out well. We didn’t do a lot of walking through the city (other than near the Capitol building), so I can’t comment on the condition of sidewalks and street crossings. We never had any trouble finding parking, so driving between destinations worked well for us. According to their website, all fixed-route buses in the city are fully wheelchair accessible. **Richmond is a partner with VisitAble as the city works to improve accessibility and inclusion**