One of the best things about hosting family or friends from out of town for the holidays is not having to travel yourself. You get to stay in your own home, sleep in your own bed, and at least attempt to keep your family in their routine. Of course, there’s a downside to playing host, as well. Not only do you have a houseful of people to feed – you also have a houseful of people to entertain. And that’s when things can get crazy. Once the Thanksgiving table has been cleared, you now have to figure out what to do with your guests until the make their way home.
So, this year, we’re offering a list of nine great activities you can do right here in Richmond. From visits with Santa to historic tours, there’s no shortage of ways to keep your holiday guests entertained somewhere other than in your living room.
Take a look at the following ideas for things to do this Thanksgiving weekend with out-of-town guests and let us know if you think of something we should add to the list! You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your ideas.
1. Visit the 42nd Annual Model Railroad Show at Science Museum of Virginia
This annual event features one of the most amazing collections of both unique and traditional model train displays found in the state. And because it’s hosted by Science Museum of Virginia, it’s guaranteed to not only be entertaining for “kids” of all ages, but educational, as well. You can learn how trains work, conduct experiments, and check out special demonstrations all weekend long. Plus, you’ll have the chance to meet Clydesdales horses, watch a blacksmith in action, and take a ride on the Teddy Bear Express! Best of all, admission includes access to the entire museum, which means you’ll have no trouble entertaining your guests all day long. Learn more here.
When: Friday, November 29 from 9:30am – 5pm; Saturday, November 30 from 9:30am – 5pm; Sunday, December 1 from 9:30am – 5pm
*NOTE: Museum members will be admitted an hour early each day (members-only hours 8:30am – 9:30am each day). Learn how to become a member here.
Cost: General museum admission is $15.50 for adults, $13.50 for youth and seniors, and $10 for preschool age children. Children 2 and under are free. The Model Railroad Show is included with Museum admission. Get tickets here.
Where: Science Museum of Virginia, 2500 W Broad St, Richmond, VA 23220
2. Learn the History of Virginia Thanksgiving with “Friendship, Trade, and Feast”
While most of us know that Jamestowne was the site of the first permanent English colony in the New World, not everyone knows that the second oldest permanent colony is right here in the Greater Richmond area. And again, while most people associate Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims’ celebration at Plymouth in 1621, in reality, the first Thanksgiving celebration actually occurred just outside of Richmond at Berkeley Plantation in 1619. So, if you’d like to educate your out-of-town guests on a little local history (and maybe learn a thing or two yourself), head to Henricus Historical Park for the “Friendship, Trade, and Feast” event!
This event will feature living history interpretations of how English colonists and native Powhatan people would have celebrated autumn harvest feasts and celebrations in 17th-century Virginia. In addition to interactive cooking, games, and songs of the time, this event will further interpret the history of the first “Thanksgiving” in English America and end with musket and bow and arrow demonstrations. Learn more here.
When: Saturday, November 30 from 10am – 5pm
Cost: General park admission is $9 for adults, $7 for children ages 3-12, and free for Henricus Patrons. All activities are included with admission.
*NOTE: In the spirit of Thanksgiving, Henricus is asking all guests to bring a non-perishable food item with them to be donated to a local food bank.
Where: Henricus Historical Park, 251 Henricus Park Rd, Chester, VA 23836
3. Or Visit the Site of the First Thanksgiving in Person
As mentioned above, the first Thanksgiving was actually held at the present day site of Berkeley Plantation in Charles City, less than an hour outside of Richmond. Far from the feast we know today, or even the celebration made legendary by the Pilgrims and Native Americans, the first Thanksgiving was truly just that – a time of giving thanks. The first English colonists to “celebrate” Thanksgiving were actually sea-weary travelers who had been commissioned to settle “Berkeley Hundred” in Virginia. After a long, arduous journey they arrived at the Berkeley site on December 4, 1619. It was then that they knelt to pray and give thanks to God for their arrival – a custom they repeated annually for a number of years. While the Berkeley venture did survive, the idea of giving thanks has – and today, you can visit the site where it all began.
Visitors can tour Berkeley’s 1726 Georgian mansion, which was the birthplace of Benjamin Harrison V, signer of the Declaration of Independence and three times governor of Virginia; the birthplace of William Henry Harrison, ninth president of the United States; and the ancestral home of his grandson, Benjamin Harrison, the twenty-third president. Through guided tours and living history interpreters, you’ll also learn how, during the Civil War, Berkeley was occupied by General George McClellan’s Union troops, as well as many other fascinating facts. Learn more here.
When: Open daily (except Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day), 9:30am – 4:30pm (March – Dec) and 10:30am – 3:30pm (Jan and Feb)
Cost: General park admission is $12.50 for adults, $11.50 for seniors (60+), $7 for children ages 6-16, and free for children under 6. Admission includes guided house tours and self-guided garden tours, film, exhibits, museum, and outbuildings.
Where: Berkeley Plantation, 1Charles City, Virginia 23030
4. Dazzle Your Guests With Holiday Light Displays
The annual GardenFest of Lights at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden is a holiday tradition for many in the area, but it’s also a beautiful winter event, regardless of how you celebrate the holidays. This year’s theme, Magic in the Air, is inspired by things that fly – from fireflies and flying pigs to spaceships and unicorns. Featuring one million twinkling lights, hand-crafted botanical decorations, model trains, holiday crafts, family activities, and more, GardenFest offers ongoing nightly family activities from November 22, 2019 until January 6, 2020. Learn more here.
Plus, this year, the Garden Members will receive FREE unlimited visits in November and January. Garden Members can visit Dominion Energy GardenFest of Lights for free any night November 22-30, 2019, and January 1-6, 2020.
Be sure to check out special weekly events, whether you’re visiting Thanksgiving weekend, or planning for a family outing later in the holiday season:
Merry Mondays: storytelling plus “Santa sightings” through Dec. 23
Caroling Tuesdays: strolling carolers 6:30 – 8 p.m.
Crafty Wednesdays: make and take a whirligig
Musical Thursdays: acoustic music in the library
GardenFest for Fidos: select nights when furry family members are welcome
When: November 22, 2019 – January 6, 2020 (closed Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 28; Christmas Eve, Dec. 24; and Christmas Day, Dec. 25, 2019), nightly 5pm – 10pm
Cost: General admission is $13 for adults ($7 for members), $11 for seniors ages 55+ ($7 for members), $8 for children ages 3-12 ($5 for child members, ages 3-17), and free for children under 3. All activities are included with admission.
*NOTE: Enter here by 11:59pm on November 28, 2019 for your chance to win a family four-pack of FREE tickets!
Where: Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, 1800 Lakeside Ave, Richmond, VA 23228
Illuminate Light Show is a unique, six-week celebration of Christmas lights and music. This drive-through lights’ display allows you to tune in your car radio to enjoy over a mile of dancing, sparkling choreographed lights, complete with dazzling tunnels and laughing Santas. After the light show, be sure to visit Santa’s Village for children’s activities, shopping, and holiday entertainment. You can even get photos with ol’ Saint Nick himself! Learn more here.
When: November 15 – December 31, 2019, nightly 5:30pm – 10pm
Cost: Admission is $25 per car at the gate (1-9 passengers); $55 for limos and mini-buses (10-34 passengers), and $150 for tour buses and RVs (35+ passengers). All tickets are available at the gate.
*NOTE: Bring a new, unwrapped toy and get $5 off the regular gate admission on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays from November 18 – December 18, 2019. All toy donations will be distributed to Mason’s Toy Box.
Where: Meadow Event Park, 13191 Dawn Blvd, Doswell, VA 23047
5. Treat Yourself to World-Class Theater
It’s no secret that Richmond boasts a vibrant and rich arts’ scene. But in case your guests are left with any doubt, impress them with some world-class theater right here in the River City. There’s more than enough to choose from, including special holiday productions, traveling Broadway shows, and children’s theater, but we’ve put together some of the top productions going on this Thanksgiving weekend to give you some ideas:
Believe it or not, tickets are still available to this record-smashing Broadway hit now playing in Richmond! As part of Altria Theater’s Broadway in Richmond series, this award-winning musical tells the story of America’s Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, an immigrant from the West Indies who became George Washington’s right-hand man during the Revolutionary War and was the new nation’s first Treasury Secretary.
When: Now – December 8, 2019, see showtimes here.
Where: Altria Theater, 6 North Laurel St, Richmond, Virginia 23220
Catch the final days of this family-friendly show presented by Virginia Reps’ Children’s Theater at Willow Lawn. Watch as Natalie Babbitt’s effervescent children’s novel leaps from page to stage in this vibrant new musical. This Co-World Premiere, adapted from the 2016 Broadway Production, is a magical adventure you won’t soon forget! The show has been specially adapted for young audiences, but will delight theater goers of all ages.
When: Now – Sunday, December 1, 2019, see showtimes here.
Where: VA Rep’s Children’s Theater (in The Shops at Willow Lawn), 1601 Willow Lawn Dr, Richmond, Virginia 23230
If you’ve already seen Frozen 2 in the theaters, then try seeing a “real” princess come to life on stage! Beginning the day after Thanksgiving, see the magic of Cinderella in person. Before the stroke of midnight, share the magic of fairy godmothers, pumpkin carriages, and glass slippers with every generation of your family in the romantic fairytale Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella. Enjoy all the beloved tunes, like Ten Minutes Ago and In My Own Little Corner, in this charming and hilarious new production that dazzled Broadway audiences in 2013.
When: November 29, 2019 – January 5, 2020, see showtimes here.
Cost: $21/ticket. Reserve seating and purchase tickets online.
Where: VA Rep’s November Theatre, 114 West Broad St, Richmond, Virginia 23220
Presented by the Barter Players Encore Company, this special one-time only show tells the story of a young orphan named Billy who discovers magic in a stolen hat. When he places the hat on a snowman’s head, that snowman comes to life! But can Frosty the Snowman help Billy find his real family in time for Christmas? Join Billy and Frosty as they embark on a New York City adventure filled with thrills and chills, and as they discover that the real magic of Christmas is Love.
When: Sunday, December 1, 2019, 3pm – 5pm
Cost: $10/ticket. Find tickets online.
Where: Henrico Theatre, 305 E. Nine Mile Rd, Henrico, VA 23075
6. Meet the Man, the Myth, the Legend: Visit Legendary Santa at the Children’s Museum
If you or any of your family members grew up in Richmond, then chances are you’ve heard of Legendary Santa. In fact, chances are, you visited with him as a child yourself! Since 1936, Legendary Santa and his lovely Snow Queen have been delighting families each holiday season. The legend, which began on the seventh floor of the historic Miller & Rhoads department store more than 80 years ago, now continues at the Children’s Museum downtown.
A visit with Legendary Santa has become a holiday tradition for many families and is an ideal way to kick off the holiday season. Whether you’re looking to attend a special event like Tea With Santa or Sensitive Santa, or simply want your kids to experience the magic of this longtime legend, be sure to visit the Legendary Santa page online to plan your visit, book special events, get tips, and more.
When: Friday, November 29 – Tuesday, December 24, 2019, click here for daily schedules and events
Cost: Visits are free; photo packages will be available for purchase.
Where: Children’s Museum, 2626 West Broad St, Richmond, VA 23220
7. Learn More About Richmond’s History and Culture at Local Museums
It doesn’t take a Richmond native to know that this city is filled with history, culture, and art. But many of us, no matter how long we’ve lived here, haven’t begun to see it all for ourselves. Why not take the opportunity to learn more about the place you call home by showing it off some of our amazing local museums to your out-of-town guests? And here’s a super-duper holiday hack – take advantage of the museum gift shops to get some of your holiday shopping done and find truly unique gifts for those folks on your list who are tough to shop for! Here are a few places to check out:
This Richmond City museum is dedicated the to exploration and display of Virginia’s rich, 400-year old history. Filled with permanent exhibits, special exhibitions, and vast historical collections, it offers something for every age. And, now, to get you in the holiday spirit, you can see the limited-time exhibition, “Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!”
This exhibition examines the making of the animated classic, A Charlie Brown Christmas, and celebrates the holiday season with Peanuts daily and Sunday comic strips from the 1950s through the 1990s; vintage Peanuts-themed seasonal novelties, including ornaments, puzzles, and a 3-D version of the iconic spindly Christmas tree; an officially released reproduction of an animation cell from the movie; and a documentary video about the making of the Christmas special. Plus, get the whole family involved with activities like a Write a Letter to Santa station and a Make-Your-Own Comic Strip station! Learn more here.
When: Open daily (except Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day), 10am – 5pm
Cost: General admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors (65+), $5 for children ages 6-17, $8 per person for groups of 10+, $8 for active military and veterans, and free for museum members. Admission includes all exhibits.
Where: Virginia Museum of History and Culture, 428 N Arthur Ashe Blvd, Richmond, VA 23220
Housing one of the nation’s most elegant and extensive art displays, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is truly a Richmond treasure. Featuring treasured antiquities from around the world, priceless paintings, and some of the finest sculptures anywhere, the museum will engage and delight you and your guests for hours. Stroll the museums many galleries or walk through the beautifully manicured outside gardens to experience all that this museum has to offer. While you’re there, stop in the cafe or take part in one of the museum’s many special events. Learn more here.
When: Open daily year-round, 10am – 5pm (Wed, Thu, and Fri until 9pm)
Where: Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, 200 N Arthur Ashe Blvd, Richmond, VA 23220
If any of your guests are of a more literary bent, then the Poe Museum is just what the holidays call for. This museum pays tribute to the fascinating character, legend, and life of famed poet and author, Edgar Allan Poe. The Poe Museum began over a century ago when Edgar Allan Poe collector and researcher James Howard Whitty and a group of literary enthusiasts met in Poe’s hometown of Richmond to establish a monument to the writer. The museum as we now know it is housed in Richmond’s oldest house, the Old Stone House, and includes a memorial garden and Poe shrine that incorporate bricks and granite from the Southern Literary Messenger building where Poe began his career as a journalism editor.
The museum houses the world’s largest collection of Poe memorabilia and writings, while the garden itself is a homage to Poe having been built based on Poe’s vision of paradise as described in his poem “To One in Paradise.” It also includes flowers mentioned in his various works, as well as plants taken from his mother’s Richmond grave, his foster father’s garden, and a home of Sir Walter Scott. And naturally, you’ll want to be on the lookout for the black cats who inhabit the garden…this is Poe we’re talking about, after all!
When: Open year-round Tuesday – Saturday, 10am – 5pm; Sunday, 11am – 5pm; closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day.
Cost: General admission is $9 for adults, $7 for seniors, $7 for children ages 7-17, and free for museum members, children 6 and under, and active military and their dependents. Admission includes all exhibits and both guided and self-guided tours.
8. See the City on Foot With Guided Tours
After spending a day or two cooped up inside eating – and listening to the kids fighting, of course – we could all do with a little outside time and some exercise. And while the city is filled with amazing parks (see some of our favorites here), we’ve also got a great way to turn an outdoor adventure into a learning experience. Best of all, now that we’ve all got holiday budgets in mind, it’s completely free!
The Richmond Tour Guys offer free walking tours of Richmond, providing the perfect way to learn about the city’s amazing 400 year old history through fun stories, interesting legends, and historical tidbits. Plus, by getting out and about on foot, you’ll see the city in a whole new light and who knows, you might just discover some new things about modern day Richmond, as well! Learn more about The Richmond Tour Guys here.
When: Thanksgiving weekend tours include The Downtown Walking Tour from 11am – 1pm on Thursday (Thanksgiving Day), Friday, and Saturday, November 28-30, 2019; and The Church Hill Walking Tour from 3:30pm – 5:30pm on Saturday, November 30, 2019. Click here to see a complete calendar of additional tours available on other dates.
Where: The Downtown Walking Tour meets at the Richmond Visitors Center, 405 N. 3rd St, Richmond, VA 23219 and The Church Hill Walking Tour meets at Patrick Henry Park, N. 24th St. and E. Broad St., Richmond, VA.
9. Skip the Holiday Crowds and SHOP LOCAL!
Thanksgiving Day not only reminds us that we should probably go on a diet before Christmas hits, but it also reminds us that we have less than a month to get all of our holiday shopping done. And while many people like to head out to popular shopping centers to take advantage of Black Friday sales, there are others among us who cringe at the thought of the crowds – and others still who prefer to shop local or handmade.
So this year, why not have the best of everything? We’ve got a great list of holiday markets, bazaars, and artists’ showcases that will be featured on Thanksgiving weekend. That means you can get your holiday shopping started, avoid the crowds, and support local artists and vendors along the way! So grab your mom, your sisters, your mother-in-law, and whoever else you can think of and get out to support our local vendors – you might just finish up your holiday shopping early as a bonus!
Here are some of the holiday shopping events to look for this Thanksgiving weekend – be sure to click on the links for all the details!
Saturday, November 30, 10am – 3pm at the Forest Hills Shopping Center
Saturday, November 30, 10am – 5pm at the Stony Point Fashion Park
Saturday, November 23 – Tuesday, December 24; Monday-Thursday, 10am -7pm; Friday and Saturday, 10am – 8pm; Sunday, 12pm – 7pm; located upstairs at Chop Suey Books
Friday, November 29 – Tuesday, December 24; Monday – Friday, 10am – 6pm; Saturday, 10am – 5pm; Sunday, 12pm – 4pm; located at 43rd Street Gallery
Saturday, November 23 – Tuesday, December 31; Tuesday – Sunday, 12pm – 6pm; located at ArtWorks Gallery
Sunday, December 1, 11am – 5pm at the Hill Building in Sandston