Maymont, 100 acres of parkland in the heart of downtown Richmond, has something for everyone. I’ve been returning there every couple of years for seventeen years. It has even more to offer now that I’ve had children. Maymont offers a historic mansion for art and history lovers, beautiful gardens for plant lovers, and a nature center and farm for animal lovers and children. Where else can you see a Tiffany window, cool off under a waterfall, touch a snake, and look eye to eye with a brown bear all in one day?
To see everything at Maymont would take an entire day. There’s lots of walking and it’s quite hilly. A tram is available from noon to 5pm on weekends for a small fee. Depending on what you want to see, different entrances are appropriate.
Take a walk on the wild side, or a stroll if you prefer, at Maymont’s outdoor wildlife habitats. All habitats feature Virginia native species (historic and present) in our 40-acre valley located between the historic estate, the Maymont Farm and The Robins Nature Center.
Whether strolling through the gardens, touring the mansion, watching river otters play, petting a goat or picnicking on the lawn, Maymont is a gift of 100 acres for all to enjoy. Take a virtual tour via Google Street View or listen to a mobile tour as you walk the estate.
The Italian garden is magnificent—featuring exquisite stonework, statuary, gazebos, fountains and, of course, beautiful flowers, shrubs and trees. The Victorian garden is far better suited to an exclusive mansion than to a public space.
In 1886, James Dooley, a millionaire railroad magnate, and his wife Sallie acquired farmland on the banks of the James River. Their home was completed in 1893 and they lived there until 1925, when the house and the land were donated to the City of Richmond. The 12,000 square foot, 33-room Victorian home was christened Maymont, a combination of Sallie’s maiden name May and mont, the French word for mountain. The main house is only available for viewing by a guided tour. Tours are given every 15 minutes and are approximately 45 minutes in length. Buy your tickets in the mansion’s basement. The tour was surprisingly kid friendly. The Dooley’s loved animals and the guide encouraged our kids to do a scavenger hunt of all the animal imagery in the house.
At the end of the visit, she said she herself had found 370 depictions of animals in the house. The main level has two drawing rooms, a library, dining room, and living room. The highlight of the upstairs is the 12-foot high stained glass Tiffany window. The most memorable room in the house is Mrs. Dooley’s bedroom. It features a bed in the shape of a swan. My daughter counted eleven swans all together in the room. Mrs. Dooley’s dressing table was made by Tiffany of silver and ivory and the legs were made of narwhal tusks. Return to the basement to learn about life below the stairs. You’ll find the kitchen, wine cellar, laundry, butler’s bedroom pantry, and learn how the servants lived. In its own way, it’s equally fascinating. The basement is free to the public.
Robins Nature & Visitor Center
Although the mansion is a logical place to start to find out the history of Maymont, a better place to start would have been the Robins Nature & Visitor Center. It’s up a very steep hill. My husband remembers with dread his visit there pushing a stroller. The Nature Center is the best place on the grounds for a restroom or food break.
The Nature & Visitors Center interprets the natural environment of the James River. In the center of the room are twelve linked aquariums with the fish and turtles found in the area. There’s also a display on Virginia rocks, a weather station, and a light up map of the area around the James River, a room full of nocturnal animals, and a great live otter tank. There’s an area where you can figure out how fish can swim up a wall by using a “Twiddlefishâ€, which was very popular with my girls.
Demonstrations are given around four times a day. My daughters got to touch an otter pelt and skull and touch a king snake. The Discovery Room is open from noon to 5pm on weekends if volunteers are available. We were very disappointed that it was closed when we visited. On a previous visit, our daughters played for almost an hour at the large puppet theater with many puppets. It also has discovery boxes on fossils, fish, birds, etc. and a number of books.
After visiting the Nature & Visitor’s Center, we headed to the Children’s Farm. The farm features cattle, sheep, horses, donkeys, pigs, rabbits and poultry. The barn itself is open only from noon to 5pm, but you can view and feed the outside animals earlier. There are 25 cent pellet machines. Unfortunately, we learned that the animals and feed are moved inside at 3:30pm or even earlier if it’s hot out so our kids didn’t get to feed any animals. We did, however, enjoy seeing a peacock outside. The signage describing the different kinds of farm animals is very informative. This farm may be my all time favorite of all the ones I’ve seen.
Native Virginia Wildlife Exhibits
Maymont’s native Virginia wildlife exhibits are scattered throughout the 40-acre valley between the farm and the estate. You’ll see an aviary (closed during our visit), deer, black bear, bobcat, red and gray fox, elk, and sika deer. A real highlight of this area was the birds of prey exhibit with hawks, vultures, and owls. It ends with a display of bald eagles. A 25 cent machine allows you to see with the acuity of an eagle. You can also compare your wingspan to that of a hawk or an eagle.
The two not-to-be missed gardens at Maymont are the Japanese Garden and the Italian Garden. The Japanese garden is lovely with trained trees, stone lanterns, paths and bridges. A number of visitors were cooling off under the waterfall there. We liked the Italian Garden even better with its formal gardens, gazebos, statues, and fountains. There are a number of steps that lead from the Japanese Garden to the Italian Garden.
Other gardens on the property include the herb garden, grotto, daylily and daffodil display, and cactus garden (small). A wetland habitat, vegetable garden, and butterfly trails are near the Nature Center and Barn.
$3 family guides (Mansion and Carriage Collection, Gardens and Trees, and Animals) are available for purchase at the Mansion and the Nature Center. Each full-color booklet has a few games for children.
Programs and Activities
The Nature Center has lots of summer camps and activities for children. You can view a full schedule online. Maymont Explorers, Toddler Time, Animal Keeper are some of the upcoming events at Maymont.
Hours and Admission
Maymont’s grounds have different hours than its indoor exhibits. Full information can be found online.
- The Grounds, Wildlife Exhibits and Gardens are open daily from 10am to 5pm. Admission is free, but a donation of $5 is suggested.
- Indoor exhibits are closed on Mondays and major holidays. Exhibits are open on some Monday holidays, so please call for more information.
- Maymont Mansion is closed.
- The Visitor Center and Nature Center are open Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 5pm. Tours are self-guided. Admission if $3/person ages 13 to 59, $2/children ages 4 to 12 & seniors 60+. Free for Maymont members and children under 4 years old.
- Full details on the Carriage Collection, Carriage Rides, Tram Rides and Hay Wagon Rides can be found online.
Restrooms and Refreshments
There are restrooms (mostly with changing tables) and water fountains throughout the grounds. Surprisingly, the restrooms at the Children’s Farm don’t have changing tables. Maymont CafÃ© is the only sit down restaurant in the premises. It’s open from 11am to 4pm Tuesday through Sunday. It serves standard fare of hamburgers, hot dogs and other sandwiches with a few vegetarian and salad offerings ($4-6), ice cream, and desserts. Some outside seating is available. Bring a picnic or purchase food as there is plenty of space on the grounds to spread out. There are two vending machines for drinks near the mansion and there are a number of ice cream vendors especially in the Nature Center, Barn, and wildlife sections.
Maymont is about a two-hour drive from Washington, D.C. There is ample free parking at all three entrances.
Photo courtesy of the Maymont Foundation website.