Mar 22, 2024 - Things to Do

Your perfect Richmond weekend, according to AI

Illustration of a cursor hand holding a retro suitcase.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

AI is quickly becoming one of the hottest new tools in travel planning, following most of the nation's leading travel sites adding AI chatbots late last year, Axios' Jennifer Kingson reports.

Why it matters: With spring break and summer vacation right around the corner, we decided to test it out by planning a weekend in a city we (theoretically) know well: this one.

What we did: We asked ChatGPT and travel site itinerary planners (many of which are apparently powered by ChatGPT) to plan a Richmond weekend for us.

What we found: The results were … well, let's generously say mixed.

The big picture: Artificial intelligence did a decent job of giving tourists an overview of Richmond: It's a cool city on the I-95 corridor with lots to do and plenty of history.

  • It also consistently highlighted our well-known, free and outdoor attractions — Carytown, James River Park System, Belle Isle, Maymont and Church Hill.
  • A tour of the Virginia State Capitol (it was designed by Thomas Jefferson!) was the only other attraction that AI was determined to make an essential part of any trip to Richmond, often touted as the best way to start a visit.

What surprised us: The Edgar Allan Poe Museum was the museum most often recommended across asks, followed by the American Civil War Center.

  • VMFA only came up once.

While AI occasionally suggested visitors do something Civil War-related, it more often suggested travelers explore Richmond's role in the slave trade with a visit to Lumpkin's Jail site or the Richmond Slave Trail.

What it got wrong: The devil, as the saying goes, is in the details, and that's where AI seemed to stumble most.

  • It recommended dinner at long-closed restaurants Comfort and Saison, plus brunch at The Roosevelt, which it hasn't offered since 2018.
  • AI also put the Shockoe Bottom's Poe Museum in The Fan (repeatedly) and touted long-closed Cary Street Cafe for live music.

The intrigue: In response to several queries, AI recommended Carytown, the Fan and Scott's Addition as top neighborhoods with "vibrant" and "eclectic" eateries. True and fair enough.

  • Ironically, when we pressed for specifics, nearly every restaurant it recommended was outside of those neighborhoods, including several in Church Hill, plus downtown's Perly's and L'Opossum in Oregon Hill.

The bottom line: AI might not be a bad place to start for some overarching suggestions when visiting a new city, but your best bet is to do it old-school. Ask a local.


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