Belle Isle is one of the most well-known public natural areas in Central Virginia. If you live in Richmond and you’ve never heard of it, you need to get out more! Spending a lazy afternoon on the rocks watching the river go by with your friends — perfection.
At 54 acres, Belle Isle is the second-largest island in the James River within Richmond city limits and one of the most historic sites in the city. Native Americans fished in the river there long before the English arrived. Captain John Smith was among the first Europeans to visit in 1607, and William Byrd I acquired the island in 1676.
William Byrd II, the founder of Richmond, called it “the broad rock island.” Sold by the Byrd family around 1776, the island soon became one of Richmond’s first industrial centers, with a nail factory there by 1814 and later a full-scale ironworks that operated until 1972. Granite was quarried there in the 19th and 20th centuries.