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To Plan A Trip

February 2024
5min read


THE BASICS

Hampton Roads, that old seafaring name given to water highways in and around the Chesapeake Bay, now often refers to southeastern Virginia’s fast-growing metropolitan area, whose history dates from the first permanent English settlers in the New World. Water—both fresh and salt— is everywhere. With it comes great seafood and lots of fun. But those water highways make getting around on land a challenge. Tunnel traffic is a phrase visitors come to know; thanks to the area’s many military installations, rush hour happens early here. For information on major traffic delays, call 800-367-ROAD, or tune in to AM 530. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, 17 miles long, is the largest bridge-tunnel complex in the world. Carrying a $10 toll each way, it connects Southside to the bucolic Eastern Shore. Norfolk International Airport and the Newport News-Williamsburg Airport provide service to major cities. Hampton Roads Transit (757-222-6100; www.hrtransit.org ) operates bus, trolley, and ferry service as well as sightseeing tours, and the HarborLink high-speed ferry connects the waterfronts of Norfolk and Hampton (757-722-9400; www.harborlink.com ). The nearby Virginia Beach oceanfront is one of the East Coast’s busiest resorts, and mild winters make Hampton Roads a year-round destination.

For general visitor information for Hampton, call 800-800-2202 or visit www.hamptoncvb.com ; for Newport News, 888-493-7386 or www.newport-news.va.us ; for Norfolk, 800-368-3097 or www.norfolkcvb.com ; and for Portsmouth, 800-767-8782 or www.portsva.com .

WHERE TO STAY

In downtown Norfolk, the Clarion Hotel James Madison, an elegant boutique-style place, hearkens back to the grand hotels of the last century (345 Granby Street, 888-402-6682; www.clarionhotel.com ). Watch Elizabeth River boat traffic from a room at the Sheraton Norfolk Waterside Hotel (777 Waterside Drive, 757-622-6664; www.sheraton.com ), or stay at the Page House Inn, a restored 100-year-old Georgian Revival mansion (323 Fairfax Avenue, 800-599-7659; www.pagehouseinn.com ).

In Portsmouth, your choices range from Victorian B & Bs to modern hotels. The Renaissance Portsmouth Hotel, a 249-room complex, opened this spring on the Elizabeth River waterfront (757-673-3000; www.renaissanceportsmouth.com ). The Chamberlin in Hampton is a historic resort hotel with a unique location on an active Army base, Fort Monroe, and sweeping views across Hampton Roads Harbor (800-582-8975). In historic downtown, the Radisson Hotel Hampton sits on the riverfront (700 Settlers Landing Road, 757-727-9700).

A century ago, the Simon Curtis house served as a center of Warwick County (present-day Newport News) society. Today visitors to the Boxwood Inn in historic Lee Hall Village in Newport News stay in the same rooms, decorated with antiques found in the attic (10 Elmhurst Street, 757-888-8854; www.boxwood-inn.com ). The Omni Newport News Hotel is close to both Newport News and Williamsburg attractions (1000 Omni Boulevard, exit 258A from 1–64, 800-843-6664; www.omnihotels.com ).

WHERE TO EAT

With hundreds of restaurants around Hampton Roads, narrowing the field is difficult. In downtown Norfolk, Granby Street’s renaissance in the last decade has breathed new life into old, dignified brick buildings. There the Spanish-themed Bodega offers tapas and big drinks (442 Granby Street, 757-622-8527), and within a few blocks are restaurants ranging from the elegant (the Blue Hippo, 147 Granby Street, 757-533-9664) to the funky (the 219, at that number on Granby, 757-627-2896) and the rowdy (Jack Quinn’s Irish Pub, where Guinness is on tap and boxty—potato bread —and corned beef are on the menu (241 Granby Street, 757-274-0024).

In the Ghent Historic District of Norfolk, you can sample both Vietnamese and French cuisine at Chez Beau (742 West Twenty-first Street, 757-624-2455), or enjoy gourmet vegetarian specials at the diner-style Wild Monkey (1603 Colley Avenue, 757-627-6462), and then top things off with a lush dessert of crepes and cappuccino at the Baker’s Crust (330 West Thirty-first Street, 757-625-3600). For a taste of history, Freemason Abbey serves lunch and dinner in a 128-year-old stone church turned dining spot with etched windows and vaulted ceilings (209 West Freemason Street, 757-622-3966). Across town at Doumar’s drive-in, ice-cream cones are made on the machine Abe Doumar used to invent the treat in 1904; his descendants still run the operation, and food is brought to your car window (1919 Monticello Avenue, 757-627-4163).

Across the Elizabeth River in Portsmouth, Brutti’s Cafá & Bakery offers an eclectic menu and martini list in a renovated 100-year-old building (467 Court Street, 757-393-1923). In Newport News, the Crab Shack is a local favorite, for both its seafood and its breezy home on a James River pier (7601 River Road, 757-245-2722). The Blue Cactus Cafá in historic Hilton Village serves up Tex-Mex to waiting crowds (10367 Warwick Boulevard, 757-596-7372), and Kappo Nara is known for quality sushi (550 Oyster Point Road, 757-249-5395).

WHAT TO SEE

The best introduction to Hampton Roads is on a sightseeing boat tour from Norfolk’s Waterside. Your choices include a Mississippi-style stern-wheeler (Carrie B, 757-393-4735), a topsail schooner (American Rover Tall Ship Cruises, 757-627-SAIL; www.americanrover.com ), or a small cruise ship (Spirit of Norfolk, 757-627-7771; www.spiritofnorfolk.com ). All pass by the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, America’s oldest dry dock, and the destroyers, aircraft carriers, and submarines stationed at Naval Station Norfolk. The station conducts motor-coach tours as well, narrated by an official Navy guide (757-444-7955).

Nauticus, the National Maritime Center, is on the Norfolk waterfront at I Waterside Drive (800-664-1080; www.nauticus.org ). Nearby in Town Point Park is the unusual and affecting Armed Forces Memorial, a marshaling of letters-reproduced, enlarged, and cast in bronze—sent by Hampton Roads servicemen from the Revolution to the Gulf War. None of the writers made it home (757-664-6620).

The Douglas MacArthur Memorial stands amid downtown’s tall buildings. For a primer on Hampton Roads’ past, the MacArthur Center mall across City Hall Avenue has filled 16 windows with anecdotes and photos of 400 years of history. Walter P. Chrysler, Jr., donated his vast art collection to the city in 1971. The Chrysler Museum of Art now houses more than 30,000 objects (245 West Olney Road, 757-664-6200; www.chrysler.org ). The best way to see Portsmouth is on foot (a short ferry ride connects the Norfolk and Portsmouth waterfronts). The self-guided Olde Towne Walking Tour of the 300-year-old city, built on the pattern of the great seafaring town of Portsmouth, England, is a lesson in architectural styles. A map and guide are available free at the visitors’ center, or call 757-393-5327. Nearly all of Portsmouth’s museums are within walking distance of the riverfront. A combination ticket (757-393-8393) covers the Lightship Museum, a 1915 vessel now on dry land and open to tours at the end of London Boulevard; the Naval Shipyard Museum (2 High Street); the Courthouse Galleries, exhibiting contemporary art (at Court and High streets); the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame (420 High Street); and the Children’s Museum of Virginia (221 High Street).

Boat tours from downtown Hampton visit Fort Wool, Fort Monroe, and Naval Station Norfolk and also set off for whale-watching trips (Miss Hampton II, 757-722-9102; Venture Inn Charters, 757-850-8960). Bus tours leave from Virginia Air & Space Center (600 Settlers Landing Road, 757-727-0800) for NASA Langley Research Center, the birthplace of the nation’s aerospace program.

African-American heritage tours are an increasingly popular draw to the Peninsula. During the Civil War, escaped slaves sought refuge at Fort Monroe, nicknamed Freedom’s Fortress (call the Casemate Museum at Fort Monro 757-788-3391). On the grounds of the historically black Hampton University, the Emancipation Oak, where Lincoln’s proclamation was first read to freed people, still stands, and the Hampton University Museum houses a substantial collection of African-American and Native American art (Ogden Circle on the campus, 757-727-5308; www.hamptonu.edu ). In Newport News the Newsome House Museum and Cultural Center showcases the former home of Joseph Thomas Newsome, an African-American attorney who founded a local black newspaper (2803 Oak Avenue, 757-247-2360).

In 1862, when Union forces launched their failed advance on Richmond known as the Peninsula Campaign, Lee Hall Mansion, now open to visitors, served as the Confederate headquarters (163 Yorktown Road, Newport News, 888-3371; www.leehall.org ). For guided or self-directed tours of the Peninsula Campaign, call 757-888-3371. The U.S. Army Transportation Museum at Fort Eustis in Newport News has some 100 vehicles and aircraft on display (Building 300, Besson Hall, Fort Eustis, 757-878-1109), and the Virginia War Museum at Huntington Park in Newport News exhibits military artifacts dating back to the Revolution (9285 Warwick Boulevard, 757-247-8523). Returning World War I servicemen and -women walked through a wood and plaster arch at Newport News; a stone one replaced it, and now an eternal flame burns at the Victory Arch (Twenty-fifth Street and West Avenue).

The Mariners’ Museum in Newport News (100 Museum Drive, 757-596-2222; www.mariner.org ) details 3,000 years of maritime history.

Newport News Tourism offers several history-based travel packages (888-493-7386).

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