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Norfolk-Portsmouth, Virginia Travel Guide

Complete Vacation, Recreation and Tourism Information

Norfolk, Virginia’s second largest city, juts out into the blue waters of the Chesapeake Bay, its downtown area defined by modest highrise hotels and the stalwarth shapes of big ships surging past. This Tidewater city has renewed itself over the years with a new waterfront marketplace and revitalized downtown which edges the southside of the city, separated by a stretch of the Elizabeth River from waterfront neighbor, Portsmouth. The world’s largest naval base, Norfolk Naval Base,  is located here at the heart of Hampton Roads, a region framed by rivers, bay and sea. Home to NATO’s Atlantic operations and the U.S. Atlantic fleet, the base covers 15 miles of the city's northwestern corner, a bustling big-boat oriented hub that can be viewed even by non-military folk on seasonal bus tours.

Built to resemble an aircraft carrier, NAUTICUS (National Maritime Center) features high-tech exhibits and aquariums, and is one of the highlights of downtown Norfolk, housing also the Hampton Roads Naval Museum on the second floor. Other sights of interest in the area include the Chrysler Museum of Art (rated one of the nation's top-20 fine arts facilities), with displays ranging from Columbian to Modern; the Hermitage Foundation Museum, featuring a private art collection, a peaceful garden and bay views,  and Huntington Tugboat Museum. A short drive out of the center of Norfolk find Virginia Zoology Park, the state’s largest zoo, home to almost 400 animals and a 10-acre African exhibit. Northeast of the zoo, a stone's throw from Norfolk International Airport, are  the city's botanical gardens, laced with 12 miles of trails that run from fragrant rose garden through forest to secluded lakeshore.

Extending from the north shore of Norfolk, east of the infamously clogged Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel (which is almost always backed up on the Norfolk side) is the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, a 20-mile long marvel of modern engineering that connects southeastern Virginia with Virginia's Eastern Shore, of note both for its engineering and for the uninterrupted views it proffers of the ever-changing Chesapeake Bay.

Though neighboring Virginia Beach steals the show when it comes to beach appeal during summer months, Norfolk sports a clutch of little sandy spots to keep locals happily indulged, like Ocean View Beach  and Willoughby Spit, the latter also equipped with a boat launch and a steady stream of anglers. For more perspective on this water-laced region, consider a  cruise on the Spirit of Norfolk or paddle wheeler Carrie B, or tour Hampton Roads landmarks aboard the American Rover, the largest topsail passenger schooner in the U.S.

Barring all else, it's a very short trip by ferry (and at a dollar a trip, a sight-seeing bargain) across the river to Portsmouth, the nation’s oldest naval shipyard. The float over is about as close as the average visitor will get to some of the area's truly big ships, one or two of which can usually be seen in dry-dock from the ferry decks.  While this historic naval city (which survived both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars) has a deep-seated maritime past, its Olde Towne - a stretch of time-worn buildings that frame several downtown blocks - attracts the lion's share of passers-through these days. In addition to historic buildings and a smattering of antique shops look for the Children's Museum of Virginia, the Naval Shipyard Museum and an exceptionally good German-style beer garden (don't worry,  the ferries run twice an hour late into the night).

Norfolk and Portsmouth are located in Southeastern Virginia, about 95 miles southeast of Richmond, VA down I-64 to I-264.


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