Portsmouth VA Travel Guide 2024

2024 Portsmouth VA Visitors Guide

From antique and specialty shops to shade-drenched streets, Portsmouth, Virginia, is one of the Chesapeake Bay area’s most charming cities. It’s a history lover’s dream come true with its Olde Towne Historic District chronicling three hundred years of American life. Benedict Arnold was held captive in one of the homes here and others were used by both sides during the conflict of the Civil War. Portsmouth’s location on the Elizabeth River has made it an important waterfront city for many years and is still one of the country’s oldest working harbors. Of course, there are many Chesapeake Bay cruises from which you can view the city from the waterfront.

Portsmouth VA
Portsmouth VA

Portsmouth is located in the middle of the Hampton Roads area and its central location provides easy access to the naval yards of Norfolk, the beaches of Virginia Beach, and the historic living museum, Colonial Williamsburg. The term “Hampton Roads” is a centuries-old reference that originated when the region was a struggling British outpost where the James, Nansemond, and Elizabeth Rivers pour into the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. Hampton Roads honors one of the founders of the Virginia Company and a great supporter of the colonization of Virginia, Henry Wriothesley, the third Earl of Southampton. Signifying the safety of a port, “roads” in nautical terminology means “a place less sheltered than a harbor where ships may ride at anchor.”

The Hampton Roads area has grown from just over one million residents and the nation’s 34th largest market in 1983 to the country’s 27th largest metro area with more than 1.5 million people. Unlike many of the metropolitan areas across the country, Hampton Roads’ population nucleus is not confined to one central city, but is spread among several growing cities of significant size including Portsmouth. Therefore, Hampton Roads has come to refer not only to the harbor and its contiguous communities but to the entire metropolitan area.

The area’s strong naval and harbor economy will soon be captured in a historic “Path of History” linking two of the country’s oldest Navy facilities, the Naval Medical Center and the Naval Shipyard. Scheduled for completion in the year 2007, the one-acre park will feature brick walkways and two 75,000-pound propellers from previous naval supply ships as well as other items showcasing the Navy’s history in America. The park will also be the home of another three-acre park at the gate of the Naval Medical Center complete with artifacts and military accouterments from every American military conflict.

The Hampton Roads area including Portsmouth is proud of its heritage but is also looking forward and is committed to assisting businesses and facilitating e-commerce by breaking molds, re-engineering business practices, and recognizing that change can also be a tremendous opportunity. Work is ongoing with existing business and community organizations, including local Chambers of Commerce and specific industry groups to propel Portsmouth and the Hampton Roads area into a thriving future.

Portsmouth’s central location in the Hampton Roads area makes it easily accessible via Interstates 264, 404 and 64 as well as many other major highways. Ground transportation is available through Greyhound Bus Lines, James River Bus Lines, Norfolk Airport Express and the Elizabeth River Ferry. The average commute time for Portsmouth residents is 24 minutes compared with 26 minutes nationwide. Air travel is accommodated through the Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport and the Norfolk International Airport.

So, be sure to drop anchor in this historic and charming city and explore the birthplace of colonial America and the center of new technology and innovation.

Portsmouth VA Fast Facts

  • Population: 100,565
  • Median Household Income: $36,742
  • Median Family Income: $39,577
  • Per Capita Income: $16,507
  • Latitude: 36°49’52” North
  • Longitude: 76°20’44” West
  • Portsmouth is on Eastern Standard Time and observes Daylight Savings Time.

Portsmouth Attractions

Children’s Museum of Virginia
Located in the Olde Towne Historic District, this incredible attraction provides serious fun for kids of all ages. Two full floors are packed with activities designed to engage young minds and stimulate imaginations! Some museum favorites include a planetarium, a rock-climbing wall, a giant bubble-making station, a real fire engine and half of a city bus. The Lancaster Antique Toy and Train Collection is not to be missed as it is one of the most amazing model train collections in the world. This wonderful place is a center where kids learn about science, nature, art and lots of other things – although they may be having too much fun to realize it!

Naval Shipyard Museum
America’s oldest and largest naval shipyard is located on the Portsmouth waterfront and waiting for you to come aboard! The shipyard was once described as “the most considerable one in America” by the British during the Revolutionary War. The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum offers a unique perspective on U.S. history, from Colonial to Civil War times and beyond which visitors can relive through beautiful ship models, uniforms, military artifacts and exhibits portraying life in 18th, 19th and 20th century Portsmouth.

Lightship Museum
The U.S. Lightship Service was started in 1820 to build ships as navigational aids like lighthouses for seafaring vessels. The lights atop the ships’ masts were similar to those in lighthouses, but their portability made them much more versatile. In 1964, this ship was retired to Portsmouth and renamed according to the custom of naming lightships after the site where they are stationed. In 1989, the Lightship Portsmouth was designated a National Historic Landmark in which sits a museum with a realistically fitted out captain’s quarters as well as other fascinating artifacts, uniforms, photographs, models, and more.

Virginia Sports Hall of Fame and Museum
The Virginia Sports Hall of Fame and Museum invites you to dribble a basketball, toss a football, pitch a baseball, drive a stock car on a professional track, watch a game in luxury from a Washington Redskins skybox and even announce the play-by-play of a historic game from a broadcast booth. The interactive exhibits and hands-on activities will make champions of the whole family. The Hall also honors great champions and celebrates the great characters of America’s rich sports history.

Colonial Williamsburg
Colonial Williamsburg is the world’s largest living history museum located in Williamsburg, Virginia as the restored 18th-century capital of Britain’s largest, wealthiest, and a most populous outpost of empire in the New World. Here the origins of the idea of America conceived decades before the American Revolution are interpreted and communicated. The Colonial Williamsburg story, “Becoming Americans,” tells how diverse peoples, having different and sometimes conflicting ambitions, evolved into a society that valued liberty and equality. The 300-acre living history museum houses hundreds of restored, reconstructed, and historically furnished buildings while costumed interpreters tell the stories of the men and women of the 18th-century city and the challenges they faced.

Portsmouth Recreation

Bide-A-Wee Golf Course
Experience bent grass greens and narrow, challenging fairways lined with majestic pines. This 18-hole public golf course with its first-class clubhouse, pro shop, restaurant, and facilities, is situated among picturesque lakes and ponds. A dramatic $8 million renovation has turned Bid-A-Wee into one of the finest municipal golf courses in the nation.

Chesapeake Bay Cruises
Explore the Chesapeake Bay and Hampton Roads region on a riverboat cruise aboard the new, luxurious, climate-controlled ship, Captain Rudy Thomas. Begin the trip at Crisfield, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, and take the scenic four-hour cruise down the Chesapeake Bay, through historic Hampton Roads and the Norfolk Naval Shipyard to quaint Olde Towne Portsmouth. Lunch is served aboard Captain Rudy Thomas on the trip down to Portsmouth and again on the trip back the following day. Each cruise also features a narrated tour along the world’s oldest and largest naval base, where you’ll see many naval vessels, from giant aircraft carriers to sleek submarines.

Dolphin and Whale Watching Boat Trips
Observe bottlenose dolphins and whales in their natural habitat aboard catamarans and cruisers in Virginia Beach. Members from the Virginia Aquarium come on every trip to instruct about dolphin and whale social behaviors and the latest research studies. Trips are available April through October of each year.

Portsmouth Arts

Riverview Gallery
Located in the historic Olde Towne area of Portsmouth, the Riverview Gallery offers the original work of over 300 of the country’s finest artists and craftspeople. The eclectic mix includes pottery, raku, batik, jewelry, sculpture, blown glass, stained glass, and paintings.

Virginia Symphony Orchestra
With more than 140 classical, pops, family, and educational performances each season, the Virginia Symphony has time and again been recognized for its national caliber of excellence. The Hampton Roads area has the unique distinction of serving as home to this wonderfully acclaimed orchestra which includes over seventy professional musicians and over sixty glorious voices in the Virginia Symphony Chorus.

Virginia Opera
Virginia Opera was named “The Official Opera Company of the Commonwealth of Virginia” produces 36 main stage performances a year reaching nearly 80,000 attendees in the Hampton Roads region. Virginia Opera is one of the finest and largest opera companies in the nation and the only company in the nation to perform regularly in three separate main stage venues. In addition, the Virginia Opera’s Education Program reaches more students in the classroom than any other opera company in the nation, including more than 200,000 students and community each year.

Portsmouth Dining

Seafood restaurants reign supreme in this waterfront area yet other types of food are well represented in restaurants including Huckleberry’s, Bob’s BBQ and Country Cooking, Brutti’s Bistro, China Garden, Foggy Point Bar & Grill, Thumpers, New York Deli, Sassafras, Bier Garden, Café Europa, Southwest Grill, Amory’s Wharf, Clayton’s Restaurant and Lobscouser Restaurant.

Portsmouth Communities


Portsmouth is in good company surrounded by other progressive cities and towns in the area including Battery Park, Cape Charles, Carrollton, Carrsville, Chesapeake, Currituck, Fishermans Island, Gatesville, Gloucester Point, Hampton, Holland, Isle of Wight, Jamestown, Kiptopeke, Knotts Island, Lackey, Maple, Newport News, Norfolk, Phoebus, Poquoson, Rescue, Scotland, Seaford, Seatack, Shawboro, Smithfield, Suffolk, Surry, Tabb, Virginia Beach, Windsor, Yorktown, and Zuni.

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