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;
For general visitor information for Hampton, call 800-800-2202 or visit
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;
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;
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;
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).
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;
Nauticus, the National Maritime Center, is on the Norfolk waterfront at I Waterside Drive (800-664-1080;
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;
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;
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;
The Mariners’ Museum in Newport News (100 Museum Drive, 757-596-2222;
Newport News Tourism offers several history-based travel packages (888-493-7386).