The Many Personalities of Portsmouth, Virginia

Portsmouth, Virginia is often overshadowed by the more popular nearby tourist destination, Virginia Beach, and not as well known as it’s neighbor, Norfolk ….but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth exploring. It’s one of those hidden treasures with so much to offer if you just give it a chance. The historic Olde Towne has amazing architecture, a Children’s Museum, fantastic little independent restaurants and a restored 1945 movie theatre that is still in operation. Did I mention the historic waterfront? There’s a super cool Lightship, (a lighthouse boat that’s now a museum) permanently docked in his forever home along the waterfront…as well as bike trails along the river. Interested now?

Getting There

The closest airport to Portsmouth is Norfolk International. It’s about a 30 minute drive from the airport to downtown Portsmouth. Driving from New York to Portsmouth (if you ever make it out of the Bronx) takes about 7 hours and brings you across the thrilling Chesapeake Bay Bridge (23 miles of continuous bridges and tunnels).

“Look mom…No hands!”

Things to Do and See

Take a walking tour! Travel back in time with Mary Veale and the Colonials as they take you on a walking tour of Olde Towne. I took one of the tours during Black History month with two extremely entertaining guides who not only played the part of their historical characters, but also dressed in colonial costumes. Viewing all of the unique historic homes along our route was my favorite part!

They look pretty good for 200 years old!

Catch a movie at the Commodore Theatre. This is such a cool experience! The 1945 theatre has been restored and has tables and a dinner menu along with its 41 foot screen. I absolutely love the old school feel of the place, the fact that you can actually order an alcoholic drink as opposed to sneaking one in under your sweater (just saying), and the actual applause from the audience when the curtain comes down…..I thought they were clapping for me. Apparently not.

Shop at the Farmers Market– If you are lucky enough to be in town on a Saturday, the local farmers market has a fantastic variety of stands. There’s a farm stand with produce and eggs from Brothers Farm, A variety of local artwork ( jewelry, soaps, hand carved furniture, etc.) and a stand that sells the best mango lemonade I ever had. There’s also morning yoga classes offered in the courtyard. Namaste. The Farmers Market is set up along High Street and Court Street. Follow the thousands of orange cones, you can’t miss it!

Fun Fact: You can also take a trip to Brothers Farm and take part in their seasonal farm activities. They even have some farm animals to feed and pet, including their resident alpaca!!!

“Blink twice if you understand me”

Take a tour of The Hill House Museum. The house was built back in 1825 and much of the original contents are still on view inside. The remaining Hill sisters gifted the house itself to the Portsmouth Historical Association along with the original furniture, china, paintings and carpeting. The house has a strange and interesting history, which our tour guide presented in an animated, informative and enthusiastic manner. You will have to go on the tour to hear about it! The website indicates opening hours from Wednesdays through Saturday, 12-3 pm.

“Excuse me sir, may I pet your duck?”

Go hiking in Hoffler Creek Wildlife Preserve There are over 3 miles of trails to hike, decks overlooking the lake and a salt marsh at Hoffler Creek to explore. There’s also the opportunity to see wildlife such as deer, foxes, turtles and lizards. Their website mentions kayak rentals, which I have not been lucky enough to do there….but will definitely try on my next visit! I would think that bug spray is a must when visiting the preserve.

Explore the Children’s Museum This is a fun little museum in the center of town. They have 2 floors of exhibits, an antique train collection and a planetarium.

Take a ferry ride across the Elizabeth River to Norfolk. It only takes a few minutes, runs every 30 minutes and cost next to nothing ($2.00 one way). On the Norfolk side there is a whole lot of fun to be had…….(see below for a whole lot of fun to be had).

Visit the USS Wisconsin/Nauticus Aquarium and Museum in Norfolk. Leave a few hours to explore the USS Wisconsin, visit the sea life and experience the current exhibits…You MIGHT even get the chance to pet a shark. Apparently they were ornery the day of my visit and unlike the duck, I was not allowed to pet them. I think I’d be cranky too if I was a shark living in a touch tank.

Take a sailboat ride on the American Rover. Some cruises offer live music around sunset..If that isn’t enough to entertain you, there’s also a cash bar on board !!!

Visit the Chrysler Art Museum. Not only is the museum worthwhile, but there’s even a glassblowing demonstration you can sign up for AND a glassblowing workshop you can take….if you dare.. Sign me up! Entrance to the museum is free, but there is a fee for the glassblowing demo and workshop.

Take a Ride to Nearby Virginia Beach

It’s only about 20-30 minutes away, and there are a lot of attractions and activities. Virginia Beach is a much more touristy destination than Portsmouth, but has a great boardwalk, tons of museums and even horse back riding on the beach!!

Walk the Virginia Beach boardwalk and stop at some of the attractions.

Visit the Cape Henry Lighthouse and climb to the top for fantastic views.

Get a made-to-order fresh donut at Duck Donuts. The choices seem endless…May I recommend the Coconut Island Bliss?

Challenge yourself at the Virginia Beach Ropes Course at the Virginia Beach Aquarium Adventure Park.

me….challenging myself

Places to Eat

Fish and Slips- For the best views ever!!!

Still Worldly Eclectic Tapas– cozy atmosphere with yummy food! I love the speakeasy feel to the place.

The Coffee Shoppe – My favorite place in Portsmouth to sit and have coffee. They offer a great lunch menu as well. My favorite thing about the Coffee Shoppe? They have small art exhibits featuring the work of local artists!! Wish they could relocate their shop up north to my town!!!!

Bier Garden-great patio for enjoying a drink and trying one of their Bavarian pretzels.

Stellar Wine Co. Great atmosphere and the best live music on weekends.

Gino’s Pizza – As a New Yorker, I rarely recommend pizza outside of New York… this is an exception! Surprisingly good out-of-state pizza!

Where to Stay

Although I stay with someone when I visit Portsmouth, I know there are several hotels across the river in Norfolk, as well as a Quality Inn and Suites in Portsmouth. I can’t comment on the rooms, though.

  • Renaissance Hotel-Waterfront in Portsmouth. It’s in a great location and has good reviews .
  • Quality Inn-Olde Towne Portsmouth

Portsmouth reminds me of the saying….”Good things come in small packages.” It has a lot to offer for a small town and is well worth the trip. Every time I visit it seems like there are several events scheduled and I always discover something new to see or do.. If you are staying in Olde Towne, you can visit many of the sites on foot or bicycle. If you are planning a visit, or just interested in what is going on in Portsmouth, go to Visit Portsmouth Virginia. For information on the farmers market, visit the Facebook page, Portsmouth Olde Towne Farmers Market . For upcoming events you can also visit Portsmouth, VA Positive News and Events.

4 comments

  1. Great post, Christine. I (Kellye) have never been to Portsmouth, VA, but now I would love to go. History, alpacas, old-school theater, yes, please. With even more to see next door, this sounds like our kind of vacation destination. Thank you for sharing your travels with us!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great Article!! One correction, the Renaissance is on the waterfront in Portsmouth and is a GREAT place to stay. I know because our condo is right next door.

    Liked by 1 person

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