Virginia Beach is part of a distinguished network of cities that make up the “birthplace of America” or “America’s first region.” Over 400 years ago, English explorers left Great Britain on three ships and eventually landed at what is today known as Coastal Virginia or Hampton Roads. Virginia Beach serves as a spoke and hub for neighboring towns, and we have listed seven you can’t miss during your stay.
Located 20 miles (32 kilometers) west of Virginia Beach is Norfolk, the cultural hub of the region. Spend the day exploring the NEON district, an acronym for New Energy of Norfolk, where you’ll find the nationally renowned Chrysler Museum of Art and Glass Studio. The Chrysler Museum houses an extensive collection of ancient and contemporary art, including one of the largest permanent displays of glass in the world, with more than 10,000 glass objects spanning 3,000 years. Adjacent to the museum is the glass studio, an educational facility where visitors can learn about the art of glassblowing. Sign up for a class and learn to make a paperweight, Christmas ornament, terrarium and more.
Williamsburg, the world’s largest living history museum, is home to over 40 historic sites, including four taverns, a blacksmith shop, church, apothecary, bindery, colonial garden, courthouse, the Governor’s palace, and more. Take the day to explore the 18th-century city and watch military reenactments, practice rolling a hoop on the palace green or try a Welsh Rarebit from Josiah Chowning’s Tavern.
Just 10 miles (16 kilometers) south of Colonial Williamsburg and 60 miles (97 kilometers) north of Virginia Beach is Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in America. See remains of 18th-century buildings, an active archaeological dig, artifacts from the region’s first settlers, and walk through recreations of a 1610s fort and Powhatan Indian village. Be sure to include a stop by the water’s edge where you’ll see replicas of the three ships that brought settlers to Virginia from England: the Susan Constant, the Godspeed, and Discovery.
Spend the day exploring lighthouses, humongous sand dunes and pristine beaches on the barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina. A quick hour and a half trip from Virginia Beach, the Outer Banks is home to the Wright Brothers Memorial, which commemorates the first successful, sustained, powered flight in the United States. A few miles down the road is Jockey’s Ridge State Park, the tallest natural sand dune system on the eastern seaboard of the United States. Climb to the top where you’ll have stunning, 360-degree views from the Atlantic Ocean to Roanoke Sound. Fly a kite, take a hang gliding lesson or sandboard down the smooth, granular dunes.
End the day with an evening performance of The Lost Colony Outdoor Drama, the story of Sir Walter Raleigh’s attempt at establishing the first English settlement in America in 1587.
Just across the river from Norfolk is the historic town of Portsmouth. Park your car in Norfolk and take the paddle wheel ferry across the Elizabeth River to Portsmouth’s Old Towne Historic District. Stroll along the district’s herringbone brick sidewalks and see one of the largest collections of historically significant homes on the east coast. Other points of interest include the Children’s Museum of Virginia, Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum, and The Bier Garden.
Great Dismal Swamp Trail
The Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge is an enormous, marshy habitat that covers large portions of southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina. The 8.3-mile (13.4-kilometer) trail was built on a former state highway, and it is now open to pedestrian walkers, runners, bicyclists, and horse owners. Maple, cypress, pine and tupelo trees line the trail, and you might catch a glimpse of an otter, weasel or even a bobcat during your exploration. Are you looking for more adventure? Rent a kayak and paddle through the swamp!
Hop in the car and take a drive over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel (one of the seven engineering wonders of the modern world) to Onancock, located on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. This sleepy town with a population of just over 1,000 makes for a perfect day trip. You’ll find folk artists, craftsmen, painters, and sculptors selling their crafts. An international film festival takes place annually, and a trip to Corner Bakery for a donut is mandatory. Are you looking for a water activity? Sign up for a kayaking trip to a local vineyard.