Love History? Here Are 7 Places to Explore in Hampton Roads

By Jessica Lee

February 1, 2023

In 1607, the first settlers arrived in today’s Hampton Roads area. Consequently, Hampton Roads, like other areas on the East Coast of the US has a rich history.

If you are a history buff, you can find numerous landmarks and historical sites that highlight the major events and development in the area. You can walk in the footsteps of founding fathers and generals, learn about the history of the slave trade, engage in living history exhibits, take in period architecture, and much more. Here are a few places you can explore in Hampton Roads. 

Historic Jamestown

JamestownMemorialChurch CourtesyofHistoricJamestown
Photo of Memorial Church courtesy of Historic Jamestown

Exploring historic Jamestown is a must-do for history lovers who live in the area or plan to visit Hampton Roads. After all, it’s where it all began. Not only is it the location of the first permanent settlement in North America, but it’s also Virginia’s first capital and the place where John Rolfe married Pocahontas in 1614. Visitors can check out artifacts at the Voorhees Archaearium, take a walking tour to learn more about Jamestown in the 17th century, and visit the statutes and monuments commemorating major events throughout the centuries. 

Colonial Williamsburg

Photo courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg

Colonial Williamsburg is not only a real town, but it’s the largest living history museum in the US. Historic buildings have been restored and others have been reconstructed to serve as a backdrop for reenactments and other activities that visitors can enjoy to learn about life during colonial times. The live aspect of Colonial Williamsburg gives visitors the chance to chat with famous people in history like James Madison, Martha Washington, and the Cherokee leader, Oconostota. You’ll also find stage production and museums to examine artifacts. 

Hampton Roads Naval Museum, Norfolk

HamptonRoadsNavalMuseum WWII warship USSPrinzEugen
Photo of WWI American Warship USS Prinz Eugen Courtesy of Hampton Roads Naval Museum

Hampton Roads is home to the world’s largest naval base, Naval Station Norfolk, and 14 other military installations, making it the perfect place to learn about Naval history. Explore the Hampton Roads Naval Museum to see its historic collection of uniforms, weapons, and artifacts. You’ll also find detailed ship models and their newest exhibit that tells the story of the U.S. Navy’s presence in Vietnam from 1950 to 1975. 

Fort Monroe and Casemate Museum

FortMonroe NPS
Photo courtesy of the National Park Service

Construction on Fort Monroe did not begin until the early 1800s, but the land’s historical significance began much sooner. The first ship of enslaved Africans arrived at Point Comfort in 1619, serving as the start of 246 years of slavery in the US. During the Civil War, the Union Army maintained control of Fort Monroe and imprisoned Jefferson Davis. Prior to the war, Fort Monroe was Robert E. Lee’s duty station and you can see where he lived. Fort Monroe is also home to Casemate Museum, where visitors can learn about its history, including how it earned the nickname “Freedom’s Fortress.” 

Portsmouth Olde Towne Historic District

Portsmouth is among the oldest seaports in the nation. Not only is it home to the oldest operating Naval Hospital, but it’s also home to the Gosport Shipyard, the nation’s first dry dock facility in the US. As you wander the streets of Olde Towne, you’ll find antique stores and art museums among the historic buildings from various architectural periods. Olde Towne has the best collection of antique shops in Hampton Roads if you love antiquing. Constructed in 1846, the old courthouse is now home to the Portsmouth Arts & Cultural Center, one of five museums in Portsmouth. You can also take in some more local history at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum and the Hill House Museum

Bacon’s Castle

Photo courtesy of Preservation Virginia

Bacon’s Castle was built in 1665 and is the oldest standing brick dwelling in the US. Originally named “Allen’s Brickhouse,” the mansion serves as the only example of Jacobean architecture in the US, an architectural style rooted in the English Renaissance. In 1676, Virginia planter Nathaniel Bacon led the first uprising in the colonies, “Bacon’s Rebellion.” Bacon seized control of the mansion for a few months, giving it its current name. In 1966, Bacon’s Castle was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Today, visitors can take self-guided and guided tours. If you’re really brave, consider taking one of the haunted history tours of the castle. 

Yorktown Battlefield

Photo courtesy of the National Park Service

Hampton Roads offers history buffs plenty of opportunities to engage with military history, some better than others, but a visit to Yorktown Battlefield is a must-do. The battlefield is part of the Colonial National Historic Park, and the Visitor’s Center should be your first stop. Yorktown Battlefield has various interpretive programs throughout the day and the week. The Visitor’s Center will provide you with the schedule, information about the battlefield, and other sites to visit while you’re there. You can also watch a short film, “The Siege at Yorktown” and check out the museum exhibits in the building, which include the 1781 Siege of Yorktown, Battle of the Capes, and General Washington’s Campaign Tents. 

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