Located on a small peninsula of Virginia’s tidewater and situated at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay is an all-too-often overlooked destination: Hampton. Not a beach town, it still exudes a relaxed atmosphere with a number of family- and budget-friendly attractions.
Start your visit at the Hampton History Museum, also home to the Hampton Visitor Center and Museum Shop. Ten galleries trace the area’s 400 years of history, beginning with a reconstructed Kecoughtan Indian lodge. Learn about the Contraband Decision, the first step toward freedom for millions of African Americans, which originated at Fort Monroe. On exhibit this year is “Teetotalers and Moonshiners, and Hampton's Prohibition Story.” And then there’s the likeness of the head of Blackbeard the Pirate on a pole.
Although the story of Hampton (once known as “Crabtown”) is closely aligned with the sea, its place in air travel is celebrated at the Virginia Air and Space Science Center, the official visitor center for NASA Langley Research Center and Langley Air Force Base. Big enough to be worth the trip but small enough to be accessible, the facility abounds with hands-on activities.
Other highlights include Hampton University, which opens the doors of its museum to visitors; don’t miss Henry Tanner’s “Banjo Lesson.” A visit to Fort Monroe (“Freedom’s Fortress”) begins at the Fort Monroe Visitor and Education Center. Three Tiffany windows in the Chapel of the Centurion and the Casement Museum are among the fort’s highlights.
Getting around Hampton is easy, with many attractions within walking distance, as well as abundant free in-town parking. No seafood lover goes away hungry from Hampton. The neighborhood of Phoebus offers eclectic shopping possibilities, including art galleries and antique shops. Time it right: The Blackbeard Festival is held in June.
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