15 Best Things to Do in Hampton, VA

Hampton, VA
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Hampton, Virginia, is located on the southeastern side of the Virginian Peninsula on the Atlantic coast between Virginia Beach and Colonial Williamsburg.

It is a city by the water, surrounded on three sides by the Chesapeake Bay and the Hampton Roads harbor, and in the center of the Hampton Roads metropolitan area.

Its location at the confluence of the Chesapeake Bay and the St. James River has enabled it to have several milestones in the nation's history.

Hampton is the site of the first continuously English-speaking settlement in America.

It is also where America's first free public education was offered and where NASA trained its first astronauts.

It is the oldest community in North America, having been settled in 1607 by Captain Christopher Newport and his party and turned into a town in 1705.

This coastal town offers plenty of attractions to tourists, such as beaches, museums, historic locations, wildlife preserves, shopping, dining, and U.S. military and culture.

Hampton has an old soul and youthful spirit: confidence permeating its streets, sparkling hospitality, charming attractions, and a spark for discovery and welcome.

If you're ready to start discovering Hampton, use this list as a guide and check out the best things to do in this city.

Discover Fort Monroe National Monument

Fort Monroe National Monument
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Fort Monroe is the largest stone fort ever built in the United States and is a site packed with history.

From 1823 to 2011, it was an active United States Army post, and today it is operated by the National Park Service and the Fort Monroe Authority.

Fort Monroe National Monument
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Fort Monroe was a Union Fort in Confederate Virginia in the times of the American Civil War, and it served as 'Freedom's Fortress,' a sanctuary for slaves under the Contraband Act.

Also visit its Casemate Museum, which chronicles the times it was built to endure attacks from the sea.

It was once the prison that held Jefferson Davis, Confederate President, after the American Civil War and is a real find for military history buffs.

Fort Monroe National Monument
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See artifacts and educational exhibits, check out a replica of an officer's quarters and go along a route that takes you along the ramparts and above the waterways.

Uncover the past at this stronghold and learn the rich history while enjoying the beautiful seafront views.

Fort Monroe National Monument
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Get in Touch with Nature at Grandview Nature Preserve

Another great place in Hampton to reconnect with the natural world is Grandview Nature Preserve.

It is found in the northeast corner of the city and is made out of over 475 acres of tidal creeks, salt marsh, and the unspoiled beachfront of Chesapeake Bay.

Come here to look at the migratory birds, take photographs of the scenery, go beachcombing for shells and sea glass, and explore the wetlands.

You might want to go for a hike on the half-mile trail that cuts into the tidal marshlands leading to the ruins of a former lighthouse.

There are also great saltwater fishing sessions to be had at the park's shores as long as you obtain a fishing license, as well as canoeing and hiking programs on the preserve.

The preserve is another place to enjoy a simplistic and tranquil time away from the urban buzz as you reconnect with nature by the sea.

Have a Space Tour at Air Power Park

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Air Power Park is an outdoors roadside museum in Hampton that honors the city's role in America's space exploration and aircraft testing program.

Find educative indoor and outdoor park displays such as jet missiles, fighter aircraft, and rockets, including a Phantom, a Voodoo, a Mercury Capsule, and a Hawker Kestrel.

Spot various displays in the museum centered on military service branches, and spy different aircraft models made out of Balsa wood.

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There are over 325 models on display, not just from military branches but also from crafts in many different nations.

These exhibits have ties to the nearby Langley Air Force Base and the NASA Research Center.

Outdoors, see vintage aircraft and experimental display space launch vehicles from the 1950s and the 1960s displayed on the grounds.

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Inside there is also a Children's Room for the little ones, which has books, three-dimensional art, and other entertainments for your little space explorers and pilots.

Come to appreciate Hampton's place in aviation history here at Air Power Park.

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Attend the Hampton Jazz Festival

Since 1968, the Hampton Jazz Festival has been delivering pop, gospel, soul, jazz, blues, and R&B to the heart of Hampton every last week of June.

It began as a one-time celebration of Hampton University's centennial, but audiences were soon hooked, and the event became an annual tradition.

Every year, tens of thousands of loyal fans meet up in Hampton to appreciate and marvel at the best that American music has to offer.

It has traditionally featured music icons such as Aretha Franklin, B.B. King, Duke Ellington, and Ray Charles and has welcomed newer musicians such as Dave Koz, Kenny G, and David Sanborn.

Come to this landmark music occasion and celebrate with your fellow music enthusiasts as you witness some of the best jazz musicians in the world.

See how Hampton Jazz Festival has become a reunion more than an event, honoring family, friends, culture, and life in one gathering.

Have a Farm Day at Bluebird Gap Farm

horse at Bluebird Gap Farm
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Do you want to have a taste of countryside life during your visit to the city of Hampton?

If so, bring your family out to Bluebird Gap Farm, a rural and educational family-themed site for adventure and a nice getaway from the usual urban environment.

At this 60-acre farm, you will be entertained by around 150 domestic and wild animals.

cows at Bluebird Gap Farm
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See the usual farm animals such as pigs, goats, cows, horses, and chickens, and more unusual ones such as alpacas, tortoises, peacocks, waterfowl, whitetail deer, llamas, rabbits, and birds of prey.

There are several food machines at the farm if you want to get interactive and feed the animals.

Here, there is an antique display barn with home and antique farm displays from different time periods.

playground at Bluebird Gap Farm
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Also, there are trails and paths, a large duck pond, an arboretum, a playground, and a stage for special animal-themed events and activities.

Explore this delightful place, bond and learn to care for animals, and get an education about this farm environment as you enjoy close-up time with wholesome living things right in your city backyard.

white horse in Bluebird Gap Farm
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Play Together at Bethel Paintball

Bring all your loved ones to have a lively and exciting session as you race, shoot, and chase each other at Bethel Paintball.

It is a fun battlefield of a paintball park, which holds a great variety of playing fields to pump up your adrenaline and get the competition going.

Paintball is a game that allows you to ramp up your skills in teamwork and strategy, allowing two teams to split and compete against each other.

Bethel Paintball has eight different paintball playing courses, and you might find yourself ducking around large shipping containers, hiding around different alleys and blockers, and shooting behind manholes and fence partitions.

You might find yourselves using teamwork in an alleyway, engaging in mini-urban warfare at a tight playing course, getting challenged by elevation changes, and trying to conquer each other's territories.

Let off steam and treat yourself to enjoyment and laughter as you all have an awesome time at this paintball course.

See Space Wonders at the Virginia Air and Space Center

Interior View of Virginia Air and Space Center in Hampton, Virginia
Balon Greyjoy, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Hampton is the birthplace of America's first space program, and the Virginia Air and Space Center has been the official visitor center for the NASA Langley Research Center for more than 25 years.

The museum is home to over 100 historical and aeronautic aviation exhibits covering 100 years of flight.

Interior View of Virginia Air and Space Center in Hampton, Virginia
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You can 'land on the moon' using the Lunar Excursion Module Simulator, which the first astronauts used, see 30 historic aircraft and a hands-on space explorer gallery, get close to the sun and its waves in the solarium, marvel at the five-story high IMAX theater, and other experiences.

This is also the only place to view all four of NASA's space capsules: the Apollo 12 Command Module, the Orion PA-1 Test Vehicle, and test flight vehicles from the Mercury and Gemini programs.

Interior View of Virginia Air and Space Center in Hampton, Virginia
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Bring the young ones to build larger-than-life buildings at the 'Engineer-It' playground, explore the world-class NASA Robotics Laboratory together, and go through educational experiences at their STEM programs.

You are sure to get inspired by the astronomical wonders at this unique attraction for explorers of all ages.

Interior View of Virginia Air and Space Center in Hampton, Virginia
Balon Greyjoy, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Step into the Past at Hampton History Museum

Hampton History Museum will take you through 400 exciting years of the city's history, from its beginnings as the Kecoughtan Native American tribe's origins to its early African-American citizens to its pivotal role in the United States Space Program.

Here, ten galleries contain the stories of explorers, pirates, workers along the Chesapeake Bay, and people and events that helped shape the nation.

See the dramatic moments from Hampton's history during the American Revolution War of 1812, the American Civil War, and the 'Contraband Decision' to free enslaved African-Americans.

Explore their collections, lectures, exhibitions, cultural presentations, oral histories, educational showcases, and programs at the museum.

This education will help everyone to fully weave the tapestry of Hampton's past and gain insights to understand its present.

Relax at Buckroe Beach and Park

Buckroe Beach and Park lighthouse
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Since the bay is nearby in Hampton, why not invite your family to a day on the beach?

You can easily spend a leisurely family day at Buckroe Beach, with its numerous amenities, generous parking, and open space.

The park has a vast nautical-themed playground for the kids, a path for strolling or bicycling, kayak and paddleboard rentals, and picnic pavilions with tables and grills.

view of pier at Buckroe Beach and Park
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Concession stands offer hot food to go, ice cream, and frosty beverages for tasty refreshments while you relax.

If you visit on Sunday during the summer, you can participate in the Groovin' by the Beach concert, and if you come by on Tuesday evenings, you will have a great family movie night on the beach.

With almost a mile-long stretch of shore on the Chesapeake Bay and eight acres of family-oriented space, enjoy your day of fun under the sun at Buckroe Beach.

deckchair at Buckroe Beach and Park
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The Hampton Carousel was constructed in 1920 and once sat in the now inactive Buckroe Beach Amusement Park.

It is a quaint and lovely attraction created by immigrant artisans from Germany, Italy, and Austria, with forty-eight horses, finely carved out of hardwood and l­­avishly painted and decorated.

Tip your hat off to the artistry of the carousel, which is housed in its waterfront weather-protected pavilion, still sports its original mirrors and oil paintings, and turns to the strain of the original band organ.

It is a beautiful example of American folk art and one of 70 antique and wooden merry-go-rounds that still functions in the United States.

Both kids and adults can have a ride on the carousel, which has both stationary and moving horses, and is open year-round.

To complete your visit, chat with the carousel staff about the history, knowledge, and trivia surrounding it.

Bring your entire family to this beautifully restored attraction on Hampton's downtown waterfront.

Admire Old Point Comfort Lighthouse

side view ofd Old Point Comfort Lighthouse
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Old Point Comfort Lighthouse is located on the grounds of Fort Monroe around the Virginia section of Chesapeake Bay.

It is a landmark of the entrance to the historic Hampton Roads, and since 1803 it has been guiding ships from the Chesapeake Bay into the James, Elizabeth, and Nansemond Rivers.

During the war of 1812, it served as an observation post, and at the time of the Civil War, it fell under Union control.

Old Point Comfort Lighthouse has been witness to many events of great military significance since 1812.

view of Old Point Comfort Lighthouse from street behind
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The lighthouse is 58 feet tall, painted in an atypical combination of green rails, red roof, walls, and decking, and has a spiral staircase made out of hand-cut stone.

Today it still watches over a lively waterway passed by all sorts of vessels, from aircraft carriers to personal watercraft.

Remember to take photographs around this quaint landmark and admire the scenery as you watch the vessels go by in the bay where it lies.

Old Point Comfort Lighthouse front view
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Connect with the Outdoors at Sandy Bottom Nature Park

Sandy Bottom Nature Park is the premier park in Hampton and is a 456-acre educational environment and wildlife facility.

It contains twelve whole miles of nature trails, a wide pond, and a vast nature interpretative center.

The park contains lands in its natural state, including forests, wooded and marshy wetlands, lake edges, and open water.

On platforms on the edge of the water, view migrating waterfowl and other shorebirds around the lake.

Breeding and migratory birds, as well as amphibians, reptiles, and mammals, are numerous in this unspoiled environment.

It is an expansive area of reclaimed land which contains woodlands and wetlands and has wildlife such as frogs, turtles, white-tailed deer, and Mabee's salamander.

The nature center also has native plant gardens to study butterflies and local dragonflies.

Rent boats to go further into aquatic habitats, go on guided walks through the trails, and explore other programs.

There is something for everyone at this park, and it would be ideal to go on a nature family outing here.

Watch a Show at Hampton Coliseum

Hampton Coliseum
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This coliseum is a multi-purpose arena in Hampton where one can catch various wonderful shows and events throughout the year.

It was the first large multi-purpose arena in the Hampton Roads area and the state of Virginia, opening on January 31, 1970.

It is such a popular destination that it has led to the recording and release of significant live albums and tracks recorded at the venue.

Catch the hippest and most happening events, such as the Cirque de Soleil, Disney on Ice, the Ringling Circus, Professional Bull Riders, WWE matches, World Championship ICE Racing, Monster Jam, and lots of others.

At this venue, also catch concerts, comedy shows, conventions, trade shows, and festivals such as the Hampton Funk Festival, the Hampton Jazz Festival, and the Hampton Roads Soul Music Festival.

Be wowed by the showcased performers and make wonderful memories with your loved ones as these entertainers put on a fantastic show for all.

Watch the races at Larry King Law's Langley Speedway

Larry King Law's Langley Speedway is a place of rip-roaring excitement and has a well-deserved reputation as one of NASCAR's best short tracks.

For the past 70 years, it has been home to some of the biggest names in stock car racing, such as Chase Elliott, Jimmie Johnson, Richard Petty, ex-track champion Denny Hamlin, and other local drivers with a great passion for the sport.

In the past 20 years, the racetrack has seen major renovations to its facility that helped maintain its status as one of the best short tracks in the country.

It is a paved short track with a length of 0.395 miles and one of the flattest tracks in the area, with four degrees of banking on the straights and six degrees of banking in the corners.

The track hosts 11 programs with alternate runs during their Saturday night programs.

Every Saturday night, it begins pre-race ceremonies at around 7:00 pm and commences the first race of the night 15 minutes later.

Feel the thrill in the air and see where many of the best racing legends started in their careers at Langley Speedway.

Get Educated at the Hampton University Museum

Front View of Hampton University Museum
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The Hampton University Museum was established in 1868, which is when Hampton University itself was recognized.

It contains the oldest African-American museum in the United States and is home to a collection of more than 1,200 cultural artifacts with contemporary and traditional works of art.

Its mission is to disseminate knowledge and enlightenment on diverse cultures while emphasizing geography, history, and culture studies.

At this museum, they study, preserve, exhibit, collect, and interpret works of traditional art that show the heritage and cultures of African, Asian, Oceanic, and Native American people.

See their first collection of South Pacific art enriched by other pieces from Japan and the Philippines.

They also show pieces from across the continent; widely esteemed works of African, American Indian, and African-American artists; and relics that showcase the history of Hampton University.

Be enriched by all the knowledge that there is to discover at this fine institution.

Final Thoughts

Excitement and exploration are ripe for the taking at the city of Hampton.

If you ever visit this city, consult this list and make sure not to miss the things you can do here.

Hampton is full of discoverers and old-fashioned comfort, so drop by now and see what the city does for you.