Newport News, Virginia, is one of the most historical places in the country, steeped with stories from the first days of our colonial past to the Civil War.
Nestled in between the James River and Hampton Roads harbor, it serves as a naval base and shipbuilding community, evident in the city’s buildings, traditions, and other tangible and intangible aspects.
Newport News stands today as an independent city with a thriving art scene and many natural attractions that are perfect for the family.
There’s something for everyone here, whether you’re a history buff, an art aficionado, or an outdoorsman.
So make this city your top choice for your upcoming vacation.
Here are the 15 best things to do in Newport News, VA:
Try All the Activities in Newport News Park
As the largest municipal park east of the Mississippi, Newport News Park hosts a wide range of attractions for locals and visitors alike.
It has more than 8000 acres of explorable land, with nature trails, a Discovery Center, 188 campsites, sports facilities, and a reservoir.
Bring your family over and have a nice picnic beside the lake or under the shady canopy of the trees.
You can also go canoeing, kayaking, and fishing on the lake if weather permits.
For those who want more sporty activities, Newport News Park has an archery range, an 18-hole championship disc golf course, and biking trails that will bring you to various parts of the facility.
If you want a more relaxing option, you’re welcome to explore the nature trails and spot the numerous wildlife that call the park home, such as deer, birds, and butterflies.
To learn more about these species, the habitats of the park, and its history, make a stopover at the Discovery Center for interactive and educational exhibits.
Catch a Show at the Ferguson Center for the Arts
The Ferguson Center for the Arts is located within the Christopher Newport University campus, serving as its theater and concert hall.
It’s one of the most recognizable visual and performing arts facilities in Newport News, with a distinct architecture that gives the exterior a sophisticated and modern ambiance, especially when it’s lit during the night.
Whether it’s a theater play, concert, or orchestra performance, the many theaters within the complex serve as venues for breathtaking events that will leave you awestruck.
That’s why millions of visitors flock to the center every year.
Within the facility, there are also galleries that showcase intriguing paintings, photographs, and other artworks by renowned artists.
A visit here is truly a thrilling cultural experience, so make sure it’s on the top of your list.
See Naval Artifacts at The Mariners' Museum and Park
This place is where you’ll learn everything there is to know about the seafaring history of the United States.
The museum itself, which is also America’s National Maritime Museum, has more than 35,000 maritime pieces that date from the 1600s to the present—the most extensive collection anywhere in the country.
One of the most iconic displays of the museum is the life-size model of the USS Monitor, an ironclad warship used by the Union during the Civil War.
Outside of the museum is a naturally wooded scenic park where Mariner’s Lake is located.
Once you’re done exploring the museum's artifacts, you can explore the verdant grounds, nature trails, and wooden bridges scattered in the area.
Follow Noland Trail, a five-mile path that takes you around the best spots around the park.
It’s a scenic walk that will make you forget you’re in the middle of a city.
Take a Tour of the US Army Transportation Museum
Another must-see destination that showcases the history of the US military is the US Army Transportation Museum.
Located within the grounds of Fort Eustis, the facility showcases transportation-related artifacts and memorabilia from the various eras of the country.
You’ll find aircraft, watercraft, land vehicles, gun trucks, jeeps, and many other vehicles preserved in pristine conditions.
Some of these have been part of battles during the Civil War, both World Wars, Vietnam War, and in Afghanistan and other campaigns in the Middle East.
Standing near these vehicles makes you reflect on how much effort is done to keep our peace.
Since the museum is an active military installation, you must follow the security protocols and other guidelines for a convenient and hassle-free visit.
Explore the Attractions of Huntington Park
Open from sunrise to sunset, Huntington Park is a beachside destination with many attractions and amenities for visitors.
The 60-acre facility sits next to James River, and there is a public beach within it where you can stay and relax under the sun.
If you’re bringing kids, the many play structures of the park will have them busy playing all day with other children.
The rose garden is also a must-see attraction in Huntington Park.
Walk around the pink and red blooms and smell the sweet, fragrant air as you stay for a while at the garden’s gazebo.
Near the James River shore is Lake Biggins, a small body of water that becomes a postcard-perfect sight when trees change into orange foliage during winter.
From November to March, you can try fishing for brown and rainbow trout that swim in the depths of the lake.
Get Up Close and Personal With Cute Animals at Peninsula SPCA
Peninsula SPCA is an animal shelter styled as a barnyard, with ample facilities and spaces that give the creatures comfortable living conditions.
It’s the perfect destination if you are bringing kids or just want to interact with animals that are otherwise foreign to the bustling city.
You’ll have plenty of fun at the petting zoo, where you can play with mammals like deer, cows, goats, llamas, and various breeds of rescue dogs.
Feeding opportunities with budgies and parrots at the aviary is also a unique experience that bird lovers will enjoy.
Let the Kids Have Fun at Riverview Farm Park
Riverview Farm Park is another picturesque outdoor facility in Newport News, with 279 acres of explorable grounds.
Because of the beauty of the location, the many modern amenities, sports facilities, and well-maintained surroundings, it has become one of the most-visited locations in the city.
Within the park is Fantasy Farm Playground, a 30,000-square-foot space with farm-inspired play structures where your children can play all day long.
Nearby are many picnic tables and benches where your family can have a nice meal under the cool, shady trees.
If you want to explore, there are walking and biking trails going through the greenery, all well-kept and clean for a safe and leisurely walk.
Eventually, you’ll end up on the small pier on the shore of Warwick River.
It’s a beautiful setting, especially during the sunset when the colors of the sky play on the river's calm surface.
See Beautiful Works at the Port Warwick Art and Sculpture Festival
Newport News’ Port Warwick Art and Sculpture Festival is a must-see event for the visual arts patrons.
The festival is held during October every year, and you can expect artists from near and far flock to Port Warwick.
They will share their fine paintings, sculptures, and other works of art on various exhibits, and visitors are welcome to marvel at these pieces and purchase an item or two.
Throughout the weekend, there will be live entertainment by local and national bands as well as engaging programs like Latin Dance Instruction.
If you’re bringing your kids, then you might as well join the family-oriented games and maximize your experience.
You’ll have plenty of fun with scavenger hunts, races, and take-home games!
Hungry from touring the exhibits and joining the games?
The area’s best food concessionaires will be at the spot to offer local delights and American staples for those who need more fuel.
Have a Fun Family Day at King-Lincoln Park
Another picturesque seaside facility in Newport News is King-Lincoln Park.
The serene outdoor facility overlooks the Hampton Roads harbor, and it is situated right at the east end of the city.
There are many modern amenities and recreational facilities within the park that all visitors are welcome to use.
Get your heart pumping by playing a few matches at the tennis court or shooting some hoops at the basketball court.
You can also stay at the beach for some fun under the Virginia sun.
During summer, there are special events held on the outdoor stage of the park.
Join the King-Lincoln Park Day, Juneteenth - Freedom Festival, and other special activities during various times the year.
Interact With Wildlife at Virginia Living Museum
Most people haven’t been to an open-air museum before, so visiting the Virginia Living Museum is surely a one-of-a-kind and memorable experience.
Said to be the jewel crown of the state, this facility is home to many of the region’s endemic species, making it an important preserve.
The blend of traditional exhibits and land preserves gives plenty of opportunities for exploration.
You can visit the botanical gardens, aquarium, and science center—all of which are enclosed spaces that can be explored on self-guided tours.
Outside, you can walk around the designated trails and see the native animals in their natural habitats, such as river otters, red wolves, eagles, and pelicans.
The planetarium and observatory is a great place to learn all about the night sky.
Since light is strictly controlled in the area to reduce harm against nocturnal animals, the park is the perfect place to view the stars and moon.
Bring Home a Bountiful Catch From James River Fishing Pier
James River is a wide, calm body of water that spills out into the Atlantic.
Fishing enthusiasts will have plenty of opportunities to catch the aquatic creatures swimming in the depths, and the best place to do this is at James River Fishing Pier.
It’s one of the longest piers on the East Coast, reaching far out into the river itself with a length of 0.6 miles.
Grab a hook and line, pay a small fee, and spend a few hours catching catfish, kingfish, gray trout, flounder, and many other species abounding in the river.
There are outfitters on the pier itself, as well as a bait shop, so you can visit them if you don’t have the equipment needed.
Immerse in the History of Lee Hall Mansion
Built in the 1800s, this brick plantation house was once owned by the prominent planter, Richard Decatur Lee.
His family abandoned it when the Civil War started and consequently used it as a Confederate headquarters because of its commanding countryside views.
Today, it stands a relic of a bygone era, with galleries, exhibits, and artifacts that showcase life from a turbulent time in the US.
You can join a fact-filled and engaging tour to learn more about the house's history and its significance in the war efforts.
The basement has a little museum where war-time artifacts are displayed, and the grounds offer a scenic and serene atmosphere for relaxing day walks.
And because of this peaceful ambiance and natural scenery, many people book the mansion for special events.
View the Exhibits at Virginia War Museum
The Virginia War Museum chronicles American military heritage.
The evolution of the US military from 1775 to the present is depicted through collections of artifacts, weaponry, vehicles, clothing, and displays.
A section of the Berlin Wall, a portion of the Dachau Concentration Camp's outer wall, and photo and article exhibitions such as Marches Toward Freedom and Women at War are among the museum's standout exhibits.
Military handbooks, unit histories, uniforms, gear reference books, and general histories are among the publications available to scholars in the museum's modest library.
Across the year, the Virginia War Museum offers a range of nighttime programs and special events.
Walk around Endview Plantation
Endview Plantation emphasizes the region's historical and cultural importance.
Endview Plantation, built in 1769, served as Dr. Humphrey Harwood Curtis's first residence and the site of the hospital he established there during the Confederate War.
Presently, the home serves as a museum and educational display of colonial and Civil War life.
The exhibit details the house's heritage, the 400 years of family links to the land, and Dr. Curtis's medical profession in the 19th century, in addition to a guided house tour.
There are barns, a medical herb garden, a nature walk, and roadside signs on the property.
Shop, Dine, and Enjoy at Patrick Henry Mall
Patrick Henry Mall, the only indoor shopping center between Norfolk and Richmond, provides a wide range of top-notch entertainment and shopping options.
The mall is host to indoor and outdoor stores focused on selling clothing and accessories for women and kids.
Shop for daily necessities, including apparel, jewelry, shoes, children's clothes, home décor, and more.
The outlet mall features a variety of restaurants, entertainment venues, and contemporary comforts.
Visit one of their many restaurants, including Chick-fil-A, Chipotle, Red Robin, Dairy Queen, and more, to relax and enjoy a fantastic meal.
Locals and tourists may take advantage of various free activities and programs at Patrick Henry Mall all year.
Participate in Special Events Hosted by Newsome House Museum & Cultural Center
The Newsome House Museum & Cultural Center was J. Thomas Newsome's residence.
It paid tribute to the heritage of the well-known and esteemed lawyer, writer, churchgoer, and civic leader.
He became well-known for his continued work in African American culture and history.
The home is important to the history and culture of the area since it served as a location for gathering for the local African-American community.
The restored Victorian monument is still a significant historical feature of the City up until today.
It serves as a location for exhibitions, notable events, and civic gatherings and a museum dedicated to Newsome's achievements.
The house is included on the National Register of Historic Places and hosts several educational activities and special events year-round.
Purchase Items at Dean & Don's Farm Market
Dean & Don's Farm Market has been a family-run farm market since 1967.
From April through October, they are available with fresh vegetables; in November and December, they have freshly cut Christmas trees.
Their clear objective is to deliver fresh fruits and veggies to clients.
The market offers a wide range of products, including apples, zucchini, eggs, honey, handmade bread, jams and jellies, beverages, salad dressings, spiced beef, and more.
Additionally, their garden center offers a wide selection of dangling baskets, shrubs, trees, topsoil & mulch, potting soil, cement products, and several types of bedding and vegetable plants.
Other Things to Do Nearby
Once you’ve had your fill of the historical and natural attractions of Newport News, why not visit the nearby destinations in Williamsburg and Hampton?
Experience the Thrills of Busch Gardens Williamsburg
Busch Gardens Williamsburg is one of the most visited amusement parks in the country, ranking twentieth and receiving millions of people each year.
So if you want to join the hype, then make it a stopover during your vacation.
The facility features many thrilling, and even sometimes scary, rides that are definitely not for the faint of heart.
Enjoy the dizzying, world-class rollercoasters, themed villages, and many other attractions that the park has in store.
Cool Down at Water Country USA
As the Mid-Atlantic’s largest water park, the Water Country USA is truly a behemoth facility that is perfect for the whole family.
Wave pools, towering slides, artificial rivers—the list of things to do are endless.
It’s the ideal destination to cool off after a summer tour of Newport News.
Make a Stopover at Sandy Bottom Nature Park
Sandy Bottom Nature Park is a 456-acre nature reserve located at the edge of Hampton, right on the border it shares with Newport News.
With its peaceful lake, verdant grounds, and swaths of forests, the park is an ideal stopover for those who want to commune with nature and interact with wildlife.
Nobody would think that this sanctuary was once a garbage dump that has been reclaimed over the years.
History and nature make a perfect blend in the otherwise urbanized city of Newport News.
Bring the whole family together and explore the museums, interact with wildlife, and join the festivals that the town has in store.
So when making your itinerary, check out this list so you won’t miss all the best destinations!