The Elizabeth River cuts through the Virginia towns of Portsmouth and Norfolk.

Portsmouth, Virginia

Portsmouth is a big independent city situated in the southeastern part of the US State of Virginia. Being a portion of the Hampton Roads Metropolitan Area, Portsmouth is a Coastal Virginia gem with its range of historic homes dating back to more than three centuries. The city is also well-known for its unique mix of locally-owned restaurants and stores and its breathtaking shoreline along the busy harbor. Portsmouth is home to some historical and functional US Navy installations, namely the Norfolk Naval Shipyard and Naval Medical Center Portsmouth.

Geography And Climate Of Portsmouth

Downtown Portsmouth on the Elizabeth River
Downtown Portsmouth on the Elizabeth River. Image Credit: U.S. Navy photo, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Portsmouth is situated across Norfolk on the southern banks of the Elizabeth River. The city, which dates back more than 250 years, is home to one of the world's best natural harbors, located where the James and Elizabeth Rivers meet the Chesapeake Bay. To the south and west, it is surrounded by the cities of Chesapeake and Suffolk, respectively, and to the east by the City of Norfolk. Portsmouth covers a total area of 120.91 sq. km, of which 86.25 sq. km is occupied by land, and 34.66 sq. km is covered by water. 

As per the Koppen Climate Classification, Portsmouth experiences a mild humid subtropical climate. All year round, the weather is rainy and partially cloudy with hot, humid summers and bitterly cold, windy winters. The average annual temperature ranges from 34 to 88°F, rarely falling below 22 or rising over 95°F. With an average high temperature of 89.4°F, July is the year's hottest month. The cool season lasts for 3.0 months, with January being the year's coldest month, having an average daily high temperature of 50.7°F. Portsmouth receives an average of 47 inches of rainfall and 5 inches of snowfall each year.

Brief History Of Portsmouth

St. John's Episcopal Church in the historical downtown of Portsmouth, Virginia
St. John's Episcopal Church in the historical downtown of Portsmouth, Virginia. 

In 1752, Portsmouth was established as a town. Captain William Carver was initially given the land in 1659, but the town's founding was postponed due to his death during Bacon's Rebellion (1676). Colonel William Crawford, the justice of Norfolk County, created the settlement and named it after Portsmouth, England. British and American troops alternately held the city during the American Revolution. A yellow fever epidemic struck the Portsmouth and Norfolk region in 1855. Portsmouth became independent of Norfolk County in 1858; however, it served as Norfolk County's County seat until 1963. After being founded in a political union with South Norfolk City, the new city of Chesapeake assumed control of the county seat.

The Population And Economy Of Portsmouth

Aerial view of downtown Portsmouth, Virginia, waterfront
Aerial view of downtown Portsmouth, Virginia, waterfront. Editorial credit: Kyle J Little /

As per the latest US Census, Portsmouth has 97,915 residents, making it the 10th most populous city in Virginia. Portsmouth's population has grown by 0.49% from the most recent census and is now expanding at a pace of 0.24% annually. Black or African American (Non-Hispanic) (52%), White (Non-Hispanic) (37%), Two+ (Non-Hispanic) (3.76%), White (Hispanic) (1.88%), and Other (Hispanic) (1.6%) make up Portsmouth's top five ethnic groups. With a poverty rate of 15.75%, Portsmouth's average household income is $63,882. In recent years, the median price of a property has been $174,200, and the median monthly rent cost has been $1,083. In Portsmouth, the median age is 35.3 years, 33.2 years for men, and 37.3 years for women.

Portsmouth's proximity to navigable waterways has played a significant role in the city's long history and thriving maritime industry. Portsmouth served as the center of local, national, and international port commerce activities. The primary economic activity takes place in the port's navy yard, officially known as the Norfolk Naval Shipyard. There are several different industries in the area, including those that produce chemicals, fertilizers, plastics, and railroad equipment. 

Attractions In And Around Portsmouth

The Commodore Theatre

The Commodore Theatre in downtown Portsmouth, Virginia
The Commodore Theatre in downtown Portsmouth, Virginia. Editorial credit: Kyle J Little /

The Commodore Theatre is an opulent movie theater that opened its doors in 1945. It is listed on both the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places. In 1987, work on the building's restoration got underway. Fred Schoenfeld carried it out when he acquired the Commodore and attempted to restore the theater to its previous appearance. The theater's 41-foot screen, THX, and Dolby Digital Sound are all present and working in today's version. Twenty-two speakers are set throughout the auditorium, including nine substantial JBL speakers that are installed behind the screen.

Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum

A cannon sits outside the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum in Portsmouth, Virginia
A cannon sits outside the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum in Portsmouth, Virginia. Editorial credit: James Kirkikis /

More than 250 years of maritime history are explored at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum. The largest and oldest naval Shipyard in the country, the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, saw action during the Revolutionary War. Three times, enemy forces have attempted to set fire to the Shipyard and numerous ancient vessels. More than 43,000 people from Virginia were previously employed by Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. 

The Elizabeth River Boardwalk

Beautiful view of the Naval Medical Center reflected in the waters in Portsmouth, Virginia
Beautiful view of the Naval Medical Center reflected in the waters in Portsmouth, Virginia. 

It is the section of the Elizabeth River that was crucial to the development of the nation and is still used as a waterway today. The waterfront provides many opportunities for sitting by the water, wonderful photo opportunities, and a look into the history of the area. The Naval Medical Center, the oldest naval hospital still in use, is visible as you stroll along the Seawall. Visitors can observe the Titan, a 950-foot-long piece of steel, and a floating dry dock behind the Renaissance Hotel while strolling down the Elizabeth River Boardwalk. Both structures were constructed in 1979.

Lightship Portsmouth Museum

Aerial view of the Lightship Portsmouth Museum in Portsmouth, Virginia
Aerial view of the Lightship Portsmouth Museum in Portsmouth, Virginia. Editorial credit: Kyle J Little /

The first lightship was built in 1820 as a mobile lighthouse to help ships along the shore navigate. Built in 1915, the Lightship Portsmouth operated off the shores of Virginia, Delaware, and Massachusetts for approximately 50 years. The ship was retired in 1964, and in 1989 it received the designation of National Historic Landmark. The ship is now a museum featuring the crew's quarters and one-of-a-kind relics from its time in service.

Hoffler Creek Wildlife Preserve

The 142-acre Hoffler Creek Wildlife Preserve is located at the mouth of the James River. The area around Hoffler Creek, which borders the preserve, has a rich history that dates back to the colonies, the American Revolution, and the War of 1812. The Hoffler Creek Wildlife Preserve offers visitors the opportunity to go for walks, hikes, fishing, growing oysters, kayaking, and observe birds.

Portsmouth is the ideal vacation spot for history lovers, with many historical sites and activities that offer a window into the area's past. But in this lovely seaport community, which also offers natural wonders, cultural attractions, and fine food, there is much more to see and discover besides history. Do not pass up the opportunity to experience Portsmouth and all that this wonderful Virginia city has to offer, including all of its beautiful attractions.

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