Tripping Through Virginia's Tidewater

Sailing in Chesapeake Bay, Virginia
Sailing in Chesapeake Bay, Virginia

Bordered by the Chesapeake Bay and Potomac River, Virginia’s “Northern Neck” blends history, scenery, and activity for a relaxing, rejuvenating getaway.

Tiny waterfront villages, historic mansions, and quiet farmland north of Norfolk, VA seem far removed from the modern world.

Immerse yourself in George Washington’s early days at the plantation where he was born. Nearby is fully-restored Stratford Hall. It was home to the Lee family – including two who signed the Declaration of Independence and Confederate General Robert E. Lee.   

The history of the region is tied to the Chesapeake and its tributaries. Reedville’s entire mile-long, waterfront Main Street is a National Historic District. The Fishermen’s Museum overflows with tales of the fishing, crabbing, and oystering industries. Cruise on their skipjack – a single-masted schooner unique to the Chesapeake.

For decades, steamboats were the economic lifeline of Bay, carrying passengers and cargo from Baltimore to Norfolk, stopping at some 200 wharves along the way. In Irvington, the Steamboat Era Museum uses cutaway models, maps, and displays to recreate that nearly forgotten period.

Tucked into a cove of the Rappahannock River, Urbanna is worth visiting just for the self-guided walking tour. The town has more galleries, restaurants, and shopping than other places. Both Reedville and Urbanna have lovely B&Bs.

See bald eagles, learn about the ecosystem, and hear legends and lore on a river cruise. Tangier Cruises and Urbanna Cruises have various itineraries. Pet and family-friendly Rappahannock River Charters has sunset cruises and a trip which docks at Ingleside Winery. Adventurous tourists paddle the Westmoreland Potomac River Water Trail. It’s a well-marked route for paddlers with many places to stop, eat, play, and stay. Colonial Beach Yacht Center ( and Colton Point Marina ( both rent kayaks.

The mantra that oysters can be eaten only in months with “R” in them dates from the days when poor refrigeration meant shipping the highly perishable bivalves was chancy. Now you can enjoy fresh oysters year-round from sustainable Bay sources at Merroir in Topping, VA. The Dog and Oyster Vineyard produces wines that pair well with oysters.

For itineraries and other information, check in with (

Don’t miss:

Menokin: an ongoing archeological dig at the 1769 manor house of Francis Lightfoot Lee, a signer of the Declaration of Independence (

Irvington Crab Feast: August 8. As traditional as it gets – steamed crabs, BBQ and cold beer (

Westmoreland Berry Farm: Pick-your-own or buy their homemade goodies. Try a fresh fruit sundae on the deck overlooking the Rappahannock (

Chesapeake Bay Wine Trail: Self-guided tour of 9 wineries (

Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail: All the best spots to see resident and migratory birds and critters who call the Northern Neck home (


Insight Guides | Fran Severn