Experience the best of the best with this Top 8 list of things to do and see in Portsmouth.
Walk through history and see Olde Towne’s origins and it’s continued evolution.
Plan for your visit and explore Portsmouth with the Visitor Directory.
The Garden Club of Virginia is 100 years strong, celebrating its Centennial in 2020. For the past 87 years, the Garden Club of Virginia has hosted the nation’s only statewide home and garden tour. With 31 tours offered this year, Virginia’s garden clubs across the state welcome visitors to experience over 250 homes, gardens, and historic landmarks in towns and cities across the Commonwealth. Portsmouth is fortunate to be included on this year’s tour, thanks to the dedicated efforts of the Elizabeth River Garden Club, the Franklin Garden Club, and the Nansemond River Garden Club, as well as the homeowners who agreed to open their homes and gardens for the tour.
The Historic Garden Week Olde Towne Portsmouth tour begins at the corner of Court and High Streets, at the Portsmouth Arts and Cultural Center, also known as the 1846 Courthouse, a name derived from its function as the Norfolk County Seat for many years during the 19th century. From there, you’ll take a stroll (or ride the shuttle) through one of America’s most historic neighborhoods, Olde Towne Portsmouth, Virginia. With homes spanning three centuries, getting to the homes on tour will be almost as fascinating as the homes you will be seeing. Five Portsmouth homes, along with the Hill House Museum, will be open for tours inside and out. These homes were built between 1820 and 1912 and represent a variety of architectural styles. Guests will enjoy a leisurely tour both the home and the garden at each stop.
Built in 1880, this home was constructed in the vernacular style. The home has clapboard
sheathing, fish scale shingles, and a relaxing front porch. Once a duplex, in 2007, previous owners restored the house back to its original floor plan, making numerous changes. A custom kitchen with Ammonite fossil limestone countertops and freestanding breakfront cabinets was added. This home features a unique blend of contemporary elements as well as a wide variety of art and antique furniture. The garden features many native plants. Brick benches encircle a charming croquet court.
Built between 1825 and 1835, this three- story structure is post and beam with clapboard siding. The first curator of the Norfolk Naval Shipyard Museum, Marshall Butt, Sr., purchased the home in 1948. The home boasts many original features and artifacts among the modern conveniences that have been added by the current owners, Mr. Butt’s grandson and his wife. Six fireplaces and random-width fir flooring speak to the home’s history, while its restful palette is the perfect backdrop for antiques and more modern appointments. An English basement apartment includes the family’s collection of historical artifacts. A diminutive, lush garden graces this property. (Light refreshments served on patio.)
Completely furnished with its original family belongings left in place after 200 years, the c.1820 Hill House is a four-story antebellum English basement home, originally constructed in the Federal Style. The exterior also includes Victorian influences. It is evident from the furnishings that the Hills were avid collectors and lived graciously. Devoted gardeners, the awards displayed throughout the house are gold and silver award certificates earned by the Hill sisters at international flower shows. A major garden renovation took place in 2012. The Hill House Museum is open for the first time since the Portsmouth Historical Association completed preservation.
Constructed in 1911, this elegant home reveals an eclectic blend of styles, including French and Victorian. The homeowner collects many forms of art on his travels around the world. The family room showcases sculptures and carvings. Oil paintings by artists from Boston to Brazil and ornate antique mirrors lend opulence to the masculine home. Updated in 2018, the kitchen retains original glass front cabinetry, and etched glass French doors. Designed for entertaining, the garden is enhanced by beautiful iron gates and fences as well as several water features. Noteworthy is a nearly 100-year-old crepe myrtle.
Constructed in 1880, this home boasts contemporary conveniences while keeping its historical integrity. Numerous fireplaces, 11-foot ceilings, walk-out porches, as well as heart pine and oak floors are a few of the architectural features that bring charm to the residence. The interior features numerous original pieces of art, antiques and furnishings. In 2008, the nearly half acre lot was transformed into a perma climate with formal gardens and an outdoor living pavilion. Perennials, herb garden, and stately 100-year-old trees are part of this Elizabeth River Project River Star home. Artists will be painting in the garden on tour day.
Lured by the charm of Olde Towne, the current owners acquired the c.1912 home in 2001 after a fire destroyed much of the interior. The home was taken down to its studs and restored. A wide front porch greets guests, and the open foyer acts as a music room. Collections of sweetgrass baskets and pitchers provide functional beauty. Decor features art from local artisans, including oil paintings, watercolor, mixed media art, ceramic, and wood crafts. The kitchen, redesigned in 2015, opens onto a deck overlooking a pollinator garden and gazebo.
TICKETS: $40 pp. On tour day only at Headquarters.
TOUR HEADQUARTERS: Portsmouth Art & Cultural Center, 420 High Street, Portsmouth 23704. Tickets, brochures with maps, & lunch information are available.
ADVANCE TICKETS: $30 pp. www.vagardenweek.org or locally at
All tickets purchased online & statewide passes must be validated at Headquarters before beginning the tour. On tour day, tickets are available at headquarters ONLY.
FREE PARKING is available at meters and in garages and lots on tour day, a Saturday. The nearest city garages are 442 Middle St. and 200 County St., behind the Children’s Museum, a five-minute walk to Tour Headquarters. For more information:
DOWNTOWN PARKING INFO. Free parking is also available at Monumental Methodist Church, 450 Dinwiddie St., enter from Queen St. under blue awning.
LUNCH: There are many chef-owned restaurants, cafes and fast food available. Information WHERE TO DINE
FACILITIES: Available at tour headquarters on the right side of the building and the Visitor Information Center, 6 Crawford Parkway at the North Ferry Landing.
SHUTTLE: The Olde Towne Shuttle will be running throughout the day.
The Canada Company
City of Portsmouth, Virginia
Lake Prince Woods
International Paper, Frankin Mill
The Renaissance Portsmouth-Norfolk Waterfront Hotel
Carter Hotchkiss & Gina Pitrone
Olde Towne Shuttle
Sasser Custom Homes
Manry Rawls Insurance