National Geographic Traveler, the world’s top travel publication, selected Tangier Island off Virginia’s Eastern Shore as one of the world’s top 20 places to visit in 2016. The annual list includes places across the globe: Botswana, Winnepeg, the Phillipines and Eastern Bhutan and Tangier Island is one of only five U.S. destinations.
Tangier Island, a tiny spit in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay, is accessible by boat or plane only. Spring, summer and fall are the best times to go since the water crossing can be difficult during the colder months.
Once on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, catch the ferry out of Onancock (reservations recommended, spots fill up quickly) a charming harbor town right on the Chesapeake Bay, with B&Bs, a boutique hotel, a dozen or so restaurants, two museums, antique stores, art galleries, a gourmet grocer and small shops. If you’re staying in town, walk down to the Onancock harbor and catch the ferry which departs mid-morning and returns to Onancock in the late afternoon. You can also catch a ferry to Tangier from Crisfield, Maryland and Reedville, Virginia.
The trip out of Onancock is a little over an hour and heads west through a wide channel lined with picturesque waterfront homes along Onancock Creek, hits the Chesapeake Bay after about 20 minutes and pulls directly up to the Tangier Island harbor. Expect locals with golf carts to meet you and offer an island tour for a small fee. Rent a golf cart or bicycle or head out on foot — this is a tiny island so nothing is a long walk and there are very few cars on the island.
Tip: The ferry has a cabin but it’s not enclosed – bring common-sense protection from the elements.
The Museum, The Beach
Tangier’s long and rich history dates to America’s earliest times so stop in at the charming Tangier Island History Museum and spend some time learning about this unique place.
— Captain John Smith discovered the island in 1608
— Tangier played an important role in the War of 1812
— Four epidemics plagued the island through the centuries
— Cable laid across the Chesapeake Bay ocean floor delivers electricity from the mainland
— The Chesapeake Bay, the world’s second-largest estuary, is slowly washing over the island. Its population, according to experts, might well be among the world’s first “climate refugees.”
Take a walk out to the Tangier beach, one of the most beautiful natural shorelines on the entire East Coast — very pristine, very wild and often, empty.
Tip: The museum has a small entrance fee; the beach is free.
Board a boat with a Tangier captain and take the Tangier Island Waterman’s Tour to learn about the lives of those who ply the surrounding waters for their livelihood. Tangier Island watermen harvest oysters and soft-shell crabs using modern aqua farming methods married to traditional practices. The tour guide is a licensed captain who has years of experience working the waters of Tangier Island whose family has been on the island for centuries and has some pretty interesting stories to tell.
Tip: Make an appointment in advance to take the tour.
Where to Stay
Stay on Tangier at one of a handful of vacation rentals or B&Bs. This is a chance to get an inside peek at island life and culture and to chat with residents who speak a “relic” dialect related to long ago ancestors from western England.
Tip: The B&Bs serve breakfast and additional optional meals.
Where to Eat
When you get hungry, you don’t have to go far — all the restaurants are within steps of each other. Don’t ask for beer, wine or spirits — the island is dry. Tangier Islanders call their home “the crab capital of the world” so be sure to try a soft shell crab sandwich or a crab soup, both local delicacies.
Tip: Meals can be pricey – this is a remote island and it costs a lot just to transport a gallon of milk to it.