The coastal city of Norfolk, Virginia, sits a short three miles east of Portsmith and 19 miles west of Virginia Beach. It is protected by the Lafayette River to the north and the south branch of the Elizabeth River.
Norfolk is known as a Military town primarily because it is home to the world’s most extensive naval base. It is also the location of the North American Headquarters for NATO – the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
USA Today lists the city as a Top 10 booming downtown, recognizing the excellent and endless opportunities for continued growth and small business success. But this small Chesapeake Bay city is so much more. It is the ideal mixture of historical importance and seaside charm.
And who could not admire a city with 13 dog parks and a cruise ship pier? Norfolk has over 68 community parks and miles of intercity and coastal trails. One of the unique trails is the Cannon Ball Trail, allowing hikers to follow a self-guided tour reviewing 400 years of American history.
For those that love scavenger hunts, Norfolk is home to the Mermaids, over two dozen Mermaid statues that pepper the city.
If you are lucky enough to be in the city during the Virginia Arts Festival don’t miss the annual Virginia International Tattoo. Roughly 1000 military musicians, from bagpipers to drill and drum corps, exhibit artistic excellence in this colorful display.
Norfolk is a great place to visit for history buffs and art lovers. It has over ten maritime museums, including Nauticus Maritime Museum, featuring the WWII warship – U.S.S. Wisconsin.
The Chrysler Museum of Art houses glass art, and the Children’s Museum of Virginia is the state’s largest children’s museum. For plant lovers, the Norfolk Botanical Garden covers nearly 175 acres with a Children’s Adventure Garden where kids of all ages can explore the world’s biomes.
A popular Norfolk attraction is the Virginia Zoo — home to lions, tigers, birds, and bears. Every once and a while, you may hear someone called a Norfolk Dumpling – this is an endearment referring to the flour dumplings, which were a local food staple.
But the city’s food scene has come a long way from flour and water. Norfolk’s Waterfront District has many top-notch restaurants, coffee shops, bars, and even a baseball stadium on the river.
If you are planning to visit Norfolk, the attraction pass and discount book have discounts and free passes to numerous fun places to visit in Norfolk for a weekend or a week.
- Most significant landmark – Fort Norfolk
- Best park – Town Point Park
- Best free activity – Chrysler Museum of Art
- Best thing to do for kids – Children’s Museum of Virginia
- Best thing to do for adults – Freemason Abbey Restaurant
- Best food – 456 Fish
- Best nightlife – American Rover Sailing Cruises
- Best all-around accommodation – Glass Light Hotel & Gallery
Best and Fun Things to do in Norfolk, Virginia
1. Nauticus National Maritime Center
Address: 1 Waterside Drive, Norfolk, VA 23510
Norfolk’s landmark, the Nauticus National Maritime Center, has as its main exhibit the U.S.S. Wisconsin, a WWII warship. Visitors can view the BB-64 Iowa class battleship Wisconsin through a self-guided tour. The ship, nicknamed Wisky, was commissioned in 1944 and served in the South Pacific,Iwo Jima, Philippines, and Okinawa, Japan. Special guided tours focus on intimate areas of the ship, such as the 90-minute Guided Command and Control Tour, which visits the captain’s cabin and the navigation bridge.
The museum also has hundreds of exhibits, from Naval History to artillery and sailor artifacts. Another popular tour, the Engine Room Tour, allows visitors to experience the engine room in the bowels of this powerful vessel.
If you are looking for accommodation near the museum, the four-star Hilton Norfolk The Main offers easy waterfront access and views of the river.
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2. Virginia Zoo
Address: 3500 Granby Street, Norfolk, VA 23504
The Virginia Zoo is a fascinating place. Home to over 700 animals from 150 different species, such as the African giraffes, pancake tortoise, and Asian red pandas, the Virginia Zoo offers fun and excitement for all ages.
Perched on the Layaffette River, the Virginia Zoo also offers behind-the-scenes tours that allow a closer look at the animals. Learn how to feed and care for the Masai giraffe or pride of African lions.
Wander the exhibits or ride the zoo train to see the white rhinos or black and white tigers. The zoo is also home to eleven specialty gardens, from a Pollinator garden and a Hummingbird garden to an Observation Bee Hive.
After roaming the zoo, take a few minutes to peruse the Eggleston Garden Center and Farmer’s Market next door.
Tired of walking? Try a family-friendly meal at the Dirty Buffalo, with six different kinds of Mac and Cheese and all sorts of wings.
3. Chrysler Museum Of Art
Address: Chrysler Museum of Art, 1 Memorial Pl, Norfolk, VA 23510
The Chrysler Museum of Art is located near the Mowbry Arch Conservation Area. It offers over 50 galleries and 30,000 works dating back 5,000 years. Visitors will find glass collections, a fine arts gallery, and an African art gallery.
There are also paintings and sculptures by international artists. Galleries are dedicated to Egyptian, Pre-Columbian, Islamic, and American contemporary art. It takes several hours to wander through this Norfolk treasure, and the best part? The museum is free to the public.
The Chrysler’s glass collection houses roughly 104 Tiffany glass and lamps and Chihuly, an American glass artist famous for creating larger-than-life blown glass sculptures. And the visual arts studio, the Perry Glass Studio, offers classes and demonstrations, such as glass-blowing.
Spending the day browsing these magnificent exhibits works up an appetite. And when visiting the Hampton Roads area, crabs and crabcakes are the things. Wicker’s Crab Pot Seafood is only a few minutes from the Chrysler. And the all-suite hotel, the Residence Inn Norfolk Downtown, is a few short miles from several art museums for a quick rest and refresh.
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4. Elizabeth River Trail
Address: 101 W Main Street #1000A, Norfolk, VA 23510
The Elizabeth River Trail in Norfolk is one of the best ways to experience the Norfolk Waterfront. It features 10.5 miles of paths that extend from Norfolk State University Sentara Loop and the Freemason District, through the Downtown Waterfront District to Amtrack’s Terminal Boulevard.
It connects 28 neighborhoods, including Norfolk’s working waterfront, historic landmarks, popular attractions, restaurants, and parks. There are even designated Wi-Fi locations and Bike-Fix-it Stations along the trail.
ADA accessible to hikers, bikers, and walkers, locals consider the paved trail to be one of the best bike path systems in Virginia. The path is curated and maintained by the Elizabeth River Trail Foundation.
Immediately adjacent to this iconic Waterfront Trailhead is the Norfolk Waterside Marriott, which offers full amenities and easy access to landmarks and downtown entertainment.
5. Norfolk Botanical Garden
Address: 6700 Azalea Garden Road, Norfolk, VA 23518,
The Norfolk Botanical Garden is Virginia’s largest Botanical Garden. Adjacent to the Norfolk International Airport, the gardens are housed on 175 acres that can be explored by walking the grounds or taking a guided walking tour.
Several guided tours highlight seasonal gardens, a children’s garden that includes a plant safari, and an adventure garden. Another way to learn about the park’s history and plant diversity is to take a Narrated Tram Tour.
One of the more unique gardens is the W.P.A. Memorial Garden, inspired by the work done in the late 1930s and early 1940s with the Works Progress Administration grant, which is a must-see. The W.P.A. grant financially supported African American women who worked to transform a Virginia swamp into a beautiful azalea garden.
These beautiful gardens are also home to a unique collection of statues and fine art. Within the visitor’s center are rotating paintings. And pieces by Moses Ezekiel, circa 1800, complement contemporary bronzes by Virginia natives William H. and David H. Turner.
While meandering, stop by the Marigold & Honey Café and the zoo gift shop for a quick refreshment. A trip to the Norfolk Botanical Garden combines history, horticulture, and art, and definitely one of the top things to do in Norfolk.
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6. Children’s Museum of Virginia
Address: 221 High St, Portsmouth, VA 23704
The Children’s Museum of Virginia is the largest children’s museum in the state of Virginia and the top and the best thing to do in Norfolk. It is located in Olde Town Portsmouth, just across Berkeley Bridge.
The museum’s planetarium is complemented by everchanging hands-on interactive activities that explore space. And the onsite antique toy and model train collection is one of the East Coast’s most extensive.
Visitors can play at the bubble-blowing station or enjoy instruments at the music store. In addition, kids can climb around the full-sized tugboat, city bus, and fire engine. As you head back over the bridge into Norfolk, grab the kid’s a couple of hot dogs or hamburgers at Famous Al’s Hot Dogs.
7. Hermitage Museum and Gardens
Address: 7637 N Shore Road, Norfolk, VA 23505
Hermitage Museum and Gardens is a beautiful art museum complex in Norfolk, Virginia. It features fine art and sculpture dating back 5,000 years.
The museum is housed on the Sloane estate, an 1895 Arts and Crafts style summer home on the banks of the inner Lafayette River near Lafayette Park. The 12-acre estate slowly transitioned to the Sloane Family’s principal residence.
The Hermitage boasts over 40,000 items. The Sloane Collection, the family’s art collection, includes extraordinary work by contemporary artists such as Charles Hawthorne, Eugene Francis Savage, and Helen Turner. In fact, the Hermitage is the single largest holding of Helen Turner’s works.
The estate is surrounded by a waterfront trail and several gardens, including a grotto and sunken garden. The Hermitage Museum and Gardens is a top attraction in Norfolk.
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8. Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel
Address: Norfolk VA
The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel is a marvel of engineering and a must for anyone who loves tunnels. It crosses the mouth of the Bay between Delmarva and Hampton Roads. The bridge replaced ferries that would transport traffic between the two shores.
With 17.6 miles of bridges and two one-mile-long tunnels, the CBBT is one of only 14 bridge-tunnel systems worldwide and one of three in Hampton Roads. It is a shortcut between Washington and Baltimore via U.S. 13.
On the CBBT’s west side is a scenic rest stop where visitors can enjoy the many bird species that rest on the bridge. Bird enthusiasts gather on the bridge with permission to look for over ten different avian species known to migrate through the area.
9. Town Point Park
Address: 113 Waterside Drive, Norfolk, VA 23510
Town Point Park is a seven-acre city park on the river in Norfolk, Virginia. It is located downtown, adjacent to Nauticus Maritime Museum and the U.S.S. Wisconsin. The Elizabeth River Trail runs through Town Point Park. And the green space hosts major outdoor concerts and celebrations, including Norfolk Harborfest and the 4th of July.
The park is also home to the Armed Forces Memorial. This unique bronze features 20 letters home from U.S. service people, all of whom died during various conflicts from the American Revolution to the Operation Desert Storm.
A few blocks from Town Point Park is the Norfolk Waterside District, a marina-based complex with multiple casual eateries and pubs. Or, for something in the area but a bit more formal, try 219 Bistro, an upscale New American eatery.
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Address: 1 Waterside Drive, Suite 248, Norfolk, VA 23510
The Hampton Roads Naval Museum is a top Norfolk tourist attraction. The museum is adjacent to Town Point Park and Nauticus, part of a ten-interrelated Navy museums network.
Hampton Roads is the delta of water where the Elizabeth and James Rivers and the Chesapeake Bay meet and flow into the Atlantic Ocean. At the tip of the Hampton Roads peninsula is the Naval Station Norfolk. It dominates the waterfront extending throughout Willoughby Bay.
This intimate museum is free and dedicated to the part Hampton Roads played in support of the United States Navy throughout the country’s history. It features ships, models & artifacts. Be sure to keep the Hampton Roads Naval Museum as a museum to visit when in Norfolk.
11. Hunter House Victorian Museum
Address: 240 W Freemason Street, Norfolk, VA 23510
Constructed for entrepreneur James Wilson Hunter and his family, this stately home now serves as the Hunter House Victorian Museum. The Hunter House Victorian Museum, located in Norfolk’s Freemason Historic District, is an exquisite example of decorative arts and furniture. It provides a glimpse of upper-class life in the early 1900s.
A national historic treasure, the 1894 Richardsonian Romanesque home houses Victorian furnishings and items belonging to Hunter’s family. Guided tours of the facility provide a deeper glimpse into the world and education of the Hunter children and the philanthropic deeds of the family. The Hunter House also holds special events, teas, and literary programs.
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12. Moses Myers House
Address: 323 E Freemason Street, Norfolk, VA 23510
The Moses Myers House was the home of Jewish-American entrepreneur Moses Myers. The house, built in 1792, is an example of late Federal period architecture and the stylingsof the upper business class in 19th Century America. Surprisingly, the Moses family were the only Jewish people in the region for more than a decade.
Moses Myers established Myers & Company. This family business was one of the city’s antebellum businesses — helping to rebuild Norfolk after the Civil War. Curated by the Chrysler Art Museum, the Moses Myers House is filled with period furniture and personal belongings of over five generations of Moses family members.
After a day of art and history, several restaurants in the area offer steak and seafood. The upscale 456 Fish is a unique eatery that offers refined seafood, craft beers, and cocktails.
13. Harrison Opera House
Address: 160 W Virginia Beach Boulevard, Norfolk, Virginia 23510
Housed in an old World War II USO theater, the Harrison Opera House provides seating for roughly 1,632. The Edythe C. and Stanley L. Harrison Opera House is lavishly decorated with glittering chandeliers, grand staircases, and champagne tables. But it maintains its intimacy with small tables and private nooks throughout the building.
The Harrison Opera House is home to the Virginia Opera, which has been named The Official Opera Company of the Commonwealth of Virginia. A mecca for operatic students and stars, the company performs a combination of traditional and contemporary works throughout the state.
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14. Freemason Abbey Restaurant
Address: 209 W Freemason Street, Norfolk, VA 23510
The Freemason Abbey Restaurant sits in an old 1873 Second Presbyterian Church and is one of the top Norfolk tourist attractions. It is also consistently voted as one of the top restaurants in the city.
The unique stained glass windows are original works from the Freemason Abbey, giving the tavern an atmosphere of old-world casual elegance. The restaurant serves lunch, brunch, and dinner with sandwiches, steaks, and pasta and is a great place to stop after a performance at the Virginia Stage Company.
In addition to fantastic food and ambiance, one of the draws of the Freemason Abbey Restaurant is that it is supposedly haunted. Reports of paranormal activity are frequent. There are even reports of a dark figure wandering throughout the restaurant — if you believe in those sorts of things.
15. MacArthur Memorial
Address: 198 Bank Street, Norfolk, VA 23510
The MacArthur Memorial was once Norfolk’s City Hall. It was built in 1847 and is a two-story, Greek Revival-style building with six massive Tuscan order columns. The building complex is now the tomb of General Douglas MacArthur and his wife.
The MacArthur Memorial includes a theater, museum, visitor center, and research center. Numerous exhibits and military items are housed throughout the museum. The museum’s collections detail General MacArthur’s part in shaping the United States on the International stage.
Douglas MacArthur was a United States Army General in the Spanish American War, World War I and II, the Occupation of Japan, and the Korean War. He was also Chief of Staff of the United States Army.
Once done with a day of history, it’s time to relax at the Autograph Collection’s Glass Light Hotel & Gallery, just a few blocks from the General Douglas Macarthur Memorial in the heart of downtown Norfolk. This unique hotel is situated in a historic 1912 building and is known for top-notch accommodations and an interesting in-house museum.
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16. Harbor Park
Address: 150 Park Avenue, Norfolk, VA 23510
Harbor Park is a 36-acre sprawling sports complex and park located on the shores of the river. In addition to the Harbor Park Boxing and Fitness Center, the Harbor Park Stadium is home to the Norfolk Tides.
The Tides are a minor-league baseball team and an affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles. The baseball stadium, located directly on the water, can accommodate over 12,000 spectators.
Harbor Park also contains a segment of the Elizabeth River Trail and an Amtrack Station Stop. About half a mile up the river is the Waterside District. Grab a casual bite and a pint at Waterside Seafood or a tasty BBQ sandwich with all the fixings at Guy Fieri’s Smokehouse.
17. American Rover Sailing Cruises
Address: 333 Waterside Drive, Norfolk, VA 23510,
If you are still wondering what to do in Norfolk, Virginia, some of the city’s top attractions are sailing harbor cruises aboard the 135-foot, three-masted topsail schooner, the American Rover. The yacht holds roughly 100 people with shading deck seating. And while underway, expert guides bring to life the history of the waterways and answer any questions.
American Rover Sailing Cruises are a spectacular way to view Hampton Roads Harbor or enjoy the evening on sunset cruises. Departing from Norfolk’s downtown Waterside Marina, this famous sailing yacht can be identified by its iconic red sails made from red tanbark. Each narrated cruise lasts an hour or two hours.
18. Mural Tour of the NEON District
Address: Granby Street, Norfolk, VA 23510
The NEON District, New Energy of Norfolk, is downtown Norfolk’s official art district. A unique neighborhood bordered by East Virginia Beach to the north and E Brambleton Avenue and St. Pauls Boulevard to the south and east.
The website has an interactive public art map of the NEON District murals. The area includes about 50 murals dotted around the streets, walls, alleyways, signs, and even streets. Take the self-guided tour, or try one of the many city tours to ensure you don’t miss any murals.
There are plenty of eclectic places to grab a bite, including Commune, Cairo Bistro & Social, or Zeke’s for a powerhouse cup of gourmet coffee. There are also food trucks peppering the area. Of course, in addition to the mural walk, the NEON district has comedy shows, art galleries, and theater performances.
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19. Ocean View Beach Park
Address: 100 W Ocean View Avenue, Norfolk, VA 23503
Ocean View Beach Park offers access to fantastic beaches in Norfolk, Virginia, with plenty of exciting activities for all ages. Easy water access allows great kayaking, shore sailing, and swimming. The park also has a boardwalk and band shell for live music concerts and festivals.
A nearly-seven-acre park in the heart of the city has been dubbed “the jewel of Ocean View” by locals. Ocean View lifeguards are on duty during regular summer business hours.
Immediately adjacent to the park is the Ocean View Station Museum, an intimate historical look at the history of the resort. It takes about an hour to browse the items, artifacts, and photographs, but it is highly worth the time. And a few blocks away are the Longest Pier Museum and the Ocean View Fishing Pier Restaurant – at the end of the Ocean View Fishing Pier.
Or, in the other direction, further up the east beach towards Grove Beach, is The Bold Mariner Brewing Company for a cold pint or two. Whichever direction you walk, there are many great places to relax and enjoy near Norfolk’s Ocean View Park. There are also nearby rentals to book in the area.
20. Pagoda & Oriental Garden
Address: 265 W Tazewell Street, Norfolk, VA 23510
Gifted by the Taiwan Provincial Government, the Pagoda & Oriental Garden is one of the unique things to see in Norfolk, Virginia. Located on Freemason Harbor in downtown Norfolk, the two-story octagon structure is a Chinese-styled Pagoda. This building is also a spectacular marine observation tower overlooking the river.
The surrounding Oriental Garden combines water and stone to create a peaceful urban space that combines the cultures of the East and West. The area is landscaped with bamboo trees, orchids, koi ponds, and unique tiled and bronze sculptures.
Facing West, the exquisitely detailed Pagoda is the Oriental Garden’s centerpiece offering panoramic views of the USS Wisconsin and water-framed sunsets. The Pagoda boasts an International restaurant with an Asian flare- “Where East Meets West.”
The Pagoda also holds a museum home to Chinese artifacts and Oriental brush paintings. The Pagoda Restaurant and Tea House serve daily meals and afternoon tea.
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21. Basilica of Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception
Address: 232 Chapel Street, Norfolk, VA 23504
In the center of Norfolk is The Basilica of Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception. Established in 1791 as St. Patrick’s Church, it is the oldest parish community in the Richmond Diocese and is known as The Mother Church of Tidewater Virginia. The original church was built in 1842 but was destroyed by fire and rebuilt in 1858.
Having merged with St. Mary’s, this parish serves the surrounding African-American community. In 1991, on the church’s 200th birthday, it was consecrated as a minor Basilica—one of 33 in the United States.
It is the only one in the Commonwealth of Virginia. This beautiful working cathedral is also the site of several archeological excavations of numerous burials and crypts found beneath the main church structure.
22. Fort Norfolk
Address: 801 Front Street, Norfolk, VA 23510
Fort Norfolk sits on the shores of the Elizabeth River. President George Washington authorized this historical landmark in 1794. Currently owned by the United States Army Corps of Engineers, the building was initially intended to protect Norfolk during the Battle of 1812.
Later, the earthwork embankments, ramparts, and powder magazines helped save Norfolk during the Civil War. In 1861 it was occupied by Confederate forces to defend Norfolk and Portsmouth. In 1862 the Union Army recaptured the Fort for use as a prison.
The buildings mostly date to 1810, including the barracks, dungeons, and offices. Admission is free and open for self-guided tours. On Sunday, the Norfolk Historical Society provides guided tours and historical films. While you are near the shipyards, stop by Vessel Craft Coffee for an outstanding cup of fair market brew.
What is the best thing to do with kids in Norfolk, Virginia?
A trip to the Virginia Zoo is at the top of the list. The unique habitat-based layout provides a home to over 700 animals. Walk the paths or ride a train to see pandas, tigers, lions, and the Aruba rattlesnake. Kids will also love the Children’s Museum of Virginia. Families may also enjoy visiting the Nauticus, part of a network of naval museums, which features a fascinating maritime collection.
What are some fun things to do in Norfolk, Virginia?
Taking a walking tour of the Murals of the NEON District, exploring the Norfolk Botanical Gardens, or visiting downtown Norfolk, are just a few fun things to do. You can also enjoy a large section of museums including the Hampton Roads Naval Museum and the Chrysler Museum of Art.
What are some things to do in Norfolk, Virginia when it’s raining?
The Norfolk area gets over 114 days of rain each year, so if you are thinking of visiting Norfolk it is a go idea to have a few activities to visit when the weather is dreary. Chrysler Museum of Art is one of those great museums where you can spend the day. There are over 50 galleries and 30,000 works of art, and best of all, no entry fee.
Or a visit to the Hermitage Museum to catch a glimpse of Norfolk’s upper-class Victorian life and wander through the endless fine art and sculptures collected by the Slone Family.
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