About Norfolk, I wanted to write since I started my travel blog, but I never found my words to describe a place so special to me. The city of Virginia, with a population of approximately 250,000, has been home to me twice for 10 months. I’ve been there two years in a row. My first experience was through the Work and Travel program for students who want to work and travel in the States. But the second was as a tourist when I visited my boyfriend who was doing his master there, at the time.
Although it has been two years since then and there have certainly been some changes that I have not yet come to know, I want to share this little guide that includes 18 things I recommend you to do when you visit Norfolk or, why not, determine you to visit this gorgeous city, about 400 years old and of great importance in the military and nautical field, internationally. For starters, I will present some fun facts about Norfolk, details that put it in the special context that I mentioned earlier:
- it’s the second most populated city in Virginia, after Virginia Beach
- it’s one of the nine cities that make up Hampton Roads
- almost half of the city’s surface is composed of water and many of the properties have wonderful views due to this reason
- Norfolk has the largest naval station in the world: Norfolk Naval Station
- it’s also called the Tree City, due to a large number of trees and flowers
- the symbol of the city is a mermaid. For this reason, you will see them all over the city through very diverse and extremely colorful forms
How to get to Norfolk:
- by plane. If you come from outside the United States or from a more remote state, you have the opportunity to land on Norfolk International Airport
- by car. The city is crossed by Interstate 64 and US Route 60, US Route 13 and US Route 460, so it’s easy to navigate for a visit
- with the Tide Light Rail if you come from Virginia Beach
So, after 10 months as a temporary local of Norfolk, I chose to make a list of 20 things I recommend when you visit the beautiful setting on the East Coast of the United States:
What to do and see in Norfolk, Virginia
1. Walk in Town Point Park
Town Point is the perfect place to spend a quiet afternoon, strolling through the narrow alleys and admiring the Elizabeth River. This is only when there is not an important event on that day. Because the park hosts a lot of festivals and big events designed to entertain and bring together all the inhabitants of the city. These include the July 4 Celebrations celebrating Independence of America through spectacular fireworks, The Parade of Sail, the Cajun Food Festival, the Virginia Wine Festival and the Spring Wine Festival.
2. Go to the beach in Ocean View
It sounds sarcastic, but for this big piece of fine sandy beach, we have to thank a hurricane that appeared in the middle of the 17th century. Before that, everything was water in this area, but with the hurricane, a thick sandy bed appeared that today’s inhabitants and tourists know it as Ocean View. Being generous waves and pleasant temperatures for several months a year, Ocean View is perfect for water sports as well. So do not sit down and jump on a jet ski or surfboard and have fun. And if you are not in the best physical form or you just do not like water sports, then a tan on the beach sounds perfect.
Ocean View is ideal to visit during the morning when we had the opportunity to admire a sensational sunrise, but also the migration of dolphins to the south. Towards the end of the day in Ocean View, I recommend you go for a walk and dine on the Harrison’s Fishing Pier.
3. Have fun for a day at the Norfolk Yacht & Country Club
Get your daily entertainment portion at one of the hottest Norfolk clubs. This is, of course, the Norfolk Yacht & Country Club, where relaxation and leisure opportunities are almost endless. Swimming pools, tennis courts, 3 superb restaurants, yachts, fitness, sauna, and massage are all located in the same place on the banks of the Lafayette River on Hampton Boulevard. Moreover, it seems to me the ideal place for a complex photo shoot.
4. Walk the streets
It’s no news that this kind of activity is among my favorites when we talk about visiting a place, especially if it’s the first time I’m there. Given the fact that Norfolk is not a very large city, in a few hours of walking you can cross most of the center and neighboring neighborhoods on foot. Why would you do this? In order not to miss the chance to admire Gothic-style churches like the Revival St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Colonial, Neoclassical, Tudor and Victorian houses, colorful streets, parks, gardens and mermaid statues scattered throughout the city. Many people practice running, both in the morning and in the evening, just because the alleys and streets of the city reveal a very pleasant atmosphere.
5. Shopping at MacArthur Mall
It is not the only mall in town, but it is located downtown, where many other points of interest are. So, I recommend you to combine necessity with pleasure and spend some money at MacArthur Mall. It hosts many beloved brands, occasionally a rink in the Winter, but also a cinema and some restaurants where you can quench your hunger. The design of the mall is also very elegant, with golden accents and it seems to be very interesting how the plants and fountains were integrated into the decor.
6. A one-day trip to Busch Gardens, Williamsburg
The Williamsburg Amusement Park is on the list of my favorite activities when I’m in Virginia. Besides the boost of adrenaline you get when riding the rollercoasters, the park has an extraordinarily beautiful design, the main theme being famous cities in Europe. So, in a few steps, you can jump from France to Germany, then to Italy, Scotland and so on. I think my favorite area is London, well represented by the famous red buses and the English flag. Do not miss Griffon, MÄCH TOWER or Tempesto. These are the attractions that raised my pulse and I chose to try them twice. Between Norfolk and Busch Gardens is only an hour distance, so I recommend you to book a full day to fully enjoy all that the park has to offer.
More information on the official website
7. Visit Chrysler Museum of Art
Address: 1 Memorial Pl Norfolk, VA 23510
Norfolk boasts one of the most renowned art museums in the country, Chrysler being home to about 30,000 exhibits. In addition to the art decorations, such as photographs, paintings, sculptures, you will also find a studio dedicated to glass and glass objects. You will have the chance to admire the way they manufacture it, and you will even be able to become a student, participating in the courses held in the museum. If you’re wondering if there is any link between the name of the museum and the famous car brand, the answer is yes. Walter P. Chrysler, a great collector of automobiles and art objects, donated much of his personal collection to Norfolk, so the name of the museum was taken from him as a sign of gratitude. Well yes, Chrysler Museum definitely deserves a visit!
8. Admire the blooming trees
If I were to nominate one thing I adore about this city, then it would be vegetation. More precisely, the beautiful Myrtle Crape trees, in all colors, adorn the streets of the city, in Spring and Summer. I traveled to many places in the United States, but none of them seemed as beautiful as Norfolk, when these trees are blooming, especially in the Colonial Place neighborhood. So the warm season is the ideal time to visit this superb city of Virginia. I will stop at this point in my attempt to convince you and let the pictures speak instead.
9. Get lunch in town
In 10 months, I managed to make a list of places I ticked almost every time I wanted to dine in town. Surely, there are others I have tested and my taste buds enjoyed them as well, but I want to mention the ones I frequented. Chipotle, Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers, IHOP, Cafe Stella, Hooters, Cook Out and Saffron Indian Bistro are among my favorites.
10. Admire a stunning sunset in Whitehurst Beach Park
At this point, I must admit that my subjectivity reaches alarming levels. Whitehurst Beach Park is located very close to the place where I lived in Norfolk and, hence, this is the reason why I recommend it for observing some of the most charming sunsets ever.
11. Drink tea at the famous Pagoda
Prepare to leave the typical American atmosphere in favor of a 100% Asian one. The pagoda is a gift given to the Norfolk city by the Government of Taiwan in 1983. It was transported in pieces, then assembled with great meticulousness and attention to detail, and today it is guarded by a beautiful garden with a lake with lilies surrounded by bamboo, and wooden bridges. But that’s not all. The Pagoda is the ideal place to spend a nice afternoon, serving Asian dishes and tea.
12. Admire the splendid houses in the historic Ghent district
As Norfolk enjoys a beautiful architecture, it is no longer a secret. I’ve revealed this to you from the first row written. But how could you go to a place where all the houses seem to be straight from fairy tales? I tell you: magnificent! It’s like participating in a list of style and history, with examples natural sized examples. A perfect blend of architectural styles, whether Queen Anne, Colonial, Tudor or Victorian. Houses made of brick, stone, and wood, houses in a lot of colors and shapes, surrounded by perfect gardens. Of course, such a neighborhood could not be overlooked by the National Register of Historic Places, so it has been included in it since 1980. Yes, as it is written on the slate below.
13. Visit Virginia Zoo
Address: 3500 Granby St, Norfolk, VA 23504
Information about tickets and schedule, here, on the official website
I visited the Norfolk Zoo twice and that’s because I enjoyed it very much. It’s not like any kind of garden with the specific animal cages and a series of paths and arrows to guide you to them. Here, the decor is very beautiful and well thought out, and it resembles pretty much the natural habitat of animals, which I really like. Here you will be able to see over 500 animals brought from all over the world, but also many species of plants. Lions, tigers, elephants, giraffes, kangaroos and even a gorgeous red panda await you to interact with them.
14. A one-day trip to Virginia Beach
Virginia Beach is the largest city in Virginia and it’s one of Norfolk’s neighbor, with a distance of about 25 minutes by car. With one of the most friendly beaches in the state, a 3-mile boardwalk, amusement parks, museums and countless leisure opportunities, Virginia Beach is the perfect daytime setting near Norfolk. About Virginia Beach I have written more in this article: 19 Things you can do in Virginia Beach
15. Visit Hermitage and Gardens Museum
If you feel the need for an outdoor delight, in a dreamlike setting with many flower-themed gardens, with impressive collections of paintings and fairy-tale atmosphere, then here is the place to be.
16. Admire a ship that participated in the Second World War
This is USS Wisconsin, the one that served in World War II and in the 1991 Gulf wars. USS Wisconsin is one of the largest and among the last remaining warships so old. It is an impressive building that can be admired both from the outside and inside, in exchange for an additional fee. The ship has also received many awards and recognition throughout its long career. Packed, you can visit the Nauticus Museum, where a wide variety of educational programs, interactive theaters, movies and aquariums await you. Both the museum and the ship are open daily for sightseeing.
17. Cross Elizabeth River by ferry
Norfolk and Portsmouth are separated by Elizabeth River and a few minutes by boat. The prices are very low for a round trip ticket and definitely, deserve any given money. Besides the fact that Portsmouth is a beautiful town worth exploring, you will have the chance to admire Norfolk’s skyline.
18. Visit the Botanical Garden
Address 6700 Azalea Garden Rd, Norfolk, VA 23518
Official website HERE
And there are not so many, so I advise you to prepare to cross over 12 miles of alleys through the 60 theme gardens. Do not be afraid, you will not feel any fatigue at all because you will definitely be taken by the beauty of the exposed flowers, especially if you visit in the blooming season. You will feel like in an oasis of peace and quiet. Besides flowers, the garden is also very attractive in artesian fountains, exhibitions, souvenir shop or interesting boat tours. I have opted for a boat tour and I must admit that it has exceeded my expectations. Guides have been very professional in providing complete information about the surroundings, the species of trees and birds, so the whole experience has been extremely enjoyable.
19. Go to a concert at the Scope Arena
The most eye-catching building in Norfolk is, without a doubt, Scope Arena, an impressive building that has won the title of the largest reinforced concrete building with this shape. Since 1971, the arena has been a great host for theater, concerts, circus demonstrations and other big-city events.
20. Dine on Spirit of Norfolk
At evening or even midnight, dining on a luxury ship, rocking on the Elizabeth River waves and admiring Norfolk’s skyline while listening to good music. That’s how it sounds like a mini cruise in Norfolk on the famous Spirit of Norfolk.