Information on the location:
Norfolk is in Hampton Roads, VA. It is right next to Virginia Beach. It might not be a city you would think about visiting, but there is a lot to Norfolk waiting to be explored.
How to Get There:
You can fly into Norfolk International Airport. The airport code for Norfolk is ORT. It puts you near the center of the city, and near the Norfolk Botanical Gardens. The access to the interstate is only a couple of blocks away.
Recommended Places to Stay:
I would stay in downtown Norfolk. There are multiple hotels scattered around downtown, and it is very walk-able. There’s also a free shuttle service to anywhere in downtown if you don’t want to walk called FRED. It operates every day except for Sunday or in bad weather. If you want views of the water, Norfolk Waterside Marriott will give you that, but it is usually more expensive.
Recommended Places to Eat:
Freemason Abbey is in downtown. It has some really good food. It is a restaurant that is in an old church. They have sandwiches, soups, and things like that. My favorite sandwich there is the fried green tomato sandwich. They are also really known for their she-crab soup. Sadly, I’m not a fan of seafood, so I can’t speak to that, but I’ve heard other people rave about it.
Doumar’s is not in downtown, but it’s only about an eight minute drive away. It’s where they invented the waffle cone. They are more like an old style diner with hamburgers and hotdogs. Simple, but an interesting classic.
Varia is in the Main, which also has a hotel inside. They are an Italian restaurant. For lunch they have a buffet, which is really good. It’s not a lot to choose from, but their choices are always unique and fantastically tasty. They are a bit more expensive.
456 Fish is also in downtown. I’ve heard people rave about it, but again, I am not a seafood fan, so I cannot speak to it directly. If you’re looking for seafood, I’ve been told this is a great place to check out.
Top Five Things to Do:
There is quite a lot to check out in Norfolk. They have history, art, shopping, nature, and just about something for everyone. It’s hard to narrow it down to only a top five.
- Chrysler Museum of Art: This museum is incredible. It is a mid-sized museum. It could be a short visit of only thirty minutes, or as long as a day or two to see everything. They are known for their glass, but also have ancient worlds collections, paintings ranging from medieval to contemporary, sculpture, and photography on display. They have a glass studio that does a free demonstration at noon every day they’re open—Tuesday through Sunday. They have two large parking lots that offer free parking—which is hard to come by in downtown Norfolk. Their collection is a surprise. They have works by famous old masters and well-known Impressionists. They have Tiffany glass, a Bernini sculpture, and paintings by Winslow Homer, Monet, Adolphe Bouguereau, and Rubens, to name a few. There is a restaurant on site called Wisteria which is operated by Cuisine and Company. Their museum shop has a fabulous array of items made by independent artists from around the country and the world. They have Gallery Hosts that walk around the galleries to help answer questions and tell you facts about the art. And they offer free admission. This place is worth a visit, even if you are not an art person.
- Moses Myers House: This is an unknown gem in the area. It is a historic house that was built in the 1790s, and owned by a wealthy Jewish family. Interestingly, it is also run by the Chrysler Museum of Art. The staff inside are the same friendly and knowledgeable Gallery Hosts you’ll find at the Chrysler. They can give you a tour, or you can browse on your own. I would recommend a tour. They offer a full guided tour at 1pm. They are only open Saturday and Sunday from 12 to 5, but it is worth checking out. The Myers were the first permanent Jewish residents of Norfolk. Five generations of the family lived in the house before it was turned over to the City of Norfolk in the 1930s with everything inside. That means about 70% of the furniture on view is original to the family and the time period, which is incredible. The best place to park will be in the parking garage for MacArthur Center Mall. On the weekends it’s only a dollar to park there for the day.
- Nauticus: This is a naval and maritime museum. Naval history is important to the Norfolk area because they have the largest Navy base in the United States. You can also see the USS Battleship Wisconsin, which is tethered next to Nauticus and can be part of your admission fee. They have changing exhibitions, interactive displays for kids of all ages, and interesting artifacts that showcase naval history. If you come to Norfolk on a cruise ship, Nauticus has the added bonus of being right next to the port.
- Norfolk Botanical Gardens: This is right near the airport, as I mentioned earlier. It’s a good dose of nature. The gardens are beautiful. There are tons of walking paths through hundreds of acres of nature and the outdoors. If you don’t want to walk on the miles upon miles of paths, there is also a boat tour or a tram you can take. If you want to see some amazing gardens with different varieties of plants, then this place is perfect. But, then again, when is nature not perfect?
- Norfolk Tour Company: Want to learn about Norfolk during the Civil War? Or maybe a history of Norfolk’s old churches? Perhaps cemetery tours are more your style? Well, this company has them all. They have more than a dozen themed walking tours of Virginia Beach and Norfolk that will take you through a captivating history. Take a tour to learn about the history of Norfolk theatre, the Freemason and Ghent neighborhoods, or Norfolk’s NEON District with their historians who are incredibly friendly and knowledgeable. Tours typically last an hour, and will give you a very different perspective of Norfolk than you can get anywhere else. This is the perfect blend of history and nature. Check out their website at https://toursofnorfolk.com/ to see everything they have to offer, or contact them at email@example.com for more details.
Tips and Bonus Things to Do:
There are a ton of things to do here, whether you just want to walk around, or are more comfortable driving. These are a few extra things you can do while just exploring the city. They are all close to downtown, and walkable.
- Explore Ghent: This area of Norfolk borders downtown, and is a beautiful place to walk around. There are antique shops, restaurants, and charming little parks. You can walk around the Hague, which is an inlet of the Elizabeth River. It’s a nice area. The Chrysler Museum of Art is technically in both downtown and in Ghent. It’s worth a visit.
- Visit the NEON District: The NEON District is Norfolk’s arts district. There are murals on buildings, art galleries to visit, and artists to meet. It includes parts of Ghent and Downtown. It is several blocks of creativity to explore.
- Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church: This is the oldest building in Norfolk. There is a canon ball lodged in the side from the British bombardment in January of 1776. That bombardment, and the subsequent fire, burned down everything else. It was even called chimney town for a while. This church was the only brick structure in town, so it’s the only thing that survived the fire.
Norfolk is filled with art, history, and nature. It has the largest Naval base in the country, historic houses, an incredible art museum, plenty of water to enjoy, lots of walks you can take both in the city and in nature, and over cobble stoned streets in older sections of Norfolk. It’ll surprise you with everything it has to offer, and is worth taking the time to check it out.