Top Things to Do in Norfolk You Don’t Want to Miss

Top Things to Do in Norfolk You Don’t Want to Miss


Norfolk, Virginia, is a coastal city that boasts a rich maritime history.

It has transformed into a dynamic destination that seamlessly blends its past with modern attractions.

Whether you’re interested in naval battleships, stunning gardens, or lively entertainment districts, Norfolk guarantees an unforgettable experience.

The city has a diverse culinary scene that would excite foodies, while outdoor enthusiasts can explore scenic trails and waterways.

Art lovers will find inspiration in world-class museums, while families can create lasting memories at the zoo or along the waterfront.

Get ready to immerse yourself in the vibrant energy of Norfolk Virginia and discover all the exciting things this charming city has in store for you in 2024!

Book your flight with Skyscanner to Norfolk and explore the world-class exhibits at the Chrysler Museum of Art.

Before You Visit Norfolk: Things to Know

Old Norfolk Public Library

Why is Norfolk, VA famous?

Norfolk has a crucial role in the naval history of the United States.

The city is home to the largest naval base in the world, the Naval Station Norfolk, and has been a strategic maritime center for many centuries.

Additionally, Norfolk has historically significant neighborhoods, intriguing museums, and lovely waterfront areas.

What food is Norfolk, VA known for?

Because of its location near the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, Norfolk offers a variety of fresh seafood dishes that are an important part of the local cuisine.

Some classic seafood dishes you can find in the city include crab cakes, oysters, and she-crab soup.

In addition to the seafood, Norfolk also has a variety of international restaurants that serve diverse and delicious meals.

Is Norfolk, VA a good place to visit?

Absolutely! Norfolk offers a fantastic mix of attractions for all interests.

History buffs, families, nature lovers, and those seeking a lively city atmosphere will find plenty to enjoy.

Is Norfolk, VA walkable?

Certain areas in Norfolk are walkable, particularly the downtown waterfront and Ghent neighborhood.
The Elizabeth River Trail is also a beautiful path for biking and walking.

Is it expensive to visit Norfolk, VA?

Norfolk offers budget-friendly options, with attractions like the Norfolk Botanical Garden and the Elizabeth River Trail offering affordable or free access, and a variety of accommodation options to suit different budgets.

👉Stay in a waterfront hotel in Norfolk for easy access to harbor cruises and scenic views of the Elizabeth River.

Why Add Norfolk to Your Virginia Travel Bucketlist

Nauticus Naval Museum | Norfolk, Virginia, USA

Norfolk may not be as well-known as Williamsburg or Richmond, but this coastal city packs a punch.

Here’s why it should be on your must-visit list:

Norfolk is a great place for those who love naval history.

You can visit the interactive Nauticus Museum, go aboard the USS Wisconsin battleship, and learn about centuries of maritime history.

If you want to escape the city, you can visit the Norfolk Botanical Garden where you can find themed gardens, seasonal blooms, and take train tours.

The Elizabeth River Trail is also a beautiful place to stroll or bike and enjoy waterfront views. 

Norfolk has a diverse culinary scene where you can savor fresh seafood, explore international flavors in vibrant neighborhoods, and enjoy waterfront dining with a view.

Norfolk is a great place to extend your Virginia Beach trip or embark on a cruise, with easy access.

Norfolk is waiting to surprise you. Add it to your Virginia bucket list and discover a city where history, nature, and modern energy collide. 

👉Find the best flights to Norfolk on Skyscanner and enjoy the stunning beauty of the Norfolk Botanical Garden.

Nauticus & Battleship Wisconsin: A Maritime Adventure Awaits


Explore the world of maritime history and naval power at Nauticus & Battleship Wisconsin, where you can experience an interactive museum and explore a WWII battleship.

Why You’ll Love It:

  • Nauticus offers hands-on exhibits showcasing the power of the sea, the science of navigation, and the life of sailors. You’ll even get a glimpse into underwater habitats with sharks and other fascinating marine life.
  • Climb aboard the USS Wisconsin, one of the largest and last battleships ever built by the U.S. Navy. Explore its decks, turrets, and inner workings, imagining life at sea during its historic service.
  • Nauticus & Battleship Wisconsin provides a captivating blend of education and entertainment. Gain insights into maritime technology, naval battles, and the personal stories of those who served.

Things to Do:

  • Discover the Science of Sharks: Get up close at the shark exhibit and learn about these fascinating creatures.
  • Channel Your Inner Sailor: Test your navigation skills in the interactive exhibits.
  • Stroll the Deck of a Legend: Walk the decks of the USS Wisconsin, and experience the sheer scale of this mighty ship.
  • Guided Tours: Opt for a guided tour of the battleship for deeper insights (additional fees may apply).

👉Book a family-friendly hotel near the Virginia Zoo to ensure a fun and convenient visit for everyone.

Chrysler Museum of Art: A Treasure Trove of Artistic Wonders

Chrysler Museum of Art

The Chrysler Museum of Art is home to an extraordinary collection that spans over 5,000 years of art history.

The collection includes masterpieces of painting, sculpture, photography, and one of the world’s most well-known glass collections.

It’s a sanctuary for art enthusiasts and anyone seeking inspiration.

Why You’ll Love It:

  • Journey through centuries of human creativity, from ancient Egyptian artifacts to contemporary installations. The Chrysler’s collection has something to captivate everyone.
  • The museum boasts a stunning collection of glass art, including works by Louis Comfort Tiffany and other master glassmakers.
  • The Chrysler Museum of Art prides itself on being accessible and engaging. Explore the galleries at your own pace or take advantage of guided tours and special events.

Things to Do:

  • Explore Masterpieces: Admire works by renowned artists like Renoir, Gauguin, Rodin, and many others.
  • Marvel at the Glass Collection: Discover the artistry and techniques of glassblowing through centuries of exceptional pieces.
  • Perry Glass Studio: Catch a live glassblowing demonstration and learn about this captivating art form (check for demonstration times).
  • Special Exhibitions: Enhance your visit with rotating exhibitions that delve deeper into specific artistic movements or themes.

👉Use Skyscanner to plan your trip to Norfolk for an interactive family day at the Virginia Zoo.

Historic Districts (Ghent & Freemason): Where Past and Present Meet

West Freemason Street Norfolk

Norfolk’s Ghent and Freemason districts are charming areas of the city where history is brought to life.

These walkable neighborhoods offer a mix of grand historic homes, tree-lined streets, unique boutiques, and a thriving dining scene.

Why You’ll Love It:

  • Admire a variety of architectural styles, from Federal and Georgian to Victorian and Art Deco. It’s like stepping back in time!
  • Ditch the chain stores and discover one-of-a-kind finds in local boutiques, antique shops, and art galleries.
  • Explore Ghent’s vibrant restaurant scene, offering everything from casual cafes and bistros to upscale dining experiences.
  • Take a leisurely stroll, window shop, or grab a coffee and simply soak up the charming ambiance of these historic neighborhoods.

Things to Do:

  • Get Lost on Purpose: Wander the streets and discover hidden gems, charming side streets, and unique homes.
  • Local Shopping Exploration: Find unique gifts, vintage treasures, or locally-crafted goods in the boutiques and shops.
  • Sample Ghent’s Food Scene: From casual pubs to romantic bistros, treat yourself to a delicious meal.
  • Self-Guided History Tour: Learn about the area’s history by admiring plaques on historic buildings or researching a self-guided walking tour online.

👉Find a cozy inn close to the Chrysler Museum of Art to enjoy easy access to Norfolk’s cultural treasures.

Norfolk Botanical Garden: An Urban Oasis of Beauty

Norfolk Botanical Garden - HDR

The Norfolk Botanical Garden is a vast expanse of 175 acres that offers a delightful experience to nature enthusiasts, budding gardeners, and those seeking a peaceful escape. 

One can revel in the lush paradise of vibrant blossoms, varied landscapes, and serene spaces that this garden has to offer.

Why You’ll Love It:

  • Wander through themed gardens bursting with color, including a Japanese Garden, Rose Garden, and the enchanting World of Wonders children’s garden.
  • Experience the garden from a unique perspective aboard a relaxing train ride that winds through its most picturesque areas.
  • The gardens transform throughout the year, with spectacular blooms in spring, lush greenery in summer, and vibrant foliage in autumn. There’s always something new to discover.
  • Escape the hustle and bustle of the city and find tranquility amidst the gardens, reflecting pools, and quiet walking paths.

Things to Do:

  • Immerse Yourself in Blossoms: Stroll through the Rose Garden, admire exotic plants in the Tropical Garden, or find quiet reflection in the Japanese Garden.
  • Hop Aboard the Tram: Enjoy a narrated train ride showcasing the garden’s highlights (additional fees may apply).
  • Unleash Kids’ Wonder: Let little ones explore the interactive play features and nature-inspired fun in the World of Wonders children’s garden.
  • Special Events: Attend seasonal festivals, concerts, or educational programs throughout the year.

👉Secure your flight with Skyscanner and experience the vibrant atmosphere of the NEON District, Norfolk’s arts hub.

Elizabeth River Trail (ERT): Embrace the Waterfront’s Energy

The Elizabeth River Trail (ERT) is a picturesque pathway that meanders along the Norfolk waterfront, providing breathtaking views, a breath of fresh air, and an opportunity to immerse oneself in the city’s nautical essence.

Whether you prefer trekking, cycling, or simply admiring the landscape, this trail is an excellent means to discover the natural splendor of Norfolk.

Why You’ll Love It:

  • Soak up the views of the Elizabeth River, passing boats, and the Norfolk skyline as you stroll or bike along the trail.
  • Get your exercise with a walk, jog, or bike ride on this scenic path. You can choose your own distance and pace!
  • The ERT winds through bustling areas like downtown Norfolk, offering a glimpse into the city’s energy and waterfront lifestyle.
  • The trail is relatively flat and well-maintained, making it enjoyable for people of all fitness levels.

Things to Do:

  • Scenic Walk or Run: Choose a section of the trail and take a leisurely stroll or an invigorating run while enjoying the views.
  • Bike the Trail: Rent a bike or bring your own and explore the ERT on two wheels.
  • Downtown Connection: Start your trail adventure near the Waterside District and take in the lively atmosphere and waterfront attractions.
  • Birdwatching & Photo Ops: Bring binoculars for birdwatching or capture photos of the scenery and Norfolk’s maritime heritage.

👉Choose a boutique hotel in the NEON District to immerse yourself in Norfolk’s vibrant arts scene.

Virginia Zoo: Wild Encounters Await

Red Panda bear eating bamboo Norfolk Virginia Zoo

Get ready for an exciting adventure at the Virginia Zoo.

You will have the opportunity to come face-to-face with fascinating animals from all around the world.

With expansive habitats, engaging exhibits, and a focus on education and conservation, the zoo offers a memorable experience for visitors of all ages.

Why You’ll Love It:

  • Meet majestic lions, playful monkeys, towering giraffes, and so many other amazing creatures from diverse habitats.
  • Get closer to the animals through feeding stations, animal talks, and behind-the-scenes opportunities (some with additional fees).
  • The zoo’s lush grounds and spacious habitats provide a comfortable environment for the animals and a pleasant backdrop for your visit.
  • Learn about the zoo’s conservation efforts and how you can help protect endangered species.

Things To Do:

  • Follow the Trails: Explore themed areas like Africa, Asia, and North America, discovering the unique wildlife of each region.
  • Keeper Talks & Demonstrations: Gain insights into animal behavior and care during scheduled talks and demonstrations.
  • Train Ride: Hitch a ride on the zoo train for a fun way to see the grounds (additional fees may apply).
  • Special Events: Check the zoo’s calendar for seasonal events, educational programs, or animal-themed festivals.

👉Fly into Norfolk with Skyscanner and step aboard the Battleship Wisconsin, one of the largest battleships built by the U.S. Navy.

Waterside District: Norfolk’s Waterfront Playground

Located on the Elizabeth River, Waterside District is the ultimate destination in Norfolk for dining, entertainment, and enjoying the lively waterfront atmosphere.

Whether you are looking for a delectable meal, live music, or a fun night out, this vibrant hub has everything you need to have a great time.

Why You’ll Love It:

  • From casual eateries and waterfront restaurants to lively bars and pubs, Waterside District caters to all tastes and budgets.
  • Discover unique shops, catch a movie, or try your luck at the arcade – there’s plenty to keep you amused.
  • Enjoy the energy of live music on the outdoor stage or check out special events and festivals throughout the year.
  • Set sail on a sightseeing cruise from Waterside to explore the Norfolk harbor and admire the city from the water.

Things to Do:

  • Sample Waterfront Restaurants: Treat yourself to fresh seafood, classic American fare, or international flavors with scenic views.
  • Stroll the Waterside Promenade: Take a leisurely walk along the waterfront, enjoying the harbor scenery and lively atmosphere.
  • Catch a Concert or Event: Find out what’s happening on the outdoor stage or check the Waterside District calendar for special happenings.
  • Hop on a Harbor Cruise: Choose from sightseeing cruises, dinner cruises, or even themed cruises for a unique way to experience Norfolk.

👉Secure a room near the Nauticus and Battleship Wisconsin for a stay filled with naval history and interactive exhibits.

MacArthur Center: Your One-Stop Shopping Destination

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MacArthur Center, located in downtown Norfolk, offers a diverse shopping experience for fashion finds, everyday essentials, and unique gifts in an indoor mall.

Why You’ll Love It:

  • MacArthur Center boasts a wide selection of department stores, popular retailers, and specialty shops, making it easy to find what you need.
  • When the weather isn’t cooperating, MacArthur Center provides a comfortable indoor space to shop, dine, and even catch a movie.
  • Grab a quick bite at the food court or enjoy a sit-down meal at one of the mall’s restaurants.
  • The mall is easily accessible from other downtown Norfolk attractions, making it a convenient stop during your explorations.

Things to Do:

  • Retail Therapy: Browse popular brands, discover new favorites, and seek out those must-have items on your shopping list.
  • Catch a Flick: Escape into the world of movies at the mall’s cinema.
  • Grab a Bite: Refuel with options ranging from quick snacks at the food court to relaxed restaurant meals.
  • People Watching: Take a break from shopping and simply observe the hustle and bustle of the mall.

👉Book through Skyscanner for a trip to Norfolk and catch a performance at the historic Wells Theatre.

Local Food & Brewery Scene: Norfolk’s Culinary Delights

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A post shared by Smartmouth Brewing Company (@smartmouthbeer)

Norfolk’s culinary scene offers a diverse range of global flavors and unique craft breweries, all located along the vibrant waterfront.

Craft Brewery Hotspots:

Norfolk has embraced the craft beer craze, and boasts a thriving brewery scene with something for every beer lover. 

Here are a few standouts to try:

  • Smartmouth Brewing Company: Known for their creative and experimental beers.
  • The Bold Mariner Brewing Co.: Find a welcoming taproom and diverse selection of brews in a historic setting.
  • Elation Brewing: Explore their unique offerings and enjoy the modern taproom atmosphere.
  • Rip Rap Brewing Company: Sample their handcrafted beers and relax in their inviting taproom.
  • Benchtop Brewing Company: Discover innovative brews in this vibrant brewery setting.
Ghent’s Dining Scene:

The Ghent neighborhood is a food lover’s paradise, with a diverse selection of restaurants to choose from.

Cozy cafes, trendy gastropubs, international cuisine, and upscale dining experiences are all within walking distance.

Oceanview Eats:

Explore casual seafood shacks, lively waterfront restaurants, and laid-back spots in the Oceanview area perfect for enjoying a beachy vibe and fresh seafood after a day at the beach.

👉Opt for accommodations near Wells Theatre to experience Norfolk’s dynamic performing arts up close.

Top Travel Tips for an Unforgettable Norfolk Adventure:

Norfolk, Virginia

Here’s a breakdown of essential travel tips to ensure a smooth and enjoyable trip to Norfolk, Virginia:

Transportation Options:

  • Flying: Norfolk International Airport (ORF) offers convenient connections to major cities.
  • Driving: Norfolk is easily accessible by car, with major highways like I-64 and I-264 leading to the city.
  • Public Transportation: The Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) operates a network of buses throughout the city and surrounding areas. Consider purchasing a day pass for unlimited rides.
  • Ridesharing: Services like Uber and Lyft are readily available in Norfolk.
  • Getting Around Downtown: The downtown area is relatively walkable, and there’s a free electric trolley service circulating key areas. You can also rent bicycles for a fun way to explore.

👉With Skyscanner, reach Norfolk and enjoy a relaxing cruise on the Elizabeth River.

Best Time to Visit:

  • Spring (March-May): Enjoy pleasant weather with blooming gardens and comfortable temperatures for outdoor activities. Consider attending spring festivals like the Norfolk Harborfest.
  • Fall (September-November): Experience cooler temperatures, beautiful fall foliage, and fewer crowds. This is a great time for exploring historic districts and enjoying outdoor dining.
  • Summer (June-August): The weather is hot and humid, perfect for beach days in nearby Virginia Beach. However, expect higher prices and larger crowds during peak season. Be sure to pack for the heat!
  • Winter (December-February): The weather is mild compared to northern states, but there can be occasional rain and chilly days. Winter offers festive events and lower hotel rates.

👉Discover a retreat near the Norfolk Botanical Garden for a peaceful escape surrounded by nature’s beauty.

Additional Tips:

  • Accommodation: Norfolk offers a variety of accommodation options, from budget-friendly hotels to waterfront resorts. Consider your preferences and proximity to desired attractions when booking.
  • Walking Shoes: Many areas of Norfolk are walkable, so pack comfortable shoes for exploring.
  • Casual Attire: Norfolk has a relaxed atmosphere, so pack comfortable and casual clothing. You may want to bring a light jacket for evenings, especially in the spring and fall.
  • Bring Your Swimsuit: If you plan on visiting Virginia Beach or exploring Norfolk’s waterfront, pack a swimsuit and beach essentials.
  • Explore the Pass System: Consider purchasing a Norfolk CityPASS for discounted admission to popular attractions like Nauticus & Battleship Wisconsin and the Chrysler Museum of Art.
  • Events and Festivals: Check the city’s event calendar before your trip to see if any festivals or concerts align with your visit.
  • Embrace the Outdoors: Norfolk offers plenty of opportunities for outdoor recreation. Enjoy hiking and biking trails, kayaking on the Elizabeth River, or simply relaxing at the waterfront.
  • Sample the Local Food Scene: From fresh seafood to international flavors, Norfolk has a diverse culinary scene waiting to be explored. Don’t miss the chance to try craft beers at local breweries!

By following these tips and tailoring them to your preferences, you can create a fantastic Norfolk itinerary and discover all this vibrant city has to offer!

👉Find your flight to Norfolk on Skyscanner and partake in the city’s lively waterfront festivals at Town Point Park.

Dive into Norfolk’s Enchanting Mix and Make Memories

Norfolk, Virginia skyline

Norfolk, Virginia has a lot to offer with its rich maritime heritage, diverse attractions and vibrant energy.

You can immerse yourself in naval history at Nauticus & Battleship Wisconsin, or explore the artistic treasures at the Chrysler Museum of Art.

Take a stroll through historic districts like Ghent, enjoy the unique architecture and indulge in delicious dining options.

Nature lovers can visit the Norfolk Botanical Garden for a serene experience or take a walk or bike ride along the Elizabeth River Trail.

For a more lively experience, you can check out the Waterside District, which is full of restaurants, shops and harbor cruises.

Foodies will find fresh seafood, international flavors and a thriving craft brewery scene in Norfolk.

Whether you’re a history buff, an art enthusiast, an outdoor adventurer, or just an explorer, Norfolk has something unforgettable to offer.

So go ahead, pack your bags, embrace the coastal charm, and discover your favorite corners of this delightful Virginia gem; Norfolk awaits!

👉Select a downtown Norfolk apartment for a lively stay during waterfront festivals and local events.

The post Top Things to Do in Norfolk You Don’t Want to Miss appeared first on Take More Adventures.