When one thinks of Viriginia, places like Williamsburg, Richmond or Alexandria come to mind. But less than two hours from Interstate 95, you will discover one of the nation’s oldest and culturally vibrant destinations – the historic seaport city of Norfolk, Virginia.
This beautiful waterfront community has changed a great deal over the last 400 years, but its welcoming charm and distinctive character remain intact.
Norfolk’s unique geographic location surrounded by water on nearly every side – the Chesapeake Bay, the Atlantic Ocean and the Elizabeth River – has been key to its claim to fame and strong economic growth. As an active port, Norfolk has always been an important commerce center and a strategic military outpost. Today, it is the home of the largest naval base in the United States if not the world. For an up close view of the base’s resident fleet of aircraft carriers, destroyers, and submarines, you will want to opt for a formal tour. Escorted tours are readily available by bus or boat. But the best vantage point is on the water. The Victory Rover, with seating for up to 150, offers an excellent 2 hour harbor cruise that captures all of the highlights.
A visit to the Battleship Wisconsin is a must. The honorable U.S. warship, affectionately known as “Wisky”, is now permanently docked at Norfolk’s harbor and offers daily tours. Whether you are a history buff or not, exploring the depths of a monolithic 45,000 ton, 880 foot ship is an extraordinary adventure. If you are lucky, you may even get a chance to sit in the “hot seat” of the command center and engage in a combat auditory simulation. That beats a Disney ride any day! (warning: ship tours are not for the claustrophobic). Right next door, you will find Nauticus, Norfolk’s acclaimed maritime science museum and favorite family attraction. Nauticus features a 2,000 gallon touch tank of regional marine life, interactive hands-on exhibits, a multi-media and screening theatre, as well as an extensive collection of war artifacts.
Norfolk’s unique tourist appeal reaches beyond its rich maritime and military history. The city has a little something for everyone. You will find museums, theatres, performing arts, galleries, shopping and endless culinary delights. Immerse yourself in art at Norfolk’s pride and joy – the nationally renowned Chrysler Museum of Art. The stunning Italianate-style structure is incredible inside and out. The museum houses an impressive collection of masterpieces – nearly 35,000 treasures showcased in 60 galleries. You will not want to miss the exquisite Tiffany glass on display…said to be one of the most comprehensive collections in the world. Head north …just a few miles from the city center and museum for stroll through the lovely and trendy GHENT neighborhood. Here you will find tree-lined streets, stately historic homes, unique shops, sidewalk cafes and lots of local flavor. The Green Onion Restaurant’s front patio on Colley Avenue is the perfect spot for a hearty lunch and great people-watching. The menu is fun and fresh. The Green Onion’s Cheddar, Apple and Bacon speciality sandwich is my favorite-absolutely divine! For a late afternoon pick me up — pop over to the Historic Freemason District, a revitalized urban neighborhood with original architecture and narrow streets reminiscent of Old Town Alexandria but on a much smaller scale. Enjoy a latte or a pint of ale at CURE, a friendly coffeehouse and cafe. Need to nosh…try the ultimate cure – “the combo” – pastrami, turkey, swiss, coleslaw and russian dressing on rye…and don’t forget a helping of CURE’s famous homemade potato salad.
Walk off the calories visiting the area’s many historic sites. Recommended stops include the Freemason Street Baptist Church, a beautiful Gothic Revival-style church designed by noted architect Thomas U. Walter and recognized as Norfolk’s tallest building during in its day (1850-1879). And, for a glimpse at post-revolutionary period lifestyles, explore the Willoughby-Baylor House and the Moses Myers House,well-preserved examples of Norfolk’s first brick Federal style townhomes. Both homes are now museums open to the public.
Return to Town Point Park for a magical sunset that lights up the sky and paints the mirrored water. Mix it up before dinner. Take in a play at the Little Theatre of Norfolk , the oldest continually operating community theatre on the East Coast or opt for a concert at Chrysler Hall. Follow the fun and entertainment with late night dining at fashionable PRESS 626 Cafe & Wine Bar in Ghent known for its tasty tapas, salads and farm fresh fare.
Close the evening with a nightcap and dessert at BARDO, a favorite local haunt with a soothing vibe and a romantic ambiance, offering a full bar menu of exotic elixirs. Cocktails with names like Kim-Chee, Dharmata and Ginger Bling Bling are sure to help you reach nirvana before the night is over.
Norfolk’s free-spirited attitude is celebrated daily. In fact, over 130 whimsical sea siren statues are sprinkled throughout the city. These colorful mermaids, designed and created by local artists, are symbols of Norfolk’s passion for the arts and the city’s commitment to keeping the region’s natural resources protected.
Before your final farewell, a slight detour is in order as you leave Norfolk’s downtown center. Stop for a few hours of peaceful repose amidst the azaleas and lush greenery of the 155 acre Norfolk Botanical Garden, located off Interstate 64 just minutes outside the city limits.
Norfolk will enchant and enlighten you as it did its founding fathers centuries before… leaving you longing for that instant replay button where every cherished memory of your coastal adventure is reborn in the moment to inspire and share for years to come.
When to Go: Spring to late Fall.
The Inside Track – more not to be missed activities & attractions:
- Enjoy breakfast ” All Day” at Norfolk’s favorite hangout – D’Egg’s Diner on Main Street
- Indulge in a taste of confectionary history with an ice cream cone from the legendary Doumar’s where the sweet treat was first invented.
- Pamper the body with a mid-morning blissful beauty escape to SMOOTH where owner/ masseuse, Nickie will erase all your worries and loosen tight muscles leaving you relaxed and renewed.
- Enjoy guilt-free retail therapy with visit to Firefly, an absolutely fabulous find. Retro, vintage, modern and antique furnishings, accents and attire at affordable prices.
- Charter a boat from SailTime to explore the waterways or tune up your captain skills with a SailTime weekend training course.
- Savor a organic brew at Elliot’s Fair Grounds after discovering Textures, the delightfully quirky gift shop next door.
- Visit the General Douglas MacArthur Memorial museum in Norfolk’s restored 1850 City Hall, where the celebrated war hero and his wife are buried
- A sunset sail or moonlight cruise on the Victory Rover’s sister ship, the majestic American Rover, a 19th Century inspired schooner.
- Book a Cruise. Norfolk’s Half Moone Cruise & Celebration Center hosts cruises almost every month, welcoming more than 230,000 passengers since it opened in April, 2007. Check out Carnival Cruises for the 2011-2012 sailings.
- Hunt for antique treasures on Granby Street.
- Catch a flick at the NARO, an independent film house located in Ghent.
Where to Stay: In the heart of it all – Downtown Norfolk
Top pick: The Marriott Norfolk Waterside offering exceptional comfort, service and convenience.
Seasonal Festival Highlights:
Get ready to Wine Down on the Waterfront!
The countdown is on for The Annual AT&T Virginia Town Point Wine Festival. Over 200 of Virginia’s finest wines, live music and gourmet foods will be featured during this popular autumn event.
Fast Fact: The Stockley Gardens Fall Art Festival takes place the same weekend… with over 20,000 attendees – so book your escape early.
Advance tickets are available online at the official festival website.
Tasting ticket is $25 per day– includes admission to festival, sampling privileges and a souvenir glass.
For more information and all your vacation planning needs, contact Visit Norfolk tourism online or call 800-368-3097.