15 Best Things to Do in Norfolk (VA)

Written by Veronique Raes
Updated on
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Norfolk is a city in the southeastern part of the state of Virginia, and though it may sound unassuming it is actually home to a whole host of power players such as the largest naval base in the entire world.

It also has one of the most important art museums in this part of the United States, at the Chrysler Museum of Art which currently houses over 30,000 items.

As if that wasn’t enough, Norfolk doesn’t scrimp when it comes to nature, and if you like flora and fauna then you can visit stunning locations such as the Norfolk Botanical Garden or the Virginian Zoo that is also housed here.

As Norfolk is on the water, you can also head down to the Nauticus National Maritime Center or Harbor Park, or you can even take a cruise here to see the city from another vantage point.

Lets explore the best things to do in Norfolk:

1. Chrysler Museum of Art

Chrysler Museum of ArtSource: flickr
Chrysler Museum of Art

Nestled in the Ghent district, known for being for the most artistic area of the city, is the Chrysler Museum of Art. This museum is famous for being one of the most important museums in the whole of the Southeastern United States, so with that in mind make sure you don’t miss a trip here if you are an art lover.

The museum dates back to the 1930s, and is based on the art collection of Walter Chrysler, of automobile fame. Here you will find over 30,000 items in the museum’s collections that will take you back thousands of years. Expect sculpture, paintings, glasswork, photography, and decorative arts.

2. The USS Wisconsin

The USS WisconsinSource: flickr
The USS Wisconsin

The USS Wisconsin is famous for being a mighty battleship that was in operation during the Second World War as well as the Korean War.

The ship was actually retired on the 1980s, only to be called up for service again in Operation Desert Storm in the 1990s.

After such an illustrious history, the ship is now a nautical museum and you can take a self-guided tour here where you can visit different parts of the ship including offices, an onboard chapel, a mess, and the staterooms of the officers.

If you prefer there is also a guided tour that you can follow where the full history of the ship will be explained to you and you can also see other parts of the USS Wisconsin including the captain’s cabin.

3. The Moses Myers House

The Moses Myers HouseSource: flickr
The Moses Myers House

The former home of the Moses Myers, a famous American entrepreneur who was instrumental in the growth of Norfolk, the Moses Myers House gives visitors a look into how people would have lived in this part of the United States at the turn of the century.

The Moses Myers House has been lovingly restored over the years and is known for being one of the first brick buildings to have ever been built in Norfolk.

Many of the original furnishings are still in place here and there is a permanent exhibition dedicated to the story and history of Moses Myers.

4. Norfolk Botanical Garden

Norfolk Botanical GardenSource: flickr
Norfolk Botanical Garden

The Norfolk Botanical Garden stretches over 150 acres and is divided into different sections that include over forty gardens, each with a distinct theme.

The flowers and plants here are seasonal meaning that the gardens bloom all year round and there is even a special garden dedicated to younger visitors. As well as a special space for youngsters, all visitors here can also enjoy themes such as a serene and relaxing Japanese garden, complete with traditional Japanese ponds, as well as a Hummingbird Garden that features all of the favorite plants of these dainty birds.

The flora and fauna here is definitely not limited to the United States, and you can even find a Tropical Display Garden that mimics a rainforest environment.

5. Hunter House Victorian Museum

Hunter House Victorian MuseumSource: hunterhousemuseum
Hunter House Victorian Museum

Dating from 1894, the Hunter House Victorian Museum is the former home of the Hunter family and is the perfect place to come if you want to find out how a Victorian family would have lived in Norfolk.

The house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and visitors can come here to see the period furnishings and antique memorabilia on show that are much as they would have been in the days of old.

6. The Virginia Zoo

The Virginia ZooSource: flickr
The Virginia Zoo

Nestled next to picturesque Lafayette Park, there are over 500 animals housed at the Virginia Zoo, from elephants to rare species of frogs.

Not limited to indigenous species, you will find animals from all over the world here including Africa, Australia, and Asia.

The zoo is divided up into specific exhibits to showcase the different species, such the Trail of the Tiger which has tigers from Malaysia.

As well as the animals on show here the zoo is also famed for its gardens and flora on offer and you can even visit the zoo at night to get a glimpse of the many nocturnal animals that are housed here.

7. Nauticus National Maritime Center

Nauticus National Maritime CenterSource: expedia
Nauticus National Maritime Center

The Nauticus National Maritime Center was founded in the 1980s and first opened its doors in 1994.

This center is dedicated to all things nautical related and to that end you can expect a range of interactive exhibits where visitors can get hands-on, as well as several interactive and large screen theaters.

Part of the center is the Hampton Roads Naval Museum which is known for giving visitors the chance to get up close with the exhibits, including a shark lab and a horseshoe crab touch tank.

There is also a marina and a cruise ship pier here as part of the center.

8. Naval Station Norfolk

Naval Station NorfolkSource: flickr
Naval Station Norfolk

Naval Station Norfolk is known as the largest station in the world, which is definitely something of a claim to fame.

The base spreads for over six kilometers over the waterfront of Norfolk and 134 aircraft are housed here as well as an impressive 75 naval vessels.

This is very much a working naval base and is actually home to the largest number of navy personnel in the United States, but despite this visitors can still tour the base with a member of naval staff who will explain the history and work of the navy, as well as offering a tour of some of the ships and aircraft carriers that are kept here.

9. General Douglas MacArthur Memorial

General Douglas MacArthur MemorialSource: flickr
General Douglas MacArthur Memorial

Dedicated to Douglas MacArthur, this memorial is actually a museum that has an education center attached as well as a research center and a theater.

The memorial here aims to tell the story of General MacArthur who fought in the First and Second World Wars as well as the Korean War.

At the museum visitors will have the chance to see wartime memorabilia in the form of paintings, period artifacts, and antique vehicles.

You can take a tour of the museum and there are also special events held here from time to time so check out the local listings to see what’s on when you are in town.

10. Wells Theater

Wells TheaterSource: flickr
Wells Theater

Wells Theater first opened to the public in 1913, so if you want to catch a glimpse of a period architectural wonder in Norfolk, then this is the place to come.

Many top performers in the United States at the time performed in this theater, and a large movie screen was erected in 1916.

Over the years the theater took many different forms, including becoming a gin house and brothel for a short time, before being listed on the Register of Historic Places in the 1980s.

11. Hermitage Museum and Gardens

Hermitage Museum and GardensSource: flickr
Hermitage Museum and Gardens

For a taste of how Norfolk would have looked in the days of old check out the Hermitage Museum and Gardens, now a home and art museum.

The Sloane House here stands on the banks of the scenic Lafayette River and dates from the beginning of the 20th century.

The house has over 40,000 period objects on show and the gardens here spread for 12 acres that include lush forests as well as wetlands.

12. American Rover

American RoverSource: flickr
American Rover

If you want to take to the water in Norfolk then look no further than Sailing Harbor Cruises which is a cruise ship operator that operates the American Rover, a ship from the 1980s that can carry over 100 passengers at a time.

The ship can be seen from far away thanks to its iconic red sails made from red tan bark. There are harbor tours as well as sunset cruises.

13. Harbor Park

Harbor ParkSource: flickr
Harbor Park

Sprawling across 36 acres is Harbor Park in Norfolk, which is a large area of parkland that even has its own baseball stadium located on it.

The stadium opened in the 1990s and is known for being the home ground of the Norfolk Tides, a minor league baseball team that have their practice sessions here.

The stadium can accommodate over 12,000 spectators at one time and there is also a restaurant located on site.

The park is most well known for the stadium but there are also other events held her throughout the year particularly during holiday seasons.

14. Doumar’s

Doumar’sSource: flickr

For a taste of historical Norfolk come to Doumar’s which has been serving up all-American comfort classics for an impressive 100 years.

The diner is the perfect example of retro furnishings and has the claim to fame of having invented the waffle cone.

They also make all their ice cream in-house and this has led to them gaining quite a reputation for their milkshakes and other dairy based treats.

If you try a waffle cone here, then know that the first one ever was sold by the founder of Doumar’s in 1904.

15. Attucks Theater

Attucks TheaterSource: sevenvenues
Attucks Theater

Built in 1919, Attucks Theatre is names after Crispus Attucks, the first patriot to die in the Revolutionary War.

The theater became famous over the years and used to be one of the most prominent in the region, leading to it being called ‘The Apollo Theatre of the South’.

Many of America’s top performers have appeared here over the years and the theater is now also known as the Crispus Attucks Cultural Center.

To that end, cultural performances are held here throughout the year so check local listings to see what’s on when you are in town.

15 Best Things to Do in Norfolk (VA):

  • Chrysler Museum of Art
  • The USS Wisconsin
  • The Moses Myers House
  • Norfolk Botanical Garden
  • Hunter House Victorian Museum
  • The Virginia Zoo
  • Nauticus National Maritime Center
  • Naval Station Norfolk
  • General Douglas MacArthur Memorial
  • Wells Theater
  • Hermitage Museum and Gardens
  • American Rover
  • Harbor Park
  • Doumar’s
  • Attucks Theater