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Do List Norfolk 2021
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The 14 best things to do in Norfolk, Virginia

The best things to do in Norfolk include fantastic art museums, WWII battleships and tons of waterfront nature.

Written by
Gerrish Lopez
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Norfolk is best known for its maritime history and as the home of the largest naval base in the world, but this coastal Virginia city is also host to a thriving food scene anchored in the hip NEON district, a world-class art museum, unique local businesses and plenty of options for enjoying nature. Among the best things to do in Norfolk, you can learn about Norfolk’s maritime connections by touring a WWII battleship or taking a sunset cruise. Once back on land, a vibrant city awaits with live music, festivals, restaurants, shopping and more. Stroll the waterfront, bike the 10.5-mile riverside trail, or hit the beach for a dose of the outdoors. This compact, walkable city is definitely worth a visit when exploring Virginia and the East Coast.

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Best things to do in Norfolk

Norfolk’s historic Ghent District is home to one of the most important and impressive museums in the region. Founded in the 1930s and incorporating the collection of automotive heir Walter Chrysler Jr., the museum houses a stunning collection of art dating back thousands of years. Explore sculpture, paintings, photography, glasswork and decorative arts. Don’t miss the Perry Glass Studio where you can watch glass blowing demos and even take classes.

This maritime discovery center is located along the waterfront in downtown Norfolk. The complex includes the USS Wisconsin, one of the largest battleships built by the U.S. Navy. Explore the ship with a self-guided tour that includes offices, mess, chapel and officers' staterooms.

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More than 60 themed gardens stretch over 150 acres at Norfolk’s glorious botanical garden. The gardens are seasonal, so there’s something special blooming any time of year. Stroll through rose gardens, herb gardens, a fern glade, butterfly garden, tropical garden and more. Educational walks and other activities are offered regularly. Got a pup? Check out special Sunday Dog Days when you both can enjoy.

Step into the past with a visit to this waterfront Arts-and-Crafts-style house and gardens. The 42-room home has remained mostly unchanged since 1936. Explore rooms featuring furnishings from the era as well as a unique art collection. Open greenspace along the waterfront makes for a pleasant escape from the city. In the summer, the museum hosts Sunsets on the River, a popular concert series.

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Norfolk’s mascot is the mermaid, and this unique craft shop and studio sells hand-painted wooden mermaid statues in a variety of sizes. What keeps this spot busy is the do-it-yourself option: paint and decorate your own wooden mermaid with fabric, charms, glitter and shells for a personalized memory of Norfolk.

Another important historic home in Norfolk, the Moses Myers House, built in 1795, was the residence of, you guessed it, Moses Myers – an American entrepreneur who played a key role in the growth of the city – and his family, the first Jewish family to settle permanently in Norfolk. Furnishings in the home belonged to the family, and touring the house gives you a look into how people lived at the time.

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For a locally-focused shopping experience, head to Selden Market. The Market features up-and-coming small businesses, including retail and dining. In addition to a permanent lineup of businesses, monthly popups and events offer even more variety. Get a caffeine boost at Vessel Craft Coffee, one of the best in town, then browse clothing, jewelry, home furnishings, art and handmade goods.

NEON — New Energy Of Norfolk — is the city’s official arts district. It’s home to cultural institutions, studios and more than 80 works of public art. Local and visiting artists are invited to contribute to the city’s collection. Browse beautiful murals like Bloom, painted by locals Carl Medley III and Charles Rasputin on 801 Boush Street, featuring stunning pink roses between white fangs, or Nick Kuszyk’s Razzle Dazzle, the district’s first mural and now a city icon at 746 Granby Street.

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The home of the original waffle cone (created by founder Abe Doumar in 1904 for the St. Louis World’s Fair) is a Norfolk institution. Homemade ice cream, shakes, and sundaes will make you want to eat dessert first, but you won’t want to miss the fresh burgers, Carolina-style barbecue, and limeade — all homemade.

This paved trail stretching from Norfolk State University to Terminal Boulevard offers 10.5 miles of scenic views along the waterfront. Catch another glimpse of Norfolk’s maritime history from the trail, by foot or by bike. Bird watching is popular as well, as you can spot ducks, seagulls and other seabirds as you stroll.

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The revitalized stretch of waterfront known as the Waterside District is bustling with restaurants and entertainment. The district hosts live music and festivals, and regular specials at the restaurants — girls night out, burger night, trivia — make this a prime destination for a night out any day of the week. Popular restaurants include Cogans Pizza, Starr Hill Market Bar and Stripers.

Embarking from Waterside, this iconic tall ship sails the Elizabeth River and Hampton Roads Harbor daily between April and October. The two-hour cruises are narrated, telling the unique story of the area. Try your hand with the sails or take the helm if you’re feeling seaworthy. A sunset cruise offers live music, drinks and even more stunning views.

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Norfolk’s connections to the sea include a fabulous beach with plenty of recreational opportunities. Sail, kayak, fish, or just relax and soak up the sun. Regular live music shows and festivals bring crowds. For history lovers, the Ocean View Station Museum covers the unique history of the area.

This small but mighty zoo is a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle. Spend a couple hours getting up close and personal with the animals. Kids of all ages will love the Australian Walkabout (temporarily closed), where you can walk amongst kangaroos, emus and wallabies.

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