From its vital naval history and waterfront to its unique culinary options and festivals, visiting Norfolk, Virginia is definitely worth a trip.
Those looking for nightlife can experience the lively pubs, restaurants, and breweries offering up great food and drinks. Art lovers can enjoy districts with meaningful murals, museums, galleries, and a glassblowing studio. While kids can enjoy animal encounters at zoo, a maritime museum and battleship, and the splash pad at the botanical gardens.
Below we’ll explore all that downtown Norfolk, VA has to offer and a few other notable areas just beyond. Downtown Norfolk hotel recommendations included at the end!
Things to Do in Norfolk, VA (Downtown)
If you’re thinking about a trip to Norfolk, Virginia, it’s an excellent place to spend a 3-day weekend. You can enjoy weekend-long festivals, award-winning cuisine, lively bars, shopping, museums, and plenty of other unique things to do around the city.
Waterfront Festivals at Town Point Park
During the warmer months, there’s always something exciting happening at Town Point Park. However, there are a few things to do at Town Point Park in the winter too. When planning your visit, be sure to check out the Norfolk FestEvents for the latest festivals coming to the area.
Annual festivals include several Wine Festivals, NashFest 757, Norfolk HarborFest, Bayou Bon Viant (formerly Bayou Boogaloo), Latino Music Fest, Jazz Fest, Children’s Festival, Juneteeth Celebration, Holiday Yule Log and Bonfire, and more!
Entertainment and Dining at the Waterside District
The Waterside District complex houses several restaurants, bars, and The Market– a large open-concept style food court offering drinks, TVs, and other entertainment. It’s a great place to watch football or UFC while enjoying a few drinks with friends. The Waterside District also hosts fun events such as Silent Discos, Drag Brunch, and Mimosa Fest.
You’ll access gorgeous views of the Elizabeth River and Portsmouth, Virginia, outside the complex, along with a small outdoor entertainment area with cornhole, hammocks, and outdoor seating. Norfolk’s festivals tend to overflow onto Waterside District as it is directly next door to Town Point Park.
Nauticus and the USS Wisconsin Battleship
Nauticus is a marine museum on the Elizabeth River next to Town Point Park. The complex is also home to the Battleship Wisconsin, a Sailing Center, and the Half Moone Decker Cruise Terminal. The museum is an excellent place to visit with your family, as there are interactive exhibits, STEM and STERN programming, and a theater.
USS Wisconsin Battleship
The USS Wisconsin (BB-64) is a decommissioned Iowa-class battleship built in 1943. The battleship was a vital tool during World War II, earning five battle stars. Today, the Battleship Wisconsin lives in Downtown Norfolk and is open to the public with guided tours available. The ship holds various events throughout the year, including Winterfest, where the entire battleship is decked out in holiday lights.
Norfolk River Cruises
Take a City Cruises Norfolk dinner cruise or a tall-ship tour of Norfolk on the American Rover! These tours take you down the Elizabeth River and offer spectacular views of Norfolk and Portsmouth. And if you want to visit another harbor city without the drive, take the Elizabeth River Ferry over to Historic Downtown Portsmouth and explore!
Bars and Restaurants in Downtown Norfolk
Norfolk, VA’s nightlife scene is truly a good time. Across the street from McAruthur Mall you’ll find the Norva, a small concert venue, featuring local and world-renowend music artists. Head to Granby Street, where you’ll find sports bars, pubs, lounges, and nightclubs all within walking distance of one another.
In 2021, Norfolk temporarily brought back First Fridays, a 16-street block party, but it is currently unknown when the event will return. You can check DowntownNorfolk.org for updates.
The culinary scene in Norfolk, VA, has been on the rise for a few years now. In 2021, the city partnered with local food blogger Nomarama to produce a video series called City with Bite to highlight Norfolk’s indie food scene.
You’ll also want to check out some of Norfolk’s classics, like Freemason Abbey, Todd Jurich’s Bistro, Hell’s Kitchen, Byrd & Baldwin Bros. Steakhouse, and Doumars Cones and Barbeque.
Shopping in Downtown Norfolk, VA
If you’re looking for retail chains, head to McArthur Mall in the center of downtown. But if you’re looking for something unique or local, take a stroll through the Selden Market on East Main Street. You’ll also find a few shopping opportunities on Granby Street and sprinkled throughout downtown. All of these shopping options are 100% walkable if you’re staying downtown.
Just Beyond Downtown Norfolk, Virginia
Of course, there are plenty of other enjoyable things to do outside the heart of Downtown Norfolk. There are trendy neighborhoods, historic and art districts, museums, breweries, and a beach!
Neighborhoods and Districts in Norfolk, VA
There are several notable neighborhoods and districts just beyond the heart of Downtown Norfolk, VA, and they are all worth a visit. These areas can be easily accessed by taking The Tide Light Rail. You’ll find art museums, The Virginia Zoo, murals, breweries, wineries, restaurants, and shopping in these areas.
The NEON (New Energy of Norfolk) District is a vibrant area filled with art, culture, and small businesses. From large murals painted on walls to hidden gem tucked away stores, the NEON District offers another side of Norfolk. There are also opportunities for entertainment thanks to bars which come alive at night.
Historic Freemason District
The Freemason Historic District mostly a residential area full of history and charm. Located near the Elizabeth River, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. The district is home to almost 300 buildings, with over 140 constructed before 1914.
Stroll the cobblestone streets and you’ll find examples of Late Victorian and Greek Revival style architecture from centuries past. Visiting this area will provide a glimpse into both early American history as well as local Norfolk culture.
Other Noteable Neighborhoods and Districts
Ghent, Chelsea, Railroad District (Park Place), Colley Avenue and West 21st Street are other areas you may stumble upon during your visit. There are excellent resturant, boutique shopping, and breweries sprinkled throughout these neighborhoods.
Breweries and Wineries in Norfolk, VA
Below are just a few of the breweries Norfolk, VA has to offer. Mermaid Wintery is the Norfolk’s first winery and it’s definitely worth a visit!
- Mermaid Winery
- Press 626 Café & Wine Bar
- Smartmouth Brewing
- O’Connor Brewing
- Benchtop Brewing Co.
- Veil Brewing Co.
- Elation Brewing Co.
- Rip Rap Brewing Co.
Art Museums in Norfolk, Virginia
Hermitage Museum and Gardens
Housed in a 20th-century brick home, the Hermitage Museum and Gardens is a beautiful property along the Lafayette River. The East Garden overlooks the Lafayette River and is a popular spot for weddings.
Take a guided tour, check out their event calendar, and attend a workshop! You’ll experience sculptures, paintings, decorative art, and gorgeous gardens. During the warmer months, the museum holds a concert called Sunsets on the River, which offers live music, drinks, and art!
Chrysler Museum / Perry Glass Studio
Chrysler Museum of Arts showcases over 30,000 items within 50 galleries. Between 2PM and 3PM you can catch a guided museum highlights tour. Other things are going on throughout the day, so check out their calendar of events!
In 2011, the Chrysler Museum of Arts added The Perry Glass Studio, which showcases glassmaking. You can catch a demonstration of the hard work and care glassblowers put into their works of art. And if you’re feeling adventurous, you may be able to experience hands-on glassmaking yourself.
The Virginia Zoo
If you’re looking for something to do in Norfolk, VA with the kids, head over to The Virginia Zoo. The gardens are filled with art, greenery, and beautiful flowers. There is also a butterfly garden and even a kids splash park! Admission for adults is $15 and $13 for kids. There is ample free parking on the grounds.
Norfolk Botanical Gardens
Ocean View and East Beach
If you’re looking for some time in the sun and in the water, head over to one of Norfolk’s beaches! You can go swimming, sunbathing, fishing, kayaking, sailing and more. Spend time at Community Beach Park, Sarah Constant Beach Park, or Ocean View Beach Park for a beach day with the family. Ocean View Beach also has a fishing pier, a museum, and a popular farmers market.
Hotel Recommendations in Norfolk, Virginia
If you’re only in town for a few days days, you’ll want to find a Norfolk hotel that provides easy access to all the main attractions. Hotels in Downtown Norfolk provide the perfect home base, as almost everything you’ll want to do is within walking distance.
You’ll also have access to the Tide, Norfolk’s light rail system, to help you get around. And if Uber is your preferred vacation transportation method, you shouldn’t have difficulty finding a ride day or night.
Hotels in Downtown Norfolk, VA
There are currently seven main hotels in Downtown Norfolk offering water views, cityscapes, and easy access to entertainment. Just a few blocks from most of these hotels, you’ll discover Granby Street, where you can find restaurants, bars, and shopping.
You can also easily walk to The Waterside District and Town Point Park for waterside dining and festivals. Our top three recommendations include the Norfolk Waterside Marriott, Norfolk Hilton The Main, and the Gas Light Hotel and Gallery.
The Waterside Marriott
The Waterside Marriot is a modern, relatively recently renovated hotel with water views located in the heart of Downtown. While parking is not on-site, valet services are available, along with a parking garage directly across the street. The hotel is connected to an Italian steak house called Capo Capo, which is definitely worth checking out.
Norfolk Hilton The Main
Norfolk Hilton The Main is an excellent lodging option offering rooms and suites, three highly-rated restaurants, a rooftop bar, and water or city views. A parking garage is connected to the hotel, and valet services are provided.
The three restaurants, Varia (Italian), Saltine (Seafood), and Grain (Rooftop Beer Garden), are the highlight of this hotel. You can expect fresh seafood at Varia, live music and a self-serve wine bar at Varia, and an extensive beer list with water views at Grain.
Gas Light Hotel and Gallery
Gas Light Hotel and Gallery is a beautifully restored historic building offering luxury boutique accommodations. Rooms and suites are stylish and spacious, and a parking garage is directly behind the hotel.
You can enjoy dining at their French-inspired on-site restaurant and bar while you enjoy some of the hotel’s glass art collection. The art gallery, which showcases glass art from local and world-renowned glassblowers, is free and open for everyone to enjoy.
Your Visit to Downtown Norfolk, VA
Norfolk really is a wonderful and unique city. There are nightlife options, festivals, breweries, fine-dining, entertainment districts, you won’t experience place else.
Alexandrea Sumuel is a travel writer and the founder of Wander With Alex, where she provides vacationers and travel enthusiasts with trip ideas, travel guides, news, and itineraries. She travels to experience, eat, and explore-- and, on occasion, escape! Alex’s mission is to help people travel a little easier.