Vacay in the Mermaid City: Top 10 Things to do When Visiting Norfolk

There are many things to love about the city of Norfolk. If you live here, you have the opportunity of finding hidden gems over time. For those who come to visit the Mermaid City, a little help may be needed. Limited to just 10 items, this guide is for those lucky enough to explore Norfolk and see why we love it.

The Chrysler Museum and the Hague neighborhood – Courtesy of the author

1. Visit Our Museums and Gardens

Norfolk may be a city, but we love our gardens, too. The Norfolk Botanical Garden is beautiful in any season (with twinkling lights added in the winter), and the Hermitage Museum & Gardens is a perfect quite retreat for a stroll. If you like your walk on the wild side, visit the Virginia Zoo. As far as museums go, the Chrysler Museum shouldn’t be missed (thanks to grants and funding, this one is free!). The Chrysler Museum also has the Perry Glass Studio across the street and showcases a few Historic Houses you can visit. For those of you into all things police and fire, stop by the Norfolk Police & Fire Museums.

Gate at the Hermitage Museum and Gardens – Courtesy of the author

2. See a Show

You are never want for entertainment in Norfolk. The local music scene is alive and well, and you’ll likely run into a few live acts over dinner. But there is also the symphony and opera (and more) at the Harrison Opera House, live touring bands at The Norva, plays and musicals with the Virginia Stage Company at the Wells Theatre and with the Hurrah Players at the Hugh Copeland Center, improv comedy shows at The Push Comedy Theater, and more. For a few local venues that put on shows as small as kids ballet and as big as international artists, be sure to check the calendar from Seven Venues. If seeing a movie is more your style, grab a ticket from The Naro Theater where they show a few current movies and have special nights to play old favorites.

3. Shop Local

Yes, you can check out the Outlet Mall or any other chain store, but if you want something special to take home with you, shop local! Norfolk is full of interesting and unique shops to lure you in and surprise you. There are antique stores like The Village Mermaid, cool finds at Mrs. Pinkadot, tasty stores worth visiting like The Bonbonnier (try a Spitfire), and even the Mermaid Factory where you can paint your own Norfolk mermaid to take home. For things only made in Virginia, be sure to stop by Kitsch, and for a mix of small businesses, you can’t miss the Selden Market.

4. Attend a Festival

Tall ship at Harborfest – Courtesy of the author

During much of the year, there are various festivals and live, city-sponsored events happening. From parades and themed festivals to wine and beer festivals and everything in between, Festevents is a great resource to see what is happening around the city. Some of my personal favorites are Harborfest and the Holiday Yule Log Bonfire and Christmas Market. For kids, the Children’s Festival is a great event.



5. Get Sporty

Whether you love to watch sports or participate, this city has you covered. If seeing a baseball game excites you, head to Harbor Park for a Tides game. Prefer to watch hockey? The Norfolk Admirals play at the Scope Arena. Lover of basketball, football, or soccer? Check out the local University sports teams (Norfolk State University and Old Dominion University). Love golf? Play at Lambert’s Point or Ocean View Golf Course. For those who prefer their own time on the ice, the Scope Arena hosts periodic ice skating nights (listed on the Seven Venues calendar), and around the winter holiday season, you can go round and round on a rink next to the MacArthur Center Mall. Prefer the sport of fishing? Head to the Ocean View Fishing Pier and gear up!

6. Wine and Dine Like a Local

There isn’t enough room in this article to list all of the great places to eat and drink in the mermaid city. Let’s just say that if you are only sticking to chains, you’ve done yourself a huge disservice. A few places not to miss: Press 626 Wine BarMermaid WineryHummingbird Macarons in the super cool PagodaDoumar’s, more Downtown restaurants than I can list (but cheese lovers MUST go to The Grilled Cheese Bistro), the French Bakery & Delicatessen, and wing lovers should visit The Dirty Buffalo. If you’re looking for breakfast, skip IHOP and go with d’EggLittle Dog Diner, or Hair of the Dog. For donuts and baked goods, check out Bakehouse at Chelsea (a personal fave), La Brioche NorfolkO’s Donuts, or Naas Bakery.

7. Visit the Sites

A “letter” on display at the Armed Forces Memorial – Courtesy of the author

Because the city has officially been around since the 1600s, when we say see the sites, your choices range quite a bit. For the new, we have the NEON District with its building murals and interesting art displays, the fantastic Slover Library, interesting neighborhoods like GhentChelsea, and the Hague, and more. If you’re more into history, walk the Cannonball Trail, stroll the waterfront while visiting the Armed Forces Memorial, and stop by the St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Downtown Norfolk to see a cannonball still lodged in the building from a very early attack on Norfolk. And while some may think it macabre, the historic cemeteries in the city are very nice to visit (some have tours on certain days), especially the two Victorian cemeteries.



8. Enjoy the Waterways

Around here, you either tread water, swim in it, ride on it, or float with a life jacket: the area is surrounded by water! It makes for great opportunities to enjoy it. Dine on the Spirit of Norfolk while you cruise the Elizabeth River. There are also harbor tours with the American Rover Sailing Cruise. It might sound silly, but if you are short on cash, ride the Elizabeth River Ferry back and forth from Norfolk to Portsmouth. It’s cheap, and you can see both city skylines while passing some big ships. And don’t think the only sandy spots are in Virginia Beach ’cause honey, we’ve got beaches.

9. See Why we Love Our Breweries

The brewing scene is alive and growing here in Norfolk. As of this article date, these local breweries dot the scenery of the city: O’Connor Brewing Company (various items on tap, large indoor and outdoor space), Coelacanth Brewing (solid, classic-style ales and lagers), Rip Rap Brewing Company (small scene, but one of my faves), Bearded Bird BrewingElation Brewing CompanyMaker’s Craft BreweryBold Mariner Brewing Company, and Smartmouth Brewing Company. Give us a few months, we may add more.

10. Celebrate the Navy

Norfolk is home to many branches of the Armed Forces, but through history (and because of the large Naval Station Norfolk), we hold a special place in our hearts for the Navy. For families who love learning about the maritime world, check out Nauticus. While you’re there, be sure to tour the Battleship Wisconsin that faces our Downtown each day. You can even take a Norfolk Naval Base Tour. For additional museum time, stop by the Hampton Roads Naval Museum while you’re at Nauticus. If you prefer to be on the water as you learn, book a Narrated Naval Base Cruise. Wanting to step back to the times when we were fortifying against the British? Tour Historic Fort Norfolk.

And for anyone reading this who has been in any branch of service, we thank you.

Entrance to the Chrysler Museum – Courtesy of the author