Home to futuristic art and a strong marine heritage, Norfolk is the unspoilt metropolis and undiscovered gem of the Southern US.
Positioned on the glistening shores of the Elizabeth River, Norfolk is most well-known for its maritime presence and operational NATO base. And yet, situated on the stunning waterfront of Virginia, this highly underappreciated city is one of the best up-and-coming holiday destinations in the Southern US.
As one of the oldest urban areas in the state, Norfolk is the perfect location for history lovers who are eager to learn about the culture behind the ‘Old Dominion’, as the city is locally known. This is complemented by a picturesque riverside district, one of the city’s most charming features. Consequently, the region boasts a rich naval heritage, with a multitude of nautically decadent attractions for any boating fanatic.
Similarly, Norfolk also heralds a bustling downtown area that possesses restaurants and bars galore, allowing visitors to immerse in an array of diverse cultures which reflects the melting pot of ideas that the city encapsulates.
The flourishing city further showcases a spectacular arts scene, with over 50 galleries presenting a plethora of craftsmanship, from conventional fine art to the wondrous spectacle of glass art. The Chrysler Museum of Art in particular is a must-see for those who want to the get lost in art innovations from across the world.
As a hidden treasure, Norfolk is positioned as the blossoming centre to some of the US’s best maritime marvels. Accompanied by a deep appreciation of different cultures, it would be a shame to miss.
TOURISM INSIGHTS: VISITNORFOLK
VisitNorfolk is the place to go for planning your trip around the hidden treasure of Norfolk, placing this stunning destination on the map of Southern US hotspots. CEO, Kurt Krause, tells us why this historically diverse city is on the rise.
Can you talk us through the origins of VisitNorfolk and its ongoing vision?
Kurt Krause, CEO (KK): VisitNorfolk is a non-profit organisation that positively promotes the City of Norfolk’s unique experiences and expansive amenities to residents and visitors, as the best city of its kind to start, study and stay. Our mission is to elevate Norfolk, Virginia, from a “nice to see” destination to a “necessity” destination by working with our community to better share the stories and accomplishments of our locals, all while highlighting what the city has to offer our visitors.
Why, in your opinion, should someone visit Norfolk?
KK: Norfolk’s unique positioning on the East Coast puts two-thirds of the US population within easy driving distance. Once you arrive, you will be welcomed into a city of mermaids anchored by a vibrant downtown and steeped in maritime history. Home to the world’s largest naval base and the North American headquarters for NATO, Norfolk is known for its Navy presence and so much more. The city’s rich and proudly diverse culture flows through its museums, burgeoning performing and visual arts scenes, and fabulous festivals, giving visitors an abundance of activities to do.
What kind of travellers does your region appeal to most?
KK: We welcome all travellers looking to chart their course and experience our beautiful city. With a wide range of activities from kayaking along the Elizabeth River to exploring our beautiful glass art in the Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk is perfect for families, couples, solo travellers and anyone looking to enjoy all the city has to offer.
How have you worked towards putting Norfolk on the map for potential visitors?
KK: Part of what makes Norfolk special is the people and natural attributes that make up the city. Being home to the largest naval base in the world, you will find people from all over the globe that decide to settle and open their own businesses. There are over 600 independently-owned restaurants in the city that boast big flavours. To help visitors gain an understanding of the great cuisine that Norfolk offers, the video series “City With Bite” was born as a new way to highlight the culinary scene in an engaging way.
The arts and entertainment scene is also worth mentioning, particularly since Norfolk is home to the largest collection of glass art, which is free for visitors to see. Travellers can stay at a boutique hotel with glass art, visit the Chrysler Museum of Art, see pieces throughout the ages, or get a full immersion by blowing a glass piece themselves at the Perry Glass Studio.
What is Norfolk’s most underrated attraction?
KK: Something incredibly unique about Norfolk is its maritime history and its role in building and shaping our city as we know it today. While exploring downtown, visitors will be surprised to see the Battleship Wisconsin situated at the end of the street. Located next to our maritime discovery centre, Nauticus, the battleship and Nauticus itself provide visitors with an immersive look into our maritime industry and how vital it is. The newly renovated third floor features Aquaticus, a permanent exhibit devoted to young visitors that encourages experience-based play and discovery with a fun, engaging underwater theme. Then, continue through Norfolk in Time, a highly interactive exhibition weaving stories of history, culture, science, technology and industry to showcase Norfolk’s unique resilience in the face of continual challenge and change.
What does Norfolk have to offer in terms of sustainable or eco-friendly travel experiences?
KK: Whether you’re aiming to reduce your carbon footprint as you travel or are interested in supporting eco-friendly businesses, there are many reasons to keep sustainability at the forefront these days. The City of Norfolk’s Environmental Sustainability and Climate Action Team is focused on several key initiatives to combat climate change and its impacts. These include advancing climate justice, facilitating green living, and greening city operations. We are proud to have incredible attractions like the Norfolk Botanical Gardens, which is undergoing a major renovation to better improve its sustainability efforts, along with the Elizabeth River Trail (ERT), Norfolk’s 10.5 mile-long walkable and bikeable pathway. Efforts led by the Elizabeth River Trail Foundation aim to expand, enhance and transform the ERT as a recreational, social and educational destination that improves environmental awareness, neighbourhood connectivity and innovative economic development.
Could you tell us more about the influence of Native American culture, and how it is showcased in the region’s tourist industry?
KK: Norfolk has a long history, and that history has shaped the city it is today. We try to recognise those that lived on this land before us as often as we can through land acknowledgments. We are continuously evolving and working to better represent Native American culture in Norfolk. We continue to grow and strengthen our relationships with the active native tribes throughout different projects.
How is the city celebrating Juneteenth this year?
KK: Every year, various organisations throughout Norfolk host Juneteenth events. Juneteenth in the Park is an annual event with a focus on career and professional development. This educational festival is designed to help those in our community with on-site interviews, health, wellness and finance education sessions, live music, presentations and networking opportunities all along Norfolk’s waterfront. It’s the perfect way to celebrate the day and the growth of the community. We also encourage visitors and locals alike to take the time to explore our city and learn from its history through the Waterways to Freedom. This self-guided tour takes you back in time to see how Norfolk was involved in the Underground Railroad.
FOR SAILING TO THE BLISSFUL LAND OF NOD…
Just a short stroll away from the beautiful Elizabeth River, the Hilton Norfolk The MAIN Hotel be top of your list for a scenic stay. Providing the perfect base for your travelling adventures across the city, the Hilton has a wide variety of rooms to suit your holiday needs, with a highly luxurious and affordable range of suites. Furthermore, with access to a rooftop bar, you and your friends can be at the height of sophistication as you look over the shimmering water, before passing a curated selection of art on the way to a delectable range of dining choices.
PERRY GLASS STUDIO IN FOCUS
One of the most spectacular and widely regarded sectors of Norfolk is its thriving arts scene, presented in avenues both new and old. More than just an art studio, Perry Glass Studio is at the cutting edge of inventive art pieces, as thousands of visitors flock to blow their own glass at the only facility of its kind in the Mid-Atlantic region. As a subsector of the highly reputable Chrysler Art Museum, the Perry Glass Studio highlights the wonders of glass art, as it provides visitors with the opportunity to see how such marvels are created.
Visitors can witness the futuristic side to this beautiful tradition through the studio’s performance nights, creating vibrant spectacles of colour. Additionally, for those who are more creative, the studio provides the exciting opportunity to bend and build your own glass creation, through glass blowing workshops which cater to everybody, from first-time glass blowers to masters of the art. In this other-worldly creative session, visitors can learn a variety of processes including glassblowing, fusing, flameworking, coldworking and neon. One particularly fascinating event is the ‘Glass After Dark’ workshop, where lively music and art come together once a month, for a night of visionary creation. The evening showcases emerging artists in the local music scene, working alongside world-acclaimed artists in glass blowing, to create an unbeatable atmosphere which encapsulates artistic excellence.
Thus, be sure to experience this wondrous art form as it bends and twists the limits of what art can do, to create something truly spellbinding.
Norfolk Botanical Gardens
At the heart of Norfolk lies the beautifully bountiful Botanical Gardens, encompassing an emerald blanket of 175 acres. Spilt into seven themes, the 60 different gardens have a stunning view for everybody, regardless of season, taste or age. This is unmissable for those with or without a green thumb as the garden holds thousands of varieties of plants and flowers, creating remarkable natural scenes.
Chrysler Museum of Art
As one of Norfolk’s most cherished and prized tourist attractions, you would be remiss not to visit the Chrysler Museum of Art when in the city. Having been founded in 1933, it houses some of the most unmissable pieces of art, as visitors can feast their eyes on the more than 30,000 displays from numerous different mediums and areas of the world.
The NEON (new energy of Norfolk) District has an eclectic selection of murals and is becoming the secret treasure of Norfolk’s art collection. With no interest in staying hidden, the public art murals are bold and daring, flooding the local neighbourhood with colour. As street art, it is openly accessible to everybody, from intricate, tiny paintings to huge bursting murals, so you never know what you might find.
GETTING THERE AND AROUND
When travelling across the city, it is important to take advantage of the numerous transportation opportunities that are offered to tourists and residents alike. Once travellers arrive fresh off a plane at Norfolk International Airport, they can enjoy the convenience of an airport located just from downtown Norfolk.
To quickly zip around the city, Norfolk offers a bikeshare programme which provides an environmentally friendly way to see its sites, through perfectly planned bike lanes and routes. Furthermore, to truly see the wonders of the Elizabeth River, Norfolk has a world-class waterside marina at the core of the downtown district, which lets you take a relaxing Rover Cruise or City Cruises.
The city also provides comprehensive taxi links so you can catch a ride with ease, particularly with the vital aid of the Downtown Attractions Map that lets you browse through Norfolk’s attractions instantly. Finally, everything visitors may need to get around can be found in the Amtrak Station, a 3,500 square foot station that provides visitor information, a bus stop, short/long term parking, bike racks and much more.