There’s nothing better than a weekend getaway, but finding the perfect destination is difficult. You need to pick a spot that’s beautiful and relaxing but still energetic enough to keep you interested. Then, of course, affordability and family activities also come into consideration.
One city that’s becoming a trendy weekend escape is Norfolk, the second largest city (by population) in Virginia. Located in the heart of the Chesapeake Bay area, this bustling waterfront town is starting to attract a following among families, tourists, and urban explorers alike.
Whether you’re into the arts, craft beer, or naval history, Norfolk has something for everyone, making it the ideal destination to escape the rat race and try something new.
Here’s a list of the absolute must-see sites, tastes, and attractions in this hidden gem of a city.
See Also: 5 Fun Things to do in Hampton Roads
Picnic in Town Point Park in Downtown Norfolk
Whether you’re traveling as a tourist, escaping with the family, or taking a romantic weekend away, nothing beats a picnic in Town Point Park.
This lush, expansive park is surrounded by water and hosts a variety of open air concerts, culinary events, and cultural gatherings.
Sample some local food and watch the world go by from a waterfront park that has just enough energy and tranquility to keep you occupied for an afternoon.
Explore the USS Wisconsin
Norfolk has always been a major water hub. From the logistics industry driven by the harbor to the importance of the bay as a strategic naval station, you must make a trip to the water on your weekend getaway.
Built from 1941-1943, the USS Wisconsin is a converted battleship that will allow you to peer into the rich history of the US Navy. Knowledgeable, friendly staff will immerse you in the power and pride of the US Navy, taking you back in time in a way that makes history fun.
Grab free admission as part of your Nauticus entry ticket and prepare yourself for a visit of between 1 and 6 hours, depending on how passionate you are about naval history.
Try a Craft Beer
Thanks, in part to the university community and the tradition of outdoor food and wine festivals held in Town Point Park, there has been a rise in micro-brewing in the Norfolk area over the last few years.
If you’re curious about the craft, then be sure to head to any of the pubs in the waterfront district and sample a local brew – you will be pleasantly surprised.
You could also visit the Starr Hill Brewery taproom in the newly-developed Waterside District, which is set to be finished in early 2017.
The perfect start to an evening spent exploring the energetic NEON district.
If you’re looking for an outing that’s exciting and educational, then head to the Nauticus maritime museum.
Apart from being the official home of the USS Wisconsin, this science center and museum is packed full of the naval history that made Norfolk what it is today.
The center is designed to be fun and engaging, with loads of chances to interact and learn from the friendly staff. 2 hours well spent, especially for a family.
Visit Virginia Zoological Park
This 53-acre park is a paradise for animal lovers.
With over 350 different species to see, including tigers and an array of exotic African animals, this is another great family outing. The helpful, friendly zoo keepers are always ready to offer some amazing facts about all the extraordinary animals that call the zoo home.
Take your spouse and a child and entry will cost you around $40, which is nothing for the sheer variety of healthy, happy animals you’ll get to see. Take some extra cash along and grab a snack – the food is highly recommended!
Don’t forget to say hello to the extremely rare Siberian tiger while you’re there.
Become a Connoisseur at the Chrysler Museum of Art
The historic, military side of nature is well balanced by a colorful, thriving art scene that centers around the NEON district.
The heart of the city’s artistic and cultural activities is the Chrysler Museum of Art. Located on the border between downtown and the Ghent district, this cultural attraction hosts regular talks and exhibitions that are sure to inspire and excite.
Whether you are fond of the Renaissance or looking to be challenged by the very latest in fine art, make sure you visit the Chrysler Museum during your weekend in Norfolk.
Get in Touch with Nature at the Norfolk Botanical Gardens
Whatever the weather, the Norfolk Botanical Gardens are a beautiful way to wind down during a weekend away. Book your tickets online and wear comfortable shoes – the gardens are best explored at a leisurely stroll.
Even if you’re not a plant expert, the sense of beauty and calmness is bound to have a relaxing effect. There’s a play area for little ones and you can also catch exciting community workshops and talks on an array of topics.
Head to Hampton Roads Naval Museum
The Hampton Roads Naval Museum is ideal for visitors looking for a weekend of rich history and unique finds.
The museum chronicles the last 235 years of US Navy history through a series of artifacts and items that are sure to intrigue those with an interest in anything nautical.
The Hampton Roads Naval Museum is also within walking distance of Nauticus should you wish to dedicate an entire day to Norfolk’s proud naval history.
Relax and unwind in Ocean View
Norfolk even has a series of comfortable beaches that you should visit. Located in the Ocean View area, there’s no better place to take in the stunning setting and unique atmosphere of the city than from a beach.
Closing Thoughts on Norfolk, Virginia
There’s a reason that this surprising city is making its way onto travel blogs and winning the hearts of tourists as well as destination awards. Whether you want a weekend to relax in nature, a chance to explore the history of naval warfare or you’re looking to delight your palette, Norfolk is the place to go. But be warned, a weekend is probably not enough time to fully enjoy the city so you will probably need to plan a return visit.
Have you ever visited Norfolk, Virginia? If so, what was your experience like?