Norfolk, best-known for its strategic military importance, is home to the world’s largest naval base and one of two North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) military headquarters. Yet Norfolk’s setting on Chesapeake Bay and its downtown revitalization, combined with a natural Southern charm, make this Virginia port city an inviting spot for a weekend getaway or even a full-on vacation.
Many attractions are tied to Norfolk’s military roots¸ but visitors can enjoy just as many diversions with cultural and/or historic appeal. Among top things-to-do in Norfolk is a visit to the Chrysler Museum of Art, considered one of South’s major art museums. Its 62 galleries with 30,000 works include one of the world’s most comprehensive collections of glass. Another cultural must-see is the Hermitage Foundation Museum, the early-20th-century estate of the Sloane Family. Inside, visitors may view the Sloane art collection, which spans 5,000 years of art history, and afterwards take a stroll outside along the waterfront of the 12-acre gardens. A visit to the Moses Meyer House downtown offers a remarkably accurate portrayal of early 19th-century merchant family life. It is the nation’s oldest Jewish home open to the public as a museum, and more than 70 percent of the furnishings are original to the home
A must-see monument to one of America’s most distinguished military officers is the MacArthur Memorial, burial place of General Douglas MacArthur. Visitors can view his mausoleum, nine adjoining galleries and the 1950 Chrysler Imperial limousine he used as his staff car from 1950 until his death. Naval history buffs and nautical enthusiasts can dive into Nauticus, a science and technology center. Home of the Battleship Wisconsin, Nauticus offers hands-on exhibits, HD large-screen theater, a shark lab and the Hampton Roads Naval Museum.
One of the Norfolk's most family-friendly attractions is "rooted" in 155 acres of spectacular blooms and plants. The Norfolk Botanical Garden is home to 40 themed gardens and the 3-acre World of Wonders: A Children’s Adventure Garden. Norfolk is also a great place to shop for antiques. The best place to look is in Ghent, between Granby Street and Colonial Avenue. At the Ghent Market and Antique Center, more than 100 dealers span the entire block with collectibles, vintage items and nautical treasures. To help shoppers navigate the area, the visitor center provides a list of shops.
After shopping in Ghent, those looking for a good meal will find a tempting selection of chef-inspired dinner specials, pitas, salads and homemade desserts at the No Frill Bar and Grill. Meanwhile, at the Vintage Kitchen, the Paris-trained chef prepares modern cuisine with the freshest seasonal produce for patrons to enjoy along with a sweeping view of the Elizabeth River. The Freemason Abbey Restaurant and Tavern is housed in a 140-year-old church downtown. Whether guests dine upstairs in the choir loft or downstairs, they sing the praises of fresh seafood, steaks, pasta and award-winning She Crab Soup. Another fine dining tradition in downtown Norfolk is Todd Jurich’s Bistro, where guests enjoy five-star cuisine, world-class wines and an elegant atmosphere.