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The 20 Best Things to do in Norfolk, Virginia for First Timers

Battleship USS Wisconsin

In 2018, Norfolk was named "Favorite American City for 2018", and for good reason. There are more than enough things to do in Norfolk than one can shake a stick at. This is a city jam packed with eateries serving up world class cuisine, artistic venues, such as the famed NEON Arts District, and then some. When first time visitors encounter Norfolk, they are astounded by the high level of culture, fun activities and stellar accommodations there are in this city. In fact, in 2017 Norfolk was named one of the top 50 places to travel on the planet! Plus, you're close enough to Virginia Beach to catch some kayaking and Atlantic bottle nosed dolphin watching, as well as taking in some of their attractions, activities and tours as well. All this and more are waiting for you, right now, in the vibrant city of Norfolk, Virginia.

Try to Free Yourself, if You Dare

20. Try to Free Yourself, if You Dare

When creating your itinerary, listing all the fun things to do in Norfolk, don't pass up their escape room attractions. It's no secret, escape rooms are huge business, and even have fans who travel the world over, to try their hand at some of the best escape rooms on the planet, and Norfolk has an escape room no other city, state or country has: An escape room on a battleship! You heard right, and it's on the USS Wisconsin. The storyline is as follows. You're in need to discover the plans of a Russian spy, and solve them before time's up, and you only have one hour. This escape room has entertained people the world over, and now it's your chance to defeat the spy, and save the world! So, if you've finished your tour of the battleship USS Wisconsin, why not hang around, and immerse yourself in another time, and place.

The Norfolk Scavenger Hunt

19. The Norfolk Scavenger Hunt

Hosted by "Let's Roam Scavenger Hunts", those first time visitors to Norfolk can find no better way to get into the culture and heritage of this famed city. The scavenger hunt revolves around Norfolk's landmarks, as you solve both questions and puzzles. This scavenger hunt is designed to teach tourists about all that is Norfolk. They do it in such a way that you'll be having fun and creating memories that last forever, while getting to know all about the city and it's local population. Know that they also host events, so if you happen to be having a birthday or other such event, Let's Roam will be more than happy to accommodate you. Each hunt starts at the Pagoda and Garden Foundation, and lasts for about 2 hours.

Take a Bike Ride Around Norfolk

18. Take a Bike Ride Around Norfolk

The city of Norfolk has gone out of its way to ensure that bicyclists get their fair share of the roads, which makes touring via bike both on and off road a simple affair. They've created bike lanes for easy maneuverability around the city, plus they have bicycle sharing and even stops devoted to handling any bicycle repairs. If you're not to keen on pedaling, but still want to get in on the fun, know that Pedego is a company who offers tours using E-bikes, or electric bikes, so hit them up. Don't forget Lime Scooter Rentals, they're a great, cost effective way to see the sights of Norfolk as well. All you need do is to download the Lime app to your mobile device. From there you look for the scooter station closest to you. All that's needed is for you to follow the directions on the app, hop on and ride!

Norfolk Nightlife

17. Take in Some Norfolk Nightlife

When the sun goes down, Norfolk turns into an entirely different town. You might not know it to look at it, but it has a vivacious and active night life, filled with fabulous bars, lounges and eateries. No matter your taste, there's something for you in Norfolk when the stars come out to play. For instance, if sports are your thing, grab a pint at Baxter's Sports Lounge, where you can order a craft brew of your choice, and enjoy watching the big game on one of their 20 HD flat screen TV's, play pool or take a seat in their VIP Lounge or their outdoor patio. If you're more in the mood to experience some laughs, then check out the Push Comedy Theater where you'll enjoy standup, and improv.

Selden Market: Enjoy the Culture, Enjoy the Shopping of Norfolk

16. Selden Market: Enjoy the Culture, Enjoy the Shopping of Norfolk

For those of you just visiting Norfolk for the first time, and looking for things to do in Norfolk, such as shopping for unique items as gifts and souvenirs, then the Selden Market is made to order. The Selden Market is famous for it's one of a kind shops, as well as fine eateries. Shops range from those specializing in vintage apparel, such as Kor Vintage to those selling educational toys. Here, you'll find everything from retro fashion to unique home furnishings and accents. Other shops include Pure Lagos, P.O.P for kids, and Loud Accessories. Pop-ups are also present and include Baked AF, JackEats and S'mores Amore, and many more.

The Amazing Cementiscope

15. The Amazing Cementiscope

What does a 3000 pound cement mixer and kaleidoscope have in common? Well, nothing actually, that is until the artist group the Glassatorium became involved. The Cementiscope is a truly creative piece of functional art, with a meaning behind it. This fully functioning kaleidoscope allows viewers to see Norfolk in a whole new way, which is just what the artists and the Norfolk city council wanted. As you look through the kaleidoscope, you're also taking part in the evolution that is Norfolk. The viewer rotates the cementiscope via a manual crank and settles in to enjoy the show, with the colorful shape combinations enhanced by integrated LED lights.

Gershwin's 1920's Style Speakeasy

14. Gershwin's 1920's Style Speakeasy

After a long day of touring Norfolk, get a taste of the Great Gatsby at Gershwin's.Named after the famed sibling composer and lyricist team of George and Ira Gershwin, you'll find it the ideal spot to experience having a brew in a 1920's speakeasy. Visitors rave about the quick service, stylish and delicious cocktails, served by waitresses donned in 1920's apparel. The atmosphere is true to type, flapper-era art deco. As for their bar, visitors have given it a high rating, stating that the bartenders are outstanding at what they do. Gershwin's is open late to cater to tourists and locals who've been to the cinema, theater or just leaving their hotels for a late evening nightcap.

Autocross at Drive 1 Exotics

13. Autocross at Drive 1 Exotics

Have you ever pictured yourself winning the Grand Prix, or perhaps coming in first at the Indianapolis 500? Well, here's your chance to test your pedal power by participating in an Autocross competition. Autocross gives you the chance to enter a timed competition, racing on a track with your only competition is the stopwatch, and centers on skill rather than speed. Not a competitive driver? No worries, as Autocross is listed as an entry-level sport. In fact, the autocross is for those who are interested in becoming pro drivers. You select the car you want to drive, and all their cars are automatic, so no shifting is necessary. Also, know that you must be 18 years of old or older, with a valid drivers license. Finally, you can sign up as either a ride along, or driver. All autocross events are held at Military Circle Mall, Norfolk.

. The NorVa

12. The NorVa

The NorVa is Norfolk's famed performance theater. This venue is known for its near perfect acoustics and V-DOSC sound system. Founded in 1922, this masterpiece of sound and architectural beauty had a capacity of 2,000 seats, and engaged in performances of all types, from music to stage performances. In 1998, the NorVa was renovated, where tourists and locals alike can enjoy films as well as live performances. While there, take some time to enjoy some of the delicious food and beverages they offer. The NorVa houses two bars which serve both alcohol and non-alcoholic beverages. You can take photos at their events, but if your camera has a removable lens, you need to get it approved before the event begins.

Hop on Your Pedicycle, and Away You Go!

11. Hop on Your Pedicycle, and Away You Go!

We can't exactly leave Norfolk Pedal Tours out of the mix as it's one of the top tours in Norfolk. Before you think this is just your usual bike ride tour, it's not. Instead, it's a vehicle called a Pedicycle, and has the ability to hold 15 people. Once everyone is seated in the Pedicycle, they begin to pedal, and that is what powers the vehicle.. That's right, every passenger has to pedal! Unique, fun and informative, the Norfolk Pedal Tours take you through Norfolk's urban center, then to the neighborhood of Ghent, where much of their cultural heritage lies. The tour vehicle is controlled by a driver, who also acts as your groups tour guide, providing you with information as well as answering your questions.

Hermitage Museum and Gardens

10. Step Back in Time at the Hermitage Museum and Gardens

Step back in time when you take a visit to the Hermitage Museum and Gardens. Also known as the Sloane house, it now functions as one of the cultural institutions in Norfolk, one that showcases 20th century arts. But that's not all that you'll see. The Hermitage also plays host to contemporary artists, as they show their pieces in one of their exhibition galleries. This estate turned museum is perfectly situated upon the banks of the Lafayette River, where you'll be able to take a well deserved, relaxing walk amid it's 12 acres of gorgeous gardens

Norfolk Botanical Garden

9. Norfolk Botanical Garden

For a nice, relaxing day consider paying the Norfolk botanical Garden a visit Located right next to the city, getting there is a snap. This truly is a gorgeous stretch of land, well worth seeing for first time visitors to Norfolk. The 175 acre botanical park was founded in the 1930's, and has since grown to house more than 60 individual gardens, each with their own theme. Themes include seasonal gardens, such as spring, fall, winter and summer, as well as children's gardens. For a bit of added extra fun, every Sunday, you are free to stroll through the garden with your dog! Finally, don't forget to take advantage of their trams and tour boats as well as their celebration, "Dominion Garden of Lights".

Neon Art District

8. Neon Art District

if you're considering scheduling a slow "rest" day during your travels, then this might be for you. The Neon District is Norfolk's very own, official arts district, and is packed to the brim with unique pieces of art. NEON stands for New Energy of Norfolk, and is devoted to showcasing the work of their urban artistic talents. Currently, there are over 80 pieces of art, all created by local artists, as they "make, create and show" their art to tourists. But that's not all, they also offer musicians, stand up comics and other performance artists to share their talents with visitors. They even have live glass blowing events! If you'd like to have a snack or sip a pint, know that you'll have plenty of options, as NEON has a variety of delicious foods from eateries such as the Commune, and beverages offered by establishments such as the Bearded Bird Brewery.

Virginia Symphony Orchestra

7. Virginia Symphony Orchestra

If your vacation runs between September to June, and you are one to enjoy experiencing various musical genres, then the Virginia Symphony is a terrific site to add to your Norfolk itinerary. For 42 weeks each year, the Virginia Symphony tends to the musical sensibilities of listeners by offering up both pop and classical concerts. A member of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians, the VSO is very accommodating budget-wise, as tickets currently start at a low $12.00. Hint: They also play for the Virginia Opera located in Norfolk, so to take in the opera allows you to enjoy both the opera performance and the VSO.

The Spirit of Norfolk

6. The Spirit of Norfolk

Enjoy the beauty of Norfolk while taking a cruise on the Spirit of Norfolk. She's a gorgeous ship, having served locals and visitors since 1978, and she's quite a reputation for herself as a must see experience for first time visitors to Norfolk, and returning ones alike. Once on board the Spirit of Norfolk, you'll partake in excellent cuisine, dancing to live music, and other forms of on board entertainment. The views you're sure to find breathtaking, as the crew answer to your every whim. Truly a fabulous, all-around experience to be had here.

Chrysler Museum of Art

5. Chrysler Museum of Art

The Chrysler Museum of Art is one of the top art museums in the American South. Situated in the historical neighborhood of Ghent, this museum houses an impressive collection of art, around some 30,000 pieces to be exact. Most of these pieces are the result of Chrysler automotive heir, Walter Chrysler's collection. Here, be prepared to see famous sculptures and paintings from various eras. Artists include Delacroix, Manet Rodin, Gauguin, Pollock, Tintoretto, Kline and Warhol. The Chrysler Museum of Art is driven to not only enrich its visitors, but to ensure they walk away fresh and revitalized by engaging in many of the interactive activities available at the museum.,

The Nauticus Complex

4. The Nauticus Complex

When looking for fun things to do in Norfolk, don't cross this one out. The Nauticus Complex is known as one of the top maritime attractions in the world. Attracting thousands of visitors to its doors each year, this is a must see for those vacationers visiting Norfolk for the first time. The Nauticus complex is where you'll find the USS Wisconsin, as well as the Hampton Roads Naval Museum. Attractions include a science center designed for children, providing them with an aquarium as well as interactive exhibits and theaters. The Nauticus is a great place for souvenirs, and comes with an eatery for hungry visitors to stop after their tours end.

The Waterside District

3. The Waterside District

The Waterside District is Norfolk's premier entertainment center, offering first time visitors everything from outstanding cuisine to live entertainment. In fact, it can be said that the Waterside District is the perfect place to secure lodging during your stay, as they have everything you need at arms length, so to speak. Take the Waterside Marina, here you can hop on a cruise or ferry at will for exciting day or evening cruises, or perhaps you'd like to snare a quick brew at the Blue Moon Taphouse. Everything here, from eateries to their rail system, the Tide has been carefully planned to be within walking distance from hotels such as the Sheraton and Marriott.

Visit Ghent

2. Visit Ghent

Ghent is one of Norfolk's most prized possession. This historic neighborhood is nestled within the protective arms of Norfolk. Just one relaxed, midday walk through Colley Alley, and you'll feel the electric energy of the people as you peruse the restaurants, art galleries, shops and more. In fact, it is within this quaint neighborhood where the waffle cone was invented. So, while in Ghent, check out Doumar's to experience a little bit of history, and order an ice cream in a waffle cone, while you're there, Doumar's is still maintained as a drive-in, carhop diner, so the waitstaff comes to you! Other attractions in Ghent include the Chrysler Museum of Art, the Virginia Symphony and Opera. You can even visit the Mermaid Factory, where you can purchase and paint your very own mermaid!

Battleship USS Wisconsin

1. Battleship USS Wisconsin

One of the top things to do in Norfolk, is to visit the mighty battleship, the USS Wisconson. The USS Wisconsin is a decommissioned battleship maintained by Nauticus, the National Maritime Center. This beast ran the Pacific during the Second World War, the Korean War, and Operation Desert Storm. After participating in operation desert storm, she was then decommissioned in 1991. The Queen of Norfolk, first time visitors are free to roam the various levels, which include the mess hall, staterooms, and various offices, among others. If you elect to take a guided tour, then sign up for the "Topside Tour" where you'll have more access to the ship. She's a beautiful lady. Though she's had her time in the sun, she's ready and willing to be your host in her final years.

Liz Flynn

Written by Liz Flynn

Liz Flynn has worked as a full-time writer since 2010 after leaving a career in education. She finds almost all topics she writes about interesting, but her favorite subjects are travel and food. Liz loves the process of researching information, learning new things, and putting into words what others who share her interests might like to read. Although she spends most of her time writing, she also enjoys spending time with her husband and four children, watching films, cooking, dining out, reading, motorsports, gaming, and walking along the beach next to her house with her dog.

Read more posts by Liz Flynn

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