As a main city in the Chesapeake Bay region, Norfolk is most known for its waterfront views and Naval Station roots. However, there’s more than meets the eye beyond the surface of this coastal Virginia escape. Whether you have a deep love for all things art, enjoy connecting with history, or find solace beside the water – Norfolk is a wonderful place for your next weekend getaway. From the vibrant NEON District to the peaceful waterside, here’s your guide to experiencing the true essence of Norfolk, Virginia.
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How to Get to Norfolk, Virginia: Amtrak VA Northeast Regional Route
Sure, you can fight the traffic on I-95 until you’re subconsciously white-knuckling your steering wheel. Or, you can sit back and let Amtrak do the driving! I chose the latter. In fact, hopping on the Northeast Regional is one of my favorite ways to travel since it runs from Boston, New York, or DC all the way down to Virginia Beach. For this trip, I traveled in Coach Class, which was quite comfy and featured outlets for my laptop and extra storage space for my bags. It took a huge weight off my shoulders to be able to sit back, watch the sights whoosh by and get work done on my laptop. Below are some of my favorite reasons to take Amtrak:
- Free WiFi!
- Generous bag policy – each rider can bring two carry-on items AND two bags, included with your ticket
- The café car on-board has a full menu of snacks and hot food to enjoy, as well as beverages (even the adult ones).
- With the VA Anytime Fare, Virginia residents get 15% off travel within VA and to DC!
Hot Tip: The Northeast Regional Route also has a route that stops in Charlottesville, Virginia. Click here for my guide to Charlottesville!
Where to Stay in Norfolk, Virginia: The Glass Light Hotel & Gallery
Located in the heart of downtown Norfolk’s Historic District is The Glass Light Hotel & Gallery, a beautiful boutique property that’s part of the Autograph Collection. While the outside of the hotel maintains the charm of the classic architecture style from the building’s construction in 1912, the inside is bursting with modern and whimsical details. Upon walking in, you’ll find pill-shaped lamps, canvasses with boldly bright brush strokes, a mixture of textures and patterns, and the most interesting of all – glass-blown bunny sculptures! As indicated by its name, the Glass Light pays homage to the glass art culture of Norfolk, Virginia. The hotel showcases glass artwork throughout the main floor. Be sure to also enjoy the adjoining art gallery, the Perry Glass Art Collection, which displays glass art from around the world and is free to both hotel guests and the public (pictured below).
From the stunning guest room to the lobby, the Glass Light Hotel is the perfect home base for a Norfolk adventure!
Things to Do in Norfolk, Virginia
Live Life in Color in the NEON District
Experience the “New Energy Of Norfolk” in the NEON District, the first official art district in the city! Street murals galore, locally-owned businesses, galleries, and eclectic restaurants make up the fabric of this bustling creative hub. Be sure to have your camera ready for the more than 90+ works of public art peppered around alleys, streets, and even sidewalks. One of the standout locations for art is down Magazine Lane, a back alley where graffiti is openly encouraged and the art is ever-changing. Click here for a map of the NEON District.
Witness a Glass Blowing Demonstration at Perry Glass Studios
On the campus of the the Chrysler Museum of Art is Perry Glass Studio, a 7,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art glassblowing facility. At noon each day, you can witness the marvel for yourself with a free glassblowing demonstration. The guide will take you through the process from beginning to end, from the furnace, to adding color, to shaping the works of art. Seeing it for yourself really brings the art to life and makes you appreciate how meticulous each step is. If you’re lucky enough to visit on a day they have classes, you can even try your hand at it!
Be Inspired at the Chrysler Museum of Art
With your newfound appreciation for the process of glassblowing, now’s a perfect time to visit the Chrysler Museum of Art next door. The expansive gallery hosts over 30,000+ objects, with an incredibly vast collection of — you guessed it… glassworks! Aside from that, however, explore an always-growing collection of art spanning styles from contemporary to Renaissance. And the best part? Admission is free! Be sure to check the museum’s event calendar for the scoop on what’s happening day-to-day, as they’re always having demos and performances.
Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth at Hummingbird Dessert Boutique
Before you leave NEON District, make sure to stop into Hummingbird Dessert Boutique for their delicious macarons and lemonade! The Black-owned business crafts decadent desserts and French macarons that taste just as good as they look. I was obsessed with the taste of the Hummingbird Cake flavor. What can be better than toasted walnuts, pecans, pineapple, coconut, and banana?
Bask in Golden Hour Rooftop Views at Grain
Golden hour has never looked better in Norfolk, Virginia! After spending your afternoon exploring the NEON District, take a load off at the city’s only rooftop Biergarten. Grain, sitting atop of The Main hotel by Hilton, features a fire pit, life-sized chessboard, billiards, pub plates and over 70+ beers on tap. From the grassy rooftop, you can take in lovely views of downtown and the river.
Set Sail on the American Rover
All aboard! Set sail on the calm waters of the Elizabeth River on a 19th century-style Schooner by the name of American Rover. The two-hour Sunset Cruise is a scenic way to explore the working harbor and waterfront of Norfolk, then enjoy nature’s spectacle as the sun goes down. Upon departure, the captain will give a short narrated tour introducing you to some of the key sights along the way. As night falls, you’ll be serenaded by a live musician and enjoy a breathtaking sunset. Below the deck, you can also find seating and an on-site bar to grab a night cap.
Tour a WWII Battleship
You absolutely *cannot* leave Norfolk, Virginia without taking a self-guided walk through the U.S.S. Wisconsin at Nauticus. The battleship is one of the largest and last built by the U.S. Navy, having served in both WWII and the Korean War. Roaming the different halls and reflecting on what life was like on the ship for the over 2,000+ members of the crew was truly incredible. While I don’t consider myself a “history buff,” this is a slice of history that anyone could find interesting! Wander the deck and below at your leisure, or get a closer look with a guided tour.
Hot Tip: As soon as the museum opens (10AM every day except for Sunday, when it’s 12PM), first head straight to the elevator and up to the 3rd floor to the Battleship Wisconsin to avoid the crowds. You can view the Nauticus exhibits afterwards!
Learn Something New at Nauticus
Nauticus is a maritime and science discovery center on the waterfront offering experiential learning and interactive exhibits to tell the story of the maritime environment, industry, and the military. The hub hosts a museum, Battleship Wisconsin, the Sail Nauticus sailing center, and Schooner Virginia sailboat. As you visit the museum, you can observe a vast collection of maritime equipment, military gear, and more.
Take a Stroll Around the Riverfront and Waterside District
Just a short walk from Nauticus is the Waterside District, where you can spot mermaid sculptures and enjoy the peacefulness of the riverfront. It was so nice just to walk around, people-watch, snap photos and feel the gentle breeze next to the river. On livelier days, you may even find live performances and events (at the time of writing this, there’s an upcoming yoga with baby goats event!). Be sure to check their event calendar to stay up to date.
Shop Local at Selden Market
Rumor has it, every time you buy from a local business, a real person does a happy dance. Get those happy dances going by shopping and supporting local businesses as Selden Market! The vibrant space hosts up-and-coming shops and restaurants, from a DIY candle studio to a store with all things Virginia. A few spots that stood out:
An adorable French macaron spot owned by two wives of U.S. Navy veterans.
A pop-up shop that flames s’mores right in front of you in flavors you’ve never tasted before!
Afast casual restaurant that celebrates Caribbean cuisine, culture and lifestyle!
Have Spanish Tapas at Crudo Nudo
End your last night in Norfolk with big taste in a cozy atmosphere. Located in the Ghent neighborhood, Crudo Nudo is a Spanish restaurant serving up delicious pasta, fish, and tapas. The menu also features crafted cocktails and handpicked wines from Spain. I tried the “Black Rice,” with shrimp and calamari, olive, and lemon aioli which felt adventurous – but tasty! There’s no better way to end a trip than with a satisfied tummy.
With endless waterfront views, stunning artwork, interesting history, and more, Norfolk, Virginia is a wonderful place to spend a weekend away! Where will you go first on your trip?
Disclaimer: This post was created in partnership with Amtrak. As always, all opinions & thoughts expressed above are 100% my own – I wouldn’t have it any other way!