Norfolk has always been a Navy town. The world's largest naval base is located here. But it is also known as a major cultural center, with world-class museums, opera, symphony, ballet and a vibrant arts community. In the last ten years or so, downtown area has experienced a major resurgence, with gourmet restaurants, shopping and attractions.
Town Point Park is a waterfront park area right downtown that hosts several festivals and events throughout the year. A new cruise terminal was just built in 2007 making Norfolk one of the top cruise ports in the country.
Granby Street is the main downtown thoroughfare, lined with restaurants and bars.
Ghent is a historic district adjacent to downtown. Filled with historic homes, tree-lined streets and beautiful old churches, it is a good mix of residential and business. Colley Avenue and 21st Street are the main shopping and dining areas, with dozens of locally-owned boutiques, shops, antique stores, restaurants and bars. The Naro theater on Colley Avenue is the region's sole movie theater with indie flicks.
Ocean View is Norfolk's beach community, and features relatively uncrowded beaches on the Chesapeake Bay. During the '50s and '60s, Ocean View was in its prime and was a major beach destination for families and sailors. During the following decades, the beach community fell into a bit of a slump, succumbing to crime. The last five years, the city has been turning things around and now Ocean View is on its way to becoming one of the region's most sought after neighborhoods.
Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport (IATA: PHF), . Another option which may save you money, is located approximately 20 minutes north of the city in Newport News, VA.
Hampton Roads is only second in the state to the suburbs of Washington, D.C. such as Fairfax County and other outlying areas for horrendous traffic especially during the summer season when many tourists throughout the United States and Canada flock to the beaches of Virginia Beach and the Outer Banks in North Carolina. Be aware of the alternative of I-664/Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel instead of the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel, where back ups can be as long as thirty minutes.
Route 460 is an alternative to the heavily used I-64 route. 460 extends from Petersburg, VA (just south of Richmond, VA) to Chesapeake (a suburb city to the Hampton Roads area) and you can easily connect from 460 onto the major beltway at the I-664 and I-64 interchange.
Interstate 64 will bring you to Norfolk from points west.
There is also a boat taxi that will take you around the Norfolk and Portsmouth waterfronts. It is 7 dollars per person. Call 757-439-8294 and he will pick you up wherever you want!
The HRT or Hampton Roads Transit is one of the ways to get around, although the buses are usually not exactly on schedule.
The Hampton Roads Transit Trolley Tour is a good way to see the city and get your bearings. The NET electric buses cover the downtown and are free.
Norfolk is in the process of building a starter light-rail line extending from the Newtown area at the Norfolk/Virginia Beach border to Downtown Norfolk and Sentara Hospital by the Midtown Tunnel. The line is expected to be operational by May of 2011.
If you must drive around the city, a good map and/or a local with knowledge of the roads is an absolute necessity. Stay on interstates for as long as possible, for once you leave, any signage is the responsibility of the city, not VDOT, and it shows. If you directions tell you to follow US 58, US 460 or state route 337 through the city, be prepared for a nerve-wracking drive. Directional signage (i.e., US 460 east, turn left) is virtually non-existent, and what signage does exist is more often than not inadequate or even incorrect. If there is a difference between signage and a map, the map is correct. Routes can and do change direction and shoot off onto side streets at a moment's notice, often without any signage advising travelers as to which road to follow. It is much easier than you might think to miss a turn and end up in a dangerous area.
The MacArthur Memorial, MacArthur Square Norfolk, VA 23510 (Park in the mall and cross the street, heading south.), ☎ 757.441.2965, . Closed on Mondays. Tuesdays - Saturday 10-17.00, Sundays 11-17.00. Memorial and Museum of General MacArthur.
Take a cruise from Norfolk  to Bermuda or the Caribbean. Ships depart from the downtown waterfront.
Go on a 2 hour cruise around the Norfolk Naval Base. A guide will give a little bit of area history and describe some of the ships as you cruise past.
The NARO Expanded Cinema, 1507 Colley Ave Norfolk VA, 23517, ☎ 757-625-6276, . Features major and independent films. The Rocky Horror Picture Show, is a local favorite. The theatre itself, however, is one of the most iconic symbols of Colley Avenue, having first opened in 1936.
There are several main shopping areas in Norfolk.
Downtown, the MacArthur Center is one of the best malls in the area and has a variety of great shops, like Pottery Barn, Coach, Williams & Sonoma, an Apple store, JCrew, EQ3, H&M, a beautiful Barnes & Noble academic superstore, etc. The mall is anchored by Nordstrom and Dillard's. There are a few shops and art galleries on Granby Street, but not many. Also downtown is the D'Art Center, which features a large selection of local art. Waterside used to be a popular shopping area, but there are several empty spots now and retailers are suffering. There are a few kiosks, with everything from fake designer sunglasses to caricatures. There are a few other stores, including souvenir shops and a dollar store.
Ghent is a popular shopping area for locally-owned boutiques and antique stores. 21st Street and Colley Avenue are the main thoroughfares, but there are plenty of unique stores on the surrounding streets. The Palace Shoppes on 21st Street and Palace Station on Debree have some great little stores, including an adorable pet boutique call Wet Noses and a chic women's clothing store, NYFO. There are also quite a few antique stores around Ghent and throughout Norfolk.
The signature symbol of Norfolk is the mermaid, and there are several stores that sell unique mermaid sculptures, pins, jewelry and more.
Doumar's in Ghent on Monticello Avenue is known as the birthplace of the ice cream cone. The vintage drive-thru still remains, as well as Al Doumar himself who checks up on the restaurant even at his old age. Try an ice cream cone or banana shake.
Todd Jurich's Bistro casual elegance, an upscale restaurant two blocks from waterside(they do not require suit and tie). They have a four diamond award for their food and an award of excellence from Wine Spectator. For a deal, Todd's Bistro appears on every one of Norfolk's Restaurant Week.
Cracker's Little Bar Bistro, 821 W 21 St (Ghent Area), +1 757 640-0200, . Daily 5PM-2AM. This tiny joint serves amazing tapas (appetizer-sized plates) and a wide variety of fun martinis. There's only about 7 tables in the entire place, plus bar seating. If you go, I suggest going right at 5PM, else you can't be sure you'll be seated right away. Two people can try a bunch of different tapas (try the filet with mashed potatoes), have a few martinis, leave a great tip, and spend less than $50. $4-9 per plate.
O'Sulivan's Wharf is the best place to get the local flavor. It's self-dubbed as "A locals locale..." It's located at W 43rd and Colley Ave, with a beautiful view of Knitting Mill Creek.
Vintage Kitchen located at the bottom of the Dominion Tower has been voted one of the best restaurants in the entire region. The chef-owned eatery specializes in using ingredients local to Virginia, such as Smithfield ham, peanuts, strawberries, cheeses and vegetables from local farmers.
A.W. Shucks is tucked behind a mini-mall Ghent, but it is a popular restaurant and watering hole with great burgers, seafood and beer selection.
Machismo's is a small burrito restaurant in the Freemason area of Norfolk, adjacent to downtown. Fresh ingredients are loaded into a monster burrito. It can get pretty crowded for lunch.
No Frill Bar and Grill on Spotswood Ave in Ghent features inexpensive, yet delicious American cuisine with numerous vegetarian options and a good selection of alcoholic beverages.
Azar’s Café & Market Ghent located at 21st and Colley Ave in Ghent serves all your Mediterranean favorites with vegetarian and vegan options. Enjoy a quick lunch or sit-down dinner and then hit up their well-stocked market. Be sure to check out their Saturday night belly dancing.
Three sections of Norfolk have concentrations of bars and nightclubs: Ghent, Granby Street, and the Waterside Festival Marketplace. Ghent is the most laid-back, Granby Street is a trendy place for dates, and the Waterside is the wild place for the kids. Just follow the noise.
The Tap House, 931 W 21st St, Norfolk, VA 23517, ☎ (757) 627-9172. 16.00-2.00. One of the best selections of beer in VA. Preferred by the locals. Nice atmosphere and the friendly staff. Frequently hosts bands performing a variety of music.
The Birch, 1231 West Olney Road Norfolk, VA 23507, ☎ 757-962-5400, . Very extensive selection of beer, if not the most extensive in the whole state. Its a bar for a good time or serious conversation. Has growlers to go.
A popular local lesbian bar is the Hershee Bar at 6117 Sewells Point Rd, +1 757 853-9842, .
Norfolk's good hotels are clustered downtown and near the airport.
Norfolk Airport Hilton, 1500 N Military Hwy, . 248 deluxe guest rooms. 15 meeting rooms. 3 restaurants.
Norfolk/Portsmouth Virginia Hawthorn Hotel Suites, 506 Dinwiddie St, .
Ramada Norfolk Airport, 1450 N Military Hwy, +1 757 466-7474, .
Ramada Limited Norfolk, 515 N Military Hwy, +1 757 461-1880, .
Sheraton Norfolk Waterside, 777 Waterside Dr (Downtown), . The only downtown hotel on the waterfront. Connected to the Waterside Festival Marketplace. Moderate walk to the cruise terminal. Request a water view.
Newport News Marriott at City Center, 740 Town Center Drive, ☎ +1 757 873-9299, .
Norfolk Waterside Marriott, 235 E Main St, ☎ +1 757 627-4200, . checkin: 4PM; checkout: 11AM. Set in the heart of the historic district, this award-winning Norfolk hotel is just steps away from the vibrant, revitalized waterfront.
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