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Norfolk (Photo:jiawangkun/Shutterstock)
3.5 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating

By Cruise Critic Staff

Port of Norfolk

Mermaids are everywhere in Norfolk -- though they are not necessarily alive! Throughout the city are colorful mermaid sculptures. The street art display is known as Mermaids on Parade.

About Norfolk


Pro

Norfolk is rich in maritime history, arts and culture; locals are helpful, offering Southern hospitality

Con

If you want beaches, you have to head to Virginia Beach or other spots, and traffic can be gnarly

Bottom Line

Norfolk offers short getaways, convenient for anyone within driving distance


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The city with the world's largest natural harbor naturally has strong ties to the sea. The New Norfolk, as tourism officials like to call it, is a city with a storied maritime history, located at the junction of the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean.

"Norfolk Towne" was established by English settlers in 1636. The city's importance as a port dates to 1680 when King Charles II ordered the building of storehouses for imports and tobacco exports. By 1775, it was the colony's most profitable locale. The city was bombarded by the British in 1776 (on New Year's Day). Only the walls of what is now St. Paul's church survived.

Fort Norfolk (on the Elizabeth River) was built to protect the harbor during the period of tensions that became the War of 1812. The city was incorporated in 1845. The first city hall in 1964 became the final resting place of five-star Army General Douglas MacArthur; it's now the Douglas MacArthur Memorial.

Norfolk was surrendered to union troops during the Civil War (but not before an 1862 battle in which the U.S.S. Monitor engaged the C.S.S. Virginia). The city has housed a major Naval base since WWI, and today is home to the world's largest Naval installation.

On a visit here you'll notice a few things right away, including the friendliness of the locals (even the security guard at the pier may quiz you to make sure you've seen all the important sights). It's Southern hospitality at its best.

You can walk right into the city center from the ship. In addition to being an important Naval town, you'll find Norfolk steeped in Colonial American history. The sights on the Cannonball Trail are well marked, and take you through 400 years of Norfolk history. But you may be surprised to find that history interspersed with plenty of modern touches.

Up from the waterfront, for instance, are big bank buildings and commercial high rises with historic gems hidden in between. Head to the giant MacArthur Center (named for the general, of course) shopping mall and you'll discover it's built between St. Paul's, with its historic graveyard, and the 1848 Freemason Street Baptist Church, designed by the same architect (Thomas Walter) who did the giant dome of the U.S. Capitol. Also next to the mall (itself noteworthy as home to a Nordstrom's; important for shoe-lovers) is the 1794 Willoughby-Baylor House.

Culture vultures will be pleased to discover Norfolk's lively arts scene, which includes the Virginia Opera and Chrysler Museum. Dining-wise you'll find everything from down-home country cooking to fine cuisine.

Norfolk hosts more than 130 festivals year-round, most at Town Point Park, including the big Harborfest in June, a waterfront celebration with tall ships, fireworks, music and lots of partying.

Where You're Docked

Norfolk Cruise Port Address:
1 Waterside Drive, Norfolk, VA 23150

Ships use Norfolk's Half Moone Cruise and Celebration Center. Parking for embarking passengers is available downtown via Cedar Grove Parking; complimentary shuttles provide transportation from the Cedar Grove facility to Half Moone.

Port Facilities

The Half Moone Cruise and Celebration Center is more than just your average cruise terminal. It's also a maritime museum of sorts, showcasing one of the largest privately owned collections of ocean liner memorabilia in the country. The cruise ship pier is also adjacent to Nauticus, The National Maritime Center; the center is home to the Battleship Wisconsin, one of the largest and last battleships built by the U.S. Navy. Open daily 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. (One Waterside Drive; 757-664-1000)

Getting Around

Many of Norfolk's best-known attractions are within walking distance of the pier. Taxis are available at the pier if you want to venture further, say to the artsy area known as Ghent. There are also free NET (Norfolk Electric Transit) city buses that operate around the downtown area Monday - Friday 6:30 a.m. - 11 p.m., Saturday noon - midnight and Sunday noon - 8 p.m. For excursions beyond the downtown area, a car is necessary.

Food and Drink

In Norfolk, many of the city's fun and/or fabulous restaurants are clustered into areas, such as:

Downtown's Granby Street:
Jack Quinn's Irish Pub offers Irish pub fare. Open weekdays 10:30 a.m. - 2 a.m. and weekends 10 a.m. - 2 a.m. (241 Granby; 757-623-2233)

Freemason Abbey Restaurant & Tavern is a casual eatery coolly located in a converted Victorian church. Open Monday - Thursday 11:30 a.m. - 10 p.m., Friday - Saturday 11:30 a.m. - 11 p.m., and Sunday 9:30 a.m. - 10 p.m. (209 West Freemason St.; 757-622-3966)

Ghent:
For down-home Southern cooking like fried chicken and mac and cheese, try Cora. Open Monday - Thursday 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Friday 11 a.m. - 12 a.m., Saturday 5 p.m. - midnight, Sunday 11 a.m. - 3 p.m. (723 W. 21st Street; 757-625-6100)

No Frill Bar and Grill at the corner of Colley Avenue and Spotswood has an energetic vibe with its bright art and varied menu. Open daily 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., until 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Sunday brunch 10 a.m. - 3 p.m. (806 Spotswood Ave.; 757-627-4262)

Lunch is served all day at The Ten Top, but they also serve dinner, dessert and Sunday brunch. Open Monday - Saturday 11 a.m. - 9 p.m. Sunday brunch is served 11 a.m. - 3 p.m. (748 Shirley Ave., just off Colley Avenue; 757-622-5422)

Near the Zoo:
One fabulous not-to-be-missed experience is at Doumar's, a drive-in, opened in 1904 and still offering curbside service and carhops. The ice cream is served in handmade waffle cones and the burgers and barbecue are also tasty. Open Monday - Thursday 8 a.m. - 11 p.m. and Friday and Saturday until after midnight. (20th Street & Monticello Avenue; 757-627-4163)