Norfolk Things to Do

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Best Rated Things to Do in Norfolk

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    The MacArthur Memorial

    by starship Updated Jul 9, 2014

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    The museum which I enjoyed most during my visit to Norfolk was the MacArthur Memorial. As the final resting place of 5-Star General Douglas MacArthur and his wife, it is justifiably called a memorial. However, it is also one of the finest museums of its type that I have ever visited. Through this museum you discover the character, the intellect, the steadfast conviction and courage of this man----a great man. He was someone I wish I could have known personally.

    The four-building memorial complex consists of the main, domed building which houses the tombs of the MacArthur's and the museum, a theater, exhibition galleries, and archives. The heart of the museum is located in the imposing domed, 1850 building which originally served as Norfolk's City Hall. Within its walls lies an extensive collection of Gen. MacArthur's personal effects, including photos, paintings, medals, his West Point cadet uniform, flags, historical documents and even the gold record recording of Gen. MacArthur's congressional speech. (His 1950 Chrysler Imperial car is housed in a separate building which also includes a gift shop.) Through these numerous exhibits and sound recordings the visitor is able to discover the life of the man, his military career but also the story of Americans who served our nation during the Spanish-American War, WWI, WWII, the Occupation of Japan and the Korean War (undeclared). There are 9 separate galleries on two levels which circle the rotunda and "portray the principal periods of the General's life...."

    The 25-minute film on Gen. MacArthur was very well done and quite revealing. I spent several hours here and only scratched the surface; I was not able to visit the library & archive which is said to contain 5,000 volumes plus all types of correspondence, photos, media, etc.

    Interestingly, most of the people employed at the Memorial were Filippino --- Gen. MacArthur liberated the Philippines in WWII.

    Admission is free but donations are gratefully accepted.
    Museum & gift shop are open Monday - Saturday: 10:00am - 5pm. Sunday - 11:00am - 5pm
    Closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day.
    Library and research center open 8:30am - 5pm on weekdays except holidays.

    Bronze Statue of General MacArthur Tombs of General & Mrs. MacArthur General MacArthur's West Point Cadet Uniform Marble Engraving 5-Star General's Military Titles
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    Norfolk Southern Train Museum

    by starship Updated Sep 4, 2011

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    I love trains and railroad memorabilia so I was excited when I saw a small advertisement for the Norfolk Southern Railway Museum which was only several blocks from our hotel. The Norfolk Southern Railway Museum seems to fly under the radar screen for many visitors to Norfolk, and the day I visited I only saw one family with a small child visiting.

    This small but interesting museum about trains in general and Norfolk Southern Railway in particular, offers a lot in a small space. It is visually interesting with many displays of train logos, equipment, vintage train schedules and tickets, and such but it also contains several displays which highlight some of the company’s history and substantial artifacts: sections of Civil War-era track, vintage hand tools and diagrams to teach hand signals to railroad trainees. My favorite displays were of the vintage paper memorabilia type. But, especially attractive to small children, and some adults too, is a locomotive simulator.

    A tattered American flag which was retrieved from the Norfolk Southern Railway facilities in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was one of a number of newer pieces of the railway's history displayed in the museum.

    I had somewhat of a difficult time trying to reconcile different pieces of information about the railway to root out its beginnings and what role it plays now, but it seems that for the most part the railway company earned its living by transporting cargo more than people. Its website states that: "Norfolk Southern traces its roots as a coal carrier and developer of natural resources to 1883, when Norfolk and Western Railway carried the second shipment of coal from the Pocahontas coalfields to the mayor of Norfolk, Va." The fact is that today's railways are the result of many, many mergers and railroads have pedigrees--perhaps that is why a logo of Norfolk Southern Railway is a horse and referred to as the "thoroughbred." Norfolk and Western apparently was the "child" of Norfolk and Western Railway which combined with the Southern Railway, and maybe others.

    Sadly, I could not find a gift store on the premises because I would have been quite interested in vintage railroad posters or advertisements, or signs. They do have an online shop called the "Norfolk Southern Company Store, Calendar and Photo Gallery" which can be found at: www.nscorp.com/nscportal/nscorp/Community/NS_Store_Calendar_Photos/.

    If you love anything to do with railroads, don't miss this museum but don't expect to see venerated locomotive engines or cabooses here. Admission to the museum is free and the museum is open Monday through Friday from 10am to 4pm.

    Outside of the Museum Love train logos! Well done Railroad History Display Flag survived New Orleans' Hurricane Katrina 2005 Vintage Buttons and Ribbons
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    St. Paul's Episcopal Church

    by starship Updated Feb 21, 2011

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    On a cold morning I walked to St. Paul's hoping to see inside but unfortunately I was too early for the 9:30am opening time. However, I was able to walk around the church's grounds at my leisure and admire the exterior of the building, stained-glass window, and read many of the incredibly old gravestones beneath the magnolia and oak trees. The church grounds included another building as well as the church itself and the fairly large graveyard, and all were surrounded by thick brick walls. It was Norfolk's first graveyard and some graves date back to the 1600's. Some gravestones were nearly unreadable, but the ones which could be read were quite interesting. The stones of those days reveal more information about the deceased than most gravestones of today, a fact which those interested in genealogy would appreciate.

    The current St. Paul's was completed in 1739, as a replacement for the "Chapel of Ease" which was built on the same site in 1641. St. Paul's is the only pre-Revolutionary War structure remaining in downtown Norfolk, and though severely damaged at the time, the only one to survive the British Bombardment and burning of Norfolk on January 1, 1776. A cannonball fired by one of Lord Dunsmore's ships is still embedded in the south wall of the church to this day.

    St. Paul's is located at 201 St. Paul's Boulevard and is open for meditation and for self-guided tours Tuesday through Friday from 9:30 am to pm. Services are held Sundays and Wednesday at noon. There is no admission but donations are gratefully accepted.

    St. Paul's Fountain & Churchyard Brickwall Surrounding St. Paul's Embedded Cannonball from British Bombardment 1776 Wall-mounted Gravestone One of St. Paul's Church Door
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    "America's Only Sidewalk Museum

    by starship Updated Feb 23, 2011

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    Billed as "America's Only Sidewalk Museum," I discovered the "Windows on History" museum on my way to visit St. Paul's Church. This sidewalk museum is "housed" in 16 large windows which are actually part of the exterior wall of the MacArthur Center Mall in downtown Norfolk.

    The museum is said to build on the themes similar to "Birthplace of a Nation" and "Gateway to the World," with exhibits focusing on the Hampton Roads region's early days to present day. Each of the 16 windows covers a number of years, carries its own title like a book chapter, and displays photos and artifacts, both new and old. There 14 historical periods covered from 1581 to 2000. Some of the "chapter" titles are "A Nation Begins"; "Tobacco, Tar and Pirates"; "Fire and Iron"; "Marketplace to the World."

    The picture accompanying this tip is that of "James Armistead Lafayette," the American Revolutionary War spy of African-American descent. The story of Mr. Armistead Lafayette is very interesting--see more in an additional travelogue to be constructed. NOTE: Because of this man, I was inspired to do more extensive research resulting in my learning more about my own hometown then I knew while living there and for this I am eternally grateful to Mr. James Armistead Lafayette!!

    NOTE: Due to the reflecting light on the windows, other photos I took were of poor quality and are not posted. See reflections on photo of Mr. J. Armistead Lafayette's picture.

    James Armistead Lafayette - Revolutionary War Spy
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    Cannonball Trail ~ See Norfolk's Heritage

    by starship Updated Jul 9, 2014

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    The "Cannonball Trail" leads visitors on an extensive, self-guided walk which winds along not only the Elizabeth Riverfront but a significant portion of the historic, downtown Norfolk area. There are over 40 separate sites on the trail which are marked by a series of granite stones & bronze medallions set in the sidewalk at each site.

    The trail is significant because it highlights Norfolk heritage sites from as early as the 17th century through the 20th century as exemplified by everything from churches & monuments, to early shopping arcades, to a Navy ship, to architecturally significant buildings, and also museums.

    I tried to follow as much of the trail as possible, but I spread the walk over 3 days, a couple of hours per day. Sometimes the weather cooperated and sometimes it didn't, and sometimes the site I wanted to visit wasn't open at the time I was there, but I feel I saw some of the highlights: The MacArthur Memorial; the Confederate Monument; the cannonball embedded in the wall of St. Paul's Church; the Windows on History Sidewalk Museum (this will be expanded upon in a separate tip), etc. Of course, there was more to explore, much much more that I wish I could have seen, but that will have to be saved for the next trip!

    That being said, next on my list are: the USS Wisconsin, an Iowa-class battleship which saw service in WWII, the Korean "Conflict", and other military battles; the Wells Theater; much, much more of the MacArthur Memorial; the Hampton Roads Naval Museum; McCullough Row, etc. If you're interested in history, naval history, architecture, museums, etc., this walking tour is worth your time and most sites are free of admission.

    Granite and Bronze Plaques Mark Cannonball Trail Confederate Monument also on Cannonball Trail St. Paul's 18th Century  Church 18th Century Moses Myers House
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    "The Rock" Rollercoaster Now Part of History

    by starship Updated Sep 4, 2011

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    The Ocean View section of Norfolk was once home to the Ocean View Amusement park and an amazing wooden rollercoaster which, sadly, met its demise in the filming of the late 70's film, "Death of Ocean View Park." The coaster named, "Skyrocket," or "The Rocket" in the movie, was as fast and head jarring as any modern day amusement park ride! Owners of the Ocean View Amusement Park tried to justify its real-life destruction in the movie by saying that it was structurally unsafe. However, it took multiple attempts with explosives to end the life of this local, cultural gem of amusements.

    There had been an amusement park facing the Chesapeake Bay in this section of Norfolk since the turn of the century, and at one time a short railroad line brought visitors from the center of the land-rich town of Norfolk to the seaside for its beach, waterviews and amusements. My vintage postcards of Ocean View picture manicured grounds and amusement rides, etc., bound by the sea wall and north of the Willoughby Spit.

    The Ocean View Amusement Park of the mid-20th century featured rides including " The Skyrocket" rollercoaster, a petting zoo, and even live performance acts. But we always came for the rollercoaster!!

    After the coaster was destroyed for the movie, the land was sold to developers. It's always a shame to see a local icon disappear, as if it never existed. The amusement park land was sold to developers and now it is as if the park never existed.

    Famous coaster ca. 1967 - Old Dominion U. archives Vintage photo - ODU archives

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    Walking Tour of Norfolk

    by grandmaR Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    #1 on the map is Waterside Festival Market (photo 4) developed by James W. Rouse in 1983 (after our time in Norfolk). There is an information center there and they show the movie "Reflections" (admission) on Norfolk history.

    From here you can take a sightseeing bus to visit the Norfolk Naval Base (photo 2 which shows one of the buildings that was built for the 1906 Jamestown Exposition and is now used as senior officer's quarters), or a hop on/hop off trolley, or a ferry (#6 - photo 5) over to Portsmouth (photo 3) to do their walking tour.

    On the edge of the park (#18) is Nauticus which is designed to resemble a ship. The battle ship Wisconsin is also here. Or you can visit the Chrysler Museum (#13) or the MacArthur Memorial (#8).

    Walking tour of Norfolk map Approaching Portsmouth on the ferry Waterside Mermaid Elizabeth River Ferry coming in to Portsmouth Naval base officer's quarters 1964
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    Colonial Williamsburg

    by Jim_Eliason Updated May 20, 2013

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    Colonial Williamsburg is a recreation of the 18th century colonial city of Williamsburg. Williamsburg was the capital of the colony of Virginia and it's the largest city at the time. Besides recreated buildings, staff are dressed in period costumes and give guided tours of the buildings describing life as it was back then.

    Colonial Williamsburg Colonial Williamsburg Colonial Williamsburg Colonial Williamsburg Colonial Williamsburg
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    Jamestown Settlement

    by Jim_Eliason Updated May 20, 2013

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    Like Colonial Williamsburg, this a recreation of the Jamestown settlement a few miles from the historical site maintained by the park service. It offers recreations of Settler, Indian life and recreations of the ships used to transport the settlers.

    Jamestown Settlement Jamestown Settlement Jamestown Settlement Jamestown Settlement Jamestown Settlement
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    Yorktown

    by Jim_Eliason Updated Feb 7, 2009

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    Site of the last major battle of the American revolutionary war. The decisive victory by the American and French forces played a large role in discouraging Britain from making further attempts to conquer the colonies.

    Yorktown Yorktown Yorktown Yorktown Yorktown
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    Virginia Air and Space Center

    by Jim_Eliason Written Dec 21, 2008

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    This museum is run in conjunction with NASA Langely research center. Langely has focused on aircraft research. This museum has a good collection of historic aircraft, displays on space exploration and an IMAX theatre.

    Virginia Air and Space Center Virginia Air and Space Center Virginia Air and Space Center Virginia Air and Space Center Virginia Air and Space Center
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    Hampton Roads Naval Museum

    by Tom_Fields Written Jun 4, 2008

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    During the Civil War, between Norfolk and Hampton Roads, one of the most historic events in naval warfare took place. It was the first clash ever between ironclad warships. The Union's USS Monitor took on the Confederate vessel CSS Virginia. Neither vessel inflicted serious damage on the other; at this point, armor had advanced more that cannons. Naval combat has never been the same since.

    The Hampton Roads Naval Museum covers the history of the US Navy, from colonial days to the present. Here is a great collection of models and memorabilia. Not to be missed, it's located inside the Nauticus Center.

    Hampton Roads Naval Museum Models of the Monitor (in front) and Virginia Model of the USS Pennsylvania, a ship of the line A Spanish torpedo from 1898 Model of the aircraft carrier USS Ranger
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    Cannonball Trail

    by Tom_Fields Written Jun 5, 2008

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    In the Freemason Historic District, near downtown, one can take a delightful walking tour of old Norfolk's historic homes, churches, cobblestone streets, and other sites. Called the Cannonball Trail, it's about a mile and a half. Just follow the markers on the sidewalk.

    One of the Cannonball Trail markers Historic Freemason St The public libary The Freemason St Baptist Church The Whitehead House
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    Last of Its Kind: USS Wisconsin

    by Tom_Fields Written Jun 4, 2008

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    The Iowa-class battleship USS Wisconsin was commissioned in 1944, during World War II. This was the last true battleship ever built. Serving with distinction in the last campaigns of the Pacific War, the ship also saw action in the Korean War and the 1991 Persian Gulf War. By the end of its long career, the Wisconsin had been modified, with new Tomahawk cruise missiles and Harpoon anti-ship missiles. That was in addition to the massive 16-inch cannons. One of these can lob a shell weighing a ton and a half (about equal in weight to a VW Beetle) over 20 miles.

    The ship was also heavily armored. And, with its narrow beam, it was very fast, with a top speed well over 30 knots. They can't build them like this any more.

    Unfortunately, visitors can only tour the ship's top deck. Everything below that is still off-limits. But it's well worth it. Admission is free with a ticket to the Nauticus Center.

    The USS Wisconsin The 16-inch guns Secondary armament, 5-inch dual-purpose guns Tomahawk cruise missile launchers Launchers for Harpoon anti-ship missiles
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    Virginia Beach

    by Jim_Eliason Updated Feb 7, 2009

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    Beach town is just a short drive from Norfolk and a major resort site in summer time. The place does not offer much beyond the beach and the normal tourist traps of a beach resort but it's a nice place to relax.

    Virginia Beach
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Norfolk Things to Do

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