Visiting Norfolk, VA, by water should be on any boater’s bucket list. This port city offers everything from history to fine food and art. There is a lot to see from the water as well as on land.      

After entering the Elizabeth River and passing Naval Station Norfolk, you will see the cranes of the Norfolk International Terminals, the largest cranes in the U.S. Photos by Kendall Osborne

Upon entering the Elizabeth River from the Chesapeake Bay, you cannot miss Naval Station Norfolk (NSN). It is the largest navy base in the world and headquarters of the US Atlantic Fleet. It is home to 75 ships berthed at 14 piers. The station is also home to over 134 aircraft. After you pass NSN, you will see the cranes of Norfolk International Terminals (NIT). NIT has the largest cranes in the United States. The largest can reach 226 feet out over the water and climbs 446 feet tall in the boom-up position. 

After passing the mouth of the Lafayette River, you will come upon the 1850-foot coal pier at Lamberts Point. A little further on is historic Fort Norfolk. From the water, it is easy to miss, as it is tucked in next to the much larger multistory Harbor’s Edge retirement community. The fort is the last remaining of 19 commissioned by George Washington in 1794. Most of the buildings date to 1810, including the dungeon. When built, the fort was literally located outside of Norfolk, in the country so that invading ships could not approach the city. Today, the fort is surrounded by the city it was built to protect. Fort Norfolk is open weekdays, and admission is free. 

Fort Norfolk from the water.

As you approach downtown, you will see the battleship USS Wisconsin. It is impossible to miss those huge cannons. The battleship is berthed next to Nauticus, a multifaceted maritime museum, and the Half Moon Cruise Terminal. Inside Nauticus, you can experience hurricane-force winds first hand! A traveling exhibit called “Planet or Plastic” traces the history of plastic and highlights the problems plastic has caused for our waterways and wildlife. The children’s favorite is usually the Horseshoe Crab Cove touch tank. The Hampton Roads Naval Museum, which is operated by the US Navy, is also located inside. Nauticus and the Wisconsin are open Wednesdays through Sunday and are definitely worth a visit.  

Just past Nauticus is Town Point Park and the Waterside Marina. The marina is a great place to tie up, due to its perfect location. The marina features new piers and electric service. The water is deep enough for any vessel, and can support yachts up to 300 feet. They have all the usual amenities such as shuttles, showers, and WiFi. You can reserve a slip in advance online.  

Fort Norfolk,

Once ashore, there are the familiar ways to get around town. You can rent scooters and electric bikes, hail a cab, or walk. If you brought your walking shoes, the Elizabeth River Trail is a great way to stretch your legs and see the city. It covers 10.5 miles of Norfolk’s waterfront. It starts at Norfolk State University, passes the baseball stadium at Harbor Park, passes the marina, Nauticus, the Wisconsin, Fort Norfolk, and extends all the way to the beautiful homes of the Lochhaven neighborhood. The Chelsea district, just past the fort, is a great place to stop for a break. It is home to unique local restaurants and breweries.  

If you don’t want to walk that far, you can easily stroll from the marina up Granby Street, which is also home to a variety of local eateries. If you can cover a dozen blocks, you will find the eclectic and artsy Neon District. This area features more restaurants, shops, art, and a fantastic bakery. Close by is the Chrysler Museum, with a collection that spans 5000 years and consists of 30,000 unique items of art. Next door is the Chrysler Glass Studio, where you can watch and even learn glass blowing.

If you want to venture farther from downtown, Norfolk has seven miles of free public beach on the Chesapeake Bay. Also at the northern end of the city is the Norfolk Botanical Garden, which has 60 themed gardens that can be viewed on foot, boat, or tram. The Hermitage Museum and Gardens houses a nationally recognized art collection and is located on the Elizabeth River Trail in Lochhaven.    

The tram at the Norfolk Botanical Gardens.

Back downtown, there is the MacArthur Memorial. Dedicated to General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, this free venue also tells the accounts of service members who served in World War I, World War II, and the Korean War. There is a fascinating collection of nose art. Nose art? Remember the cartoon and sometimes racy characters painted on the noses of WW II aircraft? That is nose art. Here you can see an entertaining gallery of nose art from the Pacific theater.  

For beer lovers, there are multiple breweries that are all fantastic. They include Benchtop, Bold Mariner, Cova, Elation, Makers Craft, O’Connor, Reaver Beach, Rip Rap, Smartmouth, and Veil. Norfolk also has a variety of locally owned coffee shops, if you like coffee more than beer. 

It is always best to plan ahead, especially when there is so much to see and do, and with changing COVID restrictions. A great place to start your planning is This site contains lists and links to everything mentioned in this article, and more. Log on today, and plan your visit to this welcoming and fun city.

Navigating the Elizabeth River

Navigating the Elizabeth River in Norfolk is straightforward, but you do need to pay attention. Areas around military facilities, which are noted on charts, are restricted. The river is busy with commercial, pleasure, and military vessels, so you definitely need to keep an eye out. Stay as far away from the military vessels as possible, and reduce your speed. Unless you draw more water than an aircraft carrier, you don’t need to be concerned about depth in the channel. Dredging is frequent, so be on the lookout for dredging equipment that is usually very well marked.

About the Author: When Kendall Osborne is not writing for PropTalk, you can find him fishing around Norfolk.