Hidden Gems of Norfolk: Off-the-Beaten-Path Attractions

hidden gems of Norfolk off-the-beaten-path attractions

Norfolk, Virginia, is a city known for its rich history, vibrant arts scene, and beautiful waterfront. While many visitors flock to popular attractions like Nauticus, the Chrysler Museum of Art, and the Virginia Zoo, there’s a treasure trove of lesser-known spots waiting to be discovered. In this article, we’ll explore some of Norfolk’s hidden gems, from secret gardens and historic treasures to unique art scenes and quiet beaches. Whether you’re a local or a visitor, these off-the-beaten-path attractions offer a unique glimpse into the heart of Norfolk.

Key Takeaways

  • Explore the serene and picturesque hidden corners of Norfolk’s botanical gardens and arboretums.
  • Discover the rich history of Norfolk through its lesser-known historic houses and forts.
  • Immerse yourself in Norfolk’s unique art scene by visiting offbeat museums and vibrant art districts.
  • Find peace and tranquility at Norfolk’s hidden beaches, perfect for a quiet escape.
  • Experience the charm of Norfolk’s quaint neighborhoods, each offering its own unique character and attractions.

Discovering Norfolk’s Secret Gardens

hidden garden in Norfolk

Norfolk is home to some of the most enchanting and lesser-known gardens that offer a peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle of city life. These hidden gems are perfect for those looking to explore nature’s beauty in a serene setting.

The Hermitage Museum and Gardens

The Hermitage Museum and Gardens is a true delight for art and nature lovers alike. This charming 20th-century house is surrounded by beautifully landscaped gardens that feature a mix of Asian paintings, Arts and Crafts paneling, and vibrant early Coptic tapestries. It’s a place where you can immerse yourself in both culture and nature.

Norfolk Botanical Garden’s Hidden Corners

While the Norfolk Botanical Garden is a well-known attraction, its hidden corners are often overlooked. These secluded spots within the garden offer a tranquil escape and are perfect for a quiet stroll or a moment of reflection. The garden’s diverse plant life and serene atmosphere make it a must-visit for anyone looking to connect with nature.

The Enchanted Forest at Norfolk Arboretum

The Enchanted Forest at Norfolk Arboretum is a magical place that feels like stepping into a fairy tale. This hidden gem is filled with winding paths, ancient trees, and whimsical features that make it a perfect spot for both children and adults. It’s a place where you can let your imagination run wild and enjoy the natural beauty of Norfolk.

Uncovering Norfolk’s Historic Treasures

historic hidden gems of Norfolk

Norfolk is a city rich in history, and some of its most fascinating stories are hidden in plain sight. Explore Norfolk’s diverse art scene with historic and contemporary galleries, virtual tours, art workshops, and community engagement projects. Here are a few historic treasures that you might not have discovered yet:

Exploring Norfolk’s Unique Art Scene

quaint street in Norfolk with local art installations

The Neon District

The Neon District is at the heart of Norfolk’s up-and-coming arts scene. Take a self-guided tour to explore the colorful murals that showcase the creative local talent. Snap selfies in front of the giant pink roses on Boush Street or admire the life-size humpback whale mural on Waterside Drive. The district is a vibrant testament to Norfolk’s artistic spirit.

Glass Wheel Studio

Glass Wheel Studio is a contemporary art facility that offers a unique space for artists to create and display their work. The studio frequently hosts exhibitions and events, making it a dynamic part of Norfolk’s art community. Visitors can witness the intricate process of glassblowing and even participate in workshops.

The Chrysler Museum’s Hidden Gems

While the Chrysler Museum of Art is well-known, its hidden gems are often overlooked. The museum houses an impressive collection of glass art, including pieces from renowned artists. Don’t miss the intimate galleries that feature lesser-known works, offering a quiet escape from the more crowded exhibits.

Norfolk’s art scene is a blend of traditional and contemporary, offering something for every art lover. Whether you’re exploring murals in the Neon District or discovering hidden treasures at the Chrysler Museum, Norfolk’s unique art scene is sure to inspire.

Hidden Beaches for a Quiet Escape

secluded beach in Norfolk with hidden pathways and natural scenery

For those wanting a bit of peace and quiet in Norfolk, sometimes it can be difficult to find a secluded beach (especially during the summer months!). However, if you look hard enough you’ll find plenty of secluded beaches waiting to be explored! Those long stretches of sand won’t wait forever!

Charming Neighborhoods to Wander

quaint street in a charming Norfolk neighborhood with hidden gems

Norfolk is a city rich in history and culture, and its neighborhoods are no exception. Get off the beaten path and uncover hidden-gem neighborhoods missed by most tourists. Each has a story to tell and offers a snapshot of the city’s history.


Explore historic Ghent district, where ancient architecture is tucked alongside modern construction. This neighborhood is perfect for a leisurely stroll, with its tree-lined streets and charming shops. Don’t miss the local cafes and restaurants that offer a taste of Norfolk’s culinary scene.

Freemason District

In the heart of the city, you’ll find the Freemason District, one of the oldest inhabited areas in the U.S. This area is a blend of old and new, with cobblestone streets and historic homes. It’s a great place to explore on foot and take in the unique atmosphere.


Larchmont is a quiet, residential neighborhood that offers a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. It’s an ideal spot for a relaxing walk or a picnic by the water. The community here is welcoming, and you’ll often see families enjoying the local parks.

Offbeat Museums and Galleries

quirky museum in Norfolk

The MacArthur Memorial

The MacArthur Memorial is a tribute to one of America’s most iconic military figures, General Douglas MacArthur. Explore the life and legacy of this remarkable leader through exhibits that include personal artifacts, military memorabilia, and interactive displays. The museum offers a unique glimpse into American history and the impact of MacArthur’s leadership.

Hermitage Museum and Gardens

Nestled along the Lafayette River, the Hermitage Museum and Gardens is a hidden gem that combines art, history, and nature. The museum features an eclectic collection of art, ranging from ancient artifacts to contemporary pieces. Stroll through the beautifully landscaped gardens and enjoy the serene environment that makes this museum a perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of city life.

The Barry Art Museum

Located on the campus of Old Dominion University, The Barry Art Museum is a modern space dedicated to the appreciation of art. The museum’s collection includes an impressive array of glass sculptures, paintings, and other visual arts. It’s a must-visit for art enthusiasts looking to discover something new and inspiring in Norfolk.

Norfolk’s offbeat museums and galleries offer a unique blend of history, art, and culture, making them perfect destinations for those looking to explore beyond the usual tourist spots.

Secret Spots for Foodies

hidden restaurant in Norfolk

Norfolk’s foodie scene has something for everyone – from quaint village hideouts to quirky snack spots, there is plenty to explore. Here are some hidden gems that you won’t want to miss.

Doumar’s Barbecue

Doumar’s is a historic eatery known for its delicious barbecue and ice cream cones. This spot has been serving up tasty treats since 1904 and is a must-visit for anyone looking to experience a piece of Norfolk’s culinary history.

Handsome Biscuit

Handsome Biscuit offers a unique twist on the classic biscuit. Their sweet potato biscuits are a local favorite and are sure to leave you craving more. Don’t miss out on their signature sandwiches that combine savory and sweet flavors in every bite.

The Birch

For those who love craft beer, The Birch is the place to be. This cozy bar offers an extensive selection of craft beers from around the world, making it a perfect spot for beer enthusiasts. Pair your drink with one of their delicious small plates for a truly enjoyable experience.

Outdoor Adventures Away from the Crowds

secluded nature trail in Norfolk

Norfolk offers a variety of outdoor adventures that let you escape the hustle and bustle while enjoying nature’s beauty. Whether you’re into hiking, kayaking, or simply exploring, there’s something for everyone.

Elizabeth River Trail

The Elizabeth River Trail is a scenic pathway that stretches for miles, offering stunning views of the waterfront. Perfect for both casual walkers and avid cyclists, this trail provides a peaceful escape from the city. Don’t forget to check out the various parks and historical sites along the way.

Norfolk Kayak Launches

For those who love water activities, Norfolk has several kayak launches that provide easy access to serene waterways. Paddle through calm waters and enjoy the tranquil environment. It’s a great way to see local wildlife and get some exercise.

Northside Park

Northside Park is a hidden gem that offers a range of outdoor activities. From man-made mountains to adventure playgrounds, there’s something for everyone. The park also features lakes where you can kayak or simply relax by the water.

Venture into the wild on a boat tour and see if you can spot whales and dolphins. Or visit the Adventure Park to tackle the high ropes obstacle course and zip line trail that will have you zooming through the trees.

Unique Shopping Experiences

quaint shops in a charming Norfolk village

Selden Market

Selden Market is a vibrant hub for local artisans and small businesses. It’s the perfect place to find unique, handmade items and support the local economy. From vintage clothing to handcrafted jewelry, there’s something for everyone. Don’t miss the special events and pop-up shops that make each visit a new adventure.

Norfolk’s Vintage Shops

For those who love a good treasure hunt, Norfolk’s vintage shops are a must-visit. These stores offer a curated selection of retro and antique items that you won’t find anywhere else. Whether you’re looking for mid-century furniture or classic vinyl records, you’ll be delighted by the variety and quality.

The Palace Shops & Station

The Palace Shops & Station offer a more upscale shopping experience with a mix of boutique stores and well-known brands. It’s a great place to spend an afternoon exploring the nightlife of Norfolk: from jazz bars to dance clubs. hidden gems, bar crawl tips, live music venues, themed nights, karaoke, 80s/90s parties, and seasonal events. Be sure to check out the seasonal events and promotions for some great deals.

Norfolk’s shopping scene is as diverse as it is exciting, offering something for every type of shopper. Whether you’re into handmade crafts, vintage finds, or high-end boutiques, you’ll find it all here.

Hidden Historical Landmarks

hidden historical landmarks in Norfolk

Norfolk is a city rich in history, with many hidden historical landmarks that offer a glimpse into its storied past. Get off the beaten path and uncover these gems that are often missed by most tourists. Each landmark has a unique story to tell, providing a snapshot of the city’s history.

The Wishing Tree

Nestled in one of Norfolk’s hidden-gem neighborhoods, the Wishing Tree is a local legend. Visitors tie ribbons and notes to its branches, making wishes and leaving behind a piece of their hopes and dreams. This ancient tree stands as a testament to the city’s enduring spirit and the personal stories of its residents.

The Cannonball Trail

The Cannonball Trail is a self-guided walking tour that takes you through some of Norfolk’s most historic sites. From ancient architecture to modern construction, this trail offers a unique blend of the old and the new. It’s a perfect way to explore the city’s rich history at your own pace.

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church is one of the oldest buildings in Norfolk, dating back to the 18th century. The church is not only a place of worship but also a historical landmark that has witnessed many significant events. Its walls are steeped in history, making it a must-visit for anyone interested in Norfolk’s past.

Quirky Festivals and Events

quirky festival in a hidden gem location of Norfolk

Norfolk is home to some of the most vibrant festivals that celebrate arts, heritage, food, and community spirit year-round, offering a unique glimpse into Norfolk’s culture and traditions. Whether you’re a local or a visitor, these events are sure to leave you with unforgettable memories.

Norfolk NATO Festival

The Norfolk NATO Festival is a one-of-a-kind event that celebrates the international community and the presence of NATO in Norfolk. This festival features a colorful parade of nations, cultural performances, and educational activities that highlight the diverse cultures of NATO member countries. It’s a must-see event for anyone interested in global cultures and international relations.

Stockley Gardens Arts Festival

Held twice a year, the Stockley Gardens Arts Festival is a beloved event that showcases the work of local and regional artists. Visitors can stroll through the beautiful Stockley Gardens while enjoying live music, delicious food, and unique art pieces. This festival is perfect for art enthusiasts and those looking to support local talent.

NEON Festival

The NEON Festival lights up Norfolk’s Neon District with vibrant art installations, live performances, and interactive exhibits. This festival celebrates the creativity and innovation of Norfolk’s art scene, making it a must-visit for anyone looking to experience the city’s artistic side. Don’t miss the chance to see the district come alive with color and creativity.

Norfolk’s quirky festivals and events offer a unique way to experience the city’s rich culture and vibrant community. From international celebrations to local art showcases, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.


Exploring the hidden gems of Norfolk is like embarking on a delightful treasure hunt. From secluded beaches to charming towns and unique landmarks, these off-the-beaten-path attractions offer a refreshing escape from the everyday hustle and bustle. Whether you’re a local or a visitor, taking the time to discover these lesser-known spots will give you a deeper appreciation for the rich history and vibrant culture that make Norfolk truly special. So, pack your bags, grab your map, and get ready to uncover the hidden treasures that await you in this beautiful corner of the world.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are some hidden gardens to visit in Norfolk?

Some hidden gardens to visit in Norfolk include The Hermitage Museum and Gardens, Norfolk Botanical Garden’s Hidden Corners, and The Enchanted Forest at Norfolk Arboretum.

Are there any historic treasures off the beaten path in Norfolk?

Yes, you can explore historic treasures like The Moses Myers House, Fort Norfolk, and The Hunter House Victorian Museum.

Where can I find unique art scenes in Norfolk?

Norfolk’s unique art scenes can be found in The Neon District, Glass Wheel Studio, and The Chrysler Museum’s Hidden Gems.

What are the best hidden beaches in Norfolk for a quiet escape?

The best hidden beaches in Norfolk for a quiet escape include East Beach, Sarah Constant Beach Park, and Ocean View Beach.

Which neighborhoods in Norfolk are charming to wander through?

Charming neighborhoods to wander through in Norfolk include Ghent, Freemason District, and Larchmont.

What are some offbeat museums and galleries in Norfolk?

Offbeat museums and galleries in Norfolk include The MacArthur Memorial, Hermitage Museum and Gardens, and The Barry Art Museum.

Where can foodies find hidden culinary spots in Norfolk?

Foodies can find hidden culinary spots in Norfolk at Doumar’s Barbecue, Handsome Biscuit, and The Birch.

What are some outdoor adventures away from the crowds in Norfolk?

Outdoor adventures away from the crowds in Norfolk include exploring the Elizabeth River Trail, Norfolk Kayak Launches, and Northside Park.

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