20 Free Things to Do in Norfolk, VA

Free Things to Do in Norfolk, VA

I'm excited to share some of the best free things to do in Norfolk, Virginia.

So sit back, relax, and dive into this city's many free things.

We extend our heartfelt gratitude to the following individuals for their invaluable contributions to this article: Angie McLendon, Patricia Ford, Wanda Sexton, Raul Wells, Rosalind Talley, Cheryl Verdin and Sharon Ross.

Discover Hidden Treasures at Waterside Pier

Signage of Waterside Pier
Kate Scott / Shutterstock.com

Every city has its hidden gems, and for me, in my hometown, one of those treasures is the Mermaid sculpture at Waterside Pier.

Taking leisurely evening strolls down the Elizabeth River Trail has become one of my favorite pastimes.

However, stumbling upon the majestic mermaid statue was an unexpected surprise that heightened my love for our city's waterfront.

The Mermaid isn't just a sculpture; it's a piece of art that adds character to the beautiful Waterside Pier.

Standing tall against the backdrop of the picturesque skyline, the Mermaid seems to guard our city's harbor, welcoming every visitor with a mystical charm.

Mermaid sculpture at Waterside Pier
Kyle J Little / Shutterstock.com

One of the best times to view the Mermaid is at night.

The city lights provide an enchanting setting, and the boats swaying in the water add to the serene atmosphere.

It's not just a sight to see; it's an experience that pulls you into a tale as old as time.

I often find myself standing there, snapping excellent photos to capture the moment.

Revisit History at Myers House

Exterior of the Moses Myers House
Cathy1763, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Now and then, I take a break from my everyday life to immerse myself in the rich history of Norfolk, and the Myers House is often my destination of choice.

This stately 19th-century house, once inhabited by a Jewish merchant, is a time capsule filled with period furniture and personal effects that narrate a compelling tale of a bygone era.

Frequently, I find myself lost in the labyrinth of stories that each artifact in the house has to tell.

In fact, the gold leaf on one of the fireplaces has an intricate tale woven around it.

The guides at the Myers House possess a wealth of knowledge and their passion for sharing the history of the house and the Myers family is infectious.

They don't just recite facts; they bring the history to life in a way that captivates all who listen.

They have a knack for answering questions spontaneously, making the tour feel less like a scripted experience and more like a conversation with an old friend who knows just about everything there is to know about Norfolk's history.

One of the aspects that make the Myers House stand out is its commitment to telling the story of all its past inhabitants.

They are currently expanding their exhibit to shed light on the history of the enslaved people who once lived there.

Marvel at the Timeless Beauty of the Chrysler Museum of Art

Exterior of the Chrysler Museum of Art
Sherry V Smith / Shutterstock.com

There are few places in the city that can whisk you away through time like the Chrysler Museum of Art.

It's my go-to spot when I need a dose of culture and history.

It's astonishing how the museum houses such a broad collection of art, from ancient to contemporary.

And the best part? Admission is free.

I often find myself wandering through the two-story building, captivated by the awe-inspiring pieces of glass and sculpture.

The Roman era collection is especially dear to me, the intricate designs transporting me back to that ancient time.

The museum is not only a treasure trove of art but also a haven of accessibility.

Being super clean and handicap-friendly, it welcomes all art enthusiasts with open arms.

Art pieces in the Chrysler Museum of Art
James Kirkikis / Shutterstock.com

The parking lot adjacent to the museum is free, making it all the more convenient for visitors.

I love spending my hours there, sometimes even the whole day.

And when I need a break, I delight in exploring the gift shop or grabbing a bite in the food area.

What always amazes me is the museum's ability to accommodate diverse interests.

Whether it's the classics like Degas, Monet, and Picasso or the more contemporary pieces, there's always something new to discover.

The museum's layout is intuitive, making it easy to navigate even though it seems enormous at first glance.

One of my favorite experiences was visiting the museum at its opening on a Saturday.

Atrium of the Chrysler Museum of Art
Alexanderstock23 / Shutterstock.com

Spend an Artful Afternoon at the Hermitage Museum and Gardens

Exterior of Hermitage Museum & Gardens
Employee, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

I've lost count of how many times I've retreated to the Hermitage Museum and Gardens.

This charming historic home and gardens nestled in our city, offers a sanctuary filled with cultural treasures and natural beauty.

One of my favorite things about this place is the fine collection of art it houses.

The intricate woodwork that adorns the place, the historical and cultural artifacts, and the touching art exhibits that can be found upstairs - it's all just a delight for an art enthusiast like me.

Not to mention, the professionally organized programs and classes that provide a deeper understanding of the exhibits.

No visit to the Hermitage is complete without a stroll in the picturesque gardens.

The gardens are adorned with sculptures and archways and are the perfect place for a quiet contemplation on a sunny afternoon.

The benches scattered around the lush green lawn invite you to sit, relax, and enjoy the splendid view of the water.

And the best part? The entry is absolutely free!

One of the memorable experiences was the Claudia Bueno exhibit that was simply amazing.

The immersive light/sound experience was really moving and left a lasting impression.

But what keeps me returning to this place are the wonderful views of the water and the charming trails around the property.

Pay a Visit to MacArthur Memorial

Statue of General Douglas MacArthur in front of the MacArthur Memorial
James Kirkikis / Shutterstock.com

Every time I visit the MacArthur Memorial, I am reminded of the service and sacrifice of General Douglas MacArthur and the many veterans of the World Wars and the Korean War.

Each visit inspires me with new insights into MacArthur's strategic brilliance and unwavering dedication to his country.

Who knew that history could be so immersive and palpable?

The beauty of this memorial is that it's not only a tribute, but also a learning center.

I've spent countless rainy afternoons here, wandering through exhibits, each telling a new story.

The theater presentations are always captivating, and the staff here are so knowledgeable and eager to share.

And the best part? The memorial is entirely free.

There's no reason not to spend a couple of hours absorbing the wealth of information it offers.

There's convenient parking nearby at the shopping mall, costing a mere dollar for the first three hours.

Walk Around the Oriental Garden and Pagoda

Friendship pagoda at Pagoda & Oriental Garden
James Kirkikis / Shutterstock.com

The moment you step into the Pagoda & Oriental Garden, you're enveloped in an atmosphere that's serene.

Tucked away in the bustling downtown waterfront, it's a little slice of the Orient right here in the city.

The garden might be small, but it's big on charm.

I love the collection of trees, sculptures, and fountains that give it an authentic Oriental vibe.

The main draw though is the two-story pagoda, an ornate structure that often serves as a restaurant, though its opening hours are a bit unpredictable.

Flora at Pagoda & Oriental Garden
melissamn / Shutterstock.com

The architecture is intricate and evidently inspired by traditional Oriental design.

While it could do with a bit of sprucing up, I find its cluttered, somewhat disorganized state oddly charming.

From a chicken sandwich I once had there, I can vouch for the food being pretty good.

The garden and pagoda have become one of my favorite spots in the city, not just for the aesthetic appeal but the calm it brings.

Aerial view of Pagoda & Oriental Garden
Kyle J Little / Shutterstock.com

Spend a Morning Retreat on the Elizabeth River Trail

Every morning, as the sun peeks over the horizon, I find myself descending the Elizabeth River Trail.

It's not just an ordinary pedestrian and biking trail, it's a sanctuary in the heart of Norfolk with breathtaking views of the waterfront.

Each step brings a new sight; lush parks, unique monuments, lively restaurants, and even bustling breweries.

The portion of the trail that I especially love begins at Town Point Park and extends all the way to the Waterside Ferry Dock, Nauticus, USS Wisconsin, and the enchanting Pagoda.

It's tranquil, free of clutter with only the occasional foot traffic or bike riders to share the path.

There's always a bench or two along the way, perfect for resting and soaking in the views.

One of my favorite pastimes is to stand and watch the ferry dock.

It's a simple pleasure, but one that offers a sense of peace and quiet in the midst of urban life.

And if you're a photo enthusiast like me, you'll never run out of fantastic photo ops.

Venturing into the Pagoda area is always a treat.

It's the perfect spot to enjoy a peaceful breakfast in the morning, away from the city's hustle and bustle.

It's also a treasure trove for those interested in Norfolk’s history, as it snakes through the Ghent historic district.

Unwind at Town Point Park

Aerial view of Town Point Park
Kyle J Little / Shutterstock.com

There's no place like home, and for me, 'home' includes the serene green landscapes and the soothing sounds of flowing water at the beautiful Town Point Park.

Located on the Elizabeth River's bank, this park is my go-to place when I need a break from the hustle and bustle of daily life.

One of the things I love about Town Point Park is that it's more than just a park.

Throughout the year, it becomes the heart of our community, hosting a variety of outdoor events ranging from the lively Harborfest to the colorful Bayou Boogaloo, and even our spectacular 4th of July celebrations.

It has something for everyone and every time I visit, it feels like a whole new experience.

The tall buildings across the river provide a beautiful backdrop that perfectly contrasts with the park's natural beauty.

The fountains add a touch of elegance while the picnic areas are perfect for those lazy Sunday afternoons with family and friends.

Homecoming statue at Town Point Park
Anne Katherine Jones / Shutterstock.com

I often find myself just sitting on the benches, taking in the beauty around me.

It’s one of the best places where you can truly enjoy nature’s bounty.

Town Point Park isn't just a park for me, it’s a sanctuary where I can meditate, exercise, and find peace within myself.

It's a place where prices or the number of ships don't matter.

All that matters is the soothing sound of the river, the comfort of the green landscapes, the delicious food from the vendors, and the sense of security provided by the constant police presence.

Welcome sign of Town Point Park
LittleT889, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Unveil the Wonders of Slover Library

Exterior of the Slover Library
Felix Mizioznikov / Shutterstock.com

I can't help but feel lucky to live in a city that boasts a treasure trove like the Slover Library.

What a masterpiece! It's the heart of Norfolk, hosting vibrant events that are the lifeblood of our community.

From the eclectic discussions with James Beard Award Winning Chef and author Michael Twitty to readings by local authors, the Slover is much more than just a library.

It's a haven that embraces both the local and the global.

Every visit offers a new experience.

Take the D&D tournaments in the basement, for instance.

That's right, a library that houses not just books, but also a battleground for fantasy enthusiasts.

Or the Mermaid Tea Party on the Children’s floor, a delightful occasion that paints smiles onto little faces.

And let’s not forget the Drag Queen Storytime, a celebration of diversity and a brilliant splash of color on the canvas of life.

It's no wonder the Slover played a central role in our Juneteenth celebrations.

On a regular day, the Slover is a sanctuary of cleanliness and peace.

For the book lover in me, the six floors filled with books are a paradise.

The selection is breathtaking; it's like embarking on a literary journey with every step you take.

Have a Tranquil Retreat at Whitehurst Beach Park

I can almost smell the sea breeze as I type this, reminiscing the countless times I've escaped to the serene environment of Whitehurst Beach Park.

If tranquillity had a physical address, it would certainly be this place.

Ever since my freshman year in 2006, this park has been my little secret retreat to unwind and indulge in the simple pleasures of life like watching the sunset or enjoying the water.

One of my favorite things about this park is watching container and navy ships, and sailboats pass by, especially during sunset.

It's like a live painting unfolding before your eyes - always different, always beautiful.

See Some Various Artwork at Neon District

Where can you find a place that tickles your creative senses and lets your imagination run wild with vibrant art?

My answer would be none other than the Neon District.

Located in Norfolk, I've been living in the city for years, and somehow this little gem of a place had always escaped my notice.

Then, one day, I stumbled upon it, and boy, it was like stepping into another dimension.

Imagine walking down the streets surrounded by colorful murals and street art that seem to come alive right before your eyes.

As I'm walking, I can hear rhythmic beats pulsing in the background, adding a lively soundtrack to my exploration.

That's the everyday experience in Neon District.

It's not just about the art, either.

Tucked away within this artistic enclave are quaint stores and eateries that add to the area's charm.

I enjoy dropping by these places, picking up unique items, or just enjoying a leisurely meal while soaking in the atmosphere.

The Neon District is also known for its regular events, which draw significant crowds.

Music, street performances, and city life blend seamlessly here, creating a vibrant, energetic vibe that's hard to resist.

Witness a Local's Slice of Paradise at Community Beach Park

Oh, the bliss of waking up and knowing you're just a stone's throw away from the serene beauty of Community Beach Park.

It's a wide sandy beach on the bay with a relaxed vibe, a place where you can just be.

The beach is brushed by the gentle bay breeze, graced by the sun’s warmth, and framed by tree-shaded areas that provide a cool escape from the heat.

During a recent beach cleanup project, I couldn't help but notice the stunning view.

Despite the regular inflow of visitors, the beach is well-taken care of.

It's a testament to our community’s shared responsibility and love for our local gem.

The beach is also family-friendly, and the presence of life guards provides a safety net for those idyllic beach days.

Recently, I spent a sunny afternoon here with my family - a new tradition since we moved from out of state.

From the moment we arrived, we felt a sense of belonging.

The local folks are incredible, and they welcomed us with open arms.

Enjoy the Tranquility at East Beach - Public Beach Access Dolphin Run

Kyle J Little / Shutterstock.com

There's something utterly magnificent about the East Beach - Public Beach Access Dolphin Run.

Nestled right next to the bustling Joint Base, it's quite a sight to behold.

This channel is always buzzing with action, from graceful dolphins gliding near the water's surface to massive ships passing by.

It's an ideal spot for anyone interested in observing marine life, or just wanting to see some activity at sea.

If you're an angler, or even just a novice trying your luck at fishing, this spot has plenty to offer.

The water here is calm and shallow, making it perfect for children to play and adults to relax.

Have Beautiful Moments at Sarah Constant Beach Park

There's something incredibly soothing about the lullaby of calm waters and the warmth of the sun-drenched white sand at Sarah Constant Beach Park.

Tucked right next to the bustling pier, the beach has a rhythm of its own.

On certain days, the air is filled with the faint melody of live music wafting over from the rooftop restaurant nearby.

It's a harmonious blend of tranquility and vibrancy that makes this beach my favorite spot.

Parking is abundant, but let me tell you, during the peak of summer, finding a spot can be a bit of a sport.

The secret? Early birds get the best spots.

But even on crowded days, this beach has a knack for maintaining its serene charm.

The beach is well cared for, with top-notch facilities including restrooms and picnic spots, making every visit comfortable.

One of the highlights of the beach is the beautiful pier.

It extends into the calming water, offering a fantastic spot for a serene strut or a quiet moment with your thoughts.

It’s also a great vantage point to watch the waves, which are usually calm and gentle here - no big, scary waves to worry about.

Enjoy Leisurely Afternoons at Lakewood Park

I'll never forget the first time I stepped foot in Lakewood Park.

It was like discovering an oasis right in the middle of Norfolk.

It's an underappreciated gem, with various sports fields, a huge playground, and several picnic shelters.

There's also a beautiful lake at the back, where the local row club meets.

Every visit feels like a mini vacation.

But Lakewood Park is truly special to me because of its local and affordable dance studio.

It's one of those rare places where people of all ages can let loose and learn to dance.

Seeing everyone from children to seniors twirling around the dance floor is a sight that never fails to put a smile on my face.

There's something about Lakewood Park that just invites relaxation and enjoyment.

Whether it's camping under the stars, swimming in the lake, or just hanging out in a hammock, the park offers a peaceful escape from the bustle of city life.

The staff are always friendly, and the park itself remains clean and well-maintained.

The park is also an excellent place for kids.

They can run around in the playground, enjoy a picnic, or meet up with their friends.

The large parking lot makes it convenient for families, and the trees that surround the playground provide much-needed shade during those hot summer days.

Discover the Charm of Monkey Bottom Park

Nature scene at Monkey Bottom Park
Bill Chizek / Shutterstock.com

I've spent countless afternoons meandering through the live oaks at Monkey Bottom Park.

It's a hidden gem in our city that needs a little love. But in its simplicity and ruggedness, it charms.

The park stands in stark contrast to the typical, manicured city parks.

It feels like a forgotten lot more than anything else.

The city may have placed a swing set and a few park rules signs, but that's about it.

The fence is only half-finished, and there isn't even a sign.

But, in a way, it feels like a secret haven for those of us who know to look for it.

The majestic live oaks are the true stars of the show here.

They dominate the landscape, offering a shady retreat on sunny days.

Some of their borders are falling, but this only adds to its rustic allure.

Sure, a jogging path and a complete fence would be nice additions, but their absence adds to the park’s wild charm.

The recent redoing of the Tidewater/OV Ave intersection has opened up a lot of space around the park for possible expansion.

Wander Around Shoop Park

Oh, the joy of spending a sunny day at Shoop Park!

Nestled in the city's heart, it's a little gem that we Norfolk locals are lucky to have.

With a comfy chair and a bag of snacks at hand, I typically sit on the edge of the playground, keeping a close eye on my little ones.

The park also boasts a sizeable playground that never fails to entice the kids.

And let's not forget the basketball court!

My youngsters had a couple of falls at the water park section, but they're tough cookies.

Experience Exciting Adventures at Barraud Park

You wouldn't believe the transformation this place has undergone.

Barraud Park, once an all-black recreation area, is now a thriving hub of sports and fun.

It's the kind of place that brings the community together, and you can feel that sense of unity in the air.

This park, nestled right here in our busy city of Norfolk, has become my go-to spot for leisure and family time.

My family and I love to visit the park during the weekends.

We would often pack some picnic lunch and head out for a day of fun.

The sports facilities are top-notch.

Whether you're a tennis enthusiast or a boxing fanatic, you'll find something that suits you.

Visit The Wishing Tree

Living near the Wishing Tree has always sparked a sense of curiosity and magic in me.

Waking up to the sounds of the city, my daily morning walks usually take me past this special place.

Situated smack-dab in the middle of a city, it brings a unique charm to the community.

On a typical sunny day, I find myself strolling towards the tree, notebook in hand.

There's nothing fancy about it, no bells or whistles.

But that’s the beauty of it.

Its simplicity and the aura of wishes left by countless people make it a spot I hold dear to my heart.

The process of writing a wish takes me on an emotional journey.

I pour my heart onto a piece of paper, tie it to the tree, and feel a wave of emotions sweep over me.

Some of my wishes are light-hearted, while others are deeply personal.

This ritual has, on more than one occasion, brought comfort and solace.

Observing the wishes of others is an experience that always leaves me in awe.

The array of wishes, some serious, others uplifting, paints a vivid picture of the human experience.

Final Thoughts

Norfolk, Virginia, truly overflows with abundant natural beauty and engaging activities that won't break the bank.

Whether you're an outdoor enthusiast, a history buff, or just someone seeking peace and quiet, Norfolk offers many free experiences.

These places have become a part of my daily life, and I can't wait for you to discover them, too. After all, the best things in life, indeed, are free.

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