Top 12 Free Things to do in Norfolk, Virginia

As one of America’s largest naval ports, Norfolk offers maritime history, unique museums, and urban parks for visitors to enjoy on a budget. Many attractions in Virginia’s “Mermaid City” can be experienced free of charge.

From battleship tours and outdoor concerts, to public art walks and waterfront strolls, Norfolk provides wallet-friendly entertainment and sightseeing. Here are the top 12 free things to do in Norfolk, Virginia.

Walk the Downtown Public Art Circuit

Over 80 pieces of public art dot the streets of downtown Norfolk. Follow the mapped walking routes to spot colorful murals, sculptural installations, interactive features, and thought-provoking concepts from local and international artists.

Highlights include mermaid and lion statues along MacArthur Center mall, a bronze pelican sculpture by the ferry terminal, and the striking metalcurve piecesuspended above Ward Street. The NEON district contains a cluster of ARTGO street art. Guided tours are available through the Public Art Walking Tour program offered by the Chrysler Museum of Art.

Stroll through the Norfolk Botanical Garden

Spread across 175 acres, the Norfolk Botanical Garden is a beautiful oasis just minutes from downtown. Blooming flowers, lush gardens, and serene waters make this urban escape feel far from the city. Meander along trails passing butterfly habitats, formal roses, azalea collections, and seasonal floral shows in the outdoor gardens.

The indoor conservatory features exotic plants from tropical environments. Don’t miss the tranquil Japanese Garden, considered one of the best on the East Coast. General admission is free, with additional fees for some exhibits, tram tours, and special events.

Attend a Musical Performance at Town Point Park

From April through October, Town Point Park along the downtown riverfront hosts free Friday concerts called Bayou Boogaloo. Local musicians perform everything from bluegrass to funk, rock and soul. Pack a picnic and bring lawn chairs or blankets to spread out on the expansive grassy area facing the concert stage.

Various food vendors sell refreshments too. Past performers include groups like The Deloreans, Soul Crackers, and the US Navy Band. Concerts start at 6:30 pm. Free parking is available at nearby garages. Rain dates are scheduled when needed.

Tour the Battleship Wisconsin

Permanently docked next to Nauticus museum, the USS Wisconsin battleship allows visitors to freely explore the main deck Monday through Thursday. This Iowa-class ship served in World War II and the Korean War before being decommissioned.

Walk her historic teak decks, gaze at the enormous gun turrets, and admire views of the Norfolk skyline. Below deck tours require paid tickets, but the exterior main deck is open at no cost for photo ops and naval history appreciation. Don’t forget to look up!

Cheer on a Baseball Game

Catch free baseball games with the hometown Norfolk Tides, a Triple-A minor league team. Part of the International League, the Tides play at Harbor Park stadium near the river from April through September. Grab seats along the baselines or opt for grassy berm spots on the picnic hill.

Cheer for hits and home runs from future star players hoping to make it to the major leagues. Games feature in-between inning contests, giveaways, mascot antics, and fireworks on select nights. Enjoy an all-American evening eating hot dogs and peanuts while rooting for the Tides.

Relax at Lafayette Park & Trail

Right along the riverfront, Lafayette Park offers walking trails, peaceful river views, and a commemorative ship anchor from the USSMonitor. Have a picnic while watching vessels glide through Hampton Roads Harbor. Let kids burn off energy at the colorful playground and adjacent soccer field.

Leashed pets can accompany you as you stroll along the paved riverwalk loop encircling tall shady trees. Lafayette Park connects to the Elizabeth River Trail for longer treks. Free public parking is available in the lot off Woodland Road.

Take a Free Tour of the Hermitage Museum

Built in 1845, the historic Hermitage Museum offers free guided tours showcasing furnishings and artifacts from early Norfolk life. Costumed docents lead guests through the preserved home, explaining the history and use of objects on display.

Beautiful antique furnishings fill the parlor where string musicians perform. Outbuildings like the kitchen house and slave quarters provide additional glimpses into the past. Tours run Wednesday through Saturday on a walk-in basis. The Hermitage Museum provides an educational and engaging walk back in time.

See the Saxon Garden at Nauticus

Adjacent to Nauticus maritime museum, the Saxon Memorial Garden commemorates a 1907 Jamestown Exposition by recreating a century-old sunken garden. Visitors can freely walk through the tranquil space accented with boxwood hedges, stone pillars, shade trees, and a central fountain.

Park benches provide spots rest amidst the flowers and greenery. A small paved labyrinth offers a path for peaceful meditation. Interpretive signs describe the garden’s history. The Saxon Garden’s tranquility makes it an urban oasis alongside the downtown waterfront.

Hike through Hoffler Creek Wildlife Preserve

Immerse yourself in nature at Hoffler Creek Wildlife Preserve, spanning over 140 acres along the Chesapeake Bay. Five miles of hiking trails wind through salt marsh, pine forest, and meadow environments. The Observation Tower rewards climbers with panoramic water views at the summit.

Spring and fall offer prime birdwatching opportunities as migratory species rest in the wetlands. Keep an eye out for egrets, herons, ducks, geese and even osprey fishing the creek waters. Parking and preserve entry is free year-round from dawn to dusk.

Catch a Show at Ocean View Beach Park

From late May through September, Ocean View Beach Park hosts free concerts and movies for seaside entertainment all summer long. The oceanfront amphitheater draws crowds on Sunday evenings for live music performances under the stars.

Families flock on Wednesday nights for kid-friendly movies projected on a giant inflatable screen. Leashed pets are welcome. Bring lawn chairs or blankets and snacks to these community events. Concerts and movies begin around 7 pm. Due to popularity, arrive early to secure good seats with ocean views.

Experience Virginia Zoo Parking Lot Safari

For unique animal encounters from your own car, check out the Virginia Zoo parking lot safari. Twice monthly on Saturdays, zookeepers bring ambassador animals “on tour” to the outside parking area. Drive through to get up close with owls, tortoises, porcupines, snakes and other creatures while staying safe inside your vehicle.

Knowledgeable staff will answer your questions during the 20-minute safari-style experience. Dates are posted on the zoo’s website. Parking for the safari is free, making it an easily accessible animal adventure.

Walk Along the Cannonball Trail

Extending 1.25 miles between downtown Norfolk and Berkley, the scenic Cannonball Trail follows along the shoreline. Informational plaques describe how cannonballs were forged for the Confederacy at West Point Foundry during the Civil War. Footbridges allow walkers and cyclists to cross over pretty Lafayette River inlets feeding into the Elizabeth River.

Benches line the stone-dust path offering spots to pause and admire water views or read memorial plaques. Parking and trail access is free year-round from 5am to midnight.

Join a Free Festival Event

Norfolk hosts various cultural festivals and events throughout the year that offer free activities. Groove to live music on multiple stages at the Spring Town Point Virginia Wine Festival. View international street painting creations at the Chalk Art Festival held along downtown granary walls.

The Fall Fashion Week runway shows are free to attend. Stop by the Greek Food Festival for free dance lessons and cooking demos. Kids can play carnival games or meet princess characters for free at Norfolk Harborfest. Experience local flavor at one of these lively gatherings.


Budget-minded travelers can fill their itinerary with free attractions across Norfolk, from battleship decks to bayfront parks and trails. Museums like the Hermitage offer guided tours at no cost. Outdoor entertainment like Town Point Park concerts, wildlife safaris, and beach movies encourage fun community camaraderie.

Public art walks, garden strolls, and history tours reveal additional facets of Norfolk for free. Sampling the city’s maritime character does not have to sink your vacation budget.

Leave a Comment