For advance information, contact the Norfolk Convention & Visitors Bureau, 232 E. Main St., Norfolk, VA 23510 (tel. 800/368-3097 or 757/441-1852; fax 757/622-3663). The bureau dispenses walking-tour brochures and other information at its offices (Mon-Fri 8:30am-5pm), which are across Main Street from the Norfolk Marriott. There's a small information center at NAUTICUS.
Arriving from the west via I-64, there's a Norfolk Visitor Center on Fourth View Street at Exit 273 in the Ocean View section (tel. 757/441-1852). It's open daily 9am to 5pm.
The Freemason Street Reception Center, 401 E. Freemason St. (tel. 757/441-1526), next to the Moses Myers House also has visitor information.
By Plane -- Norfolk International Airport (ORF), on Norview Avenue 1 1/2 miles north of I-64 (tel. 757/857-3351; www.norfolkairport.com), is served by American, Continental, Delta, Southwest, United, and US Airways. The major car-rental firms have desks here. Taxis await all flights, and Airport Connection-Norfolk (tel. 866/823-4626 or 757/963-0433; www.onetransportationsolution.com) runs shuttles to points between Williamsburg and Virginia Beach.
By Car -- From the west, I-64 runs from Richmond to Norfolk, then swings around the eastern and southern suburbs, where it meets I-664 to form the Hampton Roads Beltway around the area. U.S. 460 also runs the length of Virginia to Norfolk and is a good way to avoid the backups that often plague the bridge-tunnels on I-64 and I-664, especially on summer weekends. U.S. 13 and U.S. 17 also pass through the area. From Virginia Beach, I-264 goes through downtown and Portsmouth.
Avoiding Gridlock -- Hampton Roads has some of Virginia's most congested traffic. Lengthy backups can occur anytime on I-64 at the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel between Norfolk and Hampton, especially during weekday rush hours and all day on summer weekends. I take U.S. 460 from Petersburg to Norfolk on summer weekends, thus avoiding both the Hampton Roads and Monitor-Merrimac bridge-tunnels. U.S. 13 is another alternate route if you're coming from the northeast. If you're approaching on I-64 from the west, an alternative is to take I-664 and the Monitor-Merrimac Bridge-Tunnel, then Va. 164 east to Portsmouth and the Midtown Tunnel (U.S. 58) into Norfolk. Tune your radio to 610 AM or call tel. 800/792-2800 on your cellphone to check on current conditions.
By Train & Bus -- Amtrak (tel. 800/872-7245; www.amtrak.com) trains stop in Newport News, the nearest station. Greyhound (tel. 800/231-2222; www.greyhound.com) has bus service to downtown Norfolk.
City Layout -- Norfolk occupies two peninsulas formed by the Chesapeake Bay and the Elizabeth and Lafayette rivers. Downtown is on the southern side of the city, on the north bank of the Elizabeth River. Within walking distance to the northwest, Freemason is Norfolk's oldest residential neighborhood, with most of its 18th- and 19th-century town houses restored as private homes, businesses, and restaurants. You'll still find a few cobblestone streets here.
Northwest of Freemason, across a semicircular inlet known as The Hague, Ghent was the city's first subdivision and is now its trendiest enclave. Most houses in "old" Ghent, near The Hague and the Chrysler Museum of Art, were built between 1892 and 1912. Now thoroughly gentrified, it's home to everyone from well-heeled professionals to writers, artists, and college students. The heart of Ghent's business district runs along Colley Avenue between Baldwin Avenue and 21st Street, and along 21st Street from Colley Avenue east to Granby Street. Here you'll find antiques shops, restaurants, and the artsy NARO Cinema.
A car is the easiest way to get around this spread-out area. Parking is available downtown at the MacArthur Center and in municipal garages (the most convenient is on Atlantic Ave. btw. Waterside Dr. and Main St.). The city posts a downtown map showing its parking garages at www.norfolk.gov/parking. Visitors to the Douglas MacArthur Memorial can have their tickets validated for 3 hours free parking.
I'm not sure it will help visitors very much, but a light rail system known as The Tide (www.ridethetide.com) is scheduled to open in 2010. It will run 7.4 miles between the Eastern Virginia Medical Center (west of downtown at Brambleton Ave. and Hampton Blvd.), and Newtown Road on the city's eastern side. The one-line route takes it through downtown along City Hall Avenue and the MacArthur Center.
I suspect that the free motorized trolleys of Norfolk Electric Transit (NET; www.norfolk.gov/visitors/net.asp) will remain the easiest way to get around downtown. They operate Monday through Friday 6:30am to 11pm, Saturday noon to midnight, Sunday noon to 8pm. The weekday route runs from Harbor Park across downtown on Main Street and north via Granby Street to Virginia Beach Boulevard and the Harrison Opera House. The weekend route makes a loop around the downtown shopping-and-dining area and then north along Granby Street to Virginia Beach Boulevard. The routes are shown on NET's website and on city maps distributed at the visitor centers.
Hampton Roads Transit (HRT; tel. 757/222-6100; www.gohrt.com) provides public bus service throughout the region. Although it can take as long as 2 hours each way, the Route 20 bus goes from Monticello Avenue and Charlotte Street to the Virginia Beach oceanfront. Fares are $1.50 for adults, 75¢ for seniors and persons with disabilities, $1 for children younger than 19, free for kids shorter than 38 inches tall. Exact change is required.
For taxis, call Andy's Cab Co. (tel. 866/840-6573 or 757/622-3232; www.andystaxigroup.com), Black and White Cabs (tel. 757/855-4444), or Norfolk Checker (tel. 757/855-3333 www.norfolkcheckertaxi.com).
Safety in Norfolk
In downtown Norfolk stick to the busy main streets between the MacArthur Center and the Waterside, and don't take unnecessary risks like wandering off into deserted or ill-lit side streets. Volunteer Public Safety Ambassadors patrol the streets; they will answer questions about the area, give directions, and escort you back to your car (tel. 757/478-7233).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.