It has been ten years between visits to Norfolk, Virginia and the city has done some improving! I stayed near the Waterside Convention Centre which is next to the Marriott Hotel and handy to transport, restaurants and Macarthur shopping center.
Aesthetics: 7 out of 10
Norfolk is located at the junction of the Elizabeth River and Chesapeake Bay. The city is 237 kilometres (147.3 miles) from Washington DC. The city’s location is very pretty built around the waterways.
The Norfolk downtown has had a major scrub up and the Granby Street area was unrecognisable compared to a decade ago. In the 1980s it was a dreadful drug haunt and now it is a really super restaurant and club destination. I had a meal at Rama Garden Thai Restaurant located in Granby St, which was superb.
The downtown is still surrounded by a ring of low income housing projects. Further afield, there are some lovely neighbourhoods including my favourite: the Ghent district about 5 kilometres (3 miles) from downtown
Liveability: 6 out of 10
Norfolk was declared to be the number one city in which to live in the South in 2005 by Money magazine. I am sorry I think Charlotte, New Orleans and Savannah are overall more interesting places to be. David Albouy rated the city as 54th out of 276 cities, in the USA for Quality of Life. The cost of living in Norfolk is approximately ten per cent cheaper than the US average. Average house prices are two per cent less than the National average and the median rental is three percent less than the National average. Education, Crime, and Employment are all considered to be way worse than the National average, though.
Culture: 7 out of 10
The amazing Chrysler Museum of Art (located in the Ghent District),is one of the best art galleries in the USA. The city is home to the Virginia Opera based at the Harrison Opera House in the Ghent District.There are a number of good theatres. The Naro Expanded Cinema is a very cute cinema also, located in the Ghent district, which shows interesting films. There is a very good range of interesting international food restaurants.
Crime: 4 out of 10
The Crime rate in Norfolk is approximately double the US National average. Residents have a 1 in 17 chance of being a crime victim. I didn’t feel unsafe at any time but I did notice the downtown streets on a weekday emptied fast and felt very empty.
Transit: 5.6 out of 10
Norfolk has a shiny new Light Rail system called The Tide which opened in August, 2011. It is ten minutes at peak times but only runs every 15 minutes during the rest of the day and evenings (come on guys aim for every ten minutes all the time). It also stops running at 11pm (except on Fridays). One taxi driver, I spoke to, claimed that it had disrupted downtown traffic considerably. The Light Rail sadly does not connect either the airport, Naval Station Norfolk (proposed) or Virginia Beach (also proposed) so it is not overly useful for visitors. Even so, the system is running at double the projected rider figures.
The rest of the transit system, operated by Hampton Roads Transit, is mostly bus based with a ferry service. Airport access is very limited.
Vibe: 7 out of 10
Despite the economic doldrums, Norfolks has a bit of buzz happening. The presence of the navy, the new nightlife venues, the revitalised downtown and other key districts. It is worth a visit.
The Verdict: 67.6%
On my city ranking, I give Norfolk, VA a rating of 6.8 out of ten. Out of the 171 cities over 100, 000 people I have visited, it comes in at 128th. This is the same placing that I put Hamilton, New Zealand.
The Norfolk Top Ten
- Chrysler Museum of Art (nice building, great collection, free entry and parking)
- USS Wisconsin (one of the largest and last battleships ever built by the U.S. Navy)
- Norfolk Naval Base (he largest Naval base in the world)
- The General Douglas MacArthur Memorial, contains this World War Two hero’s tomb, a museum and research centre
- Moses Myers House (one of the first brick homes built in Norfolk after the War of Independence)
- Cape Henry Lighthouse (NB all visitors need picture ID to get in)
- Norfolk Botanical Garden
- Town Point Park
- Hermitage Museum and Gardens
- Hunter House Victorian Museum (Victorian house)