Aquatic Things to do in Norfolk

By: Peggy Sijswerda

January 21, 2014

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It’s no wonder Norfolk attracts visitors who love the water. Its northern edge borders the Chesapeake Bay with seven miles of sandy beaches, perfect for those long summer days and blowy winter walks. Prefer something a little more active? No problem! Norfolk is located in the heart of Hampton Roads, a name given to both the metro area and the natural harbour formed by the bay and several rivers. In total, Norfolk has 144 miles of shoreline, including lakes, rivers, and the bay. So what are you waiting for? Grab a paddle!


American Rover | Aquatic Things to do in Norfolk

American Rover in front of Downtown Norfolk ©


Fancy a sunset cruise? In Downtown Norfolk the American Rover, a 135-ft. three-mast topsail schooner, which accommodates up to 129 passengers, has been running cruises since 1986. During the narrated two-hour cruise, guests learn about the area’s history and get the chance to lend a hand with the sails or take a turn at the helm. If learning’s not your thing then just relax with the wind in your hair and take in the view as the world glides by. Cruises run April-October.


Nauticus Sail | Aquatic Things to do in Norfolk

Nauticus Sail-About © Peggy Sijswerda


A new nautical experience for visitors to Norfolk are the Sail-Abouts offered by Nauticus, a maritime-themed science and technology centre on the downtown waterfront. For two hours you can learn the basics of sailing a sailboat as you cruise along the Elizabeth River. The sailboats are state-of-the-art Harbor 20s – safe, beautiful, and efficient – with large cockpits and roller furling self-tacking jibs – super easy to sail. You’ll enjoy unique views of the Norfolk skyline as you experience the thrill of sailing.


Naval Base Cruise | Aquatic Things to do in Norfolk

Naval Base Cruise aboard the Victory Rover © Navel Base Cruises


Ever seen an aircraft carrier up close? Longer than three football fields, aircraft carriers can carry fleets of 50 aircraft, which take off and land from the ship’s flat top deck. For a front row seat to Naval Station Norfolk, the world’s largest naval base, catch a two-hour tour on the Victory Rover, which departs daily from Nauticus. You can watch the naval vessels from the open-air bow or top deck or inside, where a climate-controlled cabin is lined with large picture windows. Norfolk is also home to the second busiest cargo port on the East Coast, so don’t be surprised to see container ships, tugboats, and lots of action on the water. There’s never a dull moment in Norfolk’s harbour.

Botanical Garden | Aquatic Things to do in Norfolk

Norfolk Botanical Garden scene © Norfolk Botanical Garden

For a peaceful boating experience, head to Norfolk Botanical Garden, where you can glide in a kayak across Lake Whitehurst, which borders this nationally recognized, 155-acre botanical garden, known for its amazing azalea collection. A local outfitter provides all the equipment and no experience is necessary. You’ll learn about the flora and fauna that inhabit the shores of the lake, and with a bit of luck, you’ll view some of the 95 species of birds that either live in or migrate through the garden.


Header photo © Visit Norfolk Today


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Have you visited Norfolk? What else can you do on the water in Norfolk? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

Written by Peggy Sijswerda


Peggy Sijswerda

Peggy Sijswerda lives in Virginia Beach and edits and publishes two regional magazines: Tidewater Women and Tidewater Family. She freelances on the side, combining her passion for travel, her love of writing, and her insatiable curiosity about everything from architecture to zydeco. Currently she’s planning a trip to Andalusia, where she will follow the brandy route and try not to get lost. Her Dutch husband, Peter, and their three sons sometimes accompany Peggy on her adventures, but she also loves traveling solo. She recently completed a memoir, Still Life with Sierra, which follows Peggy and her family as they lose themselves in Europe for six months, trying to find home.

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