Norfolk is in the Hampton Roads region of Virginia. It is a port city with a large Navy and shipping presence. Neighboring cities are Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, and Portsmouth.
Norfolk has always been a Navy town. The world's largest naval base is located here. But it is also known as a major cultural center, with world-class museums, opera, symphony, ballet, and a vibrant arts community. In the last ten years or so, the downtown area has experienced a major resurgence, with gourmet restaurants, shopping, and attractions.
is a waterfront park area right downtown that hosts several festivals and events throughout the year. A new cruise terminal was just built in 2007 making Norfolk one of the top cruise ports in the country. Granby Street is the main downtown thoroughfare, lined with restaurants and bars.
Ghent is a historic district adjacent to downtown. Filled with historic homes, tree-lined streets and beautiful old churches, it is a good mix of residential and business. Colley Avenue and 21st Street are the main shopping and dining areas, with dozens of locally-owned boutiques, shops, antique stores, restaurants, and bars. The
on Colley Avenue is the region's sole movie theater with indie flicks.
Ocean View is Norfolk's beach community and features relatively uncrowded beaches on the Chesapeake Bay. During the '50s and '60s, Ocean View was in its prime and was a major beach destination for families and sailors. During the following decades, the beach community fell into a bit of a slump, succumbing to crime. The last five years, the city has been turning things around and now Ocean View is on its way to becoming one of the region's most sought after neighborhoods.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 96 square miles (250 km2), of which 54 square miles (140 km2) is land and 42 square miles (110 km2) (43.9%) is water.
The city is located at the southeastern corner of Virginia at the junction of the Elizabeth River and the Chesapeake Bay. The Hampton Roads Metropolitan Statistical Area (officially known as the Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC MSA) is the 37th largest in the United States, with an estimated population of 1,716,624 in 2014. The area includes the Virginia cities of Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Hampton, Newport News, Poquoson, Portsmouth, Suffolk, Williamsburg, and the counties of Gloucester, Isle of Wight, James City, Mathews, and York, as well as the North Carolina counties of Currituck and Gates. The city of Norfolk is recognized as the central business district, while the Virginia Beach oceanside resort district and Williamsburg are primarily centers of tourism. Virginia Beach is the most populated city within the MSA though it functions more as a suburb. Additionally, Norfolk is part of the Virginia Beach-Norfolk, VA-NC Combined Statistical Area, which includes the Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC MSA, the Elizabeth City, North Carolina Micropolitan Statistical Area, and the Kill Devil Hills, NC Micropolitan Statistical Area. The CSA is the 32nd largest in the nation with an estimated population in 2013 of 1,810,266.
In addition to extensive riverfront property, Norfolk has miles of bayfront resort property and beaches in the Willoughby Spit and Ocean View communities.
Being low-lying and largely surrounded by water, Norfolk is particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels. In addition, the land on which it is built is slowly subsiding. Some areas already flood regularly at high tide, and the city commissioned a study in 2012 to investigate how to address the issue in the future: it reported the cost of dealing with a sea-level rise of one foot would be around $1,000,000,000. Since then, scientists at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science in 2013 have estimated that if current trends hold, the sea in Norfolk will rise by 5 and 1/2 feet or more by the end of this century.
When Norfolk was first settled, homes were made of wood and frame construction, similar to most medieval English-style homes. These homes had wide chimneys and thatch roofs. Some decades after the town was first laid out in 1682, the Georgian architectural style, which was popular in the South at the time, was used. Brick was considered more substantial construction; patterns were made by brick laid and Flemish bond. This style evolved to include projecting center pavilions, Palladian windows, balustraded roof decks, and two-story porticoes. By 1740, homes, warehouses, stores, workshops, and taverns began to dot Norfolk's streets.
Norfolk was burned down during the Revolutionary War. After the Revolution, Norfolk was rebuilt in the Federal style, based on Roman ideals. Federal-style homes kept Georgian symmetry, though they had more refined decorations to look like New World homes. Federal homes had features such as narrow sidelights with an embracing fanlight around the doorway, giant porticoes, gable or flat roofs, and projecting bays on exterior walls. Rooms were oval, elliptical or octagonal. Few of these federal rowhouses remain standing today. A majority of buildings were made of wood and had a simple construction.
In the early nineteenth century, Neoclassical architectural elements began to appear in the federal style row homes, such as iconic columns in the porticoes and classic motifs over doorways and windows. Many Federal-style row houses were modernized by placing a Greek-style porch at the front. Greek and Roman elements were integrated into public buildings such as the old City Hall, the old Norfolk Academy, and the Customs House. Taylor-Whittle House (c. 1790), now occupied by the Junior League of Norfolk-Virginia Beach and the Norfolk Historical Society. Greek-style homes gave way to Gothic Revival in the 1830s, which emphasized pointed arches, steep gable roofs, towers, and tracer-lead windows. The Freemason Baptist Church and St. Mary's Catholic Church are examples of Gothic Revival. Italianate elements emerged in the 1840s including cupolas, verandas, ornamental brickwork, or corner quoins. Norfolk still had simple wooden structures among its more ornate buildings.
High-rise buildings were first built in the late nineteenth century when structures such as the current Commodore Maury Hotel and the Royster Building were constructed to form the initial Norfolk skyline. Past styles were revived during the early years of the 20th century. Bungalows and apartment buildings became popular for those living in the city.
As the Great Depression wore on, Art Deco emerged as a popular building style, as evidenced by the Post Office building downtown. Art Deco consisted of streamlined concrete faced appearance with smooth stone or metal, with terracotta, and trimming consisting of glass and colored tiles.
Norfolk has a variety of historic neighborhoods. Some neighborhoods, such as Berkley, were formerly cities and towns. Others, such as Willoughby Spit and Ocean View, have a long history tied to the Chesapeake Bay. Today, neighborhoods such as Downtown, Ghent and Fairmount Park have transformed with the revitalization that the city has undergone.
Norfolk has a humid subtropical climate with moderate changes of seasons. Spring arrives in March with mild days and cool nights, and by late May, the temperature has warmed up considerably to herald warm summer days. Summers are consistently warm and humid, but the nearby Atlantic Ocean often exercises a slight cooling effect on daytime high temperatures, but a slight warming effect on nighttime low temperatures (compared to areas farther inland). As such, Norfolk has occasional days over 90 °F (32 °C). Temperatures over 100 F. are rare but can occur on occasion. On average, July is the warmest month, and August is the year's wettest month, due to still-frequent summer thunderstorm activity combined with a rising frequency (in August) of tropical activity (hurricanes and tropical storms), which can bring high winds and heavy rains. These usually brush Norfolk and only occasionally make landfalls in the area; the highest-risk period is mid-August to the end of September. Fall is marked by mild to warm days and cooler nights. Winter is usually mild in Norfolk, with average winter days featuring lows near or slightly above freezing and highs in the upper-40s to mid-50s (8 to 13 °C). On average, the coldest month of the year is January. Norfolk's record high was 105 °F (41 °C) on August 7, 1918, and July 24 and 25, 2010, and the record low was −3 °F (−19 °C) recorded on January 21, 1985. Snow occurs sporadically, with an average annual accumulation of 5.8 inches.