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Norfolk: A Gateway to History

Norfolk: A Gateway to History

The bustling port city of Norfolk, Virginia is a history lover’s paradise and the perfect place to take in the great outdoors. What better place to help students dive into history than a city shaped by the American Revolution? In fact, the entire city was burned to the ground and rebuilt after 1776, but there was no stopping this small city’s big influence. The best part is, the history only scratches the surface of all that Norfolk has to offer. There are nature parks, waterway tours, the famous Chesapeake Bay and music performances catering to student groups. You can begin the day with your students reenacting life aboard a schooner and end it with a walk through the zoo.

Check out some of the best that Norfolk has to offer students in what are some of the most hands-on, immersive experiences you will find this side of the Mississippi.

Flora and Fauna

Virginia Zoological Park

Get up close and personal with over 500 animals at the city’s popular zoo, a 53-acre facility that has been entertaining visitors for over 100 years. From the power of African elephants to the small grace of the squirrel monkey, it’s always a pleasure to see these creatures moving about and interacting with one another. The zoo’s Trail of the Tiger exhibit is especially thrilling for park visitors with the Malayan tigers, small-clawed otters, orangutans, gibbons and rhinoceros hornbills.


Norfolk Botanical Garden

Norfolk’s botanical garden is a student-friendly environment offering programs for youth interested in learning more about the region’s flora and fauna. Thousands of flowers and plants provide unique learning experiences for all ages. Popular programs for students include astronomy evenings and the annual Aquafire. Teachers and education professionals will find extensive resources online for making the most of a visit to the garden.

On the Water


One of the most popular attractions for students and educators alike is Nauticus, an interactive maritime-themed science center featuring world-class exhibits along with films, the Battleship Wisconsin and the Hampton Roads Naval Museum. Celebrating the spread of maritime commerce and, of course, the world’s largest Navy, this hands-on museum is a must see on any trip to Norfolk. The city’s port was a crucial factor in making the city a key player during the country’s formative years, and Nauticus is at the center of the action on the city’s waterfront.

Nauticus Campus Shot

The Learning Barge

The best way to teach students stewardship of natural places is with a hands-on approach to learning. The unique Learning Barge is a creation of the Elizabeth River Project and has educated around 55,000 people since it launched in 2009 – over 20,000 of which were grade 12 or younger. The barge is powered by sun and wind and equipped with live wetlands, an enclosed classroom, composting toilets and a rainwater filtration system. With a goal of teaching visitors how to properly restore the Elizabeth River, it is also a catalyst for creating positive attitudes and actions toward our planet’s natural spaces.

American Rover Field Trip

With a ship serving as a museum for maritime history and a barge teaching conservation to young and old, the only thing left is to take the helm. An organized field trip aboard the American Rover lets students get a firsthand look at what it takes to command such a ship. They will help to set the sails, steer the ship and tie knots.

Kayak Nature Tours

Navigating the waterways of Norfolk while observing wildlife and plant life is a great way to actively engage students and turn the outdoors into their classroom. Kayaking tours are designed to give everyone a truly educational and memorable adventure.


Music, Sweet Music

Virginia Symphony Orchestra

Whether or not you are traveling with musicians, everyone can learn from and appreciate the splendor of the Virginia Symphony Orchestra. Their performances captivate audiences and bring to life pieces from across the decades Student groups in particular are invited to arrange a “Q & A” session with the conductor, music director and musicians that is followed with a backstage tour of the symphony hall. You won’t soon forget this insider look at one of the city’s cultural icons, and it is a great way to learn more about production and performance from the pros.

History on Foot

Cannonball Trail

A trip to Norfolk wouldn’t be complete without a trip along the Cannonball Trail. This self-guided walk takes you past sites that were key in shaping the history of the United States. There are nearly 50 places of significance along the trail, including the Confederate Monument and Monticello Arcade, just to name a few. There is no better way to experience history with your students than to walk the trail, and imaginations will run wild thinking back to the days when our country was still in its infancy. The trail can be walked in as little as two hours, but for a full immersive experience be sure to allot extra time.

Cannonball Trail_2

Norfolk is popular among student groups, and with good reason. The delightful mix of history and nature with urban flair makes this unique city a perfect trip for students of all ages. Start planning today and take advantage of all the educational opportunities that Norfolk has to offer.