Sources: World Population Review, Wikipedia
The first thing to know about Norfolk is that it’s a part of the 757—a metro area of Southeastern Virginia comprising seven major cities: Norfolk, Chesapeake, Hampton, Newport News, Portsmouth, Suffolk, and Virginia Beach.
In many ways, Norfolk serves as the urban center of the area, both unique in culture and assimilated into the surrounding ecosystem. Home to the world’s largest naval base, Norfolk has been on people’s radar for quite some time. But in many ways, the city’s military history has overshadowed how truly creative the city has become.
The NEON (New Energy of Norfolk) district has emerged as a vibrant ode to the city’s creative culture. Longtime cultural institutions like the Chrysler Museum of Art and Harrison Opera House anchor the area, while studio-based ventures like the d'Art Center and the Rutter Family Art Foundation provide independent artists a place to build. Smaller shops along the way offer fresh outlets for creativity, like the community-focused Cardinal Skate Shop, or the permanent artistry of Tender Heart Tattoo. If you’re into wide expanses of obvious talent, murals are everywhere—each with a story of their own, and often sponsored by local organizations.
For decades, Granby Street was home to the bustling fervor of a coastal city. Now, it’s known as Restaurant Row—a vibrant and walkable downtown that continues to grow in importance. Just down the street, you’ll find Assembly, a new endeavor from the founder of digital agency Grow. Purpose-built to host a curated community of like-minded professionals, the space is home to some of the area’s inspiring creative and technology companies. Other creative agencies throughout the city—like Sway Creative Labs, Have A Good Day, and Istoria—offer additional spirit to the 757.
But if you’re looking for a more historical take on the city, don’t worry. Your creative prowess can only be bolstered by exploring the Ghent and Freemason Districts, each offering friendly shopping, fresh eateries, and over 400 years of history to stroll by.
Vibes wouldn’t be complete without knowing the best nightlife spots—found at both new options (like Slowdive, a bodega and gallery) and old (like NorVa, the area’s iconic venue). And if you must know, NorVa was voted Best Live Music Venue in the country by Rolling Stone, so you know it’s good. Must eat food is everywhere in the city, from Doumar’s Barbecue, to Handsome Biscuit, to Cure Coffeehouse. There’s not really a way to do things wrong.
To cap it all off, the beach town feel of Norfolk runs deep. Take some time to hit up the relaxing beachside communities of Ocean View and East Beach to unwind and find a bit of solace. The coast doesn’t come without responsibility, though. The city is also home to the Elizabeth River Project, which focuses on leading community efforts to restore the environmental health of the river, while RISE is a non-profit whose mission is to accelerate innovation and business growth around solutions to emerging coastal resilience challenges.
“Norfolk is weird. I think it’s the weirdness of Norfolk that makes it work. We’ve all got our own brand of being strange—outlandish ideas aren’t rare, they’re all around. I mean, we’re probably not doing anything that other large cities haven’t done. But we’re suburbia, spread out over the 757, coming together to make something together as a city.”Navid RahmanIllustrator, Muralist, and Teacher
Photography by Nate Ryan
To further understand the vibrancy and nuance of the top three cities in our index, our WeTransfer team sat down with creative professionals who live, work, and play there to hear how the city has influenced them—and vice versa.
As told to WeTransferMuralist, professor, illustrator, and community member Navid Rahman shares the creative foundation (and long-lasting friendships) that food service offered, the captivating allure of the 757 area, and how he teaches the acceptance of rejection to budding artists.Read more
As told to WeTransferFounders of Get Well Soon, a self-care sanctuary in Norfolk, Zahra Ahmad and Virginia Thornton share their commitment to inclusive healing, the creative legacy of Norfolk they’ve built their foundation on, and the constant back-and-forth encouragement their partnership supplies.Read more
As told to WeTransferCreative director Dani Meluski-Jimenez dives into personality’s outsized influence on creativity, the power that comes with accessible opportunity, and the professional growth waiting for you wherever you settle down—if you look for it.Read more
A staple in the Norfolk community, Careyann has led the creation and operations of a small business retail market and incubator, called Selden Market, an initiative of the Downtown Norfolk Council. The market features local shops, food, rotating pop-ups and community events. Recently she opened The Slowdive Gallery, a DIY artspace turned gallery, bodega and venue, with her partner Charles Rasputin.
“You’re often just one degree away from some really incredible people in fashion, design, music, film, whatever. That gives you opportunities that you don't always get in a lot of larger cities. And the sense of love and support for each other—it’s everywhere here.” Careyann WeinbergDirector of Selden Market
Norfolk holds the line. And if you’ve glimpsed what it has to offer, you speak up and share it with the world.