Why visit Norwich, the county town of Norfolk? Perhaps for the cobbled streets, the medieval buildings and the many historic pubs. Or because it is the most complete medieval town in Britain. Or just for its enviable situation, in the Norfolk Broads National Park. So what are the best things to do in Norwich, and how can you spend a day (or more) there?
The Medieval City Of Norwich, Norfolk
According to the architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner, “Norwich has everything”. It was one of England’s largest cities in the middle ages, with an impressive castle and cathedral.
Norwich has old streets, medieval churches and a wealth of historic buildings. And parts of the old city walls can still be seen.
Norwich Cathedral describes itself as “the most complete Norman cathedral in England and one of finest examples of Romanesque architecture in Europe”. That is a lot to live up to, but it is certainly a magnificent building, with a near perfect Norman interior.
The cloisters are among the largest in the country, with a labyrinth (created in 2002) at their centre. Have a look at this virtual tour of Norwich Cathedral for more architectural detail.
The Cathedral Close
At 44 acres, the Cathedral close is also one of the largest in England. This is a pleasant area of parkland surrounded by grand houses. It would originally have been enclosed, and as you approach from the city centre you will see two of the original medieval gateways. These are the Erpingham Gate and the Ethelbert Gate, arched entrances with elaborate stone carvings.
Norwich Castle was built on what passes for a hill in East Anglia (in reality a mound rising from the surrounding flat landscape). It was originally intended as a Norman palace, but was later used as a prison.
Today the Castle is a museum and art gallery. Visitors can explore the castle itself, as well as exhibitions of local history and the museum’s art collection.
The 15th century Guildhall is an imposing structure, its exterior clad in the characteristic Norfolk flint. It was formerly the centre of local government, and also housed a courtroom, prison and chapel. The interior is ornate and includes stained glass and oak panelling. Guided tours of the Guildhall are sometimes available – check with the Tourist Information Office for details.
Other Medieval Buildings
One of the oldest houses in Norwich is the Strangers’ Hall, a Tudor building with 13th century origins. It was at one time occupied by Flemish weavers (“strangers”) who had fled oppression in their homeland. Today the Strangers’ Hall is open as a museum.
St Andrew’s Hall and Blackfriars’ Hall are a complex of flint buildings that housed a priory in the 14th century. And Dragon Hall is a merchant’s house built around 1430.
Elm Hill is probably one of the most famous sights in Norwich. A cobbled lane lined with timber-framed houses, it has featured in many film and television productions. Apart from its attractive appearance, Elm Hill is popular with tourists for its restaurants and antique shops.
Norwich City Walls
As was common in the middle ages, the city was once surrounded by a wall. The Norwich walls were begun in 1294, built from the local flint. They are no longer complete, but substantial sections remain.
Other Things To Do In Norwich
The medieval city may be the main draw, but Norwich has other attractions for tourists. There is green space, including riverside walks and parks. The Plantation Garden (sometimes called the “secret garden”) is a heritage site full of quirky features.
Then there is the shopping and the eating…
The Lanes And The Royal Arcade
The Lanes are a series of shopping streets close to the Guildhall and the market. The streets and alleyways are old, but they are mostly visited for their independent shops, cafés and restaurants.
Nearby is the Royal Arcade. This is an ornate Arts and Crafts style shopping arcade opened in 1899. It is a two-storey confection of coloured tiles, stained glass and lanterns, and home to many smart shops.
Eating And Drinking In Norwich
The historic centre is full of pubs, restaurants and cafés. I enjoyed lunch at the Belgian Monk, housed in an ancient building. This serves mussels and other Belgian specialities, and also has an extensive vegetarian and vegan menu.
If you’re looking for something more substantial, there is a whole range of restaurants, from casual to fine dining. Norwich is the home of the celebrity chef Delia Smith, and you can find her restaurant, Delia’s Restaurant and Bar, within the grounds of Norwich City Football Club.
How To Visit Norwich
You can visit Norwich as a day trip from London or as part of a longer trip around East Anglia. The city is well connected by train, with direct services from London Liverpool Street and to other towns in East Anglia. If you are arriving by car you may find it easier to park on the outskirts and to use one of the Park and Ride services into the centre.
And, if you’re inspired to explore the region further, read about The Best Places To Visit In East Anglia.