I’ve lived near Norwich all my life and each year, usually in the summer (such as it is) I always take a week off just to be a tourist in my home city! When you live and work somewhere on a day to day basis you tend to forget about all the local museums, parks and activities right on your doorstep. Norwich was the UK’s second city from medieval times right through to the industrial revolution, which has left a great deal or heritage, culture and architecture to explore.
There are over 1,500 buildings in Norwich that are classed as historical and the best way to get an overview of exactly what’s here is to take a sightseeing tour. There is an open top bus service that runs from Easter though to October daily and visits most of the key sites in one trip. You can hop on and off when a particular sight takes your fancy. Or try a walking tour which gets down the cobbled side streets and up close to the buildings which a bus tour just can’t do.
Top of most people’s must-see lists, and mine included, is the Cathedral Quarter. Take a stroll down Tombland, a cobbled old Saxon marketplace which is now home to many bars and restaurants and also provides the main entrances to Norwich Cathedral. Norwich Cathedral is Romanesque in design, has the second tallest spire in the UK and has stood for over 900 years.
You can stroll around the cloisters, explore the carefully maintained gardens and even attend orchestral concerts and special events. It’s worth noting that Norwich actually has two cathedrals and the second is St John The Baptist Cathedral, with gothic architecture and the second largest Roman Catholic cathedral in the UK, dating from 1910.
You can then cross over Tombland and head up Elm Hill, the city’s most famous cobbled and medieval street which was completely rebuilt after a fire in 1507 decimated the area. Several big-budget films have featured Elm Hill and the street is lined with Tudor timber-framed properties that house quaint specialist shops, antiques sellers and cafes.
Walk out of the top of Elm Hill and head past St Andrews Hall until you come to my favourite building in Norwich; Strangers Hall. If I won the lottery I would dearly love to live here! Stranger’s Hall is incredibly well preserved and is Norwich’s oldest building, dating back to 1320. You can wander around the connecting passageways, through the rooms which are all decorated and furnished in various periods. There is the Tudor Great Hall where dancing and craft displays are often enacted, the beautiful Georgian Dining Room which overlooks the serene lavender garden which you can also visit.
From here you can walk through Norwich Lanes, a collection of old side streets which is classed as the ‘independent quarter’ of Norwich. In reality this means there are around 150 independent shops, cafes, pubs and businesses. If you’re looking for something unique or quirky then the lanes are your place for street theatre, vintage clothes and furniture and an annual summer fayre. This is a welcome relief from the two large local shopping malls; Castle Mall and Chapelfield. Norwich is consistently ranked in the top ten of UK shopping destinations!
Head away from The Lanes via Norwich Market, the largest outdoor market in the UK, and also the oldest at over 800 years old. The market is open six days a week and sells just about everything from vintage clothing, fresh local fish (including the local Cromer crab), secondhand books, fresh hot food, flowers etc. There are some notable buildings surrounding the market as well such as the 15th Century Guildhall which houses a café and gift shop, City Hall which is art-deco in style and offers trips up the tower each summer and Jarrolds, Norwich’s local independent department store which has held a special place in local people’s hearts for the last 200 years.
Heading away from the market is the Castle, which if you’ve already walked around for a while, you would have seen peeking out from the skyline. Set in well maintained, beautifully planted gardens, Norwich Castle was constructed over 900 years ago by the Normans to be used as a royal palace. Most visitors come to explore the fine art collections, archaeological displays, natural history exhibits, dungeon tours and battlement trips, where on a clear day you can see for miles over Norfolk.
There is tons more to do, see and explore in Norwich and indeed the surroundings areas. So wear your most comfortable shoes and get out there!