What to see in Norwich – An Insider’s guide

Norwich is my home city, quite why I’ve never written about her is a mystery to me. So here it is, what to see in Norwich – an insider’s guide. Come with me to discover a city with more medieval churches than anywhere else north of the Alps, fine Victorian buildings and a sleek modern museum.

Norwich Market place and castle
Norwich Market was mentioned in the Domesday Book people have been shopping in the shadow of the castle for nearly a thousand years.

WHAT TO SEE IN NORWICH

Norwich is a fine city, it is the most complete medieval city in England, when I was growing up we used to say that there was a church for every week and a pub for every day of the year. Norwich is easy to get to, perfect for a weekend break or as a base to explore more that Norfolk has to offer.

NORWICH CATHEDRAL

For my money, Norwich Cathedral is the best Cathedral anywhere. I confess that when I was growing up I only had York and Ely to compare it with but now I’ve seen too many to count, all over the world. It is the yardstick by which I judge every ecclesiastical building that I visit. It is the most complete Norman Cathedral in England. The tall and graceful spire is the second tallest in England, the cloisters are second only to Salisbury in size and the surrounding Cathedral Close is one of the largest in Europe and has more people actually living in it than any other.

Inside, the main nave is lofty and light. That glowing white limestone is not Norfolk stone but from Caen, shipped here from William the Conqueror’s home city. There are magnifying mirrors in the nave, make sure you use them to check out the amazing roof bosses. There are more than 1,000 of them telling stories from the bible. You can even download a Norwich Cathedral Roof Boss app!

Norwich Cathedral Nave roof
The bosses on Norwich Cathedral Nave ceiling tell the story of Christ’s life, use one of the magnifying mirrors to take a closer look.

My journey to and from school allowed me time in between buses to explore. I have spent many hours wandering around the Cloisters of Norwich Cathedral channelling my inner medieval monk. They are a wonderful calm space with great views up to the spire. Look up and you will see more intricately carved bosses. See if you can find the Green Man one.

PULL’S FERRY

Pull’s Ferry can be found at the river end of the Cathedral Close, although you can’t actually go in it. This medieval flint building was once a watergate. It was the way that limestone used to build the Cathedral was brought in. In the 11th century a canal flowed from the river up to the Cathedral. The name comes from the ferryman John Pull who used to run the ferry across the river Wensum in the early 19th century.

Pulls Ferry Norwich
Pull’s Ferry Norwich, the limestone for Norwich Cathedral came through here on a specially dug canal.

ELM HILL

Go out of the main door of the Cathedral, turn right and right again and you will find yourself at the foot of Elm Hill. A cobbled road winds its way up the hill (yes, a hill – don’t let anybody tell you that Norfolk is flat) edged with fine medieval buildings leaning in. Once you’ve made it to the top, pop into the fine Tudor building at the top that has housed the Briton’s Arms tearooms for as long as I can remember.

Elm Hill Norwich
Elm Hill in Norwich is timeless, my great parents would have seen the same view.

ST ANDREW’S AND BLACKFRIARS’ HALLS

As you sit in the Briton’s Arms take a look at the huge flint building opposite. These are the St Andrew’s and Blackfriars’ Halls. When I was growing up they were the venue for concerts, plant shows (my father was a horticulturist, we went to a lot of plant shows) and the like and they still are. What I didn’t know then was that they are the most complete medieval priory complex to survive in the UK.

St Andrews Hall, Norwich
St Andrew’s and Blackfriars’ Halls, Norwich the most complete medieval priory complex in England

NORWICH MARKET PLACE

Sitting in the heart of the city of Norwich is a market. Stalls selling fruit, vegetables, flowers, food, fish and chips and clothes under brightly coloured awnings open six days a week and have done since the 11th century.

Norwich Market
Fruit from my family fruit farm used to be sent to be sold on Norwich Market

GUILDHALL

Right next to the market place is the magnificent flint Guildhall. It is one of the oldest and most ornate in the country and was the seat of city governance until 1930 when the new City Hall opened up behind it.

Norwich Guildhall
Norwich Guildhall was the seat of City government until the 1930’s

THE ASSEMBLY HOUSE

Norwich isn’t all Norman and medieval. The Assembly House is all Georgian splendour. It was designed in 1754 by Thomas Ivory as a venue for concerts and dances, the place for Norfolk Elizabeth Bennetts to meet their Darcys. When I was growing up it housed tea rooms and a cinema and was the venue small art shows. Nowadays the cinema is long gone but the tea rooms remain and it has become a small hotel.

Assembly House Norwich
Is that Mr Darcy that I see arriving? The Assembly House has been the venue for social gatherings in Norwich for over 200 years.

NORWICH MUSEUMS

It was in Norwich that my love of museums was kindled. Norwich has history oozing out of every street corner but it was in the museums that I learnt to love the stories and they are among my favourite places to visit in Norwich.

NORWICH CASTLE

Norwich Castle is a proper Norman castle, just like the drawings of motte and bailey castles that you drew at school. It stands proudly on its mound, four square with proper crenellations. It was built on the instructions of the William the Conqueror soon after 1066. In the 13th century it became a prison, which it remained until 19th century. Then it was decided to turn the castle into a museum and art gallery, the man chosen for the job was Edward Boardman ….. of whom more later.

If you hanker after finding out Queen Boudica (local girl) and her Iceni tribe or seeing magnificent golden Anglo Saxon torcs found locally, this is the place to come. The art gallery has a fine selection of Norwich School artists like John Sell Cotman and John Crome as well as the beguiling painting of the Paston Treasure.

Norwich Castle
Norwich Castle was built by William the Conqueror and converted to a museum by my Great Great Grandfather, Edward Boardman

When I was a child it was dungeons, dragons and ramparts that were the main attraction for me. Dragons were an important medieval symbol in Norwich, Snapdragons were made to take part in public processions, the last of these hung suspended in the main keep. Tours are available of dungeons and ramparts, in the 70s they turned the lights out for the full medieval prisoner experience.

  • Norwich Castle Museum, Castle Hill, Norwich
  • Open: Monday to Saturday 10am-4.30pm, Sunday 1pm-4.30pm
  • Admission: Adult £9.50, children £8.10, family tickets available

STRANGERS’ HALL

Strangers’ Hall dates back to the 14th century it has been home to some of Norwich’s most important families. The Strangers’ name dates back to Elizabethan times when England welcomed religious refugees from Europe. Skilled weavers were encouraged to settle in Norwich and were lodged here. Nowadays it is a museum dedicated to showing how Norwich homes would have looked over time. Great Tudor would have been held in the Great Hall, each room is laid out in one particular period and tells the story of both the time and occupant. Stories swirl around, you get a keen sense of the people that made Norwich.

  • Strangers’ Hall, Charing Cross, Norwich
  • Open: Wednesday 10am–4pm, Sunday 1–4.30pm
  • Admission: Adults £5.20, Children £4, family tickets available

MUSEUM OF NORWICH AT THE BRIDEWELL

Norwich was the centre of the UK cracker making industry, Tom Smith Crackers even held the Royal Warrant

Norwich was a busy industrial centre, textiles, shoes, mustard, chocolate, crackers and areoplanes were all made here when I was a child. The Bridewell museum tells the story of Norwich and her industries. Colman’s Mustard, Jarrolds printers, Caley’s chocolate and Boulton and Paul Aeroplanes. Norwich Union insurance was founded here. The Bridewell tells the story of these industries and the people who worked for them.

  • Bridewell Museum, Bridewell Alley, Norwich
  • Open: Tuesday – Saturday – 10am-4.30pm
  • Admission: Adults £5.95, Children £5, family tickets available

SAINSBURY CENTRE FOR VISUAL ARTS

Sainsbury Centre Norwich

Norwich is not all medieval. Head out to the University which is pure sixties brutalist. Denys Lasdun, the man who designed the National Theatre in London, is the architect of the concrete buildings. Right on the edge of the campus is what looks like an aircraft hanger but is in fact an art gallery designed by Norman Foster. It houses the Sainsbury family collection of art, click on the blue words to read my post about the Sainsbury Centre.

  • Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, UEA, Norwich
  • Open: Tuesday – Friday 10am-6pm, Saturday – Sunday 10am-5pm
  • Admission: Free except special exhibitions

EDWARD BOARDMAN, NORWICH ARCHITECT

As you wander around Norwich you will see many fine Victorian buildings. In the main they are designed either by George Skipper or Edward Boardman. Edward Boardman is my great, great grandfather and so I’m going to write about him! One of his first buildings was the Princes Street Congregational church, nowadays the old school house houses the school of architecture of the Norwich School of the Arts and is called Boardman House. He designed the huge Royal Hotel on Agricultural Plain, in its day it was the most luxurious hotel and now a business centre. If you pop into Jack Wills, take a look at the building, Edward Boardman designed it. As previously mentioned he oversaw the conversion of the castle from a gaol to a museum.

WHERE IS NORWICH?

I’m always stunned when I’m asked this question! Simply put, Norwich is the capital of Norfolk which is the top of the bump that sticks out on the right of England. Norwich is further north than Birmingham, this is a fact that I trot out when Midlanders accuse me of being a Southerner. To get to Norwich from Birmingham head east on the A14 and then the A11, trains from Birmingham are direct but stop everywhere. From London, trains take 2 hours from Liverpool Street Station, if you want to drive you can either head up the M11 and then the A11 or up the A12 and then the A140.

WHERE TO STAY IN NORWICH

I confess that I usually stay with my mother when I visit Norfolk, so here are places that I have either stayed in, visited or know well.

MAIDS HEAD

The Maids Head has culture oozing out the brickwork, it is the oldest hotel in England. It is in Tombland, just outside the Cathedral and handy for Elm Hill. If you are a fan of CJ Samson’s Shardlake series of novels, the Maids Head features in Tombland, the latest novel, with Shardlake staying here.

Maids Head Hotel
Maids Head Hotel …. the oldest in England

Assembly House

My teenage, Jane Austen driven, dreams of taking rooms at the Assembly House can now come true. Eleven rooms are now available, some with private gardens! Be still my beating heart.

THE VINE HOUSE

Not an hotel and not in Norwich. The Vine House is in the village I grew up in overlooking a vineyard, sleeps six in three bedrooms. Bergh Apton is about 8 miles outside Norwich and public transport is patchy, so you will need a car if you stay here.

WHERE TO EAT IN NORWCH

ASSEMBLY HOUSE

Assembly House Norwich
Time for tea … make sure you look up as you eat your scones.

Afternoon tea under the twinkling chandeliers of the Assembly House is as fine an afternoon tea experience as you can hope to have. They also do good coffee and lunch.

  • Assembly House, Theatre Street, Norwich
  • Open: Daily 8am-7pm

WAFFLE HOUSE

Possibly my favourite restaurant in the whole wide world. I concede that this rating is all wrapped up in many, many fond memories but here you can eat savoury waffles topped with savoury things, my choice would be garlic mushrooms with cheese sauce. For pudding I would select sweet waffle with bananas and ice cream, I would also carefully fill each waffle square with maple syrup before consuming.

  • Waffle House, 39 St Giles Street, Norwich
  • Open: Monday – Saturday 10am-10pm, Sunday 10am-9pm

BRITONS ARMS

Britons Arms Norwich
Britons Arms Norwich perfect for a cultural cup of coffee

If the Assembly House is for tea, then the Britons Arms is for morning coffee. The Britons Arms is housed in a tudor house at the top of Elm Hill, its floors and ceiling all slope in a suitably aged manner that make you feel as if you are on a ship. If the day is fine wend your way upstairs to the tiny garden.

  • Britons Arms, 9 Elm Hill, Norwich
  • Open: Monday – Saturday 9.30am-5pm

TEN BELLS

If Gin is your thing that the Ten Bells is for you, it is home to Norwich’s first gin distillery. If you want to know how your gin was made they run distillery tours too.

  • Ten Bells, 74-78 St Benedicts Street, Norwich
  • Open: Daily from noon

SHOPPING IN NORWICH

Royal Arcade Norwich
George Skipper’s Art Nouveau Royal Arcade still home Langley’s the toyshop

If you are after brands and big department stores then Norwich can supply them. It is with independent retailers that Norwich truly sparkles. You have the market, of course. Jarrolds, on the corner of Gentleman’s Walk and the market place, is a family owned department store with a fine food hall. At the back of Jarrolds you can find the area dubbed Norwich Lanes, there are hundreds of small shops selling all sorts of things tucked into Pottergate, St Benedicts and St Giles Streets. My favourite is Country and Eastern which is housed in a Victorian roller skating rink and sells furniture and textiles from the Far East. Grandest of all shopping venues is the Art Nouveau Arcade designed by George Skipper.

What to see in Norwich

Where is your home town? Do you still live there or have you moved away?

If you are tempted to explore Norfolk a bit more check out my posts about Seal Watching at Horsey, Crabbing at Wells next the Sea and Beachcombing at Cley.

CulturedKids
Suitcases and Sandcastles

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37 Comments

  1. January 10, 2019 / 9:18 am

    Great guide! Norwich is a fantastic city – although maybe I shouldn’t be saying that out loud as my home town is Ipswich?! 🙂

    • Catherine
      Author
      January 10, 2019 / 9:19 am

      Just don’t let the Tractor Boys hear you!

  2. January 10, 2019 / 9:21 am

    I think I’m in love! Norwich is beautiful! And if I grew up with a cathedral like that, I too would compare all others to this! But you lured me in for good at the mention of an afternoon tea! Haha! Pinned! Happy New Year! #FarawayFiles

    • Catherine
      Author
      January 10, 2019 / 9:27 am

      Happy New Year …. afternoon tea is always important!

  3. Trish @ Mum's Gone To
    January 10, 2019 / 10:53 am

    I’m ashamed to say, I don’t know Norwich at all which is ridiculous as I live at the edge of that big bump (did you mean right of England rather than left?) .
    I will definitely have a proper visit and will look our for your grandfather’s work. How proud you must be of his legacy.
    #farawayfiles

    • Catherine
      Author
      January 10, 2019 / 10:56 am

      I ALWAYS get right and left muddled up …. off to change. Would want people going to Wales by mistake!

      • Trish @ Mum's Gone To
        January 11, 2019 / 1:56 pm

        Hope you didn’t mind me letting you know! I had to check myself by holding my hands out haha.
        By the way, I’m back again commenting here for #culturedkids 🙂

        • Catherine
          Author
          January 11, 2019 / 3:21 pm

          Glad to know! You should head east, it’s not far from you

  4. kirstenhesketh1
    January 10, 2019 / 12:38 pm

    Wonderful. I really want to visit now x

  5. Clare Thomson
    January 10, 2019 / 3:08 pm

    Oh my goodness, Catherine, I literally had NO idea that Norwich was as beautiful as this! We used to drive past the exits lots of times when visiting relatives closer to the coast. I feel a total fool now for never having visited. You’ve convinced me that it has to be on this year’s list, no matter what. It does remind me a bit of Salisbury, the cathedral city where I grew up, although, dare I say it, it looks a bit prettier. Wonderful share for #FarawayFiles

    • Catherine
      Author
      January 10, 2019 / 4:02 pm

      It is a little bit like Salisbury but it has more old bits (well known cultural term ‘old buts’)

  6. January 10, 2019 / 5:25 pm

    I really enjoyed Norwich, it has so much history & I loved wandering around the Cathedral Close and Elm Hill. The Royal Arcade in the town is amazing. #farawayfiles

  7. January 10, 2019 / 7:26 pm

    I’ve visited it on a day trip , a long time ago! loved the castle 🙂 #farawayfiles

  8. January 11, 2019 / 10:44 am

    I had no idea Norwich was so charming and beautiful. The cathedral looks stunning, and I love the sound of the Britons Arms for tea, followed by a quick snifter at the Ten Bells. Road trip? #CULTUREDKIDS

    • Catherine
      Author
      January 11, 2019 / 11:07 am

      We definitely need a road trip!

  9. nickymacke
    January 11, 2019 / 8:43 pm

    What a great guide! I never knew that about the Christmas cracker industry! I made them in a factory in Bradford for six months to pay for my first backpacking trip back in the 90’s so I’m a bit of a geek when it comes to crackers! Thanks for sharing.

  10. January 12, 2019 / 8:56 am

    Norwich is my home city too and this is a fantastic guide. It really is worth a visit for people visiting the UK! Great post!

  11. Nancy
    January 12, 2019 / 9:31 am

    What an interesting post – Norwich sounds fabulous! I’ve never visited and now I’m just working out when. It must have been a lovely place to grow up and very special that you’ve got family connections to be proud of too.

  12. January 12, 2019 / 10:45 am

    I read this with a huge smile. Although I grew up in a village near Swaffham. Norwich is where we went for everything. I have so many happy memories of times in Norwich. I had the privilege of being a bridesmaid at the cathederal many years ago which was such a treat. The Waffle house is without doubt one of mine and my husbands favourite restaurant s. I always went for mushrooms and cheese sauce too followed by bananas and chocolate mouse. Ive never had such good waffles anywhere else. Brambles cafe was a favourite too. I used to buy writing paper from the shop which I think as underneath the cafe (?). It really is a wonderful city and despite regular trips to norfolk, I don’t get to visit the city nearly enough. Thank you so much for this gorgeous post. #Farawayfiles.

    • Catherine
      Author
      January 12, 2019 / 11:11 am

      I loved Brambles too and Head in the Clouds On Pottergate. Maybe we were there at the same time!

  13. January 12, 2019 / 1:45 pm

    I’d love to see that castle, looks amazing!

    • Catherine
      Author
      January 12, 2019 / 6:11 pm

      It is a proper story book castle!

  14. January 12, 2019 / 3:54 pm

    Nice guide! I had never heard of Norwich until today. I’d love to spend a month in England and visit the beautiful places around the country. Thanks for sharing.

    • Catherine
      Author
      January 12, 2019 / 6:11 pm

      England does have lots of beautiful places

  15. Anisa
    January 12, 2019 / 5:21 pm

    Great guide. I have not been to some of the museums or the waffle house, so will have to check that out. Let me know next time you are in the area and let’s have a coffee!

  16. January 12, 2019 / 7:50 pm

    I love Norwich. We’ve been a few times (as it is a manageable distance from London for a weekend away). Great guide, thanks for sharing.

  17. January 13, 2019 / 8:11 am

    I didn’t know Norwich was such a ‘cracker’. I visited once, v briefly, when I was filming there and all I saw was the market but there was a chilled atmosphere and I’d happily return, especially to see inside the cathedral.
    #culturedkids

    • Catherine
      Author
      January 13, 2019 / 9:05 am

      I have a long list of places I visited for filming and need to return to!

  18. January 14, 2019 / 10:40 am

    I’ve actually never been to Norwich. Some beautiful buildings, the cathedral looks amazing. #CulturedKida

    • Catherine
      Author
      January 14, 2019 / 8:10 pm

      Quick jump on a train now, only two hours from Liverpool Street!

  19. January 14, 2019 / 5:19 pm

    How cute is Pull’s Ferry? I love my history so this guide has helped me discover lots of old buildings I want to visit in the city now! #CulturedKids

    • Catherine
      Author
      January 14, 2019 / 5:36 pm

      Isn’t it lovely, my school bus used to go past it every day

  20. bavariansojourn
    January 14, 2019 / 7:52 pm

    It’s been so long since I have visited Norwich, and I have yet to set foot inside the cathedral, so I need to return soon. Lovely list of things to do and see, thank you! 🙂

    • Catherine
      Author
      January 14, 2019 / 8:10 pm

      Very child friendly and you have the Broads and seaside close at hand too

  21. January 18, 2019 / 9:34 am

    Such a lovely guide, you’ve made me want to go back! My partner grew up in Norwich, but we’ve only been once together. I loved the views from the museum rampart wall tour, and the Sainsbury Centre has such a great collection, in a wonderful modernist building. We made the mistake of not booking dinner for the Saturday night though and couldn’t get a table anywhere. I hope to see everything on this list next time #CulturedKids

    • January 18, 2019 / 9:37 am

      PS I love that your g g grandfather played such an important role in shaping the city (and the museum!)

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