[ad] In November I was incredibly excited to visit Norwich for the second time this year with Visit Norwich and Head East for a weekend packed with art, culture and history to enjoy everything the city has to offer!
Norwich is one of a handful of UNESCO Cities of Literature – a title which it gained in 2012 and should already highlight to you that this really is a destination to celebrate the Arts with a great dose of fun to be had! The short break was full of activities from tasty treats in stunning historic settings to exceptional modern art exhibitions and soaking up the beauty of the city whilst walking its streets.
On top of this, everywhere I visited felt incredibly safe, with venues taking plenty of measures to ensure visitors feel comfortable and safe, whether this is through one way systems, excellent cleaning and / or limited bookings with time slots. This means you can enjoy exploring the city without safety concerns which is so important right now. Having visited places that seem too busy or without many measures I can absolutely say I felt very happy with everywhere I visited and the measures they were taking made the trip so much more stress free 😊
1. Norwich Cathedral
The majestic form of Norwich Cathedral rises up above the city and has been a massive presence in the city for over 900 years! It takes up a considerable space on the skyline where the tower rises up to 96m. It also takes up plenty of space on the ground all around Cathedral Close.
Visit the interior of the Cathedral for peace and tranquility in the busyness of the city centre and to admire the stunning architecture, stained glass windows and vaulted ceiling. I enjoyed a wander through the cloisters which (I think!) are the part of the cathedral that have featured in Harry Potter!
After admiring the interior of the cathedral head outside and spend time wandering around Cathedral Close. There’s some great views of the building to be found and a particular favourite of mine is through the Erpingham Gate. Make sure to take a look at the herb garden which was originally created by monks and recreated again more recently, then enjoy the Riverside Walk and make sure to keep your eyes peeled for Pull’s Ferry.
2. Strangers’ Hall
Disappear under the mysterious archway on Charing Cross and be transported back to an incredible Tudor home in the heart of Norwich. This is the Strangers’ Hall Museum. Some parts of the building date back as far as the 1320s so it has seen the city change and evolve through much of its journey. This house is where many of the significant and important families of Norwich have lived.
The Strangers’ Hall has been set up as a time capsule of life in Norwich for these wealthier residents and gives you a real feel for what life would have been like in the city at various points over time. Step out into the back garden to admire more of the exterior architecture and for a peaceful spot amongst the bustling city.
3. City of Stories Walking Tour
A great way to learn about Norwich’s history is through a walking tour with the knowledgeable Paul Dickson. Paul’s City of Stories tour totally immersed us in the stories of Norwich and its important residents all the way from The Forum to the Cathedral. It made such a difference to the rest of our weekend by starting with a walking tour because it gave a much greater appreciation for the places we were walking past and the people who had strolled the streets before us. I particularly loved that Paul read snippets of description from writers that had visited Norwich to really transport us back in time to the city of its past!
Check out Paul’s website here to choose which is the right tour for you 👟
4. Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell
The Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell is a fascinating walk through Norwich’s history via a series of engaging and informative exhibits. This was such a good way to learn about how the city has been shaped and changed during its lifetime all the way from its origins, through its thriving textile industry and position as England’s second city to its modern day history and even through to the history of its football team – the beloved Canaries!
I thoroughly enjoyed this museum and it gave me a great perspective on the city and how it has been moulded into the city you see today.
5. Independent Shopping
Norwich has some excellent independent shopping and has kept a wonderfully varied high street shopping district in comparison to many other big cities and towns in England. This means you’ll be able to find plenty of unique gifts and treats to take home whilst supporting the local business owners and economy.
The best place for independent shopping is in and around Norwich Lanes which is an area of alleys and spaces filled with gems to uncover. My particular favourites are The Book Hive & Elm!
6. Sainsbury Centre
Head out of the city centre to the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts which is located right in the heart of the UEA (University of East Anglia) campus out to the west of Norwich City Centre. The first thing that strikes you is the vastness of the building followed by the outdoor sculptures. Incredibly students in accommodation can enjoy this art throughout their time – especially those looking out to the Sainsbury Centre.
The permanent collection at the Sainsbury is an eclectic mix of exhibits from a number of collections pulled together with the majority from Robert & Lisa Sainsbury. It has a wonderful selection to enjoy from the likes of Degas, Bacon and Picasso combined with ancient sculptures and ceramics. When I visited there was a number of temporary exhibitions to experience, including ceramics by the exceptional Grayson Perry! Check out what’s on by visiting their website.
7. Independent Coffee Shops
On my first visit to Norwich one of my distinct memories was of the number of coffee shops there seemed to be – a different independent on every corner! Unfortunately my caffeine tolerance level means I can’t try them all but if you consider yourself a coffee connoisseur (or maybe you just need one to function in the morning!) make sure to head to one of Norwich’s plenitude of coffee spots! This time I went to Kofra which is located on the lovely Upper St Giles which has plenty of choice.
8. Norwich Market
Norwich Market is one of the oldest and largest outdoor markets in England. In fact, a market has been held in this spot since the end of the 11th century which is astounding to think about when you look over the Market from St Peter’s Street. Today there are nearly 200 stalls and it’s a great place to hunt for a new clothing gem to take home or, as I did, grab lunch to go, between your exploring! There’s plenty to choose from – Chinese, Hog Roast, Italian Street Food, Chilean Dishes…just to name a few…. the hard part is choosing what to have!
9. Chris Levine at Houghton Hall
About an hour’s drive from Norwich is the wonderful Houghton Hall which has a an incredible Chris Levine installation. So, if you drove to Norwich then you need to book tickets and you can find out more info here (until 23rd December 2021). It’s a mind boggling, mesmerising experience which will leave you awestruck. It’s a great alternative (with a contemporary art twist) to attend instead of Christmas lights this year and well worth the hour drive out of the city. If you miss it for Christmas then don’t fear! Houghton Hall has other exhibitions so keep your eyes on their website to see what comes up next.
10. Elm Hill
Elm Hill is possibly the most well known and most photographed street in Norwich. Stroll the cobbled stones (be careful they’re slippery!) and you’ll find out for yourself. I love coming down here because it’s so pretty and there are so many ancient buildings you would be forgiven for thinking you’ve stumbled back in time. Make sure to have a look at the charming Bear Shop as well!
Paul’s tour took us down this street and he told us many tales that the colourful facades keep secret… In 1507 a devastating fire ravaged the city of Norwich and many buildings were lost to the flames. Many of the buildings on Elm Hill had to be rebuilt after this but look out for the building that used to be The Britons Arms as this survived and so predates the fire!
In the 1920s much of Norwich city centre had become a slum area where the yards leading off many streets had become vastly overcrowded, including here at Elm Hill. The council proposed pulling the whole area down to build a swimming pool but a group called the Norwich Society protested and the destruction did not take place. Thank goodness we still have this gem to enjoy today!
11. Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery
The Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery has an unusual setting inside the vast, fort-like hulk of Norwich Castle, sitting high above the city on Castle Hill. Inside there are lots of exhibits that span Natural History to Boudicca & The Romans and even a Twinings Tea Pot gallery of (you guess it!) tea pots through the years! There’s surely something to suit everyone’s cup of tea 😉
In the Art Gallery section of the Norwich Castle galleries you’ll find works by the likes of Turner and Gainsborough. There’s also a number of paintings by the Norwich School of Painters which provides an insight into Norfolk life.
12. Assembly House
The Assembly House is the perfect place to stay for a cultural break in Norwich because it’s really in the centre of it all (and right next to the Theatre Royal!) and so much is within walking distance for you. The hotel is situated in the most gorgeous Grade I listed Georgian building designed in 1754. Their afternoon tea is an absolute must even if you don’t stay here (although trust me I will continue to do my best to convince you it’s a great idea 😉) because not only is it delicious but you can enjoy it in a setting where you can just imagine dances taking place as in a Jane Austen novel!
At the moment the afternoon tea is Narnia themed which means the sweet treats are to the theme and super cute as well as very tasty. Think fawn cupcakes, shortbread snowflakes and Turkish Delight macarons! I’m getting hungry just thinking about it again 😄
So. If you’re looking for somewhere with a luxurious feel, with individually curated and designed rooms then you have got to book in here! I stayed in two different rooms and honestly could have stayed much longer in either! Room 2 felt very cosy whilst Room 1 is the jewel in the hotel’s selection… Check out more here.
To say Room 1 is really doing it a disservice – it’s actually a suite and probably the nicest hotel room I’ve ever stayed in! You have three massive rooms to yourself: bedroom, living area and a humongous bathroom! The bath made it even better 😀
13. Country & Eastern
For a unique souvenir of your trip to Norwich then a trip to the Country & Eastern is a must. This is the museum shop for the South Asia Collection and combines intriguing artefacts with gorgeous craft goods in a unique space.
The shop is dedicated to items from artisans and crafters mostly from the South Asia region. The fabrics are divine and the furniture would make a unique addition to your home. So if unusual, hand crafted products are right up your street you have to step in the doors of the Country & Eastern to discover a treasure trove to choose from!
14. Bowling House
Norwich has plenty of fun activities to keep you entertained and one that is sure to have you bowled over (sorry!) with amusement is a spot of retro bowling at the wonderful Bowling House. It has a great selection of food and drinks as well to keep you refreshed and ready for action! This is a great way to let off some steam and enjoy an evening of hilarity after an action packed day of culture and exploring 🎳
So what are you waiting for?! Get planning your weekend full of culture in Norwich and beyond with Head East here!