A Local’s Guide to Norwich Norfolk

Historic buildings, a thriving food scene and cultural hub… Norwich is the perfect place for a quintessentially British break. In fact, there’s really nowhere better, because Norwich is known as one of the best small cities in the world!

The only city in Norfolk, Norwich is the most complete medieval city in the United Kingdom today. Home to cobbled streets, ancient buildings, half-timbered houses, the Art Nouveau 1899 Royal Arcade, twisting medieval lanes, and the winding River Wensum that flows through the city centre, Norwich is a feast of history and architecture.

Add to that the growing gastro scene in the city, the focus on culture, the arts and literature, the glorious Norfolk Broads, cool cafes and the flourishing mix of quirky independent boutiques and high street stalwarts, and it’s clear why Norwich is fast becoming one of the most popular cities in England.

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Norwich Norfolk

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Norwich – Getting There & Getting Around

Getting To Norwich

Norwich, Norfolk is within easy reach of the rest of the UK, with great transport links. You can get there by main line train in less than two hours. Simply take the regular Greater Anglia service from London Liverpool Street, which leaves every hour or so.

Alternatively, you can take a National Express coach from Victoria Coach Station. This takes around 4 hours depending on the time of day, but is often much cheaper – especially when booked in advance.

There are also good rail connections with Peterborough, Cambridge and King’s Lynn, making Norwich easily accessible from the whole country.

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Getting Around Norwich

Norwich is a compact city that’s easy to get around on foot, by bus or even by bike. First Bus Norfolk & Suffolk run regular services in and around Norwich and Norfolk.

There is also the Norfolk Coastlink service which connects Norwich with Great Yarmouth, and the regular X44 bus from Norwich to Cromer, where you can pick up the Norfolk Coasthopper bus which visits all the towns and villages along the North Norfolk Coast.

How about hiring a bike? It’s an excellent way to see the city and means you can get to more top attractions in the time you have. The Beryl Bike Share scheme, which is supported by Norwich City Council, means you can grab a bike at one of the many points in the city, and only pay for the time you use it!

If you need a local taxi company, my preferred one is ABC Taxis. You can call to book on +44 (0)1603 777333 or book online.

Scroll down for the interactive map of Norwich, covering everything listed in this post!

things to do in Norwich

What to Do & See in Norwich

Feast & Shop at Norwich Market

If you only do one thing in this pretty city, visit Norwich market. The 900 year old market is slap bang in the middle of the city, sprawling proudly at the feet of the contemporary Forum building and Norwich’s Art Deco city hall. One of the oldest open air markets left in the country, it runs pretty much all week.

Think organic Norfolk fruit and veg, local home-grown flowers and food stalls selling everything from legendary fish and chips (Ron’s, row D, stalls 94 and 95), fresh churros y chocolate to cakes and dressed Cromer crab. Grab your bite of choice and watch Norwich life go by.

Colourful stalls on Noriwhc market

Tour Norwich Cathedral

Built by the Normans between 1096 and 1145, and unique for its soft creamy limestone exterior, Norwich Cathedral is a must see on your Norwich itinerary. The fine 96 metre spire, the second highest in England after Salisbury Cathedral, is also famous for its nesting peregrine falcons, which have become the city’s most talked about residents.

With well-preserved Norman character, it’s a delightful place to visit for a few hours, especially when you also explore Tombland Alley, home to St. Ethelbert’s Gate (1272) and Erpingham Gate (1420), which lead into the idyllic Cathedral Close, with its wealth of historic buildings, including the medieval deanery.

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Norwich cathedral and green

Stroll to Elm Hill

The cathedral is close to Elm Hill, a picture-perfect medieval cobbled street near the River Wensum, which is lined with colourful and historic houses, many of them now pretty shops, restaurants, and cafes.

Colourful houses along Elm Hill Norwich

Norwich Castle is built on a large artificial mound in the centre of Norfolk’s capital city, and consists of a magnificent Norman keep constructed in 1095 by William II.

Norwich Castle is a medieval royal fortification, comissioned by William the Conqueror who ordered its construction in the aftermath of the Norman conquest of England. The castle was used as a gaol from 1220 to 1887, and is now home to the excellent Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery and the Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum.

The historic national importance of the Norwich Castle site was recognised in 1915 with its listing as a Scheduled Ancient Monument. In 1954, the castle buildings, including the keep, attached gothic style gatehouse and former prison wings, were given Grade I listed building status.

The Castle site comprises the 900 year old Castle, and a large gallery complex converted from the city’s Victorian prison, which houses internationally important collections in archaeology, natural history, regimental history, and fine, decorative and contemporary art.

Norwich Castle is one of a group of twelve heritage sites in Norwich, which were brought together as an international showcase of English urban and cultural development over the last 1,000 years, including architecture from the Norman, medieval, Georgian, Victorian and modern eras. The other eleven sites to visit are The Great Hospital (1249); The Halls – St Andrew’s and Blackfriars’ (1307–1470); The Guildhall (1407–1424); Dragon Hall (1427–1430); The Assembly House (1754–1755); St James Mill (1836–1839); The Cathedral of St John the Baptist (1884–1910); Surrey House (1900–1912); City Hall (1936–1938) and The Forum (1999–2001).

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Large stone Normal castle on a grassy mound with blue sky

Discover The King Street Quarter

King Street is one of the longest thoroughfares in Norwich and has historically been associated with fishing and the riverside industry. As trade from the river grew, so did the amount of sailors stopping in Norwich – and the amount of hostelries needed for them to visit! Of the 58 pubs which were once found on this street, only one survives today.

There are two very fine examples of historic houses along King Street. The Music House was once owned by a wealthy family and dates from the 12th century. It is thought to be the oldest surviving house in the city. 

Lost for centuries, the superb Grade One listed Dragon Hall, is a restored medieval trading hall dating from 1430. The breathtaking Great Hall features an impressive timber crown-post roof and intricately carved and painted dragon. It was once at the heart of an international trading empire, and would have been used to store and sell wool, cloth, timber, spices and other items of value.

Now, the National Centre for Writing is found at here, befitting for England’s first UNESCO City of Literature and honouring the greatest mystic of the Middle Ages, Julian of Norwich, who was the first woman to write a book in English.

exterior of medieval half timbered building

Go Shopping!

One of my favourite places in the city, the Norwich Lanes personify the lively and independent nature of the city. The Lanes are a series of mostly pedestrianised small lanes, alleyways and streets nestled between the market and the Castle Quarter, and home to the Victorian Royal Arcade.

Hidden away behind the Forum, just off Bethel Street, is The South Asia Collection Museum and Shop. In an architectural gem of a building, which was once a skating rink, this unique shopping experience is not to be missed.

Along the main shopping thoroughfare, you’ll find lots of brands and the incomparable Jarrolds of Norwich. This independent department store has been in this spot on London Street since 1840. As you enter, skip the cosmetics and head for the basement, where you’ll find a fantastic deli and small cafe, along with an award-winning book department – my happy place!

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People shopping in the Castle Quarter Norwich

Discover the City of Stories

Located in a 14th century merchant’s house in the Lanes, the Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell tells the stories of business and industry in the city over hundreds of years.

You’ll discover exhibitions about the medieval wool trade, which created a boom in the 13th century, and find out about other famous Norwich products like shoes, chocolate and mustard. There are also displays about how Norwich fared in the wars and the history of the building which houses the museum.

Just along the way on St Andrews Street is Strangers Hall, a Grade One Tudor merchant’s house which has been used as a museum of local history since the 1930s. The house boasts richly furnished 16th and 17th century interiors and exhibits that show how life was lived in Norwich over the centuries. Behind the house is a pretty knot garden, laid out in the 17th century.

Bottles and jars on shelves in an old fashioned shop

Stroll & Paddle the River Wensum

There is a wonderful mile long walk along the lush and tranquil river Wensum, which starts, surprisingly, just outside Norwich train station. Cross the bridge outside the station and on the right, walk through the patio at the Compleat Angler pub and down the stairs. Here you’ll find start of the path lined with statuesque weeping willows.

Follow the river heading north to picturesque Pull’s Ferry, past the Red Lion pub (where you can stop for a drink and watch their ‘resident’ kingfishers), and on to Cow Tower, one of the earliest artillery blockhouses in England which dates from 1398. Continue on the path until you reach Riverside Park, where you can cut through the pay and display car park, past the Adam and Eve pub to Norwich Cathedral.

If you fancy getting on the water instead, hire a paddle board or kayak from Norwich Paddleboard Hire at Gibraltar Gardens Pub opposite Anderson’s Meadow, and located right on the bank of the river. You can paddle up river through tranquil landscapes into the heart of the beautiful Norfolk countryside, or go south and explore Norwich city centre by the water, a fascinating way to see the city.

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Visit the Forum

Sandwiched between Norwich market and Chapelfield gardens, with St Peter Mancroft, Norwich’s largest 15th century parish church, standing guard, the The Forum is a contemporary landmark community building which is always busy.

Home to the Norfolk and Norwich Millennial Library and BBC East, you’ll also find street performers playing to the crowds outside, live music events, food and craft markets inside, or one of the many other events held here. It’s a great place to stop by, grab a coffee, and see what’s happening.

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Explore Norfolk Gins

There are four gin distilleries in Norwich, where you can visit and take a tour, try your hand at making gin and of course, sample signature gins. This is a fun way to spend a few hours, especially if the weather is not on your side!

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Norfolk gins

Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts

One of the first major public buildings to be designed by the architects Norman Foster and Wendy Cheesman, the Sainsbury Centre, in the grounds of UAE, was completed in 1978. Not only is this a stunning contemporary building, it is also a light filled art gallery and museum.

The gallery holds a permanent collection which includes works by Picasso, Bacon, Moore, Giacometti and Degas. There is also a sculpture garden and regular exhibitions.

Chill in the Plantation Garden

Known locally as the Secret Garden and one of Norwich’s best hidden gems, this three acre Grade Two English Heritage registered garden was established over 100 years ago in an abandoned chalk quarry, just a few hundred yards from the city centre. The garden fell into disrepair after the Second World War but was restored in 1980 to the paradise it is today.

With lush green planting, Gothic features, an Italianate terrace, woodland walkways and a gorgeous greenhouse, this is the perfect place to get away from the buzz of the city centre for a few hours to enjoy a spot of peace and tranquility.

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What to Do & See Around Norwich

The Norfolk Broads

With huge skies, infinite landscapes, tranquil water and abundant wildlife, the Norfolk Broads are a beautiful place to visit.

The Broads National Park is made up of over 60 open areas of water known as Broads, which, along with the rivers Yare and its tributaries the Ant, Thurne, Bure and Waveney, occupy a vast triangle of land formed by Yarmouth, Wroxham, and Stalham.

If you don’t have lots of time to explore, then head for Hickling Broad, the largest Broad of them all. At the far eastern end of Hickling Broad is the Horsey Windpump, one of the area’s most iconic windmills and run by the National Trust. The whole area is incredibly photogenic.

Head for Potter Heigham, Ranworth or South Walsham, small picturesque villages with interesting churches, which make great start points. The beauty and nature of the Broads is best appreciated from the water, and motor cruisers, kayaks and canoes can be rented, or you can take a boat tour if you’re not confident on the water.

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Red brick windmill with white wooden sails in a grassy field with yellow flowers

North Norfolk Beaches

For me, North Norfolk has some of the best beaches in the country, all just a stones throw from Norwich. From Winterton-on-Sea to Holkham via Cromer, you’ll find huge sandy stretches, grassy dunes, traditional bucket and spade beaches and nature reserves along this windswept and unspoilt coast.

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Great Yarmouth

A lively seaside town in Norfolk and just a few miles from Norwich, Great Yarmouth makes for an action-packed day out or holiday destination. With its famous Pleasure Beach, amusements and attractions, there’s lots to keep visitors happy!

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Blickling Hall

One of the best stately homes to visit in the county, Blickling Estate is mentioned in the Domesday Book, was the birthplace of Anne Boleyn, and during the Second World War RAF air crew were billeted here.

The Jacobean house is packed full of history, paintings, tapestries and antiques and the hall is also home to one of England’s most important collections of manuscripts and books. Outside are 55 acres of formal gardens with an orangery, kitchen garden and lake to explore.

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Stately homes in Norfolk

Take a Vineyard Tour & Tasting

Chet Valley Vineyard enjoys a unique climate, with higher than average sunshine hours and the lowest rainfall in England, meaning the grapes grown here ripen beautifully in these ideal conditions. Take a tour and tastting to explore every aspect of the growing and wine-making process, and have the the opportunity to taste the vineyards delicious wines in the tranquil Norfolk countryside.

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Family Friendly Attractions In & Around Norwich

BeWILDerwood, Horning

Probably the #1 family attraction in Norfolk, BeWILDerwood is located in the village of Horning to the east of Norwich. This woodland adventure park is the ideal place for kids to burn off some energy climbing the numerous treehouses, hurling down zip lines and slides, and crossing the many rope bridges strung between the trees.

The whole park is character themed from a series of kids books, and this forms the basis of story-telling and craft sessions. There’s also the ubiquitous restaurant and shop. You probably need a full day here, especially in the school holidays when its usually heaving.

Man and child crossing a rope bridge amongst trees with colourful Chinese lanterns below

SEA LIFE Centre, Great Yarmouth

At the centre of the Golden Mile in Great Yarmouth is the SEA LIFE Centre, a brilliant family attraction, home to over 1,500 fascinating sea creatures, an underwater tunnel and rock pool encounters.

In the vast aquariums, you can watch deadly sharks and crocodiles, beautiful turtles and seahorses and fascinating jellyfish. There’s even a shark nursery to visit. It’s the perfect way to combine education with family fun, and an especially good place to visit when it’s raining – which has been known to happen!

The Norwich Mystery Treasure Trail, Norwich

This self-guided detective mystery trail is a great way to get kids big and small interested in the history of the city. Just download from Treasure Trails and follow the map to find clues and work out who has stolen a priceless statue from Norwich Cathedral grounds.

As you weave your way along the 1.5 mile trail between Norwich Cathedral, Elm Hill, Tombland and St Andrews Street, you’ll be looking for clues on local landmarks, signs and buildings, whilst trying to solve the ‘crime’.

Tombland Norwich

Build a Sandcastle

The blue flag beach at Cromer is long, sandy and safe for kids, and is popular for swimming and surfing. There’s always lots going on along the sands.

Kids will love sand-castle building and rock pooling at low tide. You’ll always be able to find space to fly a kite and play beach cricket or volleyball. Take a picnic and settle in for the day!

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Norwich Puppet Theatre, Norwich

Norwich Puppet Theatre, one of only three building-based puppet theatres in England, is a venue, theatre company and community outreach organisation. This registered charity is dedicated to championing the special art form of puppetry and providing magical theatrical experiences.

The NPT programme of creative skills activities and events offers a brilliant introduction to the magic of theatre with original shows and workshops for all ages.

Riverside, Norwich

The Riverside area of Norwich is a modern development of entertainment venues and retail park. Here you’ll find an Odeon Cinema, Hollywood Bowl and Gravity Trampoline Park, as well as the usual selection of eateries to keep you all stoked up!

Just over the way is the Carrow Road stadium, home to premier league Norwich City Football Club, or the Canaries. You can tour Carrow Road, and also stop at the Yellows Bar and Grill, where all the dishes are made to Delia Smith recipes. Delia has strong connections to the club, where she and her husband are majority shareholders.

Highball Climbing Centre, Norwich

The Highball Climbing Centre is Norfolk’s largest and a great place for kids to get started. There are a range of climbing and bouldering taster sessions available for kids of all ages. If your child is an experienced climber they will be required to demonstrate their competence before climbing unsupervised, so allow a little extra time for this or pre-arrange with Highball before visiting.

Roarr Dinosaur Adventure Park, Lenwade

Kids still in the big scary monsters stage will love the Dinosaur Adventure Park. Set in 85 acres of woodlands, there are huge realistic sounding dinosaur models waiting to surprise them along the dinosaur trail. They can also get involved in digging for fossils, explore the maze and have a go on the assault course. There really is a lot to do here, it’s a full family day out!

Where to Eat in Norwich

Over the past couple of years, Norwich has become a real foodie destination and its gastronomic scene is bursting with innovative, home grown and quirky eateries. This is our pick of the top five places to try…

Grosvenor Fish Bar, Lower Goat Lane

I love this place! Not only can you get the best fish and chips (and lots of other delish things) here, you can eat them in a funky restaurant come cafe in the heart of the Lanes, whilst listening to laid-back music with a glass of fizz in your hand! Grosvenor Fish Bar will also let you take out to eat from the wrappings, let you collect to take home, and order in advance.

No 33 Cafe, Exchange Street

No 33 Cafe is just down the hill from the wonderful Jarrolds department store and is one of the best breakfast and brunch places in Norwich, and possibly even East Anglia! From a traditional cooked breakfast made with local ingredients to shakshuka, via American pancakes and eggs benedict to healthy yogurt, fruit and granola, I bow at the alter of their food offering, especially as breakfast is my fave meal of the day!

Benedicts, St Benedicts Street

Benedicts is the perfect spot for a special occasion or celebration. Run by Chef Patron Richard Bainbridge (of Great British Menu fame) and his wife Katja, this stylish restaurant serves up modern British food, with local ingredients taking centre stage. You’ll need to book well in advance, it gets busy!

Woolf & Social, Nelson Street

Woolf & Social is the brainchild of two best mates and aims to bring people together through a laid-back dining style and seasonal sharing plates, mixing the best of both fine dining and street food. The menu piques my curiosity and makes my mouth water – this is certainly somewhere I’ll be coming back to.

The Tipsy Vegan, St Benedicts Street

I’m not a vegan, not even a vegetarian, but I have a step-daughter who is, and so I’m always happy to check out places like The Tipsy Vegan. Located in the Lanes, their focus is on small plates with food and flavours from around the world. With the likes of sweetcorn fritters, mac n cheese and buttermilk burgers with chipotle slaw on the menu, I’m seriously tempted to give up the meat!

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View into a modern fish and chip shop with red hearts made from lights in the window and colourful metal chairs lined up outside

Where to Stay in Norwich

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The Georgian Townhouse, Unthank Road

The Georgian Townhouse is a laid back hotel with a lively bar and restaurant, just outside the city centre but within easy walking distance of bars, restaurants and shops. The vibe is upbeat, with cool interiors and relaxed, but attentive, staff.

Airbnb Apartment, Wensum Street

This two bedroomed self-catering Airbnb style apartment on Wensum Street, is just 200 metres from the cathedral and the cobbled streets of historic Norwich. Light, bright and airy, this spacious apartment is perfect for a city break.

The Assembly House, Theatre Street

This is the treat option, for that special weekend away. The Assembly House is well located in the heart of the city, within a few minutes walk of the major attractions. Beautifully decorated with Georgian features, panelled rooms, ornate fireplaces and marbled bathrooms, contemporary luxury is the style here. Oh, and they also serve the best afternoon tea in the city!

Whitlingham Broad Campsite

If you want to combine your visit to Norwich with a bit of countryside, then book a glamping yurt, converted goods wagon, shepherds hut, bell tent or stunning tree-house style woodland den, at the beautiful Whitlingham Broad Campsite. With all the amenities you need and a wonderful location on the banks of Whitlingham Broad, you can be in Norwich city centre in fifteen minutes on a Beryl bike.

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38 St Giles, St Giles Street

A friendly B & B, 38 St Giles is full of character and quirky touches. Within a minutes walk of Norwich market, this guesthouse is right in the centre of the lively city. Spacious and simply decorated rooms with superbly comfy beds make for a wonderful stay.

Map of Norwich Attractions

How to use this map – Use your fingers (or computer mouse) to zoom in and out. Click or touch the icons to get more info about a place, and click the arrow in the box top left to open the index. To add to your own Google Maps account, click the star next to the title of the map.

Have I missed anything from this local’s guide to Norwich? Let me know in the comments below if there’s something you’d like to see covered!

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