The weekender's guide to Norwich
A weekend in Norwich – known as the City of Stories – is sure to give you some memorable tales of your own. Here's how to make the most of a minibreak.
Norwich Cathedral is the beating heart of the city and should definitely be top of your sightseeing list. As well as being an active centre for Christian worship, this 900-year-old cathedral also puts on an impressive range of art exhibitions, concerts and other activities. Highlights include August’s Seeing It Differently, in which a 50ft-tall helter-skelter will be installed in the maze, and The Lord Chamberlain’s Men performing A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell
Learn more about the history of Norwich from its days as the UK’s second city in the 1700s to its industrial heritage to life today – all housed in an atmospheric old prison.
Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery
Over 900 years old, Norwich Castle is now the venue for the city’s Museum and Art Gallery and houses an impressive collection of fine art, archaeology and natural history. Check out the temporary exhibition Viking: Rediscover the Legend until 8 September, where you can view some of the most significant Anglian and Viking treasures ever discovered in Britain.
Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts
Part of the University of East Anglia, the SCVA has a fantastic permanent collection of arts, as well as fascinating temporary exhibitions, housed in its Norman Foster-designed glass building. Photography buffs will enjoy Magnum: The Body Observed, an exhibition featuring celebrated 20th and 21st-century photographers, including Eve Arnold and Philippe Halsman. It runs from 23 March to 30 June.
Dating back to 1320, Strangers' Hall has been home to merchants and mayors throughout its history. Nowadays it’s a museum featuring a series of interlinked rooms with period settings, a collection of historic toys and a beautiful lavender-filled garden.
The essential experiences
Something of a Norwich institution, this department store opened its doors in 1770 and is still a family-run shop. Check out the fantastic basement deli and three restaurants, as well as a huge range of goods.
Part of the city’s medieval heritage, the Lanes are alleyways, courtyards and open spaces that house over 300 independent shops, cafes, restaurants and pubs – plus a cinema, theatre, art galleries and museums.
The Plantation Garden
This hidden gem just outside the old city walls is the creation of Victorian Henry Trevor, who transformed an old chalk quarry into an enchanting garden. Full of medieval-style walls, ruins and follies, beautiful plants and a Gothic fountain, a wander around this garden is a sheer delight.
Norwich’s open-air market is one of the largest and oldest in the country. With over 200 stalls open from Monday to Saturday, you’ll find food and drink, toys, jewellery, clothes and much more.
A trip to Norwich isn’t complete without a look at its medieval heritage. Elm Hill is the most complete medieval street in the city, where you can walk down the cobbles and enjoy a browse among the independent shops, galleries and cafes. Timberhill is one of the oldest recorded city streets in the country and boasts an excellent range of shops, pubs and other historical buildings.
Where to eat
Cheap and cheerful
Grosvenor Fish Bar offers a wide selection of fish dishes, as you’d expect, but other options include fried green tomatoes and toad-in-the-hole. If you fancy a drink with your meal, the staff will deliver your food to you at The Birdcage pub opposite. Ruth’s Kitchen brings the taste of Jerusalem street food to Norwich, serving up authentic falafel, hummus and sabih. Check out the sahlab, too – a delicious creamy hot drink. And if you fancy a taste of the Mediterranean, the Alley Olé.
Sourdough is the star at the independent Timberhill Bakery, served as toasties, tartines, scones and more. There’s also an impressive selection of vegan cakes, and you can buy sourdough loaves to take away. Blue Joanna Bar & Kitchen serves Asian street food plus cocktails, all soundtracked by vinyl records and live piano. For innovative seasonal food, check out the small plates at Woolf & Social. Sample dishes include muntjac stew with pickled walnut, or fried chicken, kimchi and gochujang mayo.
Since opening in 2015, Benedicts has featured in The Times’ top 100 UK restaurants and holds three AA rosettes. Choose from a three or eight-course dinner, with vegetarian and vegan options available. Roger Hickman’s Restaurant is also the proud owner of a trio of AA rosettes, and offers lunch, dinner and taster menus. Set in elegant surroundings, The Ivy Norwich Brasserie is a newcomer to the city's eating scene but has quickly earned a stellar reputation for its all-day dining options.
Where to drink
You’ll be spoilt for choice for pubs in Norwich. If you like real ales, the 30-plus on offer at The Fat Cat should wet your whistle, including some from its own award-winning Fat Cat Brewery. With a new beer joining the bar every week and an extensive pizza menu, The Plasterers Arms is sure to please craft-beer aficionados. And while The Murderers might have a grim name, it offers a cheery atmosphere complete with live sport and music. (If you’re wondering, its grisly moniker came about because of an 1895 murder committed on the premises.)
Norwich also has a fine selection of bars, from classy cocktail joints to French-inspired establishments. The Playhouse theatre’s bar serves local beers, wines, exotic tea and coffee. Describing itself as a neighbourhood cocktail bar, Hawthorn specialises in experimental mixes – the Bon Mot (featuring thyme, cucumber and absinthe) is highly recommended. Wine and cheese is a classic combo, and French bar Les Garragues has a delicious selection of both available in its little bar. There’s also a deli that offers takeaway options.
Where to stay
At an impressive 800 years old, the Maids Head Hotel is Britain’s oldest hotel. Offering 84 en-suite rooms, it’s recently undergone a sympathetic multi-million pound refurbishment. Stower Grange is currently ranked number one on TripAdvisor. It’s not surprising – the AA-rosette restaurant is sure to impress, as are the grounds of this beautiful former rectory.
A hidden gem is 3 Princes. This boutique bed and breakfast in a Grade II-listed Georgian house is rated Norwich’s number one B&B and offers a little slice of luxury – but at a very affordable price. Take the papers and a coffee outside to the courtyard on a sunny day, or enjoy a glass of wine on the balcony.