When you think of Norwich, the first thing to jump to mind is probably the antihero Alan Partridge. Whilst Partridge is a bit like marmite round these parts, there is no doubt that Steve Coogan’s character put Norwich on the map.
Luckily for visitors to this wonderful city, there are incredible things to do in Norwich, regardless of whether or not you’re a Partridge fan. For example, did you know that Norwich is the best preserved medieval city in the whole of the UK? This makes for some idyllic cobbled streets and heaps of history… if you know where to look.
As a Norfolk girl born and bred, I’ve explored my fair share of Norwich over the years and have come to learn where the top spots are. So, whether you’re looking for the classic points of interest or prefer to get stuck into hidden gems, you’re in the right place.
(Unlike other articles on the internet, this list of the best things to do in Norwich will only include attractions in Norwich, not those elsewhere in the county of Norfolk. Don’t worry though, I’ve got you covered if you are looking for fun day trips from Norwich.)
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21 Best Things to do in Norwich
1. Visit the Norwich Cathedral(s)
Although Norwich Cathedral makes it into many tourist brochures, few of these mention that the city is actually home to two cathedrals. The first of these is a medieval cathedral, located just off Tombland. This is the most famous of the two, probably because of its central location. It offers a beautiful green space but the most appealing part of a visit is definitely the chance to explore the cloisters. Honestly, they look like something out of Hogwarts!
The city’s second cathedral, known as the Roman Catholic Cathedral, sits on the western edge of the Norwich ring road. It’s much newer and Victorian Gothic in style. Despite its less central positioning, the Roman Catholic Cathedral is easy to get to on foot. The cathedral runs tower tours every Saturday where you can climb to the top for incredible views.
2. Chill in Plantation Gardens
I must confess, I’m a little bored of seeing green spaces on these kinds of lists unless they are really impressive but I promise Plantation Gardens is!
Looking like its just fallen out of Tomb Raider, this Grade II English Heritage garden spans three acres and was once an old chalk quarry! Established 140 years ago, it fell into disrepair until its restoration in 1980. Nowadays, Plantation Gardens is a beautiful spot for a picnic with a book and is open to all. Entry comes at the cost of a £2 donation which goes towards maintenance of the site.
Sometimes referred to as the ‘Secret Garden,’ its tucked nicely out of the hubbub of the city centre but is thankfully, very easy to find. I recommend combining a visit here with a trip to Roman Catholic Cathedral as they are very close. To see Plantation Gardens map location, check out the official website.
3. Follow in the Footsteps of Alan Partridge
You can’t talk about Norwich without mentioning Alan Partridge. In fact, this isn’t even the first time I’ve done it in this post! For fans of the comedy character, Norwich is a must-visit location. Much of the Alpha Papa film was set in the city and you can easily do a DIY walking tour of some of the movie locations.
Don’t miss the Forum and the market, the latter of which Alan referred to as selling “monkey hats and tat”. The premiere of the movie took place at Hollywood cinema in Anglia Square, although this has sadly closed. I’d only recommend heading to Anglia Square if you’re a die-hard fan though, let’s just say Norwich is home to much nicer areas…
Local sculptors Nick Dutton and Gavin Fulcher made a statue of this Norfolk icon, which has been displayed outside of the Forum in the past. However, it has not been installed permanently and this has been to the disappointment of many fans who are petitioning for it to be purchased by the local council.
4. Dive into History at Norwich Castle
One of Norwich’s most eye catching attractions is undoubtedly the medieval castle which overlooks the city. Commissioned by William the Conqueror some time between 1066 and 1075, this historic fortress is nearly 1000 years old!
Today, Norwich Castle houses a museum which includes interesting artwork, local natural history and creepy taxidermy. Ideal for families or history loving couples, you should expect a visit to last a few hours, (more if you grab a coffee at the on-site cafe). Don’t forget to take in the views from the castle walls, they offer a wonderful panorama of the city!
5. Shop quirky
I’ll admit, I’m not a great lover of shopping generally and especially not on ‘things to do’ type lists. Every city has shops, you know? However, Norwich is home to a number of weird and wonderful shops, including The Bear Shop down Elm Hill, Soundclash Records along St Benedicts Street and Macarons and More in the Arcade.
No matter whether you are looking for the perfect gift for a loved one back home or just want to explore more of the city’s quirky character, you can certainly do it through your wallet if you are so inclined.
6. Feast on World Cuisine at Norwich Market
The heart of any city is where the best food is at. And, although there are plenty of amazing independent restaurants scattered throughout Norwich, no place is so central to Norwich’s food culture as the market.
Norwich market consists of 189 stalls, all selling a mix of flowers, crafts and food – to name just a few! Eating on the market offers good value for money and there are a whole host of options so you are bound to find something which will tantalise your tastebuds. From Sir Toby’s Beers to Cocina Mia and several other options for veggies and vegans, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better place to enjoy lunch!
7. Explore Norwich Underground
When most of us think about exploring a new city, we imagine ourselves wandering down the streets and eating in local restaurants. Very few of us tend to give any thought at all as to what lies beneath our feet.
In Norwich, the only way to access this forgotten part of the city is via a ‘Hidden Streets’ tour, run by The Shoebox, a local social enterprise. The tour takes you down into a medieval undercroft with a local historian where you’ll learn all about Norwich’s ghostly stories and secret tunnels.
An underground Norwich tour is a great way to get under the skin of the city and provides a fascinating insight into how the previous residents of the city would have lived. If you’re still craving more history after your adventure through the city’s hidden streets, there is also the option to follow guide Sarah through Tombland on a walking tour. This can be booked directly through The Shoebox website.
8. Get Lost in Local History at the Museum of Norwich
Those who have an interest in local history won’t want to miss the Museum of Norwich in Bridewell. The museum spans from the medieval period right up to modern day and documents the evolution of the city and its people.
Step back in time and explore the industries that brought power and wealth to Norwich. Keep an eye out for brands you recognise, some of the UK’s biggest companies were once based here! Tickets into the museum cost £6.20* for adults and £3.50* for children (correct at the time of writing).
9. Paddle the Waterways of the River Wensum
The River Wensum is one of Norwich’s most beautiful areas. It is a Special Area of Conservation, meaning it is home to several notable species including the Desmoulin’s whorl snail and the freshwater crayfish. Aside from being hugely important to the local ecosystem, the waterways of the River Wensum are idyllic and picturesque.
Although Norwich is a fantastic city to explore on foot, (owing to its small size), it is also novel to navigate using the waterways. Plenty of companies offering kayak, canoe and paddle boarding line the riverside and on a sunny day, there is perhaps no better way to see the city.
If you like to mix up your sightseeing with a pint, definitely check out Pub and Paddle, where you can pub-crawl your way around the city on the water. In my opinion, it is probably the perfect way to spend a sunny day with friends!
10. Wander Elm Hill
If you’re looking at photos of Elm Hill and scratching your head, this could be because you recognise it from the 2007 blockbuster Stardust. This historic cobbled street was used by the production team in a number of scenes – if you’re a fan, don’t miss the Isle of Skye’s Fairy Glen too which also made an appearance in the movie!
Elm Hill is home to a number of old-fashioned shops selling kitsch collectibles and not much else, however, it is arguably one of the city’s most beautiful lanes. Many buildings down this street date back from the Tudor era and can be immediately recognised by the characteristic black beams of the period.
11. Be Spooked on a Ghost Tour
Cobbled streets, medieval history and crooked buildings make the perfect setting for ghost stories. Norwich was recently listed as the UK’s 18th most haunted city and is home to some of the most haunted places anywhere in England.
As a result of ghostly whispers and spooky stories, this Medieval city has long attracted those with an interest in the paranormal. Horrible history lovers will relish the opportunity to dig into the city’s dark past and learn about the eerie events which have shaped the city.
Norwich Ghost Walks offer three different kinds of tour, all of which leave from the Adam & Eve pub on either Tuesdays or Thursdays evenings. The three tour options are:
- Elm Hill Walk
- Norwich Castle Walk
- Riverside Walk
Tickets cost £10 per person and although booking is not usually necessary, if you are travelling during the pandemic, you’ll need to reserve tickets in advance. My advice? Bring a change of pants.
12. Check out the Street Art
Although street art isn’t the first thing to jump to mind when you’re thinking of medieval cities, Norwich hosts some truly wonderful murals. Many of these are centred around the ‘City of Stories’ theme because Norwich was England’s first destination to be chosen a UNESCO City of Literature.
The street art in Norwich is hugely varied and can be seen all over the city. With everything from artworks that reveal snippets of the city’s history to political statements, Norwich certainly has a colourful character.
13. Take a tour of Dragon Hall
In keeping with the literature theme, Dragon Hall, now the National Centre for Writing, has stood in Norwich since around 1430. Once a medieval trading hall that was best known for its incredible oak timbers decorated with dragon carvings, the building is now Grade 1 listed and integral to the city’s rich history.
Dragon Hall is a fascinating site to look inside, however, because it is now home to the National Centre for Writing, tours do not run daily. At 2pm on the first and third Monday of each month, volunteers offer guided tours around the building. Entry is free but donations are always gratefully received.
14. Visit Cow Tower
If you’re a history nerd (and believe me, if you are, Norwich is the perfect destination), you’ll love learning about the history of Cow Tower. Built around 1398, this artillery blockhouse is one of the oldest in England.
Cow Tower is situated next to the River Wensum which would have been a deliberate strategic point to heighten the city’s powers of defence. It is also a feature on the Norwich Riverside Walk which winds its way up and down the river. On a beautiful day, this is one of the best short walks you take in the city.
15. Sink a Bevvy in Boom: Battle Bar
This adventure bar brings a new meaning to a wild night out on the town. Although it the darkened setting and neon strip lights beckon children like light to the flies, this is a strictly adult-only kind of venue after 7pm.
The guys at Boom: Battle Bar know that few things rank higher than a night out with friends so at the core, that is what they offer. Throw in a bit of Bavarian Axe-Throwing, Beer Pong and the Craziest Golf you can imagine and you’re on for a night you won’t forget!
In case that isn’t enough to persuade you, on their website Dave from Liverpool says that Boom is “the most fun I’ve ever had with my clothes on”. If that isn’t an endorsement, I don’t know what is!
16. Crack a Mystery at Cryptic Escape
Cryptic Escape has two locations in Norwich, one along Rose Lane and another in Tombland. The Tombland location runs out of Augustine Steward House which is believed to be one of the most haunted spots in the city.
Legend has it that the house is haunted by the ‘Grey Lady’ who met her untimely end during the plague outbreak back in 1578. Locked in her house with her family who had all contracted the plague, she managed to avoid the illness but was forced to eat their flesh in order to survive. Tragically, it is said that she choked during the act, sealing her fate.
Cryptic Escape runs a number of themed escape games but perhaps the best of them all is the ‘The Haunted’ game which was inspired by these events. Recommended only for the bravest adventurers!
17. Marvel at the Beauty of Pulls Ferry
This flint historic gatehouse sits on the River Wensum and is another notable place of interest on the Norwich Riverside Walk. The ferry house dates back to the 15th century and was once the route for the stone used in the construction of Norwich Cathedral.
It is named after John Pull, who used to run the ferry across the river from 1796 to 1841. Located in an idyllic spot, Pulls Ferry may well be the most photographed building in Norwich. Nowadays, the building is used as a private residence.
18. Get Artsy at the Sainsbury Centre
Located on the ground of the UEA (University of East Anglia), this art museum is home to contemporary collections from world-class artists. Francis Bacon, Henry Moore and Pablo Picasso all have works featured here.
As well as the permanent collection and touring exhibitions, the Sainsbury Centre also features a sculpture garden set within 350 acres which is a wonderful spot to visit on a sunny day. Entry into the museum and grounds is free but sometimes a charge is applied for temporary exhibitions.
19. Vent your Anger at Rage Rooms
Ever heard that Limp Bizkit song ‘Break Stuff’? Well, if you’re even half as angry as Fred Durst in that song, you’ll relish the opportunity to smash some stuff up at the Rage Rooms. After all, how often do you get the opportunity to take a sledgehammer to a printer?
Open to over-18s only, you can book sessions for up to six people. Prices begin at £40* for couples (correct at the time of writing).
20. Take in the Views from Mousehold Heath
Home to one of Norfolk’s best walks, the Mousehold Heath Earth Heritage Trail, the green lung of Norwich is one of the best places to escape the hustle of the city. There are a number of short trails around this area which are popular with dog walkers and plenty of places to enjoy wonderful views of the city.
Mousehold Heath is a wonderful green space for walking, reading or enjoying a picnic. If you’re into geocaching, you may well find a surprise somewhere in this area too…
21. Awaken your Inner Child at Retro Replay
For all those vintage gamers out there, this one is for you. Retro Replay games arcade is located in Castle Quarter and offers up all the arcade games that you loved as a kid. Ignite that warm nostalgic feeling in your belly with classics like Mortal Kombat 2 and Pac-Man’s Arcade Party.
I know what you’re thinking, this is going to be expensive, right? Wrong. Retro Replay doesn’t believe in charging per game (because how the heck would you choose)? Instead, you buy a wristband for £10 which allows you entrance in and out throughout the day.
How to get to Norwich, England
Norwich is the chief city of East Anglia, meaning that it is the main transport hub for the region. Norwich is home to an airport (though I don’t recommend flying for a staycation if you can help it), a train station and a bus terminal.
National Express run bus services to Norwich from all over the country and the train station also serves a number of national destinations. It takes around two hours to travel from London to Norwich by train.
Top Tip: It is always worth buying train tickets in advance as train travel can be very expensive when arranged at the last minute! If you are a regular user of the trains, a railcard may be a good investment if you are eligible.
Where to Stay in Norwich
Located just a five minute stroll from Norwich train station, Abbey Guest House offers quiet comfortable rooms and great value for money. This spot is ideal for people travelling to Norwich via public transport and they also boast free parking, handy for those travelling by car. The hosts are sure to give you a warm welcome!
This bolthole is perched on the River Wensum, offering a convenient base from which to explore the city. Although the rooms are a little on the small side, this is more than compensated for with the incredible location. Breakfast is available for an additional cost.
Those looking for an unforgettable stay need search no further than The Maids Head Hotel. Situated Cathedral Quarter, this 4-star hotel offers everything you could need for your Norwich getaway. The classic rooms have retained many of their period features whilst at the same time blending contemporary styles. Don’t miss the on-site restaurant which houses 40 different wines.