Heart of East Anglia
Norwich justly claims to be the most complete medieval city in Britain. It was also one of the largest, second only to London, for centuries. With its medieval roots and importance clearly visible across the old city center, Norwich today is the cultural and administrative center of East Anglia and county town of Norfolk (the North Folk). With a population of just under 150,000, though, Norwich lost its prominence long ago in the rise of the new cities of the Industrial Revolution.
The River Wensum winds through Norwich and on across the flat fields toward the sea at Great Yarmouth, navigable from the coast. Much of the English wool that created prosperity for East Anglia and the East Midlands passed through Norwich. Today, the river hosts leisure boaters traveling on the six-river network of The Broads.
Despite Norwich’s comfortable size, historic importance and easy accessibility, the city draws relatively few overseas visitors. Few American travelers to as a cholera burial ground. Turn quayside to Britain venture to this part of England— less than 3 percent. That makes Norwich less crowded with tourists and a good place to observe the rhythms of daily life in a prosperous midsize city.
Getting to Norwich
IT’S NOT QUITE TWO HOURS by train from London Liverpool Street to Norwich. Trains run frequently. With its station conveniently in the city center, Norwich is an easy destination to do from London as a day trip or an excursion of several days. By car, from the M25 the quick route via the M11 to the A11 is about the same, but it is highway driving all the way. There are certainly more scenic routes to chart.
Out and About in Town
YOU MIGHT BEGIN at the Tourist Information Centre at the glass-domed Forum, which houses cafes, shops and the city library as well.
As in all the provincial medieval cathedral cities, Norwich Cathedral dominates the cityscape, with the second tallest cathedral spire in England and second largest close. Sheathed in Caen limestone, the cathedral was completed in 1145 and has been little altered in 600 years. It is remarkable for the brightness of its nave and the intricate fan-vaulting of its ceiling. The unique two-story cloister houses 1,000 carved and hand-painted ceiling bosses. Choral evensong at 5:30 p.m. brings a wonderful close to the afternoon with the clear tones of the cathedral choir echoing through the cavernous nave. Behind the cathedral, acres of gardens lead down to the yacht basin on the River Wensum, where cruisers on the Norfolk Broads tie up for the night.
The cobbled street and plaza in front of the cathedral close is Tombland, named for its mass graves as a cholera burial ground. Turn quayside to the River Wensum and stroll up cobbled Elm Hill, one of the best-preserved shoplined medieval streets in the country. Follow London Street through the pedestrianized shopping precinct toward Norwich Market. The largest outdoor market in England fills a huge square daily with a warren of colorfully striped semi-permanent stalls. In fact, Norwich is one of the most popular shopping destinations in Britain. useum of Norwich at the Bridewell unpacks the history of Norwich and the people who built it. Don’t miss as well the unique Coleman’s Mustard Shop and Museum. English mustard comes from Norfolk!
Nearby, rising on its motte above the shopping streets, Norwich Castle’s keep is now both Museum and Art Gallery, featuring natural history, a large exhibit on Lord Nelson (a Norfolk lad) and a superb collection of 17th-to-20th-century English watercolors.
Staying in the Center
THE FOUR-STAR Maid’s Head Hotel adjacent to the cathedral close is not only the best location in the city, it’s the oldest hotel in England. Queen Elizabeth I stayed here. More modestly, there is a Premier Inn in the city center. The three-star Annesley House Hotel on a tree-lined street just a short walk from the city center is a quieter location. Similarly afield, there is a modern Holiday Inn next door to the Norwich football stadium. Explore other options at visitnorwich.co.uk.
As in most modern cities, a panoply of pubs, bistros and restaurant chains are readily available. For something historically unique, however, the oldest pub in Norwich, and among the oldest in the country, The Adam and Eve on Bishopgate was opened to refresh the builders working on Norwich Cathedral.
In the Neighborhood
ON THE OUTSKIRTS OF THE CITY, you might visit the acclaimed Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts at the University of East Anglia. Either by train or car, you can easily catch the Norfolk coast either 20 miles north to Cromer or east to Great Yarmouth. Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse near Dereham offers a fascinating slice of English social history. To the west lie the Queen’s estate of Sandringham, the university town of Cambridge and Peterborough.