Welcome to Norwich: A Fine City

July 22, 2012 8:54 pm

The famous sign.

No matter which way you drive into the city, the first thing you’ll see coming over the horizon is a sign bearing the legendary ‘Welcome to Norwich, A Fine City’ –an understatement by any stretch of the imagination. Norwich has something to offer every type of tourist and visitor; it’s the arts capital of East Anglia, it’s made it into the UK’s top ten list for places to shop, it boasts an impressive array of historic buildings and streets to wander around and is the most complete medieval city in the UK. Norwich offers restaurants to suit every palate and purse, there are fantastic festivals throughout the year and the city is just a stones throw away from the Norfolk Broads, where you can relax, take part in water sports or hire a boat and stop off at villages and country pubs at your leisure.

Easily accessible by train from London in less than two hours and by coach in around three, both stations are conveniently, centrally located. The Norwich International Airport is only four miles from the centre, connecting the city to domestic and international locations.

The 12th Century Castle, standing proud.

The oldest buildings standing here today are from the days of the Norman occupation, including the famous 12th century Castle which dominates the city centre landscape. It is now home to a great museum and art gallery. The city walls are still standing in good condition in some areas of the city, a power reminder of the medieval heritage this area has.

One of the most beautiful attractions for visitors is the Norwich Cathedral Quarter. Set around the Anglican Cathedral are shops, cafés, restaurants, medieval and Tudor buildings but the area has a relaxed, European feel and atmosphere. The Cathedral has the largest cloisters in England and the second tallest spire in the country and the inside is delicately carved, beautifully designed and is kept in an excellent condition. Norwich Cathedral is where Queen Elizabeth 1st worshipped in 1578 at a throne prepared for her beside the tomb of her great grandfather, Sir William Boleyn. The cloisters provide home to the Shakespeare Festival held every July making summer an excellent time to visit. Every year, the festival is a guaranteed sell out so buy your tickets in advance to avoid disappointment.

The Quarter contains the medieval streets of Princes Street, Elm Hill (built in 1507 after a fire destroyed the original street) and many other alleys and lanes where Churches and great Tudor houses stand. The area has become home to quirky shops, cafés and restaurants. Outside the great Cathedral gates is the beautiful area of Tombland, full of restaurants serving fine dishes and wine, making an outside table the perfect place to while away the hours on a warm summers evening. A moment away is the Maids Head Hotel, reputed to be the oldest in Norwich, dating back to the 13th century. The hotel has a fine sense of splendour and is where Queen Elizabeth the 1st is said to have stayed during her 1583 progress to Norfolk. Today, its restaurant, the Winepress @ Wensum, has been awarded one rosette for food, is complimented for its service and offers over 40 wines to choose from.

Princes Street.

Don’t miss the 600 year-old St Andrews and Blackfriars Halls, the most complete surviving Friary in England. The building is open to the public and hosts various festivals and exhibitions throughout the year such as the collectors fair, vintage clothes fair, auctions and come October, a beer festival.

You’ll find Norwich’s oldest pub, the Adam and Eve, in the Cathedral Quarter. It was first written into records in 1249 but no-one is exactly sure when it was built. It was used by stonemasons working on the Cathedral as a place to eat, drink and relax while they took a break from their building. In 1549, during battle, Lord Sheffield died in the pub and is now said to be its friendly resident ghost. Why not come visit him and take a Norwich Ghost Tour, they start at the pub at half seven in the evening. It would make for a different night!

The Cathedral Quarter contains a lot of green space and many of the sites sit along the edge of the River Wensum. Norwich is a compact city and easy to get around by foot but if you prefer there is always the option of an open topped bus – here’s hoping the weather holds!

The colourful market.

Norwich has two central shopping malls: the Castle Mall built into the Castle mound and the Chapelfield Mall built on the site of an old chocolate factory. Between them they have all the shops and brand-names you could ask for but if you’re looking for a boutique shopping experience, Cathedral Quarter is the best bet. For a more traditional approach, try the market which is home to a variety of stalls, has been standing for 900 years and is the largest six-day market in the country. You’ll also find plenty of stalls selling local foods and art and crafts around the centre so there’s  a great chance of picking up a gift or trinket that no-one else will ever own.

During May, the Norfolk & Norwich festival is held lasting over two weeks and is the fourth biggest city festival in the UK. It has been running for over 200 years and in recent times has grown from strength to strength and in 2010 it attracted over 300,000 people. It’s a great way for new talent and internationally recognised artists to come together and perform at various locations throughout the city and many of the performances are free and outdoors, so if you can’t make it over to the city this summer, put this in your calendar for next year.

Eating in Norwich is about eating delicious local Norfolk food; the city is in a farming county producing fruit, vegetables, dairy and meat and you will find plenty of fresh produce at many places throughout the city. Norwich has a fine balance of local and international restaurants; something to offer everyone. As well as the usual selection of chains, the city has a host of independent restaurants. Off the Guildhall is a grade 2 listed former library, the Library Restaurant which has kept the original bookcases and stepping across the threshold is like stepping back into the 1830s. The food is cooked on a wood fired grill. It truly is one of the city hotspots.

The Library Restaurant.

The Last Wine Bar & Restaurant on St George’s Street is a family run business that is friendly, welcoming and has a host of international chefs to tease your taste buds. All food is prepared from fresh and menus change regularly according to season.  Opposite here is By Appointment, a 15th century building, which opens Tuesday to Saturday from only seven thirty till nine. A table is widely sort after and booking is imperative to avoid disappointment. Amazingly, they grow most of the fruit and vegetables on offer in the back garden and have hives and bees producing the honey. Tatlers Restaurant on Tombland has three dining rooms; ceilings are high, with large bay windows creating a spacious area to dine. The restaurant offers locally sourced and additive free fresh food by Adam Bateman who did most of his training at Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons and the standard of dining is extremely high.

It’s not difficult to find accommodation in Norwich but it may be difficult deciding where to stay. There are numerous chain hotels but you could opt for one of many guest houses and self-catering options or a B&B –and with it being farming county, chances are you’ll be in for a good breakfast! If you’re looking for something extra special try Dunston Hall built in 1859 in Elizabethan style and set within 150 acres of parkland. Its five miles from the centre, offers impeccable service, a luxurious spa, pool, gym and is the perfect location to relax and be spoilt . Alternatively, there is the Sprowston Manor situated three and a half miles from the centre and close to the airport. It’s a stately manor set in a rural location with grounds hidden from the outside world by giant oak trees. It has good leisure facilities including swimming pool, steam and sauna and the restaurant is highly recommended.

The charming Norfolk Broads.

No trip is compete without spending some time at the Norfolk Broads where you’ll find 200km of rivers, lakes and greenery and a perfect spot to relax or explore in a tranquil setting. On offer are boat trips, sailing, fishing, cycling and water sports and if you hire a boat there are some fantastic villages and local pubs to moor up at. What a beautiful way to spend an afternoon or two.

These are just a few ideas for a visit to Norwich. Regardless of your reasons to visit you’ll find locals always happy to help and willing to assist in whatever way that they can. Norwich really shouldn’t be missed; it really is a very fine city indeed.

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