Pip's Pages • Doing Norwich - a city guide
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Maybe because of it's location (miles from anywhere), Norwich is something of a well-kept secret. If the only reason you're going to Norfolk is to cruise on the Broads (an excellent holiday, by the way) you're missing out on a fine city! Norwich has plenty of attractions to engage you by day, and untold fine pubs and restaurants in which to spend your evenings... click on the Top anywhere to return here.

Before you go   Getting around   Where to stay   Sightseeing   Places to eat/drink   Miscellaneous

  • Get a guidebook - you could just print this page off. Or you could spend a fiver on the excellent value City of Norwich Official Guide... small, yet perfectly formed. A possible alternative, and obviously good is you're focussing on the cathedrals, is Norwich: Pilgrim Guide, which provides a lot of history as well as a guide to the city.
  • Get wedged up - you can convert your $/¥/whatever into Sterling with the Universal Currency Converter.
  • Get a weather forecast - courtesy of Yahoo Weather.
  • Flying - Norwich does have a somewhat optimistically entitled International Airport. I say optimistically because it's not a massive place. Having said that, it is one of the fastest growing airports in the country, so it might be worth checking out the website to see if there are any airlines from your neck of the woods that fly to the city.
  • Buses - a quick and easy means of getting to Norwich from London is the National Express 490 service from Victoria Coach Station. Barring adverse traffic up the A11, the trip takes around 3 hours and it's cheap too, especially for students. Norwich's bus station is pretty central and, having just been refurbished, is spick and span (good) but be warned that not all buses depart from there (bad).
  • Trains - by contrast, Norwich's railway station has also recently been refurbished and looks pretty good, especially from outside the main entrance. It is a little bit out of town though, so expect a stiff walk up Prince of Wales Road to get into town. Trains from London run from Liverpool Street and, if you get a direct service, you can be there in about 1 hour 50 mins. Anyway, for all train timetable enquiries check out National Rail.
  • Taxis - if you've made your way to Norwich by public transport, taxis make a reasonably cheap way of getting around during your stay. Prices are much the same the between companies - expect to pay time and a half after midnight though. I used ABC Cars (01603 666333) with no problems.
  • Driving there - if you're driving, the RAC can help plan your route - you might also want to check the traffic. Be aware that city-centre parking isn't always easy here though, so you might want to consider one of the "Park and Ride" schemes in operation.
  • Maps - a fully scalable map of the city is available here.
  • Going upmarket - Probably the fanciest hotels in Norwich are the Marriott Sprowston Manor Hotel & Country Club and Dunston Hall. Rooms are not cheap (from 99) and they are both a bit out of town, but this kind of place has a fine restaurant, sauna, solarium, golf course... well, you get the picture. Definitely the places to stay if money is no object, or if your employer is footing the bill! A more central smart hotel would be the The Swallow Nelson, down by the river - nothing like as posh though.
  • For maximum historical impact... - why not try the Maids Head Hotel in Tombland, literally a stone's throw from the Cathedral precincts. Parts of the building date back to the 13th Century. It may also be worth enquiring about their murder mystery evenings, if you like that kind of thing.
  • B&B and guesthouses - My personal choice would be the Georgian House Hotel at the city-end of Unthank Road. Rooms are spacious and well-presented, breakfast is hearty and the price is reasonable, yet you're only a short stroll from the city centre. If you're just turning up without prior booking, Earlham Road is guesthouse city - in places it seems like every other house is a B&B. Quality (and price) varies, but there is some good value half-decent accommodation to be had here. Alternatively if you're looking for other budget lodgings try UEA's halls of residence, about three miles west of the city centre. The rooms are pretty cheap, there are sports facilities (including a 50m pool) onsite, and numerous buses take you right into town. Not available during term-time, obviously.
  • Hostels - there's also the YHA in Turner Road on the West side of town, quite close to the numerous bus routes that run up and down Earlham Road.
  • Let someone else find a hotel for you - for more info, or for a wider choice of hotels, check out the AA's excellent hotel finder.
  • Cathedrals - Norwich has two fine, but quite different, cathedrals. Most famous is the Anglican Cathedral in Tombland, the one with the spire that you see on any and every logo in any way connected with the city. The spire is rightly famous, as it is the second highest in the country, after Salisbury. The cathedral precincts are lovely too, accessible via a number of gates and offering a haven of peace and tranquillity in the heart of the city. Also worth looking out for are the massive cloisters, again the second largest in the country. The St John's Roman Catholic cathedral, at the top of Grapes Hill, offers quite a contrast and, although much less of a tourist draw, it is well worth a visit. Architecturally, its Gothic structure and gargoyles are interesting if that's your thing. Don't expect verdant precincts here though, as this cathedral is surrounded by busy roads. Anyway, my recommendation would be to see both and enjoy the comparison.
  • The Castle - unsurprisingly located atop Castle Meadow, Norwich's castle is a curious beast. Recently cleaned up, it presides over the city skyline and provides excellent views in all directions. It's not your typical towers-and-battlements affair either - rather, it's a much more recent design, a single imposing square structure with nicely (but not spectacularly) landscaped grounds. Mind you, there has been a castle of sorts on the site since Norman times. These days the castle houses a fine museum - last time I was there it was displaying a vast collection of teapots, for some unknown reason - and you can also take a tour of the castle itself, including the dungeons, which is interesting for all ages.
  • A funny thing happened on the way to... - The Forum in Bethel Street is a wonderful new development. Don't be put off by the fact that this was a Millennium Commission project, it's actually good! Norwich's old library burnt down a few years ago, providing the perfect opportunity to develop a brand new and very high-tech version for the 21st Century. Not only does it house the library, the Forum is also home to Origins, a museum tracing Norwich and Norfolk's history - this may sound a bit dull but it is firmly aimed at kids of all ages (I easily spent three hours in there, which probably tells you something about me!). On top of all this, the Forum has a coffee house downstairs, a Pizza Express on the first floor, plus somewhere to get online (through the library). All this, and the building is a pretty impressive piece of modern architecture too.
  • Mustard - Norwich and Colmans go way back. If you come into the city up the River Wensum you'll pass the remains of the company's Carrow factory, and the Bridewell Museum covers local mustard production in some detail. For a real taste of local tradition (and an unusual souvenir) visit the Mustard Shop in the Royal Arcade.
  • Get educated - Take a look at the Bridewell Museum, unsurprisingly in Bridewell Alley. It provides an excellent glimpse back into Norwich's past, with an emphasis on lifestyle rather than historic events. Taking a couple of hours to go round properly, this is ideal if the weather turns nasty and you need somewhere interesting to keep out of the rain. Also, the Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts is definitely worth a look - there's quite an interesting collection here, with an awful lot of sculpture, all located in a striking glass-fronted building. Why not take a picnic and enjoy the surrounding university campus grounds?
  • The river - The River Wensum winds its way into Norwich, and the navigable limit for Broads cruisers is by the Yacht Station, at the foot of Prince of Wales Road. This means that if you're holidaying on the Broads, you've got no excuse not to visit the fine city, though be warned - there isn't a lot of mooring space if you're planning an overnight stay, so get there early. Also on this stretch of the river, it's worth taking a stroll along to Pull's Ferry, which offers a nice photo opportunity if you're looking for a good shot of the cathedral. Alternatively, check out City Boats who operate a variety of conventional and themed river tours throughout the year. The speciality evening tours are recommended - book in advance during the summer though!
  • Parklife - one of the city's great treasures, Chapelfield Gardens is a beautiful place to eat a picnic, take a break during a busy day's sightseeing, sunbathe... there's also giant outdoor chess, a bandstand, and 45 different varieties of tree to spot! Five minutes' walk away, at the city end of Earlham Road, you'll find the Plantation Garden, 3 acres of grade II English Heritage registered grounds. Nearly 150 years old, the Garden really is a hidden treasure, tucked away behind the Roman Catholic cathedral. Going here feels a bit like stepping back in time.
  • Elm Hill - one of the most picturesque parts in Norwich, particularly on a sunny day, Elm Hill is full of old buildings, cobbled streets, and old-world charm. There are also a number of interesting shops to be found here - antiques, old books, that kind of thing - and an excellent teddy bear shop, if that's your cup of tea. Close to Tombland and the Anglican cathedral.
  • Go all "luvvy" - if theatre is your cup of tea, then you've come to the right place! You've a choice of the mainstream Theatre Royal, the more high-brow Assembly House, the intimate Maddermarket Theatre, the unique Norwich Puppet Theatre, the Norwich Playhouse and the excellent Norwich Arts Centre (especially good for comedy events). All these venues are usually involved in the annual Norfolk & Norwich Festival.
  • Tombland - Tombland is an interestingly named area of Norwich that lies at the centre of a number of attractions: the Anglican Cathedral, Elm Hill, the River Wensum, Magdalen Street's eclectic range of shops... The fine old buildings that cluster around the heart of Tombland are worth a look in their own right. Also, the Tombland Summer Fair has recently been resurrected, and is a fine day out too.
  • Shop 'til you drop - Britain's largest open market is to be found in Gentleman's Walk, nestling beneath the imposing 1920s facade of City Hall. As well as having a bewildering array of stalls (e.g. it's a cracking place to come if you can't find spare parts for your old vacuum cleaner!), it's also an excellent place to grab a lunchtime bite to eat, if all you're looking for is something like a bacon buttie and a mug of tea. Also, the brightly coloured stall roofs make for a colourful photograph on a sunny day, if you can find a good vantage point. Sadly though, the traditional wood-built stalls with canvas roofs are having to make way for modern steel and glass equivalents, courtesy of a council modernisation scheme. Still worth a look though... The Mall offers a real contrast - largely underground, it offers floor upon floor of high-street shopping, and has a good food court too. If you're more of a traditionalist Jarrold's will probably be more your cup of tea, it being a long-established department store. Also worth a mention is the marvellous Royal Arcade, right opposite the market - it's full of interesting little shops, none of which you'll find in your home town (with the exception of the now-obligatory mobile phone store by the entrance) and the decor has bags of bygone charm. On a bright summer's afternoon, the light in the Arcade is very nice too, thanks to a glass ceiling; all in all, it demonstrates that the 1905 concept of a shopping mall is so much nicer than its contemporary equivalent. Speaking of which, the Chapelfield development has just opened - 80+ shops crowded into a new mall on the site of a much-missed chocolate factory. Most of the outlets are fashion-related, although there are one or two shops worth a look. The Morris pasty concession is the pick of a predictable food court.
  • A special mention for the little guy - Norwich has loads of cinemas, including all the usual suspects (Odeon, Vue (best mainstream choice in my, ahem, vue) and Hollywood). However, in the shape of Cinema City (St Andrew's Street) it also has one of the country's finest independent art-house cinemas. Its programme is diverse, and encompasses enough to keep both mainstream audiences and lovers of subtitled foreign offerings happy. Well worth a look.
  • Caffe Uno - Tombland. Okay, so I don't usually go in for restaurants that are part of a chain but this Caffe Uno is very pleasant indeed. It's also handily placed if the queues for other Tombland restaurants are too long! As with most Caffe Uno's you can see your food being cooked too, which is always nice. I would have to recommend the pollo al rosmarino, followed by a pana cotta for dessert...
  • Pedro's - Chapelfield Gardens. The best of sadly-few Mexican restaurant options in Norwich. The food is decent, the service is very friendly and the portions are huge. Okay, so it's hardly in the heart of the city, being stuck in the middle of a park, but if you are looking for the chance to wear a sombrero (honestly!) you won't find anything finer. A word of caution - the spicy chicken dippers starter is hot, hot, hot!
  • Pizza Express - St Benedict's. A real favourite, mainly because of the wonderful atmosphere there is to be had here. Have the dough balls to start, they're terrific. If you want a pizza in Norwich, this is the place to go, without question.
  • The Floating Restaurant - Riverside. Ideal if you fancy having your dinner on the river, admittedly moored up. Unusual surroundings are not the only thing going for this restaurant though - good food and friendly service are also on offer. Handily placed for the train station too, being only about 30 seconds walk away.
  • Figaro's - Westlegate. An unobtrusive, dimly-lit Italian restaurant in a far-from ideal location. The food is good though - pizza especially so - and the service is friendly without being overbearing. Equally good for an evening meal or an affordable lunchtime visit, why not walk those few extra yards past McDonald's and have a real meal for lunch? You'll be glad you did.
  • Marmalade's - Royal Arcade. Not a restaurant, just a coffee shop, but perfect if you just want some elevenses or a mid-afternoon snack. If you're expecting an orange colour scheme, with a name like this, then you won't be disappointed but rest assured the overall effect is quite relaxing, not garish. Plus you get to watch the world wander through the rather neat Royal Arcade.
  • Captain America's - Exchange St. Purveyors of the finest burgers in Norwich, enough said...
  • The Waffle House - St Giles St. Not to everyone's taste on the basis that a waffle for your main course and a crèpe for dessert can seem like too much of the same thing, The Waffle House nevertheless offers a decent (and slightly unusual) meal in relaxed surroundings, and with friendly service.
  • Café Rouge - Exchange St. A decent offering from the French restaurant chain. The lamb shank is recommended, as is the crème brulée. Seems a bit strange that the smoking area is by the windows and bar, whilst the no-smoking area is tucked away at the back; as a non-smoker, I think this should be the other way around!
  • The Marsh Harrier - Ipswich Road. Head out of town towards Ipswich (on the A140) and on the left-hand side, between the Holiday Inn and Tesco, you'll find this establishment. On entry, find a free table, then take your food order to the bar - the staff will give you a numbered wooden spoon which will act as your table number for the night! But aside from such distractions, the service is friendly, the menu is good (I had the lemon chicken, very nice) and the atmosphere is relaxed. Dress code is a loose interpretation of smart casual though.
  • Courtyard Bar & Grill - Tombland. Although it's part of the Maid's Head Hotel, this deserves an entry of its own. The Courtyard Grill building dates back to the 13th Century, and is very handily placed for the Cathedral and Tombland. Food is decent enough, without being anything to get delirious about - it's the convivial atmosphere that's most likely to bring you here.
  • Aquarium - Tombland. Be advised: there is a smart casual dress code here, basically because Aquarium fancies itself as quite an upmarket establishment. And, to be fair, it is. Arrive early and have a drink in the upstairs bar before your meal, so you can watch Tombland night-life from the window.
  • Tatler - Tombland. This place bills itself as the "home of Norfolk gastronomy" - make of that what you will. What I bill it as is fine, modern cuisine, served up in a relaxing environment. Décor is contemporary yet understated - right up my street.
  • Fatso's - Prince of Wales Road. A speak-easy restaurant with a 1920's Chicago theme. Don't expect haute cuisine - specialities include burgers, steak and ribs. Portions are large too, although there is also a more modest lunch menu. It's more lively in the evening though, obviously.
  • 18 - Bedford St. Bills itself as a continental cafe but is also, in fact, a fine bar for the hipper-than-thou drinkers amongst you. Wankers take women they want to seduce here for Sunday brunch.
  • The Bell Hotel - Orford Hill. A Weatherspoon's pub, The Bell is well placed in the centre of town. The good thing about Wetherspoon's pubs is that as well as having a nice pint of very reasonably priced ale they also serve good, simple food too. Beer and a burger for under a fiver, anyone? And unlike a lot of pubs that are pretending to be restaurants these days, you don't have to listen to blaring music whilst you're eating. A word to the wise: this place gets very busy on Friday and Saturday nights with the pre-club crowd. NB: there are two other Weatherspoon's pubs in the city, both quite modern: The City Gate, at the foot of Grapes Hill, and Lloyd's No 1 Bar, Riverside.
  • Bedford's - Bedford St. Although there's a brasserie upstairs, skip that and go straight downstairs to the crypt bar - the low vaulted brick ceiling (13th century) makes for a very atmospheric drinking experience when this place is busy (Fri/Sat nights). The down side is that when it's empty you just want to drink up and move swiftly on...
  • The Murderer's - Timberhill. So-called because a murder took place here a couple of hundred years ago, this place was also very popular with 18th century prostitutes apparently! These days it is popular with everyone, and is one of the better city-centre pubs. Original oak beams add to the atmosphere, though the more modern glass-ceiling room to the rear of the pub is nice too, especially on a sunny afternoon. AKA The Gardener's Arms, for some reason.
  • Ha!Ha! - Tombland. A relatively new addition to Norwich's pub roster, Ha!Ha! is a very civilised place to have a few beers and a decent bite to eat. If you're ordering food and are having chips (aka "fries" if you're from the US), ask for fat chips, not thin, they're definitely worth it.
  • The Rumsey Wells - St Andrew's St. A world away from the image-conscious likes of Ha!Ha!, the Wells offers fine beer in relaxed surroundings. They also sell pick'n'mix by the half-pint glass, and the menu offers a choice of three different mashes and three different gravies. Excellent! What's more, the cellar can be used as a private hire venue for parties, social groups, meetings, drama rehearsals and so on.
  • Adam & Eve - Bishopgate. Norwich's oldest pub (first customers served on this site in 1248!) is, as you would expect, a very quaint affair, full of nooks, crannies and low ceilings. Maybe not a place to spend an entire evening, but definitely worth a look. Haunted, apparently...
  • The Ribs Of Beef - Fye Bridge St. The local rag's pub of the year for 2001, The Ribs sits between Tombland and Magdalen Street, and overlooks the River Wensum. This pub stands out for its selection of well-kept real ales, good lunchtime menu and regular drinks promotions. Not a bad place to watch televised sport either.
  • The Wig & Pen - St Martin's Palace Plain. So-called because of its proximity to the law courts, The Wig & Pen is a 16th century pub that is rated very highly by CAMRA, which is good enough for me.
  • The Mischief - Fye Bridge St. Another fine pub, very close to The Ribs so handily placed for pub-crawling purposes. Friendly and good for making memories.
  • Take 5 - Tombland. Another old pub, this one dating back to the 15th century, Take 5 (formerly The Louis Marchesi) is notable for its crypt bar, which can even be hired out for private parties. Live music is fairly common, whilst keenly priced food is also a big draw.
  • The Edith Cavell/Cole's - Tombland. Used to be the very traditional Edith Cavell but has now had a revamp as a trendy bar. The original pub (the sign for which is still displayed in the window) was named after one of the city's more famous residents and was a fairly straightforward, run-of-the-mill establishment. The jury's still out on the revamp - it is extremely handily placed for pre-club drinking though.
  • The Fat Cat - West End St. CAMRA's pub of the year in 1998. On my last visit this pub had about 20 real ales on offer, so if a decent pint is what you're looking for, look no further.
  • The Shed - corner of Sprowston Road and Lawson Road. Worth the 10-15 minute walk from Tombland, this converted social club is now a serious real ale pub, run by the same folks as The Fat Cat. Live music on Fridays too. Recommended.
  • The Compleat Angler - Princes of Wales Road. One of the better watering holes on Prince of Wales Road but unfortunately at the far end of it! There is also space to sit outside by the river in fine weather, although this is spoiled by the fact that the adjacent road is so busy. Quite handy for a pint before catching a train somewhere though, as the station is just across the road..
  • The Surrey Tavern - Surrey St. A very quiet pub in the evenings but included here as it's ideal if you just want a pint of well-kept ale and a game of pool.
  • The Freemasons Arms - Hall Road (formerly The Billy Bluelight). Has one of the best selections of real ales in the city, with many regular guest beers. Also has a skittle alley, which you might like to try...
  • The Mad Moose - Warwick St. Worth a mention on the basis that numerous Norwich City Football Club players pop in here for a swift beverage. Also has a decent restaurant, by all accounts.
  • The Garden House - Pembroke Road. Popular with students and quiz-lovers alike - the Monday night quiz is always rammed. Expect a few tough questions... and enjoy the special quiz bar snacks menu.
  • The Plasterer's Arms - Cowgate. One of my first pub visits in the fine city, The Plasterer's is a simple pub in a less than marvellous part of town but has a nice atmosphere and is very good for people-watching. Best in the evening when the poor lighting adds to the ambience! Good choice of ales too.
  • The Rushcutters - Yarmouth Road. A little out of town, down by the river, so busy with boating tourists in the summer. Again, is good for food, with a fine menu of freshly prepared dishes. Recommended for a summer's afternoon when you have no place else to be...
  • Club life - Norwich is quite well served in this respect. Time, part of the waterside development, is the most modern club in the city and is very popular with Norwich's bright young things. At the other end of the scale, and more to my taste, you'll find The Waterfront in King Street, owned and operated by the University of East Anglia Student Union. Particularly good are the Thatcher Experience 80's night, and the Meltdown indie nights. Decor is very basic and the beer is served in plastic glasses or straight from the can, but the music is good and so is the vibe. Somewhere between these extremes you'll find clubs like Chicago's in Prince of Wales Road, your average girls-dancing-round-handbags type pub/club hybrid. In fact you'll find a sprinkling of clubs of various quality (or seediness) down the aforementioned Princes of Wales Road (where you'll also find Liquid), so you could always take pot luck in any of these. Ponana on Bank Plain provides a nice alternative if seedy clubs are not your thing. Alternatively, you could always check out clubbed.com for more up-to-date clubbing info.
  • And finally... - for more detailed information about pubs in the fine city, Ant Veal's UK Pub Guide has some very handy info.
  • Other online guides - in no particular order: Norwich Tonight, The Knowhere Guide to Norwich, MyNorwich and Visit Norwich.
  • Pocket Norwich - brilliant idea! Audio tours who can download to your MP3 player of choice or phone, plus multimedia tours you can download to a PDA or other mobile device. Only 99p a go!
  • Norwich City Football Club - on the ball, City! Ooh-aah-Delia, etc. Seems a lifetime ago they were beating the likes of Bayern Munich in the UEFA Cup. Who knows what's next for the yellow and green army?
  • Eastern Daily Press - publishers of two excellent local papers, the EDP and the Evening News, both good for "what's on" type stuff. Saturday's EDP is especially good.
  • Norwich City Council - slightly boring but useful for local businesses and services.
  • The coat of arms - in case you're into heraldry...

Page updated 10-Jul-2008 10:09:45 GMT

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