Last Updated: September 14, 2023
The city of Norwich anchors one of the most rural counties in the United Kingdom – Norfolk. But the isolation that stems from Norfolk’s extensive countryside does not dampen Norwich’s existence.
Norwich is a city filled with life; a city that prides itself on championing diversity and opportunity; a city that celebrates its history and welcomes the new. Norwich is also a city for all – whether you’re an adrenaline seeker, foodie, hobbyist historian, nature lover, partier, or general travel lover.
I know this because I lived in Norwich for some of the most critical years of my young life. So from someone who has been there and done it, here is the list of the top things to do in Norwich, England.
Norwich Castle is the city’s prime landmark – and trust me, you can’t miss it.
The castle sits rather conspicuously on top of an artificial mound of earth in the very heart of Norwich. From its perch, Norwich Castle proudly overlooks the city centre. While perhaps not fitting the typical idea of castle aesthetics, the fortification is still quite a sight. Picture a large, limestone box constructed in the architectural style of the Norman dynasty; perhaps easier said than done. Fortunately, we included a picture.
Even if you don’t have a great interest in history, taking the time to walk up to the castle itself is still a worthwhile trip – a true Norwich experience that you can tick off the list. But if you are a history buff and want to learn more about the castle, head into the onsite museum.
Another of the Norwich 12 – a roster of iconic Norwich heritage sites – is the Norwich Cathedral.
Much like the nearby castle, the city’s premier cathedral is hard to miss – the structure rises high with the second tallest cathedral spire in the UK, second only to that of the Salisbury Cathedral spire. In the same vein, Norwich Cathedral’s cloisters are the second largest in the country, again only being surpassed by those in Salisbury. The bosses displayed inside the cloisters are said to be some of the most significant medieval sculptural treasures that remain today.
Building the cathedral was clearly a labour of love; the resulting structure harbours many intricate architectural details that only help to further contribute to its wonder. We’ve included a picture of the gorgeous interior for this very reason.
Exploring the wider cathedral grounds is also highly recommended.
The cathedral hosts comprehensive tours for those wanting more insight into its history and architecture.
Cathedral of St. John the Baptist
While the Norwich Cathedral stands proud in the limelight, another cathedral in the city that deserves attention is the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. Understandably, St. John’s cathedral lingers in the shadow of its larger compatriot, but it’s a shame, nonetheless.
Those that appreciate historical architecture should take the time to admire St. John’s – the grade-1 listed heritage site is a pristine showing of gothic revival design.
Time your visit to navigate around the masses held. That way, you’ll have the space and time to admire the structure’s beauty – both inside and out.
Shopping at Chantry Place
Trade historical architecture for retail therapy.
Norwich hosts a full catalogue of high street brands – from budget stores to high-end boutiques.
One of the best hubs for Norwich shopping is the Chantry Place mall where you’ll find two floors of wall-to-wall retail stores. If you build up an appetite from shopping, then step outside into the Chantry Place square, or go up to the mall’s dining terrace. There are generous collections of restaurants and diners to choose from in each location.
Shop the Independents at The Lanes
Long live the independents.
Admittedly, I’m a terrible shopper. Browsing shops is of little interest to me – it causes me no shame to confess that. However, Norwich proved to be an exception to that rule. Browsing the shops held my interest, which is a tough ask.
Like any major city, Norwich has more than its fair share of established high street brands. But what I came to love about the city was its density of independent storefronts. The Lanes, a network of small streets in the city centre, is home to some of these stores. From family-owned bookstores that have operated in The Lanes for generations, to artisanal craft workshops that continue to provide high-level wares.
What’s more, there are loads of cafes and restaurants to choose from when you get hungry or want a drink outdoors.
The Norwich Market
In my eyes, the Norwich Market doesn’t get enough credit. To be truthful, it is widely celebrated. And yes, it is also recognized as one of the country’s largest and oldest open-air markets. But I still don’t think that captures just how much it elevates the city centre.
Each day, dozens and dozens of stallholders open up shop, prompting the market lanes to fill with eager customers. There’s a persistent atmosphere to the place that just makes me love it – I make a habit of walking through each time I’m in Norwich, regardless of if I need anything from inside.
You’ll find street food of all cuisines and flavours at the market. Ruby’s is a crowd favourite that serves all the classics: chips, breakfast baps, and so on. But Falafel and Friends is my go-to. The bottom line? Countless vendors serve incredible food at the market – so be sure to try as much as you can.
Not hungry? There are plenty of other reasons to wander through the market lanes. Head to the back for some truly vintage clothing collections. Or dip into Botanical to satiate your houseplant cravings.
40-minutes west of Norwich is the Thetford Forest Park. You’ve got to put this place on your itinerary – especially if you love the great outdoors.
The park exists as the largest human-made lowland forest in the entirety of the United Kingdom. Pines and heathland extend for miles.
There’s more than one way to enjoy the forest too. For those that want something a little more adrenaline-fuelled than just walking, head to the forest’s main visitor centre: High Lodge. From there, hire yourself a mountain bike and hit one of the purpose-built forest trails. The routes are the real deal, so expect twists, turns, drops, and obstacles.
Thetford is one of Norfolk’s greatest assets – make sure to explore it.
The Norwich food scene is top tier. True, I may be biased, having lived there for several years. But don’t brush off my testimony yet.
Norwich really does have an impressive roster of independent eateries, alongside the usual trope of chain brands. Brick is one of these independent eateries.
Brick deals in the art of pizza. And it’s an art they’ve perfected – with the help of their wood-burning brick oven (hence the name).
Heading to this super-casual eatery became an all-too-common occurrence when I was in town. I say that as if I minded – I definitely didn’t.
As per their instructions: no leaving the cornicione (crust). Just their use of the word cornicione should show they know what they’re talking about.
Boating on the Norfolk Broads
Let me tell you straight. If this were a ranked list, taking a boat out on the Norfolk Broads would likely take the top spot.
With over 125 miles of inland waterways, the Norfolk Broads exists as the largest nationally protected wetland in the country. And it’s an area of extreme natural importance, too, as over a quarter of the UK’s rarest wildlife – animals and plants – inhabit the national park.
The Broads’ navigable channels allow for unparalleled access to its majesty.
Wroxham is a good spot to start your adventure. There, hire yourself a boat for the day. Then take to the canals. As if that wasn’t already good enough, if you see a riverside pub on your journey, don’t hesitate to moor up and grab a pint – that’ll be one of the more unique beer stops you’ve made in your life. Just make sure to remain responsible on the waterways. Observe and appreciate the natural world, do not abuse it.
Music at The LCR
The city of Norwich has long held an important place within the UK’s music scene, often seen as being a launchpad for bands and performers as they rise through the industry’s ranks.
One of the city’s premier music venues – when it’s not hosting club nights for the University of East Anglia’s students – is The LCR. The venue does hold a somewhat historical list of prior performers – from globally recognised rock bands like Red Hot Chili Peppers and U2 to contemporary indie-pop legends like Coldplay.
There’s something special about experiencing live music in an intimate venue – The LCR emphasises that philosophy. Book yourself in for one of the upcoming shows and experience the university gig experience.
The Bicycle Shop
The Bicycle Shop has always been a favourite of mine. There’s something about the laidback atmosphere that forever lures me into going back – and believe me, that isn’t a bad thing. It’s a place that is just effortlessly cool: bohemia-mismatched furniture, plants in every corner, rustic crockery.
Breakfast, brunch, beer – The Bicycle Shop caters for all times and occasions. To experience it at its best, swing by from late afternoon to evening. Get in order of artisan beers, pair them with some tapas, and enjoy the ambience.
One pillar of the Norwich community is The Forum, a centre for many of the city’s events and exhibitions.
Whenever you’re in the city centre, make sure to swing by the glass-fronted building – you might come across an impromptu art show, a busy fair, or any number of other exhibitions.
The Forum also happens to house both the UK’s most popular library and BBC East – the latter proved to be a source of excitement for my mother when I invited her to visit me in Norwich. We actually ended up crossing paths with Stewart White, one of the BBC presenters, as he entered the building. Mum will remember that one for a while.
Seriously though, The Forum does keep a lively roster of events on its schedule. Make sure to check if anything takes your interest.
Norfolk Coast Path
The United Kingdom is revered for its coastlines, often quoted as having some of the most beautiful in the world. The Norfolk coast is absolutely a significant contributor to that statement.
I’m an outdoorsman; at my happiest when surrounded by nature. That’s what kept me in Norwich. And it was time spent out on the Norfolk coast that provided me with some of my best memories.
The Norfolk Coast Path runs from Hunstanton on Norfolk’s west coast, all the way to Sea Palling on the east. Holkham tops the pile of highlights and prioritises Hunstanton, Wells-next-the-Sea, and Sheringham if you’re strapped for time.
For anyone that loves outdoor adventure, exploring the coastal route is non-negotiable. There are no two ways about it.
The Adnams Brewery
Further south of Sea Palling is the seaside town of Southwold – a Norfolk gem in its own right, but most famous for being the home of brewery powerhouse, Adnams.
Adnams have long prided themselves on sticking to their roots, having kept their brewery in Southwold since the brand’s inception – their new-addition spirit distillery is located there too.
You can order yourself a pint of Ghost Ship pretty much anywhere in the country. But it’s a bit more special to head into Southwold itself and nurse a pint of Adnams’ flagship brew in one of the locals.
Take that idea one step further even, and book yourself in for an Adnams Brewery tour. The best part? You’ll get a chance to sample the brand’s award-winning line-up at the end.
The Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts
Now, there’s one of two reasons why you’ll want to visit The Sainsbury Centre. Reason one: you’re an admirer of contemporary art and want to explore one of the UK’s most impressive university art galleries. Or reason two: you want to find Tony Stark and plead your case as to why you should be an Avenger. The truth is, Iron Man himself won’t be there, but The Sainsbury Centre was used as the Avengers headquarters for the blockbuster Marvel films, making it a cool spot to tick off your Norwich list.
Make sure to take a lap of the building if you want to properly recognise the building from its cameo in the films – you’ll enjoy the bonus of navigating through the resident sculpture park too.
I’d wager that most Norwich residents have paid a visit to Café 33 in their time within the city. It’s hard to imagine otherwise with a place of Café 33’s reputation. A quick read of my rundown of Norwich’s best cafés will show that it’s a firm favourite.
If you’re in the city and feel like grabbing some brunch, don’t second guess it: go to Café 33. Hold me personally accountable if you leave disappointed – you won’t.
My order was always the ‘Posh Sausage Sandwich’. But it’s impossible to make a bad choice.
Eaton Park Golf Course
Norwich does have its fair share of full eighteens. But, with the Eaton Park Course, I’m heading in a slightly different direction.
If the Norfolk weather is playing nice, muster a group of friends and play a more casual round of pitch and putt. And take it from someone that hasn’t played a proper round of golf in his life. A low handicap is not needed to enjoy a few hours on the course. I’ve spent a number of days in the shadow of my far more competent friends but had fun, nonetheless.
Perhaps the idea of conventional golf just does nothing for you, though. If that’s the case, Eaton Park’s offers a complete foot-golf course too. So you can swing with a club, or swing with your leg – your choice.
Either way, this is one of the best things to do with a group of friends in Norwich.
The Fat Cat Pub
Norwich’s best café? Arguably Café 33. Norwich’s best pub? Almost unanimously The Fat Cat.
My breakdown of Norwich’s best pubs runs through the watering hole’s impressive list of accolades. Spoiler alert: there’s a current six-year streak of’ Good Pub Guide – Beer Pub of the Year’ awards. Yes, that’s the level of taphouse we’re talking about here – nationally renowned.
Real ale connoisseurs will feel right at home here. Just prepare for a tough choice between in-house brews: the titular Norwich Bitter, the pale ale Cougar, and the new Lockdown IPA are all good options.
Now for something a little under the radar – Urban Jungle, an exotic plant centre with onsite café. As you’d imagine with a place with jungle in the name, the café is inundated with foliage – it’s definitely an aesthetic place to have a coffee and a slice of cake.
With the recent surge in houseplant popularity, I can’t imagine I’m the only one that thinks a half-hour wandering through tropical plant nurseries is a good time.
An important note though, it is a little outside the city, so you will need a car to get there.
Watching a rugby match at the local university might be even more left-field than Urban Jungle. And it may also seem like a hideous showing of self-promotion, being a University of East Anglia rugby team alumnus myself. But hear me out.
University sports don’t quite have the reputation in the UK that they do in the United States. There are no 90,000 seat stadiums being filled by supporters to watch a game. But the essence remains – watching competitive sport of any level can be extremely enjoyable.
UEA actually boasts an incredibly successful men’s rugby team, with inter-university games being played on Wednesdays. A more accessible showcase of rugby comes on Saturdays, though, when the university ruby club plays its regional league side – the Trojans – against other Eastern Counties rugby clubs.
This is definitely the most niche activity on this list, but I don’t think you should ignore it. A Saturday morning spent at Colney Lane – or ‘Fortress Colney’, as it has come to be known – watching grassroots men’s rugby? That’s one way to experience the university spirit.
Wensum Riverside Walk
Norwich’s moniker as ‘a fine city’, is a bit of an understatement in my eyes. After a few minutes walking along the Wensum River, you’d think that something a bit more superlative would have been used – beautiful, perhaps. But my petty qualms are not what to focus on here, though, forget them.
The real point to be made is that the Wensum River’s passage through the heart of Norwich is a remarkably beautiful stretch of the city. At times, the river is flanked on both sides by immaculately maintained period architecture. Follow the river east to cross paths with the historic Cow Tower, a 14th-century artillery blockhouse. Continue even further to see the equally iconic Pull’s Ferry.
If you’re in the city and the sun is shining, grab an ice cream cone and follow the river.
Elm Hill, Pottergate, and Tombland
Other areas of beauty within the city are the Pottergate and Tombland neighbourhoods and Elm Hill – each a location that exemplifies Norwich’s historical heritage.
For many, Elm Hill is one of the most beautiful streets in the city due to its collection of tutor housing. Pottergate and Tombland follow suit with their own showcasing of period buildings.
Even since moving away from Norwich, I’ve remained vocal about the city’s architectural beauty. It’s a place with immense pride in itself – and that’s commendable.
Don’t shun just spending a few hours wandering through the streets. Pick up a coffee and aimlessly meander.
Grosvenor Fish Bar
Grosvenor Fish Bar is easily one of the most popular eateries in the city. Arguably, that’s a feat in itself, carrying a fish and chip shop to the top of the pile in an already very foodie-friendly city. Grosvenor’s innovative chef might have something to do with that.
Alongside the usual roster of cod and chips, you’ll be able to order yourself a tasty ‘Wako Taco’ – a steam cod wrap with salsa lettuce and sour cream, to you and me. Other inventive options are the ‘Bass with Sass’, ‘6 Quid Squid’, and the ‘Red Herring’ – amongst others. I’ll wager that you can decipher the main ingredients for each of those dishes.
Bottom line, this is a must-visit for self-proclaimed foodies. Grosvenor’s is the real deal.
Cromer Fish and Chips
Is one serving of fish and chips not enough? Head to the source by steering into Norfolk’s long fishing history.
25-miles north of Norwich is Cromer, one of the UK’s most famous seaside towns. There you can indulge yourself in any of the multitudes of seafood restaurants and takeaways.
No.1Cromeris a crowd favourite, but it also holds legitimate awards to prove its excellence. No.1 offers all the classics. But if you want to try the local speciality, order the ‘Cromer Crab Burger’ – much of Cromer’s fame stems from its namesake crustacean.
Even without its crabs and battered cod, Cromer is still a lovely place to spend some time. Keep an eye out for one of Banksy’s original artworks too.
Let’s keep the seaside momentum going. Continue further up the coast from Cromer to encounter some of Norfolk’s most famous residents – Grey Seals.
The sea inlets and waters around Blakeney Point are actually home to the largest colony of Grey Seals in the UK. Over 3000 new pups are born on the surrounding beaches each winter.
Insider tip: the seal boat trips are highly rated for a reason – they’re the most reliable way to view the resident wildlife. When I decided to try and walk to Blakeney Point to photograph the seals, I didn’t come across any seals. To be honest, the National Trust does say that walking to see the seals at Blakeney Point is not possible. I guess I’m the poster boy for that statement.
Norwich’s line-up of historic music venues continues with The Waterfront.
Like The LCR, Norwich’s The Waterfront has a similarly storied cast of previous performers: Radiohead, Nirvana, Arctic Monkeys, and Amy Winehouse being just a taste of the list.
The Waterfront is Norwich’s banner-holder for why small music venues are better than large arenas. Sure, Wembley has a wow factor with its sheer capacity. But being up close to a band is incomparable.
White Lies came through Norwich during the final year of my undergraduate degree – it was one of the best gigs of my life.
Check The Waterfront’s upcoming calendar and see what I mean.
Norwich Arts Centre
I might as well just complete the music trifecta.
The Norwich Arts Centre is a venue that leads the charge for up-and-coming performers, hosting everything from homegrown talent to touring bands on the rise. If time travel was possible, you’d be able to buy tickets to an early Oasis gig.
An award for ‘Britain’s Best Small Venue’ sits on the establishment’s metaphorical mantle too.
Don’t just draw the line at music, though. All performing arts are put on a show here.
Redwings Horse Sanctuary
Visit the gangsters of Norfolk. Adjust your expectations, though. These gangsters won’t be pinstripe-clad mafiosos. No, you’ll actually be met with a troop of Shetland ponies.
Terrible jokes aside, a visit to either of the Norfolk Redwings Horse Sanctuary branches makes for a delightful and heart-warming day out.
Aim for the Aylsham location specifically to see the Shetland gangsters. The alternative is Redwings in Caldecott, the charity’s largest facility.
Either way, you’ll get to spend the day with an array of rescued animals.
Woolf & Social
Woolf & Social is a surprisingly affordable showcase in the art of fine dining. They serve up seasonal small plates.
Featured dishes include ‘Norfolk Dapple Croquettes with a Chard Sauerkraut’, and ‘Cromer Crab Wontons in Dashi’. All dietary requirements are catered for – vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free.
Woolf & Social’s pleasantries go beyond its menu, though. The restaurant itself is a stripped-back homage to the social club – perhaps an obvious note, considering its name.
Few places provide such a rounded complement of incredible cooking and refined aesthetics. Dining at Woolf & Social is an experience to be had.
Snetterton Track Day
Another unique experience to be had in Norwich.
30-minutes’ drive from Norwich is the iconic Snetterton Circuit. Each month, the racetrack hosts several track days – events where the public can book themselves in to take their cars around a legitimate raceway—a rare opportunity for automotive enthusiasts to step on the accelerator.
Securing a ticket for one of Snetterton’s track days can cost a pretty penny, though. Luckily, every track day is freely open to public spectators. That way, everyone can still share in the Snetterton Circuit experience.
Don’t confuse Snetterton with Snettisham, though. You’ll be met with something completely different. One is known for its racetrack, the other is known for hosting one of the UK’s most impressive arrays of wildfowl and wading birds.
Time your visit right, and you’ll be in for the Snettisham Spectacular – the coordinated flight of hundreds of thousands of resident waders and other coastal birds. Aim to visit at high tide between September and April. Those are your best chance to see the Spectacular.
If you’re not averse to early mornings, head to Snettisham at dawn between November and January. Chances are you’ll be rewarded by vast numbers of Pink Footed Geese flying overhead as they come inland to feed.
Either sight is a true display of nature’s splendour.
The Plantation Garden
Last but not least, The Plantation Garden.
Perhaps not an attraction that will take hours to explore, but worthwhile visiting, nonetheless. The Plantation Garden is a Grade-II English Heritage registered green space just outside the city centre. For over 100-years, the garden has hosted a beautiful array of indigenous flora – the Italianate terrace and Gothic-style fountain are other highlights.
The Plantation Garden is widely regarded as one of Norwich’s hidden gems. It’s an overused cliché, true. But the premise stands.
Norwich may be ‘a fine city’. But beyond its underwhelming signature, it’s also a great city.
Norwich has everything within reach – whether it’s history that interests you, music, nature, food, or anything and everything in between.
Check out our other articles on Norwich below:
- 15 Best Pubs in Norwich
- 15 Best Breakfast & Cafe Spots in Norwich
- 15 Things to do in Norwich with kids
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