Norwich, the most complete medieval city in the U.K., is a great destination for history lovers. With a walkable city center and one of the country's most iconic cathedrals, Norwich is known for its museums, historical sites, and, perhaps most importantly, impressive shopping scene. Whether you're looking to learn more about Norman England or to stroll through one of England's best outdoor markets, Norwich has something for all types of travelers, and it's ideal for visiting during all times of the year. Nearby, Blickling Hall and the Broads National Park provide nice day trips for those looking to explore the area more.
From Norwich Cathedral to Pulls Ferry, here are 15 of the best things to do when visiting the historic city of Norwich.
Tour Norwich Cathedral
Norwich Cathedral, which was completed in 1145 and has since undergone reconstruction several times, is Norwich's most iconic site. It currently acts as the cathedral for the Church of England Diocese of Norwich and is open to visitors (including those who don't follow the church's faith). The cathedral is known as the most complete Norman Cathedral in England, so take time to tour its buildings, cloisters, and exhibitions, detailing its 900-year history. Don't miss the peregrine falcons, which nest in the church spire and can be viewed from the observation point between April and June.
Explore Norwich Castle Museum
Head to Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery to discover over 3 million historical objects and artworks, both of British and international origin. The exhibits range from a history of life in Norwich to sea-inspired works to religious paintings, all housed inside a former medieval castle built during William the Conqueror's rule. It's been a museum since 1894, and it makes for a great visit for adults and children alike. Tickets are required (but they are notably inexpensive), and there are ongoing workshops and events for kids.
Walk Along Elm Hill
Stroll down Elm Hill, a beautiful historic cobbled lane that runs through Norwich, to get a glimpse of buildings dating back to the Tudor period. While a fire in 1507 destroyed much of the street, the former merchant’s houses were rebuilt, and it remains one of the city's best places to be immersed in history. Today Elm Hill is lined with boutiques, galleries, cafes, and tea shops. Look for The Britons Arms, the sole survivor of the 1507 fire, now a family-run coffee shop serving food and drinks.
Shop Norwich Market
Shop nearly 200 stalls at Norwich Market, an outdoor market originally founded in the 11th century to supply Norman merchants and settlers. These days it's open Monday through Saturday in central Norwich on Gentleman’s Walk, and visitors can shop everything from clothes to antiques to cheese to takeaway food. Stop by for an inexpensive lunch or just to browse the wares between visits to nearby spots like the Norwich Castle Museum and Elm Hill.
Visit Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts
Located at the University of East Anglia, the Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts, designed by Norman Foster and Wendy Cheesman, makes a great afternoon out with the family or solo. The museum showcases various global artworks, including pieces by Picasso, Bacon, and Degas, and the 350-acre scenic grounds are filled with large sculptures. The galleries feature both temporary exhibitions and an engaging permanent collection, and the Centre also has a gift shop. Because the museum is slightly outside the center of Norwich, it's best to drive.
Stroll Around Plantation Garden
No trip to Norwich is complete without an exploration of the Plantation Garden, a vast area of greenery built in an abandoned chalk quarry. Established a century ago, the three-acre garden features a massive gothic fountain, manicured flower beds and lawns, and an Italian terrace. There is a small fee to enter, although it's worth the price, and on Saturdays, the garden offers tea and cakes on the lawn. To find the garden, which is sometimes referred to as the "Secret Garden," look for the Roman Catholic Cathedral on Earlham Road. It can be busy on the weekends, so if you're looking for real tranquility, arrive early on a weekday.
Visit Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell
Learn about Norwich's industrial history at the Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell, also known as the Bridewell Museum. The two-floor museum is small, but it's packed with information and artifacts, as well as hands-on activities for kids and families. Once a merchant home, the 700-year-old building is particularly compelling and worth the visit alone. Check online for upcoming temporary exhibitions and events.
Explore Blickling Estate
Head outside of town for a day trip to Blickling Estate, which is famously the birthplace of Anne Boleyn. The stately home, run by the National Trust, can be found in the village of Blickling and features vast grounds and gardens along with its historic rooms. There's a lot to explore, so give yourself at least several hours and consider buying tickets in advance online. If you want something even more immersive, visit on a Wednesday between March and October to see the costumed interpretation group bring the estate's history to life.
Day Trip to Broads National Park
Located a short drive east of Norwich, Broads National Park is one of the U.K.'s 15 national parks and a great place to spend a sunny day outside of town. Whether you prefer to bike, go boating or fishing, or simply walk around, the Broads has a lot of ground to cover. In warmer weather, rent a kayak or a canoe to explore the waterways, or try your hand at bird-watching on one of the park's nature reserves. Several cultural sites are located within the park, including Burgh Castle and St. Benet's Abbey.
Grab a Pint at the Ribs of Beef
While the name may be quirky, riverside pub the Ribs of Beef is a traditional English spot that serves up craft beer and delicious food. Try to snag one of the outdoor tables, situated right along the River Wensum, or come during a soccer match to get a sense of the British love for sports. The pub is family-owned, with children welcome until 6 p.m. (as long as an adult accompanies them), and it's dog friendly. Check the calendar online for upcoming pub quiz nights and live music.
Shop at Soundclash
Music lovers should include a shopping spree at Soundclash on their Norwich itinerary. The independent record shop, located on St. Benedicts Street, was established in 1991 and sells an array of vinyl, CDs and concert tickets in every genre imaginable. It's been voted one of 10 best indie record shops in the country by the Guardian and the vibe is both welcoming and hip. It's close to all of Norwich's central shopping and museums, making it easy to stop by and grab a souvenir between bigger attractions.
Visit Pulls Ferry
A look back at Norwich's history should include a stop at Pulls Ferry, a former ferry house on River Wensum once used as a 15th-century watergate. The waterway is famous for being the route used to ferry the Norwich Cathedral stone, and the building itself is named for John Pull, who ran the ferry from 1796 to 1841. Today it's privately owned, and visitors cannot go inside, but you can get a good look from the footpath along the river.
Explore Norwich Lanes and Royal Arcade
Norwich's center is filled with shops and restaurants, and visitors can find the best shopping on both Norwich Lanes and in the Royal Arcade. Norwich Lanes are a set of streets filled with shops, cafes, galleries, and salons, and it's known for being easily walkable. Start on Upper St. Giles and wander through Upper and Lower Goat Lane and Pottergate. Nearby, Royal Arcade is an indoor row of shops built in an Art Nouveau gallery in the late 19th century. Look for artisan chocolate shops, antique galleries, and more.
Tour Strangers' Hall
Once home to wealthy merchants and mayors during the Tudor period, Strangers' Hall is now a compelling museum with historic rooms that have been preserved in their original state. It dates back to the 13th century and has several memorable elements, including the Great Chamber and the Great Hall, and the more recent Victorian Rooms. It's a great place to learn more about British life in centuries past, and the museum sells family tickets for those coming in a group.
Walk Along the River Wensum
Visitors to Norwich should take an easy-going stroll along the River Wensum, which runs through the city. The river, a tributary of the River Yare that extends northwest beyond Norwich, provides a great pathway to see Norwich's historic buildings, including Pulls Ferry. Start on one end of town and make your way along the footpath, which passes several nice pubs and cafes. If you prefer to go even farther, walk or cycle the Wensum Way, a 12-mile trail that connects Gressenhall and Lenwade and passes through scenic rural areas and can be reached via bus from central Norwich.