13 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Norwich
Norwich, the county town of Norfolk, lies on the little River Wensum within easy reach of the beautiful Norfolk Broads, which are fun to explore by boat. Norwich has more medieval churches (32 in all) than any other city in England except London. A bustling business and shopping center, Norwich is East Anglia's traditional capital, a fact reflected in its splendid Norman cathedral, its castle, and the city's many other historic points of interest.
Centuries of history can be found in its old gateways and winding lanes. It's also a vibrant cultural hub offering many things to do, from browsing the lovely boutique shops to enjoying the famous two-week-long Norfolk & Norwich Festival. This fun event takes place each May with musical and theatrical performances, as well as visual art exhibits.
To find out more about this and other upcoming events, be sure to refer to our list of the top tourist attractions and fun things to do in Norwich, England.
See also: Where to Stay in Norwich
1. Take a Tour of Norwich Cathedral
Unique for its gleaming cream-colored limestone exterior, Norwich Cathedral was built between 1096 and 1145 and should be at the top of your Norfolk travel itinerary. Notable for its striking 315-foot-tall spire - the second highest in England after Salisbury Cathedral - it's also famous for its nesting peregrine falcons, which have become the city's most celebrated (and viewed) residents.
Having preserved its Norman character better than any other church in the country, it's a delightful place to visit for a few hours, especially when a visit is combined with spending time in Cathedral Close. Highlights include the Monk's Door and the Prior's Door leading to the two-story cloisters, built between 1297 and 1425.
Also of interest is the nave with its 14 bays, low massive columns, and fine lierne vaulting, as well as the impressive choir, with its 62 stalls, many splendid canopies, and beautifully carved misericords dating from 1420. There are also a number of interesting tombs, and behind the high altar is the old stone bishop's throne dating from the 6th century.
A recent addition to the cathedral, The Refectory offers snacks and light meals to visitors. A gift shop is also located on-site. Also relatively new, The Hostry serves as an educational center and visitor center built on the site of an original building that served the same purpose - communal spaces and hospitality - in monastic times.
Address: 65 The Close, Norwich
Official site: www.cathedral.org.uk
2. Tombland Alley: The Heart of Historic Norwich
Once a Saxon marketplace, Tombland Alley is a wonderful place to begin exploring the rest of old Norwich. From here, two gates - St. Ethelbert's (1272) and Erpingham (1420) - lead into the idyllic tranquility of the Cathedral Close, with its wealth of historic buildings, including the medieval deanery.
It's also close to Elm Hill, a lovely medieval cobbled street near the River Wensum lined with tiny old houses, many of them now attractive shops, restaurants, and cafés.
Near the top end of Elm Hill are St. Andrew's and Blackfriars Halls, and just a short distance away in Bridewell Alley is the Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell, housed in a 700-year-old former "house of correction." Highlights include exhibits devoted to industry and handicrafts in Norfolk, as well as a display of silk shawls once prized by Queen Victoria.
Location: Bridewell Alley, Norwich
3. Explore Cathedral Close & Cathedral Quarter
At some point in your Norwich visit, be sure to allocate time to properly explore The Close, the area around the cathedral. One of the largest such spaces in the UK, the close covers an area of around 44 acres, and also has the distinction of being home to more residents than any other cathedral close in Europe.
The Close is home to some 80 listed historic buildings, as well as the delightful Cathedral Quarters with its many fine shops and cafés. Along the way, you'll discover the 15th-century Bishop's Palace and St. John's Chapel, both dating from 1322 and now part of Norwich School. Other nearby churches worth visiting include St. Peter Mancroft, the city's largest after the cathedral, and the Roman Catholic St. John the Baptist Cathedral.
The large green here is often used in the filming of TV period dramas, and also makes for a superb picnic spot. From here, you can also easily access the city's popular Riverside Walk, a pleasant, level trail that offers another perspective of this attractive city.
Address: The Close, Norwich
Official site: www.cathedral.org.uk/visit/things-to-see-and-do/the-close
4. Visit Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery
Built on a large artificial mound, Norwich Castle consists of a splendid Norman keep constructed around 1095 by William II. It's now home to a superb museum and art gallery. Set out as a rotunda surrounded by various galleries containing extensive archaeological sections, the castle's interior also houses natural history dioramas, collections of medieval weapons, glassware, and ceramics.
The painting collection includes English and Dutch masters of the 17th and 18th centuries, as well as examples from the famous Norwich School of painting. Guided tours along with workshops for adults and kids are just some of the other fun things to do here for visitors.
A café and a picnic room are located on-site, along with a gift shop. Also located within the castle is the Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum, with its excellent collections of uniforms, medals, and paintings.
A few minutes' walk from here is another must-see, the city's spacious Market Place, site of the Norwich Market, one of the most notable markets in the county. Nearby is the City Hall, Central Library, and the 15th-century Guildhall.
Address: 24 Castle Meadow, Norwich
Official site: www.museums.norfolk.gov.uk/norwich-castle
5. Explore Norwich City Center
Exploring the center of this delightful city will lead to the discovery of such gems as Strangers' Hall in Charing Cross. This medieval merchant's house now serves as a museum documenting domestic life from the Tudor period to the Victorian era through costumes and furniture.
Suckling House, adjacent to St. Andrew's Church, is a handsome example of a medieval townhouse. Nearby St. Peter Hungate, a former church turned into a museum, contains a display of medieval religious arts and crafts. Another fine piece of medieval architecture is St. George Colegate, a church built in 1459 and practically unchanged since.
Culture lovers will also want to linger a little longer in Norwich to enjoy some of the city's first-rate theater. Leading the pack is the recently renovated Norwich Theatre Royal, notable for hosting a variety of touring shows, and The Maddermarket Theatre, founded in 1921 and famous for its Elizabethan-style stage. Those traveling with kids should visit the Norwich Puppet Theatre, known for its many excellent educational programs.
6. Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts
Part of the University of East Anglia, the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts should be included in your Norwich itinerary. Highlights of this impressive modern structure include its displays of modern art by the likes of Picasso, Giacometti, and Henry Moore. It also boasts a large collection of primitive art from across the globe and hosts numerous visiting exhibits and education programs throughout the year. There's also on-site dining and a shop.
After your visit, stroll along Riverside Walk on the River Wensum to the Cow Tower, part of the city's original medieval fortifications. Nearby Bishop Bridge (1395) is one of the oldest bridges in the country.
Address: University of East Anglia, Norfolk Road, Norwich
Official site: www.sainsburycentre.ac.uk
7. Lost and Found: Visit the Historic Dragon Hall
Dragon Hall, an outstanding Grade 1 listed medieval trading hall dating from 1430, is famous for its spectacular Great Hall. Featuring an impressive timber crown-post roof and intricately carved dragon, it was built by merchant Robert Toppes as the heart of his international trading empire, and was once full of wool, cloth, timber, spices, pottery, and other items of trade.
Amazingly, the whole structure was lost for centuries, concealed within a terrace of houses and shops. Tours of this delightful property, now fully restored, can be arranged through the National Centre for Writing.
Address: 115-123 King Street, Norwich
Official site: https://nationalcentreforwriting.org.uk/dragon-hall/
8. Run Wild at BeWILDerwood
Of the region's many tourist attractions, few are as family-centric as the wonderful BeWILDerwood. Located in the village of Horning, this fun adventure park is the perfect place for kids to burn off some steam and encompasses a large area of woodland sprinkled with numerous treehouses, ziplines, and rope bridges to tackle, along with a maze and special areas for toddlers to explore.
The whole park is character-themed with age-appropriate fun based on characters from a series of kids books. Other notable features include a story-telling stage, boat rides, along with a restaurant and shop. Due to the fact that there are so many fun things to do here, expect to spend the best part of a day enjoying everything this great family attraction has to offer.
Address: Horning Road, Hoveton, Norwich
Official site: www.bewilderwood.co.uk
9. Take a Cruise on the Norfolk Broads
The Norfolk Broads, often referred to simply as The Broads, are an easy drive east of Norwich, and comprise a fascinating nature reserve ideal for sailing and boating holidays. Occupying a vast triangle of land formed by Yarmouth, Wroxham, and Stalham, and protected under the umbrella of The Broads National Park, the area is traversed by the River Yare and its tributaries the Ant, Thurne, Bure, and Waveney.
Totaling an impressive 120 miles of waterways, much of the area can be explored via rental boats (including cozy cabin cruisers for weekend or week-long getaways. Along the way, you'll spot many windmills, such as the wooden Boardman's Mill at Ludham, the brick-built Thurne Dyke Windpump on the bank of the Thurne, and the 82-foot-high Sutton Mill. These were once used for drainage and call to mind similar scenery in the Netherlands.
Nature lovers will find waterfowl, butterflies, dragonflies, and rare flowers, and anglers will be attracted by the large numbers of fish, including bream, rudd, roach, perch, and pike.
10. Visit Hickling Broad and Horsey Windpump
The largest of the Norfolk Broads - and one of the most beautiful - is Hickling Broad, where you'll find the old (and fully restored) Horsey Windpump. One of the region's most impressive windmills, it's a source of great views over the surrounding countryside, along with a tearoom.
The best starting point for an exploration of the area is Potter Heigham, going upstream on the River Thurne to Martham Broad, Horsey Mere, and Hickling Broad. Downstream leads to the River Bure. From here, it's possible to explore the southeast by way of Breydon Water and the River Waveney to Oulton Broad outside Lowestoft, or westwards through Wroxham Broad.
Other good centers from which to explore Hickling Broad are Ranworth and South Walsham, small picturesque villages with interesting churches. The beauty of the Broads can best be appreciated from the water, and while sailboats and motor cruisers can be rented, numerous boat tours are also available.
Location: Horsey, Great Yarmouth
Official site: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/horsey-windpump
11. Whitlingham Country Park
For those wanting to get a taste of the beautiful Norfolk Broads without having to venture too far from Norwich city center, Whitlingham Country Park may prove just the ticket. Start your experience at Broads Authority Tourist Information Centre. Situated in an old flint barn, you can learn more about the unique flora and fauna of the region through its interactive displays, as well as book a fun ride in the facility's electric tour boat, the perfect chance to get in some wildlife spotting.
Afterwards, get out and do some exploring along the expansive trail network, or pop into the Whitlingham Adventure Centre to rent a kayak or paddleboard on which to explore the nature reserve. The park also hosts a wide variety of events, from educational wildlife spotting sessions to canoe treks and tours.
Address: Trowse, Norwich
Official site: www.whitlinghamcharitabletrust.com
12. Bressingham Steam & Gardens
The delightful Bressingham Steam & Gardens tourist attraction is home to a unique collection of vintage steam locomotives and traction engines, as well as the five-acre Dell Garden. In addition to a collection of standard gauge locomotives, the museum operates three distinct narrow garage lines around the property, plus a 1.5-mile length of track. For a memorable experience, take one of the train driving courses.
Also on-site is a museum of railway memorabilia, an extensive fire engine collection, and a Victorian steam carousel with a steam-driven organ. Bressingham is also home of the Dad's Army Appreciation Society and its recreation of fictional Walmington-on-Sea from the hit TV show of the same name. The nearby village is also worth exploring, in particular the 14th-century St. Mary The Virgin Church.
Steam enthusiasts will also want to visit Strumpshaw Hall Steam Museum. This excellent museum is home to one of the country's largest collections of traction engines and vintage steamrollers (some 50 or more all told), many of which are still put through their paces at regular demonstrations and steam-themed events. Also fun for kids is a collection of vintage fairground rides, including a merry-go-round and a narrow gauge railway.
Address: Low Road, Bressingham
Official site: www.bressingham.co.uk
13. City of Norwich Aviation Museum
A must-visit attraction for aircraft fans, the City of Norwich Aviation Museum in Horsham St. Faith features first-rate displays of aircraft such as the Vulcan, Dart Herald, and Vampire. Exhibits include memorabilia from the 8th Army Air Force stationed here in WWII.
If time permits, be sure to also visit the Norfolk and Suffolk Aviation Museum, with its fascinating displays covering the history of the Royal Observer Corps, as well as a rare nosepiece of a Felixstowe F5 flying boat that was discovered in a garden after 60 years of use as a potting shed.
Location: Old Norwich Road, Horsham St. Faith, Norwich
Official site: http://cnam.org.uk
Where to Stay in Norwich for Sightseeing
If you're planning a vacation or weekend getaway to Norfolk, we highly recommend the following charming Norwich hotels located near the city's top attractions such as the cathedral and Norwich Castle Museum:
- Our top choice of luxury accommodations in Norwich goes to the romantic 38 St Giles Boutique Bed & Breakfast. A short stroll from the cathedral, this elegant B&B features just eight rooms and suites, a relaxing setting, and offers a first-rate gourmet breakfast.
- The boutique-style St. Giles House Hotel is equally pleasant, featuring stylish rooms and suites (some with separate living areas), a quiet terrace, a spa, and on-site dining.
- Be sure to also look into availability at The Assembly House, a chic, recently renovated inn with suites boasting their own private gardens and lounges - very classy!
- The historic Maids Head Hotel offers four-star accommodations at a great rate, close to the Cathedral Quarter, and features four-poster beds and an excellent breakfast.
- The three-star Holiday Inn Norwich City is another good choice, and is handily located beside the city's football stadium; amenities include an on-site restaurant and a mini-gym.
- And be sure to check out availability at the Best Western Annesley House Hotel. In addition to its mid-range pricing, the hotel is located in an attractive setting, within a number of old Georgian-era houses, and features a charming conservatory dining room, plus a garden with a koi pond.
- Those looking for a good cheap hotel should consider the Premier Inn Norwich Nelson City Centre Hotel. This budget hotel overlooks the river and features clean rooms with comfortable beds.
- Another related property to consider is the Premier Inn Norwich West (Showground/A47) Hotel. Although a little farther outside of town, it features cheap rates and clean, comfortable rooms.
- The Travelodge Norwich Central Riverside is another good choice and comes with friendly staff and comfortable rooms.
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