Norwich’s much-loved Victorian centrepiece is a beautiful green space in the heart of the city. First laid out by philanthropist Henry...Plantation Garden
Art, culture and history are the main attractions served up (with a good dollop of world-famous Colman’s Mustard!) in Norwich – city of two cathedrals, capital of Norfolk and home to the University of East Anglia, whose creative writing course has given the country some of its most famous writers. Ian McEwan and Kazuo Ishiguro are both alumni of the programme, as are Tracy Chevalier and Rose Tremain. As befits a city of such cultural importance, green and pleasant Norwich is well equipped with cafes, galleries and museums: many of the former housed in extraordinary medieval buildings.
Wander down a mishmash of ancient streets, while away an afternoon watching the cognoscenti thinking great thoughts in the bizarre Brutalist surroundings of the University. The city that gave the world Alan Partridge, Delia Smith and Tim Westwood pulses with an alternative vibe that’s hard to beat. Norwich is the people’s Cambridge, and it has plenty to say. Aha!Read more
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Visit Norwich thirsty and you’ll be spoilt for choice.
English Watering Holes
It used to be said of the city that you can go into a different pub on every day of the year and never drink in the same place twice: while the ravages of the smoking ban have worked their black magic on Norwich’s drinking holes too, there are still plenty of proper English watering holes to lose a few hours in. And with a bubbling student population to please, there’s an inn for every taste.
The University is the heart of Norwich’s success, and the city wears her academic achievements proudly. You’re just as likely to stumble across a quality student production of a revived or experimental play in one of the city’s dozens of theatres as you are a reading or an exhibition. Add the gleaming modernity of Norwich’s newer buildings to the mix, and you’ve got a city that doesn’t have to flex much economic muscle to get by.
That’s just as well – because Norwich’s status as an important trade centre never recovered from the end of the Middle Ages (when the town was a mecca for the wool industry). You’ll still find wool churches on the corners of streets in the city centre, the abundance of which gave rise to another popular saying about Norwich: that when you’d had a drink in a different pub for every day of every week, you’d be able to find a new church to attend every Sunday!
The first UNESCO City of Literature in the UK, Norwich also occupies a significant place in British political history. The Argyle Street commune, composed of anti-establishment creatives including painters, musicians, writers and punks, was a focal point for the counterculture movement of the 1980s.
Modern Historical Significance
It’s typical of Norwich that its modern historical significance is not widely trumpeted. The city’s collection of landmarks, both physical and intellectual, are overshadowed by the international reputation of famous neighbour Cambridge – and unassuming Norwich, slumbering quietly by the river Wensum, seems happy for things to stay that way. As vibrant as Brighton, as intellectually heavyweight as its rival University town, Norwich doesn’t need outside approval to do what it does best.
Norwich’s own airport – Norwich International Airport – is reasonably well connected to European and global destinations. For travel to even more places, the visitor can use London Stansted, London Heathrow or London Gatwick.
Road wise, the city is linked to the motorways by the A11 and the A47. The A1 passes close by, as does the A14. The A roads surrounding Norwich are onward links to some of the country’s biggest motorways, including the M1 and the M11. The A14 eventually intersects with the M6, which runs through Birmingham and on to the north west.
Norwich’s main train station is just 10 minutes away from the centre of the city. It’s a terminating station, with trains stopping and starting to and from Cambridge and Peterborough. Local trains can be slow. London trains are run through either Colchester or Ipswich. Some, but not all, train services starting out in Norwich will continue to stations in and around the Midlands, or up to the north of the country. In general, the traveller must connect with north and southbound services at Peterborough or Cambridge.
National bus services stop at the Surrey Street station.
Parking in the city is ample – but if you don’t want to pay, you can make use of Norwich’s six colour coded park and ride services, which run into the centre at a frequency of more than one every 10 minutes.
On foot and by cycle
The centre of Norwich is well set up for walking and cycling, making it an ideal place to spend a summer’s day. Many of the centre’s streets are parallel to cycle paths, and you’ll also find both foot and bike lanes alongside the rivers.
There are plenty of cabs, both hackney carriages and private hire cars. You should always book a private hire car in advance.
Local buses are reasonably frequent, linking the airport and train station with UEA and the party districts down by the river.
Norwich’s formative history begins in earnest in the Norman Conquests, when the awe-inspiring Norwich Cathedral (one of the biggest and best Norman churches in the country) was conceived.
Norwich Castle, with its vast and foreboding keep, was also founded around the time of the Conquests.
The real meat of Norwich’s ascendance, though, came with the Middle Ages, when the city became the centre for wool trading in East Anglia. There are still huge numbers of wonderfully preserved wool churches (medieval churches built on the proceeds of the wool trade) in the city, making Norwich one of the best places in Europe to see medieval buildings. There are more medieval churches here than anywhere else north of the Alps.
Between the 15th and 17th centuries, Norwich saw an influx of political refugees, particularly Flemish, Huguenot and Walloon “strangers” – who were assimilated into the city’s culture, and particularly its trade, with almost no argument. Thus began the tradition of nonconformist thought that survives in the city to this day.
The Flemish “strangers” brought pet canaries with them, which escaped and took up residence in the wild. The yellow bird is now the emblem of the city, and appears on the badge of the football team (Norwich City FC) – a team half owned by famous chef Delia Smith.
Luftwaffe’s Baedeker Raids
Heavily bombed during the Luftwaffe’s Baedeker raids (which were designed to target culturally significant locations), Norwich nonetheless managed to retain a significant collection of old buildings including the imposing redbrick Norfolk and Norwich Hospital and the magnificent Surrey House. Much was lost, however, including large quantities of Victorian housing. The city’s rebuilding ushered in an age of modernist architecture exemplified by the extraordinary buildings on the UEA campus. Constructed in the 1960s, they’re built in the Brutalist style and recall Mesopotamian ziggurats (radically stepped pyramids).
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