Norwich is full of surprises – from quirky bars and boutiques to pretty open spaces you didn’t expect to find right there – but some of the best surprises this city has to offer are its cultural ‘gems’. The places which have, mostly, been here for years and years, but which still surprise visitors and locals alike…
Image: Cathedral of St John the Baptist - photo by David Street.
First up is one of our favourite ‘hidden spots’; right next to the Cathedral of St John the Baptist (see below) sits The Plantation Garden. You'd be surprised at the tranquility of this area considering its location just outside of the city centre. Lay down your picnic blanket and enjoy an al-fresco lunch by the Gothic fountain, or simply stroll around and take in the beautiful flowers and shrubbery, ornate Victorian-style greenhouse, Italianate terrace, and plenty of lovely wildlife which make the woodland their homes. The different, slightly eccentric, elements all come together to make this Grade II listed garden such a beautiful spot for everyone to enjoy! Just pop £2 in the honest box as you come in.
Image: Norwich Cathedral
We’re incredibly lucky as a city to boast not one but TWO beautiful Cathedrals!
The first – Norwich Cathedral, located in Tombland – is no secret and is a key tourist hotspot for visitors all year round… and for good reason! Its history stretches back 900 years, to 1096 when work building the Cathedral began, and stands proudly today with the second-largest cloisters in England and a Cathedral close which is one of the largest in Europe (and incredibly pretty to walk around, we might add!).
The second – the Cathedral of St John the Baptist – does not perhaps spring to mind as readily as Norwich Cathedral, but it really should, because it also has plenty of stories to tell. The building itself is incredible, and is one of the finest examples of great Victorian Gothic Revival Architecture in the UK. The surprising thing about this building is that it was actually only built just over a 100 years ago, funded by the 15th Duke of Norfolk, Henry Fitzalan-Howard, as a present to the city’s Catholic community. It was a (very generous) thank you for the marriage of his wife, Lady Flora Abney-Hastings! There’s a lovely Cathedral garden to sit and enjoy a drink and snack in (which you can purchase from the Garden Café) and a lovely rose garden, plus fruit trees and paved walkways.
Both Cathedrals offer free tours, so you can learn more about their history!
Image: Marble Hall in Surrey House - photo by Ricky-Joe Burrage
George Skipper has quite a name around Norwich (and indeed the rest of the country) as an acclaimed architect originally from Dereham, near Norwich. He’s designed various key buildings around Norfolk including Jarrolds department store, the Cliftonville Hotel in Cromer, and – perhaps the most well known – The Royal Arcade, an amazing art-nouveau building dating back to 1899. However, although this is well worth visiting, we think Aviva’s Surrey House - and in particular Marble Hall, is perhaps the lesser-known cultural ‘surprise’. Previously Norwich Union’s headquarters, it’s a fine example of Edwardian architecture which George Skipper designed back at the start of the 20th century; it has an elegant Palladian exterior and the interior is constructed, as you’d expect, from marble – 15 types of marble in fact! The hall is heavily influenced by Grecian architecture and it’s one of the Norwich 12 buildings, so pop in and take a look next time you’re nearby.
History buffs will love Strangers’ Hall, an amazing museum housed in (and all about) this 14th century building. Often thought of as an oversized dolls’ house, visitors can explore the various rooms and learn about what life would have been like for its wealthy inhabitants, back in its heyday! This is a gem of a museum that we really recommend you visit; they also often run events and activities to keep kids entertained. Visit their listing for admission prices and opening hours.
Image: Country & Eastern
Here’s another (very interesting) lesser-known gem in Norwich: part incredible gallery featuring the arts, crafts and cultures of South Asia, part shop selling unusual and unique furnishings, clothing, homewares, and gifts, all from South Asia and presented beautifully. The Old Skating Rink Gallery, which houses the artwork and crafts of the South Asia Collection, is housed in a Victorian Skating Rink, so is really worth visiting even if just to marvel at such a quirky and unique setting!
Hopefully these are a few Norwich surprises you might not otherwise be aware of, so next time you’re here make sure you fit at least a few of these into your itinerary!
Greater Anglia have Advance fares from £9 one way between London Liverpool Street and Norwich. Trains run every 30 minutes. Greater Anglia also serves Colchester, Ipswich and Diss on the Norwich line. Direct trains also run from Cambridge.
East Midlands Trains runs services from Liverpool, Manchester and Nottingham.
Flights into Norwich served from Edinburgh, Manchester, Exeter, Aberdeen, Jersey*, Guernsey* and Amsterdam.