Newspapers have reacted with surprise that the CEO of Vietnam Airlines, Duong Tri Thanh, has described Norwich as “serene” and an “irresistible” destination for tourists on a par with an Indonesian island. You may be equally perplexed if your only knowledge of the city comes from Alan Partridge or that alarming video of Delia Smith shouting at local football fans. Here are some reasons why Thanh is right.
The old saying about Norwich used to be that it had a church for every week of the year – but a pub for every day. The Fat Cat and St Andrews Brew House serve up delicious craft beers made on the premises, the Pear Tree Inn provides a warm refuge for local people on the Unthank Road while students and hipsters are well catered for in the Birdcage Inn.
Grosvenor Fish Bar
Soak up the booze with the best fish and chips in East Anglia, while listening to jazz standards and sitting in the unique wood-lined bunker beneath the frying area. For less than £10 a head you can get a meal good enough to make you want to live for ever.
It isn’t just the ancient beauty of its stained glass, booming organ and hushed cloisters that make Norwich Cathedral sublime. It is also set in peaceful grounds, full of grassy squares and handsome houses, not to mention a viewing station for the peregrine falcons that nest up in the cathedral’s spire. A fairground helter-skelter has just been temporarily installed in the nave so that visitors can climb up and get a better view of the 15th-century roof, before sliding back to ground level.
Dozens more churches from Norwich’s medieval heyday punctuate the city’s pleasingly low skyline. Many have been successfully repurposed into cultural and exhibition spaces such as the vibrant Norwich Arts Centre. There is also the shrine marking the place where Julian Of Norwich wrote her 14th-century blockbuster, The Revelations Of Divine Love, the source of the famous maxim: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”
Within living memory, this was a notorious red-light district and scheduled for demolition. Fortunately, it was saved, although a nearby plague pit and a few curiously musty antique shops prevent this cobbled street of wattle-and-daub houses feeling as twee as similar offerings in the rest of the country.
A big glass edifice, right in the middle of the city, it is hard to see at first what the Forum is for. But once you have been in Norwich for a while, it becomes hard to imagine how you would live without it. It is the home of BBC Norwich, a thriving library, restaurants and a bustling cafe. It is also a large, useful public space, hosting everything from exhibitions on retro computer gaming to drawings for the local Pride parade.
Norwich has undergone a gastronomic revival, and its heart is in the open-air market where traditional fruit and veg stalls sit alongside gourmet tea and coffee vendors, artisanal bakers and the notorious cardiac corner, where the fried meat sandwiches are as delicious as they are unhealthy.
A large and precious municipal space on the western side of the city, Eaton Park has an array of amenities including tennis courts, putting greens, football pitches and beautiful tree-lined acres used by dog walkers and park runners every day. It also boasts its own mini-steam train and a beautiful grand pavilion circling around an old-fashioned bandstand.
The Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts
A short walk from the magnificent brutalist ziggurats of the University of East Anglia is one of the best galleries in the UK. Recent exhibitions have included controversial works by Antony Gormley and displays of landscape paintings by David Hockney and Claude Monet.
The other thing about Norwich is that it is right in the middle of one of the most beautiful places on Earth. The Broads and the county’s beautiful coastline are just a short train or bike ride away from Norwich. Or an energetic paddle in a canoe, if you are really getting into the spirit of things.
Direct trains run from London, Cambridge and Ely. It generally takes two hours to get to Norwich from London, although there are occasional one-and-a-half-hour services. There are onward trains to Great Yarmouth, Cromer and the Broads.
Best time to visit
So long as this article doesn’t ruin things, Norwich is never overrun and good to visit all year round. The Norwich and Norfolk Festival runs in May.
This article was amended on the 13 August 2019 because Eaton Park is in the west of Norwich, not on the eastern side of the city as an earlier version said.
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