10 unmissable buildings in Norwich

1 September 2020

10 unmissable buildings in Norwich

With its medieval streets, numerous churches, art-deco influences and Georgian architecture, Norwich is not to be missed. Travelling through the city, you’ll spot all sorts of influences, and so many photography opportunities. If you get the chance, look up! There are plenty of unexpected architectural flourishes, statues, and decorative parapets to admire. Wander around the city to discover unexplored Norwich, including the history of the land.

No matter which era of architecture you’re interested in, you’ll find something to whet your appetite. Bring along your camera, or sketchbook, to really get the full effect – or pop into Jarrold’s or one of our local bookshops to grab a postcard. (You might also like to look at Owen Mather’s Norwich illustrations!)

The Royal Arcade

Designed by local architect George Skipper, who also created Jarrold’s and the Aviva building in Norwich, The Royal Arcade brought exotic Art Nouveau to the city for the first time. Opening in 1899, The Royal Arcade provided undercover shopping convenience in elaborate surroundings. Wander down to admire the stained-glass windows, immaculate mosaic tiling and chandelier lighting, and be transported back to an earlier era. Keep an eye out for The Royal Arcade angel, who greets shoppers on their way in, and harks back to the history of the land, from when The Angel Inn stood for three centuries.

Norwich Cathedral

Visible from almost every part of Norwich, the Cathedral spire acts as a compass in the city. Built in the 12th century, from cream Caen stone quarried in Normandy, and transported by sea and river, the Cathedral is stunning inside and out. The spire is the second tallest in the UK, and is home to the annual nesting of peregrine falcons! Norwich Cathedral is free to enter, although donations are appreciated. Inside, the vaulted ceilings offer awe-inspiring views, with coloured light streaming from the stained-glass, and intricate hand-carved bosses. Get a closer look at the artisan carvings in the cloisters – keep an eye out for the Green Man, amongst the more religious iconography. The Cathedral has played host to several installations, from a Helter Skelter (yes, really!), to a knitted house, and Dippy the Dinosaur (who you’ll recognise from the Natural History Museum) will be visiting in 2021.

Photo: Norwich Cathedral

The Forum

Like a spaceship in the centre of Norwich, the Forum is one of our most striking contemporary buildings. A millennium project, the Forum opened in 2001 and is one of the most visited venues in the city, thanks to the Norfolk & Norwich Millennium Library (the busiest in the country!). Designed by the award-winning Hopkins Architects, the Forum was built on the site of the former Norwich Library, which burnt down in 1994. The curved roof, and glass frontage dramatically reflects the church opposite. Why not take a seat on the interior balcony, where you can enjoy a meal with Pizza Express, and admire fantastic views across the city. The ampitheatre steps and open space to the front of the building offers a popular meeting place, space for performances, and often hosts markets.

St Peter Mancroft

The largest church in Norwich (and there are plenty of churches here), is a Grade 1 listed building that was built between 1430 and 1455. Inside, St Peter Mancroft has a tremendous arched roof, reminiscent of the bow of a ship, and stunning stained-glass windows that line both sides. Light and space triumph in this church. With 16th century Flemish tapestries, an extensive collection of church silver, and memorabilia dedicated to famous physician-philosopher-author Sir Thomas Browne, there is plenty to admire. The church also plays host to regular art exhibitions. In the Western Tower, 14 Whitechapel bells can be found, and St Peter Mancroft currently offers training in the art of bell-ringing.

Augustine Stewards House

In the heart of Tombland, opposite the Cathedral stands the crooked house. Formally known as Augustine Stewards House, this timber-framed building is one of the most photographed spots in Norwich, thanks to its twisted timbers. Windows and doors tilt dramatically to one side, and through the arch beneath the wing lies Tombland Alley, and the Parish Church of St George beyond. This Tudor home was built in 1530, and was famously used by royal troops who were sent in to quell Kett’s Rebellion. St Augustine Stewards House is rumoured to be home to the ghost of a young girl, who was trapped inside the building when the doors were sealed to stop the spread of the plague, and starved to death. Throughout the centuries the building has held butcheries, antique stores, bookshops, and today, Cryptic Escape: a locked room interactive escape game!

St John Baptist Cathedral

Norwich is lucky enough to have two cathedrals. The Cathedral of St John the Baptist is the Roman Catholic Cathedral, just outside of the city centre, built on the site of the former Norwich City Gaol. This towering piece of architecture is an exceptional example of Victorian Gothic Revival, with the style belying its relatively recent age: St John the Baptist was completed in 1910, and made a Cathedral in 1976. In the summer, Tower Tours are offered – climb the 280 steps to reach the peak, and enjoy panoramic views of the city centre! Whilst you’re there, why not pop round the corner to Plantation Garden.

Photo: The Cathedral of St John the Baptist

Norwich Castle

Founded by William the Conqueror, Norwich Castle is an impressive cube looming over the city. Faced with Caen stone, to match Norwich Cathedral, the castle keep was built some time between 1095 and 1100. Used as a palace, a military stronghold, a prison, and since 1895 a museum, the castle is beloved throughout the city. The interior retains nothing of the original layout, but is currently being reconstructed through the ambitious Royal Palace project, where the original medieval floor-plan will be recreated. Whilst the museum is currently closed, the views from the Castle mound are wonderful!

City Hall

Norwich City Hall is an iconic sight in Norwich. Facing the market, and Norwich Castle beyond it, the building offers stunning views of Norwich. The initial design was the winner of a RIBA competition in 1931, but due to the Depression, work only began in 1936 and the building was opened in 1938 by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. The expansive balcony is the longest in the UK at 365 feet, and is often lit along with the pillars to mark important events, from celebrations to memorials. The clock tower is 206 feet high, and from certain angles the blue top looks like a face! It’s hard to believe from looking at the front of the building, but City Hall is only two thirds finished – work was halted due to the beginning of the war, so a whole wing is missing. Don’t forget to greet the lions at the doors!

Photo: Norwich Castle

Dragon Hall

This medieval trading hall sits on the bank of the River Wensum, and was built in the fifteenth century by merchant Robert Toppes. Built from over 1000 oak trees, Dragon Hall’s first floor trading hall is more than 26 metres long, and is as impressive today as it would’ve been in the 1400’s. The arched beams once held 15 carved dragons, who would’ve watched over the trades of textiles, ironware, wines and spices, with a beady eye. Merchant Robert Toppes was extremely wealthy, and paid for a great stained-glass window in St Peter Mancroft, as a blessing for the afterlife. Analysis of the site shows settlements and archaeological remnants from the Saxon period and beyond! Today, Dragon Hall is home to the National Centre for Writing.

The Assembly House

Like many buildings in Norwich, The Assembly House hides the secrets of history in its walls. Predominantly Georgian, The Assembly House holds traces of its Tudor past, and medieval crypts in the basement, harking back to its first incarnations as a chapel and hospital. Today, the building would still be recognisable to Norwich’s Georgian residents, with the magnificent ballroom still standing. The Assembly House was built as an entertainment venue, offering local gentry the chance to drink, dance, play cards, and enjoy displays of music, theatre, and even gymnastics. Today, The Assembly House is a restaurant, hotel, cookery school, and still holds events today.

The Assembly House

Photo: The Assembly House