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Italy. A beloved holiday destination by many. It’s the home of some of the best food in the world (who doesn’t love pizza and pasta?), and it’s known for its art, architecture, and romance! While we might not be able to head to Italy right now, Norwich – if you look closely – can be a good alternative.
Okay. Hear us out. On first thought, you might not think Norwich is the UK’s answer to one of the most popular European destinations – but we’re about to prove you wrong.
One thing Norwich has in abundance is great, Italian food. It’s likely you’ll be able to find pizza, pasta and gelato waiting around every corner in the city. Whether you want to enjoy a light lunch al fresco, or you fancy a full three-course affair for a delicious dinner, there are so many places to choose from.
One of our top picks has to be Saporita. For authentic pizza, focaccia, and panino, it’s the place to go. Located on St Andrews Hill, you can eat in, take out, and purchase Italian cold cuts and cheeses from their deli counter. You can even buy pizza dough, so you can attempt to make your own Italian pizza at home. Perfect for a fun day’s baking with the family. You should also check out their special deals. Choose the Aperitivo option for a drink and finger food for only £10! Ideal for a light lunch. And with Norwich full of quaint green spaces, take a seat outdoors and eat like a Romano or Romana!
We’d also recommend Paolo’s on St Giles, a family run Italian restaurant serving delicious food. Check out their lunch menu for a range of oven baked and pasta recipes to enjoy for only £9.95. Head a little further up the road and you’ll get to Al Dente. They make the pasta fresh everyday by hand, using only top-quality Italian ingredients. The menu changes regularly, so you can come back time and again and still find something new to enjoy.
And while we’re talking Italian, we cannot miss Café Gelato. What’s better than grabbing an authentic artisan gelato when the sun is shining? Or treating yourself to a little something sweet after a long day? Made in the traditional Italian way, with carefully selected fresh ingredients sourced both locally and from Italy itself, Café Gelato is the undisputed home of Italian gelato in Norfolk. Some of our favourite flavours include Nutella, white chocolate and raspberry, and if you’re feeling a little adventurous, ricotta and pear! For vegans, or those following a dairy free diet, there’s a whole range of delicious sorbets to enjoy, rich with fruity flavours. To complete the Italian experience, they also serve a range of Italian biscuits and coffee. Ideal if you’d like to sit down and take some time to enjoy your treat. And it that’s not enough of a recommendation, Italian speaking Emma Thomson (yes, THE Emma Thompson) was thrilled with her gelato recently when she visited said café in Norwich.
And if you need to take a break from shopping, Ask Italian at Chantry Place is the perfect spot to put your feet up. Tuck into some delicious pasta, warm garlic bread, or a classic pizza. When the weather is nice, make sure you eat outside to soak up that sun.
Venice, eat your heart out
Slowly cruising along the canals in Venice is the dream romantic getaway for so many. But with The Broads National Park right here in Norwich (it’s the only city in the country within a national park), it’s easy to take a boat trip and relax on a river cruise.
Hop on board the elegant Edwardian style Frolic 31, the Tiffany Rose, which launches this June from the Maids Head Hotel. Driven by a skipper and assisted by a steward, the Tiffany Rose can be booked for 10 passengers for a two-hour trip. Departing from the Quayside next to Fye Bridge, the boat will cruise along the river and head to Whitlingham Country Park before returning. It’s also a brilliant choice for a special occasion. Choose a package for £350 (only £35 each) and have your choice of either afternoon tea or prosecco and canapes served.
Whitlingham Country Park is also a great spot to visit for the day itself! It has plenty of space for walking and cycling – there’s 15.5 hectares to explore! And for lovers of the water, there’s also boats to hire which you can take out on the broad. Boat hire starts from as little as £12 per person. Just add black and white striped tee-shirt for added effect.
Venture a little further out from Norwich to Wroxham, only a 20-minute drive, and book yourself a day trip on the broads with Broads Tours. You can hire a day boat, pack a picnic and be on your way – giving you the freedom to explore wherever you like. Take some time to enjoy the sights, and maybe make a couple of stops at one of several pretty villages along the broad. Wander around or pop into the pub for a refreshing drink. Half-day hire from £85 and full day from £146, they also have wheelchair friendly boats available to hire.
Soak in some culture
Many people visit Italy for the art and culture, but this summer you can get a taste of that here in Norwich!
Head to the Norwich Castle Museum for an exciting new exhibition. On loan from the National Gallery in London, The Fortress of Königstein from the North by Italian painter Bernardo Bellotto is on display from the 17th May – 4th July. Born in Venice, Bellotto specialised in cityscapes in Italy and northern Europe. This painting marks the first Bellotto piece to have ever been displayed at Norwich Castle before and is one of the most impressive examples of 18th century landscape painting. Entry to the castle and exhibition costs £6.70 (children £6.20) and bookings must be made in advance.
Of course, Italy is famed for its stunning architecture and whilst you cannot compare like for like in Norwich – there’s still plenty of incredible architecture for you to marvel at.
Norwich Cathedral is an impressive building itself, as the most complete Norman Cathedral in England and one of the finest examples of Romanesque architecture. Don’t forget to take some time discovering the monastic Cloisters. From the Middle Ages, they’re the biggest of their kind in the country. With elegant carved stonework and medieval roof bosses, these incredible features are lit up perfectly by permanent lighting so you can even enjoy the Cloisters in the evening. Plus, it’s free to enter.
Norwich is also home to a second cathedral, also free to enter, The Cathedral of St John the Baptist. As the second largest Roman Catholic cathedral in England, it’s well worth a visit. Take in its great Victorian Gothic Revival architecture, and spend some time admiring the beautiful stained glass and gorgeous stonework.
Norwich Castle is an impressive display of medieval royal fortification. It’s also undergoing a £13.5 million National Lottery Heritage Fund-supported project, which will reinstate the medieval floors and rooms in the Castle Keep. But don’t worry – while work is undertaken there’s plenty still to see inside, including incredible art exhibitions.
And here’s a little tip from us…look up! There are plenty of incredible hidden features around Norwich, look up at Jarrold department store on Little London Street and see if you can spot the gorgeous carvings in the wall.
Italians love music and dancing, so visitors to Norwich this summer will be thrilled that in addition to Norwich’s wonderful buskers there will be a summer Sunday’s programme of free live-performance and music taking place called Head Out, Not Home. Perfect for families, couples, friends, or anyone else who just wants to enjoy some sunshine and let the good times roll! Running for 9 weeks in Summer 2021, Head Out, Not Home includes all the best local and national talent, performers, and brilliant street entertainers. See the acts lined up to perform here.