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It’s a city steeped in history – particularly medieval – making Norwich especially enchanting to stroll around. Named by the Anglo Saxons, Norwich boasts several important architectural tributes to times past, as well as beautiful modern architectural treats too. The ‘Norwich 12’ is a list of buildings of historical importance in the city spanning 1000 years, created by the Norwich Heritage Economic & Regeneration Trust. If you want to discover the best architecture and history in Norwich, this list is a great place to start.
Visit Norwich Castle and discover why it’s considered one of Europe’s leading examples of Romanesque architecture. Look out for the famous Paston Treasure painting and find out who the Paston family were (you may have heard of alchemist Robert who attempted to produce his own version of the Philosopher’s Stone!). Stroll around the fascinating exhibits and afterwards enjoy lunch or a coffee at the pop-up café at the Castle Rotunda. Fun fact: Norwich Castle has the country’s largest collection of teapots! Entrance is £7 for adults.
The Cathedral is one of the top things to see in Norwich. Wander around this 900-year-old Cathedral and be impressed at the sheer scale of the cathedral cloisters and their vaulted walkways, taking time to study the carved stonework. Enjoy coffee and cake in the Refectory Café before browsing in the well-stocked gift shop. Afterwards bask in the tranquillity of the pretty Japanese Gardens. Entrance to the cathedral is free.
And, if you want to learn more, why not book a Paul Dickson tour? The Norwich: An Introduction tour takes you around the city, discovering its past, and finishes up at Norwich Cathedral.
One of Norwich’s hidden gems is The Great Hospital, which dates back to 1249. If you’re a history buff, booking a tour here is an absolute must, as it will allow you to see the stunning medieval refectory, along with a Victorian hall and church. Tours run at 10 am on the first Wednesday of the month, April – October. Tickets £14.
The largest remaining friary complex in the UK, The Halls, comprises six separate areas. Some of these spaces date back to the 13th and 14th centuries – Becket’s Chapel and The Crypt respectively. As a result, the Halls boast many mediaeval architectural features definitely worth seeing. St Andrews is the centrepiece of the complex. Dating back to the 15th century, there are beautiful stained-glass windows, limestone columns and stone carvings to admire.
The centre of government in the city from the early 15th century, right up to the 1930s, Norwich Guildhall is a beautiful medieval building and one of the largest of its type in the whole of England. The east side of the building was added in the 16th century and consists of an unusual and striking chequerboard pattern in flint and freestone.
Enter and see if you can find the dragons – there are eight – after which Dragon Hall is named. A trading hall and private home built in the 15th century, Dragon Hall later became a merchant’s hall, then shops, flats and pubs. It’s also the home of the National Centre for Writing. If you enjoy literature, keep an eye out for events and workshops taking place at Dragon Hall on their website.
Why not extend your day trip to Norwich and book a night’s stay at the magnificent Assembly House? A Grade I listed Georgian mansion, the rooms are full of stunning luxurious features, all decorated with a Georgian colour palette. And while you’re there, treat yourself to a delicious afternoon tea, making sure to take in the special architectural features in the dining rooms, from sparkling chandeliers to opulent panelling.
Now the head office and training centre for giant Norwich retailer Jarrolds, St James Mill is a former textile factory dating back to 1836. It’s regarded by many historians as being the prototypical Industrial Revolution Mill. At one time the building was used as a printing works and chocolate manufacturers. After WW1, it became for a time, a school for teaching crafts, such as carpentry, plastering and tailoring, to injured soldiers. We recommended seeing it in all its glory whilst walking along the river on a sunny day.
Enjoy a thrilling 360 degrees view of the city from the tower of the Cathedral of St John the Baptist. You’ll have to climb 280 steps of a spiral staircase to get there, but there is a resting spot on the way up, thanks to the crossing balcony. Built between 1884 and 1910, this stunning Gothic Cathedral was designed by George Gilbert Scott Jr and is regarded as an architectural gem.
A Grade 1 listed building of architectural splendour – not to mention marble – Surrey House is a stunning example of interior opulence. Marble Hall is the centre point and consists of 15 different types of Italian and Greek marble. A domed entrance ceiling and columns add to the splendour, as does a spectacular stained-glass window and stunning staircase. Built in the first decade of the 20th century for Norwich Union by George Skipper, today the building is owned by Aviva.
If you love art deco buildings, then City Hall is one you have to see. Although it’s now the city’s civic offices, you can still stroll around the reception area and take a look at the original features, built in the 1930s. Norwich City Hall is considered one of the finest municipal buildings of the inter-war period in England.
Designed by award-winning architect Sir Michael Hopkins, The Forum is a stunning, contemporary glass and brick building built along sustainability lines. As such, it’s a joy to be in – thanks to its bright, spacious interior which often hosts exhibitions, festivals and fairs. The three-storey Forum is built around a horseshoe-shaped enclosure surrounded by a series of balconies. The building actually contains a total of 1,235 panes of glass – the size of three football pitches.