Summer is for... being a tourist in your home city
Make this summer the one where you rediscover the place where you live.
At VisitNorwich, we’re lucky that our inbox is always inundated with the latest things to do, places to visit or happenings-now. With each resurfacing story from the city, we’re reminded quite how lucky we are to live somewhere with so much to talk about. This generous city is founded on a thousand years (and more!) of history, so you’re never far from something new to discover.
This summer, we want to reignite your relationship with the city, and show you how much there is to do right here in Norwich. So, this is our list of hidden gems: the places you might not have visited, or even knew existed. There’s things for the family, things for the solo visitor, and plenty of low-cost or free options too.
Marriott’s Way was named after William Marriott who was Chief Engineer and Manager of the Midland and Great Northern Railway (M&GN) for 41 years. The Marriott's Way is used extensively by walkers and horse riders as well as cyclists, the route follows two disused railway lines between Norwich and the historic market town of Aylsham for 26 miles, beginning in the city centre where Barn Road meets Barker Street (only minutes from Norwich Cathedral).
In summer the whole route is lush green and dense in places due to canopies of overhanging ancient trees. Butterflies and darting dragonflies are plentiful, whilst geese meander in nearby fields; look out for kestrels, owls, magpies and ducks. Orchids, cowslips and wild strawberries flourish in this habitat - make time for a bit of foraging! Public art plays its part along the railway too with signs made from old track to show distances and directions to villages and towns.
To mark your progress, at each mile there’s a piece of rail sculpture - each is unique with its own metal rubbing plaque with aspects of the tracks history. Under three bridges there are wind-up boxes playing past railway sounds, and there are also pieces of art inscribed with poems and verse as well as concrete sculptures about the railway’s heritage.
Marble Hall, Surrey House
Hidden away just off the busy shopping area of St Stephens is the other worldly Marble Hall in Surrey House. Surprisingly, this palatial building is the home of Aviva, and forms part of their working offices. However it is quite the sight to behold, as the magnificent entrance hall is built from 15 varieties of marble, classically inspired frescos and a stunning glass atrium. If you’ve not visited before, then believe me you are in for a real, take-your-breath-away surprise. Entry to Marble Hall is free, and tours can be booked in advance so you can find out exactly how such a unique building came to be in such an unassuming part of the city.
Free Days - Norwich Freemen
31st July - 11th August
For the last few years the freemen’s charity - the Norwich Town Close Estate Charity - have sponsored 2 weeks of free entry to two of Norwich’s museums: Strangers’ Hall and Norwich Museum at the Bridewell. These two attractions are home to fascinating collections which chart the course of Norwich’s history. Strangers’ Hall is a Doll’s House-like 14th Century Merchant’s House, in which each room is decorated in the style of a different era. Norwich Museum at the Bridewell is an interactive journey, telling the story of Norwich in a way which is perfect for children and adults alike. Highlights include a replica Victorian Chemist, and a look into the building’s past as a Bridewell.
Visit these museums for free from Wednesday 31st July to Sunday 11th August this year!
Sunken beneath street level, tucked away in the shadow of St John’s Cathedral is Plantation Garden. This secret oases hides away from the busy centre of the city, and is a space where visitors can enjoy something a little different from your regular city-centre park. This grade-2 listed site was established over 100 years ago in an abandoned chalk pit, and is maintained completely by volunteers. In these 3 acres, you’ll find a huge Gothic fountain, Italianate terrace and ‘Medieval’ terrace wall, woodland walkways, 10-metre long Victorian-style greenhouse and rustic bridge. A real escape from the day-to-day, the perfect place for the kind of days where you just want to take it easy. Keep an eye (ear?) out for live music and tea on Sundays!
Perhaps one of the most iconic views of Norwich, Elm Hill is the most complete medieval street in the city. A major fire destroyed almost everything in 1507 (although you can visit one of the surviving buildings: The Briton’s Arms lives on and is one of the most charming, atmospheric spots in the city for a coffee and cake), and the street was re-built in a more robust Tudor style that would last the test of time. No stranger to the small and silver screens, Elm Hill is more than just a place for sightseeing or Instagram fodder; this sweeping street is home to independent businesses of all kinds that the curious shopper can’t miss. Visit The Bear Shop, Jade Tree, or dive off-piste down Wright’s Court and visit P. Milne’s Antiques and Curios, for antique and taxidermy theatre like you’ve never, ever seen.
We talk about it a lot, and for good reason: Norwich Market is officially the best covered market in Britain (Great British Market Awards, 2019). There are some for whom a visit to the market is a regular occurrence: every lunchtime a trip to the Mushy Pea stall for pie and peas, or a first-thing-in-the-morning flat white from Little Red Roaster. For others, the bright canopies of Norwich’s oldest resident are a real destination: a see-it-while-you’re-here, or don’t-forget-before-you-leave. This week, we heard one story about a couple visiting from London, who absolutely couldn’t leave without picking up a hoover bag from Norwich Electrical Stores (who we can’t recommend enough if you have one of those rare-breed, high-maintenance vacuum cleaners that make it easier to just move house than clean your current one).
Norwich Cathedral and the Cathedral Close
We know Norwich Cathedral is a real icon, however we wanted to include the Cathedral Close and surrounding area just because it’s such a special place. In the middle of the city, Norwich Cathedral is the peaceful heart which - during summer - is a tranquil, leafy, sun trap. Take your shoes off and eat your lunch sat on the grass on Cathedral Green, or wander Hook’s Walk with an ice cream in hand. See the bees in the herb gardens, or watch peregrine falcons in the uppermost window of the cathedral spire. All for free.
Every Thursday evening for 9 weeks, make the most of lighter evenings and warm weather, and stay out late(r) for some free entertainment out on the streets of Norwich! Courtesy of Norwich BID, from the 4th of July to the 29th of August you can catch live music, street performance and circus in multiple venues across the city: London Street, Westlegate, Gentleman's Walk, St Gregory's Green, Riverside and Cathedral grounds. What’s more, the entire programme is free to watch! A real treat for a weekday evening, make sure you bring your dancing shoes with you!
So, it’s the tail end of summer but well worth including here. From 13th - 22nd of September, this is your chance to get underneath the skin of Norwich’s history. Over 2 weekends, historic buildings normally closed to the public will be opening their doors, revealing hidden histories and new experiences for visitors. For the always-curious or just-really-nosy this is your opportunity to see behind that door, over that wall, or inside that house. Lots of places are open for free, however some do charge a small entrance fee. Visit the Heritage Open Days website to see who’s involved!
Norfolk’s coastline is nothing short of spectacular, and there is so much on offer: beautiful scenery, swimming, surfing, seal watching, picnics, coastal walks and general frolicking. As a day out, it’s a great investment. In Yarmouth and Lowestoft you’ll find all the arcade games and seaside attractions of your childhood memories. Watch seals bask in the sun at Blakeney Point, or boats in the harbour at Wells-next-the-Sea. Learn to surf in Cromer, or for those who don’t need tuition there are some awesome waves at Gorleston or Sea Palling. The wide expanse of tranquil beach is well worth the half hour walk from Burnham Overy Staithe, or discover the magnificent sands at Holkham, which you might remember from the All Saints’ video for Pure Shores back in 2000!