Free Sightseeing in Norwich

Free Sightseeing in Norwich 

For many, the first step of a trip to somewhere new is seeing the sights and getting orientated. And when in Norwich, this is the perfect way to start. Many of the City of Stories iconic and historic sights can be seen and enjoyed entirely for free. Plus, who knows what you’ll discover on your travels! 

So, to help you find all the best spots, we’ve pulled together a guide on how best to experience these iconic landmarks of Norwich for the budget-conscious traveller (or the local looking for a fresh perspective!). Follow our recommendations and you’ll soon be soaking in gorgeous architecture, enjoying scenic walks, and unwinding with some of the best views Norwich has to offer. Lace up your walking shoes and prepare to be delighted by exploring all Norwich has to offer – for free! 

Norwich Cathedral & Norwich Cathedral Tours 

There’s nowhere better to start than this towering icon and its gorgeous setting within 44-acres, it’s a must-visit when you come to the City of Stories. Known locally as the ‘village within the city’, Norwich Cathedral and its grounds is perfect for a tranquil walk away from the bustling city centre, and it’s one of the Norwich’s most famous sights!  

Take your time to amble around especially on sunnier days, you’ll feel a remarkable sense of peace. The Cathedral itself is also incredibly impressive – it has the second-tallest spire in England, and the largest monastic cloisters!  

Add a bit more intrigue and excitement onto your visit by joining an experienced volunteer on one of Norwich Cathedral’s free tours, where you’ll see the Cathedral come to life with a plethora of stories from its 900-year history. These tours take place hourly from Monday – Saturday from 10am – 3pm and start near the Font in the Nave – plus there’s no need to book in advance, simply arrive at the timeslot that suits you!

Details: The cathedral is free to enter & tours are free too – donations are very welcome 

Norwich Cathedral

Norwich Cathedral and its grounds are a truly beautiful way to start your Norwich sightseeing! Credit: Bill Smith

Elm Hill 

Another Norwich icon, Elm Hill is undoubtedly our most famous location, and for good reason! Not only is it the city’s most complete medieval street, but its cobbled beauty has caught the eye of Hollywood executives over the years, which has seen it used as the set for many blockbusters like 2007’s ‘Stardust’. 

The story goes that, back in 1507, a major fire raged through Elm Hill, destroying almost everything in its path, including a large majority of the buildings and all but one of the elm trees that gave this street its name. However, in true Norwich spirit, the properties were rebuilt, and have been pristinely preserved ever since so we can enjoy this cobbled walk lined with merchants’ houses and specialty shops to this day.  

So, during your time in Norwich, be sure to meander along Elm Hill and take in all of the sights, it’s breathtakingly gorgeous. And, if you’re looking to treat yourself, pop into any of the shops that take your eye, like The Bear Shop, or stop for a drink, some lunch, afternoon tea, or even dinner on select evenings at The Britons Arms (which is one of just five thatched buildings in the city). Be sure to take some pictures while you’re there too, it’s a photographer’s dream! 

Details: The Britons Arms is one of few buildings to have survived the fire on Elm Hill, meaning it’s original – further making it a must-visit!

You can’t miss Elm Hill on a visit to Norwich.

Norwich Book Benches  

Did you know? Norwich was England’s very first UNESCO City of Literature – we don’t call ourselves the City of Stories for no reason! With our vast and rich literary heritage, from the famous authors who have both lived and been inspired by this city, to the range of independent bookshops that have lined our streets for decades, we’re really proud of this accolade. We’re even home to the National Centre for Writing! (More on this later). 

Now, on a visit to our fine city, you can join us in celebrating our 900-year-old writing history with the Norwich Book Bench Trail. Across the city, you’ll find eight individually designed benches inspired by books associated with Norwich. You can see all of these benches as part of a free trail, which spans 5.7km and will take you roughly 1 hour and 15 minutes to complete. On a lovely sunny day, this is a fantastic way to see parts of the city you wouldn’t otherwise look to, and it means you might just find a new favourite café, shop, or restaurant on your way around! You can find out more about the Norwich Book Benches here. 

Details: Some of these book benches feature engraved names of authors, novels, and the covers that were inspired by Norwich or written by authors from the city and county.

The Book Bench Trail is the perfect way to see Norwich differently! Credit: VisitNorwich

Marble Hall 

Walking down St Stephen’s Street, one of the most-walked streets in all of Norwich, you’d never know that Marble Hall existed. Away from the crowds, take a right onto Surrey Street to find Surrey House – which is home to Aviva. What’s lesser known, especially to visitors of the city, is that this is a building of historical importance to the city – and the home to Marble Hall. Inside, a stunning piece of architecture awaits.  

Designed by local architect, George Skipper, Marble Hall is an unbelievable sight. It’s hard to believe that this already-impressive building could house such a stunning interior. But it’s even more interesting to learn that it came to be in Norwich by accident. Originally, the 15 varieties of marble that you see in Marble Hall were destined for Westminster Cathedral. 

Inside Marble Hall, you can see classically inspired frescos and a glass atrium, it also contains an ‘air fountain’, which was an early form of air conditioning and very impressive. While this is now an office building, the ground floor is open to visitors free of charge during office hours Monday – Friday. Or, as a paid extra, you can book The Shoebox Experiences ‘Magnificent Marble Hall Tour’ (£15 per adult, £8 per child 4-12 years old), which takes you upstairs, into the Directors’ Boardrooms, and gives you a wonderfully guided tour of Marble Hall, filled with stories and historic facts about the building! 

Details: While the downstairs is free to access during office hours, you’ll only be able to access the upstairs area by joining The Shoebox Experiences’ tour!

Marble Hall

A visit to Marble Hall is unlike anywhere else in Norwich – it’s a real hidden gem!

Urban Art Trail 

Alongside literature, art has long been a story in Norwich – you don’t have to travel far through the city to find a plethora of galleries housing a huge range of works. Whatever medium, the art in Norwich tells its own story. But not all art is enclosed within galleries or displayed on the walls of venues, at least not in the City of Stories. Sometimes, you just need to look up.  

The Urban Art Trail is a series of nine large murals across the city, with 12 smaller pieces within Norwich Market. They each depict a theme related to Norwich, adding even more magic to your discovery of the city. And it’s all free to see! From a dragon hidden away high up on Red Lion Street, to the piece on Riverside showing all the area has to offer, these artworks are must-sees on your travels. You can find more details about these works, including their artist and where to find them here! 

Details: In total, there are 20 murals to see around the City of Stories! So be sure to see them all on your way around.

Whether learning more about this city’s history or taking in the stunning works of art, the Urban Art Trail is a great addition to your sightseeing!

National Centre for Writing – Free Walking Tours 

Alongside our UNESCO City of Literature status, Norwich is also delighted to be home to the National Centre for Writing. Based in the historic and gorgeous Dragon Hall on King Street, the National Centre for Writing are almost always hosting free and paid activities and events. Whether it’s a workshop, mentoring, tours, or putting on fun, creative activities for children, they have it. Plus, you can participate in a lot of these events in-person or online! 

On top of these fantastic events, the National Centre for Writing have also created a whole host of walking tours around Norwich, which are all completely free to take part in and inspired by literature associated with the city in some way. These are: 

Wandering Words 

Discover Norwich of the past, present, and future with Wandering Words – commissioned poems from five fantastic writers. Along this walking trail, you can scan the QR codes of each location to listen to an immersive audio recording of a poem, as well as the sounds of people and settings that inspired the writer’s work, while you explore. Plus, in May 2024, Wandering Words is getting two new locations in celebration of the City of Literature Weekend at the Norfolk & Norwich Festival. So, there’s no better time to give it a go! 

Stories from the Quarter 

Stories from the Quarter is a National Lottery Heritage Fund project designed to document and celebrate the stories of the diverse communities that both live and work in Norwich. Their first edition focuses on the county’s thriving Bengali and Sylheti-speaking communities with 14 interviews from community members from mosques, hospitality, transport, and the NHS. Follow this walking trail around the city and scan the QR code at each marked location to hear these first-hand accounts about their lives and how they’ve changed in Norwich. It’s fascinating to listen to. This trail map can be downloaded from the National Centre for Writing’s website or pick up a physical copy in Dragon Hall for free. 

Walking Norwich – The Real and the Imagined 

For even more themed, wonderful walks around Norwich, you’ll want to check out the National Centre for Writing’s ‘Real and Imagined’ collections. Written by a cohort of authors, these walks are all truly beautiful in their description of the very path you will take yourself. The best bit? Some of these walks are made by writers who have never visited the city and, in some cases, the country. 

Take Vahni Capildeo’s ‘Cathedral Deferred: Walking From the Train Station’ for example. This piece is a short-walk, taking you from an arrival at the train station, to the walk to Norwich Cathedral and the beauty in between – and it was written solely through a ‘virtual residency’, where inspiration would instead come from online research. It’s well-worth reading through all of these imagined walks and keeping note of any that catch your eye, they might just shift how you see the city yourself while you’re here! 

Visit Dragon Hall to find the National Centre for Writing and all of their wonderful trails, events, tours, and more!

Or opt for a trail/story written by an author who took physical residency here in Norwich, and really live it for yourself, like Nuril Basri’s ‘Gentleman’s Walk’, which tells an account of him meandering around the city’s winding streets and quaint shops. And if you want something a bit spookier, give Wayne Rée’s ‘Listen When The Spirits Speak’ a read, and relive that on your travels. However you choose to experience these walks, you’re sure to love living the city through someone else’s eyes.  

Both collections of these walks are available on the National Centre for Writing website, or physical copies can be picked up in Dragon Hall for free!