Medieval to Modern Norwich

Medieval to Modern Norwich

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Norwich – Medieval to Modern

Summer 2024

Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery

After years of restoration, Norwich Castle Keep will fully reopen its doors from basement to battlements in the summer of 2024. Turning the clock back 900 years, this multi-million-pound project will take visitors back to the heyday of Norman England to experience Norwich Castle like never before.

Now is the time to explore deeper into the Norman period in Norwich, experiencing and viewing some of the great architecture and marks that have been left behind, often overlooked even by people who live here.

You could say that the restorative work which has taken place at the castle is the last piece of the puzzle for medieval Norwich. Because it is only here that visitors will now realise the importance of one of the finest surviving secular Norman buildings in Europe which was begun by William the Conqueror and completed as a medieval palace by his son Henry I in 1121.

Today we will witness what it was like to live in a Norman royal castle, spanning five accessible floor levels from basement to battlement with original medieval floors and room spaces. The works bringing alive the sights and sounds of this palace of the Norman kings across the medieval period – from the Norman Conquest to the reign of Henry VIII. With it comes a new Gallery of Medieval Life, developed in partnership with the British Museum illustrating life throughout society, the gallery will bring visitors closer to the experiences of people in this fascinating period, while unlocking the secrets of East Anglia’s medieval history and the world beyond.

Concept Art for the renovated Norwich Castle gives it a freshly transformed look!

Here’s our recommended Medieval to Modern itinerary in Norwich

Highlights Summer 2024:

The Maids Head Hotel (4*, rooms from £130 a night)

Claiming to be the oldest in the country, dating back to the middle of the 1090s when Norman Bishops established a guest house, this is the place to stay for a medieval visit. To get a true sense of this take a look at CJ Sansom’s novel Tombland where the Maids Head features, as well as many other iconic areas of Norwich including Tombland and Mousehold Heath, scene of the bloody Kett’s Rebellion in 1549.

Stay at reputedly the country’s oldest hotel with The Maids Head!

Day One

Start as you mean to go on by spending a good day exploring the Castle from top to bottom. Be transported back to the 1100s and reflect what life inside was like in its heyday as a palace of the Norman kings.

See authentically styled furnishings, including the extraordinary Norwich Friends Tapestry which will hang in the King’s Chamber. An 18-metre-long embroidery, inspired by the Bayeux Tapestry, it tells the story of two rebellions in the East of England against William the Conqueror.

Multisensory elements will allow visitors to interact with every space, from dressing up and sitting on the throne as a Norman king or queen, to experiencing the noises – and even smells – of medieval life. In contrast, there will also be a sensory map highlighting quieter areas and those with lower lighting for visitors who need it.

More than 1,000 artefacts and treasures will be available for visitors to explore within the brand-new Gallery of Medieval Life, over 50 of which are on long-term loan from the British Museum.

The atmospherically lit space will showcase a wide variety of objects, with many on public display for the first time. The range is breathtaking: from personal items such as an exquisitely carved ivory bobbin, discovered in the Castle’s drains, to elaborate scientific objects like an astrolabe, used for reading the stars; and from specially-conserved artefacts previously too fragile to display, to Treasure finds recently discovered by local metal-detectorists and recorded through the British Museum’s Portable Antiquities Scheme. All find a place, telling the intriguing story of life in this fascinating period of turmoil and change.

Individual travellers or groups: Finish the day with modern cocktails, drinks and a bite to eat at Yalm in the Royal Arcade. With eight local kitchens over two floors offering food from Ramen and Modern Mexican to North African Grill and New York inspired sandwiches – there’s always something for every taste bud.

Day Two

Enjoy a mooch around 900-year-old Norwich Market on a Great Market Tour with Paul Dickson (£11). Find out about when merchants would sell swords from the Rhinelands, furs from Russia, and walrus ivory from Scandinavia, as well as farm produce, pottery, and iron tools.  The tour also includes little tasters from food stands as a large part of the market sells delicious local produce – it’s also the best place for street food from around the world! Make time to stop for a drink at Sir Toby’s Beers (stalls 182 and 183) – Norwich’s smallest bar.  Note this is a perfect place for a drink early evening, catching the last rays of the summer sun.

Whatever beer you enjoy, Sir Toby’s has a massive local, national, and international collection!

Spend the afternoon at Norwich Cathedral (free, donations welcome) with its stunning cloisters and Close and walk down to the river Wensum. Discover more than 1,100 roof bosses in the cathedral and cloister, more than any other Christian church. The cathedral’s original Norman ground plan is still intact. The Cathedral remains one of the most iconic sights in Norwich with its Romanesque pillars, and stunningly decorated Norman tower.

Whilst at the site of the Cathedral look out for Ethelbert Gate, which was completed around 1316, and refurbished by the Victorians, it features St George and a Dragon and flushwork. Whilst Erpingham Gate – dates from around 1420 and is decorated with figures of saints.

Spend the rest of the day looking for medieval architecture and marks as well as exploring other things to see and do including some great shopping!   

Head to St Andrew’s Hall where Sir Thomas Erpingham’s coat of arms repeats itself several times along the clerestory (upper windows) of St Andrew’s Hall. He contributed to the rebuilding of St Andrew’s Hall (Dominican Friary) after a terrible fire in 1413.

Across the road there’s a carved coat of arms on St Andrew’s Church, which probably pre-dates the rebuilding of the church in the late 15th century including an early representation of the City’s coat of arms.

Pick up an authentic gelato at Café Gelato on Opie Street and take to Norwich’s Millennium building – The Forum – to eat on the steps of their amphitheatre. And in the right light, marvel at the reflection in the glass of this magnificent building of Norwich’s largest medieval church – St Peter Mancroft.

Image shows st peter church with blossom trees in the foreground and The Forum Library

Enjoy your food on The Forum steps while gazing at the beauty of St Peter Mancroft.

Follow this with a visit to The Guildhall to look at Bassingham Gateway. Does it feature a doorway from the demolished Franciscan Friary? Bassingham was a Tudor goldsmith on what became London Street. His house was demolished in the 1850s and the gateway added to The Guildhall.

Other medieval churches to visit include;  St Lawrence’s Church (spandrel above the west door, shows the martyrdom of St Lawrence), St Miles Coslany (15th century flushwork – mixing flint and dressed stone – on the south chapel), St Giles porch top (frieze featuring crowned letter G’s which is 15th century) and St George Colegate – south porch door (carvings in the spandrels – the Annunciation and St George being armed by angels which date from around 1498).

End the day with a walk back to the hotel down Elm Hill – Norwich’s most complete medieval street. Stop at The Britons Arms – depending on your timings – for lunch, coffee, afternoon tea or dinner (selected nights only).

The Britons Arms on Elm Hill

The Britons Arms is the perfect scenic stop while visiting Elm Hill!

Individual travellers: Treat yourself this evening to al fresco drinks at Makers House followed by dinner at contemporary 3AA Rosettes restaurant Benedicts or 3AA Rosettes restaurant Farmyard. All located on St Benedicts Street.

Group bookings: Book dinner at The Maids Head Hotel which caters for groups 01603 209955. Paul Dickson Walking Tours contact at

Day Three

Pop into The Museum of Norwich to use their free VR headset (15 mins) which depicts the story of Kett’s Rebellion – it’s fascinating! If you want to stay and look around the museum entrance is £7.40 – the first gallery is dedicated to the medieval era but follow the route and witness Norwich through the centuries. This is a great museum and good value for money.

Finally, if you want even more. Go to Strangers’ Hall museum – a medieval merchant’s home where each room is dedicated to an era. Visit and experience the medieval Great Hall but again, there’s loads more including a beautiful knot garden to sit and enjoy. Or visit Dragon Hall (not open every day), a medieval merchant’s house which is now the National Centre for Writing.

Then jump on the number 25, 26, or 26a bus to the University of East Anglia to see the Sainsbury Centre – a genre-defying art museum with world-class collections with its unique ‘pay if and what you can’ ticketing and its belief that art is living. Yes, you can touch a Henry Moore – in fact they encourage you to hug it!

Sainsbury Centre

No visit to Norwich is complete without seeing the Sainsbury Centre!

Aside from the incredible collection which includes Picasso, Degas (Little Dancer Aged Fourteen), Giacometti (Standing Woman), Francis Bacon and many more the building itself is Norman Foster’s first public work and worth a visit alone just to see it.

And for avid fans of The Avengers. The Sainsbury Centre was the location for their Headquarters in ‘The Avengers: Age of Ultron’.

Group bookings can be made for: Museum of Norwich, Strangers’ Hall, Dragon Hall.