|The "fine city" of Norwich lies at
the heart of rural Norfolk in the north eastern corner of the East Anglia
region. It is a busy and attractive city with a wealth of historic sights
to offer visitors as well as a selection of lively clubs, pubs and
restaurants and a colourful variety of shops. Less than three hours away
from London on public transport, Norwich is easily reached by train or
coach. By road, the journey takes slightly longer but is just as
straightforward with the A11 linking the city to the M11.
The city centre
Norwich's history goes back to the days of the Anglo-Saxons and Romans who both made their homes alongside the River Wensum and today the city's central streets still follow their medieval plan. A wonderful city to explore on foot, the centre of Norwich is outlined by the remaining parts of its city walls and contains more than 1500 historic buildings. These range from tiny ancient houses tucked away in narrow cobbled alleyways such as Elm Hill, Tombland Alley and Timber Hill to large, impressive buildings such as the Norman Cathedral, Norwich Castle and the medieval Guildhall.
The River Wensum flows through the city offering riverside walks and cruises and also within the inner city boundary are some of Norwich's unique collection of parks and open spaces including Chapelfield Gardens, Castle Gardens and the green Cow Tower area.
Today much of the centre of Norwich is traffic-free. In front of City Hall is the old provision market with its famous coloured covers. Between the market and Norwich Castle are a number of pedestrianised shopping streets such as Gentleman's Walk, London Street and Castle Street as well as the famous Royal Arcade housing among other outlets the Colman's Mustard Shop. From this area it is possible to enter the underground Castle Mall Shopping Centre.
Norwich really is a shopper's heaven with stores ranging from big high street names to unusual smaller retail outlets. These days the provision market stocks mainly fruit and vegetables, clothes and accessories. Also tucked away inside, however, are health food stalls, hot food stalls and even a hairdresser.
The Castle Mall Shopping Centre features three levels of different facilities. This is the country's only underground shopping centre and the largest of its type in Europe. Its shops range from large chain stores such as Boots, Mothercare and the Early Learning Centre to smaller shops.
Those who love browsing in secondhand and antique shops should make their way to Magdalen Street. Head for Tombland and then over the river. Here you'll find not only a fantastic collection of pubs and restaurants but also numerous secondhand shops ranging from grubby junk stores to smart antique shops.
St Benedict's is another of Norwich's more interesting shopping areas. This runs from the inner ring road in towards the city and is home to some fascinating specialist shops, including fashion, book, gift and furniture stores, and some nice restaurants.
Parking while shopping in Norwich is not really a problem. There are a number of multi-storey car parks as well as some Pay and Display areas and the very reasonable Castle Mall car parks.
Entertainment and culture
Norwich has an exciting variety of theatres, cinemas, galleries and museums in the city centre. The Theatre Royal is the largest theatre and features a variety of drama, musical, dance and comedy productions throughout the year. The Norwich Playhouse and the Maddermarket Theatre are also within the city boundary.
Live music can be heard at the Norwich Arts Centre, on St Benedict's Street, and at the Waterfront on King Street - both about 15 minutes walk from the city centre - as well as at smaller venues elsewhere in Norwich.
As well as its Odeon and ABC cinemas, Norwich now also boasts multiplexes the UCI at the new Riverside development (near the station) and Ster Century in the Castle Mall. For lovers of art cinema there is Cinema City on St Andrew's Street.
Towering above Norwich city centre is the Castle Museum with its Norman keep (currently closed for refurbishment). Other museums in Norwich include the Bridewell Museum, in Bridewell Alley, and the Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum, on Market Avenue.
The Norwich Area
One of the great benefits of visiting Norwich is that you also find yourself within easy reach of some wonderful countryside and stunning beaches. Head up to North Norfolk and you will find market towns such as Aylsham and Holt to explore. Then further on, perhaps 40 minutes from Norwich, you come upon the traditional seaside towns of Cromer, Sheringham and Wells-next-the-Sea.
Those who enjoy exhilarating walks can explore the breath-taking expanses of the North Norfolk coastline at Blakeney and Holkham. This area is also famous for its bird-watching and its seals.
To the east of Norwich is the Great Yarmouth coastline which comes to life every summer when the holidaymakers arrive. Here you'll find all the traditional seaside entertainment from the piers to the Pleasure Beach and the slot machines to the seaside theatre.
South Norfolk offers more tranquil pastimes. Here there are woodland and riverside walks to be undertaken either on foot or on horseback with a party from one of the many stables this area boasts. The market towns of Wymondham and Diss in this area also have plenty to offer the visitor including period architecture, museums and auctions.
Further south, about 40 minutes from Norwich in Breckland, is Thetford, a town with a number of historic sites to visit which is surrounded by one of the oldest and largest forests in Great Britain. The beautiful pine Thetford Forest Park offers 50,000 acres of area to explore on foot, horse-back or by bike (which can be hired from High Lodge).
But it is for Britain's finest wetland, the Norfolk Broads, that the county is perhaps most famous for. This covers an area of about 303 sq km to the north and east of Norwich and includes more than 200 km of waterways.
The Broads is similar to a national park and is protected for its landscape and wildlife. Explorations can be made on foot, by bike or by boat. You can take guided boat trips or hire a cruiser by the day, week or even hour from one of the many businesses in Norwich, Wroxham , Hoveton, Stalham or Potter Heigham. There is also plenty of opportunity for those wishing to learn to sail, canoe or windsurf.
There are many attractive villages and small towns to visit within the Broads area as well as historic buildings, museums and of course windmills such as Berney Arms Mill and Sutton Mill. For more details about the Norfolk Broads visit one of the Broads Information Centres at Beccles, Hoveton or Potter Heigham.
Attractions and day trips
Within easy reach of Norwich are literally dozens of places of historic interest and exciting family centres to visit in a day. Stately homes Blickling Hall, Somerleyton Hall and Felbrigg Hall are among Norfolk's many beautiful buildings with extensive gardens to explore.
The Dinosaur Park at Weston Longville, the Shire Horse Centre at West Runton and The Village at Fleggburgh all offer fun for the whole family. In west Norfolk, visitors find attractions such as the Gaol House and the Caithness Crystal Visitor Centre, at Kings Lynn, and the African Violet Centre at Terrington St Clement. In north Norfolk there's Wroxham Barns and for steam train lovers the Bure Valley Railway and the North Norfolk Steam Railway.
In the Great Yarmouth area families can head for Thrigby Hall Wildlife Gardens, Fritton Lake Countryworld and popular theme park Pleasurewood Hills. South of Norwich you'll find the Tropical Butterfly Garden at Great Ellingham and Banham Zoo, near Attleborough.
Whether your tastes lie in visiting historical sites or exploring areas of natural beauty, in taking exhilarating theme park rides or in family fun at the seaside, Norwich and the surrounding district won't disappoint you. There really is something for everyone here - and it's all within easy reach of the "fine city" itself.