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There's more to Norwich than Alan Partridge – our top ten highlights | Insight Guides Blog

There's more to Norwich than Alan Partridge – our top ten highlights

Norwich's Art Deco City Hall, (photo by Alexander Knights)
Norwich's Art Deco City Hall

As all its residents know, Norwich is "a fine city" – this modest claim adorns the signs that you see as you drive into this modestly sized city in the east of England. But, despite having all sorts of lovely things associated with it over the years, from the Norman cathedral that pierces the skyline to the locally produced Colman's mustard that perfects many a Sunday lunch, these days if you say you're from Norwich, or went to school there as I did, you're likely to be met with a chuckling comment like: "Ha ha, Alan Partridge." To which you might reply weakly, "Aha!"

Next Wednesday's release of Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa in cinemas across the UK is only likely to cement Norwich's reputation as a comical corner of England. But there's more to Norwich than Alan Partridge! Or indeed cookery queen and Norwich City Football Club shareholder Delia Smith.

See our top ten attractions in England...


A pub for every day of the year


Norwich has been around since at least Anglo Saxon times, and before the Industrial Revolution was one of the most prosperous cities in England. Set amid rich agricultural land, it rose to prominence in the Middle Ages as a market and trading centre, and colourful market stalls still occupy a central position in the city. Norwich's historic prosperity is evident in the 32 medieval churches and a host of old houses though, alas, the city can no longer claim to have a pub for every day of the year and a church for every week.

But now it can claim to feature in a summer blockbuster movie!

For those readers across the world not familiar with Alan Partridge, he's a light entertainment broadcaster from Norwich who's never been able to get his TV show back, instead presenting local radio and generally saying inappropriate things. A Twitter campaign "Anglia Square not Leicester Square" saw actor Steve Coogan premiere his comedy creation in the suitably naff Anglia Square in Norwich (built in the 1960s and 70s, and by no means typical of the city) before taking a chopper over to London for the traditional red carpets.

See below for a clip of Alan Partridge out and about in Norwich...


Here are our top 10 highlights of the fine city of Norwich


Cinema City

If you are planning to watch the Alan Partridge comedy fest, then do it in style at Cinema City, which occupies the historic Suckling House, named after a 16th-century merchant and mayor. This indie cinema was recently renovated and now houses a lovely bar and restaurant with great food, a fabulous wine list and courtyard seating.


Norwich Cathedral

The cathedral spire features prominently on the Alpha Papa poster and, set in one of Europe's largest cathedral closes, it is perhaps the most recognisable landmark of Norwich – also seen on the design of the Aviva insurance logo (the firm was originally called Norwich Union).

Norwich CathedralFounded in 1096 by Bishop Losinga, Norwich Cathedral has over 1,000 carved and painted bosses, and the cloisters are the largest in England. Within the outer flint walls is a modern version of a Norman refectory, designed by Sir Michael Hopkins. The cathedral hosts open-air Shakespeare every year in the cloisters, and is also home to some nesting peregrines.

Next door is Norwich School, my alma mater, and once attended by Admiral Lord Nelson as well as an actual radio DJ, Tim Westwood. Nelson has a school house named after him, Westwood doesn't as yet.

Nearby is Elm Hill, a quaint cobbled street lined with interesting little shops and buildings. You can admire the cathedral spire from Pull’s Ferry, a medieval flint-and-stone water gate on the River Wensum.


Sainsbury Centre

Not to be confused with a notable chain of supermarkets (although it was founded by the same family), the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts houses a wonderful collection featuring Picasso, Henry Moore and Giacometti juxtaposed with ethnographic pieces. Highlights include Moore’s Mother and Child, and an Inca llama effigy, which would probably have been buried by a human sacrifice. The building was designed by Norman Foster, architect of the Gherkin in London and HSBC Building in Hong Kong. It's found at the University of East Anglia (UEA), a pleasant campus just to the west of the city, and a great venue for live music.


Norwich Castle

Draw a squat rectangle and you have the outline of Norwich's 12th-century castle. There's a museum in its keep, with collections of archaeology and natural history, as well as galleries displaying works by the Norwich School of landscape painters, such as John Sell Cotman, and visiting exhibitions from the Tate. Tea lovers should note that it also has the world’s largest collection of ceramic teapots.


Norwich Castle

The Norwich Lanes

In the area between the Jarrold deparment store (local shopkeepers since 1770) and Cinema City are some quaint narrow streets, recently restyled in as Brighton-esque "lanes", with independent homeware, clothes and jewellery boutiques, plus a wonderfully curated bookshop called The Book Hive.

Another shopping highlight is the  elegant Art Nouveau thoroughfare, the Royal Arcade, where you’ll find the Mustard Shop. For nearly 200 years regional farmers have been growing mustard for the firm of Colman’s, and this specialist shop-cum-museum stocks products and souvenirs.


The Norwich Playhouse

Set in a former Georgian maltings, the Playhouse theatre attracts comedy, theatre and music acts, with a pleasant bar by the River Wensum. Just beside the theatre you can take a punting tour of some historic riverside sights including the 14th-century Cow Tower, imaginatively named after... well, this is a very rural region of England.


Norwich Market and Castle

Strangers Hall

If you're interested in Norwich's mercantile history, then a visit to Strangers Hall is recommended – it was once a base for Flemish and Walloon Protestants, the "strangers" who came over to Norwich from the Low Countries to escape Catholic persecution in the 16th century.

The silk weavers of Norwich are evoked in W.G. Sebald's The Rings of Saturn, a wonderful stitching together of literary and cultural associations and memories in a walk through areas of East Anglia.

The Waterfront

Dragon Hall is another well restored medieval merchant's trading hall on King Street, located just along from the Waterfront, a sweaty-ceilinged live music venue with an infamous 80s night.


Afternoon tea at the Assembly House

More sedate pleasures are on offer at the Assembly House, where patissier-crafted cakes are served for elevenses and afternoon tea in an elegant Georgian building.


Arts and beer fests

And depending on your tastes, time your visit for May to enjoy the Norfolk and Norwich Arts Festival, or the very end of October for the Norwich Beer Festival. 




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And here's Alan out and about in Norwich