There’s no better way to start a visit to Norwich than the cathedral, a magnificent, originally Norman construction whose spire dominates the city. It should detain you for a good hour before a stroll through the precincts down to the river, and the old flint ferry house of Pulls Ferry.
Despite its semi-sleepy reputation today, Norwich was once a trading port of huge importance and England’s second city. Its two rivers, the Yare and the Wensum, lined by terraces and little pedestrian bridges, lend an almost Dutch feel to this part of the centre, especially in the half-light of dusk.
You can either follow the riverside path round to Elm Hill, or turn left at the Red Lion pub and stroll up Bishopgate, stopping off on the way at the Great Hospital, one of Norwich’s buried treasures, a medieval complex with a lovely cloister. Beyond here, the Adam & Eve is perhaps the city’s most historic pub, and a perfect place to stop for a pint before heading to the Last Wine Bar & Restaurant for dinner.
The centre of Norwich is without question its market, the largest open-air market in England, open every day except Sunday. One corner of the square is anchored by the modern Forum, which houses the studios of BBC Norfolk and the excellent tourist information office.
Gentleman’s Walk forms the northern border of the square, a posh name for a parade of chain stores, although it does give access to the fancier Royal Arcade, which houses the Colman’s Mustard Shop and Museum and one-offs such as Digby’s Fine Chocolates. Behind here lies the core of the old city, sometimes known as The Lanes, the heart of the city’s commercial quarter, with a good sprinkling of independent businesses, notably Wilkinson’s – a haven of tea and coffee excellence – and quirky pub The Birdcage, where you can down your pint with fish and chips bought from the chippy opposite.
Afterwards, take in Norwich’s superb city museum, the Bridewell, housed in a former prison. By now you’ll be hungry, and there’s no better central place to eat lunch than the recently revamped Sir Garnet, right by the market, washed down with one of their Norfolk ales.
There’s a palpable sense of history wherever you go in Norwich, but nowhere more so than in the Strangers’ Hall, a creaky old place that housed 16th-century Flemish weavers (or ‘strangers’) in the city’s wool trade. Incidentally, it was the strangers who kept canaries, a fashion that lives on in the nickname of the city’s football team.
You might be ready for a cup of tea by now, in which case stop at the Britons Arms Coffee House at the top of Elm Hill, where a roaring fire, a proper cup of tea and homemade cake should go down a storm, before strolling Elm Hill to browse its mix of antique stores and galleries. From here, make your way back through The Lanes, following St Giles Street west before crossing the inner ring road to the Plantation Garden, a Victorian garden fashioned out of an old quarry by a local furniture retailer in the mid 1800s.
You’re also well placed to explore the charms of the so-called Golden Triangle just beyond – a small area between the city centre and the university that has become home to students, funky pubs and eateries. Try the Mad Moose pub, before heading back into the city centre for dinner at the Iron House restaurant.
The beautiful reedy expanse of the Broads is the closest stretch of countryside to Norwich; indeed some would argue the Broads reaches right into the city itself at Whitlingham Country Park. To really experience the magic of these extensive waterways, however, you need to get a bit further out, and preferably take to the water.
The easiest thing to do is to catch a train to Wroxham, 15 minutes away, where you can hire a day boat, or pay a visit to the CanoeMan by the bridge, which rents canoes and runs great guided canoe trails.
Downriver lies the large expanse of Wroxham Broad and smaller – and prettier – Salhouse Broad just beyond, where you can moor up and take a walk through the woodland beyond, ending up at the Fur and Feather pub, where they serve food and ales from Woodforde’s brewery next door.
If you have a car, consider making straight for Horning, one of Broadland’s prettiest villages, where you can opt for a lazier spot of sightseeing on The Southern Comfort, a Mississippi riverboat, and afterwards have a bite at the Swan Inn.