Norwich: Norfolk’s capital

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Norwich Cathedral offers a variety of guided group tours, which can be pre-booked, including themed tours of the Stained Class Windows, The Close and the Cloisters. Tours last around 60 to 90 minutes and cost £5 per person. PAUL HURST

Angela Youngman outlines what the city of Norwich and its surrounding area can offer coach groups, with ideas for inclusion in your itineraries

Founded over 1,000 years ago, Norwich is a city of spires and historic architecture. It possesses the biggest concentration of medieval churches North of the Alps, as well as two historic cathedrals within easy walking distance. Norwich is England’s most complete medieval city. More recently, it has also become the annual City of Ale. That’s not all – from Valentines Day cards, teapots, art collections, food and vintage shopping to aircraft and tanks, Norwich has much to offer visitors.


The 800-year-old Romanesque Norwich Cathedral has the largest Monastic cloisters and Close in the country. The original stone benches used by the monks are still present, providing a relaxing place to sit and enjoy the serenity of the cloisters, before trying out the labyrinth on the green.

Built in Caen stone, Norwich Cathedral has had a turbulent history, having almost being burned down during a conflict between the monks and townsfolk. The building has some highly unusual features, especially the innumerable, colourful roof bosses illustrating some of the most popular bible stories as well as animals and the folkloric Green Man. In the summer peregrine falcons often make the cathedral spire their home, and can seen via a special observation point.

The grounds of the Cathedral also contain the grave of Edith Cavell, who served as a nurse in Belgium during WW1, and was executed for helping the resistance to aid Allied soldiers. Her last words ‘Standing as I do in view of God and eternity, I realize that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness for anyone,” can be seen on her statue beside the Erpingham Gate. A gentle stroll through the Close leads down to the picturesque riverside setting of Pulls Ferry, where stone was originally unloaded during the construction of the cathedral.

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[/wlm_nonmember] [wlm_ismember] A variety of guided group tours can be pre-booked, including themed tours of the Stained Class Windows, The Close and the Cloisters. Tours last around 60 to 90 minutes and cost £5.00 per person. Details at

Just across the road from the cathedral are two much loved Norwich landmarks – Samson and Hercules. The original statues date from the seventeenth century. Hercules is a Victorian copy, while the copy of Samson was only installed in the 1990s when an arm dropped off. At this point, it was discovered that the statue was actually wood covered in over 60 layers of lead paint, and Samson was taken away for extensive restoration.

Nearby Elm Hill is a winding, cobbled street home to the Bear Shop and is frequently used as a filming location. Films have included Stardust, when the Britton Arms coffee house was turned into a tavern called The Slaughtered Prince. The Britton Arms itself is the only thatched building in Norwich. Just round the corner from Elm Hill is St Peter Hungate, now a centre of Medieval Art and Stained Glass. It contains examples and drawings of stained glass from Norfolk churches, highlighting the sheer skill involved in creating these designs. During 2018, there will be a special exhibition about the Pastons, who were one of the most prominent medieval families in the UK. Visits need to be pre-booked at [email protected]

A few minutes’ walk leads to the most complete medieval friary complex in existence within the UK. The St Andrews and Blackfriars halls entered civic control in 1538. Often used for civic and commercial events, the halls are architecturally significant and contain a major portrait collection including one of the last portraits of Admiral Lord Nelson before he died at Trafalgar.

Pre-booked tours can be arranged – contact the Norwich Tourist Information Centre on 01603 213999 or [email protected].

Across the city, the Roman Catholic (RC) Cathedral of St John the Baptist is a Victorian Gothic building constructed by Sir George Gilbert Scott. It is the second largest RC cathedral in the UK and apart from its stunning architecture and stained glass, has an eye-catching collection of fossils to be seen on the interior walls. Definitely worth considering are the tower tours, as the views across Norwich are spectacular. It involves climbing 280 steps up a spiral staircase to the top of the tower for a 360° view of the city and surrounding landscape. Along the way, visitors can also look down on the transept and nave of the cathedral. Discounted rates are available for pre-booked groups. More at

Adjacent to St John’s Cathedral is the Plantation Garden, often described as Norwich’s secret garden. This four-acre secluded garden is one of the prettiest gardens in the city, with a lovely Italianate terrace, large Gothic style fountain, woodland walkway and walls containing numerous ‘medieval’ style artifacts such as carved faces. Group tours are by arrangement only – details from

Norwich is home to the second English castle to be built in stone by the Normans after the Tower of London


An equally prominent landmark is Norwich Castle. This was the second English castle to be built in stone by the Normans after the Tower of London, and sits on top of the largest motte in the country. Plans are underway to redevelop the interior of the medieval castle, replicating the Christmas Crown wearing ceremony undertaken during the visit of Henry I. Groups can book tours of the Battlements and Dungeons, and explore fascinating exhibitions relating to the Iceni queen Boudicea, the Vikings and Saxons who were the first people to live in Norwich, art works including paintings by Cotman, Munnings, Hogarth and Gainsborough as well as an amazing collection of teapots. There are amazing stories to discover, such as the prisoners from Norwich Gaol who became one of the founding families of modern Australia. Future exhibitions planned include The Paston Treasure in collaboration with the Yale Centre for British Art and Armistice: The Legacy of the Great War.

City centre

A short walk leads to the Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell. This museum is a lively introduction to the industries which have dominated the city over the centuries such as textiles, chocolate, beer, shoes, Christmas crackers and mustard. Among the more unexpected delights are a superb collection of Valentines cards, a Victorian chemist’s shop, the first wire netting ever produced, and a cardboard Spitfire house made by fire watchers during World War II. Underneath the Bridewell is the largest vaulted medieval undercroft in the city, which is accessible only on guided tours.

Surrounding the Bridewell and across to the Maddermarket Theatre are Norwich Lanes, a collection of narrow streets which house a wide collection of boutiques, galleries, cafés and restaurants making it a very pleasant place to shop. The Lanes are a popular shopping destination for antique, retro, vintage fashions and lifestyle products while the nearby colourful market place with its gaily decorated awnings is becoming a mecca for food shoppers. Magdalen Street close to the Anglican cathedral contains many antique emporiums, some of which have appeared on TV antiques programmes.

St John Maddermarket is an unusual theatre. The Tudor-style building was originally an RC chapel and in 1921 it was converted into a theatre possessing high seating areas and a wide stage. Certain seats are always left empty, for the use of the Maddermarket Ghost who enjoys watching the shows. The ghost, believed to be a monk, has been seen on many occasions. Tours of the theatre can be arranged at a cost of around £4 per head, and includes a look at the area immediately surrounding the theatre. In medieval times, the site was a market where a scarlet dye called ‘madder’ was sold, hence the name Maddermarket. In 1599, actor Will Kemp (a friend of William Shakespeare) danced the morris all the way from London to Norwich, ending his journey when he jumped over the wall of St John Maddermarket church. A plaque now marks the spot. To arrange a tour, call The Maddermarket on 01603 620917.

Nearby is Strangers Hall – a medieval merchant’s house where every room is set in a different era, from a medieval undercroft to a Tudor great hall, a Georgian dining room, Lady Paine’s seventeenth century bedroom and a Victorian parlour. A charming collection of historic toys and a cellar full of traditional shop signs never fails to capture the attention of visitors.

Just off the Rouen Road is the Julian Centre. Julian of Norwich was the first woman to write a book in English that has survived. She lived as an anchoress in an enclosed cell adjacent to St Julian’s church for most of her life until her death in 1416. Her book, The Revelations of Divine Love, is one of the great classics of religious literature. Guided tours of the Chapel of St Julian and the site of her cell can be booked by emailing [email protected]. A general tour costs £3 per head. Other options are available – including refreshments and church groups can arrange to hold a service in the chapel.

Norwich Tourist Information Centre organises numerous guided walks around the city, each of which lasts between one to two hours. Subject matter varies considerably including, A pub for every day of the year, Wharves and waterside looking at the maritime heritage of the city, Footsteps of Nelson, notable rebellions such as that of Kett and Victorian Norwich.

The Norfolk Tank Museum is located just outside Norwich, where a selection of rare and unusual tanks and battle vehicles can be found, including Deborah II, the replica Mk IV Tank seen on Channel 4’s documentary Guy Martin’s WW1 Tank, which is pictured here


Heading to the outskirts of Norwich, there are some interesting options for groups. Going northwards, Mousehold Heath was the location of a major rebellion against Tudor rule – Ketts Rebellion. An army of rebellious gentry and peasants was encamped here for many days, and posed a serious challenge to royal rule. Follow the signs for HM Prison in Britannia Road for access to one of the most scenic viewpoints across Norwich. Coaches can park for short periods at the viewpoint, opposite the prison entrance. Refreshments are available at the Britannia Café.

Just past Norwich Airport is the City of Norwich Aviation Museum, at Horsham St Faith. Over a dozen aircraft are on display, ranging from a small wooden Evans VP-2 to a Vulcan bomber and a Nimrod MR2. It is possible to step inside fighter jet cockpits as well as a Cold War bomber, and explore the history of the area’s aviation history, especially during WW2 when it was home to countless RAF and USAF bases. Norwich was the base for one England’s most important aircraft companies, Boulton & Paul Aircraft Ltd. There is free on-site parking. Details at

Around three miles West of the city centre, the Sainsbury Centre at the University of East Anglia has a worldwide reputation as a major location for decorative arts. Designed by Norman Foster, the centre contains art from around the globe collected by Robert & Lisa Sainsbury, including a Degas ballerina statue, works by Epstein, Giacometti and artifacts from Oceania, Japan and Asia, as well as contemporary art. There is a changing programme of special exhibitions such as works by Antony Gormley and Roger Law. Superstructures: the New Architecture will be held throughout the summer, while Tatlin’s tower will be on view within the Sculpture Park until December 2021. There is no coach parking on-site.

Moving further west is Roar! Dinosaur Adventure set in the village of Lenwade, 25 minutes from Norwich. This is an 85-acre theme park based on dinosaur attractions. A large adventure play area is surrounded by forests with a trail leading past imposing, life size animatronic dinosaurs such as Triceratops, Stegosaurus, T-Rex, a Lost World maze, a secret animal garden and a high ropes course. The Deer Safari takes visitors to see two herds of red and fallow deer, accompanied by a guide providing an informative talk about the deer. More at

Just off the A47 bypass, the Royal Norfolk Showground is home to the annual Royal Norfolk Show, the UK’s largest two-day country show involving over 3,000 animals, 700 trade stands, craft village, hundreds of attractions and ring events including piggy racing, show jumping and Horse of the Year Show qualifier events. Details at

Slightly further south at Forncett St Peter (just outside Long Stratton), is the Norfolk Tank Museum where a selection of rare and unusual tanks and battle vehicles can be found, including Deborah II, the replica Mk IV Tank seen on Channel 4’s documentary Guy Martin’s WW1 Tank. The tank was actually built on-site, by Guy Martin, Stephen Machaye museum director, JCB and a group of volunteers. It is an authentic working replica. Guided tours of the tank interior can be arranged. It is also possible to climb inside a Chieftain Main Battle Tank and a Saladin Armoured Scout Car. Other vehicles on-site include three different types of Centurion tank and Cold War tanks, plus a small arms collection such as Boyes Anti tank rifle. Weather permitting, white knuckle rides over an off-road course in a Hagglunds BV206 All Terrain Vehicle may be available. In August, there is a two-day Armour Fest when many of the museum’s vehicles can be seen in action, along with visiting armoured vehicles and re-enactment groups. The Norfolk Tank Museum is open from April to end October and parking is available on-site. More at

Coach parking

None of the key attractions within Norwich possess any dedicated coach parking. There are 15-minute drop off/pick up bays in Upper King Street, Castle Meadow, Theatre Street and Ber Street. These are free of charge. Upper King Street is ideal for visiting the Anglican Cathedral, as it is close to the cathedral gateways. It also provides access to Elm Hil, St Andrews Hall and the Stained Glass Museum. Castle Meadow is suitable for groups visiting Norwich Castle, the Lanes, the Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell and Strangers Hall. Norwich Ber Street is slightly further out, but accessible for the Castle and the city centre. Coach visitors to the Plantation Garden often drop-off and pick-up groups from the nearby bus stop situated within the bus lane.
Layover parking for up to four hours free of charge is available in King Street and Rouen Road. A privately-operated coach park is situated at Lower Clarence Road, and charges do apply. Spaces should be booked in advance. Heading out of the city on the A140, the Harford Park & Ride contains coach spaces for which charges are applicable.

PSVs can use any of the coach stops and layover parking, as well as on-street pay and parking plus surface car parks possessing no height restrictions such as Chantry Road and Rouen Road. If a PSV straddles two spaces in a car park, then two tickets must be purchased.

When travelling around Norwich, coaches and PSVs are allowed to use bus lanes and bus gates.

A map showing the exact locations of all drop-off and layover parking places can be downloaded at

Deals for coaches

Special deals for coach groups include a complimentary ride on the Norwich Sightseeing Bus with a valid Harford P&R ticket. The various Norwich museums offer group discounts for parties of 10 or more. Bookings should be made in advance at

At the Norfolk Tank Museum, entry is free for coach drivers, together with complimentary coffee and an opportunity to explore the museum. Finally, ‘Roar!!’ offers free admission and a meal for the driver.