My Kind of Place: A visit to Norwich in England gives you the best of both worlds
During the 11th century, Norwich was the largest English city after London, and although it’s now lapsed in terms of population, architectural glories remain amid an unhurried atomsphere.
In 2012, it was designated England’s first Unesco City of Literature, following in the footsteps of Ireland’s Dublin and Iowa City in the US. The recognition cemented the East Anglian city’s literary status – writers who have lived, taught and studied here include Ian McEwan, Kazuo Ishiguro, Margaret Atwood, Stephen Fry and WG Sebald; there are few days in the year free of festivals, spoken-word events or readings.
A comfortable bed
38 St Giles (www.38stgiles.co.uk; 0044 1603 662 944) is a stylish boutique B&B in a Georgian house. Single rooms cost from £90 (Dh507), while double rooms are from £140 (Dh790).
Aside from the big-name budget giants or the creative, book-lined apartments on Airbnb, a decently-priced option is Wensum Guest House (www.wensumguesthouse.co.uk; 0044 1603 621 069). Although fairly basic, the B&B is set in an attractive, period house. It is a convenient walking distance to the city centre; single room rates start from £49 (Dh276), while doubles are from £69 (Dh384).
Find your feet
Begin at Norwich Cathedral (www.cathedral.org.uk; 0044 1603 218 300), a staggering example of mainly Norman architecture, which for more than 900 years, has dominated the skyline. At 315 metres, its spire is the second tallest in England.
If buildings are not your thing, there is plenty else to see and do – from Shakespearean plays and art exhibitions, to ambling through the Japanese Garden – or even falcon-spotting as the peregrines come home for summer.
Head east to Stranger’s Hall (www.museums.norfolk.gov.uk) . The museum’s building dates back to the year 1320 and houses a maze of interlined rooms laden with textiles and objects used by the Tudors and Stuarts – from costumes and toys to beds and tabletops.
To bring you back to present times, hop on a bus to the Norman Foster-designed Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts (www.scva.ac.uk) . Located on the campus of the University of East Anglia, a Henry Moore sculpture reclines on the entrance lawn, welcoming visitors to the gallery and museum.
Meet the locals
Head out of Norwich by train or bus to North Norfolk, where you’ll discover the most impressive stretch of England’s coastline. You will want to bottle the air, clear skies and shimmering views of the North Sea from any one of the golden beaches. Excellent for families, you can go seal-watching at Wells-next-the-Sea, followed by a ride on the miniature beach steam-train; take the children crab fishing in Cromer after a walk on the pier; or have a bike ride in Sheringham and a picnic by the cliffs.
Book a table
Vegetarian cafe Wild Thyme (www.wildthymenorwich.co.uk; 0044 1603 765 552) uses locally sourced, usually organic ingredients in a way one could never conjure at home. The textures are so varied you forget about the m-word altogether while ripping through wild mushroom and feta or paella with artichoke, fennel and olive tapenade.
Mains are around £10 (Dh56). Another vegetarian restaurant worth mentioning is the South Indian treasure Namaste (www.namasteindiannorwich.com; 0044 1603 662 016).
It has both a restaurant and a dhaba-style cafe at separate locations. The aubergine pakoras are fried modestly and delicious, all varieties of dosa are light and not overly spiced, while the dahi puris come as perfectly formed edible jewels that you can eat in one mouthful like sushi and are complete with pomegranate seeds. Two can easily dine for around £30 (Dh170).
It would be rude, however, not to unleash your inner carnivore in a traditional farming county and try what could well be England’s best burger at The Earlham Arms (www.theearlhamarms.co.uk/food/; 0044 1603 622 993). Assembled by a chef who studied with Gordon Ramsay, its thick patty is seasoned in a way that brings out the fresh, locally sourced Norfolk beef flavour; it’s complemented by garlic aioli and cornichons, and wrapped in a chargrilled ciabatta bun that soaks up the juices as you eat. The burger costs £12 (Dh67), while other main meals are around £13 (Dh74).
Follow lunch with a coffee from the bijou cafe, The Window Coffee (www.thewindowcoffee.com; 0044 7825 395858), thought to be the smallest in the world. Don’t wait until dinner as it closes at 3pm and is also shut during weekends.
Founded in the late 11th century, the outdoors Norwich Market (www.visitnorwich.co.uk/shopping/shops/listing/norwich-market) is still buzzing with 200 stalls. It has been consistently rebuilt and developed, but maintains a sense of history. It opens from 8.30am until 5.30pm Monday to Friday, and has everything from clothes and books to fresh fish, chutneys and famously The Mushy Pea Stall.
Norwich Lanes (www.norwichlanes.co.uk) are a set of alleyways lined with independent shops, barbers and restaurants. Magdalen Street is trendy, multicultural and a bit rough around the edges. With second-hand shops galore, a vintage watch jeweller and ethnic food markets, you can be submerged into other worlds here. Other stops in the city include Soundclash Records (www.soundclash-records.webspace.virginmedia.com) on Saint Benedicts Street, an independent store full of vinyl; on the same street is Salotto, a dainty shop stocked with artisan items from Italy and the Mediterranean – from colourful desert boots to hand-made soaps.
What to avoid
Each city centre has one – a street heaving with nightclubs and bars. Avoid Prince of Wales Road from 6pm on weekends as the atmosphere is not charming.
Scale St James Hill on Mousehold Heath, an area of 200 acres, for panoramic, breathtaking views of the city and big skies.
Etihad (www.etihad.com) flies direct from Abu Dhabi to London in seven hours, from Dh3,635 return, including taxes. Pre-booked trains from London’s Liverpool Street to Norwich start from from £52 (Dh292) return.
Updated: July 23, 2015 04:00 AM