The English city of Norwich offers a delightful and accessible getaway from the frenetic pace of London.
While probably best known for its English Premier League football team, Norwich City, this English rose is the most complete medieval city in Britain with museums, two cathedrals (one with the second-tallest spire in the country) and a Norman castle that dates back to the 12th century.
The narrow, winding streets of the old city house ancient pubs, cobbled streets and half-timbered houses and a jumble of ancient lanes housing boutiques and trendy eateries (see pic below).
The River Wensum splits the city and the railway station, and visitors can take a boat trip from the station to the foot of Elm Hill, a delightful laneway dotted with galleries. There are several kilometres of riverside walks.
In contrast to the city’s ancient buildings, there are also striking contemporary structures including the ultra-modern The Forum (below), where the library will allow visitors free internet access) and the Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts.
Norwich could once boast a pub for every day of the year and a church for every week. There are still over 30 medieval churches within the old city walls – and certainly no shortage of pubs.
Both comedian Stephen Fry and TV chef Delia Smith are directors of Norwich City FC.
Norwich is the capital of East Anglia and county town of Norfolk. It may be a relaxed city of around 200,000 people today but during the 11th century it was the largest city in England after London, and one of the most important places in the kingdom. The industrial revolution saw Norwich’s influence decline, but it was in the city that many thousands of kilometres of metal netting were supplied to Australia for its rabbit-proof fencing scheme.
Norwich Cathedral is almost 1,000 years old and is surrounded by a 20-hectare "Cathedral Quarter" (the largest in England), while the castle now houses an art gallery and museum of history that focuses on local icon Queen Boadicea, who led a rebellion against the Romans.
For those with a yen for shopping, Norwich Market, first established by the Normans between 1071 and 1074, has over 200 stalls and is the largest daily open-air market in the country. It has been on the same site for over 900 years, while Jarrold is a traditional department store and the Royal Arcade noteworthy for its Art Nouveau design.
The city is at its liveliest during the annual beer festival each October (highly recommended), one of an array of festivals held in the city throughout the year.
Norwich is also the gateway to the Norfolk Broads, over 200 kilometres of navigable waterways that are hugely popular as a weekend and holiday destination. This national park area is home to several still-operational windmills.
The many pubs include The White Lion, which features eight rotating real ales on tap and local meads, the Mad Moose Arms, the 17th-century Red Lion, the historic Adam and Eve and the Rib of Beef. The Maid’s Head Hotel offers 40 different wines by the glass and is reputed to be the oldest hotel in the entire UK. The Fat Cat pub is highly recommended for real ales, while Roger Hickman's is widely regarded as one of Britain's best regional restaurants.
Whether your choice is a slick Michelin-starred restaurant or a pub meal in front of a cozy wood fire, Norwich offers a fascinating mix of the historic and the sophisticated.
Qantas operates direct daily services from Sydney to London. To book visit www.qantas.com, or call 13 13 13. Fares vary seasonally but. Trains from London's Liverpool Street Station leave every 30 minutes and take around two hours. A car is recommended for exploring the surrounding countryside but Norwich is easily traversed on foot.
The Holiday Inn Norwich City is heaven for sports fans and is just a short walk from the city centre. Several of the rooms directly overlook the Carrow Road pitch. These pitch view rooms not only offer views of the Premier League action, they also come with high-speed internet access and flat-screen TVs. There is no need to sneak onto the pitch as I did a few weeks ago (below). There is a good on-site restaurant and bar (the breakfasts are excellent). www.holidayinn-norwichcity.co.uk
Norwich Tourist Information Centre at The Forum is the official ticket office and starting point for guided walking tours of Norwich. Alternatively, take the Sightseeing Norwich bus, a hop-on, hop-off service that features most of the city’s major attractions.