Lauren Razavi reveals why Norwich is wonderful in winter.
It’s raining outside and it’s bitterly cold. This is to be expected in Britain during the winter months, and actually, it’s probably to be expected throughout spring, summer and autumn too. There are benefits to be sought in the blistering cold though – especially in Norwich. If you wipe the steam from your glasses and find your way to one of the many pubs, bars, cafes, bistros, galleries or churches that the city has to offer, you’ll encounter something very special indeed.
Norwich is an artisan city, and one of the UK’s finest. As the first signs of winter glisten outside, a citywide eruption of mulled ciders and wines takes place; quirky seasonal decorations, and arty gatherings begin to fill every basement and backroom available. It happens seven nights a week in Norwich at this time of year, rather than the usual five. The city is an incredible place to be in the colder months.
There’s an old saying, well known amongst locals, that claims Norwich has “a pub for every day of the year and a church for every Sunday.” While the recession may have closed many a public house since this phrase was coined, a walk around the city will easily convince you that this saying, at least in sentiment, is still true today. You can’t walk more than a couple of streets without seeing the imposing spires of churches and cathedrals, poking up above the buildings around. In terms of pub culture, there’s everything from the traditionally British old man’s haunt through to the trendiest of contemporary European-style gastropubs.
St Benedicts Street, known for its food, its drink and its music, is home to an array of establishments that portrays Norwich’s ‘scene’ wonderfully. One of the city’s trendiest and most laid back spots, The Bicycle Shop based there is many things: a daytime and evening café, an excellent restaurant, a music venue and a visual arts platform. The Plough, a fine exhibit of Norwich’s knack for sustaining ‘proper pubs’ is a delight at any time of the year, offering local beers, ales and ciders on tap.
A few doors down, Norwich Arts Centre is a leading UK music venue and creative education space, all in the beautiful confines of a converted church. Sold out gigs and a reputation as the heart of many East Anglian festivals, the 35-year old hub thrives year after year. Family-run Spanish restaurant Don Pepe, also on St Benedicts, is one of Norwich’s finest eateries, offering delicious dishes and exceptional wines in an authentic setting that’ll have you convinced you’ve crossed borders.
Housing two universities and around 20,000 students, many remain here well beyond their studies. For those who have visited Norwich, this will come as no surprise. Its diverse, cosmopolitan atmosphere is homely and welcoming, yet it’s vibrant enough that the city feel is not lost. This makes it an ideal destination for visitors young and old, those looking for a city break, and those looking for something just a little bit different.
Exploring Norwich’s city centre, the historic Norwich Market is made up of 200 stalls and has been in operation on its current site for more than 900 years. It supplies everything from fresh fruit and veg to watch straps, Asian food supplies, enormous bacon sandwiches, herbs and spices from all over the globe, and brilliantly tacky pet gifts.
A stone’s throw away you’ll find a selection of charity shops stocked with clothes, knickknacks, books and more, as well as one-of-a-kind independents like vintage clothing boutiques Prim and Goldfinches, and one of the two Lisa Angel sites in Norwich – a diverse boutique that’s exclusive to the city, offering jewellery, items for the home and cutesy baby wares.
A taste of tradition can be found in Biddy’s Tea Room: three floors of retro décor, loose teas and freshly-baked cakes makes for a heavenly experience. If coffee’s more your thing, pop into The Window Coffee on Wensum Street. Run by Australian expat, Hayley Draper, and reportedly the smallest coffee shop in the world, this unique spot offers the city’s best caffeinated cup, with five bean varieties and the choice of cafetiere, filter or Aeropress servings.
Close-by is Frank’s Bar, a restaurant whose food is heavily influenced by the Middle Eastern and the Mediterranean, creating mouth-watering fusion meals at affordable prices. The bar also boasts a significant whiskey menu and a brunch and film club every Sunday. Hidden away gems like Frank’s, and café-meets-tapas bar 42 King Street offer personality, quirk and unrivalled quality. Many of Norwich’s businesses and spaces are multi-purpose and versatile, giving them a unique and interesting edge.
Phenomenal food is on offer at Jamie’s Italian in the beautiful Royal Arcade, a newly-opened restaurant that’s part of the Jamie Oliver franchise. Quicker eats are available from Moorish, a legendary falafel bar close to the Market, while traditionalists can enjoy fish ‘n’ chips from the family-run Grosvenor Fish Bar, which has been operating for over thirty years and is housed in a listed building that dates back to the 1700s.
Creativity reigns with galleries and homegrown shops dominating most of the historic Norwich Lanes area, which is still defined by a medieval feel with its cobbled streets and pedestrian-only walkways. A stroll through this district on a cold winter’s day would have even Ebenezer Scrooge biting back a “bah-humbug!”
Located next to the art school and in the heart of the Lanes district is Norwich Playhouse, a prominent comedy, pantomime and theatre venue. Its bar is a notable hotspot in itself, and a delightful stop for a winter warmer. If a tipple isn’t enough to keep you warm, a £2 deposit lets you borrow hot water bottles and blankets from the bar, just in case you still fancy sitting in its river-facing garden in the winter.
Norwich is a city that champions independent spirit. From the coffee shops to the clothing boutiques to the underground – sometimes both literally and metaphorically – art offerings, the city’s residents are actively engaged in the unconventional and the alternative. Winning the UNESCO City of Literature title in 2012, it’s a place full of writers, poets, stand-ups, actors, musicians and more. Independent record shop, Soundclash, is consistently busy; a rarity in the digitally-defined music world of today, and a demonstration of Norwich’s nostalgic, bohemian outlook.
When you’ve overdosed on good food, had enough tea and coffee for a month, and have gone loopy from all the art, you still won’t want to leave this exceptional gem of a city. Creative, historic and delicious, Norwich is a place quite unlike anywhere else in the world.
For more information on Norwich, visit http://www.visitnorwich.co.uk/.