Earlier this year, Norwich was announced as the first English UNESCO City of Literature – and the city has so much more to offer. Norwich-based writer Lauren Razavi shows us around her cultural highlights...
Another September, another group of university freshers descend upon the city.
Half of them will tip-toe through their time here, rarely leaving campus and concluding that Norwich is a concrete place with two monotonous shopping malls and a range of unreliable bus services. The other half will quickly discover a city bursting with bohemian spirit. These are the ones who’ll stay here long beyond their degree, because from the first time they stumble into a cafe-bar with awesome lampshades and an undiscovered band on stage, they’ll feel like they’ve found home.
The Norwich Lanes is the first of the city’s many unique highlights. This historic district is full of cobbled stone streets and beautiful storefronts. Take a walk around and you’ll find a collection of independent shops filled with vintage clothes, pre-loved records and quirky knick-knacks. Dotted between are cafes, bars and restaurants with shabby chic décor and different events every night.
In the heart of the Lanes is St Benedict’s Street where city favourite The Bicycle Shop is located. The multi-purpose space is set over three floors and hosts everything from magazine parties to book launches to conversation clubs, and its basement venue hosts touring acts several nights a week. Mismatched furniture, weird and wonderful cakes, and breakfast served until 3pm (dippy eggs with soldiers come highly recommended)… What more could you ask for?
A few doors down is Norwich Arts Centre. The converted church programmes an impressive array of music nights, resulting in the NME naming it best small venue in the east this year. Courses in creative writing, photography and design are offered here too, as well as its foyer and bar acting as a mini art gallery.
The Birdcage, Norwich’s hipster haunt, attracts twenty-something guys with sleeve tattoos and Elvis hairstyles. Its retro feel is complimented by cabaret, spoken word, poetry and music, brought to you by barmaids with forties style and flowers in their hair.
On St George’s Street is Norwich University College of the Arts and Norwich Playhouse. As well as a delicious programme of theatre, comedy and panto, the Playhouse has one of the best beer gardens in the city. The bar is staffed by NUCA students, and, come nightfall, Norwich’s finest DJs spin lo-fi and electronica while a merry audience dance their evenings away.
With table service, chalkboard menus and international cuisine, Frank’s Bar is another brilliant spot. Its walls are covered with paintings and photography, while Sundays see screenings of classic films and hangover-cure brunches served early till late.
Cinema City offers an eclectic collection from Hollywood blockbusters to acclaimed indie flicks and the latest in foreign cinema. Occasional screenings of Audrey Hepburn movies and mini-festivals celebrating legends like Woody Allen present just the right dose of nostalgia.
Just outside the city centre lies the University of East Anglia. Its Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts is Norwich’s finest gallery, and its music venue – the LCR – hosts live acts from across the world, recently including Coldplay, Ben Howard and Nero.
UEA also boasts the UK’s most prestigious creative writing courses, and presents a seasonal literary festival with speakers like Sebastian Faulks, Ian McEwan and Pat Barker. It’s no surprise Norwich was named UNESCO City of Literature in 2012.
If that impressive selection of sites isn’t enough, other places worth a look include The Forum (incorporating the Millennium Library, BBC Look East and The Curve film studio), Norwich Writer’s Centre, independent store The Book Hive and quirky cafe-bar 42 King Street.
If you’re planning a visit, coincide it with the multi-arts Norfolk and Norwich Festival or the Norwich Sound and Vision Convention – you won’t be disappointed.
Read our other cultural guides.
Image: Norwich Lane by hdc., under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.