When planning a weekend shopping trip Norwich may not spring immediately to mind. The capital of Norfolk, the ‘nation’s food bowl’, a county famous for farming and for being gently mocked by Alan Partridge. But those that know Norwich love Norwich, a vibrant city full of heritage, culture and fabulous shopping.
The lack of nearby competition has ensured that Norwich’s city centre has stayed alive and kicking – in fact Norwich frequently makes the top ten in surveys for shopping destinations. The city lies on the River Wensum, at the edge of the atmospheric Norfolk Broads. As a shopper you will be reassured to know that Norwich is both as flat as a pancake, and largely pedestrianised.
At the city’s centre there is a large outdoor market and the Forum, home of BBC East. Surrounding this hub are all the usual retail suspects, and the Chapelfields shopping mall. The array of street entertainers, and the vibrant market with stall holders hawking their wares in dulcet Norfolk tones gives the area a pleasant ambience; it’s not a bad place to stop for a coffee before your houseware hunting.
Tucked behind the Forum and Market Square is our first stop, Country and Eastern, a beautiful Victorian skating rink converted into a cavern of rugs, furniture and home accessories sourced from the far and the Middle East.
Country and Eastern stocks a vast array of the carved painted furniture synonymous with India, and the intricate Kilim rugs of Turkey and Afghanistan. But if you only want a splash of the East in your home there are also handcrafted lamp bases made from ceramics and beaten metals, and a stunning range of home textiles. The owners of Country and Eastern welcome browsers. You can find the store on Bethel Street, behind the Forum.
After you have enjoyed your taste of the Orient walk back past the Forum and Market area, and bear left down Exchange Street. On your right you will see the Royal Arcade; a stunning Art Nouveau shopping arcade opened in 1899.
This small arcade, designed by George Skipper, houses an array of independents including a touristy Colman’s mustard shop, and Berrys and Grey, a homewares emporium stocking on-trend home accessories, gifts and smaller items of furniture, interspersed with the odd one – off vintage piece. Berrys and Grey also offer a design service and will be happy to advise on purchases.
– If you fancy something sweet to sustain you the last shop within the arcade is Macarons and More, an award-winning treaterie owned by Masterchef finalist Tim Kinnaid.
After leaving the Royal Arcade bear left. You are now heading into The Lanes, a labyrinth of cobbled streets that houses a large mix of independent shops. Before exploring – or more likely getting lost, in the Lanes visit Jarrolds Department Store on London Street.
Jarrolds, founded in 1770, has an award winning house and home department, including a furniture section selling a good collection of contemporary furniture. There are plenty of offerings from popular brands such as Alessi, William Morris; Voyage and Scion, but as Jarrolds are dedicated to setting themselves apart from their rivals, you may be able to find something somewhat different.
Now to lose yourself in the Lanes – Magdalen Street in particular has an array of vintage shops if that’s your thing. If you want to avoid a chain something or other for your lunch the Lanes is your best bet. Recommended are Roots and the Belgian Monk on Pottergate, or Biddy’s Tearoom on Lower Goat Lane. (Names are something Norfolk seems to do particularly well!)
After lunch head towards Mandell’s Gallery on Elm Hill – follow signposts to nearby Norwich Cathedral, which is well worth a visit if you have the time.
Mandell’s Gallery displays a good mix of traditional and contemporary art, including sculpture and photography. They have an exhibition space upstairs that changes on a four-weekly basis. The gallery is open Monday to Saturday, 10am – 5pm
After negotiating your way through the Lanes you will come to the far end of the city centre to our next recommended stop, Looses emporium. Looses is one of those higgledy-piggledy antique warrens stocked by a variety of antique dealers: from the conscientious collectors of specific items or eras, to the purveyors of clutter and weirdness – a two headed taxidermy duckling, for example. Prices are largely reasonable, and as with most of these places can unusually be negotiated.
There are no motorways in Norfolk so getting to Norwich may take longer than a map makes it look! Parking in the centre is fairly easy; there are numerous multi-stories, But as with all city centres traffic can be heavy. There is a good park and ride service.
Trains to Norwich run hourly from London Liverpool Street and tickets are usually quite cheap when booked in advance.
There are plenty of places to stay in Norwich – the Maids Head Hotel is central and well reviewed.
Norwich has a great nightlife with a popular theatre and three cinemas (one independent). Events and festivals run throughout the year, visit visitnorwich.co.uk for more information.