There are plenty of unique things to do in Norwich, from arts and crafts workshops, to food experiences. Time to share all the fun from my Microgap in the city.
Please note, this trip to Norwich took place in March, just before lockdown. However, many of the places mentioned have now reopened, so you can follow in our footsteps.
I hadn’t visited the pretty city of Norwich in over 15 years, and even then it was only briefly to look around the University of East Anglia. So here I was, many years later, excited to be seeing the city through the eyes of a Microgap! Time to pack all the goodness of a gap year into a few days, right here on home soil.
Tourists to the city usually visit Norwich castle, the cathedral, the lanes, the Great Market, and perhaps take a trip out to the Sainsbury Centre, Norwich Aviation Museum or the Norfolk Broads National Park.
However, my Microgap to Norwich was all about learning new skills. Over three days I’d be making my own goat’s cheese, putting pencil to paper at a life drawing class, creating a set of my own prints and mixing up some tasty cocktails using gin distilled in the city.
I think one of the best ways to get to know a destination is by a hands-on experience with the people who live there. While I only had time to sample a few quirky things to do in Norwich, these activities really made an impression.
Unique Things To Do In Norwich
Life drawing at The Birdcage
Every Tuesday evening, Norwich pub The Birdcage hosts an evening called BUMS. For £4 you can join a two-hour life drawing session in their private room.
I’ll admit that before going I was pretty apprehensive! I’d never tried life drawing, and the only time I pick up a pencil these days is during a game of Pictionary, which often involves sketches of rather wonky stickmen!
I needn’t have worried as this is a wonderfully informal class. While some people in the room were regulars, there were a few other first-timers like us. Some had an amazing talent, using everything from pencils and pastels, to watercolour paints. Some just joined for the social aspect or to try something new.
I loved the immersive nature of the activity. No phones, no distractions – just a focus on the human body and the page in front of you.
I also felt proud of the improvements I saw throughout the session. It takes a while to translate what your eye is seeing and recreating it on paper, but by the end of the session I had a few sketches I was genuinely proud of. It’s something I’d definitely try again too – fears diminished! How do you think I did?
How to book this Norwich life drawing experience
The Birdcage hosts BUMS sessions every Tuesday evening from 7pm. It’s often fully booked, so try to secure your place in advance.
Tickets cost £4. All drawing abilities welcome, and basic materials are provided. You can find out more on the Facebook page here.
Goat’s cheese making at Fielding Cottage
Just a 20-minute drive from Norwich city centre, in the village of Honingham, is Fielding Cottage – an award-winning producer of goat’s cheese.
The company was launched over ten years ago by Sam Steggles. His background was in farming, and after investing in a small herd of goats, he set up production in his kitchen at home. Flash forward ten years and Fielding Cottage is now a commercial producer, supplying some of the UK’s supermarkets.
After hearing Sam’s inspirational tales, and taking a peek inside his production rooms (which were filled with tasty blocks of cheese!) we started our cheese making workshop.
Over several hours we learned first-hand how to make goat’s cheese. There are several processes, including separating the curds and whey, cutting the curd, straining it and shaping it.
I hadn’t realised that it was possible to do this at home, without machinery or a huge load of technical knowledge. Although don’t worry, I’m not planning to buy a herd of goats just yet!
After several hours with the lovely team at Fielding Cottage, we left with our giant cheeses, and instructions on how to care for our babies! In eight weeks, we’ll get to taste the fruits of our labour – wish us luck!
How to book the Norwich goat’s cheese making experience
The goat’s cheese making course costs £80 per person (based on a group of 6 attending). If you want to make more of a weekend of the experience, you could combine the course with an overnight stay in the cute holiday cottages on site. You can find out more about what’s involved and how to book on the Fielding Cottage website.
Screen printing with Print to the People
Before our Microgap, I had no idea that the printing industry had played a major part in Norwich’s history. The city’s first printing press arrived in 1701, and soon after, the first weekly newspaper outside of London was produced.
It was great to spend the day getting creative with Print to the People – a social enterprise which encourages the use of traditional printmaking processes.
The team of artists run courses throughout the year, covering everything from screen printing and letterpress, to etching and lino printing. I love shopping for prints and enjoy popping into galleries, but making my own was a whole new experience – definitely a unique thing to do in Norwich too! I bet there are plenty of locals who would love to try this out.
Screen printing is a technical process, requiring large scale equipment, some know-how and a big dose of creative flair. so how did I fare?
I decided to design a folk-style flower print, utilising two colours of paint. After tracing two layers, we exposed it in the dark room onto the enamelled mesh screen. After hosing it off and letting it develop and dry, it was time to roller the paint through the screen to create my design on paper.
I came out with several prints – one might even pass the test to go up on our wall at home.
By learning about the process first hand, I’ve grown to appreciate the work that goes into some of the pictures I own, and the immense talent of the artists too.
Similarly, to the life drawing experience, it was also a lovely few hours of mindfulness. In fact, I was so fully immersed in the creative experience, I lost track of time, didn’t look at my phone, and only realised it was past 1pm because my tummy was starting to rumble!
How to book the Norwich screen printing experience
Print to the People offers a variety of ways to learn about screen printing, including weekend courses and weekly evening classes. You can check out all the options and find out more on the website.
Cocktail making with Bullards Gin at the Ten Bells
How’s this for a unique thing to do in Norwich? At this masterclass we learned how to make four tasty gin-based cocktails, using locally-distilled gin, which was first created right inside the pub where the class was being held!
If the name isn’t familiar to you, Bullards is a drinks brand that was synonymous with Norwich. In the 1800s, the company supplied a range of beers across Norfolk, as well as importing wines and spirits. The name started to disappear in the 1960s as the industry changed, but happily, in 2015 Bullards was back in business, this time producing gin.
Bullards already offer a gin masterclass, which charts the gin’s history and production. However, this cocktail masterclass is brand new – and it’s brilliant!
I absolutely loved the experience. Our cocktail masters shared a few of their favourite recipes, as we mixed and shook our tasty concoctions. It was a great way to learn more about the history of Bullards and what make the gin special, while having a bit of fun too.
Our final cocktail was a technical creation, which created a soufflé-like top to the drink. It’s not something I’d ever tried to make before, but it was a real showstopper.
How to book the Norwich gin cocktail masterclass experience
The Bullards cocktail masterclasses are held in the Ten Bells pub, and cost £40 per person. That price includes 3 cocktails and a mocktail, so it’s really good value, plus a fun experience for a few hours too!
Letterpress printing with Print to the People
Our final experience before catching the train back to London was another creative session with the team at Print to the People. This time, it was all about letterpress printing – something I knew absolutely nothing about before the class.
We learned about typography, how to style letter-based designs, and then roller them into artworks for our walls at home. Compared to screen printing, it’s a much simpler process, and some of the results were really stylish.
Towards the end of the session I decided to make one last poster. I popped together a few of the antique wooden blocks to create this… yep, that’s our wedding date! As I sit here writing this blog I can confirm it is now framed and sitting on our mantlepiece as a lovely memento from our trip.
How to book the Norwich letterpress printing experience
Print to the People offer letterpress play classes which cost £45 for a 2.5-hour session. There are also inductions for people wanting to learn how to use the equipment and facilities in their own time. You can check out all the options and find out more on the website.
So, while you work your way through some of these unique things to do in Norwich, no doubt you’ll need a few quick tips for where to eat and stay too. I’ve got some fab recommendations from my visit…
Where to eat in Norwich
If you’re looking for a fine-dining experience in Norwich, you have to visit Benedicts. We enjoyed a tasting menu at the restaurant, and I can honestly say it’s one of the best meals I’ve had in a long time.
Chef Richard Bainbridge (former Great British Menu winner) tells stories through his dishes, incorporating references to his grandma with ‘Nanny Bush’s winter trifle’ and a boozy sherry mousse, which is a reminder of his nan’s love of a glass of sherry before dinner!
Standout dishes for me included the roast quail, which played homage to a classic Sunday roast, and the rich and flavoursome wild garlic and potato soup. Most of the ingredients were sourced from a 25-mile radius, and we could feel the passion for local produce as we worked our way through the tasty menu.
We mentioned to some of the locals we met during our trip that we were dining at Namaste, and they all gave the restaurant rave reviews and started recommending dishes we should try. I couldn’t wait!
This family-run restaurant is in a great location in the heart of the city centre, and specialises in vegetarian and vegan Indian food. We enjoyed a selection of starters and main courses.
The special dosa was light and crisp, stuffed full of aromatic potato curry. The chilli mushroom curry was my favourite dish – so tasty with a punchy chilli sauce! I also enjoyed the kaju paneer masala, which had a sauce thickened with cashew nuts.
I also liked that this dining experience introduced me to new dishes. It’s so easy to order the same thing in a curry house, but I was happy to make a few new discoveries. Definitely stop by if you get the chance!
The Great Market, Norwich
Norwich is home to a permanent covered market, which sells everything from greetings cards and fresh flowers, to dim sum. We took a tour of the market with Paul Dickson, a local historian who provided a useful intro to the area, which has housed a market in some form for over 1000 years.
If you’re hungry, it’s a great place to visit for a snack or a light bite. My favourite food was at Cocina Mia – a Chilean street food stall with a menu of tasty empanadas and flavoursome salads. It took me straight back to my travels around South America.
Grosvenor Fish Bar
Forget standard fish and chips, at Grosvenor Fish Bar things are taken up a level. Dishes like ‘bass with sass’ (seabass in a wrap with a spicy mango salsa) and ‘loony toony’ (tuna steak with wasabi mayo) are served on silver dishes down in the intriguing underground bunker. A super cool location, hearty food with a lot more flavour than your average chippie.
Where to stay in Norwich
We stayed at the Maid’s Head Hotel, an independent and historic hotel, a stone’s throw from Norwich Cathedral. Set on the site of an 11th Century palace, it’s thought to be one of the oldest hotels in the UK, although the building standing today dates back to the 15th Century.
You can feel the hotel’s history as you make your way around the labyrinth of corridors and hallways inside. We stayed in one of the hotel’s beautiful ‘feature rooms’ which had a bath in the bedroom by the window, looking out at the cathedral.
We were also treated to a ride around the city in one of the hotel’s vintage Bentleys – a perk for guests staying at the weekend.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my Microgap in Norwich. I think the variety of activities on offer in Norwich is amazing, but no doubt there’s plenty going on where you are too. If you want to plan a weekend with a difference, be sure to check out the Microgap hub.
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