25 x Norfolk buildings

Published: Thursday 16th Feb 2017

Written by: Lucy Downing

Many of us spend so much time looking down at screens, that it’s refreshing to look up from time to time.  Not only is it good for the neck and posture, but Norfolk’s landscapes, towns and city of Norwich are punctuated with a raft of fabulous buildings to view and explore.

Here’s our top 25 – some you may have read about before in our ‘25 x heritage finds’, but how could we miss them out here?  Read on for a spectacular mix of historic, unique and modern wonders…

1.    The Forum

A hub bub of exhibitions, events, markets, eateries, the BBC and the Norfolk Millennium Library, this impressive and award-winning glass structure was designed by Sir Michael Hopkins to mark the new Millennium.

2.    Holkham Hall

A favourite with film and TV directors, this impressive hall, estate, nature reserve and beach is home to the 8th Earl of Leicester. The estate hosts a calendar of exceptional events from live concerts to outdoor theatre, and its beach is recently referred to as one of the best in the world.

3.    Norwich Cathedral

This is one of the finest and best-preserved Romanesque cathedrals in Europe. Explore the grand cloisters, art and architecture, and stare up at its spire - the second tallest in England.

4.    Dragon’s Hall

Built around 1430 by merchant Robert Toppes, this is a rare example of a medieval merchant’s trading complex. Now housing the Norwich Writing Centre, the building is renowned for its impressive 26 metre-long, first floor trading hall decorated with 15 carved dragons of Baltic Oak.

5.    Houghton Hall

This privately-owned Palladian house was built in the 1720’s for Great Britain’s first Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole. It is renowned for hosting world-leading, contemporary exhibitions and events, and its award-winning walled garden – designed by Julian and Isabel Bannerman - is a treat.

6.    Cromer Pier

Winner of Pier of the Year in 2015, this Victorian Pier stand proud after more than 100 years and many a battering from the sea. It is home to the only end of the pier show of its kind in the world and a must visit during your holiday.

7.    The Hippodrome

It’s not often historic buildings wow visitors in the way our Hippodrome Circus does.  Located in Great Yarmouth, it is Britain’s only surviving total circus building, built in 1903 by the legendary Circus showman George Gilbert. Visit and enjoy the thrills and spills of the circus – their Summer and Christmas Spectaculars are not to be missed.

8.    Jarrold Department Store

Outside of London, it’s not often you come across an independent department store housed in such a magnificent building.  In 1903, leading Norwich architect George Skipper designed the London Street building, and then in 1923 remodelled the main corner frontage in a grand Palladian style (reminiscent of a magnificent iced wedding cake!). He was also responsible for other city landmarks including the Royal Arcade and Norwich Union Marble Hall.

9.    Gressenhall Workhouse

Often the study focus for many local school children, this ‘house of industry’ for the poor was built in 1776. Closed in 1948, it is now a museum and farm.  Visit the new galleries and discover the history of the building and the people who lived there.

10.    Norwich Castle

Built by the Normans as a Royal Palace more than 900 years ago, it stands proud overlooking Norwich. Visit and explore the museum and art gallery – renowned for hosting some of the most outstanding collections in the country.

11.    The Guildhall

A remarkable 15th century building and England's largest and most elaborate provincial medieval city hall.  Its main use was to house the city’s government, right up until the opening of the City Hall in 1938.  Visit and explore the Sheriff of Norwich's parlour, former courtrooms, cells and a 14th-century undercroft.

12.    Medieval Priory in Little Walsingham

The village of Little Walsingham in its entirety, is a historic architectural gem. Walk down the street and you’ll discover the 13th century gateway that leads to the remains of a medieval priory.  Stand in awe at the, twin-turreted arch, then walk and explore more of the ruin, and a carpet of snowdrops, daffodils or bluebells dependent on the time of your visit. Surely enough of a reason alone to visit Norfolk in late winter and spring?

13.    Binham Priory

Situated in the middle of North Norfolk, this monastic ruin and church are looked after by English Heritage. The Benedictine priory was founded in 1091 by Peter des Valoines, a nephew of William the Conqueror.

14.    Mannington Hall

A 15th century moated, medieval manor owned and lived in by Lord and Lady Walpole.  Peruse the gardens (the Heritage and Modern Rose Gardens are a must) during warmer months whilst absorbing this building’s beautiful architecture.  

15.    Wymondham Abbey

Head into South Norfolk and visit this remarkable building founded in 1107 by William d'Albini.  In 1538 a wall was built to block the Monks Tower due to the Dissolution, and you’ll also find a great gilded screen, designed by Sir Ninian Cooper to remember the young men who had fallen in the First World War.

16.    Castle Acre Priory

The remains of a walled castle built in the 12 century by the Normans, this historic monument lies four miles north of Swaffham, on the Peddars Way in West Norfolk. Have a good stomp around and then enjoy a meal in one of the village pubs, of a cuppa and cake in the café.

17.    Strangers Hall

Part of Norfolk Museums, this is one of the city’s most intriguing and ancient buildings. Dating back to 1320, it’s a warren of interlinking rooms and a Great Hall and Chamber - once home to mayors and magnates. Visit and be taken back to the age of Tudors and Stuarts. Truly fascinating.

18.    St James Mill

Sitting on the river in Norwich it is a quintessential English Industrial Revolution mill. Grade I listed, it sits on the site originally occupied by the White Friars (or Carmelite Friars) – the brick, flint and stone arch can still be seen at the entrance to the site. It is an impressive building – originally five storeys high before an additional storey was added at one west end bay. You can find out more at the John Jarrold Printing Museum, open most Wednesdays from 9.30am-12.30pm.

19.    Creake Abbey

Home to the county’s best Farmer’s Market on the first Saturday of each month, as well as a permanent collection of shops, a deli and café, this is also a heritage site managed by English Heritage. With origins dating back to 1206, the site has had many statuses from a chapel and hospital to priory and abbey. Some wonderful walks can be enjoyed from the site too.

20.    Castle Rising

Located just north of Kings Lynn in the west of the county, this is one of the most famous 12th Century castles in England. Built in around 1140, it has served as both a hunting lodge and royal residence.

21.    Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s Visitor Centre at Cley

You may visit this building to look at the wildlife and incredible views, but do give notice to the magnificent building too. Opened in 2007, it is situated in the trust’s oldest and most famous reserve and is a wonderful example of an eco-friendly visitor centre, that happens to house the fantastic Simon Aspinall Wildlife Education Centre.

22.    Happisburgh Lighthouse

Built in 1790 and originally one of a pair, this is the oldest working lighthouse in East Anglia and the county’s only independently run lighthouse to boot. Standing 85ft tall in all its red and white striped glory, it’s a wonderful landmark on the Norfolk Coast Path.

23.    Blakeney Point Lifeboat House

Built in 1898 and now an information centre run by the National Trust, this wonderful blue building is a true landmark on the North Norfolk Coast. Often surrounded by seals, it plays an important role in the study and preservation of this beautiful National Nature Reserve.

24.    Sandringham

This country retreat of HM The Queen needs little introduction. Set in 24 hectares of garden within the 8,000-hectare estate, the house, museum and gardens are open from Easter to October to visitors. The annual Flower Show is super, as is their Christmas Fair and Game and Country Fair.

25.    National Trust Halls

Namely Blickling Hall (impressive Jacobean red brick mansion set in outstanding grounds), Felbrigg Hall (a 17th century elegant, country home with a quaint walled garden) and Oxburgh Hall (a moated gem with secret doors and a Priest’s Hole).  Visit them all if you can!


Lucy Downing
Lucy Downing


I enjoy walking along Norfolk's beaches with my family and dog, theatre trips, dancing, laughing and knocking up a scrumptious feast for friends using local produce finished with a tipple of Norfolk Saffron's King Harry orange and saffron liqueur!


Return to blog article index