Norfolk Passport

Top 5 | Historic King's Lynn

Tucked away in the corner of west Norfolk is the bustling town of King’s Lynn: a place with a great maritime past and rich architecture.

In the 14th century King’s Lynn was the third largest port in England with trading partners in northern Europe and the Baltic, and to this day you get a sense of this perhaps forgotten past by walking through its historic core.

But before you get there, be patient navigating the roundabouts on the A47 and driving past super stores or industrial estates (depending from which side you enter)… Park up in any of the town centre car parks and start your exploration!

King’s Lynn is Norfolk’s third largest town and has many great architectural buildings along the river Great Ouse and dotted around the town. And it is easy to walk to the different quarters because the area is compact. I parked near the Bus Station, wandered through various shopping streets (Broad Street, Conduit Street and the High Street) before arriving at Saturday Market where I stumbled upon a totally serene space with beautiful buildings. Here is my top 5 of historic buildings.

  • The Trinity Guildhall (part of the Town Hall complex) was built in the 1420s and has a wonderful flint chequerboard pattern façade. It makes such a great impact on the streetscape!
  • King’s Lynn Minster, formerly St Margaret’s Church, was founded in 1101. It was partially re-built in 1741. It has impressive stained glass windows and a lovely garden. Note the flood level markings next to the main entrance…
  • Grade I listed Hanse House is the only surviving Hanseatic warehouse in England and dates back to 1475. That’s quite something, right?!
  • Marriott’s Warehouse, which overlooks the river, was built in the 16th century. Now the lovingly restored building houses a café (good coffee!), restaurant and old town scale models (1st floor). It has a great terrace with fun wooden sculptures and seats where you get a fantastic view of the Great Ouse. A good opportunity to rest your feet!
  • Well-preserved Custom House was designed by Henry Bell and built in 1683. It started as a merchants’ exchange in 1685 and was used as a custom house until early 1700s. Inside there are elegant rooms and fascinating maritime tales including about Nelson, Vancouver and smugglers.

There is one notable person I’d like to highlight… If you visit King’s Lynn you can’t miss the statue of Captain George Vancouver in front of Custom House.

He discovered the North West Passage and he gave his name to Canada’s Pacific Coast city in British Columbia – Vancouver! The East Wind, an ‘unusual’ guide to Norfolk by Jane Hales has a potted history about the sea captain which makes a fascinating read indeed.

If you have a full day then do walk up to Red Mount Chapel which is fully restored. The Grade I listed building is from the 15th century and a great spot for a picnic on the grass (during the warmer seasons of course!). There are plenty more impressive buildings so do check local guides and trails.

If you stay overnight in the area, the Corn Exchange has a great entertainment programme all year round, ranging from dance, music to theatre performances. Have fun discovering!

Article by Norfolk Passport Editor Lesley van Dijk (above images and harbour image by Lesley and firework photo by Matthew Usher)

Events

Apart from its architecture King’s Lynn has several cultural festivals to entertain you and your family (see events list below).

Travel

By car: If you come by car from Norwich, further south or the Midlands, I recommend taking the B1153. Beautiful trees, lovely villages and rolling hills will guide your way to the west of Norfolk and King’s Lynn.

By bus or train: There’s a train every hour from Norwich to King’s Lynn and there is a regular bus service from key coastal towns, including Hunstanton and Wells-next-to-the-Sea.

Accommodation

The Ffolkes opened in May (2017) and has 24 beautiful rooms. It also has one of the best free play areas a family pub can have! Here is a link to great locations, local food and accommodation.

Shopping

The town centre has a largely pedestrianised shopping area (with lots and lots of shops!) and there is a market every Tuesday.

Further information

Visit West Norfolk and the Tourist Information Centre is based at the Custom House. Contact details: Tel 01553 763 044/ E kings-lynn.tic@west-norfolk.gov.uk 

Thanks to Visit West Norfolk for its practical map of The Heritage Trail and Bradt guide books.

Did you know that Henry VIII changed Lynn to 'King’s Lynn', making it royal property following the dissolution of the monasteries...