Norwich's Finest Real Ale Pubs

Some real ale pubs have closed down, some real ale pubs have been turned in to gastro pubs and some real ale pubs have turned in to restaurants. The fact is the real ale pub is a dying breed and something many drinkers just don’t get the chance to experience.

We are fortunate to have many different real ale pubs in Norwich, some of which are excellent, some of which should be avoided at all costs and some that are somewhere in the middle. Many pubs in many cities have turned in to fancy wine bars or gastro pubs, and whilst Norwich has its fair share of this type of drinking establishments, Norwich is still home to many real ale pubs.

Real ale can only be served through traditional hand pumps. Here we have a selection of hand pumps from a real ale pub.

Selection of real ale hand pumps

Norwich is a great place for people who like real ale and real ale pubs and choosing the ideal watering hole can be a challenge, especially for people who are not from Norwich or the surrounding area. So what are the best real ale pubs in Norwich?

1) The Gardener's Arms

The Gardener's Arms is a real ale pub that is located on Timber Hill in the city centre and is the oldest real ale pub in Norwich. The Gardeners Arms building dates back to 1542. In the 1890’s this real ale pub was the location of a brutal murder, where a prostitute was stabbed to death by a client who refused to pay for services provided. After the event the Gardeners Arms became affectionately known as “The Murderer's”, a name which as stuck. If you mention the Gardener's Arms to many Norwich locals they will not know what you are talking about, however mention The Murderers and it is a different story.

The Gardener's Arms is a real ale pub that has tried to remain traditional. The interior has wooden fixtures and fittings, just like a real ale pub should be however it is clean, well kept and modern looking. The Gardeners Arms is a friendly real ale pub with a nice relaxed and friendly atmosphere, making it a great place to enjoy a few pints of some of the many types of real ale on tap.

Unfortunately, the Gardener's Arms has had to rely on selling food to remain open therefore it gets very busy around lunch and dinner times with people more concerned with eating than drinking. During peak meal times the Gardener's Arms becomes just another pub with little atmosphere, however if you stick it out and wait for the food service to end the Gardener's Arms becomes an excellent real ale pub, and one of the best in Norwich.

2) The Fat Cat

As far as real ale pubs go the Fat Cat is the new kid on the block. The Fat Cat opened in 1991 and has gone from strength to strength. Many people consider the Fat Cat the best real ale pub in Norwich, and since it has won the CAMRA National Pub of the Year twice and the Good Beer Guide Pub of the Year four times it is easy to see why.

The Fat Cat has loads of real ales on tap all the time, almost thirty, so there are no excuses not to find a decent pint of real ale. The Fat Cat also has its own brewery on site which brews many excellent beers. From the porter to the IPA to the bitter, all the Fat Cat’s own beers are exceptionally good and well worth trying.

Despite being modern the Fat Cat is like a traditional real ale pub style fitted out with wooden fixtures and fittings, however the floor is black and white checked and looks ghastly. Even though the Fat Cat looks like a traditional real ale pub and sells plenty of real ales like a real pub should there is not the atmosphere of a real ale pub, which is a shame.

3) The Coach and Horses

 The Coach and Horses is a real ale pub that is located up the Thorpe Road on the way out of Norwich. This real ale pub is far enough away from the city centre to be full of youngsters going for a quick drink before going clubbing but close enough to the city centre to be able to go for a late curry after drinking.

The Coach and Horses is another traditional styled real ale pub with wooden fixtures and fittings. The Coach and Horses is also one of the very few pubs in Norwich where there is no pool table, no juke box and loud music and no fruit machines. The Coach and Horses is all about the beer.

Some people consider the interior to be a bit tired and dated, however I think it is more rustic. Arguably, the Coach and Horse has the best atmosphere of any real ale pub in Norwich. This is one relaxed, friendly and social real ale pub with no violence at all. It is worth pointing out the Coach and Horses shows major sporting events, mainly rugby, so if you are after a drink when one of these sporting events is being televised the Coach and Horses is one to avoid, until the game is over of course.

The Coach and Horses has its own brewery on site, which is called the Chalk Hill Brewery. The signature ale is “CHB”, which is very nice however it is not one of the brewery’s best real ales. This accolade has to go to “Old Tackle” which is a cracking real ale. If you are looking for a real ale pub in Norwich the Coach and Horses is one that should definitely be on your list.

A pint of real ale, the best beer ever.

The perfect pint of real ale

4) The Jubilee

The Jubilee is a real ale pub that is a five minute walk from the Coach and Horses and located on St Leonards Road. With is modern decor the Jubilee can’t really be classified as a traditional real ale pub however there are always some excellent local real ales on tap so it is well worth a visit.

 The Jubilee is a relaxed and friendly real ale pub early doors, however this does often change as the night goes on and the beer starts to flow. The locals are friendly enough but they do tend to get a bit rowdy, which can be very intimidating. If you want to go to a real ale pub in Norwich I would recommend the Jubilee but I would suggest going there for a few pints early on and then moving on to the Coach and Horses as the locals start to get a bit lively.

The Jubilee has a large TV screen and televises many sporting events. During these times this real ale pub gets very busy and is full of rowdy locals so I would avoid it during these times at all costs. Even after the game, I would not go to the Jubilee for a drink and would recommend going elsewhere.

5) Trafford Arms

 The Trafford Arms is found on Grove Road, which is a fair walk from the city centre. The location of the Trafford Arms is ideal since it is not a place where youngsters go for a pre clubbing drink and it is close enough to the city centre for some food after a few drinks.

The Trafford Arms is a modern style pub and not a traditional styled real ale pub. The decor is nothing special and it lacks character, but it is clean and well kept. Like many pubs of this type the Trafford Arms doesn’t have any atmosphere, unless you are a local that is. Drinking at the Trafford Arms isn’t a real drinking experience but there are some excellent real ales on tap.

The Trafford Arms has an annual beer festival around Valentine’s Day so if you want to experience the best beers and ales this is the time to go to this real ale pub.

"CAMRA" stands for the Campaign for Real Ale, which is an organisation that was formed to promote the awareness of real ales.

Campaign For Real Ale "CAMRA" logo

In summary

The above are the best real ale pubs in Norwich and the ones I would go to in the first instance. All of these real ale pubs always have plenty of very good real ales on tap so you will always find something you are going to like. There are many other real ale pubs in Norwich, some of which are well worth a visit but they can be a bit hit and miss.