First of all, I want to clear something up. There seems to be a bit of snobbery going on here - people saying they're afraid to walk down Magdalen Street because it's full of dealers (?!), or writing it off as "cheap" because there's a good selection of £1 stores in Anglia Square (which I would class as an advantage, personally!). I live just off Magdalen Street and I've never felt unsafe at any time of night - or at least, no less safe than walking anywhere else in a city in the middle of the night. Walk responsibly, people.
So much for the night-life! As far as shopping goes, if you want identikit chain stores and glossy fashion boutiques then yes, you will be disappointed here. BUT if you want two of the biggest and best second hand and vintage emporiums (emporia?) in the East, it's the place to go. Aladdin's Cave and Loose's Emporium are both huge two-storey buildings crammed full of vintage, retro and just plain old second-hand furniture, homewares, records, clothing, books, ornaments, old shop fittings...you name it, they sell it. As well as these two behemoths of the second-hand market, there are countless charity shops, two brilliant vintage clothing boutiques (Back In Time in Anglia Square is great for 60s and 70s gear), and the brilliant little Junk & Gems which sells vintage homewares, fabrics, china, magazines and books. Add to that the independent fabric and craft stores (Anglia Fashion Fabrics, Anglia Home Fabrics and Sew Creative) and the Anglia Fabrics "Make Place" where you can take classes and workshops on a range of fabric crafts, and you've got a lively, vibrant, creative shopping destination.
Food-wise, Magdalen Street is often known as the Brick Lane of Norwich, with at least three or four great curry houses lining the street (I've lost count). There are also cafés and pubs (including the popular Kings Head, a real ale pub) and home of the best breakfast in Norwich, The Street Café.
If you're looking for "attractions", perhaps Magdalen Street isn't the place to go. But there are some points of historical interest if you care to look for them. At the far end of the street you can see one of only 15 remaining pieces of the original 14th century city wall which once dominated the city at over 12ft high. Access to and from the city was via one of the twelve fortified toll gates. At the end of Magdalen Street was the Magdalen Gate, the frame of which can still be seen today. There is also a rather lovely (19th century?) church called St Saviour's, which although no longer in use as a place of worship is still part of the community, hosting youth and theatre groups. It also looks jolly nice in spring because it has a large flowering cherry tree outside the main door.
For fans of more modern architecture, the brutalist Anglia Square complex, built in the 1960s, is quite something to behold. Yes, it's full of pound shops and burger vans. Yes, the clientele are usually overweight parents and sad looking dogs. But it's a perfect example of 1960s architecture and it has a band stand and I think it's rather lovely. Not everyone shares my view on this. There's also the (now world famous, thanks to the recent Alpha Papa premiere) Hollywood Cinema, which was once home to the biggest screen in England (yes, really), and which caused controversy in the 1970s when its owner decided to charge £1 for the premier seats, making it among the most expensive cinemas in the country.
So - to sum up my review, if you want something a bit different to the branded stores in the city centre, Magdalen Street is the place to come. It's full of hidden gems, and if you can get a bottle of shampoo for 99p. If you like your shopping experiences glossy, soulless, and absolutely unbearable on a Saturday, go to Chapelfield. You'll like it there.
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