Official Visitor Website

King’s Lynn

Shakespeare endorsed port town with a long history of cultural importance

The historic medieval port town of King’s Lynn was described by Robinson Crusoe author Daniel Defoe as “beautiful, well-built and well situated,” with its 17th century Custom House noted by acclaimed architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner as “one of the most perfect buildings ever built.”

High praise indeed for the West Norfolk town, which also is home to the Britain’s oldest and largest remaining Guildhall – a 15th century edifice, widely rumoured to have been on Shakespeare’s touring circuit. The hall is recorded as having been used as a theatre since 1442, therefore also making it the nation’s oldest theatre.

At the other end of the town’s cultural timeline, is the GroundWork Galley, which opened in 2017 and quickly established an award-winning national reputation for showing and supporting thought provoking new works with an environmental slant.

The town’s annual festival, a highlight of the international classical music calendar, celebrates its 70th birthday in 2021 – while its concurrently-running contemporary counterpart, Festival Too (pictured), draws crowds in excess of 60,000 to the town’s Tuesday Market Place with big names such as Judge Jules and Nadine Coyle.

Add to all this the Alive Corn Exchange Theatre & Cinema, which stages year-round entertainment, and the town’s close proximity to the Queen’s estate at Sandringham, and you’ll need not to venture any further for a comprehensive cultural break.

Choose Your Day…
King's Lynn Festival
Alive Corn Exchange Theatre & Cinema
St George's Guildhall
King's Lynn Museums
Festival Too
GroundWork Gallery
King's Lynn Festival
Long-running arts festival
soon to celebrate its 70th birthday

The King’s Lynn Festival, which celebrates its 70th birthday in 2021, remains the premier music and arts festival in West Norfolk, attracting many visitors to the town each year for performances by internationally renowned artists.

Originally founded to mark the refurbishment of the town’s 15th century Guildhall, the first festival was opened by the Queen Mother and counted Benjamin Britten, Peggy Ashcroft and Peter Ustinov amongst its inaugural line-up.

The festival, which usually runs for two weeks in July, is primarily known for its classical music programme, but also hosts jazz, choral, folk, opera, dance, films, talks and exhibitions, with dozens of fringe events each year.

Acts that have appeared at the festival in recent years include Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Lesley Garrett and Aled Jones.

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Alive Corn Exchange Theatre & Cinema
Contemporary performance space and cinema
adorned with an elegant Victorian facade

Alive Corn Exchange is home to an eclectic programme of unmissable live entertainment, including comedy, music, festivals, dance, musical theatre and the region’s most popular annual pantomime.

With a rich history dating back to 1854, the Grade II listed facade of the building is a testimony to the splendour of Victorian architecture.

However, having fallen into disrepair by the mid 1990s, the building was extensively renovated and extended at a cost of £4.4 million, and reopened to the public in 1996.

In recent years, a two-screen cinema has been added to the building, showing a wide range of contemporary blockbusters, arthouse films and classic movies.

Venue manager Philip Bayfield says, “Our beautiful and historic venue is a regular haunt for all artistes touring the UK. There is something for everyone, from The Mousetrap to Milton Jones, Martin Kemp to Josh Widdicombe and everything in between. We feel extremely lucky to have such beauty and culture on our doorstep.

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St George's Guildhall
Britain's largest and oldest surviving Guildhall and theatre
rumoured to have had its boards trodden by Shakespeare

St George’s Guildhall is a Grade I listed building dating back to the early 15th century, currently in the ownership of the National Trust.

The hall remains the oldest and largest complete medieval Guildhall in England, with an unrivalled history as a venue for theatrical production.

The earliest record of a theatrical production is of a nativity play before a Guild feast in January 1445. Recent academic research has supported local tradition that Shakespeare himself played here with the Earl of Pembroke’s Men in 1593 when London theatres were closed by plague.

Over its lifetime, the hall has served as a court house, a French school, and even an armoury and gunpowder store in the 1640s. In 1704 there was an unsuccessful attempt to open a button factory for the unemployed.

By 1950, the building was facing demolition to make way for an expanding garage, but was saved by a fundraising campaign, converted into an arts centre and opened by the Queen Mother in 1951 – an occasion marked by the first King’s Lynn Festival.

These days, the Guildhall attracts large and loyal audiences to regular talks, concerts and movie screenings.

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King's Lynn Museums
Three museums tell the story of King's Lynn,
its people, its international links and its fish

Lynn Museum

See displays from Seahenge to Egyptian Shabti figures, and fairground gallopers to natural history, all housed in a former Union Baptist Chapel and schoolroom in the centre of King’s Lynn.

Step back in time as you encounter Seahenge, the astonishing Bronze Age timber circle uncovered on a Norfolk beach. Discover the ‘West Norfolk Story’. Imagine being a pilgrim in the thriving medieval port town of King’s Lynn or taking a ride on a magnificent Victorian merry-go-round.

With thousands of objects, special exhibitions, interactive displays and audio guides, there’s plenty to fascinate the whole family.

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Stories of Lynn

A timeline of objects spanning 800 years tells the story of King’s Lynn and its place in the Hanseatic League; a group of powerful trading towns and cities around the Baltic and North seas. Hanse merchants traded in Lynn and their imprint on the town is visible to this day.

The Treasury section of the museum showcases some of the town’s most impressive historic artefacts, including the King John Cup; a 14th-century drinking vessel, lavishly decorated in gilt and enamel.

Stories of Lynn is also home to The Old Gaol House which, for over 400 years, was where Lynn’s most notorious citizens were imprisoned.

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True’s Yard Fisherfolk Museum

True’s Yard is a heritage site and town museum celebrating the fishing community of the town, who made a significant contribution to Lynn’s economic and social life for over 900 years.

The Museum complex has been enlarged and developed through two funded extensions in 1998 and 2010.

In addition to being a premier Lynn tourist attraction, it also serves the town as and education centre and community venue.

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Festival Too
Multi-arts free festival
that pulls in crowds of up to 60,000

As an addition to the more classically inclined King’s Lynn Festival, Festival Too is a free music and entertainment event that typically welcomes crowds of over 60,000 to the Tuesday Market Place across three weekends in July.

Fundraised for and organised entirely by volunteers from the community, Festival Too has run for 35 years and in recent years has staged performances from the likes of The Darkness, Judge Jules and Nadine Coyle.

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GroundWork Gallery
Cutting edge contemporary art gallery
with the environment at its core

GroundWork is the only gallery in the UK to specialise in contemporary art focussed around the environment.

Each exhibition aims to develop a new strand of interest in the environment and to stimulate related activity and events – and is complemented by a wider programme of workshops, events and community projects.

Visitors can expect to see all forms of visual arts: from painting to film to sculpture, from curated collections to new works, from internationally-known artists to emerging talents.

The gallery also sells ethical and environmental gifts and treats, ranging from the art on the walls to jewellery, books and cards.

This award-winning establishment, located on the edge of the river Purfleet opposite King’s Lynn’s iconic Custom House, is housed in a former 1930s furniture workshop. The building had sat empty for 20 years prior to be purchased by the current owners and painstakingly restored.

Opening to the public in 2017, the gallery won the prestigious Nick Reeves Award for Arts and Environment (two years in a row) and made the regional shortlist of the Civic Trust Awards.

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