Welcome to the top ten best things to do in Norfolk! Whether you are seeking the peace and tranquillity of a deserted beach or the traditional seaside fun of Great Yarmouth, the county of Norfolk on the North Sea Coast, has something for everyone. Norfolk is, of course, most famously known for the Broads, a network of waterways which can be explored by luxury boat or kayak alike. The rural landscape is largely flat and the county is consequently known for its vast sky and open vistas. Furthermore, sunsets are pretty impressive and the night skies are perfect for star gazing. Additionally, wildlife is abundant. Indeed, Norfolk is the best place in the country to spot grey seals in their natural habitat.
Norwich is the county’s premier city and is home to one of the oldest markets in England. Although Norwich brims with history and character, it also offers everything you would expect from a modern city – excellent shopping to say nothing of a buzzing nightlife and a wide array of restaurants to suit all budgets. In fact, the food scene throughout the county is thriving. There are gastro pubs galore, not to mention an abundance of farmer’s markets together with independent cafes and tea shops.
There is much to explore in this enchanting laidback county, a place which, above all, invites the visitor to slow down and re-connect with nature. Without further ado, here are the top ten best things to do in Norfolk:
1) Explore the City Streets of Norwich
Norwich is a medieval market city situated on the River Wensom. Located around 100 miles north-east of London, Norwich is known as ‘The Fine City’. It is home to a lively arts and cultural scene, not to mention an abundance of cool indie shops. Additionally, the city isn’t short of some great eateries as well as a vibrant bar scene. Norwich is also easily explored by foot and most of the city’s attractions are within walking distance of one another.
The two main landmarks of the city are the cathedral and castle. Norwich Cathedral was constructed between 1096 and 1145. It is primarily Norman in style and is, in fact, one of the finest examples of Roman architecture in England. The stain glass windows, stone and woodwork are indeed impressive, and the cathedral exudes a peaceful ambience.
Built by William the Conqueror (1066-1087), Norwich Castle became a museum in 1894. The square shaped building regally overlooks the Norwich Lanes from a hilltop. Originally built as a royal palace, the castle mainly acted as a prison between the years of 1220 and 1887. These days, the museum is home to archaeological and art exhibits relating to Norfolk’s history.
2) Take a Stroll in the Gardens of Hindringham Hall
One of the county’s hidden gems, Hindringham Hall, is a charming Tudor manor house. The house is surrounded by picturesque gardens and a moat, which is crossed by a 16th century bridge. Hindringham Hall was, in fact, lived in by tenants for many centuries before falling into a state of decay. In 1900, it was restored by Gerald Gosselin, an affluent silversmith.
The best time to visit Hindringham Hall is in the spring when the gardens are in full bloom. By March, clusters of snowdrops can be seen at the foot of the chestnut, hornbeam and oak trees. In May, bluebells are abundant. A walled kitchen garden supplies fruit and vegetables to the house. Additionally there is a wild garden, along with lawns and a Victorian Nut Walk to explore. Three acres of ancient fishponds can be viewed from a walkway and information signs are scattered throughout gardens. The Coal Hole Café is a light and airy space overlooking the gardens, serving tea and coffee in bone china crockery along with cake and other light bites.
3) Take a Hike on the Norfolk Coastal Path
The Norfolk Coastal Path covers eighty-four miles from Hunstanton to Sea Palling and is one of England’s great coastal walks. The path traverses bustling seaside towns together with quaint villages, salt marshes and pine forests, cliff tops and beaches. Luckily, there are plenty of pubs and cafes on route to find sustenance. It’s a varied walk indeed and there’s lots to see along the way.
As you would expect in Norfolk, the trail is mostly flat. Additionally, it’s well sign-posted and consequently, there’s not much chance of getting lost. Even though the route veers away from the coast at the salt marshes, it’s easy to follow. The salt marshes are the stomping grounds of ornithologists due to the wealth of migrating birdlife in the area. The path passes through the seaside towns of Brancaster, Wells, Blakeney, Sheringham and Cromer.
4) Enjoy a Boat Ride on the Norfolk Broads
Whether for two hours or a week, taking a boat trip on the Broads is a quintessentially Norfolk experience. Indeed, nothing can beat a relaxing sail along the scenic waterways. The choice of boats range from the luxurious to basic traditional yachts. In general, most boats depart from the town of Wroxham in the heart of the Broads. Additionally, one of the great pleasures of exploring the waterways in a self-hire boat is stopping for a pint in a waterside pub or indulging in an afternoon tea quay-side.
Originally, the Broads were dug out of the ground to provide peat for fuel in medieval times. The waterways were consequently created when flooding occurred in the 14th century. Roll onto the 19th century and the Broads became a popular spot for pleasure boating. Since then visitors have been enjoying the waterways of Norfolk.
Rich in biodiversity, the Broads have national park status and are, in fact, home to around a quarter of the rarest wildlife in the UK. These include the swallowtail, Britain’s largest butterfly, along with the rare Norfolk hawker dragonfly. Fish species include perch together with pike, bream and carp. Furthermore, if you are really lucky, you may even spot an otter paddling around in the water.
5) Find Solace in the Wide Open Spaces of Norfolk’s Most Spectacular Beaches
The windswept coastline of North Norfolk encompasses Wells-next-the-Sea and Holkham Bay. Indeed, the area consists of stunning swathes of golden sand as far as the eye can see. The beaches are situated next to one another and are backed by dunes together with a fragrant pine forest. At high tide, the basin at Holkham fills with water, creating a vast, but shallow lagoon. Holkham is, in fact, often referred to as England’s most beautiful beach and it is easy to understand why. Furthermore, the area is also a designated nature reserve.
The Lookout Café is situated near the carpark and has viewing windows, together with binoculars, where customers can scan the horizon for wildlife. The beach is also where the horses of the King’s Cavalry are exercised and additionally, it has also featured in several movies and TV shows. Even in the summer months, the sprawling expanse of sand means that it is still possible to find a tranquil spot of your own amongst the dunes.
From Holkham, it is possible to walk to Wells-next-the-Sea along a track which forms part of the scenic Norfolk Coastal Path. Wells is known for its row of colourful beach huts which have long been an inspiration for local artists. Paintings and photographs of the huts can commonly be seen at galleries throughout Norfolk. In contrast to the tranquillity of Holkham, Wells has a bustling harbour lined with an array of gift shops together with cafes and pubs.
6) Take in Some Art at a Stately Home
Holkham Hall is an 18th century country house and one of the finest examples of Palladian architecture in the country. Built by first Earl of Leicester, Thomas Coke, it is privately owned by the present Earl. The main hallway has an opulent marble ceiling inspired by the Pantheon in Rome. Full of statues and classic paintings, it is home to an impressive collection of art by the European masters. Indeed, there are works by Poussin, Claude, Ruebens and Gainsborough on display. Other rooms of note include the library along with the old kitchen with its original pots and pans. Furthermore, the house has appeared in several movies including the Duchess starring Keira Knightley.
Three thousand acres of parkland stretch to the marshlands of the coast offering nature trails galore. Red Deer together with fallow are a common sight on the grounds. Additionally, a variety of events take place throughout the year from art exhibitions to open air theatre and concerts. The Courtyard Café is a nice spot for to indulge in some tea and cake.
7) Indulge in Traditional Seaside Fun at Great Yarmouth
Originally a fishing town, Great Yarmouth became popular in the late 18th century. During this era, it was popular for city dwellers to flock to the seaside in order to escape the smog and enjoy the health benefits of sea swimming. Great Yarmouth is a traditional seaside town where little has changed over the years. The Pleasure Beach, situated on the Golden Mile, opened in 1909 and is home to one of the oldest wooden rollercoasters in the country as well as a host of other thrilling rides.
Merrivale Model Village is another of the Great Yarmouth’s top attractions with its miniature town centre together with a zoo, travelling fair and sports stadium. Joyland is a children’s fun park situated next to the pier. There are, indeed, plenty of rides to keep the munchkins happy from the Spook Express to the Undersea Fantasy Ride. Britannia Pier offers amusements along with live shows, restaurants and rides for all the family. Last but not least, the Hippodrome Circus has been drawing the crowds since 1903 (see below) and is still going strong. Indeed, Great Yarmouth remains as popular with families today as ever and continues to be one of the country’s premier seaside resorts.
8) See Grey Seals in their Natural Habitat
North Norfolk is one of the best places in England to spot grey seals. From Morston Quay, it’s possible to take a boat trip to Blakeney Point Nature Reserve, home of the country’s largest seal colony to observe the seals at close quarters. Indeed, curious seals often swim around the tour boats.
The wild unspoilt beach of Horsey Gap is another great place to see seals. In the summer, the beach attracts sun worshippers seeking a quiet stretch of sand. However, between late October and early February, the beach is taken over by seals arriving on the beach to give birth to pups. From the car park, it’s a short walk across the dunes to a viewing platform, which provides an excellent view of the seals. Furthermore, whilst in the vicinity, it’s worth checking out Poppylands, a cute 1940’s themed café in a flint house where the staff wear forties style clothing. The extensive menu offers everything from a Dambuster’s Breakfast to a tempting cream tea.
9) Take a Trip to the Circus
Constructed by showman, George Gilbert in 1903, the Hippodrome is the only surviving purpose-built circus left in England. Additionally, it is one of only three circuses in the world where the floor sinks into a pool. Shows are held throughout the year, with specials at Easter, Summer, Halloween and Christmas.
The Hippodrome also has a fascinating backstage museum which is home to over a hundred years of circus memorabilia. Rich in history, many of the most renowned circus performers in the world have appeared at the Hippodrome including Houdini. Other stars that have appeared at the Hippodrome include such legends as Max Miller and Eddie Cochran.
10) Visit the Christmas Residence of the Royal Family
Retreat of the Queen since 1862, Sandringham is where the British Royal Family traditionally spend Christmas each year. At the entrance to the house is a full-size statue of Estimate, one of the Queen’s favourite horses and winner of several major races. Visitors are allowed to walk through a few of the two hundred rooms including the dining hall where the royal family indulge in their festive feast. Gifts from all over the world are on display throughout the house.
A path leading from the house to the Church of Mary Magdelene, is where the royal family are photographed on Christmas morning on their way to worship. The church is open between April and October. The grounds consist of 20,000 acres of woods and parkland. One of the latest additions is a children’s playground inspired by Kate Middleton’s ‘Back to Nature’ Chelsea Flower Show exhibit. The formal gardens are bordered with mature trees and enclose a shrubbery together with a shady woodland walk. Natural springs feed the lakes and an ornamental stream. There is an overpriced gift shop to peruse and a restaurant serving snacks and light meals.