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Welcome to Norfolk: a holiday destination with a difference.
We love Norfolk and have compiled a compendium of ideas for days out and places of interest to visit. No matter how big or small your budget may be, Norfolk offers a variety of fun, cheap and free days out for all the family. Whether you’re on holiday with your kids, friends, parents or looking for a romantic break, this guide will inspire you with lists of places to go and things to see.
Graham Swift set his wonderful novel Waterland in Norfolk. He painted with his words a bold, open country, criss-crossed with deep waterways, miles of endless reed beds, windmills, big skies and the striking Fens.
Vast limpid skies hang over a remarkable county, where idyllic countryside blends into nature-rich wetlands before melding into a multifarious coast. Holidays in Norfolk are enriching and inspiring, we defy you not to be captivated by its unique charms.
Nowhere else can you enjoy the amazing sky views and horizons found in the East of England. Famous for the flatness of its land, Norfolk is predominantly reclaimed land from the sea. The fortified sea defences are a common sight and an important preservation measure that ensures Norfolk gets to stay safe and beautiful for residents and visitors.
Norfolk is a county that covers a northern swathe of land across the region known as East Anglia. To its south are the counties of Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and Essex, all with their own appealing aspects. Arguably, Norfolk is the best destination for those that like unspoilt countryside and feeling that they have left the cities and large towns far behind.
The coast is renowned for its nature reserves, bird reserves, and a distilled, simple beauty quite unlike anywhere else in England.
You are never far away from a waterway because canals, rivers and courses have been engineered throughout the landscape to prevent the whole region from flooding. The striking fens are home to impressive birdlife and sand beaches with colossal dune systems.
The Norfolk Broads are popular with those that like boating at a measured pace, sightings of narrow boats and small craft are frequent along its maze of waterways.
At the heart of the county is Norwich, which despite its city status and cathedral still retains the air of a market town. One of England’s most remote cities, it’s a pleasurable place to wander around to discover independent shops, evening entertainment and museums.
If you like a traditional English day out at the seaside, Norfolk is home to several coastal resorts like Hunstanton, Cromer and the internationally-renowned Great Yarmouth.
A rarity with a coastline that covers three of the four main compass points, Norfolk is a superb choice for those who love the great outdoors. Even the Queen of England has chosen Norfolk as the location for one of her official residences – Sandringham is even partially open to visitors.
Over 80 miles of seafront stretches from The Wash in the west of the county to Hopton-on-Sea on the Suffolk border. Much of the coast can be walked via an official trail: The Norfolk Coast Path. This path runs into the ancient course, Peddars Way (that runs from Holme-next-the-Sea to Knettishall Heath – 46 miles) and Marriott’s Way (Aylsham to Norwich – 26 miles).
The alluring lights and cha-ching of amusement arcades and promenades that characterise many of Norfolk’s traditional seaside towns stand in stark contrast to the chattering of seabirds in its unspoilt coastal nature reserves. On any given day you could find yourself crabbing off Cromer pier in the morning and watching seals off Blakeney Point by the afternoon. Great Yarmouth, with its legendary Golden Mile, larger-than-life family shows, and quintessential bucket-and-spade beaches is the rambunctious cousin of Hunstanton and Cromer, where colourful beach huts, independent shops and scenic strolls set the scene for a more sedate seaside experience.
Besides beaches, Norfolk’s north coast is blessed with a landscape of saline lagoons, salt marshes, mudflats, reedbeds and freshwater pools; making it a haven for birds and wildlife, both local and migrant species. At RSPB Snettisham and RSPB Titchwell Marsh, you’re likely to sight avocets, bitterns, marsh harriers and more against the natural backdrop of The Wash, while Blakeney National Nature Reserve is home to colonies of breeding terns and seals.
This is a mere introduction to what you can discover on the Norfolk Coast - our complete guide to the Norfolk Coast has everything you need to know about this diverse stretch of coastline.
The coast isn’t just a haven for wildlife it’s a magnet for lovers of the great outdoors, offering no end of adventures in the form of sailing, surfing, cycling and golf too - check out our guide to outdoor activities in Norfolk to find out more.
Below are just some of the great coastal towns where you can base your Norfolk adventure.
Hunstanton and Old Hunstanton
Elegant Hunstanton showcases yet another side to the Norfolk coast. Exuding Victorian charm, its red and white striped cliffs, immaculately landscaped gardens, Sea Life Sanctuary and amusements make ‘sunny Hunny’ appeal to families and couples alike.
Hunstanton and Old Hunstanton are located on the west coast of Norfolk facing out into The Wash. With its long promenade, distinctive stripy cliffs, olde worlde pubs and live entertainment venue, Hunstanton is a sleepy seaside resort purpose-built to take advantage of the Victorian-era fascination with sea-bathing.
Several hotels have sprung up here as well as a Heritage Centre, Boston Square Sensory Garden and an entertainment centre, Live Oasis. During the summertime, look out for the colourful Tractor Train that carries visitors the length of the seafront, a favourite with young and old alike. Take a trip with Searle’s Sea Tours to see the seals on the unique Wash Monster, a World War II amphibian craft, leaving from the South Promenade.
Old Hunstanton is home to a 19th-century lighthouse as well as several pubs and restaurants and is a pleasant coastal walk apart from Hunstanton. Further afield are the lavender farms and the royal palace at Sandringham Estate.
Wells-next-the-Sea is situated about halfway between Hunstanton and Cromer. A former harbour, the town established itself as a holiday destination after local industry moved on and the harbour silted up.
Offering nature walks out along the seawall to the pine-fringed Holkham Bay and the 10.25” small gauge railway, Wells Harbour Railway. It’s the best way to reach the beach – children love it!
You can also enjoy views over the harbour waterways and salt marshes. At low tide, the sea disappears over the horizon but be aware that it comes in at a rapid speed.
You won’t find any chain stores in Wells-next-the-Sea; this is a haven for independence where local businesses thrive. For a picnic, head to the tree-lined park of The Buttlands where fine Georgian houses overlook the grounds and surrounding pubs and restaurants are on hand for you to try out.
The Quay is home to the distinctive former granary (now private residences) with its preserved vertiginous gantry. The Quay is a social hub where families watch the fishing fleet come and go, test their skills at crabbing, and taste cockles, shellfish or a traditional bag of fish and chips. There is an amusement arcade, ice cream parlour and even more opportunities to try local food and drink.
Coincide your visit with the annual Wells Carnival, which is an explosion of local activity, craft and music. The event includes a carnival procession of floats and fancy dress that starts and finishes at The Buttlands, after winding its way around the town.
Cromer is home to a fantastic seaside pier, which claims to host the UK’s last ‘end of the pier’ show. Live music, cabaret and comedy are most popular. Cromer is the largest town on the north coast and has the best range of handy shops. It also has a superb zoo, the Amazona, which is a big hit with children. For evening entertainment, Cromer has a small multiplex cinema, showing the lasting in Hollywood and British films. Cromer itself played a major role as the backdrop for the 2013 film, Alan Partridge – Alpha Papa.
Geologists love Cromer for being the gateway to the British ‘Great Barrier Reef’ known as the 20-mile-long sub-aqua Cromer Shoals Chalk Bed and created in the Mesozoic Era when dinosaurs roamed. It is close to the shoreline and can be seen if you care to snorkel or swim.
Head to one of the pubs, cafes or restaurants to experience and enjoy the famous Cromer crab. In the summer, Cromer celebrates its maritime heritage with the Cromer Carnival and Crab & Lobster Festival. So gastronomes plan ahead to get the best out of Norfolk grub!
This seaside resort has been a British holiday staple for decades. Perhaps one of the most easterly towns in the UK, this is the land of the pleasure beach, crazy golf, kiss-me-quick hats, fish and chips, and candy floss.
There’s something good to be said about the endurance of nostalgic holiday towns like Great Yarmouth where there’s so much family entertainment you’ll need more than one week to make your way around it all. Fun options include The Golden Mile, Great Yarmouth’s Model Village, Time & Tide Museum, and at least three live entertainment venues.
You can also watch stock car racing at Great Yarmouth Stadium. Night entertainment extends to cinemas, pubs, clubs and casinos. Nothing beats the beach though; its wide golden beach is a big draw for visitors, young and old. Coincide a visit with the annual soul weekender at nearby Caister-on-Sea that hosts some of the biggest names in music.
Plan a day out to Norfolk’s capital, Norwich. Its history can be traced back over 1000 years and it’s known as England’s second city.
Visitors that like places of historical interest will want to visit the Norwich twelve – a compilation of a dozen buildings of architectural importance. These include Norwich Cathedral, Norwich Castle and Tombland. The castle dates back to the Norman era and is worth your time if you like to visit ancient edifices. The cathedral has a beautiful cloister, said to be one of the finest in Europe.
Eat a picnic in The Secret Garden before taking a riverboat past Pulls Ferry and the Cow Tower. Norwich is full of great restaurants, nightspots and entertainment venues to explore and enjoy once night falls. The city is one of the country’s top 10 shopping destinations with at least two malls and a glut of streets with independents and high street favourites all bidding for your attention.
A natural habitat
Norfolk has plenty of open space and the north coast itself is home to a large number of nature reserves and RSPB-managed bird spotting reserves.
One of the very best places to visit in the county if you love a walk and wild animals is Blakeney Point (accessed from Cley-next-the-Sea) to see the large seal colony. Each winter 1000s of seals haul themselves out of the ocean to take shelter and give birth. During the summer you can take a boat tour from Blakeney when there are fewer seals.
If you walk along the spit, it’s around 3 miles to the head so take provisions and keep your dog on the lead as there are lots of defenceless seal pups in the dunes and along the shore.
For the best in birdwatching head to Cley-next-the-Sea’s Cley Marshes Visitor Centre managed by Norfolk Wildlife Trust, which even has its own café and viewing deck. You can walk around the extensive reserve to watch both migratory and sedentary birds that make this part of the North Norfolk Coast their home. Cley is also distinctive for its eye-catching windmill and a very nice delicatessen, Picnic Fayre.
The Holkham National Nature Reserve
The Holkham National Nature Reserve extends over 4,000 hectares and includes land owned and managed by Holkham and the Crown Estate. Huge areas of land were reclaimed from saltmarsh between the 17th and 19th centuries. Sand dunes were planted with pines so that the land could be used for agriculture.
Today the dunes are a haven for wildlife and ground-nesting and over-wintering wildfowl and waders. There is a large network of paths and bird watching facilities for visitors. Make a visit to the nearby Holkham Hall & Estate for more culture.
Thetford Forest is the largest lowland forest in the UK at 47,000 acres. Drawing in visitors from all over with its outdoor sporting facilities, trails and pathways, Thetford is a must for your itinerary.
Historians will love Grimes Graves, a Neolithic flint mining complex within forest limits. Family facilities include mountain biking trails, cycling paths, walking routes, Go-Ape, visitor centre and café at High Lodge, which is also used for popular music events.
The Norfolk Broads
A peaceful man-made network of waterways meandering through verdant countryside, the Broads National Park encompasses pretty villages, wildlife-filled marshland and dappled woodland.
The Broads were formed after people dug for peat in medieval times and the area was later flooded. With more waterways than Venice and Amsterdam, the Broads is made up of 125 miles of lock-free channels that have become a major visitor attraction.
It is possible to hire motor cruisers for a day out because much of the Broads are inaccessible unless you are aboard a watercraft. It’s a great place to go angling or nature spotting – the habitat includes many peaceful spots to hide away. Now the largest protected area of wetlands in the UK, it is home to many rare species of bird, insect and butterfly.
Norfolk food and drink
Norfolk has a long farming heritage. This combined with the abundance of local seafood and freshwater fish stocks have provided Norfolk with some very impressive places to eat and drink should you wish to take a night off from dining in your self-catering accommodation.
From seafood restaurants, and fine dining establishments to takeaway hatches, here is a handful of Norfolk’s hotspots to get a good feed that caters for any budget.
So where are the best places to eat Cromer crab, Stiffkey cockles, Brancaster mussels, Samphire, or Binham Blue? Well, you can pick some of these up at your local deli or check out the menu options below.
If you’re looking for a fine dining experience during your stay head across to King’s Lynn to visit one of Hardens best UK restaurants for 2018. Booking is advisable if you want to sample fine English fayre made with supplies from local farmers, gardeners and fishermen. The menu changes to reflect the season ensuring that you’ll only be served the freshest and best.
On the North Norfolk coast, this café is a local favourite and the staff promise to make your visit memorable through the breakfasts, lunches, teas, coffees and cakes. It’s open all year round and in a complex with some interesting shops. Well worth a daytime meal if you’re in the area.
Based on the grounds of The Links Country Park near Cromer, you can choose from two contrasting restaurants depending on personal taste. The former has enjoyed a period of restoration and offers a selection of predictably good affair. It’s a great place to watch sporting events on the TV. The latter is less informal and is great for a sit-down dining experience with views of the nearby golf course.
500 years old, this inn in Thornham is a favourite with visitors to the area who are looking for a good meal in traditional Norfolk surroundings with a touch of maritime heritage. Don’t miss out on the chance to sample local ales, lagers, wines and spirits in the courtyard beer garden.
Choose between the oak-beamed bar, comfortable lounge with a vast open fire, relaxed dining room or a glass-roofed conservatory where a 200-year-old vine still bears fruit and flowers.
The Ship Inn is a superb choice if you are holidaying with children. Its enclosed pub garden has a really good play area and the kid’s menu is worth a look too. Again, the owners take food seriously and offer some interesting twists on pub menu standards, so if you are looking for something a cut above the average, The Ship Inn is a good daytime family choice. All of this is enhanced by lovely sea views across the English Channel.
The best place to eat Cromer crab?
The Jetty Café in the heart of Cromer is the place to try out the famous Norfolk delicacy, Cromer crab. Whether you're after a crab salad or simple sandwich, the Jetty Café is the place to beat.
Although you can find many places selling it in and around the town, no other establishments have received the accolade of appearing in a world-wide food eating bucket list compiled by the food critic Giles Coren and chef Simon Rimmer.
Rubbing shoulders with the likes of the spice market in Marrakesh’s Djemma el Fnaa or New York’s Carnegie Deli, the Jetty Café’s Cromer crab dishes have been mentioned in Countryfile and the Independent. Tempted?
When you go on your holiday to Norfolk wouldn’t it be nice to be able to share some interesting facts and quirky stories about the county to impress or surprise your family and friends? We thought so.
Here are some facts, figures and unusual things we think you should know about Norfolk.
- Norfolk is England’s 5th largest county.
- Norfolk is home to the largest colony of seals in England.
- There are 120 churches with cylindrical towers in the county.
- You can visit a pyramid on the Blickling Estate. It’s a mausoleum.
- Admiral Horatio Nelson and Anne Boleyn were born in Norfolk.
- It is possible to see the Northern Lights at Kelling Heath.
- The Norfolk Broads are home to 25% of the UK’s rarest wildlife.
- In Happisburgh, a 550,000-year-old flint axe and the footprints of the first people ever to come to Britain across the land bridge from Europe was the earliest evidence of man found outside the Great Rift Valley in Africa.
- The largest and most complete mammoth skeleton was found at West Runton.
- With 659 churches, Norfolk has the highest concentration of religious centres on the planet.
- The peak of Norwich Cathedral’s spire stands at 351 feet tall.
Filming destination for: Shakespeare in Love, Alan Partridge – Alpha Papa, 45 Years, Witchfinder General, Never Let Me Go, The Go-Between, Drowning by Numbers, and The Goob.
Famous people from Norfolk: Nelson, Anne Boleyn, Bernard Matthews, Rupert Everett, King George VI, Ed Balls MP, John Hurt, Sir Matthew Pinsent, Cathy Dennis, and Prince John (son of George V and Queen Mary).
Visit our guides for access to information about Norfolk walks and trails, cycling routes, days out, fishing holidays, and farm shops. Your compilation of essentials and need-to-knows - use it to find out more about places to go and things to do in Norfolk.
Where to stay in Norfolk
We have some fantastic holiday accommodation across the county from converted farm buildings to sea view apartments, smart suburban home-from-homes, large country houses for extended groups and secluded cottages for two.
Find your perfect place to stay among our collection of Norfolk cottages.