Found in the east of England, Norfolk’s charms are as broad as the famous network of rivers that run through it. With an abundance of natural beauty and wildlife, this is one county where you can really kick back and enjoy some quintessential English countryside. But it’s not just a rural idyll – there’s loads of stuff to see and do, which we’ve pulled together in our handy Norfolk travel guide. And don’t forget, if you need a place to stay, our luxury cottages in Norfolk offer everything you need for an amazing holiday.
Norfolk possesses a different kind of beauty than that of Britain’s more mountainous regions. Its peaceful Broads, windswept marshlands and blissfully empty beaches have the power to make travellers feel that they are well and truly away from it all – a rare feat in what is actually one of the most crowded countries in Europe. Whether you’re wildlife watching on the tranquil riverbanks or exploring the quaint flint villages, you won’t be competing for space with other tourists. If the isolation gets too much, you can always head into Norwich, where a buzzing cultural scene, a handful of big-name sights and some excellent food and drink will ease you back into civilisation.
Best places to visit in Norfolk
- Houghton Hall – Wander the halls and grounds of this elegant country estate.
- North Norfolk Coast – Marvel at miles of untouched landscapes in this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
- Holkham and Wells Beach – Sink your toes into the golden sands of this beach, which was voted as Britain’s best.
- Norwich – Wander the cobbled streets and the riverfront of the pleasant county capital.
- Great Yarmouth – Join in with the fun of the fair in this lively seaside resort.
When to visit
England’s west coast bears the brunt of the country’s rain, which means that lucky Norfolk – which is on the east coast – is a drier county than most. Summer days are warm and you can usually plan time outdoors without ending up waterlogged. The beaches are popular during English school holidays in late July and August, but there are miles upon miles of them so you shouldn’t have much trouble finding your own spot of sand. September is often still warm enough for beach days.
In winter the towns are given over to Christmas markets, ice-skating rinks and open fires to ward off the cold. Spring is a happy medium between the two, offering increasingly warm weather, bright colours in the countryside and fewer people in the beaches and towns. Visit in May for one of the country’s oldest arts celebrations, the Norfolk and Norwich Festival, where you can watch live music, theatre and orchestral concerts in venues across the region.
- Airports: There are direct flights from many destinations within the UK and Europe arriving in Norwich International airport.
- On foot: One of Norfolk’s major draws is its peaceful, expansive countryside, which is best explored on foot. The Norfolk County Council website lists the majority of walking trails you can join in the county, from long-distance routes to shorter circular walks.
- By car: The most flexible way of exploring Norfolk is by car, as you can travel door to door at your own pace. Most major car rental firms – among them Hertz, Avis, Budget and Europcar – operate out of Norwich Airport.
- By bus: Buses run throughout the major towns and villages of Norfolk – visit Traveline to plan your journey. The North Norfolk coast is served by the regular and reliable Stage Coach Bus service, which runs between King’s Lyn and Cromer. Norwich also operates a Park and Ride system, so you can explore the town centre without having to navigate it by car.
- By train: The major towns in Norfolk, such as Norwich, Great Yarmouth and Cromer, can be reach by train – check the National Rail website to book your travel.
- Trundle around the beautiful Broads on the Bure Valley Railway, a narrow gauge steam railway that winds through some of Norfolk’s prettiest landscapes. If you really love vintage transport, head to the Wells and Walsingham Railway for another charming journey on a steam train through the fields.
- It’s almost inevitable you’ll spend a little time in Norfolk’s wetlands, so it’s well worth learning about the ecosystems before you go. One of the best places to find out more is at Green Quay, an interactive museum about the county’s diverse wildlife. You can see the animals that live in the waters of the region and learn about the effects of climate change on the beautiful Norfolk wetlands.
- Fancy a day of exploring noble family homes and elegant gardens? You’re in luck – Norfolk has lots of National Trust properties. Most visitors make a beeline for Blickling Hall, and indeed this red-brick mansion is one of the most attractive heritage sites in the county. But there are other, less well-known buildings you shouldn’t miss, namely the moat-encircled Oxburgh Hall, whose history is particularly compelling and the less-often explored Felbrigg Hall, which features grand mahogany libraries and carefully kept gardens.
- The Norfolk Broads is a network of tranquil waterways that link a series of pretty villages. While here, don’t just stay on the water; some of the small village, such as St. Olaves, are well worth disembarking for. You can spend a day exploring its medieval priory and an old mill before dining in a village inn with views of the winding River Waveney.
- If you want a solitary rambles along deserted shores, there’s no better place for it than the Winterton Dunes National Nature Reserve. If you’re there during December and January, look out for the resident grey seal colony who will be cooing over their newly arrived and extremely adorable pups.
Norfolk for families
The ingredients for a perfect family summer holiday can all be found in Norfolk. Choose the sporty activities, like roller skating or maze exploring, for when the kids have lots of energy. If you want your kids to get out into the countryside for a fix of fresh air, then head to activity centres in the woods or spend a day at the beach. Numerous wildlife sanctuaries and farms are perfect for kids who love animals (and what kid doesn’t?), while the train and boat rides will satiate young transport enthusiasts.
One of the most compelling reasons to take children to Norfolk, however, is the county’s connection to water. Whether it’s in the sea or river, most of the top attractions in the region involve getting wet in some way. Dive underwater in scuba gear, learn to canoe on the Waveney or watch for wildlife from the deck of a fishing boat to experience Norfolk’s wondrous waters. From boat trips to seal encounters, we’ve rounded up the top family activities in the region. Need a bit more info? We’ve got a whole blog full of great family-friendly activities in Norfolk.
The best family-friendly things to do in Norfolk
- With the North Sea nuzzling up against Norfolk’s coast, there’s ample opportunity for a bit of exploration on the high seas (though not too high – the North Sea can get pretty rough!). There’s plenty of opportunity for a boat trip or, if the kids are a bit older, a spot of fishing.
- An even more memorable trip is out to visit the seal colonies off Blakeney Point –Beans Boat Trips can arrange a trip out to see these curious and charming mammals.
- But it’s not just the sea that offers water adventures in Norfolk. Of course, the majestic Norfolk Broads offers loads to do, whether that’s a relaxing nature walk or something a bit more hands-on.
- The Canoe Man is a great way to bond as a family – you’ll be treated to a canoe trip through the broads, spotting cute wildlife as you go.
- Norfolk also boasts a huge variety of museums, castles and stately homes, and while they might not seem like the most obvious place to take the kids, most have facilities, gardens and tours that will fascinate (and even educate!) the whole family.
- A great example is Thrigby Hall Wildlife Gardens, which features a massive variety of wildlife for kids to see, from tigers to tiny otters.
Free Family Activities in Norfolk
- Holt Country Park offers families a day out where you can all appreciate nature, from the dozens of species of trees to dragonflies and even deer. The park arranges activities too, and while you have to pay for them they’re remarkably good value at only £2 each.
- For a truly spectacular natural wonder, take a trip to the striped cliffs of Hunstanton. They really are striped, and kids will find them particularly fascinating.
- The Green Britain Centre is a great way to get the kids thinking about environmentalism, and with entry to the centre costing nothing it’s as kind on your wallet as it is to the planet.
- Children who love animals will love a trip to Redwings Horse Sanctuary in Caldecott, where you can meet rescued horses, donkeys, ponies and mules. Pick your time though – the centre is only open between March and the end of October.
Other things to do in Norfolk
From pub tours to owl encounters, we’ve dug out the best grown-up activities in Norfolk. Read our blog on the best group activities in Norfolk if you need more information on some great things to do!
- There are some fantastic museums and galleries in Norfolk, covering everything from mustard to Cold War-era tanks. There’s even a museum dedicated to the popular TV show Dad’s Army, so there really is something for everyone!
- If you’re after some art, the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts makes a fantastic choice. With a permanent collection as well as hosting touring exhibitions, the SVCA is a great place to appreciate 5,000 years of human creativity.
- As well as museums to visit, you can always indulge in a little culture on a tour. Once again, there’s loads to choose from in Norfolk, with food tours, tours on boats from the coast and even birdwatching to choose from.
- Or why not include a tour in another great holiday tradition – a bit of a pub crawl? No prizes for guessing what Norwich Pub Tours do, but it’s not just about getting drunk. You’ll learn loads of local trivia and history as you enjoy a few ales.
- A trip to Norfolk wouldn’t be complete without experiencing the majestic Broads, the series of rivers that runs through the county. Hire a bike, rent a boat or just take a stroll and enjoy the wildlife and wonderful scenery.
- Norfolk Broads River Trips are a great place to go if you want to get out on the water, and you can choose between a private tour for up to eight people or a larger boat with a bar and a spoken tour.
- Norfolk’s relatively flat landscape means there’s a huge number of golf courses to choose from, so if you and your friends are avid devotees of the links you’ll find loads of places to indulge.
- Glen Lodge in the Yare Valley has two courses (one with 18 holes, one with 9) meaning you’ll have a bit of choice on how much time you want to spend on the greens (and how much time in the 19th hole afterwards!)
Norfolk’s food and drink scene
There are two routes you can go down when immersing yourself in Norfolk’s food and drink scene. One is to dive on in and be hands-on, visiting local markets and taking cookery classes or tours to develop your own culinary skills, exploring a distillery or too and perhaps even learning how to roast coffee.The other option is to let all the food come to you.
It’s easy to spend a whole holiday without once being involved with preparing your meal, choosing instead to feast on tasty regional dishes, like herrings cooked in mustard and hares cooked whole. Other local specialities you’ll see cropping up on menus again and again include Cromer crab, samphire and juicy Brancaster mussels. August is when the county’s famous Food and Drink Festival takes place – and is prime snacking and food shopping season.
Here are some food and drink experience in Norfolk that will send your taste buds into a spin, and you can find more in our blog on the best foodie experiences in Norfolk!
The best restaurants in Norfolk
- Wiveton Hall in Holt offers informal, café-style dining, but that doesn’t mean you can expect café style food! The eatery here is full of art and light, and serves up the very best seasonal produce from the Hall’s adjacent farm. You can even stock up on supplies in the farm shop to take home with you!
- Fancy something a little different for dinner? Amandines in Diss serves up the very best in vegan and vegetarian food, and their menu changes around regularly so you know you’ll always ben in libe for something fresh and tasty.
- It’d be a shame not to enjoy the bounty of Norfolk’s coastline while you’re visiting, so take a trip to Brancaster’s White Horse restaurant. It serves the freshest and tastiest seafood, with a bevy of local meat and vegetables on the menu for those who aren’t that keen on fish. The views are spectacular too.
- The Ingham Swan in Norwich is the place to go if you want to try a bit of Norfolk’s fine dining – their tasting menu comes highly recommended, though the à la carte menu boasts temptations like a trio of local lamb and honey roasted guinea fowl.
Must-try dishes in Norfolk
- Cromer crab is one highly prized crustacean! Though it’s the same species of brown crab that you’ll often find for sale at fishmongers throughout the land, the shallow waters and chalk reefs off the Norfolk coast produce sweet meaty, crabs that don’t need much – just some brown bread, lemon juice and a pinch of pepper.
- And as a side dish for your seafood, look out for samphire. Growing near the Norfolk coast, this vegetable has a distinctive salty taste and is often compared to asparagus.
- With so much farmland in the county, you’ll be enjoying fresh and seasonal produce no matter where you eat – but don’t forget that quality extends to dairy produce too! You’ll find some great cheese in Norfolk, but keep your eyes peeled for Binham Blue, Norfolk White Lady and Ruby Dapple.
Hopefully this Norfolk Travel Guide, packed full of handy tips of things to do and places to visit has set you up perfectly for your next Norfolk holiday! If you’re still on the hunt for somewhere to stay, look no further than our holiday homes in the region, and chat to our concierge team if you need any help!