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Go Beyond London And Discover Norfolk: The Hidden Gem Of The UK 

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I love to travel as much as possible, but when I return to the UK, there’s nowhere I'd rather be than in Norfolk.  

Norfolk is an incredible county in the East of England that doesn’t always get the attention it deserves.  

Beautiful view over the river in Norwich, Norfolk

12 million visitors come to Norfolk every year (plus a whopping 40 million day trippers) but despite this Norfolk manages to slip below the radar when international tourists are looking for UK travel options.  

But I think that’s a big mistake!  

Here’s what you need to know about visiting Norfolk, a true hidden gem: 

Beautiful Beaches  

I’ve traveled the world (more than once!), but some of the most beautiful beaches I've seen are in Norfolk.

There are so many incredible options available to you, and you could visit a different Norfolk beach every day of the year and still not see them all.  

One of my favorites is Sea Palling which is on the North Norfolk coast.

The waters here are calmed by man-made coastal defence reefs which makes it a great place for swimming in the summer months as well as my favorite place to take out my paddle board. 

Summer with blue calm ocean and clear sky in Sea Palling Norfolk East Anglia UK

Because it is a small and relatively hidden beach, there isn’t anywhere to hire paddleboards on the beach here.

But I recommend hiring your board from Norwich Paddle Board hire, with prices starting from £27.99 ($34.85) for a full-day hire and then traveling with it to your preferred coastal location.

The staff here are so knowledgeable and friendly!  

If calm seas aren’t your thing, then for the wild waves, I like to head to Hemsby Beach.

This is a beautiful spot to watch the waves crashing to the shore year-round.  

Another great and more well-known beach spot is the traditional seaside town of Cromer.

Cromer is so well loved that the famous street artist Banksy visited and left his mark: a piece of street art titled ‘The Great British Spraycation.' 

 Side on view of Cromer pier, a popular Victorian landmark in the coastal town of Cromer, Norfolk

Cromer has a very different feel to Sea Palling.

It attracts more tourists and is a traditional seaside town with a classic Victorian pier, which is a great place to take your line and bucket and try your hand at crabbing.  

The beach is much bigger here and if you dream of surfing in the North Sea then Glide Surf School have a great reputation.

I’m too cowardly for cold water surfing but their summer surf schools are wildly popular!  

For me, the best thing about visiting Cromer is eating fish and chips at No 1 Cromer.

This is not only an award-winning fish and chip shop but I think it’s the best chip shop in the UK! Order extra tartare sauce for your cod, you won’t regret it!  

Sea ls on the beach in Horsey in Norfolk, England

Finally, during the winter months, I bundle up and head to Horsey Gap.

Between November and January, the beach here is crowded with thousands of seasons and their pups.  

This is one of the largest seal colonies in the UK.

To protect the seals you can walk along the cliffs to watch them from above without intervening with the breeding process.

The Norfolk Broads  

When it comes to things to do in Norfolk, spending time at the Norfolk Broads is one of my favorite things to do.  

Row boat and thatched roof boathouse on Norfolk Broads

The Norfolk Broads (officially known as the Norfolk Broads National Park) is an area of outstanding natural beauty characterized by mostly navigable rivers and lakes.

Many of the towns and villages that punctuate the Norfolk Broads National Park are breathtakingly beautiful (and I’m not just saying that because I live in one!)  

The best way to explore the Broads is by boat.  

There are dozens of boat hire companies in Norfolk but I regularly use Broom Boats in the village of Brandall where you can hire your own day cruiser for up to 6 people.

Pack a picnic and take to the waters, or better still sail from pub to pub and stop to refuel whenever the urge takes you.  

Couple paddle boarding on the River Wensum

On a smaller scale I love the Pub and Paddle tours that you can take along sections of the broads.

This is great if you enjoy paddleboarding, or don’t feel comfortable steering a boat.  

My favorite route takes you from Norwich to Surlingham. Surlingham Broad is a must-see for nature lovers and you will pass by a whopping 6 different pubs on the route.

If you only have time to stop at one, choose the Rushcutters Arms.  

Nature lovers will love Shrumpshaw Fen, an RSPCB reserve in the village of Shrumpshaw.

Entrance costs just £4.50 (around $5) and I was lucky enough to see a kingfisher on my last visit. If spotting rare British birds is your thing then this is the place to be!  

Stunning sunset over Mutton's Drainage Mill at Halvergate on the Berney Marshes on the Norfolk Broads

Norwich: A Fine City  

It would be impossible to talk about visiting Norfolk without mentioning Norwich.

Norwich is the only city in Norfolk, and it is known for its medieval castle and two cathedrals.  

Norwich is the most complete medieval city in England and a real mecca for history buffs.

The castle keep has been undergoing renovations for years, but these are finally due to be complete this summer.

I can’t wait to see how it looks when it’s finished as it was a fascinating place to explore before the renovations began.

Definitely a spot worth exploring in the city!  

Norwich Castle, Norwich, UK

From the castle, it takes just 5 minutes to walk to the city’s main cathedral.

Norwich Cathedral is an iconic landmark and the true heart of the city. In the summer months, you’ll find friends and families picnicking and playing in the gardens that surround it.

It's one of my favorite places to relax.  

The city's 2nd cathedral, The Roman Catholic Cathedral of St John the Baptist, sits just outside the city center and is considered less of a tourist attraction.  

Behind the cathedral, you’ll find Elm Hill, which is a big tourist attraction that still manages to feel like a deserted, hidden part of Norwich.

Elm Hill is a historic cobbled lane and many of the buildings date back to the Tudor period, making it one of the oldest streets in the UK. 

Elm Hill, a historic cobbled street in Norwich, UK.

A niche interest I know, but if you’re on Elm Hill I recommend stopping in the Bear Shop.

It is an old-fashioned store dedicated to selling teddy bears and the perfect place to pick up a gift. 

So Much To See And Do  

Norwich is a vibrant city with a youthful and liberal population. It’s a place where there’s always something happening and it’s never hard to have fun!

There are constant theater performances, gigs, and music festivals taking place here.  

My favorite time to be in Norwich is in May when the Norfolk and Norwich festival takes place.

The streets and parks of the city come alive with free entertainment and you can also buy tickets for arts or comedy events.  

Houses and boats on the river Yare at Norwich city centre in Norfolk

The festival has a real family feel with events to suit all ages. My kids look forward to it every year!  

One of the first facts I learned about Norwich when I moved to the city was that it has a church for every week of the year and a pub for every day of the year.

And if you’re looking to explore traditional British pub culture, then you definitely won’t be disappointed!  

Some of my favorite pubs include The Murderers, The Fat Cat, and the Unthank Arms.  

The Unthank Arms pub in Norwich

For craft cocktails, I recommend Mr Postles' Apothecary in Tombland, which is my favorite place to meet friends in the city thanks to the relaxed atmosphere, great music, and the Mr Postles’ Zombie and the Cherry Sour, the best drinks on the menu (I've tried them all so that you don’t have to!)  

The Best Places To Eat In Norfolk 

I consider myself a foodie and love to eat good quality, locally sourced food. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it must be delicious!

Here are my recommendations for places to stop for a bite in Norfolk:  

  • The Ingham Swan. From the outside this 14th century thatched building looks like an old-world pub, but inside it is a contemporary fine-dining restaurant. The smoked haddock on the Sunday lunch menu is worth traveling for.  
     
  • Fizz and Fromage. I love cheese so this cheese-based restaurant in Wroxham is my dream come true. Every dish on the menu incorporates local British cheeses, washed down with a bottle of sweet prosecco.  If you order 24 hours in advance you can enjoy a classic English afternoon tea here.
     
  • Junkyard. If you’re looking for informal street food then this global street food and drink market is a great place to be, especially when the sun is shining. Outdoor seating and an ever-changing option of food stalls make this one of the best places to be in Norwich on a Saturday afternoon. If the BucketList is in residence, their loaded fries are always the best thing on the menu.  

Getting To Norfolk  

Norfolk is much more than an alternative to London, it is an incredible destination in its own right.  

Although Norwich has its own airport, the international options are both limited and expensive, so flying here directly isn’t recommended.

In fact, I've lived in Norwich for 12 years, and I've never used Norwich airport!  

Norwich airport in Norwich, Norfolk

The closest London airport to Norfolk is London Stansted, which is my preferred London airport because of its convenient location.  

If you’re spending time in London before you head East then from London the easiest way to get to Norfolk is to take the train from London Liverpool Street station to Norwich station.

This is a direct train route (so no inconvenient changes) and the journey only takes 1 hour and 49 minutes.  

The cheapest way to get tickets for this train is to book as far in advance as possible directly via the Greater Anglia website.  

 Norwich railway station in the city of Norwich, Norfolk

Once you get to Norwich, if you want to get out of the city and explore as much of it as possible (and you really should!), I recommend hiring a car. 

Like most rural public transport in the UK, getting around some of the smaller and lesser-known destinations in the region can be tricky. 

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Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.


David

Monday 13th of May 2024

Love this and love Norfolk! Great article!

Tyler Fox

Monday 13th of May 2024

It is firmly on my list now as well! The Pub and Paddle tour sounds like it would be awesome!