The Norfolk Broads offers visitors a sense of blissful peace, unspoilt nature, and a unique glimpse of old-fashioned country life. With 120 miles of navigable waterways, the UK’s finest wetlands landscape is home to over a quarter of the rarest plants and animals in the country. And with woodlands, rivers, and wide open skies, this region is just as much of a haven for people as it is for animals.
With so much to see and do here, it can be hard trying to decide what to add to your holiday itinerary. So to help you out, we’ve compiled a list of seven must see-places on the Norfolk Broads.
1. Horning Village
The pretty villages of the Norfolk Broads are some of the most charming in the country, and if you love exploring historic towns that make you feel as though you’ve stepped back in time, then a village to Horning village is a must. Dating back to 1020, this ancient village is packed with thatched cottages that look as though they’ve leapt right out of the pages of a fairy-tale. The village perches on the Northern side of the River Bure, which is a lovely spot for a tranquil stroll.
If you enjoy checking out local pubs during your holiday, you’re in luck, as there are three excellent pubs right by the water – plus dozens of restaurants, cafes, cosy tea rooms, and interesting shops to potter around in on the village’s historic Lower Street. If you want to get on the water, you can take a boat trip along the river – though if you’d rather stretch your legs, why not walk to Horning church, which is located a mile away from the village, prettily tucked away down winding country lanes?
Browse accommodation in Horning
2. Ranworth Village and Nature Reserve
Another gorgeous Broads village is Ranworth, which overlooks Malthouse Broad. Its ancient St Helen’s Church (which is called ‘the cathedral of the Broads’) dominates the local skyline, and if you’re up for climbing 89 steps – then two ladders and a trap door! – you can admire enviable views as far as the coast.
Aside from its church, however, Ranworth is most famous for its nature reserve (Ranworth Broad Nature Reserve) which winds its way through picturesque woodland and provides plenty of excellent opportunities for bird-watching, as well as hiking through forests and reeds.
On the edge of the Broad you’ll find the floating Norfolk Wildlife Conservation Centre, where you can learn all about the unique wildlife of this region. If you’re into bird-watching, be sure to keep an eye out for great crested grebes, cormorants, marsh harriers and kingfishers; you can use the binoculars provided in the purpose-built windows of the visitor centre to see what you can spot. If you’re visiting during summer, keep one eye out for Swallowtail butterflies and Norfolk Hawker dragonflies too!
If you’re an early riser, you may also want to keep your eyes peeled for the ghost of a 12th century monk, who’s said to row his boat out onto the misty Broad early in the morning!
Browse accommodation near Ranworth
3. Visit some windmills
Windmills are arguably Norfolk’s most iconic landmarks, and at one time this area had the densest population of windmills in the UK. There are plenty of gorgeous windmills to explore in the Broads, but none are as famous – or as photographed – as Hunsett Mill. Hidden away on the River Ant on protected conservation, this old water pumping mill is a cherished local landmark. Hunsett Mill is privately owned, and because it’s miles away from roads or footpaths, you’ll have to take a boat if you want to admire it – but cruising gently down the River Ant to spot famous landmarks is a lovely way to spend a lazy afternoon.
Alternatively, head over to Thurne Mill, which is an impressive looking white working windmill that’s been in use for more than 200 years: you can get to Thurne Mill by taking a boat from Herbert Woods Marina. Or if you want to step inside a restored windmill and learn all about it, you might want to visit Horsey Windpump, which is owned by the National Trust and is a great spot for taking a hike, then exploring the mill and relaxing in the cute tearoom.
Browse accommodation near Horsey
4. Barton Broad
If spotting wildlife and being amongst nature is high up on your list of holiday priorities, then you’ll probably want to think about visiting Barton Broad. As the second largest of the Norfolk Broads, Barton Broad is a great place to spot birds and animals, and after a multi-million pound environmental restoration project, it’s an ideal place to spend a leisurely day walking, wildlife spotting, and perhaps doing a spot of boating. If you visit in August, you might want to try to attend the annual sailing regatta here!
Following Barton Broad’s restoration, there is a fully accessible boardwalk which weaves its way through marshy woodland, providing you with ample opportunities to spot fish, birds and otters. Due to its deep, clear waters, Barton Broad is known as a bit of a sailing paradise, so if you’re planning to take a boat out during your trip, this might be the best choice. Plus, after a busy day sailing or exploring, you can head to the lovely pub at the nearby village Neatishead for some refreshments!
Browse accommodation near Barton Broad
5. St Benet’s Abbey
If you’re interested in history, why not take a trip to visit St Benet’s Abbey, which is located along the River Bure near the village of Ludham. This 1000-year-old monastery has a fascinating history: it was founded on land granted by King Canute, and was once one of the richest Benedictine houses in the UK. The Abbey was at the height of its prosperity during the medieval times, and during the Tudor times it was the only monastery in England not to be closed by Henry VIII.
However, in the following years the building began to decline, and parts of the Abbey – including its centrepiece church – began to vanish. Today the abbey is still shrouded in mystery, and the ruins make a striking and atmospheric backdrop to the Broads landscape. If you’re staying on a boat, you can moor here for free. But be warned: legend has it that at night, the ghostly sounds of a traitorous monk can be heard echoing through the grounds – and on some nights, his ghost can be seen hanging from the former bell tower!
Browse accommodation near Ludham
6. Wroxham and Hoveton
A visit to the Broads isn’t complete without a visit to Wroxham and Hoveton: two connected villages that are split by the River Bure. Known as the capital of the Broads, this area has much to offer visitors – whether you’re looking to spend the day relaxing, eating and drinking, or whether you’d prefer to get active, either by hitting the water or going for a ramble. There are plenty of boats for hire here, whether you’re looking to take one out for a few hours or are interested in staying on a houseboat during your break.
There are plenty of top-quality places to eat and drink here, and some good shopping opportunities too – be sure to check out the popular Roys shop, which claims to be the world’s largest village store! Rail enthusiasts might also want to visit the Bure Valley Railway, a 15-inch gauge steam railway that runs between Wroxham and Aylsham and Wroxham Miniature Worlds, which boast the biggest indoor model railway in the UK.
Browse accommodation in Wroxham and Hoveton
7. How Hill
Another must-visit is the How Hill Trust, which is a lovely place to spend the day. How Hill Estate is set among acres of reeds, marsh and woodland, and the impressive thatched Edwardian House is perched on the brow of How Hill. Though the house itself is closed to the public, the rest of the estate is open, and today it’s mainly used as a study centre where people can try their hand at thatching and other crafts. Also on the estate is Toad Hole, an authentic period thatched cottage that’s been designed to show what life was like for marshman hundreds of years ago.
If you want to explore the surrounding countryside, there are some stunning spots located throughout the estate: the extensive gardens hide another secret garden, and there’s a nature trail that’s perfect for a leisurely stroll. The sloping lawn of the estate is ideal for relaxing in the sun or enjoying a peaceful picnic, and if you like, you can even take a boat trip through the reed beds.
Browse accommodation near How Hill
The Norfolk Broads is a beautiful part of the country that’s also entirely unique. A holiday here offers a sense of peace and respite that’s hard to find in other, busier tourist destinations. So if you’re looking to get away from it all, spot plenty of birds and animals, and feel truly at one with nature, you’ll certainly be able to do all that here.
But the Norfolk Broads has much more to offer than wildlife, natural beauty, and tranquility. From historic ruins to iconic windmills, and charming old towns to upmarket waterside pubs and restaurants, there’s something for everyone. And if you’re dreaming of hopping on board a boat, and experiencing the blissful sense of freedom that sailing provides, you’ll find it hard to find a more idyllic place to do so.
Are you hoping to visit the Norfolk Broads this year? Or do you have any of your own Broads tips you’d like to share with our readers? We’d love to hear about your holiday plans and experiences! Leave us a comment below, or join the conversation on the Rest Less community forum.