There are around 550 square miles of West Norfolk and every single one of them has something to surprise, inspire and delight, with stunning nature reserves, Fens waterlands, glorious sandy beaches, the seaside resort of Hunstanton, maritime history of King’s Lynn, and country homes including Sandringham, the Queen’s rural retreat
Norwich is a wonderful fusion of the modern and historic, one complementing the other. Like any great city its centre is easy to walk around and has a river at its heart. As well as being the most complete medieval city in the UK, it has a flourishing arts, music and cultural scene, superb independent as well as High Street shopping, lively restaurants, bars and nightlife and a heritage that is a delight to explore. It was also England’s first UNESCO City of Literature – this is a city of stories!
The only city in a National Park
As well as being the most complete medieval city in the UK, it has a flourishing arts, music and cultural scene, superb independent as well as High Street shopping, lively restaurants, bars and nightlife and a heritage that is a delight to explore. It was also England’s first UNESCO City of Literature – this is a city of stories!
The city’s historic street layout is wonderfully haphazard, but there’s no need to get lost, just look for the obvious landmarks – the spire of the majestic Norman Cathedral, the domineering castle on its tall mound and City Hall’s clock tower.
If it’s sights and attractions you’re after, then Norwich doesn’t disappoint. The city has the largest permanent undercover market in Europe, many museums and theatres, ancient pubs, cobbled streets such as Elm Hill, Timber Hill and Tombland, ancient buildings such as St Andrew’s Hall, half-timbered houses such as Dragon Hall, The Guildhall and Strangers’ Hall, the Art Nouveau delight of the 1899 Royal Arcade, a jumble of medieval lanes and a delightful riverside along the winding Wensum.
Open six days a week, Norwich Market is a vibrant riot of colour and commotion that’s surrounded by some of the city’s great historic buildings, including the flint 15th century Guildhall. Underneath the rainbow-coloured roofs you will find stalls selling everything imaginable – at the very least we’d suggest a cone of chips, liberally doused with salt and vinegar. Go on – you’re on holiday!
The city is also a shopper’s paradise, with two shopping centres and four department stores, many independent stores and boutiques in the quaint Lanes and Timber Hill. Rated in the Top 10 UK shopping destinations, you’ll soon realise why.
To properly appreciate the juxtaposition of contemporary and past, stand on Millennium Plain between the hangar-like, glass-fronted Forum (home to the city’s library and TIC) and the 15th century St Peter Mancroft, the largest church in Norwich.
Between the lively seaside resort of Hunstanton and the pretty town of Sheringham is a spectacular coastline, most of which is designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Here the landscape of tidal marshes, creeks, shingle spits, and sweeping golden beaches is backed by explorable pine woods. It includes the Holkham Hall and Estate, and its beach at Wells-next-the-Sea, consistently voted the best in Britain.
Further to the East is the imperious clifftop setting of Cromer, with its Victorian pier striding proudly out to sea. The coastline then meanders southward to the secluded beaches of Mundesley and Happisburgh, with its striped lighthouse, and inland to the traditional market town of North Walsham.
The magic of North Norfolk is that as the seasons and tides change, it offers completely different qualities and scenery.
The North Norfolk Railway begins at Sheringham and ends at genteel Holt, a fabulously handsome market town which has become a mecca for discerning visitors looking for independent shops. Most of Holt was burned in its famous fire of 1708, and in its place rose a splendid Georgian town focusing on an appealing Market Place.
This is also Deep History Coast, where the biggest and best-preserved mammoth skeleton was found, along with a prehistoric flint axe and 850,000 year old human footprints – the oldest evidence of man found outside the Great Rift Valley in Africa.
South Norfolk has some of the county’s most scenic and peaceful countryside, with winding lanes, thatched cottages, welcoming pubs and picturesque villages and market towns.
Gentle countryside for cycling and walking, great birdwatching and market towns
Nestled between the meandering Waveney Valley, the cultural delights of Norwich and Britain’s magical waterland of the Norfolk Broads, south Norfolk is a wonderful location for that get-away-from-it-all break where there is still plenty to see and do.
There are also the welcoming market towns of Diss, Harleston, Loddon and Wymondham – enjoy the warm hospitality while delving in delis and antique shops, buying local produce, or stopping off at a traditional tea house or traditional pub. Wymondham has an excellent museum and market.
The area is also dotted with the rich architecture of Saxon and Norman churches, including Wymondham’s 12th century Abbey, at one end of the Mid-Norfolk Railway. It’s said that wherever you can see the horizon, you’ll see a church tower. Why not try it for yourself.
This area of the county welcomed thousands of brave American airmen and crew during the second world war – The Friendly Invasion. Snetterton Circuit was originally fashioned out of redundant USAF runways and Hollywood actor Jimmy Stewart flew out of, amongst others in Norfolk, Old Buckenham, still a pretty community which has the largest village green in the country.
South Norfolk has excellent long and short distance walking and cycling routes, and there’s a lot to do for outdoor enthusiasts, anglers and nature-lovers.
The countryside is gently rolling with an abundance of woodland, farmland and narrow country lanes with grassy verges which are filled with wildflowers in the summer. There are 51 conservation areas in South Norfolk ensuring that village greens, historic buildings and ancient woodland are protected for future generations.
Here you’ll still see ‘narrow’ or ‘street’ commons and greens, a reminder of the linear network of grazing verges that were used to sustain livestock on their way to market.
Breckland has one of the most distinctive landscapes in the UK and boasts its best overall climate with low rainfall
Birthplace of Thomas Paine, whose thinking encouraged American independence
The area comprises vast forests of native coniferous softwood, unique lines of Scots pines called ‘Deal rows’ that are derelict hedgerows, patches of classic historic heathland that were formed thousands of years ago by the felling and burning of forests for grazing land, and wide arable fields. Also unique to the Breckland are the prehistoric Pingos.
The gateway to Breckland is the ancient town of Thetford, which is a perfect base from which to begin your exploration of the area’s diversity, its outstanding wildlife, rich history and fun outdoor activities.
This is the birthplace of 18th century radical Thomas Paine, whose thinking encouraged American independence and the abolition of slavery, and where the BBC’s Dad’s Army was filmed – look out for statues of Paine and Captain Mainwaring in the town centre.
To the north is the beautifully-preserved market town of Swaffham (where Tutankhamen archaeologist Howard Carter grew up – there’s an Egyptian exhibition in Swaffham Museum), the National Trust’s moated Oxburgh Hall (in the village of Oxborough), Gooderstone Water Gardens and Castle Acre, run by English Heritage. To the east is Dereham, the centre point of the county, where you can ride the Mid-Norfolk Railway to Wymondham Abbey. Watton is another market town worth exploring.
On the A11 towards Norwich is the village-like Attleborough and close by is the renowned Peter Beales’ Roses, winner of many Chelsea Flower Show awards, the English Whisky Company at St George’s Distillery and the thirty-acre Banham Zoo, where you can see big cats including snow leopards, as well as giraffes, apes and monkeys.