Things to do on the Norfolk Broads
Norfolk’s unique Broads National Park is made up of 125 miles of man-made, lock-free waterways, with stunning scenery and wildlife including some of the rarest species in the UK. They’re also the only English National Park with a city in it – the charming medieval city of Norwich.
Many of the locals will tell you that the Norfolk Broads are best seen from a boat, however they're also a great places to walk, cycle or even ride a heritage steam train. There is also plenty of opportunity to enjoy water sports or to simply relax surrounded by beautiful scenery. This is Haven’s definitive list of the best ways to explore the Broads and the best things to do while you’re there.
1. Get active at Whitlingham Country Park
Located just outside the majestic town of Norwich, Whitlingham Country Park consists of 35 hectares of beautiful open parkland and water that provides your gateway to the Broads. Head to the fantastic visitor centre where you can try out canoeing, sailing or paddleboarding surrounded by green banks and woodlands.
The Whltlingham Adventure Centre also operates courses in a number of non-water-based outdoor activities too, such as climbing, off-road biking, and Archery. Otherwise, you can take it easy on the solar-powered Ra boat or simply enjoy one of the lovely walks all around the park. There's also a wheelchair accessible path around the Great Broad if you should require it.
2. Fairhaven Woodland and Water Garden
Fairhaven is a secret hideaway in the heart of the Norfolk Broads. This award-winning organic garden is home to abundant wildlife with an eclectic mix of native and cultivated plantings plus an exclusive, private broad. With 130 acres of ancient woodland to explore, you can spend an entire day discovering the beautiful woodland walks and paths crossing waterways.
If get lucky you may even catch a glimpse of otters on the broad along with other amazing wildlife that calls the broad home. Boat trips run April through to October and there is an excellent café for refreshments as well as a shop and plant centre. The gardens are open to the public all year round, (closed Christmas Day) and tickets are reasonably priced so there really is no reason not to add this to your list of things to do in the Norfolk Broads.
3. Ride on a traditional steam train
Boats aren’t the only way to get around the Broads. You can also experience a nostalgic trip by steam on Norfolk’s longest narrow-gauge railway which runs between the historic market town of Aylsham and bustling town of Wroxham. The Bure Valley Railway will take you on an 18-mile round trip that follows the meandering River Bure through the beautiful meadowland and ancient pasture that lies at the heart of the Norfolk Broads. Along the way are stops at the picturesque Broadland villages of Brampton, Buxton and Coltishall for photo opportunities.
Alternately, you can take a regular train on the Bittern Line. This railway branch line links Norwich to Sheringham and passes through the Broads on its route to an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty on the North Norfolk coast. It is named after the bittern, a rare thickset kind of heron that can be seen amongst the reeds of the Broads.
4. Explore the Broads by boat
With more miles of navigable waterway than world-famous Venice, the Broads National Park is best explored on the back of a boat. The Norfolk Broads has provided the perfect setting for boating holidays for over a hundred years and its popularity is no surprise given the tranquil nature the surroundings. There is nothing quite like the birdlife and beautiful countryside of Britain’s largest protected wetland. As you slip along, listen out for a booming bittern or catch sight of a rare swallowtail, Britain’s largest butterfly, which is unique to the area.
Alternately, take a trip on a ‘wherry’, one of Norfolk’s very own native boats with their recognisable, single large black gaff sails. These boats have wide, shallow bottoms with keels, designed specifically for navigating the Broads with large cargos. Some of these boats were able to extend their reach up-river by slipping their keels and lowering their masts to shoot under bridges. While many of these wherries were sunk to strengthen riverbanks, there are still some left in operation which are now used as pleasure boats. Don’t miss your chance to have a truly unique, nautical experience with a wherry cruise.
5. Hire a bike
Why not hire a bike and cycle around the Broads’ villages? There is the Bure Valley Cycleway - a nine-mile off-road trail alongside the Bure Valley steam railway or plenty of other shorter cycle routes that you can enjoy as a family through quaint and picturesque waterside communities. At Woodbastwick can stop for a refreshing pint of Norfolk Wherry, while in Ranworth, you can climb to the top of St Helen’s church, known as the ‘Cathedral of the Broads’, from which you can get a superb view over the local landscape. There is free parking and route maps available at many of the rental centres so you can easily enjoy cycling along quiet country lanes of Britain's Magical Waterland - with plenty to see along the way this has to be one of the top things to do in the Norfolk Broads.