Well, seeing as my post on things to do in Norwich has proven to be so popular, I thought it made sense to share my knowledge on things to do in the rest of Norfolk, too.
There’s more to Norfolk than agriculture and incredibly flat landscapes – so if you’re exploring the UK and feel like giving Nelson’s county a try, or if you’re local and aren’t sure what you might be missing, hopefully this list of things to do in Norfolk will help.
I was originally going to cover all weathers at once, but it turns out there’s way too much to fit in one post – so for now, here are the best fair weather options for summertime adventures.
From Broads to beaches, Pensthorpe to paintball, with plenty more in between – I’ve already covered Norwich, so these are all options for activities away from the city. Think forests and coastlines, the best places to be when the sun is shining. (Other than maybe a good beer garden…)
1. Visit the Broads
We’ll get the most obvious one out of the way, shall we? The Norfolk Broads are fairly well-known within the UK, and I can say with a fair level of certainty that they’re Norfolk’s biggest tourist attraction. 125 miles of rivers and waterways meander through the county, and there’s plenty to do on and around the water when the sun comes out.
If you’re interested in hiring a small motorboat and cruising around a selection of waterside pubs, you can find a bit more information in my summer on the Norfolk Broads blog post. But you could also get a bit more active, as there’s ample opportunity for canoeing and kayaking, or for parading around the nature trails that line the various rivers and routes – many of which lead you to historic sites like Burgh Castle or St Benet’s Abbey.
Check out the Visit Norfolk website to see full lists of things to do on and off the water.
2. See some seals
Everybody loves seals. If you don’t love seals, you’re wrong. The Norfolk coastline is a great place for seal spotting, with a couple of beaches in particular known for their visiting common and grey seal colonies.
Horsey Gap, Blakeney Point and Scroby Sands are without a doubt the places you’re most likely to get a sight of seals basking in the sun. Between May and September, tours take visitors out to Scroby Sands from Great Yarmouth for an hour-long trip, while a number of tours run trips at Blakeney Nature Reserve from April through to November.
If you’re here in the first few months of the year don’t worry about missing out – you can spot new seal pups in the winter months on the sand dunes at Horsey without needing a boat, but please remember to stay at least 10 metres away and to keep dogs on a lead if you’re planning to take any with you. The only time you can’t go seal-spotting is between November and January when the pups are first being born.
3 & 4. Go Ape or Paintball at Thetford Forest
There are 50,000 acres to Thetford Forest, and as well as red squirrel sightings and nature trails, they offer great days out in the sunshine that are a bit more action-packed.
Some of the most popular paintball and airsoft battlegrounds are branches of Combat Paintball, UK Paintball and Nationwide Paintball, with Combat offering a zombie-themed arena for night-time entertainment as well as laser tag and laser clay pigeon shooting to boot.
If you don’t fancy getting tiny balls of paint shot at you, but you would like a day out adventuring in the forest, then Go Ape might be the choice for you. It’s a high rope experience, which basically means that you go up into the treetops and swing around on zip wires and obstacles – all with a safety harness attached, of course. If flying through the trees doing your very best bird impersonation sounds good to you, it’s well worth a look in.
5. Hang out at Hillside Animal Sanctuary
If you’d like to hang out with cute animals but don’t want to spend your money at a venue that might send them off to be made into sausages afterwards (like some notable petting farms I could name) I’d highly recommend visiting and supporting Hillside Animal Sanctuary.
The main site which visitors can explore is at West Runton, between the beach towns of Cromer and Sheringham. For more than 20 years, Hillside have been rescuing animals abused and abandoned by the intensive farming industry, racing industries and by individuals, as well as wild animals injured by traffic.
Rather than being a miserable place, it’s full of feel-good vibes and you can even pick up sandwiches and cakes from the on-site vegan cafe once you’re done cooing over horses, donkeys, goats and deer – among other things. Opening times vary throughout the year, so check Facebook for details or call ahead.
6. Have a Dinosaur Adventure
If you’ve got children, or just feel a bit like you’re still a child yourself, the Dinosaur Adventure park at Lenwade is a great spot for some wholesome Jurassic fun. When I was little, I’m sure this place was just a lot of fibreglass dinosaurs dotted around a forest trail – which is nice, and that’s still a part of the park, but these days there’s plenty more to do.
As well as a play area and splash zone for kids to run amok in, the dinosaur park has its own mini high-rope area now, a ‘stone age’ mini quad race track and a crazy golf area. That’s in addition to the long-standing features like a deer safari ride and prehistoric maze.
Dinosaur Adventure is open all year round, but some attractions close when the weather gets cold so check the website for details. Children under 90cm tall go free, while standard tickets are £16.50 when booked online.
7. Spot birds at Pensthorpe, and at RSPB reserves
Norfolk is home to seven RSPB reserves – Strumpshaw Fen, Titchwell Marsh, Buckenham Marshes, Snettisham, Surlingham Church Marsh, Rockland Marsh and Breydon Water – while Pensthorpe is a privately-owned wildlife park.
The photo above is from Buckenham Marshes, a free-to-enter RSPB reserve tucked away just a mile’s walk from Strumpshaw Fen. Walking from one to the other is a fine way to spend an afternoon, with plenty of birds, cows and other wildlife to spot. Running alongside the broads, you can take a waterside stroll or cycle, or walk through woodland if you’re in need of some shade.
If you’re going with little ones in tow and think you’ll need more than scenery to keep them entertained, Pensthorpe has play areas specifically for small explorers, as well as a sculpture trail.
8 & 9. Pleasure Beach, or Pleasurewood Hills?
Now that theme parks are open again, if you’re keen to go you’ll be pleased to hear that there are two in Norfolk: Pleasurewood Hills, and Pleasure Beach.
Pleasurewood Hills is arguably the ‘proper’ theme park of the two, with 35 rides and attractions spanning rollerocoasters, kids entertainment and family classics like dodgems and a swinging pirate ship. If you’ve got kids, the good news is they can enter free of charge – while an adult ticket ranges between £16.50 and £18 when booked online.
Pleasure Beach in Great Yarmouth is more of an overgrown funfair, with a a couple of small rollercoasters but plenty of thrill rides (think ‘sky drop’ and ‘twister’) as well as dodgems, a haunted house and other firm favourites. Under 3s go free (but that’s probably because they can’t go on much…) while standard tickets are £12.
10. Stroll in the grounds of a stately home
How about Hindringham Hall, Houghton Hall, Oxburgh Hall, Holkham Hall, the Blickling Estate… Oh, and Sandringham, where the Queen lives sometimes – to name a few. There are plenty of stately homes around Norfolk, with luxurious gardens, marked trails and typically tearooms to enjoy.
At Sandringham, all the ground floor rooms used by the Royal Family are open to the public, and like Houghton Hall, art exhibitions are held frequently. Blickling Hall and Sandringham are particularly popular for their sprawling gardens and country park grounds, and you’re likely to see plenty of wildlife on your travels if you spend a day in the sun at any of these locations.
11. Explore the best beaches
The North Norfolk coast in particular is full of good surfing spots, if you’re that way inclined and don’t mind a bit of cold water on a hot day. But if you prefer to stick to the sand and the shoreline, you’re still in for a treat – sticking out, as we do, from the body of the UK (so to speak) no matter where you are in Norfolk, you’re never far from a great beach.
If you want arcades, ice cream and funfairs, then places like Mundesley and Cromer are ideal, whereas if you’re on the hunt for a bit more peace, quiet and relaxation, take a walk along the sand at Eccles-on-Sea or Sea Palling to get away from the crowds.
Sticks of rock at Wells-next-the-Sea, surfing at Hunstanton or a walk on the pier in Yarmouth: whatever your style of beach trip is, there’s sure to be something in Norfolk for you.