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Best things to do in the Broads

Norfolk is possibly most famous for the man-made Broads, a National Park with over 125 miles of navigable lock-free waterways set in beautiful countryside and studded with charming and picturesque towns and villages.

Acle Bridge Inn

The Broads at Acle Bridge.

The big skies and sparkling landscape of marshland fields, feathery reeds and tangled woodlands are a perfect canvas for adventure and relaxation – time to reflect, space to explore, a magical opportunity to enjoy a fabulous break.

This is the Venice of the East – in fact, the Norfolk Broads has more miles of waterway than the Italian city. It’s also got more than Amsterdam. And it’s out in the beautiful open countryside, with wonderful scenery and lots of wildlife.

The Broads National Park offers visitors an experience unlike any other, both on its rivers and lakes, and alongside them, on peaceful paths and cycle ways.

Without a doubt, the best way to discover the Broads is by boat. So much of the Broads can’t be reached by road that days – and nights – afloat become a real adventure, with hidden places, perfect fishing spots and close encounters with wildlife at every turn. The famous Broads motor cruisers have been holiday favourites since the 1930s, and today’s boats have all the comforts of home on board, so even if you prefer to visit during the quieter, cooler months, you’ll have a cosy base for your explorations. With fresh air, sparkling water and wide horizons by day, and wonderfully dark, starry nights, a boating holiday on the Broads is an unforgettable experience.

There are plenty of places along the meandering waterways for you to moor up and hop out to explore pretty villages and market towns, or to stop at a welcoming pub.

About The Broads

The Broads, which can be split into Northern Broads and Southern Broads, offers a rich mix of attractions and activities year-round for visitors of any age and any interest and is recognised globally for its wildlife and the distinct and precious character of its environment.

The UK’s largest nationally protected wetland and an important area for wildlife, the history of the Norfolk Broads is fascinating, as they are actually a man-made creation. The Broads were formed when people dug for peat in medieval times and then they were later flooded. The Victorians used them for transporting heavy loads but nowadays they are purely for pleasure.

Peat digging and climate change – how the Broads were formed

The Broads is a fragile wetland of international importance, with rare wildlife like the huge swallowtail butterfly, the booming bittern, frolicking otters and beautiful white water lilies.

Broads wildlife and top 10 Broads wildlife spots

If you want to taste the exhilaration of being afloat, the Broads offers boating and sailing holidays, as well as river cruises, sailing and motor boats, canoeing, rowing and wildlife boat trips for memorable days out. Wear a life-jacket or buoyancy aid when you are on deck, getting on and off or tying up your boat.

Broads towns and villages

Broadland isn’t just about the waterways – it has lovely market towns and villages too.

Reepham market square

Reepham market square.

Focused around the market place, a conservation area, Reepham has a lovely Flemish influence. On the edge of the town is the former Whitwell and Reepham Station, which has cycle hire, a team room and small museum, and is the start of the Marriott’s Way, a 21-mile old trackbed which is now used by walkers, cyclists and horse riders.

Blickling Hall & Estate

Blickling Hall and Estate.

Aylsham, in the upper reaches of the River Bure, is a charming market town close to Jacobean Blickling Hall. Run by the National Trust, a walk around the gardens and estate will make your day. Look out for the mausoleum pyramid. Aylsham is also the northern terminus of the Bure Valley Railway that runs to Wroxham with stops at Brampton, Buxton and Coltishall.

Acle is a market town on the River Bure, and is on the rail line between Great Yarmouth and Norwich. Its name comes from ‘Oaks lea’, meaning a clearing in an oak forest. In Tudor times, hundreds of oaks were felled here for timber to construct the warships of Elizabeth I.

Reedham Chain Ferry Broads

The chain ferry at Reedham.

Reedham is a pretty village that sits on the bank of the River Yare with two crossings of the water – a swing bridge for the rail line between Norwich and Great Yarmouth and a chain ferry for cars and pedestrians.

Heydon village green

Heydon village green.

Heydon is a charming village that’s at the end of a cul-de-sac! But it’s worth a visit for the picturesque houses and cottages, the lovely pub, the Earle Arms, and to see where 1970’s The Go Between and 2005’s A Cock And Bull Story were filmed.

Row boat at Coltishall on the River Bure.

Coltishall is a captivating Broads village by the River Bure, with riverside pubs, a former RAF base where Sir Douglas Bader was a squadron commander and a station on the Bure Valley Railway. Stop off to sample some local ales and food at a riverside pub, and explore the village with its old buildings and church.

Best Broads and rivers of the Broads National Park

Wroxham River Bure Broads paddleboat

Wroxham day boats and paddleboat.

Wroxham is the term we use to refer to the connected villages of Wroxham and Hoveton, one either side of the River Bure. This is the undoubted capital of the Broads, sporting an abundance of places to eat, a terminus of the Bure Valley Railway, ‘The World’s Largest Village Store’ in Roy’s, and lots of places to hire day boats or cruisers. Close by are Wroxham Barns and BeWILDerwood family attractions.

Woodbastwick Fur & Feather Woodfordes Brewery Tap

The Fur & Feather, brewery tap for Woodforde’s Brewery.

The delightful village of Woodbastwick is well worth a visit to soak up the peace and tranquillity away from the busier towns. Having twice won the Best Kept Village Award, it is a beautiful place with a stunning medieval flint church finished with Norfolk thatching. It is also home to Woodforde’s Brewery and the brewery tap, The Fur & Feather.

At Stalham you can visit the Museum of the Broads and marvel at Hunsett Mill. The picturesque village of Horning is situated on the bank of the River Bure.

Ranworth Staithe, Broads

Stop at Ranworth and climb to the top of St Helen’s church.

The village of Ranworth is an excellent place to visit, where those feeling energetic can climb the winding, spiral stone staircase of the magnificent St Helen’s Church, known as the ‘Cathedral of the Broads’. Once at the top your efforts will be rewarded with spectacular views over this special landscape. The church has one of the finest examples of a medieval rood screen in the country and an exquisite 15th century illuminated songbook.

Potter Heigham Bridge, Norfolk

Potter Heigham bridge – mind your heads!

The town of Potter Heigham is an excellent place for boat hire. A treat is to watch sailors attempt to travel under a tiny medieval bridge, renowned for being the most difficult to navigate in the area.

St Benets Abbey River Bure

St Benet’s Abbey.

St Benet’s Abbey was founded in the Anglo-Saxon period and continuing in use throughout the Middle Ages. The atmospheric site was largely abandoned after the closure of the monasteries in the 1530s because of its inaccessible location, and is still most easily visited by boat.  The Bishop of Norwich remains Abbot of St Benet’s and leads a service there on the first Sunday in August.

Locations in the Broads