A guide to the Norfolk Broads National Park

The Great British Outdoors, Destinations

Posted by Kate W on 20th July 2021

Drawing upwards of 7 million visitors a year, the Norfolk Broads National Park is a unique landscape and beloved holiday destination with boating, fishing, cycling and wildlife watching being just a few of the wonderful activities you can get up to during your break in this fantastic region.

Whether you’re planning adventures on the water or to spend relaxed days in a riverside pub on the Norfolk Broads, you will find your perfect cottage in our collection.

Norfolk Broads cottages

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Where are the Norfolk Broads?

The Norfolk Broads National Park stretches over 180 miles across Norfolk and north Suffolk, and comprises 125 square miles of tranquil, navigable waterways spanning seven rivers and 63 Broads.

But it hasn’t always been this way. Back in the 12th century, peat digging was a major industry and pits were created all across south east Norfolk. These channels were abandoned in the 14th century and filled with rainwater, becoming a wetland and wildlife haven which makes for a fascinating location to visit.

The Victorians made the Broads a popular holiday destination, but by this time, the origin of the Broads had been long forgotten and they were believed to be a natural phenomenon. It wasn’t until the 1950s that botanist Joyce Lambert realised the rivers had flat, vertical sides and demonstrated that they were manmade. In 1988, the Broads were recognised as a National Park.

Norfolk Broads

Wildlife has flourished and so has tourism with exciting holiday attractions popping up, including a range of wildlife reserves, family-friendly theme parks, and river cruises and tours. Characterful pubs line the riverbanks while walking routes follow waterways and pass through ancient villages on the Norfolk Broads - all ripe for exploration.

If you're wondering where to go in the Norfolk Broads, the main destinations include Horning, Wroxham, Reedham and Coltishall, which are the perfect places to explore the tranquil scenery and relaxed way of life of this national park. There’s also a fantastic selection of things to do in the Norfolk Broads; you’ll be spoilt for choice on your getaway to this remarkable holiday destination.

Norfolk Broads boat trips

Whether you’re interested in a relaxing Norfolk Broads lunch cruise where you can watch the world pass you by as you dine, or would rather put in the work yourself with a Norfolk Broads boat ride in a canoe or rowboat, there are a variety of sailing vessels that can take you around the maze of waterways that make up the Broads.

If you’re new to sailing on the Norfolk Broads, take a quick browse of the Norfolk Broads codes.

While the summer is a wonderful time of year to be sailing through this beautiful landscape on a Norfolk Broads boat trip, winter boat hire in the Norfolk Broads is always magical too with various Christmas boat trips in the Norfolk Broads taking place. You may be surprised what fantastic day cruises and boating trips are available throughout the year – one delightful event to look out for is the Norfolk Broads gin cruise that’s regularly offered by Gin Temple.

Boat hire in the Norfolk Broads

A few top places where you can hire a boat or join a tour include:

  • Broads Tours – Enjoy a Norfolk Broads boat trip with live commentary, refreshments and a bar, or hire your own day boat from this Wroxham Broads boat hire company. Broads Tours even offers a Santa cruise at Christmas time!
  • Whispering Reeds – Based in Hickling, its offers Norfolk Broads rowing boat hire, sailing boats and even canoeing trips.
  • Southern Comfort – Head to Horning to join one of its Mississippi paddle steamer trips - a luxury river cruiser which sails down the River Bure.
  • Salhouse Broad – Hire a canoe or kayak for a river adventure, or take a Salhouse Broad boat trip to the Hoveton Great Broad Nature Trail - only accessible by boat.

Top 10 things to do in Norfolk

The best pubs in the Norfolk Broads

We’ve tried to round up a few of the best Norfolk Broads pubs, but there are plenty of great places to eat throughout the region so we have no doubt you’ll come across many more during your holiday.

With a choice of top pub breweries, a few of the best pubs in Norfolk with food, several dog-friendly pubs, and hands-down some of the best riverside pubs in Norfolk to choose from, make sure you pick a night to eat out during your cottage break to the Broads.

If you’re travelling to Norfolk with mates, you could even have a go at this Norfolk Broads pub crawl that you can conquer by canoe. If you enjoy this sailing pub crawl, be cautious and drink responsibly – you don’t want to end up in the water!

Some of our favourite Norfolk Broads pubs:

  • The Maltsters, Ranworth – One of our favourite pubs near Ranworth Broad and Malthouse Broad, The Maltsters is a must-visit for its warming atmosphere, quality grub and waterside views. If you’re enjoying a day out by boat, make the most of free moorings about 75 yards from this pub over on the Staithe.
  • The Ferry Inn, Stokesby – The ideal place for a family-friendly meal out, The Ferry Inn is set in the heart of the Norfolk Broads and offers up a children’s play area, dartboard, pool and waterside views across the River Bure.
  • White Horse Inn, Neatishead – A great pub for a good brew, the White Horse Inn is a contemporary Barton Broad pub with its own brewery, so head over to taste-test the beers while relaxing around the downstairs wood burner or up on their stylish balcony.

If you’re planning a few meals back at your Norfolk Broads cottage, there are plenty of corner shops and stores like the charming Thurne shop called Ramblers and the riverside shops of Horning, as well as a multitude of farmers' markets to pop by during your holiday.

A few of the best restaurants in the Norfolk Broads include the exquisite Bure River Cottage, delightful The River Kitchen Wroxham and the café/restaurant of Staithe and Willow Horning, while for some of the best restaurants in the whole of Norfolk, you may wish to venture into Norwich city where Roger Hickman’s is a stand-out of the local culinary scene.

Norfolk's best places to eat

Norfolk Broads walks to explore

You don’t need to step aboard a Norfolk Broads boat trip to make the most of this remarkable holiday destination. Strike out on two feet and discover the many Norfolk Broads walks that wind past rivers and through villages, and get to know the area on these leisurely country rambles.

Stop by villages on the Norfolk Broads for refreshments and to visit local independent shops during your travels; make your way across the magnificent northern Broads or investigate the lesser-known southern Broads where unspoilt landscapes await.  

There are circular routes and clearly-marked footpaths welcoming families on days out and dog walkers on an afternoon stroll, while serious walkers may like to pick up the delightful ‘Walking in Norfolk: 40 Circular Walks’ before your trip to help you navigate the many exquisite Norfolk Broads walking routes.

Walking in the Norfolk Broads

  • Irstead Staithe Circular Walk – At this Barton Broad walk, there’s a wonderfully accessible boardwalk, suitable for wheelchair users, offering a short stroll of 1.5 miles and a viewing platform overlooking Barton Broad; a scenic circular walk in the Broads to explore.
  • Bramerton Riverside Walk – A 3-mile route along the river, it’s great for any age but there are sections of uneven ground. Look out for ducks, geese and kingfishers along this stretch of the River Yare and little ones might like to wave to the boats as they sail past.
  • Salhouse Broad Circular Walk – Another delightful circular walk in the Broads, this route is 3.2 miles and runs through the village, fields and along a river.
  • Coltishall to Horsted Walk – This short, 1-mile route takes you to Coltishall Lock and Horstead Mill.
  • Wherryman's Way – It would be remiss of us not to mention the fantastic Wherryman’s Way, a long-distance footpath that stretches from Norwich to Great Yarmouth and is 35 miles long. Visit coast or country with a ramble along this Norfolk Broads walking route – you'll also find a host of circular walking routes off Wherryman’s Way, perfect if you enjoy a scenic detour.

Dogs are the perfect companions for walking holidays! If you are planning a walking holiday to the Norfolk Broads and would like to bring your four-legged friend along too, take a look through our collection of dog-friendly cottages in the Broads that both you and your playful pup can enjoy.

Dog-friendly cottages in the Norfolk Broads

Other things to do and attractions to visit in the Broads

If you're looking for things to do in the Norfolk Broads, there are plenty of great days out to choose from. From wildlife parks to coastal attractions, you can find a variety of fun things to do near Wroxham and Horning or things to do closer to bustling Norwich, perfect for family days out or trips with your friends.

There are plenty of places to go shopping and pick up souvenirs during your holiday, as well as natural spaces where you can slow down with a morning’s fishing in the Norfolk Broads. To make your holiday memorable, ensure you head to one of the many windmills on the Norfolk Broads – an unmissable part of any holiday to this corner of the UK.

Unmissable activities to add to your Norfolk Broads holiday itinerary:

  • Norfolk Broads windmills – An iconic feature of the landscape, a trip to a windmill is a must for any Norfolk Broads traveller. Hardley Windmill, near Norwich, and Hunsett Mill Norfolk, near Barton Broad are two of the most popular windmills to visit in the Broads.
  • Norfolk Broads fishing – Known for its outstanding waterways, it’s no surprise that the Norfolk Broads are a wonderful place to go fishing or enjoy a fishing holiday. There’s an impressive variety of fish swimming in the waters of the Broads including carp, eel, perch, roach, pike, tench, rudd and bream. If you’re searching for a top place for fishing in the Norfolk Broads, then Potter Heigham on the River Thurne is a great place to start.
  • Family-friendly attractionsBewilderwood near Horning is the place where kids can let their imaginations run wild, Wroxham Miniature Worlds is a fun attraction where youngsters can feel like giants, and Pleasurewood Hills near Lowestoft is the perfect coastal destination for a thrilling day out by the beach.
  • Wildlife parks in Norfolk – There are lots of wildlife parks in Norfolk where you can get up close to creatures from around the world. Pettitts Animal Adventure Park is a delightful zoo near Reedham, while if you’re looking for things to do near Wroxham, visit Wroxham Barns, where you can find alpacas, pigs and sheep on the junior farm.

If you’re looking for more things to do in the Norfolk Broads and across the rest of this beautiful county with children, take a look through our guide to family days out in Norfolk.

We’ve listed a few of the top activities and best places to visit in the Norfolk Broads above, so you can get ready for adventures in this unique UK destination. However, if you want to see more of this magnificent county, read our complete guide to Norfolk for some holiday inspiration. 

Discover Norfolk

Norfolk Broads holiday cottages

Cobble Barn, Winterton-on-Sea

Cobble Barn, Winterton-on-Sea | sleeps 6 and 2 dogs

This characterful Norfolk Broads cottage is a wonderful place to escape to on your next UK retreat. Farmhouse-style furnishing and warming tones create a welcoming country cottage for you to return to after busy days out cycling, walking and sailing across this wonderfully unique and exciting landscape.

It’s great for a family or a group of friends on a getaway and, as this Norfolk Broads cottage is near Sea Palling, you’re perfectly positioned for visiting the Norfolk coast during a stay in Cobble Barn.

Cobble Barn

Brundall Boathouse, Brundall | sleeps 2

Brundall Boathouse, Brundall | sleeps 2

If you’re keen to stay in a riverside cottage in the Norfolk Broads, Brundall Boathouse may be the perfect place with wonderful views across the River Yare, so you can sit out on the decking or on the sofa behind glass sliding doors and watch the boats drift by.

Enjoy a romantic getaway, a solo creative retreat or bring a mate along to this riverside cottage and enjoy adventuring around the Broads, walking beside the river and eating out in the peaceful village of Brundall.

Brundall Boathouse

Stay in the Norfolk Broads

The Norfolk Broads are full of exciting attractions, beautiful outdoor spaces and, of course, winding rivers to explore by boat or along the bank by foot, so you are sure to have wonderful break.

For those of you excited and ready to get planning an unforgettable holiday to the Broads, begin browsing our collection of Norfolk Broads holiday cottages. 

Norfolk Broads cottages

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing, please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.