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12 of the best things to do within 2 hours of home

Are you ready to (gasp) leave your local area? From treetop adventures and wildlife hotspots to Britain's busiest port, here are the 12 best outdoors things to do within 2 hours of Norfolk.

Leaving the county has never seemed so glamorous! We love our local area but —sweet lord, are we itching to get away from it. Enter the Covid-safe daytrip: an outdoor excursion within two hours of home, essential for saving those last scraps of sanity. (Quite honestly, at this point, we’d be delighted just to sit in a field with a thermos flask if the view was slightly different, but we’re pretty sure we can do better.) Instead, here’s a list of all the best things to do within two hours of Norfolk. We’ve started with some classics at home too, just in case you need to ease yourself in.

NORFOLK

A Day by the Sea in Cromer

Head to Cromer (an hour north of Norwich) for a blast of salty air and mooch round town before it all goes bonkers in summer. Last year the spring weather was fab-u-lous but who even cares? We’re just thrilled to be out. Pack a picnic, fly a kite and go trad with sandcastles, sunset fish and chips and towering ice creams from No.1 Cromer. Or catch the town’s new wave with some lip-smacking Nash Falafel vegan dirty sweet potato fries – extra sriracha obvs – and a lush cocktail from The Gangway, re-opening for take aways on the 12 April with a pop up weekend beer garden at North Lodge Park. 

Feeling chilly? Make friends with the weather and grab hot caffeine with a shot (rum please) from North Sea Coffee, where everything is sourced from local indie businesses. And when the sun shines, I’m going to sit on the strand with a long lost mate, glass of cool white wine (model’s own) and a dressed crab. Ooh, it’s so deliciously civilised I might even get dressed myself. 

Birdwatching

A 2020 YouGov poll found two thirds of us tuned into the dawn chorus to soothe pandemic anxiety. Sleep? What’s that? So if you’re a newly fledged twitcher, Norfolk is paradise. There are fantastic Norfolk Wildlife Trust sites at Cley MarshesFoxley Wood and Hickling Broad and world renowned RSPB big hitters like Titchwell Marsh and Snettisham Nature Reserve. As well as barn owls gliding low over saltmarshes and jewelled kingfishers glinting on the Broads, there’s a wealth of special species like marsh harriers and bitterns – boom! The lovely Snettisham Rose & Crown should be opening for outdoor food and drink from 12 April and children are very welcome. So mini Chris Packhams can perch on a bench and discuss citizen science, while you stare into the distance with a massive gin and wonder wtf just happened. 

Normal in Norwich

Time to reclaim what Virginia Woolf called the “champagne brightness of the air and the sociability of the streets”. Let’s go to town. No matter if shops are still closed, I haven’t stepped on a pavement for months (rural life) so I’m going to slide into my DMs (pink, actually) and walk the Fine City’s springtime streets. Tombland, Elm Hill, along the river, all around the Lanes and into the market for a Bun Box bao bun (how I’ve missed those pillowy joys). Savour a proper filter coffee from the Little Red Roaster (Stall 53, Row B – follow the gorgeous aroma), then head up Timber Hill to Re.source for some vegan Kimcheese (haven’t tried it yet, just love the name). And onto the Book Hive for something sensational to read in the bath. It’s click and collect only right now. Ring Henry with your literary list and he usually gets what you want to the book shop for the next day. So much friendlier than ordering from that other place, isn’t it?

CAMBRIDGESHIRE

Let’s go punting, Cambridge

Whether you know the pretty city of Cambridge or not, exploring it by punt is a must. You can take a guided tour, either for just your family or in a shared punt (made Covid-safe with screens) or you can brave steering your own. We recommend a tour guide, as they do all the hard work navigating you up the river, as well as regaling you with the area’s history, while you can sit back and enjoy the ride, perhaps with a glass of fizz! The views are simply stunning – perfectly manicured lawns and the amazing architecture of the majestic Kings College Chapel, and Trinity, St John’s, and Clare colleges plus the beautiful bridges. You can also take a punt towards Grantchester – the safer bet if you are self-guiding. Once past the busy city area, you can enjoy a picnic on the river bank, where many also swim (watch out for Newnham Riverbank Club who like to do it naked!) or maybe you will make it as far as the Orchard Tea Rooms, where Rupert Brooke and friends hung out, to enjoy a scone the size of your head to power you back to Cambridge.  Book in advance with Scudamores or Rutherfords Punting

The Botanic Gardens, Cambridge

Cambridge University Botanic Gardens has been in the news of late, with the blooming of the magnificent Moonflower. Now the garden is bursting with colour, incredible blossom trees, and these gorgeous rare tulips. Plus, there are over 80 species on display in the Alpine House, a collection that has its origins in the 1920s. The garden is open seven days a week, 10-6pm, April-September, and tickets must be booked online in advance. Take a picnic or grab a takeaway lunch from the Botanic’s fab café.

The Raptor Foundation, Huntingdon

Are you cuckoo about birds? Or maybe your kids are. Either way, a visit to this amazing conservation centre near Huntingdon could be just what you need when your wings have been clipped for the last few months. Open from 12 April, you can see a variety of eagles, hawks, falcons and owls that have been rehabilitated at the centre, plus there are regular – and very impressive – flying displays. You can also sign up for a variety of courses and activities including a Hawk Walk, where you quite literally take a hawk for a walk and experience the thrill of the birds flying back to your (gloved) hand. So egg-citing! (Sorry – bird puns are so hawk-ward!). After your bird-watching why not head to the nearby village of St Ives, where you could take a picnic lunch by the lovely River Ouse. 

Wicken Fen, Near Ely

Wicken Fen is the National Trust’s oldest nature reserve and a great destination if you want to blow away the cobwebs and enthuse any budding David Attenborough’s in your midst. One of Europe’s most important wetlands, Wicken Fen has recorded more than 9,000 species including rare butterflies, dragonflies, birds, and plants. You view the marshlands via raised boardwalks and if you are fed up with your usual walks and landscape (who isn’t?), this is the perfect antidote and has an almost Scandi feel to it (think sweeping Wallander-esque marshlands). Take a picnic and binoculars. But, you’re also not far from the city of Ely, with its amazing cathedral (the ship of the fens) that can be seen for miles around – so leave time to pop into this picturesque market town and you might be lucky enough to catch one of its fab food markets. 

SUFFOLK

Southwold

If you haven’t yet been to the picturesque coastal town of Southwold you are in for a treat. Pastel-coloured beach huts line the seafront, and the town itself is bustling with lovely cafes, restaurants and shops. The Two Magpies bakery does incredible coffee and sweet treats and the smell of Adnams brewery wafts through the streets. In fact, you can take a tour of the brewery itself or head to the shop for some great wine and foodie shopping. And if you’re in shopping mode get some coastal chic from the brilliant boutique, Coleen and Clare. Lunch could be pasties or fab fish n chips from the Sole Bay, or when things are open, the rather lovely Swan Hotel. The pier is a must-see: a quirky and cool place with old-school fun (wall of mirrors!) and cheeky water fountains – and the brilliantly eccentric under the pier show (when everything is open again) will have you doing such madcap antics as experiencing the life of a fly in VR or exercising on a bed! Make sure to check out the harbour area, too – lovely fisherman’s huts and great views of Walberswick. 

GoApe, Thetford Forest

We have been cooped up for far too long so how about doing something different and daring? Go Ape in the centre of Thetford forest is the adventure we all need in our lives after lockdown. The treetop adventure will have you and all the family (it’s suitable for anyone over 1m tall) doing Tarzan swings through the trees, gingerly navigating ‘stepping stones’, zooming across zip wires, plus plenty more devilish challenges. Get harnessed up for the ultimate family bonding experience. Once you’re don, the forest also boasts exhilarating bike trails, a Gruffalo orienteering trail, archery, bushcraft survival courses, and a forest segway tour.

Felixstowe

Find Felixstowe between rivers of Orwell and Deben on the East coast – an Edwardian seaside town that is also Britain’s busiest port. History buffs will be in their element exploring the Languard Peninsula and the 18th-century fort, plus there are numerous Martello towers. Stroll along the promenade and take in the seafront gardens, watch the ships coming in, play in the arcades or try crazy golf, eat fish and chips, enjoy the nature reserve, and visit the Bawdsey Radar Museum (once open). You can also hop on the ‘foot ferry’ from the quaint sailing hamlet of Felixstowe Ferry (yes, the name of the village) to Bawdsey and buy fresh fish to take home for your dinner. We also love the look of the recently launched Beach Street – a collection of shipping containers housing some super cool street food, cafés, indie shops, yoga studio and kids’ climbing wall. Perhaps catch one of the Ibiza social brunches and you will feel like you’re properly on your holibobs!

Find Felixstowe between rivers of Orwell and Deben on the East coast – an Edwardian seaside town that is also Britain’s busiest port. History buffs will be in their element exploring the Languard Peninsula and the 18th-century fort, plus there are numerous Martello towers. Stroll along the promenade and take in the seafront gardens, watch the ships coming in, play in the arcades or try crazy golf, eat fish and chips, enjoy the nature reserve, and visit the Bawdsey Radar Museum (once open). You can also hop on the ‘foot ferry’ from the quaint sailing hamlet of Felixstowe Ferry (yes, the name of the village) to Bawdsey and buy fresh fish to take home for your dinner. We also love the look of the recently launched Beach Street – a collection of shipping containers housing some super cool street food, cafés, indie shops, yoga studio and kids’ climbing wall. Perhaps catch one of the Ibiza social brunches and you will feel like you’re properly on your holibobs!

ESSEX

The Beth Chatto Gardens, Elmstead

The Beth Chatto Gardens Essex

Small (in terms of public gardens), but oh-so perfectly formed, the world-famous Beth Chatto Gardens in Elmstead, north Essex, have been attracting green-fingered visitors from across the country since 1960 – when the award-winning gardener Beth Chatto first begun to turn this once wild, overgrown seven acres of wasteland into a series of five inspiring outdoor spaces. Take your time wandering from the Water Garden and Woodland to Screen Garden and Reservoir – there’s beauty to behold at every turn.

Trekking the Thames Estuary Path

A 29-mile stretch along the Essex strait, The Thames Estuary Path wiggles its way through some of the county’s most dramatic landscapes, from a tapestry of mud flats in the south and Tilbury town’s industrial docks, to the sheaf of cockle-shed bays that bid the Thames goodbye in Old Leigh. Positively brimming with biodiversity, a criss-cross of bubbling creeks and clay-like marshes dominate this low-lying riverscape, but the walking trail is clearly marked out and (don’t worry!) you can easily break it up, too: stations along the London Fenchurch Street to Shoeburyness line serve to slice the route into manageable weekend romps. 

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