20 Muddy-approved attractions in Norfolk
From the big-beast tourist destinations to our cool insider alternatives, read on for our pick of 20 unmissable attractions in the county
Norwich Cathedral The Close, Norwich
It would be remiss for anyone visiting Norwich to miss the chance to see of one of the finest examples of Romanesque architecture. Norwich Cathedral, formerly a Benedictine Monastery, has over 900 years of heritage to discover, stunning walks around the grounds and cloisters, plus its very own Peregrine falcon family, which has nested in the spire since 2009. If you’re lucky to be around here at Christmas you might even catch the heavenly sounding choir-song for a fully-festive treat.
In-the-know-intel: Baconsthorpe Castle
Home to the ambitious but financially erratic Heydon family for over 200 years, Baconsthorpe Castle is a fortified and moated 15th century manor house set in the wild fields near the north Norfolk coast. The castle eventually fell to ruin and is now the perfect spot for a picnic and a spot of hide-n-seek. The sea-fret clouds surround it in winter months for extra gothic drama.
Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, UEA Norwich
With some of the most outstanding exhibitions across the UK, including its own permanent collections of Art Nouveau and Abstract / Constructivist works, this cool university gallery ranks as one of the best in the country. The Norman Foster hangar forms a modern, bright and welcoming space and the surrounding sculpture park is a relaxed open grassed area where the UEA students can lounge with the likes of Henry Moore. SCVA is the kind of museum you can drop in on with the kids after a zoom about outside, or spend hours in alone, drinking up the calm and culture.
In-the-know-intel: The Shell Museum, Glandford
Okay so you’re not going to find globally-renowned icons here but art is all about pleasure isn’t it? I almost don’t want to mention this adorable museum in the pretty haven of Glandford en route to the north Norfolk coast, because it’s one of those places you want to keep a secret, so don’t tell, OK? The Shell Museum has the most beautiful collection of seashells and trinkets, some of which you can buy and most of which you will want to press against your ears to hear the sea. Set in the grounds of the church, next to the fjord, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d walked into a fairytale story. Nostalgic bliss.
Blickling Lake Walk, Blickling Estate
The stunning 4600 acre Blickling estate, with the Jacobean mansion standing proudly at its centre, has a wealth of walks through the woods and surrounding parkland, but a favourite at this time of year is the lake route. One for all the family, this one hour gentle meander around Blickling Lake showcases the best of the parkland, mansion, orangery, Doric temple and the stunning gardens. You can end it with a decent lunch at the cosy Bucks Arms just down the road.
In-the-know-intel: Sheringham Park
The coastal views here are breathtaking at any time of year and a stroll around the Repton-designed parkland should be top of your list. Let the kids run mad while you take in the gorgeous landscape, or enjoy a picnic in milder weather and lounge about with the indifferent cows. Shezza Park is also famous for its huge and magnificent collection of rhododendrons and azaleas, so special that the park’s last owner, Tom Upcher (we love your style Tom) would hold rhododendron champagne parties in the 1950s to show them off.
The Gunton Arms, Suffield
A must-see, must-stay, must-eat, this country pub in the huge deer park at Gunton remains one of the coolest and most relaxed places to stay in the sticks. Stephen Fry is a fan, and owner Ivor Bracka has an impressive collection of art casually adoring the pub and surrounding parkland, including works by Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and Lucian Freud. The rooms were designed by Robert Kime and acted as the rendez-vous spot for Lillie Langtry and King Edward VII’s secret, saucy weekends. The Hix brothers are in charge of the kitchen and remain loyal to sourcing all things local, an ethos that works well to keep the soul of this special pub a cut above the rest.
In-the-know-intel: The Hoste, Burnham Market
Join the list of celebs who adore this retreat from it all treat. Snuggle up for some TLC and luxury at this Muddy favourite boutique B&B in uber-trendy Burnham Market. This 17th Century boutique pub and hotel strikes the perfect balance between timeless elegance and modern creativity. Throw in a unique spa, award winning restaurant, cinema and gym and that’s all our Muddy boxes ticked. The gorgeous north Norfolk coastline is on your doorstep and you can bring your pooch for some four-legged VIP treatment. I’m not coming home.
Roger Hickman’s, Upper St Giles, Norwich
Who doesn’t love a bit of fine dining in a relaxed, calm atmosphere? Discreetly nestled on the crest of the aesthetically delighful Upper St Giles, Hickman’s is Muddy’s go-to for a romantic dinner or special occasion. Crisp white linen, perfectly polished glasses, low lighting and an ever-changing chef’s menu that includes classics (poached salmon, beetroot, apple, horseradish) as well as the more innovative (pigeon, textures of carrot, dukkah crumb, cherry) makes this a Muddy favourite eatery.
In-the-know-intel: The Saracen’s Head, Wolterton
While adding on another wing to Wolterton Hall for Lord Walpole back in 1806, Repton clearly had some fun with the design of this inn, envisaging a Tuscan farmhouse to appeal to the fashionable young traveller on his European Grand Tour. And so, the quirky Saracen’s is tucked into a tiny by-road on the magical Wolterton estate and is a lovely place to spend a lingering Sunday afternoon with a bottle of red and the papers. With owners Tim and Janie set on providing ever-changing quality local food to a following of loyal customers, this countryside foodie haven is one to watch.
BOND, Tombland, Norwich
Nestle in for a decent cocktail and a comfy seat within the cobbles of Tombland and its Neo-georgian bar, BOND. The bar is famous for perfecting the Porn Star Martini and the spacious interior has a grown-up, elegant vibe. Even more enticing, there’s a cosy whisky and rum lounge downstairs (pictured) for those who want to settle in for an evening of quaffing. Book a table for BOND or the Whisky Lounge via the website.
In-the-know-intel: FRANKS BAR, Bedford St, Norwich
A stone’s throw from Jarrold’s chichi department store, Frank’s is the best stop-off in the city centre for that post-shopping urgent hunger and cool enough to be seen with your teenager in (honest). Homely, relaxed and on the pulse locally, Frank’s is great for both a quiet lunch with a friend or a celebratory evening of drinking. The tapas is fuelling and scrumptious and the perfect accompaniment to a reviving espresso martini.
LIVE MUSIC / SHOW
The Waterfront, King St, Norwich
The Waterfront is UEA’s hugely succesful alternative music, nightclub and events venue and has long held pride of place amongst the movers and shakers of the county, as well as those in the know further afield. Attracting stars including Paul Weller, Nirvana, The Prodigy, Amy Winehouse, Ellie Goulding and The Artic Monkeys, the Waterfront is the place to book for a great night of live music / entertainment. On my list is the truly wonderful Ariel Versace from Rupaul’s Drag Race (if you’ve not seen it, you must) rescheduled for January 2021. Book now!
Intel-in-the-know: EPIC STUDIOS
You know what we need? Some 80s dance floor classics from singer-actor-DJ and all-round decent bloke, Martin Kemp. Plans for a festive night out this year may have to be postponed until 2021 (keep an eye on the website for Covid updates) but hold onto your hats because it’ll be a night to remember when we hit the dancefloor! Epic Studios is host to some of the best live music and sports event shows in the county, so rest assured when it happens here you’ll be in safe hands.
Surrounded by mature trees, gardens and 30 acres of beautiful countryside, this privately-owned 26 bed Georgian manor house hotel with luxury spa is just what the doctor ordered. Famous for its herb garden, Congham uses the abundant range of fresh flowers and herbs in the Secret Garden Spa, providing essential vitamins and anti-ageing properties to every treatment.
Intel-in-the-know: The Pigs, Edgefield
A pub and a spa – my two favourite things combined! The Pigs invites you to go the whole hog (sorry) with a luxury spa-suite, complete with a private courtyard and firepit, plus your own sauna and steam rooms. Or choose the Twighlight Spa, where you and your beloved arrive at five for massage, nibbles and drinks followed by a three course meal in the pub. If overnight aways aren’t on the cards, nip in on your way back from the coast for a cheeky Piggy Back massage and a glass of Prosecco.
This four mile stretch of panoramic golden sand is one of the finest in the UK, whether it’s for a family day out, a mindful stroll or a windswept gallop in the shallows. If the mood takes you, why not channel Gwyneth Paltrow (stay with me here) and perform a lovestruck meander down the beach, as she did here for the closing scene of Shakespeare in Love? Holkham Estate always has an abundance of brilliant things to do, from the annual Feast in the Park to big name concerts and elegant Christmas events and fairs – fingers crossed they go ahead with Covid. You can make a real weekend of it and stay on the estate in style at The Victoria Inn.
In-the-know-intel: West Runton
Between Sheringham and Cromer is the tiny coastal village of West Runton. Grab your buckets and spades from the local shop and take the long road down to the sandstone cliffs where, in 1990 the most intact discovery of a fossil mammoth was found, imaginatively named ‘the West Runton Mammoth’. Here you’ll find a beautiful, secluded shingle beach that gives way to a huge expanse of sand at low tide with lots of rock pools for crabbing, and there’s the beach café half way up the slipway for ice creams. An old-fashioned, delightful seaside spot that still feels like a well-kept secret.
Perfect for outdoor fun, this huge forest adventure park is themed as a magical world of twisted treehouses and wonderful creatures where kids (and enthusiastic parents) climb and zip through treetops and over ‘ancient’ rope bridges. Meet Mildred the tiara wearing croclebog, Swampy the Boggle hero and all the characters from creator Tom Blofield’s poems and books. A great day out for younger children and, if you want to make a weekend of it, you can stay at Amber’s Bell Tents on the site.
In-the-know-intel: Pensthorpe Natural Park, Fakenham
Home of BBC’s Springwatch where presenters Bill Oddie, Kate Humble and Chris Packham play host to a wealth of wonderful wildlife, Pensthorpe remains a favourite on the Muddy calendar throughout the year. The ideal antidote to the never-ending battle of the screens – Pensthorpe has imaginative play areas incorporated into the natural surroundings, and nimbly averts feeling contrived.