Muddy’s insider guide to Norfolk
Stunning beaches, beautiful broads and bijou boltholes plus a vibrant capital city – Norfolk is one of our favourite year-round staycation destinations. Ready to 'Do Different'?
Traditionally summer crowds flock to North Norfolk where there are 90 miles of coastline to explore. Yet head inland, wandering winding byways and green lanes through woods and farmland where verges tumble with wildflowers and you’ll find pretty villages, Georgian market towns, safe cycleways, grand country estates and gorgeous gardens. Plus 125 miles of magical waterways. Want to know more? Of course you do.
WHERE TO STAY
Norfolk has flint cottages and thatched farmhouses in abundance You’ll find some of the best at staycation specialists Norfolk Cottages – over 550 properties from traditional fishermen’s cottages and beach huts to luxury townhouses and converted barns. Or have a look at Norfolk Hideaways who have some late summer availability and gorgeous properties from places to sprawl by the pool to a railway carriage. Very Agatha Christie.
For sustainable modern design – check out Shangri-la House, tucked behind the dunes at Waxham beach. Far away from the North Norfolk crowds, this high spec eco build has bespoke fixtures and features throughout and is the perfect place to gather with friends.
Room for two – Spinks Nest Cottage in the village of Wiveton in North Norfolk is the definition of rustic luxe. It’s fabulously bijou but every space has been utilised to maximise purpose from the perfectly-formed high-spec kitchen with zinc worktop to the Japanese inspired sunken micro-cement bath-for-two.
Or how about RIBA-award-winning Backwater a spacious house (sleep 8 in 4 bedrooms) with a jetty, on its own lagoon at Wroxham on the Broads. Inspired by chalets and boat sheds with the veranda creating a stunning outdoor room with Sonos sound system, teens will love it but there’s water on 3 sides so not for small ones. Two and a half hour drive from London or a two miles cab ride from Hoveton & Wroxham station. No dogs by the way!
And at West Runton, on the coast between Cromer and Sheringham, secretly hidden in half an acre of its own private woodland, is Blackwood, new in 2021. All gorgeous, earthy, Scandi textures with decking perfect for sandy feet. And a firepit and BBQ area (safely away from the decking!) to create your own wild cooking experience under the Norfolk stars.
Bliss Blakeney has been written about everywhere because it’s all kinds of wonderful. Built by Lisa Lipscomb and Daniel Broch, pioneers of Everyman Cinemas, it’s a jaw-dropping, fantastically stylish house designed to play with Norfolk’s ever changing light. Part of the accommodation ‘The Cabin’, is occasionally available to paying guests, restricted to under 140 days a year. With four bedroom suites all with direct access to gardens, it’s one to remember. To enquire about availability of The Cabin and for further info email or call Lisa on 0789 989 5899.
Drink, eat and sleep in the company of Hollywood royalty at uber cool No. Twenty 9 in Burnham Market where dogs are so welcome they get their own treats from Eric & Dolly’s Doggie Boutique next door. Or if country chic is more your thing, The Hoste Arms is perched on the same idyllic village green and has its own star-studded cinema room to enchant all ages on a rainy day. Both Muddy Awards 2021 finalists.
City slicker? Award winning indie Maids Head Hotel is the oldest hotel in the UK, dating back over 800 years. Bang in the centre of hip and happening Norwich, just like when Elizabeth I stayed. A multi-million pound revamp injected a shot of contemporary chic and there are unique experiences to be booked. A spin in a vintage Bentley or, new for August 2021, take a cruise along the river in their delightful Frolic 31 river boat, the Tiffany Rose. Yes, it has a car park but why not take the train? The Maids Head hires out Bobbin Bikes to explore the city. And Norwich is super walkable too.
Escape and unwind at Muddy Award 2021 winning – The Norfolk Mead in Coltishall. Set in eight acres of gorgeous grassy meadows, a lake and frontage onto the River Bure with a picnic boat for hire, it’s pretty special.
Inbetweeners wanting a quaint country experience but with a bit more to do on your doorstep – head to Byfords in the North Norfolk market town of Holt. Café, deli, pub, restaurant, ice-cream parlour plus 16 posh B&B rooms and a self-catering apartment. There’s a fabulous artisan market every Sunday through the summer and some of the best indie shopping in the UK.
The Harper in Langham is a new luxury hotel, ‘a house in the country, but we’re not a country house hotel’. It’s a glorious contemporary escape, laid back style with a wink of irreverence. Spa, bar, restaurant and outdoor yard with fire pit with a membership in the offing – you need them on speed dial as soon as it’s not going to be easy to get a room in this new Norfolk destination.
Quirky and cool
Fancy something pretty darn quirky? Try sleeping in the 1940s, at a (very comfortable) WWII Control Tower, on the edge of the former RAF base at North Creake. This Art Deco styled B&B is a cross between your Nana’s house and a museum – full of fabulous wartime art and memorabilia.
And there’s an entirely different, fabulously glam vintage vibe at The Dial House in the market town of Reepham, in mid Norfolk. Cocktail bar, secret dining areas and a record player in every room. No wonder you just voted The Dial House Best Boutique Stay in the Muddy Awards 2021. You guys have seriously good taste!
Voewood near Holt is a beautiful Arts and Crafts house with a Rock ‘n’ Roll heart. Imagine Kate Moss with her buddies on a country jaunt and you’ll get the picture.
Or for a super-sophisticated country retreat, Mount Amelia in Ingoldisthorpe is a Grade II-listed country pile with a sweeping drive, spacious grounds, a games room and a huge country kitchen. Perfect for large family getaways.
Where to start? There are bell tents, shepherd huts and lodges scattered through the loveliest countryside around. For an off-the-grid experience, Gorsey Meadow is a bijou eco glamp site where feral kids can run wild in meadows, woodland and rivers. Amber’s Bell Tents has a beautiful range of small, family friendly sites across Norfolk (and beyond) including Mannington Hall, Wiveton Hall, Hoveton Hall Estate (next door to BeWILDerwood). They’re all incredibly special, particularly the inspirational 2,000 acre Little Massingham Estate on the far reaches of North West Norfolk. With forests and heath land, wild ponies and piggies, all playing a part in the important rewilding work that is happening here and across East Anglia with Wild East.
West Lexham is a boutique glamping retreat site with seven treehouses hidden away in the heart of the Norfolk countryside. Think hippie eco chic meets Little House on the Prairie, it’s a magical experience.
If you fancy a festival style escape with friends and family, The Fire Pit Camp in Wendling is available for exclusve hire and includes six bell tents, a warehouse bar, Leila the Retro Double-Decker Bus and Priscilla the Vintage Mini Caravan. Plus pièce de résistance, The Wren’s Nest – a two storey dome structure made of hazel branches and one of only two in the world that you can stay in.
Imagine running away to a secret meadow where the sky rolls on forever, nights sparkle with stars and wild flowers bloom amid soft grasses. For Norfolk magic head to Wild Meadow, Raynham, an incredibly special corner of England. Escape the crowds, prepare to unwind and reconnect with nature…and each other.
Dream of Africa with Wild Luxury‘s mix of Serengeti & Zambezi Lodges and bell tents at three private North Norfolk camps – Thornham Bay, The Hideaway and The Wild Camp. Tons of things to do for the kids on site, including a tree swing, volleyball and a zip line. For the ultimate glamp experience there’s a ‘Pamper Pod’ at Thornham Bay with hairdryers/straighteners and make-up stations and also site Drove Orchards farm shop, Eric’s fab fish bar/restaurant and Gurneys fish smoker.
Or just ask your Norfolk mates if you can camp in their field. Then watch their faces as Bumble Bell Tents arrive to set up the glamping equivalent of a pop up hotel. A fully dressed tent magically appears with luxurious touches including high spec bedding, faux fur and a little macrame magic. Hold your own festival. The beers will be cheaper, that’s a fact!
TIME TO EAT…COCKTAILS GO WITHOUT SAYING
With so many amazing local producers in Norfolk the food scene is one of the best in the country. Here’s a pick from the current crop but you really have to get out there and explore everywhere from Norwich delis to unexpected roadside stalls with honesty jars, selling everything from jam and eggs to samphire, mussels and cottage garden flowers.
Norwich is now a top foodie destination with Muddy Award finalists throughout the city. Head to Farmyard (cool twin sister of The Dial House) for their laid back ‘bistronomy’. And bistros don’t come better than L’Hexagone, with a beautifully simple menu, perfectly expressing authentic French classics in the trendy Norwich Lanes.
For top Modern British style, Roger Hickman’s has a delectable Tasting Menu and at The Last Wine Bar Norfolk’s seasons are an integral part of inventive cooking where nothing goes to waste. And of course we love Benedicts which won your Best Restaurant accolade in the Muddy Awards 2021 – and many other plaudits besides. All have award winning chefs creating divine food, a symphony of magnificent local produce and seasonal know-how.
For fine dining in the Broads, our Muddy favourite is The Ingham Swan and over in North Norfolk Morston Hall is the place to book for your Michelin Star and a stunning seven-course tasting menu which changes every single day. The Bank House in Kings Lynn is perfect for a spot of dockside dining and Socius in Burnham Market is definitely making its mark on the Norfolk eating scene with its airy open plan kitchen/restaurant and Modern British take on tapas to share – or keep all to yourself.
Country pubs with thatched roofs, low beam ceilings and big inglenook fire places are an autumn delight, or stretch out the summer with coastal delights like Muddy Award’s Best Destination pub 2021 The White Horse in Brancaster Staithe with it’s glorious Marshside Bar making the most of Norfolk’s big, restless skies as the sun sets on another beautiful day. We also love The Orange Tree in Thornham, The Kings Head in Letheringsett and The Lodge in Old Hunstanton which is a 3 minute walk to the beach. Plus they all have rooms if you want to make a night of it.
Fancy a night in the city? Blue Joanna is beloved of the cool crowd – great Asian tapas menu and proper music – vinyl obviously. Plus cocktails to live for. We’ll have another couple of Blue Juanitas thanks! Or head to Muddy Award Winner Gonzo’s Tea Room with its roof bar, monster burgers and er…more cocktails. Rude not to.
Country classics – our Muddy Award winning pub The Bell in Brisley is definitely worth a detour for its delicious menu and beautiful quirky rooms. And you won’t find much better when it comes to idyllic country pubs than The Rose & Crown in Snettisham – the first place Prince William popped for a cheeky pint after whichever lockdown it was. He’s a local lad after all.
Pub gardens are the place to be in summer so read more about where to sip in the sun in our Muddy Pub Garden list!
Cafes, delis & farmshops
Norfolk glories in its rural landscape, nurtured by farmers growing lots of lovely local produce. With over 30 farm shops across the county, you’ll spy a few as you cycle around the countryside. OK, you could drive but…life’s about the journey so take it slow! Our favourites are Walsingham Farm Shop (they also have stall on Norwich Market), Thornham Deli (2021 Muddy Award winner – yay!), The Norfolk Deli in Hunstanton and Back to the Garden near Holt which also hosts fantastic makers’ fairs so you might be lucky and pick up a one-off treasure.
Café sur la plage? Head to our Muddy Award finalist The Whelk Coppers in Sheringham or Old Town Beach Cafe in Old Hunstanton for a trip down memory lane. And for a cool Mexican vibe, we have the hots for laid back Guac & Mole right on the beach in Sheringham. The place to go after a morning paddle boarding with SUP Shack.
Still hungry? Check out our Muddy Deli Heroes and close by Picnic Spots.
Smoke and fishes
With 90 miles of coastline, you’ll find fresh fish is a staple on the coastal food scene. Cromer Crab is a fishy favourite and we recommend eating one on Cromer Pier with a side of chips. Or grab some whelks or a cup of juicy cockles from Joyful West’s stall in Sheringham, at the end of the high street. Irresistible. Norfolk’s also renowned for Brancaster mussels and if you’re a fish connoisseur don’t miss a trip to a local Smokehouse – Cley Smokehouse and Staithe Smokehouse are our favourites.
The latter is conveniently located in the grounds of The White Horse in Brancaster Staithe – the best pint with a view in Norfolk. Or did we already say that?! If you prefer your fish in batter, our favourite chippies are Eric’s in Thornham, Grosvenor Fish Bar in Norwich (fish tacos, yes please!) and Plattens in Wells-next-the-Sea.
We’re a little bit in love with Swirl in Wells for their highly Instagrammable – and delicious – soft serve ice creams and…frozen cocktails! Hallelujah! And in Sheringham you have to visit lovely Leyla’s Aloha Ices with the most beautifully presented ice-creams and fabulous vegan range.
It’s not all about the new kids though, with 35 years experience, East Coast Gelato in Hunstanton never disappoints and has an epic range of flavours. For cakes, we love sweet little Cavick House Farm in Wymondham, with lovely home-made cakes and an egg vending machine (you don’t get that in Islington). Our 2021 Muddy Best Café Award went to pretty vintage Heydon Village Tea Room, with mouthwatering cream teas you can eat right on the village green.
KIDS AND FAMILY
If you’ve had enough of sand there’s plenty of fun to be had further inland. BeWILDerwood – yes – another Muddy Award winner – is a magical adventure theme park cleverly hidden in the heart of the Norfolk Broads. Hop on the story telling boat and enter the enchanting world of Twiggles and Boggles for hours of fun on zip lines, slides, mazes and tree houses. Book first!
Whatever time of the year you visit, Holkham Estate is alive with theatrical events, tours, food fairs and outdoor activities. Last year it opened a Holkham High Ropes course, a big winner with the Muddy famalam. It’s not quite as high or challenging as some other well known rope courses in the area, making it perfect for all ability levels and parents’ nerves.
Littlies will love ROARR Dinosaur Adventure. Get up close to some pretty convincing dinosaurs on the woodland activity trail before visiting the small animal farm and taking a ride on the deer safari. There are also both indoor and outdoor play areas including a fun splash zone (tip – bring swimmers) and a high ropes/zipwire which will keep the tweenies happy.
For some wet weather fun, Norfolk has an impressive 10 museums that make up the Norfolk Museum Service. Check the website for updates as things still getting back to whatever normal is. Our favourites include Norwich Castle for the Castle keep and dungeons and Gressenhall Farm & Workhouse for fantastic (and moving) living history, Time & Tide in Great Yarmouth inside an old herring smokehouse and The Ancient House Museum with an award-winning education programme. Our family Museums Pass is worth every penny.
Talking of horses – Redwings Horse Sanctuary in Aylsham is a lovely FREE day out for equestrian fans. Winner of Muddy’s Best Family Attraction 2019 – there are always lots of interactive activities including guided tours, pony grooming and a fun filled programme of events during the school holidays.
IT’S GREAT OUTDOORS
Er, did we mention the 90 miles of coastline and 125 miles of navigable waterways that make up the Norfolk Broads?
There are so many beaches to choose from ……. so let’s do this by requirements. For a beach with amenities, our family favourites are Old Hunstanton, Wells-next-the-Sea, West Runton and Sea Palling. Or for full on seaside shenanigans, go big in bold and brassy Great Yarmouth.
For a traditional seaside town vibe head to Cromer, Sheringham and Mundesley. And go wild at Brancaster and Waxham. Holkham beach is undoubtedly the tourists’ favourite due to vast sands and enormous Norfolk skies. However Muddy tip – head to Burnham Overy Staithe and either walk the North Norfolk Coastal path or squelch through the estuary to reach the secluded end of Holkham Beach. Watch out for the naturists if you’re not ready for THAT conversation with young anatomists yet.
Finally, watching the sunset over Happisburgh lighthouse is the most romantic way to end the day.
Want more sandy Inso? Read about our favourite Summer Beaches here.
Norfolk is possibly most famous for the Norfolk Broads – or the Venice of the East as we like to call it!
The best way to discover the Broads is by boat, so either jump on a tour boat, we love a booze cruise on the Southern Comfort Paddlesteamer, or for the more adventurous, you can hire all sizes of boats from canoes to cruisers.
Cycling & Walking
Nine wayword routes make up 1200 miles of walks, cycle and bridle routes and our faves include …
The Norfolk Coastal Path runs 83 miles from Hunstanton to Hopton-on-Sea and is a great way to explore the beaches and countryside. Margin Glamping offer a fantastic glamp and walk service if you want to tackle a good chunk of the route. However, day walks/cycles with pub stops en route is an equally Muddy approach.
The Peddars Way is another great walk/cycle route totalling 74km from Suffolk through Thetford Forest in Mid Norfolk and joining the Norfolk Coastal Path at Holme-next-the-Sea.
If you fancy channelling your inner (let her out!) warrior goddess, the Boudicca Way runs for approximately 36 miles between Norwich and Diss, passing through the rural, gently undulating countryside of south Norfolk and the Waveney Valley.
Beautiful Houses & Gardens
Norfolk’s not short of a country pile or two and thanks to The National Trust and English Heritage most are open to the public. Birth place of Anne Boleyn, Blickling Estate is a gorgeous Jacobean hall with acres of grounds to explore. Every August they host Classic Ibiza and hundreds of young at heart clubbers relive their halcyon days. Rave on!
Sheringham Country Park has the most beautiful gardens and is famed for its dreamy clouds of vibrant Rhododendrons in late spring. Felbrigg Hall is fantastically opulent and with 520 acres of dog and buggy-friendly land, it’s a Muddy family favourite.
Oxburgh Hall in the Brecklands is a small hall (OK, so these things are relative) surrounded by a moat. The woods are great for den building and The Bedingfeld Arms next door is the perfect parental reward.
Houghton Hall in West Norfolk is a must-visit for Art-lovers. This summer you can see major works by celebrated British sculptor Tony Cragg including large-scale bronze and steel sculptures sited in the gardens and grounds, and smaller pieces shown in the State rooms and gallery spaces of the house. Ends 26 September 2021. Tickets aren’t the cheapest so make a day of it – booking info here. Plus if you’re inspired by their furniture, Houghton has its very own carpentry company making replicas from the house.
If you’re in Norwich, don’t miss the chance to visit The Plantation Garden, next door to the Norwich Catholic Cathedral on Earlham Road. This Victorian sunken garden is a bit of a hidden secret and a magical place to have a cream tea during the summer.
And don’t forget Norfolk’s secret gardens, a trail of secret delights only revealed for a day or two, during the annual National Open Gardens Scheme – perfect for mini Monty Dons. Shh!
NORMAL FOR NORFOLK
Fruit picking at Wiveton Hall is an essential where you might bump into the infamous eyebrows of Desmond MacCarthy aka ‘Normal for Norfolk’ himself! So immense they have their own set of climatic conditions.
The slippery pole event at Blakeney Regatta is great fun – so check it out for 2022. Just a slippery pole over the harbour’s edge and people of all ages attempting to walk/run along it before falling into the water below. Health and safety? What’s that? Or try gillying – aka crabbing – from Blakeney or Wells Quay or off Cromer Pier. Avoid plastic pollution and grab a biodegrable line from the lovely Salthouse Store when you’re passing – it’s on the picturesque A149 coast road and well worth dropping in!
Spot the seals in the waters between Sea Palling and Winterton. November to March is pupping season at nearby Horsey and if you walk along the dunes you’ll see hundreds of seals and their pups on the beach below. Every year total idiots – clearly not Muddy readers – try and take selfies with the seals so don’t be one of them! Instead take a trip with Beans or Temples and see them at peace in their natural environment.
Keep the kids
lost busy for hours in the 12 acre maize maze at Wizard Maze & Play just outside Cromer. Just give them a packed lunch and they’ll be fine until the harvest.
The annual Norfolk and Norwich Festival in May brings a world class programme of international art and home grown talent to venues and open spaces across the region. From classical and contemporary to weird and wonderful it’s a great month to visit Norfolk – so book in for next year!
Finishing this guide with an explosion of of glitter and sparkle. The Thursford Christmas Spectacular is worthy of a mention as it’s been going for 43 years, drawing over 5 million visitors to this tiny village in North Norfolk. Yes, this musical extravaganza might have an epic silver-haired fan base but if you love a good old fashioned variety show with a saucy side of glamour, it’s a Muddy must. Don’t forget to pack your feather boa!