41 free and cheap things to do in Norfolk
- Credit: Archant
1. Redwings Horse Sanctuary: The biggest sanctuary of its kind in the UK, Redwings cares for horses, donkeys, mules and ponies and has two visitor centres in Norfolk, both of which are free to visit (although donations are very welcome and much-needed). The Caldecott Visitor Centre close to Great Yarmouth and the Aylsham Visitor Centre in North Norfolk both offer the chance to interact with the charming animal residents as well as walking tours, a cafe and a play area for kids.
2. North Elmham Chapel ruins: A fantastic place for a walk, for children to explore and to have a picnic, this lovely English Heritage site near Dereham is free to enter and is open during daylight hours. The small Norman chapel here stood on the site of an earlier timber church, probably the Saxon cathedral of East Anglia.
3. Take the Great Eastern Pingo Trail: This fascinating walk through a watery and woodland landscape formed during the last Ice Age is named for the shallow craters left when the ice melted. The pingos were created when water beneath the ground froze and expanded, pushing earth upwards. As the area warmed and the ice melted, the earth slumped down leaving small craters – many of which filled with water. The trail passes through Stow Bedon Common which is alive with wildflowers and butterflies in the summer, heathland at Breckles and across the nature reserve of Cranberry Rough which was once a lake. See Hockham Heath ablaze with purple heathers in the late summer, spend a couple of miles on ancient Peddars Way and admire Thompson Water before crossing Thompson Common, which is grazed by a herd of Shetland ponies and is the best place in the country to see the rare emerald damselfly.
4. Buried tanks at Titchwell: If you venture through the reserve across the reedbeds and the marshland, you will reach one of Norfolk’s less well-known beaches. Titchwell beach is beautiful: golden sand, dunes and a distinct dearth of people. It was used as a military firing range during the Second World War and remnants of its past can be seen on the beach today, with crumbling pillboxes and the occasional sight at low tide of the remains of two Covenanter tanks. The ruins of the war bunker as you emerge from the path onto the beach are often home to an amazing number of starfish, fascinating for young explorers.
5. Try brass rubbing…in a wood: Burlingham Woodlands Walks passes through gentle landscapes of old and new woodland and orchards next to hedgerow-enclosed farmland. There are lots of walks to take around the woods, including a sculpture trail of 15 bronze plaques by artist John Behm which represent local scenes such as woad working, stars and moons, an Iceni horse, an oak tree, bluebells, tree sitters (a story worth investigating, Cernunnos the horned God of the forest, a wolf and a Roman helmet. A brass rubbing can be taken of each plaque.
6. Norwich Cathedral: Wherever you go in Norwich city centre, you won’t be far from its most famous landmark. While there is no expectation for people to donate when they visit, any contributions are very much appreciated. There is so much to see inside and you can almost feel the building’s nine century history – don’t forget to look up to see the hundreds of medieval roof bosses.
7. Take a walk along the historic South Quay in Great Yarmouth: In 1913, it’s said that so many boats were operating out of Yarmouth that you could walk across the river from boat to boat and the beautiful buildings along the river are an echo of this seafaring port’s past. Just off South Quay you’ll find the Great Yarmouth Row Houses and Old Merchant’s House. The Rows were a network of winding alleyways were port workers lived.
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8. Catch a sunset over the sea in Hunstanton: Most of Norfolk’s beaches face north and east, offering spectacular sun rises, but few face west for sunsets. Famous for its stripy cliffs and Victorian glamour, Hunstanton is a wonderful place to watch the sun melt into the sea.
9: Venice in Norfolk? At The Waterways, where the Venetian Waterways, the Ornamental Gardens and the Boating Lake, just north of Yarmouth’s Golden Mile on North Drive, there are winding canals, miniature bridges, walkways and islands. A great place for a picnic and, if you don’t mind spending a little bit of your hard-earned cash, hiring a boat or pedalo for a leisurely trip on the lake.
10. Secret gardens and Toad Hole Cottage: The Secret Gardens at How Hill House are open every day to the public and entry is free although donations are welcomed by the How Hill Trust Charity. These beautiful hidden woodland gardens were established by the original owner of the House, Edward Thomas Boardman in the early 1920s and in May and June, the azaleas and rhododendrons are spectacular. You can also see the walled, long border and square gardens, the white garden and rose garden (some gardens close when schools or other groups visit, you can call in advance to check on 01692 678555). While at How Hill, make sure you visit the charming Toad Hole, a tiny cottage once lived in by marshmen – a whole Victorian family lived here at one point.
11. Follow in the footsteps of a rebel for a fantastic view: One of Norwich’s best-kept secrets, Kett’s Heights offers majestic views of Norwich, the ruins of a medieval chapel, 19th century garden terraces and is where Robert Kett and his 10,000 followers gathered before they besieged the city in 1549. Now maintained by the Friends of Kett’s Heights, the entrance to the climb to the top of the hill is about halfway up Kett’s Hill on the B1140 out of Norwich and is accessed through well-signed metal gates.
12. Whitlingham Country Park: A beautiful woodland and water park which is a beautiful place to walk, cycle or just sit in nature. There’s a path which takes you around the Great Broad which clocks in two miles if you complete the whole circuit. Hidden in the trees you might be able to spot the ruins of Trowse Newton Hall, where King Edward III and Queen Phillipa stayed after arriving in Norwich in lavishly-decorated rowing boats. At the eastern end of the park is a children’s play area.
13. Baconsthorpe Castle: Hidden from the Holt Road are the relics of a prosperous past, the skeleton of a once-magnificent manor house once home to the Heydon family, a hidden gem now owned by English Heritage. It’s a great place to visit, full of atmosphere and a wonderful place for a picnic. And did we mention the ghost?
14.Binham Priory: Binham Priory is among the most complete and impressive monastic ruins in Norfolk. This Benedictine priory was founded in 1091 by Peter des Valoines, a nephew of William the Conqueror. Many of its priors were unscrupulous and the history of the priory is one of almost continuous scandal. Managed by English Heritage and Binham Parochial Church Council.
15. Thetford Forest: The forest is a wonderful place to visit and great for those that love being outdoors. There are walking and cycling trails, family trails with activities, outdoor play areas and picnic spots. Admission to the forest is free but there is a charge for parking.
16. Henry Blogg Museum: The Henry Blogg Museum celebrates the most decorated lifeboatman in RNLI history, who served for 53 years on Cromer’s lifeboats. With the assistance of his crew, he saved 873 lives from the North Sea. Open from Wednesday to Sunday, 10am to 5pm, admission is free. The museum provides insight into the history of lifeboats in Cromer and details of Blogg’s most famous lifeboat rescues. Find it at the end of Cromer’s promenade.
17. Go rockpooling at Sheringham, Cromer or Hunstanton: Check the tidal times before you set out. Rock pooling is best at low tide and make sure to wear sensible footwear so you don’t slip. Rock pools tend to be clearer close to the sea edge – for safety look at these first and move back with the tide. If you’re planning to take a closer look at what you catch, a bucket with some salty water is useful but make sure you change the water regularly. Don't use a net, as you can hurt sensitive sea life. When you've finished, carefully return your finds in your bucket, including the salt water, back to the rock pool.
18. Explore the Deep History Coast with a free app: The Deep History Coast mobile App brings the past back to life before your very eyes! Let a hominin family take you on a tour, see the West Runton Steppe mammoth in its environment, play games and collect items for your virtual journal - all at the touch of a button. There are 10 app-led walks along the 36km of coastline from Weybourne to Cart Gap where you will find eleven Discovery Points. The Deep History Coast App (Android and iOS) can be downloaded free of charge from Googleplay or the Apple store.
19. Go stargazing: Norfolk is blessed with some of the country’s darkest skies and this time of year is a wonderful time to be gazing heavenward. North Norfolk is one of the few places in the UK where you can see the northern lights (aurora borealis) and two sites, Wiveton Downs and Kelling Health Holiday Park, have Dark Sky Discovery Status, which means the area is unaffected by light pollution, ideal for stargazing.
20. The Blickling Pyramid: It appears in a clearing, a triangular surprise for those who have never seen it before – here, next to the woods, is a mausoleum in the shape of a pyramid. Built in the 1790s, it contains the mortal remains of John Hobart, 2nd Earl of Buckinghamshire and his two wives. Made of porous limestone, when it rains, the pyramid looks as if it turns black. The pyramid is to the North East of Blickling Hall at the end of a drive or can be reached through the woods. Parking charges apply.
21. Grape’s Hill Community Garden: A tiny treasure just off Grape’s Hill, this lovely little garden is open to the public every day from 9am and closes at 8pm until the end of August and then 6pm until the end of October and then 4.30pm or at dusk. It’s lovely to look round and you can also sign up to become a volunteer, rent a raised bed, become a member to help fundraise and even pick herbs and fruit from the main part of the garden (not raised beds) as long as you only take a little and know what you’re picking!
22. Creake Abbey: Set in tranquil countryside, the flint-walled ruins of this Augustinian abbey church tells a sad story of monastic disaster. After a devastating 15th-century fire, it was drastically reduced in size, with arches and windows blocked. Then plague struck, the last abbot died alone, and in 1506 the abbey closed. This free-to-visit English Heritage site is next to the lively Creake Abbey complex which boasts a food hall, café, shops and regular farmers’ markets.
23. Lynford Arboretum: Starkly beautiful in winter, Lynford Arboretum near Thetford has walking trails suitable for everyone, including wheelchair users and those pushing pushchairs. There’s lots to see, from unusual tree species from around the world to a curious brick arch that was once a water tower, Sequoia Avenue planted to honour the Duke or Wellington and a beautiful lake, a dog agility area and more.
24. Thetford Priory: This is a wonderful and atmospheric ruin that everyone will enjoy exploring. The Priory of Our Lady of Thetford was one of the largest and most important monasteries in medieval East Anglia. Founded in the early 12th century, for 400 years it was the burial place of the Earls and Dukes of Norfolk. The extensive surviving remains include the lower walls of the church and cloister, together with the impressive shell of the prior's lodging and an almost complete 14th century gatehouse.
25. Seething Control Tower Museum: This fascinating little museum opens on the first Sunday of the month from May to October from 10am to 5pm. Based in a restored World War II air traffic control tower at Seething Airfield, the museum is a memorial for the 448th Bomb Group. It contains a range of exhibits, photographs and memorabilia. Admission is free but donations are welcome.
26. Happisburgh Play Park: A really great park that boasts a boast of lovely equipment such as a tunnel slide, monkey bars, a zip-line, climbing wall, a climbing frame and lots of different swings, including a nest swing. The backdrop is Happisburgh lighthouse and the beach is just a short walk away.
27. Visit the Wreck of the Sheraton at Hunstanton: Built in 1907 by Cook, Welton and Gemmell of Beverley, the Steam Trawler Sheraton was initially used as a fishing vessel, but was later used during the First World War and as a patrol vessel in the Second World War when it was fitted with a six pounder gun. Following this, The Sheraton was moored off Brest Sand and used for target practice. However a gale on April, 23, 1947 caused the Steam Trawler to break free and drift onto Hunstanton beach. Much of the boat was salvaged, but today the bottom of the hull still remains on the beach and can be seen at low tide. The wreck can be found at St Edmund’s Point in Old Hunstanton.
28. Take a weird walk through King’s Lynn: A walk created by the EDP’s Weird Norfolk team, this trail winds through the heart of old Lynn, and is pleasingly filled with strange stories: True’s Yard itself is said to be haunted by 38 ghost and the route passes a medieval exorcist’s house in the grounds of St Nicholas’ Chapel and the famous witch’s heart in the grand Tuesday Market Place. It marks the cruel death of Margaret Read, accused of witchcraft and burned at stake in the square in 1590. It then takes in the lovely Custom House on Purfleet Quay and Lynn Minster with its fabulous moon and tide clock, complete with a green dragon’s tongue to shows the time of the next high tide on the River Great Ouse. Download the walk at norfolk.gov.uk, searching 'weird walk King's Lynn'.
29. Climb a mountain (well, in Norfolk terms): At Sheringham, head for the sea and turn right and follow the Norfolk Coast Path up and over Beeston Bump. On a clear day, the view will be spectacular. The route then crosses the railway line and takes walkers inland to Beeston Regis where you can see the ruins of its priory on the way to Beeston Common.
30. Pack a picnic, pick a pier: Britannia and Wellington in Great Yarmouth and Cromer Pier are lovely places to while away an hour or two and offer the perfect place for a picnic on a lovely day. People-watching on a pier is not only free, it’s fascinating. Wrap up well and cuddle up with hot chocolate from a flask.
31. Visit the largest Roman town in East Anglia…just outside Norwich: Caistor Roman Town at Caistor St Edmund used to be a port and the town itself once boasted an ampitheatre, temple, baths, town hall and a forum. Occupied from the third to the six century, it was abandoned in the 8th century. On the southern edge of Caistor St Edmund, the site is managed by the Norfolk Archaeological Trust. There are free guided tours at 2.30pm on Sundays until the end of September, plus Wednesdays in August (maximum group size 18).
32. Visit ‘England’s Nazareth’: Four miles from Wells-next-the-Sea on the banks of the River Stiffkey is Walsingham, famed for its religious shrines, it has been a major pilgrimage centre since the 11th century when Saxon noblewoman Richelidis de Faverches had a vision of the Virgin Mary. There’s lots to spot on a walk including Walsingham Bridewell, the shrines, the priory, medieval streets and alleys, Georgian architecture and the octagonal Pump House in the Common Place at the heart of the village which has a brazier on top which is lit at special occasions.
33. Become a human sundial: In Jubilee Wood near Acle, there’s a human sundial. This kind of time-piece became fashionable in the 16th century as garden ornaments – simple to read, they were used to set clocks and watches. The observer stands on a central date scale and their shadow will indicate the time to the nearest hour mark. The outer ring gives Greenwich Mean Time, the inner ring British Summer Time. There’s another sundial in St Austin’s Wood near South Walsham.
34. Visit a secret haven in Norwich: The garden at the Cathedral of St John the Baptist at the city end of Unthank Road is a real hidden gem and was transformed by garden designer Zanna Foley-Davis. It boasts heritage fruit trees, formal lawns, island beds, a rose memorial garden and beautiful paved walkways and there’s a community garden which feeds the cathedral’s café. There may also be, Covid restrictions withstanding, the chance to look round the cathedral itself, which is stunning.
35. Thetford Warren Lodge: Thetford Warren Lodge was probably built around 1400 by the Prior of Thetford. This defensible lodge protected gamekeepers and hunting parties against armed poachers. Much later used by the local ‘warreners’ who harvested rabbits here. Close to gorgeous forest walks and heath rambling, this English Heritage site is also home of a great ghost story
36. Visit a picturesque ruined abbey deep in the Broads: The Abbey of St Benet at Holme lies close to the meeting place of the rivers Bure and Ant. This was the only Norfolk monastery founded in the Anglo-Saxon period which continued in use throughout the Middle Ages, and is the only monastery in England which was not closed down by Henry VIII – the Bishop of Norwich is still the Abbot. Beautiful and atmospheric, this Norfolk Archaeological Trust-managed site can be found by using the postcode NR29 5NU which takes you to St Benet’s Road and a car park.
37. Walk round an organic farm in North West Norfolk: Courtyard Farm at Ringstead is set in beautiful unspoilt countryside a few miles from the sea and is a haven for wildlife and wild flowers. There are two way-marked two-mile circular walks and one six-mile walk around the farm on public footpaths in addition to several miles of permissive paths. At most times of the year you can see the farm’s pigs and sometimes cattle. There are two pieces of permanent land art made by East Anglian artists Martha Winter and John Sands on the North Wood circular walk.
38. A hidden garden in Norwich: At Earlham Hall, there are magical open spaces to enjoy including a garden where silence is celebrated. Look out for the rockery, wooded paths, stunning wisteria clinging to a wall in early summer and The Dutch Garden, to the south east of the hall, where there is a formal box parterre surrounded by gravel paths and walls which was first laid out in the 1880s. This is The Silent Space, an oasis of calm in which to sit and enjoy nature in an historic setting. Also, look out for the dove cote on the park close to the river and the hollow way that leads from the hall to the church over the road and which was once an avenue lined with trees. The garden is close to the hall and car park.
39. Travel back in time to the age of steam: Whitwell and Reepham Station is a lovingly restored railway station close to the Georgian town of Reepham. Diesel engines run all weekend and Steam Sundays are the first Sunday of each month. Entrance to the site is free – other than on gala days – and you can purchase tickets to ride on the trains for very little. Opening times can be subject to change, call 01603 871694 in advance to check details, but the site is normally open daily from 10am to at least 4pm.
40. Perfect bridges for Poohsticks: Poohsticks, made famous by Winnie-the-Pooh, is a game that everyone loves and one that many of us have played. Great bridges to play in Norfolk include Dolphin Bridge and St George’s Bridge in Norwich, Blaydon Bridge in Thetford, Letheringsett Ford in Letheringsett, Horstead Mill in Horstead and the bridge that links Brampton and Burgh churchyard (Poohsticks with obstacles).
41. Look for fairies at Broadland Country Park: Apparently the Little People have left some of their doorways and houses visible at this beautiful stretch of woodland between Felthorpe and Horsford. And even if the fairies stay hidden, this is a gorgeous place for a family walk with two circular walks to enjoy and lots of nature to spot. Find out more at www.southnorfolkandbroadland.gov.uk/broadlandcountrypark