A picture-book pretty county on the East coast of England, Norfolk is most famous for its network of navigable, lock-free waterways, tapestry of charming and picturesque beachside towns and quaint country villages, and verdant farmlands strewn with straw bales and big open skies.
For lovers of history and architecture, the Norfolk’s pretty capital, Norwich, is the most complete medieval city in the United Kingdom and resplendent with cathedrals, castles and covered outdoor markets.
The county is also renowned as the location of many a Downton Abbey-esque historic home, including Sandringham, one of the much-loved private residences of King Charles III.
To my kids though, Norfolk is best known as the esteemed homeland of the even more venerable Gran and Grandad of Acle. And while their grandparents’ house is right at the top of their Norfolk hit parade, we’ve discovered there’s plenty of other family friendly fun to be found in this bucolic British county.
Here we’re sharing some of the best things to do in Norfolk with kids, from tots to teens.
1. Explore the Norfolk Broads
Whether by day boat, river boat or kayaks, one of the most relaxing things to do in Norfolk with kids is to take a cruise under ancient bridges through the lockless waterways of the Norfolk Broads, passing picturesque villages like Wroxham and Ludham and dotted with old-world windmills. Head out for a satisfying yomp through the grassy shores and be sure to make time to stop for a pint and a play at one of the gorgeous waterfront pubs. Our fave is the family friendly Acle Bridge Inn, with its classic pub food, sprawling grass space and boat-shaped kids climbing frame.
2. Go Windmill spotting at How Hill
Norfolk was once home to hundreds of wind and watermills but few working mills remain with only around 20 still containing any remnants of machinery. The 19th-century Turf Fen drainage mill at How Hill in Norfolk was built to drain Horning marsh into the river Ant. Missing its sails on our visit, the 10 metre high mill tower still proved a pretty sight, surrounded as it was by whispy reeds and myriad native birds flapping about almost as much as my BYO chicks.
3. Explore St. Benet’s Abbey’s
4. Visit Pulls Ferry
Pulls Ferry is the pretty arched water gate leading to Norwich Cathedral. The flint structure dates back to the 15th century, though the channel running up to the Ferry was dug by monks to move building materials to the cathedral site in the 12th century. The gateway served to guard the approach to the cathedral, but the Ferry House standing alongside wasn’t added as a home for the ferryman until after the priory was dissolved by Henry VIII in the 16th century. The two Aussie posers in the pic above are a more recent addition.
5. Visit Norwich Cathedral
One of the 12 Norwich heritage sites, Norwich Cathedral’s 96-metre spire dominates the city skyline. Built more than 900 years ago, the cathedral is an architectural confection of arches, medieval roof bosses and intricate vaulted ceilings. Kids love playing hide and seek in its Harry Potteresque cloisters and skipping round its labyrinth. During the holidays, the cathedral hosts kid friendly activities and volunteer led tours. And be sure to keep an eye out for the handsome peregrine falcons that call the cathedral spire home.
6. Tackle Norwich Castle
Polish up your armour for a visit to Norwich Castle, originally a medieval royal palace, built at the behest of William the Conquerer in the aftermath of the Norman conquest of England. A must do do in Norfolk with kids, the castle hosts tours aimed at all age groups, including one hosted by a costumed knight. While my tween and teen loved the history, your young knights and maidens will also enjoy the museum, kids’ dress ups and battlement and dungeon tours where they can hear tales of its horrid history as a prison. Should little legs be up to the 62-step challenge, there’s also fantastic 360-degree view awaiting at the top of the castle’s Norman staircase.
10. Dig your toes in the sand at Cromer Beach
Cromer is a small seaside town packed with pretty Victorian houses and best known for its award-winning pier, fabled lifeboat station and crabs! With its long sandy beaches, Cromer is a favourite with families looking for a more traditional seaside holiday. Just a short snorkel from shore is Britain’s answer to the Great Barrier Reef, the Cromer Shoal Chalk Bed, a 32-kilometre stretch created when dinosaurs still roamed the area. And there’s always time to go hunting those famous crabs that you’ll find scurrying around the pier.
7. Unleash your little beasts at BeWILDerwood
It’s been a while since my kids visited, but they still thoroughly recommend getting little hands dirty in the great outdoors at enchanting BeWILDerwood, an award winning, fantasy-themed forest adventure park in Horning. The home of Boggles, Twiggles, Crocklebogs and Snagglefangs, kids aged from two to 12 are introduced to the tale of Swampy the Marsh Boggle on a dreamy boat ride, before being unleashed into a world of epic tree-top mazes, marsh walks, zipwires, rope bridges and slides. There’s also face painting, crafts and interactive storytelling for the littlies who’ll be enchanted by BeWILDerwood’s rustic magic.
8. Get art and about at the Sainsbury Centre
Art lovers will adore the Sainsbury Centre, an art gallery and museum located on campus at the University of East Anglia in Norwich. Its world class permanent collection of works spanning 5,000 years of human creativity includes remarkable works by artists such as Bacon, Picasso and Degas. There’s also a very explorable sculpture park, filled with striking figures, iconic architecture and geometric masterpieces. While there’s something for everyone, kids will likely be more impressed by the centre’s star turn as a location in the ‘Ant-Man’ and ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ movies.
9. Get ready for a Roarr! Dinosaur Adventure with kids
Budding palaeontologists will love Roarr! Dinosaur Adventure in Lenwade, packed as it is with all kinds of primeval fun. One of the most unique things to do in Norfolk with kids, the 35-hectare theme park boasts life-size prehistoric models along its dinosaur-dotted wood trail, a rope bridge maze, high ropes course and dino-themed indoor and outdoor play areas for the littlies. There are also cute critters to be found in its secret animal garden, a deer park, golf putting course, pedal karts, splash park and more. Roarsome!
10. Head back in time at Blickling Hall
Blickling Hall is the family home of Anne Boleyn and it’s a great spot for families. As well as exploring Blickling’s splendid Jacobean mansion, a children’s map reveals the secrets hidden amongst the hedges of the National Trust estate’s historic garden. Those with a penchant for spookier experiences may want visit on the 19th May, the anniversary of Ann Boleyn’s execution, as it is said that her headless ghost returns every year to ride to the house in a coach drawn by a headless horseman.
11. Museums and mini golf at Great Yarmouth with kids
Great Yarmouth is a coastal resort town, about 30 minutes from Norwich City. Known for its long sandy beach and its arcade and café and knickknack shops pedestrian mall. Along the seafront you’ll find the quaint Pleasure Beach and Joyland amusement parks with rides and mini golf. There are a couple of good museums including The Nelson Museum, focusing on the life of Admiral Horatio Nelson and The Time and Tide Museum, dedicated to local history. And a summer trip from Great Yarmouth central beach to see the seal colony at Scroby Sands is a highlight.
12. Play in Eaton Park
One of Norwich’s most beautiful and historic parks, Eaton Park, is a sprawling green space that’s made for families with loads of activities and a cornucopia of sporting facilities from tennis and boules, to cricket and football. From its pretty domed bandstand surrounded by four colonnaded pavilions, hedged rose gardens and boating pond, to its BMX and skatepark,18-hole crazy golf putting green and miniature railway, there’s 30 glorious hectares of outdoor fun for all ages.