Fun for free: 25 free things to do in Norfolk
- Credit: Image by Makro Wayland for Pixabay
From free entry to museums to star-gazing, adventures in ruined landscapes to free sculpture park trails, nature reserves to buried treasure and dinosaurs, here are the first 25 ideas from our list of 50 Free Things to Do in Norfolk.
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. Burgh Castle: An English Heritage site managed by the Norfolk Archaeological Trust, the late 3rd century 'Saxon Shore' fort at Burgh Castle was built as part of the Roman network of coastal defences, and probably abandoned just over a hundred years later. Three of its imposing stone walls survive, almost to their original height, making this one of the best preserved Roman monuments in Britain. The land around the fort is a wildlife haven and offers panoramic views over Breydon Water.
6. Norfolk Lavender: Pretend you’re in Provence by visiting Norfolk Lavender, which boasts 100 acres of lavender fields that transport you straight to the south of France in the summertime. Based at Heacham, Norfolk Lavender, established in 1932 by Linn Chilvers and maintained a centuries-old tradition of commercial lavender growing in England.
7. 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.
8. And while you’re at the Cathedral… Dippy, the Natural History Museum's iconic Diplodocus cast, has finally arrived in Norwich for the last stop on his UK tour. He’ll stay until October 30 2021. Free to visit Monday to Friday: 10am-4pm, Saturdays: 9.30am to 5.30pm, closed Sundays and on Friday evenings from 7pm-9pm. The 26-metre long dinosaur is in the Nave and there will be lots to see and do while visiting, including a time tunnel, artwork and fossils.
9. Dinosaur trail in Norwich: The GoGoDiscover T.Rex Trail stretches across the city until September 11 with 21 sculptures to spot. The trail has been organised by charity Break, which supports young people on the edge of, in or leaving care, in partnership with Wild in Art to complement Dippy's visit. While the trail is free, participants are encouraged to donate to the charity online at break-charity.org/charity/support-us/make-a-donation or text TREX to 70085 to donate £3 (including one standard rate message).
10. 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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11. 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.
12: Venice in Norfolk? At The Waterways, where the Venetian Waterways, the Ornamental Gardens and the Boating Lake, just north of Yarmouth’s Golden Mile om 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.
13: 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.
14. 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.
15. 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.
16. 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?
17. Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts: This summer, join one of the SCVA’s expert volunteer guides for a free hour-long walking tour of the Sculpture Park (Sundays, August 15/22/29/September 5, 2.30pm). Find out something new about your favourite artwork, get up close and personal to works by Henry Moore, Cristina Iglesias, Antony Gormley and Elisabeth Frink, and perhaps even discover sculptures that you haven’t yet stumbled across. Free and suitable for all ages, book in advance here You can also download a free sculpture park map to conduct your own tour.
18. 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.
19. 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. Find out more here.
20. 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.
21. 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.
22. Rock on at Docwras Rock Factory and Shop on Regent Road in Great Yarmouth where you can watch seaside rock being made and see a range of rock for sale that will have your eyes popping!
23. 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 ten 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.
24. 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.
25: The Great Stone of Lyng: The great stone of Lyng is quite literally off the beaten track – a large erratic boulder left by the glaciers of the last ice age, many believe the rock resembles a large, squatting toad, which has been a silent witness to life in this quiet part of the village for centuries. There are countless spooky stories associated with the stone, great to entertain older children with. And as an added bonus, there’s a ruined chapel to find in the river valley opposite the wood. There’s a great Lyng heritage map to help you find your way here.