Free things to do in Norfolk: top picks for 2021
- Credit: Archant
From pyramids to secret gardens, ruins to fireworks, perfect Pooh sticks bridges to brass rubbing, sundials to steam engines, there are plenty of ways to have a great day out in Norfolk without it costing a penny.
1. 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. Find out more here. (Parking charges apply).
2 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! Find out more here
3. 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.
4. Lynford Arboretum: Particularly beautiful in autumn, Lynford Arboretum at Lynford 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. Find out more here
5. Sheringham’s Shell Museum and the Fisherman’s Lifeboat Museum: Both museums are free to visit but welcome donations for upkeep. The Fisherman’s Lifeboat Museum on West Cliff contains the Henry Upcher lifeboat which sailed from 1894 to 1935 and saved 193 lives. There’s information about lifeboatmen who risked their lives to save the lives of others. The Peter Coke Shell Gallery is a real treat – the work of former actor Peter Coke and his collection of antique shell art such as sailor Valentines. It’s a pearl in the shell of Sheringham. Both museums are run by wonderful volunteers so do check before you visit what time they will be open.
6. 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. Free to enter, find out more about the site here
7. Thursday Fireworks in Great Yarmouth: While the best views of the firework nights taking place thanks to the Great Yarmouth Pleasure Beach this summer will be from inside the attraction (the park is open for booked guests, buy tickets here), you will also be able to see them from the beach nearby on August 5, 12, 19 and 26 at the end of a fairground session at around 9.30pm.
8. 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. Find out more here
9. 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.
10. 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.
11. 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 map here.
12. 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.
13. 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.
14. 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). Book here.
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15. 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.
16. 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.
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17. 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.
18. 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
19.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. Find out more and book a free tour here.
20. 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.
21. 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.
22.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.
23. Heritage Open Days: Check out the buildings and experiences open for Heritage Open Days between 10 to the 19 of September. You can pick up leaflets around the county to see what’s going on or download a brochure. While some events need to be pre-booked, many locations are operating an open-door policy meaning you can just turn up on the day.
24. 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).
25.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 reading on the above link) , Cernunnos the horned God of the forest, a wolf and a Roman helmet. A brass rubbing can be taken of each plaque.