Local visitor attractions in the Broads

As part of our Green Traveller's Guide to the Broads, Jackie King picks out a selection of natural spaces and visitor attractions in and around the Broads, Norfolk.


There’s so much to do on The Broads it’s hard to know where to start. Kids are well catered for at Bewilderwood and on the Bure Valley Railway, while Fairhaven Water Gardens is the Broads writ-small, a pristine piece of wet woodland edging its very own stretch of water at South Walsham Broad.

You can mug up on the Broads at Stalham’s Museum of the Broads, or head out to Horsey to visit a classic windpump, afterwards taking a boat trip or strolling over to the coast to spot seals.There are grand houses and gardens, including the wonderful Somerleyton Hall estate in the southern Broads and stunning East Ruston Vicarage Garden on the northern fringes.

You can also spot birds at RSPB Strumpshaw Fen, not to mention the various nature reserves dotted around, some of which are the only way to explore specific protected Broads, like Hoveton Great Broad and Upton Broad. Whatever your interests, you will not be bored.

Hickling Broad

The largest of the Broads, and perhaps the prettiest, Hickling Broad lies in the upper reaches of the Thurne river. It’s a designated nature reserve, administered by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, and their visitor centre and car park lies on the Broad’s eastern side, where you can buy tickets to enter, following marked tracks that take in stretches of reedbed, woodland and, of course, the banks of the Broad, where there’s a bird-hide on stilts. Boat trips run from a landing-stage down on the Broad and take in a 60ft-high treehouse. norfolkwildlifetrust.org.uk

Horsey Mere and Windpump

Horsey Mere is as far east as you can go and still be in the Broads, a lovely expanse of water which John Betjeman celebrated in his poem East Anglian Bathe, and which is most easily viewable on on one of Ross Warrell’s hour-long wildlife-spotting boat trips (www.rossrivertrips.co.uk), which leave Horsey Staithe five times a day; they also run early-morning bird-spotting trips for the super keen. Right by the cut that leads to the Mere is Horsey Windpump, an early twentieth-century replacement of an earlier drainage mill that is now owned by the National Trust. You can climb to the top deck and look out over the Mere and fens, viewing various displays on the way – Arthur Ransome featured Horsey in a number of his stories and gets a mention, as do the memorable storms of 1938, which flooded most of the area. Once you’ve seen the mill you can either have a cuppa at the café by the staithe, or, more energetically, hike across the fields to the coast and back: a bracing walk that could take in the excellent Nelson Head pub, and best, believe it or not, between November and January, when you can’t get onto the beach because of the large local seal colony’s new pups – a wonderful sight. nationaltrust.org.uk/horsey-windpump

Norfolk Wildlife Trust

The NWT run several of the nature reserves in the Broad, including Ranworth Broad, Hickling Broad, Upton Broad and others, and they run well-stocked and managed visitor centres at Ranworth and Hickling. norfolkwildlifetrust.org.uk

Salhouse Broad

Just outside the village of Salhouse, which you can reach by bus, there’s a signposted trail from a small car park down to Salhouse Broad, an easy stroll that finishes up at one of the prettiest of the northern Broads – just a wider stretch in the Bure really, shielded from the main body of the river by stands of trees. There are moorings here, and riverside paths leading down to a small children’s playground by the shore. It’s also a lovely spot to rent a canoe, and you can also camp if you get permission first – it’s a magical place once the sun starts to go down and the day-boaters have departed. It’s also the place to take the boat across to Hoveton Great Broad. salhousebroad.org.uk

Strumpshaw Fen

Just across the railway line on the edge of Strumpshaw village, the RSPB reserve of Strumpshaw Fen is one of the best places to spot birds in the Broads, and is set up with well-maintained trails that take you through a variety of habitats – woodland, meadows and reedy fenland, all viewable from various hides, one at reception, and two others around the reserve. It’s a glorious location, and it’s worth taking the path through the woods and then along the river into the fenland area to get the full experience. There’s a car park on one side of the railway line and the fen is on the other, though ironically the nearest stations are at Brundall and Buckenham, 2km up and 1km down the line respectively. Or buses run to Lingwood, also 1km away. rspb.org.uk/reserves-and-events/reserves-a-z/strumpshaw-fen/

The Waterside

Just east of the main body of the northern Broads are the so-called Trinity Broads, made up of Rollesby, Filby and Ormesby Broads. They’re a protected area, closed to almost all boat traffic, and the only way to see them is by way of boat trips they run or the rowing boats they hire at the Waterside complex, on the main A149. There’s also a large, modern café-restaurant that serves both excellent lunches and evening meals, and has a lovely decked outside terrace overlooking the Broad – a nice place to wind up of an evening. thewatersiderollesby.co.uk

Barton Broad

A couple of miles north of Horning, Barton Broad lies at the head of the river Ant, one of the largest of the Broads and looking better than it has done for some time due to a recently completed clean-up – the ClearWater 2000 project – which dredged the equivalent of 160 swimming pools’ worth of silt and algae out of its waters over a period of three years. Its wildlife has recovered as a result and it’s now home to all manner of underwater plants and wildlife that include herons, kingfishers, common terns and marsh harriers, and the odd otter and mink. There’s a carpark, and from there it’s a half-mile or so walk across the fields to the Broad, where a boardwalk winds down to the water. norfolkwildlifetrust.org.uk/wildlife-in-norfolk/nature-reserves/reserves/barton-broad-and-marshes

Upton Broad and Marshes

Around three miles north of Acle, Upton lies just to the south of the broad of the same name, a lovely location which is managed by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust and viewable on foot by means of a series of well-maintained footpaths. It’s one of the best places in the UK to see dragonflies, voles, even otters, and offers great walks, linking up in a nice circle with the riverside path that leads north up to Thurne Mouth. norfolkwildlifetrust.org.uk/wildlife-in-norfolk/nature-reserves/reserves/upton-broad-and-marshes

Wheatfen Broad

Just south of the river Yare, Wheatfen Broad was the home of the naturalist Ted Ellis while he was keeper of the natural history collection at Norwich Castle. He lived in the thatched cottage by the entrance to the reserve, and was one of the most vocal chroniclers and advocates of the Broads. Since his death in 1986, the marshes and watery channels of Wheatfen have been a nature reserve, with series of paths down to the river – about an hour’s walk there and back – that give you some appreciation of what Ted and his wife Phyllis (who lived here until her death in 2004) saw in this magical place. wheatfen.org

Winterton-on-Sea

Broadland stretches to the coast at a couple of very appealing points, and one of them, Winterton-on-Sea, is easily the best seaside village in the region, with a great sandy beach (open to dogs year-round) and some lovely windswept dunes. It’s not uncommon to see seals basking in the waves offshore, and the beach is home to a newly restored colony of little terns, watched over by a constantly manned RSPB hut. There’s a (pay) car park and also an excellent beach café that’s open all year. wintertononsea.co.uk

Bewilderwood

This popular homespun fantasy world is one of Britain’s most unusual attractions for children. Based on a series of books by local author Tom Blofeld, it brings the watery environment of the Broads to life for kids – both as a make-believe land and an overgrown adventure playground full of rope bridges, zip wires and treehouses. You get around by way of walkways and forest paths, and a boat takes you around a tiny broad where Mildred the lisping vegetarian crocklebog blows water at you. A great mixture of fantasy and adventure that has something for kids of all ages, it also has an admirably green policy on all aspects of the park’s management: everything is made of wood, rope and other sustainable resources, the boats run on electricity, and the whole place is a good, old-fashioned day out. bewilderwood.co.uk

Fairhaven Water Gardens

Just outside South Walsham, Fairhaven provides an easy (and wheelchair-accessible) glimpse of the swampy woodland that makes up so much of the Broads and is so often inaccessible unless you’re travelling by boat. There is a variety of paths that lead through the grounds of the Fairhaven estate down to the estate’s private section of South Walsham Broad, where you can take boat trips around the Broad or to St Benet’s Abbey. They have a decent café and usually a great selection of plants for sale, and they hold a GBTS Gold award for their environmentally conscious approach to the business, which includes installing a ground source heat pump and low-energy lighting in the visitor centre, rainwater harvesting, traditional coppicing and a sustainable approach to the management of waste. fairhavengarden.co.uk

Wroxham Barns

About a mile north of Hoveton, it’s an easy twenty-minute walk from the railway station to Wroxham Barns, a popular local attraction that has plenty for children and adults alike – various craft shops and galleries, a food store, garden centre and micro-brewery, Uncle Stuart’s, selling its products direct (along with other local beers). It’s also home to a small “junior farm” with goats, sheep, cows, pigs with lamb Feeding during the half-term school holidays and donkeys to pet and feed, a small funfair and mini golf course, and an excellent restaurant which is one of the area’s best bets for lunch, with an emphasis on quality local produce – one of several sustainable aspects of the business, which also includes water-less urinals and excellent recycling. Overall, a great example of a mainstream business that’s is trying hard to be both sustainable and successful. wroxhambarns.co.uk

Waveney River Centre

The Waveney River Centre is an oasis of activity in what truly feels like the middle of nowhere down in the southern Broads. It’s many things rolled into one: a campsite, right by the water, with a heated indoor pool, shop, café and its own pub, as well a few holiday lodges; it offers moorings to hire boats and has a private marina; and it rents day boats and canoes from what must be one of the best locations from which to explore this part of the Broads national park – and which also offers plenty of opportunity for walks. Its green agenda is clear: power is partly supplied by 29kw of solar panels, it has an energy-efficient pool and low-energy lighting throughout, pretty much everything is recycled, and the centre has won the David Bellamy conservation award 3 years running. But maybe the best – and greenest – thing they have done is to reinstate the foot ferry across the river, which not only gives access to beautiful Carlton Marshes and Oulton Broad on foot, but has also made the car journey from Lowestoft to Waveney about six times shorter. waveneyrivercentre.co.uk

East Ruston Vicarage Garden

Not formally in the Broads, but near enough, and in any case East Ruston is worth an honourable mention for the sheer dogged ambition of its creators, Alan Gray and Graham Robeson, who created this wonderful horticultural fantasy from scratch in the early 1970s. It’s everything a garden should be – calming, surprising, and so cleverly planned that even its increasing popularity has not diminished its charms, with the crowds easily swallowed up by the garden’s nooks and corners. Once you’ve emerged, you can enjoy tea and cake at the café and maybe buy a plant or two before you leave. e-ruston-oldvicaragegardens.co.uk

Woodforde’s Brewery

Situated on the edge of the pretty village of Woodbastwicke, Woodforde’s is one of the best-known and most successful of Norfolk’s many independent brewers, and makes a point of using only local ingredients in its ales. You can visit its shop and visitor centre and join one of their excellent tours, which take you through the whole of the brewing process and give you a brief tasting at the end. Wherry is their standard bitter, and very good it is too, kept on tap at many pubs in the area, but they also do a range of other beers, including the latest Kett’s Rebellion. woodfordes.com

Bure Valley Railway

Just across the road from Hoveton & Wroxham mainline station, the Bure Valley Railway is a narrow-gauge train line, which runs from Wroxham up to Aylsham, taking in Coltishall, Brampton and Buxton along the way. It’s served by a mixture of steam and diesel engines, and the nine-mile trip to Aylsham takes 45 minutes. If you don’t want to take the train you can walk or cycle the Bure Valley Path, which shadows the rail line – and sometimes the river – all the way. bvrw.co.uk

How Hill

The Arts and Crafts-style mansion of How Hill is home to the How Hill Trust, which runs residential art and wildlife courses pertaining to Broadland and oversees the extensive grounds and gardens, which you can explore on various marked paths, including a new one around Buttle Marsh, which is being conserved to attract very shy (and very rare) bitterns. If you don’t want to walk there’s also Toad Hole Cottage, a marshman’s cottage down near the river that was occupied until the early twentieth century and beautifully and authentically restored in the 1980s in the style of the marshfolk that would have occupied it, with tools for reed-cutting, eel-catching and rabbit-foraging. The picture on the living room wall is of the last person to occupy the house, who lived here until his death in 1910. Toad Hole Cottage also has a shop and Broads Authority visitor centre that sells tickets for trips on board the nearby Electric Eel. howhilltrust.org.uk

Museum of the Broads

Tucked away by the staithe in Stalham, the Museum of the Broads summarises the uniqueness of Broadland very well, emphasising the nature of the landscape while, at the same time, celebrating its history as a holiday destination, with some homespun displays and several historic craft on display, including an old wherry, a commissioner’s launch and various reedlighters and other sailing vessels. museumofthebroads.org.uk

Ranworth Church

The Broadside village of Ranworth is well known for its church of St Helen, the so-called “Cathedral of the Broads”, mainly for the marvellous views it gives from the top of its 100ft bell tower, although the church’s mainly fifteenth-century interior is worth a look too, its most impressive feature being a rood screen painted with saints and with the rose of Ranworth on the back. Just in front is an ancient lectern, decorated with the symbol of St John the Evangelist on one side and a fifteenth-century verse on the other, although it normally supports the so-called Antiphony, a late fifteenth-century illuminated service book kept in a display case to the right of the entrance. There’s also a small café on the far side of the churchyard. achurchnearyou.com/church/2726/

St Benet’s Abbey

In a way, this is a perfectly green attraction in that the best way to reach it is by boat – it’s just downriver from Horning, past the junction with the river Ant, and there are usually plenty of free moorings, Otherwise you can either drive or walk for a mile or so down a farm track from Hall Common Road to the north. St Benet’s Abbey was the largest landowner hereabouts in the Middle Ages, and it’s still a sacred site, where the bishop of Norwich has celebrated Mass every year since the 1930s, although its most significant ruin is in fact the remains of a windmill added a hundred or so years ago. norfarchtrust.org.uk


For more information on characterful places to stay, local food and drink, and nearby outdoor activities, see our Green Traveller's Guide to the Broads


  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • Vimeo
  • Facebook Social Icon

Green Traveller is owned & operated by Greentraveller Limited.

Copyright © Greentraveller Limited 2020, All rights reserved. No part of this site may be reproduced without our written permission.

Privacy Policy | Terms