Eating out and wildlife spotting: A guide to a Broads getaway

Boat owners have said there are not enough moorings along the Norfolk Broads. Picture: James Bass

People enjoying a boating holiday along the Broads. - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2014

There are few better experiences in Norfolk and Suffolk than cruising along the Broads on a sunny day.

Our network of Broads is a point of pride for locals, home to thousands of people and a major tourist destination. Here's what you need to know before heading there:

What are the Broads?

They are man-made waterways created by peat digging. According to the Broads Authority, the first written evidence of this dates back to the 12th century, and for the next 200 years peat digging was a major industry.

Over time, the pits began to fill with water and made the peat more difficult to extract. By the 14th century the diggings were abandoned and eventually flooded.

Sailing on the River Thurne on a very warm but breezy afternoon in early July.Picture: James Bass

There's plenty to see and do on the Broads. - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2014

Since then, they have become rich in wildlife and popular among boaters and holidaymakers, who flock to the area for day trips and longer breaks.

In 2015, it was decided the Broads would be rebranded as a national park, and it has been listed among the National Park family since 1989.

Most Read

Where are the Broads and how can I get there?

There are 125 miles of navigable waterways, stretching across from Norwich to Great Yarmouth, and from north Norfolk down to Beccles. 

The waterways are sometimes known as the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads, or the Northern and Southern Broads. The Northern part covers the Rivers Bure, Ant and Thurne, as well as Wroxham, Salhouse, Barton and Hickling Broads.

A map of the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads.

A map of the Broads area, from the Broads Authority. - Credit: Broads Authority

The Southern area covers the Rivers Yare, Chet and Waveney, as well as Breydon Water and Oulton Broad.

There are plenty of ways to reach the Broads. By rail, you can arrive into Norwich train station and connect to various stations around the Broads - including Brundall, Wroxham, Acle, Great Yarmouth, Lowestoft, Oulton Broad, Salhouse and many more.

Major trunk roads to the Broads are the M11, A11, A12, A140 and A140 from the south of the country, or the A14, A11, A47, A17 and A1 from the midlands and the north.

Another glorious day on The Broads Picture: James Bass

Another glorious day on The Broads Picture: James Bass - Credit: James Bass © 2009

There are coach services from most major cities to Norwich, and local bus routes around Norfolk upon arrival. Many leave from Castle Meadow in the city centre, or Norwich bus station in Surrey Street.

Norwich is also home to Norwich International Airport, which has connections all over the world.

If you are bringing a boat from overseas, you can also access the Broads from either Great Yarmouth or Lowestoft, though size restrictions apply at some bridges and at Mutford Lock, which is the Lowestoft access.

Where can I park in the Broads - or moor a boat?

There are plenty of car parks around the Broads in close proximity to the water.

Ones run by the Broads Authority, which are free to park at, include Barton, Filby, How Hill, Ranworth, Herringfleet Hills, Stanley Hills and Sutton and Rockland Staithes.

Ranworth Broad, where Broadland District Council withdrew its waste collection from near moorings. P

Ranworth Broad, where Broadland District Council withdrew its waste collection from near moorings. Picture: James Bass - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2015

Boaters can also find moorings across most of the Broads, including ones at boatyards, pubs and restaurants and run by the Broads Authority. For a map of those available, click here.

What's the shopping like in the Broads?

There are shops big and small around the Broads, and a selection of independent names and well-known national brands.

Towns including Wroxham and Hoveton, Stalham, Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft all have plenty, and Norwich has two major shopping centres as well as a vibrant collection of independent traders.

Roys of Wroxham. Picture: James Bass

Roys of Wroxham. - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2011

Among the best-known is Roys of Wroxham, which is a well-known independent department store.

There are a range of supermarkets dotted around the Broads - including Tesco at Stalham, Asda in Great Yarmouth, Morrisons in Lowestoft, Morrisons in Norwich, Tesco in Beccles and a Co-op at Acle.

Some of the independent traders you can support in the Broads include The Galley in Horning, Ramblers Gallery and Gift Shop in Thurne, Lathams in Potter Heigham and many others.

What is there to do in the Broads?

Plenty. Of course, first and foremost, there's the joy of cruising along the waterways on a boat. 

You can enjoy the peace and quiet, stopping off for a drink or bite to eat, and spot some wildlife on your travels - but more on that below!

Boats aren't the only way to get around - there's the heritage steam Bure Valley Railway, or the Bittern Line.

The Towering Treetop Tangles is one of the attractions at BeWILDerwood. PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood

The Towering Treetop Tangles is one of the attractions at BeWILDerwood. PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood - Credit: Archant

You can also get about on two wheels, including from the Bewilderwood-based Broadland Cycle Hire.

There's also water sports to try, including kayaking and paddle-boarding.

You can easily spend a day making the most of some of the picturesque towns and villages along your way, including Horning and Salhouse, or spot some sights, including Thurne Windmill and St Benet's Abbey.

What family attractions are around the Broads?

If you're coming as a family, or looking for somewhere to go for the day, there are no shortage of attractions near the waterways.

There's the family-owned Hoveton Hall estate, and Bewilderwood, an adventure park in Hoveton packed with treehouses, boat rides, walks and other activities for families.

Wroxham Barns, also in Hoveton, has places to shop, eat, see farmyard animals and even camp, while Fairhaven Woodland and Water Gardens, in South Walsham, is the perfect spot for wildlife spotting, boat trips and a walk.

One-day-old lamb, known as Benjamin Button as he looked old and wrinkly when he was born, at Wroxham

One-day-old lamb, known as Benjamin Button as he looked old and wrinkly when he was born, at Wroxham Barns. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2020

There's also the Museum of the Broads and Wroxham Miniature World.

If you're near Great Yarmouth you can enjoy its famous Pleasure Beach, Merrivale, Model Village, Hippodrome, Pettitts Animal Adventure Park, Sea Life centre and Arc Cinema, as well as Thrigby Wildlife Gardens nearby.

In Lowestoft there's Pleasurewood Hills theme park and the Marina Theatre, as well as Africa Alive in Kessingland, Beccles Lido, Oasis Camel Park in Halesworth and Waveney River Centre in Beccles.

And for those staying closer to Norwich, Whitlingham Country Park is perfect for a day of activities.

Where can I stay in the Broads?

If you're hiring a boat for a getaway for the week, your accommodation is already sorted.

But if you're looking to stay on land, there's no shortage of places. There are plenty of Airbnbs and independent B&Bs and self-catering lodges.

Hotels can be found in most areas, particularly in busier places such as Norwich, Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft.

The Norfolk Mead Hotel, in Coltishall, Hotel Wroxham, Waveney House Hotel, in Beccles, and the Wayford Bridge Inn, in Stalham, are just a handful of ones to try.  

Where should I hire a boat from in the Broads?

You can hire boats for a few hours, an entire day or a week or two for a longer holiday.

There are plenty to choose from - some of the biggest include Richardson's, Barnes Brinkcraft and Norfolk Broads Direct.

What are some of the best restaurants, cafés and pubs in the Broads?

The Broads is home to all manner of excellent places to eat and drink - including many with a waterside view.

Some of the highlights include the Acle Bridge Inn, which is set by the water, as well as both the Rising Sun and the Recruiting Sergeant in Coltishall, both of which are known for their good food.

The Ferry Inn at Horning has moorings outside and is always popular with families.

In and around Norwich, there are plenty of pubs by the river, including the Ribs of Beef in Norwich and River Garden in Thorpe St Andrew.

Judith and Martin Nudd at Prima Rosa café in Salhouse, which has won the Good Food Award for best ca

Judith and Martin Nudd at Prima Rosa café in Salhouse, which has won the Good Food Award for best café. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2020

Prima Rosa in Salhouse is a pretty tea shop and gift shop which is popular with locals. 

Poppylands, at Horsey, is a dog-friendly tea room by the coast.

The Broads Authority advises people to take a torch when visiting any waterside eateries at night, warning that the Broadland paths can feel particularly dark on the journey home.

What wildlife can I see on the Broads?

The Broads is renowned for its rich wildlife, and is home to more than a quarter of the rarest wildlife in the UK.

Birds are in particular abundance, like teal and wigeon, reed and sedge warblers. The marsh harrier can also be found there, as well as bitterns, the numbers of which have increased in recent years.

Swallowtail butterfly

Swallowtail butterfly - Credit: Archant © 2011

Around 230 nationally important invertebrates can be found in the Broads, including Britain's largest butterfly, the swallowtail, and the rare Norfolk hawker dragonfly.

The rivers and broads are home to many kinds of fish, including perch and pike.

How do I stay safe on the Broads?

It's important to follow guidance to keep you and your family safe while on a boating holiday. The Broads Authority advises:

  • Always wear a life jacket while canoeing/kayaking/paddle-boarding, boating and getting on and off boats.
  • Keep a close eye on children who can fall overboard without anyone noticing.
  • Don't swim in the Broads, as there are risks from cold water, currents and boats. 
  • Don't jump off a moving boat and don't sit on the front deck of a day boat.
  • Don't try to stop your boat by pushing with your hand or foot.
  • Don't reverse your boat towards anyone in the water and do not swim near the rear of motor boats as that's where the propeller is.
  • Know your alcohol limits. Drink may make you more likely to fall in.
  • Check the height of your boat when approaching bridges and make sure you are aware of the amount of clearance. 
  • Never drink water from rivers or lakes and don't splash it onto your face to cool down.
  • If you get wet, wash or shower promptly.
  • Wash and thoroughly dry any wet clothing before wearing it again.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter