Changing landscapes and the movement of the sea – the story of the Broads is an ever evolving one. The history of the land is entwined with the people who have lived and worked here and you can follow in the footprints of those who have gone before.
To the south lies the gateway to the Broads: Lowestoft. A settlement since Neolithic times, it’s been home to Saxons, Romans and Vikings. With a history tied to the sea, a thriving fishing industry kept the economy afloat. Later joined by tourism with the arrival of the railway, the pretty, Victorian seafront promenade and gardens are still enjoyed by thousands of visitors every year.
Move through stunning Oulton Broad and along the River Waveney, to find the tranquil market town of Beccles nestled into a waterside meadow. A wealth of independent shops, cool antique markets and quirky cafes await.
Heading north, the Waveney leads into the Yare, past the quiet town of Reedham. For many years, the town was home to a thriving Norfolk wherry building industry and is now a favourite hideaway for those seeking a quiet lunch or a stroll by the river. Take a trip across the river on Norfolk’s only chain ferry, operating from this spot since the 17th century.
Unique wet woodland and peatland fens continue the story of the Broads. Over thousands of years, the sea encroached and then retreated back from the land where great ships once sailed. During the Middle Ages, peat was dug from the ground and used as fuel. In time, the pits filled with water to create the wide lakes we know and love today. Along this stretch of the South Broads, find quiet nature reserves, see rare waterbirds wade in the muddy shallows at Breydon Water, visit beautiful gardens and impressive country estates.
A little further up the Yare, sits England’s first UNESCO City of Literature, and the only English city within a National Park. Norwich is a centre of culture, history and heritage. Its bright, modern shopping centres and department stores sit alongside the award-winning Lanes with its independent shops, cafes and galleries. With stone chapels, a stunning Cathedral quarter and the country’s largest outdoor covered market, there’s plenty to see and do by day.
Visit The Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, with permanent collections spanning over 5,000 years of human creativity, walk the ramparts of Norwich Castle and Museum to enjoy a breathtaking view of the surrounding countryside, or settle down for a glass of local ale at a riverside pub. And with internationally respected live music venues, world-renowned festivals, and theatres that welcome national touring shows almost every month of the year, there’s plenty to do when the sun goes down.
Moving back east to where the Broads meet the sea, you’ll find the coastal resort of Great Yarmouth. An ancient trading centre and fishing port, it’s now home to sustainable forms of energy like the wind farm off Scroby Sands. Best known for being a popular holiday destination, with over 15 miles of soft, sandy shoreline, it’s no wonder so many day trippers and holidaymakers head here first.
Follow the smell of hot doughnuts and find the Victorian Wellington Pier filled with fortune tellers, ice cream stalls and rides, or head to Britannia Pier for a traditional show that attracts some of the UK’s best loved comedians and variety acts. With a wealth of penny arcades, fun fairs and lively bars, this is a traditional seaside day out for all the family. Away from the hustle and bustle, skim stones on the water or take a winter walk along the sands. In summer months, hire a deck chair and soak up the sun, or take the kids for a classic donkey ride along the beach: Great Yarmouth is a great place to go, whatever the season.
Serene, leafy and a little off the beaten track, the Trinity Broads are a favourite with anglers. Further up, staithes once used to unload flour, produce, coal and timber, and are now moorings for pleasure craft and narrowboats.
Windmills that used to drain the land still stand proudly, silhouetted against the sky, while a system of dykes and ditches for grazing and arable farming weave throughout the landscape. The original cargo routes can still be seen today, along with the locks that allowed the boats to come and go before the arrival of the railway.
Along the Bure and its tributaries, the ancient ebb and flow of water over the land has created unique marshes teeming with wildlife. Wader birds, butterflies, otters, voles and dragonflies are all found along the shoreline. While fen orchids, marsh ferns and fen pondweed create a balanced habitat – safely protected within carefully managed nature reserves.
A settlement since Neolithic times, the ancient village of Horning is one of the prettiest on the Broads, and with picturesque thatched roof cottages, tea shops and peaceful river scenes, it’s not hard to see why. For those who love a little Southern style glamour, a Mississippi paddle steamer gives tourists trips down the river past the beautiful, 13th Century church of St Benedict down to Ranworth Broad.
Wide, open expanses of water and wild landscapes give way to gentle, meandering riverways and quiet villages. Wroxham and neighbouring Hoveton over the river are joined by a bridge that has been the site of a crossing for hundreds of years. Known as the capital of the Broads, this area has a rich history in boating and rivercraft, but it’s also home to what’s dubbed the largest village shop in the world, the department store, Roys of Wroxham.
Travelling North and East, head back towards the coast again, but not before visiting Stalham, the home of the Broads museum. Take in stunning views across the Broads at the How Hill Estate or visit the Medieval bridge and pretty cottages of Potter Heigham.
In the Middle Ages, Cley-next-to-the-sea was a busy port but it now sits nearly a mile away from the shore. Home to delightfully pretty tea shops and a windmill, the shifting boundaries between land and sea have created stunning reed beds. These are home to a thriving reedcutting industry, helping to maintain this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Our journey ends back at the coast with the wild, rugged landscape of Horsey. Home to a colony of grey seals, head there between November and February for an unforgettable trip to see their pups make their way to the water. Not far away, the Horsey Windpump is worth a visit to see the ingenuity and stamina needed to once drain the land.
The story of the Broads is an ever changing one – and you can be part of it. Visit our Things to Do page to be inspired by everything the Broads has to offer.
Often referred to as the Norfolk Broads part of the park is actually in Suffolk