In East Anglia, Norfolk is a mostly rural county with rich farmland beloved for its big skies, windmills, country towns and waterways.
The fabulous heritage city of Norfolk is loaded with period architecture and has a spellbinding cathedral, prized as one of England’s finest pieces of Norman heritage.
On the coast you have a choice of lively seaside resorts or traditional fishing and crabbing towns, many with huge sandy beaches.
One of the things that makes Norfolk special is its difficult relationship with water: The wetlands and wide rivers in the dreamy Norfolk Broads are the result of a monumental flood in medieval times.
Now the Broads are a hit with tourists in summer who come for barge holidays and watersports.
Lets explore the best places to visit in Norfolk:
The city’s Cathedral is a wonder, completed quickly in the Norman style and clad with a cream-coloured limestone brought all the way from Caen.
Some gothic changes and extensions were made in the centuries years that followed, like the two storey cloister, the only one of its kind in England.
Norwich Museum also has Norman origins and houses the city’s museum, the place where you’ll encounter the ancient Queen Boudica, an English national icon, or the Snettisham Hoard, a gold treasure from the Iron Age.
See what’s on at the modern Forum, which puts on the exhibitions and shows, and potter around the city’s beautiful old areas like Elm Hill and the banks of River Wensum.
2. Great Yarmouth
Up there with Blackpool as one of England’s most treasured seaside destinations, Great Yarmouth has received holidaymakers since the 1760s.
The sandy shoreline is vast, and goes on for 17 miles in the Greater Yarmouth area.
If the old-school joys of sand castles and paddling don’t cut the mustard with your kids and teenagers there’s the ever-popular Pleasure Beach a free-to-enter theme park buzzing with rides and amusements.
There’s more fun on the Golden Mile, lined with arcades and the marvellous art nouveau Empire Cinema, currently being restored to its former glory.
3. King’s Lynn
In medieval times King’s Lynn was England’s most important and busiest port, trading with the Hanseatic League in the Low Countries and Baltic.
A catalogue of majestic old buildings survive from this time, like the splendid Guildhall of St George, which is both the largest and oldest guildhall in the country.
On the quay of the Great River Ouse are Hanseatic warehouses with exposed timbers, and it’s exciting to think about all the goods that have been stored in these historic buildings.
And you’ll know that King’s Lynn was a big deal from its fabulous minster and imposing properties like Castle Rising, and the 15th-century Oxburgh Hall.
4. The Broads
In summer this low-lying area with its huge open skies and picturesque villages is almost heavenly.
It’s a region of lakes, rivers and man-made waterways that are mostly accessible to boats, barges and canoes.
What most people love is the sense of freedom that the Broads offer; allowing you to hop into your vessel and spend days going where you please.
You can moor up and sunbathe or go ashore for a walk in secluded woodland.
On the way you’ll spot landmarks like old windmills, designed to drain the land and mostly still working today.
Dominated by a beautiful Gothic church, this resort has more of a demure glamour about it than a typical English bucket and spade retreat.
The first to consider Cromer a holiday destination were wealthy Georgians, who built summer homes away from the traditional fishing quarter and came to bathe in the sea.
And that’s largely where Cromer’s attraction lies today, at the beach, which often swells enough for surfers, and the beautiful Victorian pier with a legendary theatre.
The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) has a vital station in Cromer, and there’s a wonderful museum for Henry Blogg, the most decorated lifeboatman in the service.
Cromer also still has a small fleet of crabbing boats, and the delicious shellfish is in season from March to October.
This is actually two villages (Wroxham and Hoveton) bestriding the River Bure, in the gorgeous scenery of the Norfolk Broads.
Wroxham is sometimes marketed as the “Capital of the Broads”, and is certainly the place to come for classic Broads activities like cruises and self-captained boat trips along this beautiful network of rivers.
You can also rent a bike, which is a family-friendly option as the low-lying landscapes are very easy-going and there’s lots of woodland and open spaces to stop and take picnics by the water.
Just a delightful country town, Wymondham has a marketplace featuring the traditional cross, which is raised on stilts as a means of keeping the town’s charters and other documents safe from vermin and floodwater.
This is one of many half-timbered houses in the town, along with many that have the flint decoration that is typical in this part of Norfolk.
Wymondham Abbey is the town’s great monument, a marvellous gothic building from between the 12th and 15th centuries.
When the monasteries were dissolved in the 16th century it had a fallow spell before becoming a parish church under the reign of Elizabeth I after she visited it in person in 1573.
On Norfolk’s north coast, Sheringham is a traditional fishing and crabbing town, which now attracts visitors for its old-time maritime atmosphere.
This is only enhanced by the grand North Norfolk Railway, a steam-powered line that runs from Sheringham to the town of Holt.
The local council has fought hard against brands and chain stores taking over its high street, which still has a local and independent spirit.
And in a modern, purpose-built home overlooking the North Sea is a the Mo Museum, which delves into all aspects of Sheringham’s past, from the shipwrights and fishers of the 19th century to fragments of elephant bone dating back 1.5 million years and found at the base of the town’s cliffs.
The walls of many of the older buildings in Thetford are decorated with flint, which is abundant in the western part of Norfolk.
This higher ground was settled by Celtic tribes, and Grimes Graves in the Thetford Forest Park is an intriguing flint mine founded around 5,000 years ago.
At the Ancient House Museum you’ll find out more about flint knapping, and see the Thetford Treasure, a hoard of Roman gold, silver and precious stones.
If you like British television comedy you may recognise Thetford’s flint buildings from the TV series Dad’s Army, which filmed its outdoor scenes in the town: There’s a statue of the character Captain Mainwaring by the river, and a museum for the show open during the summer.
Superb for its location as well as its understated elegance, Swaffham is at the northern tip of the Brecks.
For centuries this arid landscape was impossible to farm, and sandstorms even took place, until new irrigation techniques arrived in the 20th century.
The museum in the centre of this refined Georgian town has displays on Howard Carter, the Swaffham born Egyptologist who discovered the tomb of Tutankhamen 1922. Swaffham also has the only wind turbine on the planet open to the public.
The Green Britain Centre has exhibitions about renewable energy, and you can scale the 67-metre Enercon Turbine for a gorgeous view.
The sandy beach at this quaintly-named resort is often rated as the best in Norfolk.
And it’s certainly spectacular: An enormous sweep of flaxen sand with dunes and pine forest that is trimmed by a long line of sweet beach huts raised on stilts.
The beach is actually some way from the town, and separated by marshes and farmland, but there’s a narrow gauge railway trundling down to the seafront from the resort.
In the town you can browse little alleys like the adorably twee Staithe Street, which has galleries, artisan shops and traditional amenities not often found in English towns like butchers and a bakery.
A charming town of half-timbered houses on the boundary of Norfolk, Diss is an artistic community as illustrated by the Corn Hall.
This old neoclassical stock exchange has been repurposed as a performing arts centre, partly run by volunteers and hosting theatre, music and dance.
In the middle of the town is the strange Diss Mere, an ovular lake covering more than two hectares and ringed with greenery, though nobody’s too sure exactly how it was formed.
If you’re feeling fit and want to feel like one of the Iceni Celtic tribe you could walk all the way from Diss to Norfolk, 40 miles to the north on Boudica’s Way.
This takes in the Roman ruins at Venta Icenorum.
In the geographical heart of the county, Dereham is a quintessential Norfolk town with well-preserved history and plenty of little details to seek out.
Very typical for the county is Bishop Bonner’s Cottage, which was built in 1502 and has “pinking”, a decorative plasterwork to keep the building waterproof.
There’s a museum about Dereham inside, informing you about the 16th-century Bishop Bonner’s ties with town.
The market square is surrounded by Georgian townhouses, and the Norman parish church is unique for having a separate bell-tower.
Pay a visit to Fendick’s Mill, which dates to 1836 and has recently been restored.
A peaceful sort of place, Fakenham has recently been voted one of the best towns to live in England.
Fakenham has preserved the 17th and 18th-century flat-fronted buildings in its centre, and is crowned by the imposing tower of the Church of St Peter & St Paul, which was erected in the 1400s.
In Fakenham you can connect with lost ways of life: The town has kept its original “town gasworks” and is the last place in England or Wales to retain this old utility, which would produce gas from coal solely for the homes and businesses of Fakenham.
It was closed down in the 50s but is now a museum with all its machinery intact.
Due to its westerly aspect, Hunstanton has one of the only beaches for hundreds of miles where you can watch the sun set over the water.
If you’re put off by the noise and glitz of a resort like Great Yarmouth, Hunstanton has more of a small town feel, with a gorgeous beach and lots of wildlife.
Walk up the coast for a few minutes to see the town’s two-tone cliffs, which are red limestone at the bottom with a band of chalk at the top.
You can board a boat to voyage into The Wash, where the sandbanks have large seal colonies.
There are also seals at the Sea Life Sanctuary in the town, where you can introduce little guys to the nature just off England’s North Sea Coast.