At the Suffolk-Norfolk border, Lowestoft is a seaside resort and port town with an interesting story to tell.
In the 20th century the port was one of the pillars of the UK’s fishing industry, while the town developed with the expansion of offshore oil and gas drilling in the North Sea in the 1970s.
On Lowestoft’s South Pier, the Mincarlo museum ship testifies to both the town’s fishing activity and its oil and gas exploitation.
On sunny summer days Lowestoft’s wide sandy beaches, promenade, Victorian terraces and seafront gardens are all the more appealing, while inland, the town is right on the Broads National Park.
Oulton Broad, within the park, is a sweeping lake edged by a town park and leisure amenities.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Lowestoft:
1. The Broads
Lowestoft is at the southern end of the Broads, a big network of rivers and lakes protected as a National Park and Ramsar Wetland.
Like most of the Broads, Oulton Broad in Lowestoft is a flooded depression most likely caused by peat cutting in Medieval times.
The lake is fringed by a lovely municipal park, cafes and a farm park/petting zoo for children.
Watersports fans come from far and wide for sailing and powerboating in the lake.
You can watch powerboat races on Thursday evenings from April to September on the grassy banks.
The Lowestoft Ferry also runs between Oulton Broad and Lowestoft’s South Pier, departing every hour and a pleasant way to travel between the two tourist spots.
2. Lowestoft Beach
South of Lowestoft’s harbour there’s a long, flat sandy beach, traced by a promenade, gardens, bowling greens and some handsome Victorian houses.
Packed with sun-seeking families in July and August, the beach is split into two by the Claremont Pier.
The pier dates to 1903 and extends for more than 200 metres into the North Sea.
This structure is awaiting redevelopment but at its entrance on the promenade are a couple of restaurants in historic pavilions.
South of the pier the promenade starts to climb the cliff away from the shore, and below there’s a long line of cute beach chalets.
3. The Scores
In Lowestoft’s harbour ward, the Scores are steep lanes descending to the sea between the High Street and Whapload Road.
In the past, Beach Village sat at the bottom of the cliff, and these passages were worn from the soft rock by people making their way up and down the slope over hundreds of years.
There are 14 in all, while 12 are visible today, and as you explore them you can wonder about some of the characters that have trodden these paths, like fishermen and smugglers.
You can download a map of the Scores, and a signposted Scores trail has been set up.
In September the Waveney Athletics Club stages the gruelling Scores Race along these stairways and slopes.
4. Lowestoft Maritime Museum
In a rather small space, this award-winning museum is busting with interesting objects covering different aspects of seafaring in Lowestoft.
There are medals awarded to Royal Navy and RNLI personnel, tools from Lowestoft’s shipyards, fishing paraphernalia, pieces of marine art and a host of ship models.
Especially exciting is the recreated workshop of the hovercraft inventor Christopher Cockerell, including his left-handed lathe, donated to the museum after he passed away in 1999. You can also go into depth on local figures like Robert William Hook, a Victorian-era RNLI coxswain, who saved more than 600 lives in his career, and Thomas Crisp, a Lowestoft local awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross for gallantry in the First World War.
5. Africa Alive
This highly-rated wildlife park close in Kessingland is dedicated to animals from the African continent.
Africa Alive has more than 1,000 animals in 60 acres of parkland, keeping many of its inhabitants like ankole cattle, lechwes (antelopes), Somali wild asses and Barbary sheep in vast paddocks.
The Plains of Africa enclosure has children’s favourites like giraffes, rhinos and zebras, while there are also special habitats for lions, cheetahs and African primates.
Two must-dos are the Lookout Lodge, which has a perfect bird’s eye view of the lion enclosure, and Lemur Encounters, where you’ll walk through an enclosure with lemurs overhead.
There’s also a timetable of feeding talks and a daily bird of prey demonstration.
6. East Anglia Transport Museum
A repository for public transport from the first decades of the 20th century, the East Anglia Transport Museum is the only transport museum in the country where you can take rides on trams, buses and trolleybuses in one place.
These vehicles trundle through period street scenes and out into woodland, while there are dozens more static transport artefacts to be found in the exhibition halls.
These have been rescued from councils around the country and even abroad.
There are trams from Blackpool, Glasgow and here in Lowestoft, and Trolleybuses from London, Derby, Belfast and Copenhagen.
Also on display are lorries, vintage cars, taxis and vans with historic livery.
The museum has a tearoom and is open on afternoons in spring and summer, with two “special event” days each month.
7. Pleasurewood Hills
Lowestoft has its own theme park in 50 acres of parkland on the northern edge of town.
Kids under 13 will get the most out of Pleasurewood Hills’ rollercoasters, water rides, bumper cars, carousels and miniature railways.
There are more than 35 rides, shows and attractions in all, more than enough fun for a whole day.
For some adrenaline try “Wipeout”, which is a boomerang rollercoaster, reaching speeds of up to 50 mph, going through three inversions, and then repeating the course backwards.
Little ones can hit the Heart Kids’ Zone, with lighter rides like a mini pirate ship, an indoor play area and flying elephants.
8. Nicholas Everitt Park
On Oulton Broad, Nicholas Everitt Park is a restful open space on what used to be a private estate.
In the late Victorian period the land was owned by one Nicholas Everitt and after he died in 1908, his friend, the philanthropist Howard Hollingsworth bought the estate and donated it to the town.
Everitt’s home, Broad House, contains the Lowestoft Museum, while there’s loads to keep kids entertained in summer, like a boating lake, trampolines and crazy golf.
There’s a big open lawn for picnics next to the Broad, while the bandstand has weekly concerts on Sundays in summer.
Berthed at the South Pier is an intriguing relic of Lowestoft’s shipbuilding and fishing industries.
Mincarlo is the last surviving sindwinder trawler of Lowestoft’s fishing fleet, and was laid down at the town’s Brook Marine yards in 1960. For the 60s and most of the 1970s Mincarlo caught plaice, haddock, cod, sole and skate in the North Sea, before serving as a rescue ship for the platforms in the southern North Sea gas fields.
The Mincarlo is now a museum ship, and you can come aboard for a tour to see the engine room, bridge and quarters, scaling ladders as you go.
The tour is given by knowledgeable volunteers, who have engrossing firsthand insights about life aboard trawlers.
10. Lowestoft Museum
Set in the Grade II-listed Broad House in Nicholas Everitt Park, the Lowestoft Museum documents Lowestoft’s heritage.
That house, with decorative merlons and Gothic Revival arches, dates back to 1685. The museum has an important collection of Lowestoft porcelain, produced in the 18th century, as well exhibits relating to local personalities like the famous composer Benjamin Britten.
You dip into Lowestoft’s past as a fishing port, and see curiosities from the ships HMS Mantis and HMS Lowestoft.
Also exciting is the archaeology collection, which along with Roman and Anglo-Saxon objects includes 700,000-year-old flint tools discovered in the Lowestoft in Pakefield, the earliest evidence of human habitation in the UK.
11. St Margaret’s Church
Wherever you are in Lowestoft you should be able to see the illuminated spire of this Grade I-listed church.
For hundreds of years the church tower was used as a waymark for vessels navigating the Suffolk coast.
St Margaret’s is built from flint and dates mainly from the 15th century although it was restored in the Victorian period.
Keep your eyes peeled for the octagonal baptismal font, dating from the 1400s, while the unusual brass lectern goes back to the 16th century and is pre-Reformation.
Also interesting is the wooden panel listing every parish priest at the church since 1308. On the north wall of the nave there’s a moving memorial to all of the Lowestoft fishermen who lost their lives at sea between 1896 and 1923.
Lowestoft’s southern suburbs used to be independent villages before they were taken over by the town’s sprawl.
Kirkley is on the coast and mentioned in the Domesday Book in 1086. This area is noted for the imposing terrace of Victorian townhouses along Marine Parade, commissioned by the construction entrepreneur Sir Samuel Morton Peto, who managed the firms that built monuments like Nelson’s Column and the new Houses of Parliament.
Further south you’ll come to a traditional Victorian seafront park at Kensington Gardens, overlooking the beach and with a bowling green, tennis courts and tearooms.
13. Somerleyton Hall
Staying on the Peto theme, the businessman bought this Jacobean country house in 1843 and completely transformed the building and its gardens.
He hired the architect John Thomas, who worked on Buckingham Palace, and gave this house an Italianate Baroque Revival design.
In the walled garden are stunning iron and glass greenhouses designed by Joseph Paxton, the man responsible for the Crystal Palace.
Also outside you can try to solve one of the country’s best yew mazes, planted in 1846. The house is still a private home, but you can take a tour to see the parlour, ballroom, library, grand staircase hall and winter garden.
The interior still follows a 17th-century plan and with oak panelling, family portraits, tapestries, stunning carved bookshelves and an opulent silver dining service.
14. Gunton Warren and Corton Woods
Lowestoft is bounded to the north by more than 30 hectares of protected nature.
On the coast, Gunton Warren mixes dunes, cliffs, shingle and lowland.
In summer the scrubby woodland in this reserve offers shelter to migrating bird species like the yellow-browned warbler and icterine, which are rarely spotted in the UK. Inland are the Corton Woods where mature beeches and oaks provide a habitat for woodland birds, and where you may see a variety of wild orchids.
Right next door is the Dip Farm Pitch & Putt if you’re up for some casual golf.
15. Ness Point
Just along from the outer harbour, this rather unassuming protrusion into the North Sea is the most easterly point of England, the British Isles and the UK. Right next door is Orbis Energy, a renewable energy development centre.
The gigantic wind turbine standing here is the tallest in the UK. Named Gulliver, it produced energy from 2005 to 2011. Ness Point is paved with a “Euroscope”, pointing out the direction and distance of cities around Europe and the UK, as well as the sunrise during astronomical events like the solstices and equinox.