48 hours in . . . Norfolk, an insider guide to England's windswept east

cley windmill, norfolk
Sandy beaches, lively market towns, sleepy villages, the restful Broads – there's something for everybody in Norfolk Credit: GEORGE W JOHNSON

Where beaches and Broads combine

Norfolk's vast sandy beaches are its chief draw for visitors: even on the busiest summer day there is always space for games, kite-flying or a family picnic in the dunes. Boating, crabbing, digging for cockles and wading in creeks provides hours of entertainment for all.

But there's much more to Norfolk's coast than its beaches. It’s also a wild landscape of dense pine forest and large expanses of salt marsh, which flush purple with sea-lavender in August. Bird life is astonishingly rich, and wild flowers include yellow-horned poppies and lilac-flowering sea pea.

Inland, the undulating countryside and sleepy flint-built villages are perfect for gentle cycling, walking, or touring by car. Grand stately homes make enjoyable days out, and almost every village has a sublimely beautiful medieval church at its centre. Lively Georgian towns such as Burnham Market and Holt offer quirky shopping – and, wherever you are, you’re never far from an atmospheric pamment-floored pub serving local ales, or an excellent delicatessen selling the region’s specialities. Look out for pungent cheeses, smoked fish and salt-marsh flavoured honey.

Hot right now . . .

Sophie Butler, our resident expert, offers her top tips on the hottest things to do and places to eat this season.

Do

Catch sculptures by Henry Moore at Houghton Hall (Houghton; 01485 528569) – curated by Sebastiano Barassi, Head of Collections and Exhibitions at the Henry Moore Foundation. Moore’s pieces will be exhibited inside and around the grounds of this 18th-century mansion all summer, until 29 September.

Houghton Hall will be displaying works by the sculptor, Henry Moore, until late September

Previously unseen areas of 18th-century Holkham Hall (Wells-next-the-Sea; 01328 713111) including The Old Servants’ Hall, Venetian Bedroom and hidden passages are open to visitors for the first time. Guided cellar tours are also on offer, until October 31, 2019.

The best things to do in Norfolk

Various rooms at Holkham Hall, including the Venetian Bedroom, have been opened up to visitors for the first time

Party

This year sees the fiftieth anniversary of the Cromer Carnival with plenty of traditional family events and activities throughout the week including processions, competitions, a fun run and a Carnival Day Parade with floats and fancy dress. From August 17 to August 23.

The best hotels in Norfolk

48 hours in . . . Norfolk

Day one

MORNING

Head to Creake Abbey Food Hall and Café (North Creake; 01328 730399) to buy some picnic provisions (there's a delicious deli counter with charcuterie and speciality cheeses), before driving to the Georgian town of Burnham Market for a wander around the small independent shops clustered around the green. The most interesting ones include Gun Hill Clothing Company (01328 730015), The Hat Shop at Pentney House (01328 738267) and The White House Bookshop (01328 730270).

Next stop, the beach. Park in Lady Anne’s Drive for easiest access to Holkham beach (the pay-and-display takes coins and cards). Stride out eastwards for an hour’s round trip to Wells-next-the-Sea, with its colourful beach huts, returning either along the water’s edge or by the quiet coastal path behind the pine woods. Alternatively, walk westwards to Gun Hill – the highest point of the dunes, with views of Scolt Head – to find a quiet picnic spot in the marram grass.

Holkham has a horseshoe-shaped beach of pale sand, sheltered by pine forest Credit: ROBERT HARDING

AFTERNOON

Take your pick of the area’s best stately homes: Holkham Hall (Wells-next-the-Sea; 01328 713111) is an 18th-century Palladian mansion in a large estate; Houghton Hall (Houghton; 01485 528569) has superb William Kent interiors and a magnificent five-acre walled garden; and, a little way inland, Blickling Estate (Blickling; 01263 738030) has an impressive long gallery and is said to be the birthplace of Anne Boleyn.

These lavish piles only open on certain days, so check before visiting. Best for children is Holkham, with its playground and interactive 'Field to Fork' exhibition. All options have cafés, where you can rest your legs after a tour.

Once home to Sir Robert Walpole, Britain’s first Prime Minister, Houghton Hall has early 18th-century interiors sumptuously designed by William Kent

LATE

Treat yourself to the lavish seven-course tasting experience at Morston Hall (£90; Morston; 01263 741041), a Michelin-starred restaurant headed up by chef Galton Blackiston. Expect beautifully presented and imaginative dishes served in a fixed dinner menu, which may start with butternut squash velouté with locally caught brown shrimps or wild Stiffkey sea bass with whey butter sauce.

A cheaper option, also in Morston, is the Anchor Inn (The Street, Morston; 01263 741392), a cosy fire-warmed pub which serves hearty food including Norfolk rib-eye steak and sticky toffee pudding.

A dish of Morston mussels, is a regular highlight on the wide-ranging menu at the Anchor Inn

Day two

MORNING

Book onto a boat trip to Blakeney Point Nature Reserve (01263 740241) to see the common and grey seals basking on the water’s edge. Hour-long boat trips depart from Morston Quay, with times varying depending on high tide. Some allow you to land on Blakeney Point for up to an hour. Contact TemplesBeans or Bishop’s Boats: prices are around £13 for adults and £7 for children.

Spend the rest of the morning strolling along the sea wall between Morston and Blakeney. Leave the car in the National Trust car park on Morston Quay (signed from the A149) and head eastwards. From the raised sea-wall, you get sweeping views of marshes, muddy creeks, moored boats and a rich variety of seabirds including terns, gulls, oystercatchers and lapwings.

Have a coffee at The Moorings (01263 740054) on Blakeney’s High Street and take a look at its pretty seafront and narrow back lanes before retracing your steps to Morston.

Take a boat ride out to Blakeney Point for a wild encounter with basking seals Credit: ANDREW AITCHISON

AFTERNOON

Choose from a selection of excellent local cafés within an easy drive of Holt. In good weather, pick Wiveton Hall Café (1 Marsh Lane; 01263 740515), where brightly coloured tables and chairs are placed under pines next to the marshes. For a tempting menu based on locally produced organic produce (also available to buy at the deli counter) visit Back to the Garden (Letheringsett; 01263 715996) – or for interesting vegetarian options combined with a range of interesting local crafts to buy, head to the Art Café (01263 741711) in Glandford, which serves light lunches.

Next, jump in the car for a brief tour of the flint-built coastal villages – including Cley, with its windmill, delicatessen and shops selling local pottery, smoked fish and second-hand books. Also, consider a quick foray to the Georgian town of Holt for a browse around antique, art and gift shops. Drop into Bakers & Larners Food Hall (8 Market Place; 01263 712244), which sells a wide range of local craft beers, honey and cheeses.

If this makes you feel peckish, head to The Folly (4 Hoppers Yard; 01263 713569) in Holt, which is secreted away in tiny Hoppers Yard. This vintage-style hideaway has tables in a shady flower-filled garden. Alternatively The Owl (White Lion Street; 01263 713232) doubles up as café and bakery, and also has a sheltered garden.

Cley is a fine example of the picturesque, flint-built villages that dot the Norfolk landscape Credit: ALAN COPSON

LATE

Soak in some seaside fun at the Pavilion Theatre on Cromer Pier, which hosts one of the last surviving 'end-of-the-pier' shows in Britain. These run through the winter and summer seasons, attracting a loyal and enthusiastic following who love the traditional blend of comedy, dance, magic and singing.

For dinner, try The Gunton Arms (01263 832010) in Thorpe Market, near Cromer, which has a restaurant that’s popular with locals. The chef, Stuart Tattersall, specialises in succulent steaks cooked on an open fire; guests sit refectory-style at long, wooden tables. Main courses from around £14.

The Pavilion Theatre hosts one of Britain's last surviving 'end-of-the-pier' shows Credit: Loop Images

Where to stay . . .

Luxury Living

Culinary accolades abound for Morston Hall, a flint- and brick-built country house, including a long-standing and well-deserved Michelin star. No quirky touches here, but this long-established and highly-regarded hotel is certainly one of the smartest choices along the North Norfolk coast.

Doubles from £330. Morston; 01263 741041

Food is the main reason to come to Morston Hall, which has a Michelin-starred restaurant

Boutique Bolthole

The Gunton Arms is a one-of-a-kind hideaway on a tranquil Norfolk estate offering a relaxed, shooting party atmosphere, high-end contemporary artworks and meaty cooking. Peaceful bedrooms combine impeccable taste with a keen eye for comfort and most have long views over unspoilt rural parkland. 

Doubles from £95. Cromer Road, Thorpe Market; 01263 832010

The Gunton Arms is a relaxed countryside retreat with plenty of character

Budget Beauty

A 16th-century pub-with-rooms in a coastal Norfolk village, the Chequers Inn has been successfully modernised without compromising the friendly and informal atmosphere. Local villagers drink Wherry beer alongside hotel guests in the snug bar or eat in the spacious dining room in the rear extension, its soft grey tones lit by gleaming copper down-lighters.

Doubles from £120. High Street, Thornham; 01485 512229

The Chequers Inn offers a level of comfort that exceeds what you’d expect of a village pub

What to bring home . . .

After a 45-minute guided tour of the lavender fields and a look at the onsite distillery, treat yourself to fragrant soaps, oils and plants from Norfolk Lavender (Lynn Road, Heacham; 01485 570384).

Head to Norfolk Lavender for fragrant bath and body products, homeware and more

Visit Branthill Farm’s (Wells-next-the-Sea; 01328 710810) 'barley to beer' micro-maltings to find out more about the production process and choose from around 60 locally brewed ales.

The Real Ale Shop at Branthill Farm offers a taste of Norfolk's rich history of brewing

When to go . . .

Norfolk’s beaches are a magnet for picnicking families in July and August, and it’s carnival season in seaside towns with outdoor events taking place across the region. As Autumn takes hold, the coast takes on a different character with a calmer influx of walkers and kite-flyers while inland the narrow lanes attract cyclists and blackberry pickers. Foodies gather at the North Norfolk Food and Drink Festival at Holkham in early September and the late autumn and winter months attract the birdwatchers who cluster on the salt marshes to view the arrival of bitterns, pink-footed geese and buntings. Springtime is perfect for bracing seaside walks and cosy evenings sampling local seafood in a fire-warmed pub.

Know before you go . . .

Tourist board information: visitnorfolk.co.uk

Getting there 

By air

Norwich International Airport, to the north of the city, is four miles from the city centre and the Broads, and 40 minutes from the north coast.

By train 

Trains run every 30 minutes between London’s Liverpool Street Station and Norwich while West Norfolk is served by hourly trains from Kings Cross to Kings Lynn. 

See Greater Anglia and Great Northern Rail.

By bus 

Regional bus companies include LynxSanders Coaches and First Group

Author bio

Sophie Butler is Telegraph Travel’s Norfolk expert. She has lived in the region for more than two decades, both in North Norfolk and Norwich. Her favourite activities include browsing the farmers’ markets, cycling along quiet lanes, and sailing in Blakeney harbour.

Experience Norfolk with The Telegraph

Telegraph Travel's best hotels, tours, cruises and holidays in Norfolk, tried, tested and recommended by our Norfolk experts.