East Anglia is one of England’s hidden gems with attractions ranging from the 125-mile waterway network of the Norfolk Broads and on to racecourses, market towns and traditional seaside spots for pleasure-filled days out. Historic sites also tell the story of the area’s rich past.
The East of England is a region of two complimentary halves. On its outer edges there’s an immaculate coastline teeming with wide, sandy beaches waving the Blue Flag of excellence. Inland, the landscape that once inspired Constable and Gainsborough is still undisturbed with beautiful nature reserves and more than 100 miles of waterways calling for thrilling days of exploration by boat, bike and on foot. A liberal scattering of pretty towns and old-world villages fit seamlessly into the picture.
Things to do in Suffolk and days out in Norfolk
Norwich Cathedral. Cosmopolitan Norwich still bears the spoils of its heritage with Norwich Cathedral its most impressive landmark. The spire is the second highest in England, the cloisters and nave are immense, and the Gothic rib vaulting showcases medieval masonry at its pinnacle. Guided tours run from Monday to Saturday.
Sutton Hoo. The royal burial ground at Sutton Hoo near Woodbridge dates from the 6th and 7th centuries. Owned by the National Trust, a £4m project has transformed the whole experience with new walking trails, guided tours and a brand-new exhibition. The centrepiece is the full-size ship sculpture modelled on the Anglo-Saxon ship buried at the site.
Snape Maltings. For a shopping and cultural experience far removed from the traditional high street, Snape Maltings makes it its business to showcase local businesses and talent. The shops are independent, a food hall and cafes are dedicated to food and drink suppliers from the area, and there are art galleries and regular concerts.
Beccles Lido. Set in the market town of Beccles on the banks of the River Waveney, Beccles Lido opens from the end of May until early September. The pool is heated and there are paved and grassy areas with picnic tables and sunloungers.
Adnams Southwold. The award-winning brewery and distillery offers behind-the-scenes tours exploring more than 650 years of brewing history and explaining what goes into the making of its beer, cask of ale, wine and spirits. Experiences at Adnams Southwold finish with tastings and gin-making.
Great Yarmouth Racecourse. Racing days at Great Yarmouth Racecourse attract celebrated jockeys competing in flat races. There are more than 20 meetings over the summer season, plus ladies nights and evening racing followed by live music.
Southwold Pier. Combining the traditional with the quirky, Southwold Pier is the place to enjoy fun games and wonder at eccentric inventions while also tucking into good old-fashioned fish and chips.
Time and Tide Museum of Great Yarmouth Life. Occupying a former fish curing building, the galleries at Time and Tide give an overview of Great Yarmouth’s maritime and fishing heritage and chart its rise from sandbank to a busy seaside resort.
Bentwaters Cold War Museum. Based at Woodbridge, the Cold War Museum provides an intriguing peek into a top-secret command centre once used by the Unite States Air Force. There’s still a large bunker here and a museum has been added to document the story of the base.
Explore the best nature reserves in Norfolk and Suffolk
Some of England’s most peaceful and scenic outdoor spaces can be found in East Anglia, with Norfolk and Suffolk famed for their immense flatlands and nature reserves. Thetford Forest is huge – the largest lowland pine forest in Britain in fact – while Rendlesham Forest is set in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Otherwise, the meadows, reed fen and woodlands at Mid-Yare and Benacre National Nature Reserves teem with wildlife, with wildflowers adding intense colour in the spring and summer months and autumn giving richness to the foliage.
Also in the area, Darrow Wood is a hidden site with the remains of a small motte and bailey castle and Dunwich Heath and Beach on the Suffolk coast offers beautiful heathland for walking and stunning views. Both are looked after by the National Trust.
The area as a whole is paradise for bird watchers, but Minsmere Nature Reserve houses some of the most impressive wildlife. The 1,000-hecare site is managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and regular walks and talks point out the huge variety of birds flocking around the coastal lagoons.
Another of the big draws is undoubtedly the Norfolk Broads, which has more waterways than Venice and Amsterdam. Travelling on the water is the best way to get close to the rare wildlife and spot colourful flashes of kingfishers and herons – daily boat hire and scheduled boast trips are available. There are also walking and traffic-free cycling trails through the marshes and woodland.
Heritage sites to visit in the east of England
It’s easy to be king and queen of the castle in East Anglia. Many of the castles in Suffolk and Norfolk date from Norman and Roman times with their stone walls and battlements remarkably well preserved.
The grandest of Suffolk churches are in the Wool Towns (wealthy towns from the 15th century when the wool trade was at its peak) but hundreds of others around the area are equally charming. There are also stunning historic houses to visit to learn more about the area’s rich and varied backstory.
Framlingham Castle. The towering ramparts are worth walking for the panoramic views, but behind them the history is intriguing. Mary Tudor gathered her troops at Framlingham Castle before advancing to London to claim the throne. An exhibition reveals some of the stories, while jousting, falconry and sieges rewind back to ancient times.
Burgh Castle. Only three of the stone walls of Burgh Castle survive, but as one of the country’s best-reserved Roman fort sites it’s still of historical significance. An all-weather path runs up to the ruins from where views cast over to Breydon Water.
Horsey Windpump. National Trust-owned Horsey Windpump, newly restored in 2019, is the largest windpump in the Norfolk Broads. Visitors can learn about why it’s here, while the 61-step climb to the top is rewarded with far-reaching views.
Norfolk and Suffolk Aviation Museum. Set on the outskirts of Flixton, the Aviation Museum details the history of aviation in the region with 65 aircraft to see around the site. The collection includes a Sea Harrier, Spitfire, Sea Hawk and hang gliders.
Helmingham Hall Gardens. The Grade I listed gardens at Helmingham Hall date from the 16th century gardens. Beautifully arranged around the moated hall, they include an orchard, apple tree walk and stunning borders bursting with colour. There are even red deer in the park.
Orford Castle. Under the care of English Heritage, Orford Castle has its roots in the 12th century but still stands a one of the country’s most complete keeps. After exploring the basement, it’s possible to move through the halls and maze of passages and up to the roof for amazing views.
Beautiful gardens to visit in Norfolk and Suffolk
From tucked-away arboretums to yew mazes, incredible greenery is integral to the East Anglian landscape. Gardens in Suffolk are among some of the most-loved in the country and always a joy to explore. Far from playing second fiddle, Norfolk is just as packed with wildflower meadows, lush lawns and the type of exiting planting that changes with the seasons.
Open April to September, Somerleyton Gardens is an oasis of calm, with ornate gardens set out as a series of inter-connecting rooms. The yew maze is one of the UK’s finest. The hall itself, open for tours only, dates from Victorian times with a wonderfully preserved ballroom, parlour and library.
Fairhaven Woodland and Water Garden
The 130-acre garden is tucked into the Norfolk Broads. Fairhaven offers almost four miles of pathways through woodland to see the ancient trees and mix of wild and cultivated plants. Daily boat trips around the private broad are great for spotting wildlife.
The family home of Sir Nicholas and Lady Bacon, the Raveningham Estate has a vast parkland setting and wonderful gardens with wildflower meadows and rare species. There’s a lake, arboretum, gardens full of herbs and roses, and a walled Victorian kitchen garden for fruit and veg.
Enjoy East Anglia's stunning beaches
There’s little high-rise, busy development to the coastline in Suffolk and Norfolk. The Suffolk coast, often known as the sunrise coast, is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and boasts 50 miles of heritage coastline, while Norfolk has another 90 miles of coast to its name, much of it also protected.
The Times, The Telegraph and Countryfile vote many of the beaches in this part of England among the finest in the UK. Running almost continuously from Cromer down through Great Yarmouth and on to Aldeburgh, they’re characterised by wide sands and dunes with plenty of local wildlife to spy. That’s not to say there isn’t adventure though. Surfing and sailing are very much part of the scene and designated cycle and walking paths traverse dunes, beaches and cliffs.
Kessingland. Sandwiched between Southwold and Lowestoft, the beach at Kessingland is large so rarely feels crowded even in peak season. It’s protected by low cliffs and offers water sports and a selection of cafes.
Southwold. The pier is famous for its quirky amusements and the village celebrated for its pubs and boutiques, but Southwold Beach is just as much of an attraction with the long stretch of sand and shingle backed by pretty-in-pastel huts.
Aldeburgh. All sand and shingle, Aldeburgh Beach is one of the most well-known in Suffolk. It’s a pretty place, adjoined by a pretty town, which reportedly serves the best fish and chips on the east coast.
Lowestoft. This is Britain’s most easterly town, so great for sunset watching. Lowestoft Beach is blessed with wide golden sands and there’s also a fun-packed seafront with two piers, museums and a theatre.
Walberswick. Across the river from Southwold, Walberswick Beach has broad sands and tufty dunes. It’s also next to a nature reserve where marsh and heathland attract birds and local wildlife.
Dunwich. The National Trust owns Dunwich Beach, which is backed by low cliffs and countryside. Peace and quiet is the order of the day, maybe with some wildlife spotting.
Covehithe. This peaceful expanse of sand at Covehithe Beach is under constant attack from the North Sea and eroding fast. It’s a big part of the draw. The ghostly remains of a church and the salt-sculpted roots of trees twisting out of the sand gives it an otherworldy atmosphere.
Gorleston-on-Sea. Just south of Great Yarmouth, the beach at Gorleston-on-Sea is a stunner. As well as soft sands, it has a large promenade, beachside cafes, live music at the bandstand, and amusements. From the clifftop, there are views of the bay, harbour and wind turbines.
Great Yarmouth. The resort town has been a holiday hotspot since the late 1700s. Great Yarmouth’s long, sandy beach is one of the UK’s big hitters while The Golden Mile has, as its name suggests, a mile of amusements, adventure golf, pubs, ice cream shacks and park benches.