Norfolk might be on your radar since it’s become the residence of Prince William, Duchess Kate and Prince George. But, like me, you might not know much about Norfolk other than the royal couple’s new country home is just a stone’s throw from Sandringham. I must admit I didn’t have many expectations about Norfolk before my visit to the royal playground, but I can see why Will and Kate are happy to call it their home away from their official residence at Kensington Palace. They might just be having as much fun as we did discovering all the things to do in Norfolk.
Just one hour and 30 minutes from London, it was incredibly easy to hop on the train at King’s Cross station to arrive in King’s Lynn, just as the Royals do. Once in Norfolk, it’s easy to see why Will and Kate love it. Not only is Norfolk home to beautiful beaches that have been named some of the best in England, charming villages that solicit a laugh at their names like Great Snoring and Little Snoring and the delicious eats at countless gastro pubs. Norfolk is also home to some of the friendliest, but most protective people I’ve met in England. I couldn’t get hardly a peep out of anyone about where to spot the Royals. But I kept my eye peeled as I discovered where to eat, stay and play in Norfolk and it didn’t matter that I didn’t have any royal encounters; this area of England stole my heart.
Where to Eat
British food gets a bad rap for being bland and just generally bad. And, really, who can name many British dishes other than fish and chips and bangers and mash. Though I actually love fish and chips (which actually originated with fried fish in Ireland – you can learn more about it on a London food tour), I didn’t have any while in Norfolk. There were too many other delicious things to try in the many gastropubs around the region.
The Dabbling Duck
The Dabbling Duck is what the Brits like to call a destination pub. In other words, it’s so good that it’s worth traveling for. The award-winning pubs serves up only seasonal and locally sourced food. You can even check out exactly where all of their ingredients come from in the surrounding area on the map proudly displayed in the pub. We popped in for lunch and the burger sounded too good to resist. Though everything that I saw leaving the kitchen looked mouth-watering delicious, I’m glad I chose the burger; it was the best burger I’ve ever had. If that burger is Wills and Kate’s dish of choice, it’s no wonder they’ve spotted at this lively little pub!
The Dabbling Duck is located at 11 Abbey Road in Great Massingham and is open daily for lunch from 12 – 2:30pm and dinner from 6 – 9pm. Reservations recommended.
The Jolly Sailor
The Jolly Sailor pub in an institution in Brancaster Staithe. Owned by the same owners at The White Horse just up the road, The Jolly Sailor has a more rustic charm. Though we only popped in for a drink – there’s a great selection ales, local craft beers, wine, ciders and the biggest selection of rums I have ever seen – I got a peek at the pizza kitchen. Not only can you get take-away pizzas, but you can pick out your own toppings from the topping bar and watch it cook in the wood-fired oven. The menu has daily specials and all the typical pub-style food you’d expect to enjoy during the weekly quiz nights, music and beer festivals and other events the pub hosts. Plus, dogs are welcome and the on-site playground makes this pub perfect for a family outing.
The Jolly Sailor is located on the A149 in the heart of Brancaster Staithe and is open daily for lunch and dinner.
The White Horse
The White Horse is set right on the marshes and coastal path. The informal restaurant serves up an excellent selection of fresh local seafood in the glass “greenhouse” style room, and when warm enough, on the deck. The view alone would have been reason enough to dine here, but the food was excellent too.
I must admit that my stomach dropped a bit when our lovely host, Pam, suggested we try the fresh Brancaster oysters. Aside from fried in a po-boy, I’ve never really been a fan. I was envisioning a real-life version of the scene from Friends when Phoebe is at Ross and Monica’s parents’ anniversary party and she takes the oyster and pretends to eat it while dropping it on the floor, which Joey eventually slips on before wiping it on Chandler’s coat.
Maybe I haven’t had truly fresh oysters before, because the oyster on the half shell with just a little bit of the onion was pretty tasty. And while I thought tempura oysters sounded a bit weird, they actually worked and were delicious! I also tried the Norfolk rib-eye and blissfully sampled a tiny portion of every dessert on the menu.
The White Horse is located on the A149 in Brancaster Staithe and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.
Tucked away in the charming village of Wells-next-the-Sea, The Crown Hotel’s restaurant is another award-winner like all of the others I’ve recommended. The Crown also locally sources food and when there is crab on their menu, it is always local crab. I couldn’t pass up a generous sized crab spring roll absolutely loaded with crab and served with a lime mayonnaise and a side of chips (which I learned are basically the same as fries, but with a stouter body). Yum, definitely my favorite seafood dish I ate!
The Crown Hotel is located at The Buttlands in Wells-next-the-Sea and is open daily for lunch and dinner.
The Rathskeller is a bistro and wine bar located in one of the lovely remaining Hanseatic houses in Kings Lynn. I was a bad blogger and didn’t get any food pics, but goodness the portions are generous at this restaurant! The gluttonous soup is just a funny name for the soup of the day, but in a twist of irony it is also huge enough to be a meal all its own. The homemade sandwiches, all a great value at just £5.25, are enough to feed a small family and one of my dining companions couldn’t even finish half of the sandwich. I selected the tempura prawns with wasabi mayonnaise and a side of steamed broccoli rabe. Delicious! No matter your menu selection, there is sure to be a wine from the ample list of wines from around the world perfect to pair with it.
The Rathskeller is located at 1 South Quay in Kings Lynn and open for lunch and dinner daily.
Where to Stay
The White Horse Brancaster
The White Horse
I’ve already mentioned to the excellent restaurant at The White Horse, but it is also a 15-room seaside inn. The bedrooms are tastefully decorated in a Nantucket style. I loved the beach-y feel created by the duck-egg blue walls and all the little touches like starfish and shells. But it’s the view that can’t be beat. The inn sits right on the marshes and beach and the view changes with tides.
Bank House, a Georgian house built by a wine merchant, is located in the heart of King’s Lynn’s old town overlooking King’s Staithe Square and the quay. From the front rooms, perfect for relaxing with one of the Bank House’s many delicious cocktails, you can watch the new Lynn Lumiere light show projected on to the beautiful Custom House. The boutique hotel has just 11 rooms and each are individually named and decorated with period pieces.
Owners Anthony and Jeannette, the same owners of the Rose and Crown at Snettisham, are charming and will ensure you are well looked after during your stay. Ask nicely and they might even give you a peek of the original wine cellar beneath the hotel and restaurant.
Where to Play
Holkham Hall is interesting because it’s actually a working estate, meaning the Viscount and Viscountess Coke (pronounced cook) and their children live there. One of the newest exhibits, ‘Behind Closed Doors: A Year in the Life of a Working Estate,’ is an intimate look at the family and what goes in to running an estate such as this through photographs.
In addition to touring the posh rooms of the Hall, there is a lot to do at Holkham Hall. The estate has nature trails that can be explored on foot or bicycle, a six acre walled garden where various flowers are in bloom from spring through autumn, and a variety of lake activities from kayaking to water zorbing.
There are also a number of events throughout the season. Bring a blanket and picnic on the lawn for theater productions like Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and Robin Hood the Musical in the Walled Garden. Or take in the open-air cinema with favorites like Mamma Mia! and Top Gun. Nature lovers can join discovery walks or the deer safaris to learn more about the herd of 800 fallow deer that make Holkham their home.
Holkham Hall is open from March 29 – October 31. Tickets (Hall & Walled Garden) are £12 for adults, £6 for children 5-16 years of age or family passes are available for £33 (includes 2 adults and 2 children). English Heritage members receive a 20% discount on admission. The woodland area is free admission.
You might recognize the colorful cottages of Holkham Beach – the beach has had its own Hollywood career, starring with Gwyneth Paltrow in Shakespear in Love. It’s part of a National Nature Reserve and seeing it at low tide, when you can walk at least a mile out amongst the sand dunes, is simply spectacular. Named one of the best beaches in Britain, it’s no wonder that HRH The Queen herself once owned one of the colorful cottages (probably down the beach on a private section of it) and Prince Charles and Princess Anne played on the beach as children.
Just a few miles from Holkham is the charming village of Burnham Market. Duchess Kate is just one of the celebrities that have been spotted shopping here and the shops are certainly plentiful. You won’t find the chain retail brands that are the same the world over; instead, there are traditional shops for the residents daily necessities like a butcher, the fish market and a pharmacy.
The boiled lobsters and local crabs looked delicious in Gurneys Fish Shop, but since we had no way to cook them up later we moved on to the independent galleries and boutiques. There is everything from clothing shops to home stores, but my favorite shop was Pentney House – The Hat Shop. Said to be the largest hat and fascinator shop in the UK, there were literally thousands of hats and fascinators in every color and style imaginable. I could have spent hours upon hours trying them all on!
There are also some great eateries and restaurants in the village. Stuffed full of crab spring rolls, I wasn’t remotely hungry. But I did eye up the menu at The Hoste and was again impressed that everything is sourced from within 30 miles of their kitchen.
Castle Rising is a spectacular Norman castle and both one of the largest and best preserved in England. It was the exile home of Queen Isabella, widow and (alleged) murderess of King Edward II. Queen Isabella lived there between 1330 and 1358, after she fell from power. Though it said that her son, King Edward III, imprisoned her at Castle Rising, in reality she lived a very regal life definitely fit for a former queen. You can tour the mostly ruined castle, though you can envision the splendor of its glory days as the audio guide tells the castle’s tale. If you listen closely, you might even hear the Queen’s cackling or spot her ghostly form haunting the rooms.
Castle Rising is open March 28 – November 1, 2015. Admission is £4 per adult, £2.50 per child or a family ticket is available for £12. Admission is free for English Heritage members.
Blakeney Point, or officially Blakeney National Nature Reserve, is a sand spit that has formed over hundreds of years off the coast of Norfolk. It’s wonderfully teeming with birds and wildlife and one of my favorite things I did on my trip to Norfolk was to take one of the daily boat trips out to see the seals in their natural habitat.
The Bean family has been organizing boat trips out to see the seals and birds for more than 50 years and I scored a prime seat right next to the captain. As you approach, most of the seals are basking in the sunshine on the beach. But seals are quite curious, so don’t be surprised when their heads suddenly pop up right next to the boat to get a better look at you. This year’s colony was around 500 common and grey seals and in early April, when I went, the seal pups were only around four months old.
Beans Boat Trips operate with the tide, so the departure time changes daily. Tickets are £10 per adult and £5 for children up to 14 years old. Dogs are welcome!
Brancaster is a seriously stunning beach that stretches as far as the eye can see. Like Holkham Beach, the beach becomes a vast expanse of sand punctuated by the sea when the tide is out. There’s even the rusting shipwreck of the SS Vina, though you really shouldn’t try to find the shipwreck. It’s located at a very dangerous channel and the fast moving tides have swept more than one person caught in them out to sea. Even without going in search of buried treasure, the beach is perfect for long walks on no matter what time of the year. It’s also dog friendly.
And speaking of Brancaster Beach, the Royal West Norfolk Golf Club is located alongside Brancaster Beach. It’s so close to the beach, that the Club House is in accessible at high tide. With such stunning atmosphere, it’s no wonder that Prince William and Prince Harry regularly play a round here. And after, the club house has an excellent selection of locally caught fish and cask ales.
The Royal West Norfolk Golf Club is open to both members and visitors. Visitors should contact the office to inquire about making a reservation.
King’s Lynn is brimming with over 900 years of maritime and trading history. The best way to discover it is on one of the many walking tours with the town guides. Knowledgeable guides, like former town mayor and guide Paul who showed us around, help you discover the preserved medieval churches, guildhalls and secret courtyards that make up the historic core of King’s Lynn.
One of England’s most important ports, King’s Lynn is steeped in maritime history that you can also discover on a self guided walk about town following the Maritime Trail. There are 27 numbered plaques indicating the various points of interest that takes around 90 minutes to walk and you can pick up a trail map at the Custom House. Though the guide recommends starting at True’s Yard Fisherfolk Museum, I enjoyed ending our walking tour there to sit for a few minutes and relax with a cup of tea just as The Queen did on her visit.
Be sure to spend the night to catch the new spectacular Lynn Lumiere light shows projected on King Lynn’s most iconic buildings like Custom House and St. Nicholas’ Chapel.
Pensthorpe Natural Park
The 660 acre Pensthorpe Natural Park opened in 1988 and is home to an increasing number of migratory birds and resident birds. It’s definitely the place for bird watchers to get out and enjoy the bird life. Though I’m not big on birds (I’ve been pecked at and lost hair to birds too many times), I did love the pink flamingos and the marabou storks. The marabou storks are a giant species of stork that are so ugly they’re cute. They kind of look like old men and the staff at Pensthorpe told me they’re a favorite with many visitors.
Aside from the walks to get up close encounters and even feed some of the birds, there are a lot of activities for families to do during a fun day out. There is a bug walk and kids can go on a bug hunt. The new Hootz House opens this May and Pensthorpe’s mascot owl will tell stories and get kids active outdoors. In summertime, you can even picnic at Pensthorpe’s “river” and let the kids run free in the play park that has a zipline, jungle gyms and more educational activities.
Pensthorpe also has breeding and re-integration programs for red squirrels, giant tortoise, turtle doves and other species. I could have watched the red squirrels, particularly a curious little one named April, play and run around all day!
Pensthorpe Natural Park is open daily from 10am – 5pm. Admission is £11.25 for adults and £9.75 for children 3 – 16 years of age.
Our trip was provided by Visit Norfolk in order to bring you this story. However, Luxe Adventure Traveler maintains full editorial control of the content published on this site. As always, all thoughts, opinions, and enthusiasm for travel are entirely our own.