Not been to the East of England before? Well, you’re in for a real treat! Here we choose the absolute must-visit places to get a real flavour of our diverse region. Tick off our best bucket list choices…
Norfolk’s Royal Coast
Sandringham has been the Royal Family’s private Norfolk estate for more than 150 years, when it was bought by Queen Victoria for her son Albert, later Edward VII. The family have traditionally spent each Christmas and New Year at Sandringham House, but otherwise it’s open to the public. Nearby King’s Lynn has the highest number of graded buildings in the country.
The coast here includes The Wash, home to amazing birdlife, particularly when tens of thousands of migrating geese and waders over-Winter here, huge sandy beaches, tidal creeks and salt marshes which give us wonderful oysters and mussels. Inland there are stately homes like Houghton and Holkham, the birthplace of Nelson at Burnham Thorpe, ‘Chelsea-on-Sea’ Burnham Market, and many chocolate box villages and market towns with characterful pubs and boutique shopping.
Queen Elizabeth II’s mother had a beach hut near Holkham and Princes Harry and William regularly played golf at Royal Brancaster.
Unsurprisingly, the world-renowned university city of Cambridge is a magnet for visitors to England. Get a wonderful view of the city from the University Church, St Mary the Great, from where you can see the top places to visit, including universities King’s, Trinity, founded by Henry VIII, and St John’s, as well as The Fitzwilliam Museum. Enjoy riverside parks Jesus Green and Midsummer Common and you can’t come to Cambridge without taking a punt trip on the river Cam, past ‘The Backs’ of many colleges and under the wooden Mathematical Bridge.
Visit The Eagle pub, where in 1953, Francis Crick announced that he and James Watson had ‘found the secret of life’ – the discovery of the structure of DNA. The pub is also famous for the RAF bar where second world war servicemen burned marks into the ceiling using lighters and wrote graffiti on the walls.
Ipswich and Constable Country
Visit the countryside that inspired John Constable in the Dedham Vale, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, his birthplace East Bergholt, the Stour estuary and many characterful villages.
Christchurch Mansion in Ipswich has the largest collection of Constable works outside London. While in Ipswich head to the waterfront, home to the University of Suffolk, The Old Custom House, bars and restaurants and boat trips along the river Orwell.
Constable was heavily influenced by Thomas Gainsborough, whose birthplace at Sudbury, now known as Gainsborough’s House, is a museum and gallery.
The Broads National Park
The youngest National Park in the country, The Broads are more than 125 miles of lock-free, navigable waterways that are actually man-made, the result of inundated medieval peat diggings, linked by rivers. Straddling Norfolk and Suffolk, the Broads can be explored on foot or by cycle, but the best way to see them is to hire a boat and get out on the water – they can be hired for any duration from a day to a fortnight.
Set in beautiful countryside, with great wildlife watching, you can cruise along taking in picturesque villages and characterful traditional pubs. The Broads have Wroxham at its heart, medieval Norwich is the only city in England in a National Park, and you can travel to Great Yarmouth, the east coast’s premier seaside resort.
Newmarket – home of horseracing
Horseracing at Newmarket is recorded as far back as the time of James I with the racecourse founded in 1636. In 1671 Charles II became the only reigning monarch to ride a winner!
The town is home to more than 5,000 thoroughbred horses and 50 stud farms, two racecourses, The Jockey Club, and Tattersalls, the largest equine auction house in Europe. Palace House, the last remaining part of Charles II’s sporting palace and stables, is spread across five acres in the heart of the town and includes The National Heritage Centre for Horseracing and Sporting Art.
To understand the day-to-day workings of horseracing visit a stud farm or, best of all, take a tour with Discover Newmarket.
‘Wool Towns’ with Bury St Edmunds
The ‘Wool Towns’, in the heart of Suffolk, include Lavenham, Long Melford, Clare, Sudbury, Hadleigh and Bury St Edmunds, which grew wealthy on the success of the medieval wool trade. Visiting these characterful settlements of grand churches and higgledy-piggledy timber-framed houses is like taking a step back in time.
Lavenham, with 340 listed buildings, is known as England’s best-preserved medieval village and home of Harry Potter’s birthplace – De Vere House from the Deathly Hallows Part One.
The largest ‘Wool Town’ is Bury St Edmunds, named for King Edmund who was slain by the Danes in 869, and Suffolk’s cultural and historical highlight. This delightful market town features St Edmundsbury Cathedral and Abbey Gardens, the Greene King Brewery which hosts tours, Britain’s only surviving Regency theatre, the Theatre Royal, The Nutshell, the smallest pub in the country, and chic independent shops.
Modern and historic Norwich
Possibly the best-preserved medieval city in England, with stunning Norman cathedral and imposing castle, Norwich is also East Anglia’s ‘Hippest Hangout’, with vibrant nightlife of theatres, pubs and clubs and independent shopping in The Lanes. Easily walkable, the city, England’s first UNESCO City of Literature, has Europe’s largest covered market, a pretty river running through it, cobbled alleys and with Norwich University of Arts in the city centre there’s a very young vibe. On the city outskirts is the University of East Anglia and its Norman Foster-designed Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts.
Traditional seaside Norfolk
Get your buckets and spades out! Great Yarmouth and Cromer are traditional family-friendly seaside resorts that were made famous in Victorian times when the new-fangled railways brought people from industrialised London and the Midlands to enjoy the bracing sea air. Cromer has the world’s last end-of-pier theatre, which hosts summer and Christmas variety shows, and Great Yarmouth has its Golden Mile of amusements, attractions and rides plus the country’s last full circus building, The Hippodrome.
The Suffolk Coast
A 40-mile stretch of heritage coastline and Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty with excellent birdwatching at Minsmere, the Suffolk Coast appears to have been set in aspic in 1953. Its highlight destinations are utterly charming: Southwold, home of the Adnams Brewery, Victorian pier with its quirky amusements, beach huts and chic shopping, and Aldeburgh, famous for its arts and music festivals and fresh seafood.
The ‘Merrie England’ village of Thorpeness is known for its Peter Pan-inspired boating lake and House in the Clouds, Lowestoft is a traditional seaside town with sandy beach and access to the Broads, Dunwich is a small coastal hamlet that used to be one of the largest ports in England in medieval times, and Orford, a tiny fishing village famous for its Henry II castle.
Straddling the Suffolk and Norfolk borders, the Brecks has one of the most distinctive landscapes in the UK – historic heathland, unique ‘Deal Rows’ and prehistoric Pingo lakes. There’s also the vast Thetford Forest, a playground for outdoor enthusiasts, with wild red deer and birdwatching, off-road cycling, walking trails and high ropes.
Look out for Grime’s Graves, Neolithic flint mines that were Europe’s first industrial centre, The English Distillery, home of the English Whisky Company, and Oxborough Hall, a 15th century moated house run by the National Trust.
The Brecks also enjoys the best overall climate in the UK.