The North folk and the South folk of the East Angles helped give England its name, so it’s no surprise that the region is full of history and heritage to explore…
Please, before you travel to the East of England, Know Before You Go – ensure places you want to visit are open, see if you have to pre-book. We’ve supplied click-throughs to attractions for you to check.
Suffolk’s county town is the oldest Anglo-Saxon town in England, with a rich heritage. Not to be missed is its historic waterfront, now heavily punctuated with restaurants, bars and hotels. Honestly, you’ll think you’re in Marseille.
From here take a river cruise up the Orwell (which lent its name to author Eric Blair), under the magnificent Orwell Bridge and on to picturesque Shotley Peninsula.
Having the first pedestrianised street in the country, London Street in 1967, it’s no surprise that Norwich is a city best explored on two feet and the best place to start is in the 900-year-old market place, the largest permanent covered market in Europe and where you’ll find a huge array of eateries, fresh food and fish, ingredients, clothes and more.
Visit the city’s millennium building, The Forum, maybe have an Afternoon Tea at the Regency Assembly House, enjoy the Urban Art Trail, and discover the winding alleys and pathways of the Norwich Lanes and cobbled and picturesque Elm Hill. By the Catholic Cathedral are the delightful green spaces of the Plantation Garden.
Stroll by the River Wensum, the last navigable part of the Broads which means Norwich is the only city in an English National Park, and head into the grounds of the magnificent Norman Cathedral. Explore the precincts and see the statues of local heroes including first world war nurse Edith Cavell, Sir Thomas Erpingham who at Agincourt led the Welsh archers (yes, Welsh!) and England’s great naval commander Horatio Nelson.
This is Britain’s best-preserved medieval city. Made prosperous by the wool trade and links with the Continent, a lack of fast running water meant the Industrial Revolution bypassed Norwich. What a relief! It’s left intact historic cobbled streets, city walls, and the majestic ‘Box on the Hill’ Norman Castle (spoiler alert: it’s in remarkably good nick because the Victorians reclad it).
Norwich was England’s first UNESCO City of Literature in 2012 and is now a City of Stories.
Bury St Edmunds
The first thing you need to know is that the medieval town is named after the original patron saint of England.
Crowned King of East Anglia in 855 when he was 14, the latter Saint Edmund was captured by the Vikings aged 28 and offered the chance to remain a puppet king if he renounced his Christianity. He refused, so the Danes tied him to a tree, fired arrows at him and chopped his head off.
This and many more amazing things can be learnt on the regular tours of the town.
The town centre is a lovely mix of eclectic independent stores, with the modern Arc Shopping Centre, and you can take a tour of the Greene King Brewery. Discover Bury’s role in the Magna Carta, Georgian squares, and literary links to Shakespeare and Dickens.
Which reminds us… you may have seen Bury (as it’s known locally) star in the 2019 film The Personal Life of David Copperfield with Dev Patel and Tilda Swinton. Scenes were shot at Georgian Angel Hill where you can have an afternoon tea at The Angel Hotel. Dickens would actually stay at The Angel and would give readings of his work at the neighbouring Athenaeum.
The Abbey of St Edmund was one of the richest and largest Benedictine monasteries in the country, but Henry VIII put paid to that. You can visit the Abbey ruins, wondering at Suffolk’s only cathedral, and walk the Abbey Gardens.
With more Graded buildings than York, King’s Lynn was one of the country’s most important cities from the 13th century, rightly proud of its links with the Hanseatic League, and its museums, medieval merchants’ homes along cobbled streets and by the atmospheric quays on the River Great Ouse that lead to The Wash and North Sea.
Don’t miss the 1683 Custom House, described by Pevsner as ‘one of the most perfect buildings ever built’, and the statue of explorer George Vancouver, the Georgian Hanse House, True’s Yard Museum, the Holy Trinity Guildhall or King’s Lynn Minster.
Enjoy the delightful Lynn Museum, which tells the story of West Norfolk. Meet Horace the taxidermy tiger in reception! Be amazed by the Bronze Age timber circle known as ‘Sea Henge’, the museum’s stunning centrepiece. Learn about the people who meticulously crafted the timbers and study the marks left by their bronze axes. The Lynn Museum is open Tuesday to Saturday with free admission (prior booking needed).
Nearby visit Castle Rising Castle, so good they named it twice, and, of course, Sandringham, private residence of our Royal family but open to the public when The Queen is not in residence. The grounds and visitor centre are currently open.
Five rural market towns in mid-Suffolk make up the Wool Towns – Lavenham, Clare, Long Melford, Hadleigh and Sudbury. The five historic communities, all within an easy drive or cycle of each other, are some of the most picturesque you’ll find in the region.
Well-constructed and handsome, the towns were built on the back of the wool and weaving trade. Today, they stand testament to when the East was the wealthiest part of England outside London.
Explore higgledy-piggledy streets with timber-framed houses leaning at quirky angles, enjoy independent shops selling everything from gifts to antiques, award-winning restaurants and charming tea rooms.