Top 10 Things to do when travelling by rail

Norwich

With two universities, Norwich has a youthful vibe and excitement, plus some of the best shopping you’ll find anywhere, with five major department stores, two shopping malls and fantastic independent stores, particularly in The Lanes.

The city centre, just five minutes from the rail station, is easily walkable, with lots of restaurants and theatres, and Europe’s largest covered market place. Don’t worry if you get lost – you ask for help from one of the many Blue Badge guides.

This is also possibly the best-preserved medieval city in the UK, and it used to have a church for every Sunday and an inn for every day! There are still a number of microbreweries in the city, and the nightlife is excellent, with lots of pubs, bars and clubs.

Highlights: Norwich Cathedral is a Norman gem, with the second highest spire in England; eat chips from one of the market stalls with lots of vinegar and salt! (Go on, you’re on holiday); the Norman castle dominates the city skyline – don’t miss the Egyptian mummies and roaring polar bear!; the haunted Adam and Eve pub is the oldest in the city – it was used by masons building the cathedral in the 12th century; Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts is an inspirational art collection and gallery; take a walk along the riverside and take in Cow Tower.

Where to stay: The Old Rectory is a splendid Georgian B&B close to the river.

Where to eat: Norwich Market Place chips – deep fried in beef fat, liberally doused with vinegar and salt. Heaven!

Bury St Edmunds

Bury St Edmunds is Suffolk’s cultural and historical gem. Among the chic independent shops, historic cathedral and fantastic restaurants you’ll find Britain’s smallest pub, a famous brewery and a fascinating archaeological site.

Highlights: Once home to one of the most powerful monasteries in medieval Europe, Bury St Edmunds has some extraordinary architecture, including St Edmundsbury Cathedral, the flower-filled Abbey Gardens and West Stow, an ancient Anglo-Saxon village. It’s also home to Greene King Brewery, one of the UK’s most prolific brewers and the makers of Abbot Ale. You’ll find Greene King beer in many of Bury St Edmunds’ pubs, including The Nutshell, officially the smallest pub in Britain.

Moyse’s Hall Museum, a beautiful medieval building in the heart of the city centre, is where you’ll find anything from a medieval jewellery to revered paintings.

Bury St Edmunds also boasts Britain’s only surviving Regency theatre, the Theatre Royal, and The Apex, a fantastic live music venue. A great family day out can be found to the south of Bury St Edmunds at Ickworth House, a neoclassical estate with a striking rotunda that holds seasonal events throughout the year.

Where to stay: In the heart of this historic market town sits The Angel Hotel, a 4 star award-winning Georgian coaching inn formerly frequented by Charles Dickens, and boasting a unique, art-filled Eaterie.

Where to eat: One of Suffolk’s most outstanding eateries, Pea Porridge is a local favourite whose down-to-earth style and delicious food earned it a place in the Good Food Guide 2015.

Cromer

Delightful Cromer is a throwback to the traditional days of Victorian seaside fun, when the railway attracted thousands of holidaymakers from London – and still does! The town centre is just a few minutes’ walk from the station.

Stand on the Promenade and take in the huge spread of sandy beach, divided by the elegant pier, voted the best in Britain in 2015, and with Europe’s only end-of-pier theatre – the Pavilion has shows throughout the year, with variety shows at Christmas and in the Summer.

This is also great walking country, either inland to the highest point in East Anglia (Roman Camp on the Cromer Ridge) or along the cliffs west to Sheringham, where you can hop on the North Norfolk Railway. This is Norfolk’s Deep History Coast, where the biggest mammoth skeleton ever was discovered – look out for bones on the beach.

Highlights: fish and chips from one of the town’s many chippies – the best being from No 1 on the seafront, with great views to the pier and beach; see mammoth bones in Cromer Museum; make sure you try Cromer crab while you’re here – they’re tasty because they feed from a unique chalk reef offshore; a trip on the steam North Norfolk Railway from Sheringham

Felbrigg Hall is a Jacobean delight; take in the coastal views at Sheringham Park.

Where to stay: Try a traditional seaside hotel like Virginia Court Hotel or the award-winning Georgian Grove.

Ipswich

Ipswich is an exciting town where life centres around the water: shops, restaurants and bars line the waterfront, and the architecture echoes a maritime history.

Highlights: No visit to Ipswich is complete without a stroll along the water’s edge or an evening meal with a sunset view of the boats in the harbour. Visitors can even venture out onto the water with Orwell River Cruises, who run daytime and evening charters, or Viking Mariners, who have a fleet of luxury sailing vessels you can charter or even learn to sail on yourself. Every year Ipswich celebrates its maritime past with the Maritime Ipswich festival: a weekend of events including nautical-themed and continental markets, music aboard a historic barge, Georgian re-enactments, beer festivals, street entertainment and fireworks!

Ipswich is also the place to find possibly the most cutting edge creative arts. It is home to the Pacitti company and SPILL festival, while theatregoers and dance-lovers will appreciate the wealth of shows to see at Ipswich’s New Wolsey Theatre and visionary dance venue, DanceEast. Classic art lovers will make a beeline for the Tudor Christchurch Mansion, which holds the best collection of Constable and Gainsborough works outside of London. Ipswich has several foodie attractions including the Suffolk Food Hall, a vast market full of Suffolk produce, and Jimmy’s Farm, which shot to fame after the 2002 BBC series of the same name. With plenty to do for adults and children, Jimmy’s Farm is an ideal destination for a family day out.

Where to stay: Right on Ipswich’s marina waterfront stands the Salthouse Harbour Hotel. Expect modern art and design, and knock-out views.

Where to eat: The Mariners is a floating French brasserie moored in Ipswich’s iconic marina. The dishes are superb and exquisitely presented, and best enjoyed on deck while the setting sun dips into the River Orwell.