East Anglia is perfect if you want to enjoy the charm of the sea and the English countryside without too many other tourists around. This area is still an hidden gem.
Where East Anglia is located
The term East Anglia refers to the entire eastern part of England, the belly of the island, which includes the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk, and a part of Cambridgeshire. If you talk about East of England however you can also consider Essex county.
This is a fairly large area that I recommend visiting by car because, although many places are well served by trains and buses, the most interesting part is the typical English countryside with its green meadows and pubs hidden along the back roads, as well as to the Broads, the navigable canals that characterize this area.
What to see in East Anglia
If you are ready to discover the English countryside, East Anglia is only a couple of hours away from London and other main cities, and is ready to amaze you with African animals, navigable canals, award-winning beaches, castles and cathedrals. So I present to you five destinations that I loved very much, suitable for any type of vacation.
1) The Broads, the network of waterways
The Broads are a 120 miles network of navigable rivers and lakes through Norfolk and Suffolk counties. Broads National Park is Britain’s largest protected wetland area and also includes marshes and reed beds that are home to a wide variety of local birds.
Ironically, these marshes were created by local monasteries with little attention to environmental protection that had spent the whole Middle Ages digging to produce heating peat. The continuous excavations had changed the area so much that the floods of the sea eventually transformed the Broads into the marshes we know today.
The bond of rivers with the sea is so strong that all the waterways of the Broads are subject to the influence of the tides and in fact it is not always possible to sail in autumn and winter. In the neighboring marshes, on the other hand, Norfolk reed grows, famous for being the material traditionally used to cover thatched roofs, which can still be seen today in the countryside.
The Broads have been a hugely popular boating holiday destination since the late 19th century, and you can still rent a boat to sail them today, even if it’s just for an afternoon. In addition, competitions are often organized in the summer and the other summer at Oulton Broads we saw colorful speedboats racing while we had a very English picnic on the shore.
2) Norwich, the capital of Norfolk
Norwich is a beautiful city with Danish and Norman influences, and is the county seat of Norfolk. In the completely pedestrianized historic center there is a shopping arcade built during the Victorian period and perfectly preserved, as well as a large number of must-see shops, including tea, clothing shops, bookstores, stationery shops and several art galleries. If you’re interested in Norwich you should also read my article about Norwich in one day.
Norwich’s main cultural attractions are the cathedral and the Norman castle. Norwich Cathedral is a must visit even if we do not go crazy for churches because it has a dizzying height that we only realize from the inside and also has a beautiful cloister which is one of the largest in England.
Norwich Castle, on the other hand, is considered an excellent example of Norman architecture, despite being almost entirely rebuilt between 1834 and 1839. Today it houses an art museum and is gorgeous from the outside. During the Christmas holidays, I also visited the collections that perfectly express the British love for teapots and stuffed birds. Curiously, the museum collects several unrelated objects, including the much appreciated largest teapot in the world and the Army Biscuit, the inedible mummified biscuits of the English army.
3) Africa Alive! to see the lions in the English countryside
I you dream an African safari and love the English countryside at the same time, you can’t absolutely miss Africa Alive! a zoological park with a large green area, walking trails, an electric train and enclosures with some particularly human-loving animals.
Most of the African animals hosted in the park live in large fenced areas and only a few are locked up in cages or aviaries which guarantee them enough space to live. The main attraction of Africa Alive! they are lions and you can admire them and take pictures from an elevated hut while they sleep and roll around like our house cats. But I fell in love with cheetas that look super soft and I would have gladly brought one home, but I had to settle for a stuffed animal.
In addition to the felines you can see giraffes, zebras and rhinos grazing peacefully in the countryside, as well as monkeys, meerkats and cute goats. After the visit to the park you can appreciate the wild beach of Kessingland just a few minutes drive away which is almost always deserted and stop to eat in any typically English pub off the tourist routes, or go to Lowestoft to reach the easternmost point of England, call Ness Point.
4) Southwold Beach
Southwold is a pretty touristic town on the coast, famous for the beauty of its villas. Lot of wealthy Londoners come here for their holidays. Its most famous citizen is undoubtedly George Orwell, who spent a period here as a teenager and when he was thirty years old.
Southwold is also home to the most famous local brewery in East Anglia, the Adnams, founded in 1872 and still in operation. Adnams beers are excellent and you can visit both the shop and the Adnams brewery, which in 2011 received the Good Pub Guide Brewery of the Year award.
The Southwold Pier host fancy arcades in Victorian style and a couple of fish & chip shops and tea rooms where you can relax looking at the sea and the characteristic colored cabins. Finally, if you plan to go to Southwold in July, I recommend to book your tickets for the Latitude Festival in advance because this hippie-chic music festival is really popular.
5) Framlingham Castle
Framlingham Castle was built in Woodbridge in the twelfth century by the important Norman Bigod family. Today almost nothing remains of the original medieval structure. The only building still standing is a late 18th century house, born as a home for the poor which today houses a small museum.
The outer walls, on the other hand, are perfectly preserved and the main attraction of Framlingham Castle in Woodbridge is the wall walk, a walk between the thirteen stone towers connected in a circle.
Among the famous owners of the castle there were also the Tudors, the dynasty of the famous and bloody Bloody Mary. The Tudors should have enlarged the original 1300’s kitchen and stables, though it’s not possible to say for sure as there aren’t enough facilities left. But they certainly added the impressive decorative red brick fireplaces atop Major part of the towers, each of which has a different style and design.
In any case, the appearance of Framlingham Castle is surreal because it is made up of huge ancient walls within which there is a park with picnic tables and a completely different style house. When the original structures went down, a more modern building was built on the foundations of the medieval Great Hall to house (and exploit) the poor locals in exchange for work.
Where to rent a car in Norfolk
To get around in East Anglia, I suggest you have a car because some beaches and towns in the countryside can be quite difficult to reach by public transportation. If you come from abroad, you can rent a car directly at the airport. Alternatively, if you live in England but far from East Anglia, you can reach Norwich by train and rent a car there.
My favorite website to compare rental prices and find the cheapest ones is Rentalcars.com. You can find the best prices also from the box below ?
Let me know in the comments section which of the five places I listed you prefer and why. If you decide to visit East Anglia next holiday I’m pretty sure you’ll fell in love with Norfolk and Suffolk.