A boating holiday on the Norfolk Broads

by Jan

Who knew that a boating holiday on the Norfolk Broads could be so much fun?  We were not big boating fans, but with so many foreign travel restrictions, it seemed the perfect solution for an outdoor family holiday in the UK.

The Norfolk Broads National Park is a network of rivers and lakes and offers over 125 miles of navigable waterways.  With no tides and no locks, the Broads are easy to navigate and perfect if you’re new to boating like us.

In our guide to boating holidays on the Norfolk Broads, we’ll share our route, our 7-day itinerary, and ideas of some of the best places to stay.  Read on to see how we got on.

Booking a boating holiday on the Norfolk Broads

Boats moored at Malthouse Broad, Norfolk Broads, Norfolk, UK

You’ll be spoilt for choice when choosing your boating holiday on the Norfolk Broads, as there are so many boat hire companies.  The key factors for choosing your boat are the number of people, duration, location, and how much you want to spend.  You can hire a boat for a day, a long weekend or a week’s holiday.

We booked a 7-day boating holiday online with Hoseasons.  We collected our boat from Horning Pleasurecraft, a small boatyard in Horning in the centre of the Northern Broads.  Everything was included in the price, apart from our food and mooring fees.

There are many free mooring sites throughout the Broads, but if you are close to pubs or facilities expect to pay about £10 for overnight mooring.   You can’ t book in advance and someone will come and collect the fees soon after you arrive.  In Beccles and Oulton we went to the Harbour master and paid our fees.

The boat

Crossing Breydon Water, Norfolk, UK

Our boat, Tideway, was a 38 ft (11.5 metres) cruiser, with a large, central cockpit and elevated driving position.  With three bedrooms, two wet rooms (with toilet and hand-held showers) and a galley (kitchen), the boat offered all the home comforts we needed.  In the galley we had a sink, cooker, microwave, fridge, and cupboards.

Tideway is a relatively low boat, with a sliding roof.  This opened to provide an al fresco area for dining and relaxing when we were travelling.

The boat was not as modern or luxurious as some, but very practical and ideal for our family.  With the canopy down, it was perfect for getting under some of the lowest Broadland bridges.

Quick lesson for boating on the Norfolk Broads

Our Hire boat for the week, Norfolk Broads, UK

Once you’ve collected your boat, you will be given a brief lesson on how to drive the boat safely.

Firstly, they explain all the features of the boat. The fuel tank is full and you will get a refund for any unused fuel when you return the boat.

They recommend that you fill up the fresh water tanks (used for the sinks, showers & toilets) every couple of days.  We were able to do this at Beccles and Ranworth Broads.  If you’re with a larger group, you might need to do it more often.

Afterwards, they explained the boat’s controls and dials.  Our boat was fairly simple with the rudder (steering wheel), throttle (forward and reverse), oil pressure, battery level and engine temperature.

Our boat also came with bow thrusters (small propellers either side of the front of the boat), which we quickly realised were a must-have item, as they are godsend when mooring.

Next, we were taken out of the boat yard and for a trial cruise on the river.   The speed limits on the Broads range from a sedate 4mph to a maximum of 6mph.   Just perfect for cruising along and enjoying the countryside views.

Finally, the difficult bit.  Mooring! This looks easier than it is, but the bow thrusters really help.   We were then given the keys and set free on our Broads adventure.

If, like us, you arrive after the boat yard has closed, you can sleep on the boat for the first night and have your lesson the next morning.

Choosing your route on the Norfolk Broads

With 7 rivers and 63 broads (lakes) to choose from, you will never run out of places to explore on the Norfolk Broads.  Whichever route you choose, you can enjoy a tranquil, agricultural landscape with pretty cottages, riverside houses and plenty of gorgeous windmills to look at.

Realistically, the choice of boat route on the Broads will be based on the distance you want to travel each day and where you prefer to moor overnight.  However, you really don’t need to decide until you get there.

The Norfolk Broads is divided by Breydon Water into the Northern Broads and Southern Broads.  If you are going for a week, you will have plenty of time to explore both areas and can cross counties from Norfolk to Suffolk.

In our 7-day itinerary on the Norfolk Broads, we started at Horning and explored both the Northern and Southern Broads.  In this post we share where we moored and what you can expect to see and do in each location.

We travelled at a very leisurely rate with children, so were looking for places that would be suitable for them.  Furthermore, we were travelling with four other boats, which influenced our decision significantly!

Berney Arms Windmill, Norfolk Broads, Norfolk, UK

There used to be over 100 windmills on the Norfolk Broads.  They were often used to pump water from the marshes.

Horning

Horning Riverside Windmill, Norfolk, UK

Our starting point, Horning, is a picturesque village on the River Bure. Dating back to 1020, it is a historic village and has retained much of its original charm.  With thatched cottages, cosy tea rooms and traditional pubs it really is picture-postcard pretty.

Its central position makes Horning an ideal location for starting a boating holiday on the Norfolk Broads.

Horning Marina area is about 1 mile from the village and the base for many boatyards and stunning riverside homes.  Its name means the “folk who live on the high ground between rivers” and today the significance of its waterside location is still evident today.

We arrived late on Friday, so unpacked our car and headed to the Ferry Inn.

Salhouse Broad and Malthouse Broad

Proud Captain, Norfolk Broads, Norfolk, UK

After a night on the boat, a quick lesson and the boat handover, we started our adventure on the Norfolk Broads.  Our first stop was Salhouse Broad.

We wanted to moor overnight on the Broads at Malthouse Broad.  As this is only a short distance from Horning, we went in the other direction to Salhouse Broad.  We wanted to get a feel for the boat and meet the rest of our group.

Salhouse Broad is a picturesque lake with very natural surroundings.  It has a grassy bank, where children can play and a sandy beach area, which is great for paddling or watersports.   Alternatively, you can go for a walk in the surrounding woodland.

Thatched building at Ranworth Nature Reserve Center, Norfolk Broads, Norfolk, UK

After a break at Salhouse,  we headed back past Horning to Malthouse Broads.  This is one of the most popular mooring areas, as the facilities are so great.  Consequently, it can get extremely busy.  If you want something more tranquil you could moor at the island opposite or drop your mud anchor and float in the middle of the broad for the night.

We enjoyed drinks with friends and then a pizza from the Maltsters pub. We then went for a short walk, finding the boardwalk that leads you on a nature trail to the private Ranworth Broads.  This nature reserve has a Visitors’ Centre and fabulous viewpoint.

You can continue on a circular route to visit the ancient village church.  Built in the 16th Century, St Helen’s Church is now known as the “Cathedral of the Broads”.  In non-covid times you can climb to the top of the tower for panoramic views across the broads.

Cathedral of the Broads, Ranworth, Norfolk, UK

Acle Bridge

Acle Bridge Inn, Acle, Norfolk Broads, Norfolk UK

The village of Acle is in a prime position for stopping before you cross from the Northern to Southern Broads.

Acle has 12 mooring positions by Acle Bridge and several places to eat.  We stopped at Pedro’s, a lively tapas bar near the bridge.  Pedro’s has a great choice of small dishes, that are ideal for sharing.

The staff at Pedro’s were fantastic, and coped well with our large group.  Alternatively, you could cross to the Acle Bridge Inn, a pub with a scenic riverside location.

After a long, slow lunch we took a leisurely walk to Acle village.  The circular walk starts with a roadside path to the town centre.  Here you’ll find a few shops, a pub, and some takeaways.  If you need provisions, they have a large supermarket at the end of the village.

From Acle we headed towards Upton, passing St Mary’s Church in Fishley, and returned on a woodland path towards the river.

Crossing from the Northern Broads to Southern Broads

Breydon Water Crossing, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, UK

The only way to get to the Southern Broads is by crossing Breydon Water, a large body of water outside the seaside town of Great Yarmouth.

You must plan your crossing in advance as the tides can be strong.  It is important to go under the Great Yarmouth bridges at slack water, about an hour after low water.  At this time, the tide is less hazardous, and you’ll have maximum clearance under the bridges.

We had to leave Acle at 6am, to ensure we were there at the ideal time.  We had a fairly low boat, so bridges weren’t an issue, but we did lower our windshield as a precaution.

Once you’re on Breydon Water navigation posts will lead you through the safest route across the channel of water. The crossing is about 4.5 miles and takes about 45 minutes to an hour. Although this sounds challenging, the journey across Breydon Water really is very exhilarating and I loved it!

Burgh Castle

Burgh Castle walls, South Broads, Norfolk, UK

Once we’d reached the Southern Broads, we moored outside the Fisherman’s Inn at Burgh Castle.  This is a waterside pub, with a garden overlooking the River Waveney.

From the pub it is a short uphill walk to Burgh Castle, one of the best-preserved Roman monuments in Britain.  The fort was built in the 3rd Century as a coastal defence for the Romans.

Nowadays, you can still see the remains of the walls and some interpretation boards with information about the history.  You’ll also get fantastic views looking over Breydon Water.

Oulton Broad

Oulton Broad views

After lunch in the Fisherman’s Inn at Burgh Castle, we continued up the River Waveney to Oulton.  Known as the Gateway to the Southern Broads, Oulton Broad is a busy tourist centre with a large mooring area and facilities.

If you are on a family boating holiday, this is a great overnight stop.  Although I wasn’t too keen on the village, Oulton Broad is home to the fantastic Nicholas Everitt Park.  The marina is also stunning in the evenings.

Ducks at Nicholas Everitt Park, Oulton Broads, Norfolk

Nicholas Everitt Park has a playground with a range of equipment to suit all ages.  You’ll also find a large playing field, where we spent the evening trying to beat the kids at rounders.

Take a tour of the park to find a boating pond, Lowestoft Museum, and a gorgeous duck pond.  To extend your walk, follow the footpath to Carlton Marshes, a nature reserve with a variety of wildlife.

Oulton Broad is only 2 miles from Lowestoft, so you could use this as a base for getting to the seaside.

Beccles

Two boys on paddle board having fun on water at Beccles

Our final stop in the Southern Broads was at the Suffolk village of Beccles.  This charming village really is a hidden gem of the Norfolk Broads, and I could happily have stayed here longer.

Beccles is a gorgeous market town, oozing with historic buildings and independent shops.  Imagine market squares, with antique shops, homeware boutiques and delicatessens.

Plus, there’s a great choice of traditional pubs, cosy tea shops, restaurants, and several supermarkets for stocking up.

Beccles Street scene

We found plentiful mooring at the Quay, where there’s a small playground and playing field.   Beccles has its own lido (open-air pool), but you currently have to book, and we couldn’t get in.  However, the kids had fun in the river with the paddleboards and dinghies.

Another bonus of an overnight stop at Beccles is that mooring fees include use of a wash block, with showers, toilets, and tumble dryers.

Stokesby

View of boats moored at Stokesby

Day 5 of our Norfolk Broads itinerary required another early start as we headed back to the Northern Broads.

Luckily, by now we were experts at navigating Breydon Water.  This was the longest of our journeys.  It took us all the way to the tiny village of Stokesby, where we moored by the Ferry Inn.

Stokesby is a picturesque little village.  The Ferry Inn overlooks the river and is also home to the village store.  To the kids’ delight, they offered a great range of made-to-order shakes and pancakes, which really went down a treat.

Boats reflected on water at Sunset at Stokesby

Not far from the pub, is a small playground and playing field, where we continued the rounders challenge.  Further up the road is the old Victorian school, which is now a community hall and a lovely church.

We followed the Stokesby circular walk, which starts off on a riverside path, but some parts were very overgrown, so wear long trousers.

Malthouse Broad

Maltsters Pub at Ranworth Broad, Norfolk, UK

Our final stop was a return to Malthouse Broad.  We needed somewhere close to Horning, as we needed to return the boat at 9am the next day.

Although we’d already moored here, it really is one of the best in terms of facilities.  Directly in front of the mooring area is a convenience shop, Granary Stores and across the road is the popular Maltsters Arms pub.  As well as a great pub menu, they have a pizza shack in the garden, with made-to-order pizzas.

We treated the kids to an end of holiday ice-cream and another splash around in the water.  We then took an evening walk to Ranworth Broad Nature Reserve as the sun was setting. A perfect end to a great holiday.

Boat in foreground looking out over mirrored Ranworth Broad Nature Reserve, Norfolk, UK

Getting to the Norfolk Broads

You can get to the Norfolk Broads in about 2 hours from London.

By car, you can use the M11 and A11 from London or the South.  If you’re coming from the North, use the A1.

Regular trains run from London Liverpool Street to Norwich.  From here, you can get a local connecting service with Greater Anglia Trains.  It takes about 1 hour 50.

Have you tried boating on the Norfolk Broads?  We’d love to hear your comments below.

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7 comments

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7 comments

Avatar for Jan
Holidays from Hels 29th June 2021 - 7:31 pm

What an adventure! Especially crossing the Southern Broads! We hired a canal boat for the afternoon and I couldn’t quite believe how much there was to learn and how tricky it was to manoeuvre. Well done for not only successful navigation but also finding so many gorgeous places to visit along the way. #CulturedKids

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Avatar for Jan
Melanie Trethowan 27th June 2021 - 11:34 pm

What a lovely experience. We lived in England for a year way back in 2003 and had always hoped we would get to go on a canal boat, but it never happened. Your adventure looks wonderful and so memorable for the kids

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Avatar for Jan
Jan 29th June 2021 - 8:16 pm

Oh the children loved it.

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Zenbabytravel 27th June 2021 - 3:21 pm

What a cool holiday, absolutely loved the article! We have been sailing with the kids regularly but I am yet to be persuaded to spend the nights again ( ‘thanks’ to too much adventures in our young days sailing with friends in Italy and one stormy night where all of us had to work hard to keep the boat afloat!) But Norfolk waters look tamed and all landscapes are so pictoresque that you have convinced me to attempt a week-end first and if all goes well try your superb itinerary! Superb #CulturedKids material, thank you so much for linking in!

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Avatar for Jan
Jan 27th June 2021 - 3:56 pm

It didn’t find me long at all to find my “sea legs”! It’s very flat on the Broads, so it wasn’t choppy at all. We slept really well, though sometimes got woken by noisy ducks!

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Tanja/The+Red+Phone+Box+travels 23rd June 2021 - 5:36 pm

what a beautiful experience #culturedkids

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Avatar for Jan
Jan 27th June 2021 - 3:57 pm

Yes, it was a first for us and we’d love to go back.

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