Some of the most rewarding places to visit in Norfolk are rooted in the county’s beguiling past. Explore the region’s prehistory at Grime’s Graves, the Anglo-Saxon name for what is in fact a Neolithic flint mine; step inside a Jacobean household at Blickling Hall, home to Anne Boleyn, and get hands-on with armoured military vehicles at the Norfolk Tank Museum.
Meanwhile, Norfolk’s Roman history is remembered at forts such as Burgh Castle, and that of its most famous British rebel Boudicca is traced at the Iceni civitas of Venta Icenorum.
Here are 10 of Norfolk’s best historic sites.
1. Castle Acre Priory
Castle Acre Priory in Norfolk was an 11th-century monastery founded by William de Warenne, the Second Earl of Surrey. Like many of the country’s monasteries it was dissolved under Henry VIII, however its picturesque ruins today provide a glimpse into the thriving world of monastic Britain.
There are several exhibitions at Castle Acre Priory, including a recreation of the monks’ herb garden and displays of original artefacts. Audio guides are available, making the site easy to navigate and understand, with visits usually lasting a few hours.
2. Grime’s Graves
Located in Norfolk, England, Grime’s Graves is the only Neolithic flint mine open to visitors in Britain. First named ‘Grim’s Graves’ by the Anglo-Saxons, it was not until the site was excavated in 1870 that they were identified as flint mines which were dug more than 5,000 years ago.
Today, a small exhibition illustrates the history of the fascinating site. Visitors can descend 9 meters by ladder into an excavated shaft to see the jet-black flint. The landscape is also worth wandering around, since it has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a habitat for rare plants and fauna.
3. Norwich Cathedral
At the centre or Norfolk’s county town, Norwich Cathedral was built between 1096 and 1145 on the site of an Anglo-Saxon village and two smaller churches. The cathedral’s carved and painted bosses are significant medieval sculptures, while its cloisters and cathedral spire are both the second largest of their kind in England after Salisbury Cathedral.
Inside Norwich Cathedral, there is a 14th-century painting known as the Despenser Retable, as well as a copper baptismal font made from bowls previously used for making chocolate in the Norwich Rowntree’s factory.
4. Blickling Hall
Blickling Hall is a stately home of historic importance in Norfolk, England. Blickling’s most famous resident was Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII and Queen of England between 1533 and 1536.
The grand entrance hall and staircase are in the original Jacobean style, while the 1930s style Brown Drawing Room recalls its late ownership by the Kerr family. The Chinese Bedroom also has some of the best surviving examples of original Chinese wallpaper in the UK today.
5. Hoveton Hall Estate
Hoveton Hall Estate is a Regency-style house and grounds in Norfolk, England, covering 620 acres, which includes highly acclaimed gardens. The house in its current form was built between 1809 and 1812.
Christabell Burroughes commissioned architect Humphrey Repton and his son to design the current version of Hoveton Hall, perhaps partly based on elements of Sheringham Hall, another building designed by Repton in Norfolk.
The gardens are perhaps the most famous feature of Hoveton Hall today. As well as the walled ‘Spider Garden’, the grounds hold a walled kitchen garden (which is still used to grow fruit), an early 19th-century glasshouse, a magnolia garden stretching alongside a lake and a woodland walk.
6. Norfolk Tank Museum
Offering a ‘hands-on’ experience, the Norfolk Tank Museum allows visitors to enter and explore armoured military vehicles from throughout history. The independent museum features various Centurion tanks and a diverse collection of military small arms.
The museum aims to allow visitors to handle and touch as many of the exhibits and artefacts as possible. Visitors to the Norfolk Tank Museum can enter and explore a Saladin Armoured Scout Car and a Chieftain Main Battle Tank, for example.
7. Burgh Castle Roman Fort
The Roman Fort at Burgh Castle is one of the best-preserved Roman sites in Britain. The walls of this impressive fortification remain in remarkably good condition: they survive on three sides and stretch as high as four metres.
Burgh Castle Roman Fort, known as Gariannonum, was originally built in 260-280 AD as part of the so-called ‘Saxon Shore’ defences, designed to protect against seaborne raiders from Denmark and Germany. These bases defended trading centres and local settlements, with other forts in the area located at Brancaster and Caister-on-Sea.
8. Venta Icenorum
Venta Icenorum, or ‘market-place of the Iceni’, is in the valley of the River Tas and the Romano-British predecessor of the modern town of Caistor St Edmund, south of Norwich. It was the largest Roman town in East Anglia.
It was the civitas, or capital city of the Iceni tribe led by Boudicca. The town came into being around 60-61 AD after the tribe’s revolt against Roman rule and the sacking of Colchester (Camulodunum) and London (Londinium) although there are suggestions it grew from an earlier Iron Age settlement.
Today, the ancient town of Venta Icenorum is free to visit and you can learn more at the Boudicca Gallery in Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery.
9. Castle Rising
Castle Rising is a ruined Norman fortification in Norfolk which was once home to Queen Isabella, widow of Edward II and mother of Edward III. In the 16th century the Castle passed to the Howard family, with Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk taking ownership. Howard was infamously the uncle of both Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, two Queens of England executed by Henry VIII.
Though ownership of Castle Rising remains with the Howard family, today it is periodically open to the public in partnership with English Heritage. Surrounded by twenty acres of expansive earthworks, Castle Rising represents the ultimate medieval defense system.
10. Lynn Museum
The Lynn Museum in the northerly Norfolk town of King’s Lynn covers the town’s local history but also the Bronze Age timber circle Seahenge. Lynn Museum is home to a replica of Seahenge’s timbers, which were discovered on the nearby coast in 1998, as well as information on how they were excavated. The Seahenge display was on loan to the British Museum between February and July of 2022.
The museum also features a display on the development of fairground rides and the history of Norfolk: its collection includes an Iceni gold coin hoard, lead badges and oil paintings by local artists.