The Broads Cultural Highlights


Horsey Windpump

The twin pleasures of boating and camping in the Broads are well known, but the park also has many treasures for lovers of history and the arts to discover. Our guide to the highlights of the Broads’ cultural scene will help you find out where you can visit a Norman castle and a traditional windpump, learn about the area’s fascinating heritage, catch shows, gigs and exhibitions, and join thousands of revellers at vibrant local festivals.

Historic sites and monuments

St. Benet's Abbey

The atmospheric remains of St Benet’s Abbey stand in a peaceful rural spot close to the River Bure. Its ruined church, 14th-century gatehouse and 18th-century windmill are beloved of both religious and secular visitors, and a big draw for photographers and artists.

Uniquely, the former monastery escaped dissolution during the Reformation, thanks to the close relationship between its presiding Abbots and King Henry VIII. 

To learn more about the abbey’s history, join a guided tour on Wednesdays and Saturdays from June to September (currently 2pm, but please check before visiting to avoid disappointment). The annual Bishop’s Service, held here every July/August and attended by the Bishop of Norwich, is a great way to absorb the essence of its original purpose.

Today, rather delightfully, the best way to visit St Benet’s is by boat (with free moorings nearby). It’s also an easy stroll or cycle ride along the river from the village of Ludham.

St Benet’s Abbey at Sunrise by Rob Potter

Horsey Windpump

Most of those who visit Horsey Windpump will assume that it was a classic ‘windmill’, and indeed its sails still turn today. In fact, the handsome restored brick tower and its predecessors that have been on the site for over 300 years were a vital factor in enabling the drainage of the surrounding marshes. 

Inside, you can watch a video and read interpretive panels outlining the history of the building, or climb its steep steps for stirring views of Horsey Mere and the surrounding Broads.

The secluded setting is a haven for migrating swans and rare swallowtail butterflies, and the wildlife garden and orchard are particularly beautiful in summer. As an added bonus, the beach at Horsey Gap is just a five-minute drive away.

The pump is open for at least a few days every month, and much more frequently in summer. Full details are on the National Trust website.

Norwich Castle

Revitalised thanks to a £15m Lottery grant, Norwich Castle’s fabulous Norman keep is due to reopen in 2024. Reinstated rooms and spaces will allow visitors to explore all the way from the dungeons to the battlements, and view thousands of historic artefacts in the Gallery of Medieval Life.

Alongside the keep, fascinating galleries in the city’s former prison contain notable collections of archaeology, fine and decorative art and natural history – more than enough for a great family day out.

You can find all the latest details of the project on the castle’s website. Please check before visiting.

Flag on top of Norwich Castle by Suzy Hazelwood

Annual festivals and events

Tour de Broads 

Much, much flatter than its French namesake, the Tour de Broads is an annual cycling event that welcomes bike riders of all ages and abilities to its routes through the park’s fabulous landscapes, usually in mid-August.

Around 2000 riders come along each year to take on a range of routes ranging from a child-friendly 6-mile family course to a more challenging 100-mile loop. With medals, food and drinks on offer, and raising funds for a local charity, it’s a great day out for those who like a good bike-based challenge amid gorgeous scenery.

Norfolk & Norwich Festival

With a focus on cultural inclusion for children and young people, the annual Norfolk and Norwich Festival is one of the oldest city festivals in the UK. Dating back more than 250 years, it features a comprehensive programme of contemporary, classical and popular music, circus, dance, literary events and visual arts.

Concerts, events and shows take over public spaces, major venues and outdoor sites. If you’re visiting the Norfolk Broads in May, you’ll find details of all events on the festival website or at Visit Norwich. As an added bonus, lots of them are free. 

Market towns and local crafts

Fresh produce by Nick Fewings

Beccles and Bungay

Attractive market towns like riverside Beccles and Bungay, with its ruined castle and Benedictine Priory, typify the charm of Broads life. 

Dating back to Anglo-Saxon times, Beccles’ market was even mentioned in the Domesday Book. Established in the 1500s, the ‘New’ Market is still held every Friday, with stalls selling delicious local produce and typical Norfolk crafts.

A visit to the market also gives you the chance to explore historic buildings including the thousand year-old remains of St Peter’s Chapel and Leman House, home to the Beccles and District Museum

Bungay, which also has a burgeoning reputation as a hub for discerning foodies, hosts weekly markets on Thursdays, seasonal street markets in May, July, October and December, and craft markets on some summer Saturdays. Visit the town’s website for details. 

Pottery and craft workshops

You can pick up all manner of local crafts and pottery in Beccles or Bungay, but if you’d like to watch artists at work, learn more about the creative process or try your hand at making something, the Broads website is a good place to start.

Museums and galleries

Museum of the Broads

Learn more about the history of The Broads at this fascinating museum in Stalham, which preserves the area’s unique heritage and explores the stories of its landscape, wildlife and people. 

Around 6,000 items are on display, including historic boats, domestic artefacts, agricultural tools and even a ‘water bicycle’. Local volunteers pass on their knowledge of boat-building and Broads history, while kids can dress up and imagine life as a helmsman on the museum’s static boat.

The Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts

This sleek modern museum and gallery on the University of East Anglia’s campus in Norwich was architect Norman Foster’s first-ever public building.

After a relaunch in 2023, the museum became the world’s first to recognise art as a ‘living lifeforce’. It seeks to foster cultural dialogue and exchange’, with imaginative programming including interactive exhibits, artist talks and regular changing exhibitions. 

Wander through the airy galleries to discover works by Picasso, Degas and Francis Bacon in the permanent collection, alongside significant pieces from Oceania, Africa, Egypt, Greece and Rome. Outside, spot works by Henry Moore and Antony Gormley in the serene 350-acre sculpture park.

Artistic venues and performances

Theatre Royal Norwich

If your visit to the Broads wouldn’t be complete without taking in a show, find out what's on at the Theatre Royal, Norwich. Established in 1758, the venue survived a cataclysmic fire and World War II bombing to become a cherished staple of the local arts scene

Today, the theatre presents a broad and inclusive programme throughout the year. Take your pick from classic and contemporary drama, comedy and dance, orchestral concerts and ballet, plus, of course, an annual pantomime. We recommend booking in advance, but it's always worth seeing if there are last-minute tickets if there's an event you like the look of.

Live music venues

Hands in the air by Anthony Delanoix

Looking to let off some steam? Or maybe to immerse yourself in the lyrical tones of a symphony orchestra? The Broads’ thriving music scene has something for you.

For club nights and gigs from the likes of Radiohead and the Arctic Monkeys, try The Waterfront or the LCR in Norwich, run by The University of East Anglia. The Theatre Royal welcomes major players on the classical scene, and the High Lodge in Thetford Forest presents a summer programme featuring popular faves like Sting, Madness and Blondie in its woodland arena. 

We can’t list all of the best music venues in the Broads, of course, but local music lovers do a fine job of setting you on the right track. The Norfolk Norwich website and the Norfolk Gig Guide are great places to start your search.

The Broads' historic sites, cultural gems and dynamic arts scene are all essential elements of what makes the park unique. We hope that you’ll enjoy discovering them for yourself. Time to start exploring!