For years and years I’ve daydreamed about a canal boat holiday. Cruising along the water, waving to dog walkers, mooring up at the local pub for a Ploughman’s lunch and sunbathing on the deck. Pretty painted boats full of flowers, heart pints of local beer and huge slabs of homemade cake. Mr S and I shared these dreams with our friends, and luckily for us they are far more sensible.

You see, that daydream is likely to be constantly interrupted by the good old British weather, endless locks that take hours to open and close, long stretches of water without a pub and tiny living conditions. However there is a way to enjoy a holiday on the water without all that – by boating on The Norfolk Broads.

The Norfolk Broads (situated across Norfolk, obvs), are a little wider and easier to navigate with absolutely no locks in sight. There are boating marinas at every corner to hire anything from a day boat to a massive house in a boat and for water novices, it provides the ideal place to start. Plus, it is really really beautiful.

So six of hired the Princess of Light and headed off for 7 nights on the water. And in the words of Alan Partridge “Wat-er-way’ to have a good time”.

Getting started

Getting started on The Broads is relatively uncomplicated. We didn’t really think about what part of Norfolk we wanted to visit, so just picked the first reputable boat hire company we came across to book our home for the week. Our boat, The Princess of Light from Herbert Woods, cost just over £200pp for the week which included tuition, fuel, bedding, basic kitchen equipment and life jackets. You’ll need extra cash for food and drink and attractions, and also there may be some mooring costs depending on where you park your boat each night.

Boating on The Norfolk Broads

A couple of weeks before our trip, having finally looked at a map, we planned out our route through the quaint villages of North Norfolk. We were apprehensive as we had no idea how we would moor up (we looked at mooring signs on the map and crossed our fingers) or indeed how to drive the thing but there was no backing out now.

After collecting our life jackets, moving into the boat and getting an all too quick driving and mooring lesson on the boat we were left to our own devices. Away we go!

A guide to boating on The Norfolk Broads - and how to survive for 7 nights on a boat!Click To Tweet

Potter Heigham & Hickling

Herbert Woods were based in a marina in Potter Heigham, so that is where we started and ended our boating adventure. As we were unable to pick up the boat until after 4pm we decided to stay in the marina for the evening and set off early in the morning for our next stop.

There is very very little in Potter Heigham. A cafe, an all-purpose shop and a fish and chip shop are right by the marina, but we had to take a walk out to find the nearest pub for dinner, The Falgate Inn.

On the final night of our holiday, we also moored up in Potter Heigham and this time took a car ride out to Hickling to an amazing little pub called The Greyhound. Despite having pub dinners every single day, this one was the absolute best so if you ever find yourself in Hickling, give The Greyhound a visit.

Boating on The Norfolk Broads

Ludham Bridge & St Benets Abbey

The next morning we set off for our first drive in the boat where we tried our best to remember our driving lesson from the night before. Overtaking on the left, sail before steam (or indeed engine, which meant the sail boats always had right of way) and most of all, how to moor up.

We wanted to stop on the way to our first proper mooring at Ludham Bridge, but failed dismally to moor up at St Benet’s Abbey (to the point where many other boaters were laughing at us). This was off-putting, but actually was the only place we found others on the water unwilling to help us out.

So we pressed ahead to Ludham Bridge and after a few goes, finally worked out how to moor properly (by most of us jumping out in our life jackets and physically pulling it in with ropes).

After tying up our boat with our best boy scout knots we finally got to explore with some cake in a cafe, a good country walk to a local pub, a freshen up and an evening in The Dog Inn. There was little to see or do at Ludham Bridge, but it was a short journey to start with and a good place to find out feet – we had brought lots of games and wine on to the boat so we were not short of entertainment.

On our way back during our last day, we did manage to stop at St Benets Abbey – a monastery founded in Anglo Saxon times which although mainly demolished is still very atmospheric.

Boating on the Norfolk Broads

Stalham

We headed off our main path (we were largely following the River Bure) and headed North up the River Ant to visit Stalham. This was because we knew there was a large Tesco’s within walking distance of the mooring, and because there were a handful of pubs in town showing the football, which was a very important fact for our male companions (*rolls eyes*).

We found ourselves in an almost deserted marina at the very end of the river which reminded me of something from the Fifties – you could imagine it to be full of buzz in its heyday. We moored up at Richardson’s where we found decent toilets, actual showers (THE DREAM) and lots of space for us to spread out and relax in the sun.

After stocking up in Tesco, some of us visited the Museum of The Broads, which aims to show what life has been like on the water. It was fun to visit (although took us no time at all) and we hurried back to the boat to plan a Wedding Anniversary party for our friends which consisted of mermaid and pirate fancy dress. I’ll spare you the pictures, but sprawled out on the grass stuffed full of party food and wine I felt freer than I had in ages on a holiday!

Boating on the Norfolk Broads

Horning

What goes up must come down, so we made our way back to Ludham Bridge to continue our journey onwards to Horning, known as one of the prettiest villages on The Broads. They were not wrong. This time, instead of mooring up at a marina or one of the free staithes available along the waterway, we moored up at a pub called The Ferry Inn. We paid £10 – this is the average price for paid moorings, usually available at pubs or hotels. Depending on where you hire your boat from it may be part of a network of marinas which will host other boats for free overnight, so to keep costs down this is a good option.

As well as wandering through the picturesque village, curiously peeking into broadside properties with fancy front doors and tidy gardens we found yet another pub (The Swan, very lovely) to while away an afternoon with Pimms and boat watching. The Horning Ferry (pictured above) winds it way up and down the River Bure as an old Paddle Steamer and is an excellent way to spend an afternoon if you find yourself in Horning without your own boat.

We didn’t always eat out at pubs (I know, shock horror) and often used the amazing boat kitchen to make meals – either a fry up or a sausage/bacon sandwich for breakfast and easy to rustle up lunches. On this day we had so much leftover party food we had another boat picnic with a chilled beer and a wonderful view.

Boating on the Norfolk Broads

Wroxham

Wroxham was to be our last destination before heading back to Potter Heigham for our final night, and there is so much to do there that we planned to stay two night – this was a real luxury. Whilst boating holidays are extremely relaxing, getting up early to check the boat and drive off to our next destination to ensure we’d get a decent place to moor had become tiring. We found another friendly marina (Barnes Brinkcraft) after about an hour and a half of driving and set about filling up with water and getting the boat ready for a two night stay.

We said Wroxham had lots to do and places to eat – here are some of the highlights:

  • Wroxham Barns is a huge complex with lots of family friendly activities including crazy golf. There were fun fair rides, a circus, a junior farm and crafts and we spent a full afternoon here.
  • Wroxham Miniature Worlds is an indoor model village along side a lego world and lots of examples of toys through the ages.
  • Bure Valley Railway is an excellent steam train that will take you through the countryside and back again.
  • The River Kitchen Cafe & Restaurant serves an amazing afternoon tea, which we booked in advance by email the day before. It is right by the river, and there is a lovely riverside walk you can do afterwards.

Wroxham is awash with pubs, and also has a really large supermarket where we stocked up on boat supplies.

Caister-On-Sea

After packing up our boat early in the morning and handing back the keys and life jackets, we jumped into the cars with our holiday spirit still in full force and headed to the coast to soak up the last of the sun. (Also, Andrew had bought rounders and was desperate to play it). We found ourselves at a fairly deserted Caister-On-Sea, a picturesque beach with a sandy bay and wind turbines off into the distance.

After eating our bodyweight in ice cream and battling the good old British wind we decided to call time on our week long adventure in boating – friendships still intact, lesson learned and desperate for a proper shower at home!

A Norfolk Broads holiday is a wonderful way to spend a week but requires patience and planning. Look out for a future post where I’ll put together how we planned and survived on a cramped boat for a week!

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Norfolk Broads Guide | The UK | Boating Holidays | Travel Tips

Norfolk Broads Guide | The UK | Boating Holidays | Travel Tips
Norfolk Broads Guide | The UK | Boating Holidays | Travel Tips

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  • What an interesting idea! I’ve never thought about going on a canal boat but it looks awesome. I need to get to that side of the country!

    Jasmin Charlotte

    • It’s so much fun! A really god friend holiday, it’s really relaxing but you learn so much too. Norfolk was way more beautiful than I expected, I’d definitely recommend it!

  • I did a similar thing in France. It’s so calming!

    • Oooooh I’d love to do this in France! Sounds wonderful! Thanks for commenting 🙂

  • Laura Sellwood

    I absolutely love Norfolk! Happy to find a fellow fan. I have only ever done a day trip on the broads but it sounds like something i would love.

    • If you love Norfolk, you’d love a full boat cruise for a few days! I’m definitely heading back, but this time I’ll book a B&B and do a day cruise! Thanks for commenting 🙂

  • Hendrik Hünecke

    canal boat holiday sounds really like a very unique and great way to explore new places! So far I only new cruises but this personal traveling with friends offers already way more opportunities. And then in such a beautiful landscape and surrounding like norfolk – great trip!

    • It’s such a unique way to travel, and getting so popular in the UK – lots of different options, not just in Norfolk! Thanks for commenting 🙂

  • Nicole LaBarge

    I love Norfolk but I haven’t had a chance to cruise there yet. That beach looks great and I love to mini golf. Looks like a lot of fun.

    • You have everything you need in one place! Glad to have found a fellow fan of mini-golf. Thanks for commenting 🙂

  • We absolutely love being out on the water. We had similar experiences in Miami, but Norfolk looks amazing too. We’d check this out when in the area.

    • Wow, Miami sounds like an amazing place to get out on the water. You might not get as great weather, but you will see some lovely scenery! Thanks for commenting 🙂

  • This is something I’ve never really thought of doing but it sounds like a great experience and actually quite cheap. Thanks for the inspiration.

    • It’s really reasonable, especially as you can make meals on the boat, and do lots of walking which is of course free! Thanks for commenting 🙂

  • In Africa N Beyond

    Now I feel like going on a boating holiday. It sounds like great fun. I usually travel with my kids and I know that they would especially love Wroxham Barns and Wroxham Miniature Worlds.

    • Wroxham Barns was super fun for kids – lots to do and explore and definitely not too expensive either! Thanks for commenting 🙂

  • This look amazing – and at GBP200/7d it’s way less expensive than I thought (I guess, it depends on the number of peeps involved but still!). Thank you!

    • Happy to be of service – its a really cost-effective way of going on holiday! Thanks for your comment 🙂

  • Agnes Aasmaa

    What a nice way to enjoy holiday. Especially, if the weather is good then you can enjoy boating no matter where you are. And it’s great that you could make your own itinerary 🙂

  • The weather is always a risk in England, it changes hourly. I’ve never know how much a barge was, it’s a fair price really for a week. Was it hard to learn how to drive?

  • If you don’t like the weather in England just wait till the afternoon… It’s amazing how little luxuries, like real showers, can seem so opulent when you are having an adventure. Boating through the English countryside sounds romantic, quaint and absolutely foreign from our San Diego lifestyle. Mooring up at an English pub for bangers and mash would be incredibly and absolutely cool. When make it so San Diego we’ll take you surfing and all that So-Cal stuff. When we make it to England we want you to take us down the river.

  • Clare

    It looks like a beautiful area of the country. I have never been to that part, though from your photos it makes me want to go visit. Not sure a boat trip is for me, but maybe one day I would give it a go, am sure its certainly very relaxing.

  • Nicholas Danis Bertrand

    Living on a boat and gently going down the canals seem like such an idyllic experience.It never came to my mind before but it’s something I’ll now definitely have to try.It really looks like the perfect way to spend a holiday in England and 200 pounds for 7 days is such an amazing deal!Did you need a special license to drive the boat?

  • FullTimeCanada

    Now this seems like a great way to have some fun. Like you I’ve always been interested in canal/river cruises. I’ve done sea cruises before which are fantastic, but the river/canal cruises seem a little more intimate and magical for some reason.

  • Luxurybackpacking

    I’ve been to Norfolk many times, and love sailing out into the sea! We always water-skied behind the back of the boat, was a lot of fun! I’d love to do what you did and sailed further out and explored more of the coastline, as the UK is such a wonderful country!

  • Sutee Dee

    Wow, seems like you were deliberate about picking Norfolk over other options. Seven days seem relaxing but also filled with a lot of different activities. River cruises have the advantage that you’re not on the boat just crossing water for a day.

  • Sonia Sahni

    I have done plenty of sea cruises but I like canal and river cruises more as the scenery keeps changing and its a lot of fun. Glad to look at the sunny pictures…the weather in England can be sooooo moody! UK has such lovely landscapes and the cruise seems like a great way to see them!

  • I never been in Norfolk, but this seems a beautiful idea to see the surroundings traveling, and you can also enjoy the journey! It seems perfect even to organize a private party on board. There is much more to see apart London at least in UK.

  • That looks like so much fun! My mum would love that x

    • It was so much fun – definitely a great family activity! x

  • Pete

    Now there’s a holiday that sounds like a good ‘un. Hmmm. Are there any boats with decent showers aboard?

    • There are definitely boats with a lot more luxury if you are prepared to pay – we went with a mid-level price and the shower was ok, but it uses quite a lot of water and we didn’t want to have to refill at every stop so we decided to use showers at marinas instead!

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