Relax at these peaceful Norfolk nature reserves holiday cottages

Relax at these peaceful Norfolk nature reserves

Julie Smith 24 May 2023

Norfolk is home to more than 40 nature reserves where you can watch rare butterflies fluttering, spot an assortment of birds flying high above your head and witness the spectacular sight of grey seals relaxing on the beach.

The unique location of Norfolk means there’s a variety of landscapes and habitats to explore, including sand dunes, saltwater lagoons, reedbeds, woodland and marshland. So, if you fancy seeking out flora, fauna and wildlife on your next visit to East Anglia, we have compiled some of the loveliest Norfolk nature reserves to spend time at. 

For more Norfolk holiday inspiration, read our guide to some of the best things to do in Norfolk.  

Blakeney National Nature Reserve

Seals at Blakeney National Nature Reserve

Blakeney is a national nature reserve that’s managed by the National Trust and is home to the largest grey seal colony in England. The best way to get up close to the bathing seals and their fluffy pups is by taking one of the regular boat trips from nearby Morston Quay. 

You can also take a walk along the 4-mile stretch of shingle spit which makes up Blakeney Point, or follow the Norfolk Coast Path through the Blakeney Freshes which consists of acres of freshwater grazing marsh that are a haven for breeding birds.

Need to know:

  • Address: Morston Quay, Quay Road, Morston, Norfolk, NR25 7BH
  • Facilities: Car park, WCs and refreshments
  • Are dogs allowed? Yes, but restrictions apply between April and September

Holkham National Nature Reserve

Holkham National Nature Reserve

This large national nature reserve stretches along the North Norfolk coastline at Holkham and includes part of the large Holkham Hall estate with sand dunes, salt marsh, pinewoods and grazing marsh all combining together in this extra-special landscape.

Wildlife to look out for at the reserve includes natterjack toads amongst the dunes, shelducks amongst the salt marsh and butterflies amongst the pinewood. We recommend heading to The Lookout café, which has spectacular views across the nature reserve, and relaxing amongst the beauty for a while.  

Need to know:

  • Address: Lady Anne's Dr, Holkham, Wells-next-the-Sea, NR23 1RG
  • Facilities: Car park plus WCs and refreshments at The Lookout
  • Are dogs allowed? Yes

Martham Broad National Nature Reserve

Martham Broad National Nature Reserve

This Norfolk Wildlife Trust site is part of the Broads National Park and comprises a pair of shallow lakes surrounded by reedbeds and marsh on both sides of the River Thurne. Martham Broad and Marshes is home to swallowtail butterflies which can only be seen at the Norfolk Broads, along with breeding birds, otters, cranes and barn owls.

We recommend heading to Martham Broad as early in the morning as you can, as this is when you are most likely to glimpse rare Chinese water deer in the marshes and grazing in the fields.   

Need to know:

  • Address: The Staithe, West Somerton, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, NR29 4EB
  • Facilities: Parking
  • Are dogs allowed? No 

Holme Dunes

Holme Dunes

Another East Anglian nature reserve that’s managed by Norfolk Wildlife Trust, Holme Dunes lies at the top end of the coast close to Hunstanton and is the part of North Norfolk where the North Sea links with The Wash estuary. The Norfolk Coast Path runs through Holme Dunes so it’s just right for a scenic walk. 

There’s an on-site visitor centre with lots of information about the local landscape and a trio of birdwatching hides that look out over the dunes and surrounding grazing marshes. Birds you can spot include terns, avocets and curlew, and other wildlife that live in this habitat include butterflies and natterjack toads.  

Need to know:

  • Address: Holme Dunes Visitor Centre, Broadwater Rd, Hunstanton, PE36 6LQ
  • Facilities: Car park, visitor centre, WCs and café
  • Are dogs allowed? In certain parts of the reserve on a short lead

Cley and Salthouse Marshes

Cley and Salthouse Marshes

Purchased in 1926 to be held in perpetuity as a bird breeding ground, Cley Marshes is Norfolk’s oldest nature reserve. More recently, Cley has been combined with Salthouse Marshes to create a 300-hectare coastal nature reserve that’s one of the best places in the UK for birdwatching.  

There are six different hides where you can sit and watch the various species of birds come and go and the NWT visitor centre features a large glass window with spectacular views out to sea. You’ll also find interactive exhibitions and displays to help you learn more about the marshes and a cafe serving a range of hot and cold food. 

Birds that can be spotted here include spoonbills, snow buntings and marsh harriers. There are also accessible paths around parts of the reserve for prams, pushchairs and wheelchair users. 

Need to know:

  • Address: Cley Marshes Visitor Centre, Coast Rd, Cley-next-the-Sea, NR25 7SA 
  • Facilities: Car park, visitor centre with WCs, café and shop
  • Are dogs allowed? Not in the reserve, they are allowed in the outside areas of the visitor centre

Hickling Broad and Marshes

Butterfly at Hickling Broad

You can take guided wildlife water trails around Hickling Broad in a 12-seater wooden boat or spend the day exploring the area on foot. The nature reserve is home to a large proportion of the UK’s cranes along with bitterns, marsh harriers, merlins and Norfolk’s native swallowtail butterfly.

The historic Stubb Mill is a Norfolk windmill that’s located on the broad and you can take a scenic walk to it from the visitor centre - there’s a specially raised platform at the windmill which is perfect for spotting the site’s resident marsh harriers.   

Need to know:

  • Address: Stubb Road, Hickling, Norfolk, NR12 0BW
  • Facilities: Car park, visitor centre with WCs and café
  • Are dogs allowed? No, but visitors with dogs can walk along Weavers Way at the south edge of Hickling Broad

Titchwell Marsh Nature Reserve

Bird at Titchwell Marsh Nature Reserve

This RSPB-managed nature reserve is located on the Norfolk coast between Brancaster and Holme, and features a variety of different types of wildlife habitats including both fresh and saltwater lagoons along with reedbeds and marshland.

From tiny blue tits to large birds of prey, there is a wide variety of birdlife to spot at RSPB Titchwell and guided walks are available to help you make the most of your visit. There’s a Welcome Hub at this Norfolk nature reserve where you’ll find lots of useful information on birds to look out for and a cafe where you can stop for refreshments.

Titchwell is also home to a beautiful beach that’s backed by sand dunes and has wonderful views out across The Wash. It's a wonderfully peaceful place to relax and unwind.   

Need to know 

  • Address: Main Rd, Titchwell, King's Lynn, PE31 8BB
  • Facilities: Car park, visitor centre, WCs, café, shop, picnic area
  • Are dogs allowed? Dogs on leads are permitted in certain parts of the reserve

Scolt Head Island

Scolt Head Island

This sand and shingle barrier island between Brancaster and Wells-next-the-Sea is owned and managed by the National Trust and can be reached via a seasonal ferry from Burnham Overy Staithe or by walking across the tidal creek at Overy Cockle Strand at low tide.

There aren’t any facilities at Scolt Head Island but it’s a great spot for wild swimming and the salt marshes here are some of the best in the UK. Scolt Head is a breeding ground for terns and a host of other birds can be spotted during a visit, including pintails, shelducks, merlins, peregrines and red kites. 

Need to know

  • Address: Burnham Overy Boathouse, The Quay, East Harbour Way, Burnham Overy Staithe, King's Lynn, PE31 8FF 
  • Facilities: None on the island, various at Burnham Overy Staithe
  • Are dogs allowed? Yes, they are allowed on the island and on the ferries across

Mid-Yare National Nature Reserve 

Mid-Yare National Nature Reserve

The Mid-Yare National Nature Reserve is made up of four different RSPB sites within the Norfolk Broads. It’s located along the floodplains of the River Yare with the landscape including wet woodland, grassland, reedbeds, meadows, open water and shallow lakes. The four RSPB reserves are:

  • Strumpshaw Fen features gorgeous orchid-rich meadows and bluebell woods with picnic tables, a play area and nature trails that are just right for families. Species to spot at Strumpshaw include barn owls, bitterns and Cetti's warblers.
  • Buckenham Marshes and Cantley Marshes have fewer facilities than Strumpshaw but are a haven for wildlife including dragonflies, lapwings, avocets and the rare taiga bean geese who flock to the site each winter.
  • Surlingham Church Marsh is the only reserve on the south banks of the River Yare and features a mixed wetland habitat along with deciduous woodland and colourful carpets of wildflowers. Birds that can be seen here include kingfishers, marsh harriers and hobbies.      

Need to know

  • Address: Low Rd, Strumpshaw, Norwich, NR13 4HS
  • Facilities: Car park, visitor centre, WCs, café, picnic tables at Strumpshaw; car park at Buckenham Marshes; no facilities at the other reserves
  • Are dogs allowed? Not at all at Strumpshaw, dogs on leads are permitted at the other reserves

Plan your Norfolk getaway

Windmill in Norfolk

If you have been inspired to seek out some of these peaceful East Anglian nature reserves, you’ll find lots of lovely Norfolk cottages that make wonderful bases for a short break or longer holiday.

Whether you prefer to stay on the North Norfolk coastline or fancy a rural Norfolk countryside holiday home, browse our full range of Norfolk cottages to find the perfect one for you. 

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing, please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.

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