Exploring the Norfolk Broads

One of the most important wetlands of Europe, the Norfolk "Broads" are part of the lush landscape of the Broads National Park, 18 Colegate, Norwick, Norfolk NR3 1BQ (tel. 01603/610734;, lying both in Norfolk and Suffolk. Long thought to be natural lakes, they are actually man-made, resulting from peat being excavated for use as fuel. Flooded by a rising water table in the 13th century, these newly formed waterways were named "Broads."

The water comes from a trio of rivers -- the Bure, Waveney, and Yare -- that meander across these flatlands to the east of Norwich. The rivers converge at a lake, Breydon Water, before flowing into the North Sea at the port of Great Yarmouth.

The area covers 200km (124 miles) of navigable waterways. The dominant trees are alder, sallow, and birch, but you'll also see lots of oak and ash woodland. The fen, woodland, and grazing marshes of the Broads are home to some of the rarest plants and creatures in Britain.

One of Europe's most popular waterways, the Broads attract a million visitors a year with their blend of wildlife and distinctive landscapes.

On the River Bure, the town of Wroxham deservedly calls itself "the capital of the Broads." It lies 11km (7 miles) northeast of Norwich and is the best center for exploring the Broads, which, for the most part, are shallow lagoons linked by streams. These waterways are fun to explore by boat, of course, but some visitors prefer to ride bikes along trails in the Broads.

By public transportation, head to Wroxham from Norwich on bus no. 54, the ride taking 30 minutes and costing £3 round-trip. Once in Wroxham, a lot of information about the Broads is available from the Tourist Office, Station Road (tel. 01603/782281), which is open Easter to October daily 9am to 1pm and 2 to 5pm. At this office, you can get a list of small-boat outfitters renting vessels for touring the Broads. Day launches generally cost £12 to £20 per hour. Among the best and most reliable outfitters for boat rentals is Barnes Brinkcraft, River Bure, Wroxham, along Riverside Road (tel. 01603/782625).

If you don't want to handle your own boat, you can take an organized tour. The best ones are offered by Broads Tours, near the Wroxham Bridge (tel. 01603/782207; Their cruises last 1 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours. In summer, most departures are at either 11:30am or 2pm. The cost ranges from £6 to £12 for adults, and from £4.50 to £8 for children 5 to 15 years; it's free for children ages 4 and younger.

Some areas of the Broads are reached only by bike. At the tourist office , you can purchase a pamphlet, Broads Bike Hire, listing the best routes and containing much useful information. There are many outfitters renting bikes for touring the Broads. The tourist office keeps a complete list.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.