Journal

Historic Places In Norfolk

A rich tapestry of historical treasures

Delve into the heart of Norfolk’s history with a journey through its most storied and spectacular sites. From the majestic spires of Ely Cathedral, echoing the architectural grandeur of Saxon times, to the royal retreat of Sandringham Estate and the exquisite gardens of Houghton Hall, Norfolk offers a rich tapestry of historical treasures waiting to be explored. Whether you’re marvelling at the Palladian elegance of Holkham Hall, uncovering the hidden stories of Oxburgh Hall, or stepping back in time at the formidable Castle Rising, each destination weaves its own unique narrative into the fabric of England’s heritage. Join us as we uncover the historical jewels of Norfolk, promising an enchanting voyage through time and architecture, all within reach from the comfort of Congham Hall Hotel.

6 Best Historical Places in Norfolk

1. Ely Cathedral

Ely Cathedral dates back to Saxon times although the present building was built in 11th Century and became a cathedral in 1109. It is steeped in history and a spectacular building well worth a visit on your way up or back from the hotel.

With its unique 14th century octagonal lantern tower, Ely Cathedral is considered a medieval masterpiece. At this remarkable site you can climb the towers, drink-in the magnificent views, immerse yourself in history, and learn about the traditional craft of stained glass making.

There are two towers to climb and explore at Ely Cathedral, and you can enjoy guided tours of each. The medieval Octagonal Tower is extraordinary and rich in architectural history. Climb the 170 steps up this astounding structure, which is suspended high over the centre of the Cathedral. The taller of the two is the West Tower, which offers outstanding views across Ely and the East Anglian countryside. Wind your way round the 288 steps, while the tour guide leads you through the remarkable history of this cathedral.

While visiting the Cathedral take advantage of a rare opportunity to see historic stained glass up close at Ely’s Stained Glass Museum. Learn about the history and techniques of this ancient craft, while wandering through and admiring beautiful examples of stained glass from over 8 different centuries.

Food & Drink

If you’re looking for some light refreshments during your visit, the Refectory Cafe offers a selection of teas, coffees, light lunches and homemade cakes. Or the Almonry Tea Room, which overlooks the gardens, is a great spot for a morning coffee or traditional cream tea.

For a unique culinary experience, why not enjoy lunch in the Almonry Restaurant Located in the 13th century undercroft of the Cathedral, this popular restaurant serves a selection of locally-sourced, home-cooked meals below medieval vaulted ceilings.

Ely Cathedral, Chapter House
The College, Ely, CB7 4DL (get directions)
For opening times and prices, visit their website.

2. Sandringham Estate

Just a few miles from the hotel is the stunning Sandringham Estate – The late Queen’s beloved countryside retreat. At the heart of the vast 8000-hectare estate is the majestic Sandringham House. Built in 1870 by the then Prince and Princess of Wales, King Edward VII and Queen Alexander, this remarkable property is set in 24 hectares of luscious gardens and surrounded by woodland, farmland and a beautiful country park.

Passed down through four generations of British monarchs, Sandringham House is now the peaceful country retreat of Her Majesty The Queen and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh. Step back in time as you wander through the main rooms that have remained largely unchanged since Edwardian times. Still used by the Royal Family today, the rooms are rich in history and antique treasures – a porcelain chandelier from Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany and family portraits by contemporary court painters like Heinrich von Angeli to name just a few.

Sandringham Museum

Within the old coach houses and stable block you’ll find the Sandringham Museum, which contains a fascinating range of historic artifacts, from the 1939 Merryweather fire engine to opulent gifts given to The Queen on State Visits abroad.

Sandringham Gardens

Arguably one the finest of the Royal gardens, Sandringham consists of 24 delightful hectares of woodland walks, carrstone rockeries, pleached lime avenues and peaceful lakeside paths. Guided tours are available, which allow you to gain access to areas otherwise closed to the public, like the renowned Walled Garden.

Food & Drink

At the Visitors Centre you’ll find all the facilities you need to complete your day out at the Sandringham Estate – restaurant, gift shop, plant centre, and outdoor clothing store. The main restaurant serves delicious 3-course lunches, and for those special occasions, luxurious afternoon teas are available.

If you’re looking for something quick and easy, the Terrace Coffee Shop (which overlooks the main square of the Visitor Centre) serves a range of hot drinks, rolls, homemade cakes, and freshly-made sandwiches.

The Sandringham Estate, Estate Office
Sandringham, Norfolk, PE35 6EN (get directions)
For opening times and prices, visit their website.

3. Houghton Hall

This striking example of palladian architecture was built in the 1720s for the then Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole. As well as the spectacular gardens and beautiful hall, this site is home to an impressive collection of contemporary art and a soldier museum. Lavishly decorated by William Kent with painted ceilings and gilded furniture, these rooms were designed to impress, and they still do even today. Explore these fine rooms while admiring the valuable paintings and exquisite tapestries.

Art is intrinsic to Houghton Hall, and it has an impressive selection of historic and modern art on display. Renowned artists like Damien Hirst have exhibited their work both inside and outside of this dazzling property. What’s more, they even bost the largest private collection of model soldiers in the world! Started by the 6th Marquess of Cholmondeley as a child, this museum is not to be missed.

The Walled Garden at Houghton Hall won Christie’s Historic Houses Association ‘Garden of the Year Award’ in 2007, and it’s easy to see why. These stunning gardens include an impressive rose parterre, rustic temple, double-sided herbaceous border and a contemporary sculpture collection.

Food & Drink

The Stables Cafe is fully licensed and serves a range of light lunches, hot drinks and cakes. During peak times, there is also a pop-up cafe on the West Lawn for snacks, drinks and ice cream.

Houghton Hall, The Estate Office
Houghton Hall, King’s Lynn, Norfolk, PE31 6UE (get directions)
For opening times and prices, visit their website.

4. Holkham Hall

The grand mansion sits in the centre of a 25,000 acre agricultural estate. With impressive architecture, delightful works of art and beautiful gardens to explore, there’s lots to see and do at Holkham Hall. Holkham Hall, with all its history and grandeur, is still very much a family home. Viscount Coke and his family live there, taking great pride in displaying their home to the public during the summer months.

The 18th century Hall itself was elegantly designed by William Kent, similar to Houghton Hall. The Marble Hall is probably the most striking part of the property with its 50 ft domed ceiling. Although not actually constructed of marble, this room is nothing but breathtaking. The state rooms are worth a visit too, with charming collections of statues, original furniture, tapestries and paintings by Rubens, Van Dyck, Claude, Gaspar Poussin and Gainsborough.

The Walled Garden at Holkham Hall

The 6-acre Walled Garden dates back to the 1700s. In this 7-sectioned garden you can enjoy a peaceful stroll through colourful flower beds, ‘working’ vegetable gardens and lovingly refurbished Victorian greenhouses. Don’t forget to admire the Italian iron gates, which were brought to the gardens from Venice in 1908.

Food & Drink

The Courtyard Cafe is a lovely place for morning coffee, light lunch or afternoon tea. They serve a range of hot/cold drinks and freshly-made food. Eat inside or in the sun-drenched courtyard.

Holkham Hall, Wells-next-the-Sea
Norfolk, NR23 1AB (get directions)
For opening times and prices, visit their website.

5. Oxburgh Hall

For a memorable day out, we would strongly recommend Oxburgh Hall. From power and prestige to persecution and devastation, this National Trust property is bursting with turbulent tales.

Built in 1482 in stunning red brick, this prestigious statement property is testament to the royal connections of the family. Originally constructed during the War of the Roses, this proudly Catholic household is no stranger to controversy either, and has experienced times of wealth and woe. The result is a property which tells the story of an important time in British history.

The medieval Gatehouse is a striking example of the original Tudor building and contains 2 impressive rooms to commemorate a royal visit.

The rest of the Hall contains various showrooms, which have evolved throughout the property’s history. They contain treasures such as Mortlake tapestries, and embroidery from Mary Queen of Scots and Bess of Hardwick.

After looking around the rooms, don’t forget to head to the roof for panoramic views of the Victorian French Parterre, the Walled Gardens and surrounding countryside.

Oxburgh Gardens & Estate

Outside the history-rich hall, there are formal gardens and woodlands to explore. Stroll around the peaceful gardens, enjoying the sights and smells of the beautiful French Parterre and vibrant Walled Gardens, with its vegetables and orchard. If you’re looking for a little more family adventure, the surrounding woodland has a number of walks and trails, and you can even have a go at building a den.

Oxburgh Hall, Oxborough
near Swaffham, Norfolk, PE33 9PS (get directions)
For opening times and prices, visit their website.

6. Castle Rising

If you’re looking for places of historic interest near the hotel, then there’s few more significant than Castle Rising. Dating back to around 1140 AD, the famous Castle Rising with its extensive earthworks, is one of the best surviving castles of its kind in the country.

Castle Rising Castle has had a variety of uses throughout history, but its most important era was when it became the residence to Queen Isabella, mother of Edward III and alleged murderer of Edward II. The castle then passed to the Howard family in 1544, whose descendants still own it today.

Admire the elaborately decorated stonework outside, before entering to explore the Great Hall and Queen Isabella’s apartments. The castle is surrounded by 12-13 acres of mighty earthworks, which even today still reach heights of 18 metres. Within the inner bailey, you’ll find the remains of an early Norman church. Dating from around the 11th century, this fascinating relic pre-dates even the castle itself.

Castle Rising, Kings Lynn
Norfolk, PE31 6AH (get directions)
For opening times and prices, visit their website.

Conclusion

Norfolk’s historical tapestry is rich and varied, offering a fascinating journey through time for those who wish to explore its past. From the spiritual majesty of Ely Cathedral to the royal splendour of Sandringham Estate, each site tells a story of England’s heritage, architecture, and aristocracy. The award-winning gardens of Houghton Hall and the enduring legacy of Holkham Hall’s Palladian elegance further highlight the county’s contribution to cultural and horticultural history. Oxburgh Hall’s romantic allure and Castle Rising’s medieval might remind us of the turbulent and transformative periods that have shaped the nation. These historical jewels of Norfolk, each with its own unique charm, invite visitors to delve deeper into the stories that have left an indelible mark on the British landscape.

As you plan your next visit to Norfolk, let the serene and luxurious Congham Hall Hotel be your gateway to exploring these timeless treasures, promising an enriching experience steeped in history and beauty.

Discover more

With its stunning landscapes, charming villages, diverse nature reserves and rich history, the Norfolk Coast offers some of the most magical walking experiences in England.
Welcome to the stunning Norfolk coastline.

Congham Hall, Congham, King’s Lynn, Norfolk, PE32 1AH

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