Great places to see Autumn and WinterWildlife without a carin Norfolk

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Norfolk is famous for its wildlife. And never more so than in late autumn and winter. Baby seals, migrating geese, winter waders, rutting deer and many more birds and animals can be seen in the Broads, along the coast and in the heaths and woods. This variety of habitats is what makes Norfolk such a great place for nature lovers. Lots of people imagine you can only get to these wild places with a car, but there are plenty of reserves you can access easily by bus and train. Here are seven of the best.

  • County: in Norfolk
  • Great for: animals | birds | birdwatching | butterflies | nature reserves | wildlife |
  • Refreshments: lots of great cafes, restaurants and pubs.
  • Please note: researched/updated in October 2023. If anything’s changed or you have more tips to share, do get in touch:
  1. 4. Holkham deer park and nature reserve

    Visiting the park and beach at Holkham offers several unbeatable winter wildlife experiences. The wooded grounds around Holkham Hall are a great place to see and (hear!) deer in autumn while the marshes, dunes and coastal pinewoods near the sea are full of interesting birds.

    • There is a lakeside nature trail near the hall, offering a circular walk with views across the water and information about things you might spot. It’s one of seven different waymarked trails around the park. There are cafes too when you get peckish.
    • Autumn is rutting season for the deer in the park nearby and provides some drama (from a safe distance!) in the colder months. The male deer (“bucks”) can get into fights and the furry velvet coating is shed from their antlers.
    • Heading down Lady Anne’s Drive to the beach and nature reserve, there are winter birds to spot, including brent geese, colourful shelduck, redshank, gulls and lots more.
    • How do I get to Holkham without a car? Follow Good Journey’s directions.
  1. 5. Cley Marshes

    Heading eastwards along the North Norfolk coast towards Sheringham and Cromer, there are more nature reserves with impressive selections of wintering birds. Cley Marshes is Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s oldest and most famous nature reserve with bird hides and a visitor centre. Together with neighbouring Salthouse marshes, this is an area with a lot to see.

    • How do I get to Cley Marshes by bus? Bus CH1 Coasthopper from Cromer or Sheringham towards Wells-next-the-Sea stops by the reserve. Get off at the stop called Cley Norfolk Wildlife Trust. A path next to the bus stop leads straight into the marshes. The Coasthopper bus is currently just £2 no matter how far you travel and if you show your bus ticket in the visitor centre, which is free, you can claim a discounted entrance fee to the hides. There’s a cafe too!
    • Five stops further on the Coasthopper bus from Cley Marshes brings you to Morston Quay, where companies like Beans Boat Trips run all year round to see the seal colony on Blakeney point.
    • The Coasthopper bus also stops in Salthouse and there are footpaths from there to explore these bird-rich beaches too. In winter, you can see lots of different kinds of ducks along the beach with flocks of linnets along the shingle bank. When it’s cold weather, look out for rare snow buntings too, feeding on thistle seeds. This is also one of several good places to see big, noisy lines of pink-footed geese flying overhead arriving from Iceland for the winter.
  1. 6. Pensthorpe

    For a different kind of wildlife experience, Pensthorpe mixes nature spotting with gardens, play areas, aviaries and more. There’s a sculpture trail on a natural theme and two bird hides for spotting waders, wintering waterfowl, birds of prey and more.

    • Pensthorpe’s Wader Scrape attracts wintering ducks like wigeon and teal and there are more birds in the woods and reed beds.
    • How do I get to Pensthorpe without a car? Bus X29 Yellow Line from Norwich stops at the gates and costs just £2 until December 2024. Follow Good Journey’s directions.
    • There’s a cafe at Pensthorpe and plenty to see. There are also plenty more places to eat in Fakenham and in Norwich, at either end of the X29 bus route. Keep a look out on the way and you might see more wildlife from the bus windows!
  1. 7. Winterton Dunes

    One of Britain’s greatest wildlife spectacles is the sight of thousands of seals and their new babies near Winterton-on-Sea. Every winter, from November onwards, thousands of grey seals give birth on the beaches and in the dunes. It’s such a popular event that there is often a queue of cars heading for the beach car park. You can help avoid this pollution by getting the bus. And make sure you stay away from the actual beach and watch the seals from a safe distance behind the fence in the dunes.

    • How do I get to Winterton by bus? Winterton-on-Sea is a 45-minute ride on Coastal Clipper bus 1 from Great Yarmouth, which has smart hourly trains through the marshy Broads from Norwich. You will need to walk from Yarmouth railway station to the bus station
    • The Friends of Horsey Seals have looked after the growing colony since 2012 to make sure visitors can watch safely without disturbing the wildlife. The seal wardens are devoted and knowledgeable and keen to stress that people should keep off the beach at this time of year. A seal with a raised flipper, which looks like a cheerful wave, actually means stay away.
    • And what about lunch? There’s a café on the beach, fish and chips in the village.
    • You could take a circular walk through the area with lots of interesting sights. There are rare ferns, fungi and mosses in the dunes. Winter birds include geese, gulls, turnstones and sanderlings. And there’s a tall white lighthouse above the dunes and colourful thatched roundhouses that are part of Hermanus holiday park.
    • Wherever you go across Norfolk in search of wildlife, there are some amazing things to see. Travel by train, bus, bike and foot to help keep these beautiful places thriving for years to come.

    Thanks to the following for photos in this feature: RSPB and Ben Andrew for the avocet and plover, Andrew Bloomfield and Andy Hay for the pink-footed geese, Holkham for the deer and Lloyd Birch for the aerial shot.

    Discover more car-free adventures and discounts at attractions around Norfolk – the UK’s first Good Journey County.