What it’s Like to Hire a Boat on the Norfolk Broads

- "Hire a Boat on the Norfolk Broads" - Two Traveling Texans
by Anisa // 53 Comments

The Norfolk Broads is a beautiful national park in Norfolk, England, made up of a network of rivers and lakes.  After my introduction to the Broads at How Hill, I knew I needed more time to explore the more than 120 miles of navigable waterways.  

What better way than to rent or as they say in England hire a boat on the Norfolk Broads.  Don’t worry you don’t need any prior experience to go boating in the Norfolk Broads.  There are many companies that offer boats on the Broads, we went with Herbert Woods in Potter Heigham. 

Let me tell you more about our experience boating and share some tips for visiting the Norfolk Broads.

Note: This post contains affiliate links.  Please see disclosure for more information.

Anisa and Russell ready for a day on the Broads. -
Anisa and Russell ready for a day on the Broads.

Checking In With Herbert Woods

We would have our boat from 9 am to 5 pm, but we arrived at about 8:30 so we would have time to check in and get everything organized on the boat.  You can put Herbert Woods into your GPS and it will take you right there. The Herbert Woods Potter Heigham boat hire office is big and right across from the discount shop Latham’s, so you can’t miss it.  There are a few parking spots reserved for boat check-in.

It only took a few minutes for me to go inside, complete the paperwork, and get the parking passes.  We also got a Norfolk Broads map and a Herbert Woods Broads Holiday Adventures Privilege Card which would give us a discount at several pubs and restaurants in the area.  With all the food we brought along, we didn’t get the chance to try any of them though.

We would need to move the cars to the Latham’s parking lot, which was just the other side of the barrier, for the day.  Then we got our stuff and starting loading everything on to the boat. Once we were ready to go, one of the guys from Herbert Woods would give us our life vests and a quick lesson on how the boat works.

You can see the inside of the boat is spacious and the roof is retractable. - "Hire a Boat on the Norfolk Broads" - Two Traveling Texans
You can see the inside of the boat is spacious and the roof is retractable. From Left to Right: Russell, Anisa, John (Russell’s Dad), Pat (Russell’s Mom) and Ruth (Anisa’s Mom)

Quick Lesson for Boating on the Broads

There were two key things he told us to remember.  First, we would be driving on the right-hand side of the water.  This wouldn’t have been unusual in the US but we were in England, where normally you drive on the left.  (Check out my post about driving in the UK vs the US if you are interested in learning more differences.) Secondly, he told us to watch out for the speed limit signs and make sure we didn’t speed.  A speeding ticket could sure put a damper on your day out on the Broads!

Russell’s Dad, John would be our captain.  He has driven a picnic boat before (once but that was more than the rest of us!). Russell and I also took turns driving.  It was much easier to drive the boat than I had expected.

We also got our life jackets that were lighter than what I am used to because they are self-inflating.  It was easy to forget you had them on!

Leaving Potter Heigham

They park the Norfolk Broads boats close together and the inlet is narrow, so it is a little tricky getting out of the boatyard.  Just go slow. A gentle tap on the side is unlikely to be something they’ve not seen before.

Herbert Woods is located right next to the infamous Potter Heigham bridge.  Personally, I don’t recommend that you attempt to go under the bridge.  It would be a very tight fit and you might not be able to make it at all if the tide is high.  You also need to get a pilot to go under the bridge. We did not feel the need to even attempt it.  Not to worry, there is plenty to see going the other direction on the River Thurne!

The infamous Potter Heigham Bridge. - "Hire a Boat on the Norfolk Broads" - Two Traveling Texans
The infamous Potter Heigham Bridge.

Things to Do on the Norfolk Broads

Since we live in Norwich and knew we could come back and explore the area more, we only made a few quick stops.  You can use the free moorings on the Norfolk Broads, where available, and get out and explore whenever you choose.  

The Norfolk Broads map that we got when we checked in was helpful to determine how long it would take to get places so that we could plan out our day and make sure we returned the boat on time.

St. Benet’s Abbey

You can see St. Benet’s Abbey from the Broads but it is worth taking time to stop and visit.  The Abbey is now just ruins, but it is significant because it was the only monastery that was not shut down by King Henry VIII.  Most of the abbey has been demolished except for the gatehouse and the wind pump that was built later.

Drone shot of what is left of St. Benet's Abbey. - "Hire a Boat on the Norfolk Broads" - Two Traveling Texans
Drone shot of what is left of St. Benet’s Abbey.

If you time it right you can join the free guided tours that take place from the beginning of May until the end of September each Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday at 3:00 pm.

View of St. Benets Abbey from the Broads. - " Hire a Boat on the Norfolk Broads" - Two Traveling Texans
View of St. Benets Abbey from the Broads.

Ranworth Village

Ranworth is a cute village just off Malthouse Broad.  It takes about two hours to get to Ranworth from Potter Heigham.  You can take a break and visit the village pub, the Maltsters. A short walk from the Broads you will find the St. Mary’s Church, also known as the Cathedral of the Broads.  If you have time, climb the tower for excellent views of the area. It’s free, the church just requests a donation. Please note that the stairway is a little tight and also includes two ladders so it is not for those with mobility issues.

You can also walk along the boardwalk to Norfolk Wildlife trust information center.  We didn’t want to stop for too long because we wanted to explore as much with our boat as possible, but I plan on going back to Ranworth to see more.  Luckily, it is less than 30 minutes drive from where I live.

We spotted a pretty heron! - "Hire a Boat on the Norfolk Broads" - Two Traveling Texans
We spotted a pretty heron!

How Hill

It takes about two hours to reach How Hill from Potter Heigham.  You could moor there and do the nature walk, visit the secret gardens, or even have afternoon tea.  For more details, check out my post about the How Hill Nature Reserve.

Exploring How Hill Nature Reserve - Two Traveling Texans
How Hill is a lovely spot for wildlife spotting.

Norfolk Broads Pubs

We picnicked on our boat, but if you prefer you can always stop at one of the pubs on the  Norfolk Broads.  There are many to choose from but one of the easiest to reach by boat is The Ferry Inn in Horning.  It is right on the River Bure and there are riverside tables. Horning is about two and half hours from Potter Heigham.  It is definitely worth a visit just to see the beautiful houses along the river.

About Our Picnic Boat

Our picnic boat was ideal for our day on the Broads.  It can hold up to 10 people so since we were five we had plenty of space.  There was more than enough seating and the benches inside had cushions to make them more comfortable.  Since we had a lot of food, we set out the table, but the table can also be kept under the seat if you want more open space.

The front and back of the boat had outdoor sections where you could sit.  Even the indoor part of the boat had a retractable roof. Since it was a bit windy, we had kept one side of the roof open and the other one closed.  Don’t worry if it rains, all 10 people can fit in the inside section of the boat. If you happen to go on the Broads on a cold day, you can close the roof and turn on the heat.

We are all onboard our boat and surrounded by swans! - "Hire a Boat on the Norfolk Broads" - Two Traveling Texans
We are all onboard our boat and surrounded by swans!

The picnic boat also has a bathroom! It was so nice not to have to worry about finding a clean bathroom when somebody needed to use the restroom.

My favorite thing on the boat was the kitchen.  I thought it was so nice to be able to prepare food out on the water.  The boat does come with some kitchen supplies, but depending on what you plan on making, you may want to bring some of your own (see the section about what to bring below).  We brought eggs and cooked some for breakfast. The boat also has a small fridge to keep food and beverages cold.

We also had an anchor so that we could secure the boat in the water if we wanted to.  For our lunch, we used the anchor to just relax and enjoy our picnic.

I couldn’t have asked for anything more in a day boat on the Norfolk Broads!

What to Bring For Your Boat Hire on the Norfolk Broads

As with any outing, you need to make sure you are prepared to make the most of your trip.  So make sure you don’t forget any of the essentials!

Anisa driving the Broads boat! - "Hire a Boat on the Norfolk Broads" - Two Traveling Texans
Anisa driving the Broads boat!

What to Wear on Your Day on the Broads

You actually don’t need a bathing suit for a boat trip on the Broads because I doubt you will be going in the water.  Of course, you can wear one if you like and work on your tan. I just wore a summer dress. Although in the morning it was a bit chilly and I wished I would have brought along a sweater.

You can wear flip-flops but if you do I would recommend bringing along another pair of shoes (like tennis shoes) for any excursions off the boat.  The fields may be muddy or have some rough vegetation.

If you have long hair like me, you should wear your hair up because it can get quite breezy.  I like to use an octopus clip like this one.

Food to Bring For Your Picnic Boat on the Broads

You could actually go to a pub on the Norfolk Broads for lunch and not pack any food.  Personally, I thought it was fun to eat on the boat. We overdid it a bit on the food, but at least no one went hungry!  

Of course, bring whatever food you like to eat.  You have some room in the fridge so you can bring food that needs to stay cold and you also have a small stove so you can cook if you like.  We brought cheese, crackers, veggies, hummus, eggs, bacon, lunch meat, bread/rolls, potato salad, deviled eggs, fruit, and desserts. Unfortunately, we were all too full to have any dessert!

A pretty fruit salad made on the boat. - "Hire a Boat on the Norfolk Broads" - Two Traveling Texans
A pretty fruit salad made on the boat.

The boat did have plates, glasses, silverware, a small knife, and a kettle.  Depending on what you would like to make you might want to bring a larger knife, cutting board, pots, and pans.  We also brought paper plates, cups, and napkins to make cleanup easier. I think these nautical themed ones are cute!  I also brought along a cheese board and knife set that I got as a birthday gift a few years ago – it’s similar to this one on Amazon.

A proper picnic needs cheese! - "Hire a Boat on the Norfolk Broads" - Two Traveling Texans
A proper picnic needs cheese!

Returning the Day Boat

If you hire the Broads boat for the day it needs to be returned by 5 pm.  Make sure you allow plenty of time to get back to Herbert Woods boat hire area in Potter Heigham.  We arrived back at 4:45 and a few minutes after that it seemed like everyone was coming in.  

Also, the area where you park the boats is tight so go slow. We bumped the corner, as several other people did.  Don’t worry though, the Herbert Woods staff are very experienced and will help you get the boat parked in the right spot.

What I Loved About Our Day on the Norfolk Broads

The Norfolk Broads are a National Park for a reason.  It’s a great area for photography. The area is beautiful and filled with wildlife.  We saw so many different kinds of birds on the Norfolk Broads, but my favorite were the baby ducks and the heron.

I enjoyed seeing all the beautiful houses and different types of boats of the Norfolk Broads. We also saw lots of people fishing in the Norfolk Broads. I also couldn’t get over how peaceful it felt cruising the Norfolk Broads.

Hire a Boat on the Norfolk Broads - Two Traveling Texans
The Broads are so peaceful and a great place to take pictures.

It wasn’t that we were the only boat, but I think it has to do with the speed limits.  In order to make sure there is no damage to the reeds, the speed limit is between 4 and 6 mph.  When you travel at that speed there isn’t any wake from the boats on the Broads and the water stays calm.  This also means your boat ride is smooth and not choppy like it could be on a crowded lake.

In addition to it being peaceful, it was also fun.  We had a picnic on a boat, talked, laughed, and just enjoyed each other’s company.  I am sure kids would enjoy it too.

I also enjoyed the freedom we had.  Other than making sure we had the boat back by 5, we were free to explore where we wanted.  We could moor the boat and get out, throw the anchor down and just relax, or cruise around all day.  It was our choice.

The only negative was that the day went by too fast! I guess that is what happens when you are having fun. I was not ready to return the boat when our time was up, if only we could have had the boat for a few more hours!

Cost of a Boat Day Hire on the Norfolk Broads

The cost to rent a day boat on the Norfolk Broads varies by season and the type of boat you choose.  To rent a picnic boat like the one we had during the peak of summer would be 240 GBP for 8 hours.  That includes your gas. If you have 10 people, that comes to 24 GBP per person. That’s a pretty good deal for a fun day out!

Another windpump, there are many on the Broads! - "Hire a Boat on the Norfolk Broads" - Two Traveling Texans
Another windpump, there are many on the Broads!

Hire Your Own Boat on the Broads

Herbert Woods has made it easy to book your Norfolk Broads holiday.  You can actually do it online through their website or over the phone (+44 (0) 800 144 4472).  

You have several options of boats to choose from including the picnic boat we had, a day boat, or a classic cruiser (with a skipper).  They also have boats that you can sleep on for longer Norfolk Broads holidays or you can even rent a kayak or canoe. If you are not sure which boat is right for you, give them a call, I am sure they would be happy to help.

One of the bigger boats you will find on the Norfolk Broads. - "Hire a Boat on the Norfolk Broads" - Two Traveling Texans
One of the bigger boats you will find on the Norfolk Broads.

The Best Boat Hire on the Norfolk Broads

We had a great time exploring the Norfolk Broads on our picnic boat and I would love to do it again.  I think it would be fun to hire a boat for a weeklong holiday.

If you are interested in a day boat on the Broads, I highly recommend Herbert Woods.  Their staff were very professional and the day boats on the Norfolk Broads were well-equipment, comfortable, and easy to operate. 

Check out our video of the day we spent on the Norfolk Broads to see more.

Have you ever rented a boat for the day? Where did you go? I would love to hear about your experiences.


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Expert Tips for Your Boat Hire on the Norfolk Broads

  • Drive on the right and obey the speed limit!
  • Use the Norfolk Broads map to plan where you want to go, just make sure to return the boat on time.
  • Don’t forget the sunscreen and insect repellent.

Disclosure: We were guests of Herbert Woods so that we could share our experience hiring a picnic boat on the Norfolk Broads with our readers. As always opinions are our own.

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Last Updated on February 26, 2022

About the Author

Anisa is an experienced international traveler with extra pages in her passport and stamps from 41 different countries across 5 continents (and counting). She was born and raised in Texas. After a 13 year stint in NYC, she moved to England to live with her husband.