Even when I lived in London I would visit my home of Norwich to stay with my Mum and take the children to the many fabulous attractions Norfolk has to offer. It was always my intention, when we moved back to the county, to buy a certain amount of annual passes so that we could regularly have days out without breaking the bank. We were used to capital city life where attractions are often free or heavily subsidised so realising it might be a bit of a pricey shock in our new/old home, the annual pass seemed like a really good option.
Very often an annual pass means that you only have to visit an attraction 3 or 4 times before entry becomes free so if you go out for family days a lot like we do then it definitely makes sense. But… Which ones should you go for and who offers the best value for money?
After a year of living back in Norfolk and having made use of annual passes a plenty we are about to re-new ours so I thought I would write a guide to the top 5 annual passes Norfolk has to offer when it comes to its attractions. In no particular order these are my favourites:
The BeWILDerwood annual passes cost as follows: Born to BeWILD (Under 92cm) Free,
Almost WILD (92-105cm) £60, BeWILD Now (over 105cm) £65 and Used to BeWILD (65 years+) £40.
BeWILDerwood is one of our favourite places in Norfolk and we have been coming religiously since the children were tiny. Florence has enjoyed days out here since she was around only 1 year old while Jimmy has been coming from only a few weeks old. This is outdoor fun at its best with something for every age range (including the grown ups) and with a little bit of magic thrown in for good measure I think you’d be hard pressed to not enjoy a day here. We love it so much and want to visit so frequently that an annual pass is really the only way; we bought one as soon as we moved back home.
Based on the stories penned by local author Tom Blofeld, about Boggles and Twiggles living in the trees and the bogs, the whole site is dotted with fairy houses and pixie doors to wonder at. A boat ride will lead you in and out of the main park where you can enjoy tree top walk ways, slides to whoosh on, zip wires for the daring and the not so daring (baby zip wires for tiny ones are even on offer) and much more besides. Crafting, dancing, story telling, face painting (usually pricey face painting like everything else is included in the entry price), den building, maze solving… Oh the list is endless. You will need to go back as you won’t be able to do everything in one day!
BeWILDerwood is open permanently from 25th April to 1st October this year and also open for some school holidays and weekends over the winter. We can’t recommend this pass enough and with a location just outside Wroxham (a 25 minute drive from Norwich) it couldn’t be more perfect for a day out.
Top Tips for days out at BeWILDerwood:
- Take a picnic on sunny days but on the colder ones (BeWILDerwood is very sheltered from rain too let it be known) do take advantage of the reasonably priced and delicious hot food on sale.
- Wear wellies if wet as the ground can be quite boggy.
- Get your face painted after lunch and the queue is a lot smaller.
- Take your boat trip into the park rather than on the way out on busier days as queues at the end of the day can be long.
- Check the chalk board on the way in for times of activities.
- Park near the top of the field on wet days if possible.
- Take your camera EVERY time because the smiles keep on coming at BeWILDerwood!
Extra benefits to being an annual pass holder: Discounts in the food outlets and shop as well as for birthday party extra guests.
Here’s a video we made a while back after one of our many visits.
A family pass for two adults and as many children as you have in your party will cost you £85.50 per year if paying with a direct debit. There are different prices for one adult and children, adults alone and concessions.
This might be the best value pass yet. Giving annual access to 11 museums throughout the county with our favourites being The Castle Museum in Norwich and Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse near Dereham. The pass would be value for money with these attractions alone but you will also have access to: Norwich Castle Study Centre, Strangers Hall and the Bridewell Museum in Norwich, The Tolhouse, Time and Tide and Elizabethan House Museum in Great Yarmouth, The Lynn Museum in Kings Lynn, Cromer Museum on the seafront in Cromer and Ancient House in Thetford.
We haven’t visited them all yet but knowing we have the options makes it perfect as we will always have somewhere new to go and see while we can revert to our faves as and when we like. The Castle Museum is handy for entertaining the children after a morning of shopping in the City Centre while Gressenhall, an old workhouse, offers one of the best play grounds we have found. Some of the sites are seasonal for openings but really this is such fantastic value for money that we HAD to make the purchase. There’s so many interesting things to see in these museums, lots of hands on fun for the little ones and best of all is that they are all so family friendly that in school holidays special exhibitions, trails and activities are put on for the children.
Top Tips with a Norfolk Museum Pass:
- Check opening dates before visiting as some museums are seasonally closed.
- Remember that the playground at Gressenhall does not open until March.
- Note there are additional charges for some extra tours such as the battlements and dungeon tours at Norwich Castle Museum – These are discounted for annual pass holders.
Extra benefits to becoming a Norfolk Museums annual pass holder: Discounts on extra exhibitions and events, in the shops and the cafes. Fast track admission at Norwich Castle.
Banham Zoo and Africa Alive
You get two parks for the price of one if you buy a Banham Zoo (near Norwich) or Africa Alive (Kessingland) annual pass. You will also get a 50% discount on full price entry at the Dinosaur Adventure Park which is between Norwich and Fakenham. An annual pass for the pair costs Adults (over 16) £70, Adults (over 65) £65, children (between 3 and 15 years old) £60. (My only wish is that they had a pass which covered all three attractions!)
Banham Zoo is a very short drive from Norwich which makes it ideal for my family to pop to for a couple of hours and having the added bonus of Africa Alive (for a more thought out day out) entry is a brilliant plus to the pass. Both Banham and Africa Alive have extensive playgrounds with the latter offering a fun indoor soft play centre too and there are land trains at each attraction (included in the price) to take you on tours of the whole area.
What I particularly like at both these parks is that the animals have SO much space and it doesn’t at all feel enclosed or sad. Something I do often get a hint of an uneasy feeling about when in London Zoo and a definite notion when I visited Colchester Zoo – something I absolutely won’t ever do again because of that. There is much to see and lots to learn in both Banham and Africa Alive and the keepers will tell you interesting stories about individual animals if you ask (Nia the monkey at Africa Alive is a firm fave with us) – everyone is very friendly.
Africa Alive is probably more spectacular and actually really makes you feel like you’re on safari (I’m serious – the lion enclosure is WOW!) while Banham is smaller and more sedate in style yet no less brilliant. Both get a massive thumbs up from my children who enjoy the super hands on walk through with the lemurs, feeding the fish and following the progress of the baby meerkats when they are born.
Top Tips for Banham and Africa Alive:
- Take 50 pence pieces with you as this is how much the animal feed costs and the shops NEVER have change.
- Do the stamp trails – you will get a free medal at the end in the gift shop and can convince the kids they don’t need to buy anything in lieu of this – ha!
- Take a picnic – hate to say it but the food in the cafes is NOT good and over priced in my opinion unfortunately.
- Don’t miss out on a trip to the Dino park using your pass for a 50% discount. It’s a great place with a fabulous indoor soft play and outdoor splash zone for hotter days.
- Experiences such as feeding the giraffes are very inexpensive.
Extra benefits to the Banham Zoo and Africa Alive annual pass: Discounts in the cafe but note not for ice cream and fast track entry on busy days.
Adult £60, Senior £55 and child passes £65.
Pensthorpe is SUCH a lovely place to visit in all weathers and because it is open year round you absolutely can. It’s ideal for simply taking a massive walk around the countryside taking in all the natural surroundings but also offers much fun for children with extensive playgrounds both indoors and outdoors. The play element has been thought of so beautifully here that I think the annual ticket price is worthy simply for this side of the park alone.
There is a stamp trail and lots of exciting things to see and do as you go on the nature walk and feeding the birds is a highlight. Whether you are interested in seeing animals in their natural habitat or visiting the looked after birds such as the flamingos you will be delighted at what you see at Pensthorpe. They also make sure that seasonally the park is decorated and our favourite time to go is Halloween.
Top Tips for a visit to Pensthorpe:
- Dress appropriately for the weather and wear wellies if it is wet. The park area has a brilliant water play element to be enjoyed in both hot and colder climates so go accordingly.
- Take socks for Hootz House indoor play or you will have to buy some there (they are not expensive if you forget).
- Visit the gift shop, it is lovely and full of delightful items – especially at Christmas time.
- Take a picnic in warmer weather but note the food is very good at the Pensthorpe cafe and not over priced.
Extra annual pass benefits: 10% discounts on catering, for up to 2 extra guests and on the Pensthorpe Explorer Tour.
Here’s a video we made at Halloween a few year’s ago when at Pensthorpe!
Peak season ticket prices (as of 2016 – 2017 prices have not been released yet) for a family of two adults and up to three children was £215.50. Children under 5 years old are free and there are individual annual pass prices also.
Technically Beccles is in Suffolk rather than Norfolk but it is so close (and SO good) that I had to include it. The swimming pool at the Beccles Lido is just glorious and on a warm day provides a real holiday vibe. Obviously it is only open in the warmer months with the 27th May being the opening weekend for 2017.
They offer different ‘fun’ sessions with inflatables and have a baby pool as well as a small park for little ones. We love swimming here and think of it as a real treat – if only the British weather could be relied upon for basking on the side of the pool all summer! However, the pool is heated and even on cooler days is very enjoyable to swim in!
Top Tips for the Beccles Lido annual pass holders:
- Arrive early on hot days to get a good spot with a sun lounger.
- Take a picnic but do try the delicious hot dogs on sale.
- Plan to spend all day and take everything you will need including a sun shade tent for tiny tots.
- If you want an on site parking space make sure you arrive early. If not parking in the town centre is available at a cost.
Extra benefits to the annual pass: There are no specific extra benefits other than you can come and go as you please and hot foot it down whenever the fancy takes you.
So there you have it, my top five places in Norfolk to buy an annual pass for and make the most of days out over the county (and a little bit beyond). One other pass I HAVE to recommend is the Passport to Norfolk which is absolutely free to apply for. It offers perks and discounts over various Norfolk experiences including dining at one of our favourite Norfolk pubs, The Pigs in Edgefield (near Holt) which not only offers great food but amazing facilities for the kids including a playground designed by none other than BeWILDerwood!
Where would you buy an annual pass in Norfolk if you could only choose one?