The Norfolk coast has some of the best beaches in the whole of the United Kingdom, stretching from the wash at King Lynn Norfolk and passing through Brancaster, Blakeney, Cromer, and Great Yarmouth norfolk on your way east towards Lowestoft along the coastline. They are some of the Jewels of East Anglia and make for wonderful holidays.
ake in England’s eastern coastline with a drive around tranquil Norfolk. After soaking up the provincial buzz of Norwich (the 11th century cathedral is a must-see), head east into The Broads. With scenic waterways and a rich variety of wildlife, it’s well worth an extra few days lazing around on a boat.
From there, take the coastal roads north towards Cromer, a traditional seaside resort and home to the UK’s only remaining end-of-the-pier variety show. Further along the coast wide, windswept beaches like Brancaster Beach are perfect for an afternoon relaxing by the sea.
North Norfolk is home to more than 40 miles of sandy shores and six Blue Flag beaches, more than any other region in the UK. The golden sands are also enjoyed by the largest seal colony in England at Blakeney Point.
Norfolk road trip stop offs
There are few sights more Instagram-ready than Norfolk’s red and white Happisburgh Lighthouse, so make sure you make the detour.
Top tip: Resort towns on the Norfolk coast like Cromer and Great Yarmouth can get busy in peak season, so plan your trip accordingly.
Distance and ideal duration: 90 miles, 2-3 days.
Did you know? Norfolk is home to around 120 round tower churches, most of which date back to the 11th century. These are thought to have been built for cultural reasons due to strong trading links with other North Sea communities.
Here’s five of the best beaches in Norfolk Coast
Holkham Beach: This is one of the most popular beaches in North Norfolk, and for good reason. There is nowhere better from which to experience the dramatic grandeur of Norfolk’s vast skies and never ending horizons.
Cromer Beach: Cromer is a traditional seaside resort, with a long history of attracting visitors. The beach here is made up of sand and shingle, and there are plenty of activities with a long promenade lined with beach huts, cafes and amusements.
Sheringham Beach: Sheringham is another popular seaside resort, with a long beach and a lively atmosphere. There are plenty of shops and restaurants in town, and the beach is a firm favourite with families.
Brancaster Beach: A quieter beach than some of the others in North Norfolk, but it’s no less beautiful. The sand is white and soft, and the water is clear and blue. There are also plenty of activities to keep you entertained, such as walking, birdwatching, and fishing.
Hunstanton Beach: Well known for its distinctive striped cliffs, which are made up of chalk and limestone. The beach here is made up of sand and shingle, and there are plenty of activities to keep you entertained with a fun fair, arcades, cafes and sandcastle building.
Best things to do in Norfolk Coast
Visit the glorious beach at Holkham Bay
Residents of north Norfolk can feel justifiably smug. Holkham Bay is one of the most spectacular beaches in the country and it’s right on their doorstep. A vast, sweeping expanse of golden sand, backed by grassy dunes and pinewoods, and part of a nature reserve, there’s space for everyone, even during high season.
Low tide reveals miles of empty beach, which makes visiting the bay one of the best things to do in Norfolk for long walks and for four-legged friends to stretch their legs. You might also see people on horseback cantering along the shoreline. During the summer a delightful blanket of blooming purple lavender spreads across the salt marsh behind the dunes.
Learn about history and royalty at Sandringham Estate
Not many people receive a country estate as a birthday present. But we have all benefited from Queen Victoria presenting Sandringham as a gift to the Prince of Wales (Edward VII to be) and his wife, Princess Alexandra, in 1862. Although the estate now serves as the King’s bolthole, ordinary Joes can visit the surrounding 600-acre country park for free.
There are two main trails for walking or cycling, but there are many other woodland paths and open grassland for strolling or laying down a picnic blanket. Sandringham House itself is open to the public. You can also wander the glorious gardens and visit the museum. Home to royal memorabilia, it includes a fantastic collection of vintage vehicles and an assortment of gifts given to the Queen.
Enjoying boat rides in the Broads National Park
The system of waterways that form the Norfolk Broads are the county’s jewel – and we’ve got medieval peat diggers to thank. The pits left behind from extensive digging gradually flooded to become the network of wetlands and National Park we have today.
One of the best things to do in Norfolk is to row a boat or canoe in Broads. What could be more relaxing than gliding along, listening to the sounds of bird calls, the rustling of reeds and the creak of the oars, and the gentle swoosh of water – especially if someone else is doing the rowing?
It’s a great way to get up close with the wetland wildlife and, as Canadian canoes can carry up to three adults, it’s an ideal activity for the whole family.
Wander around Norwich
Norwich is a small city that packs a lot of things to do in Norfolk. Along its narrow alleys and streets are splendid medieval churches and historic houses – reminders of its prosperous past – a lively market, and an array of great independent shops, cafés and restaurants. There are museums, art galleries, even a castle. Plus, of course, there’s the city’s major landmark – the stunning Romanesque cathedral.
On your wander around the city be sure to climb the steep, cobbled Elm Hill to admire the wonderfully preserved 16th- 18th-century houses. Museums worth a visit include the Museum of Norwich, for a history of the city, and the Castle Museum and Art Gallery. For art lovers, the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts is one of the best reasons to visit Norfolk. Standouts include works by Picasso, Henry Moore and Giacometti.
Spot grey seals
Where better to go seal spotting than at the sand and shingle spit of Blakeney Point, home to the largest seal colony in England? With more than 3,000 common and grey seals now born each year, this is the prime spot to see the adorable pups basking on the sands at low tide. From March until October seal-spotting ferry trips run from Morston quay.
When tides and conditions are right, stop at Blakeney Point Nature Reserve – so trip times can vary from an hour to two and a half hours. Bring binoculars to see the animals up close, as well as for spotting the dozen or so species of seabirds, which settle there in summer. There’s also a large colony of seals at Horsey, where you can see them bobbing about in the water, and you may even catch sight of them in Wells harbour.
Have some seaside fun at Wells-next-the-sea
A visit to Wells-next-the-sea is one of the best things to do in Norfolk. It offers the perfect combo of lovely beach and small, but lively resort town, which keeps the whole family happy. As at Holkham Bay, the beach is a broad sweep of sand fringed by pinewood dunes. In front of the pine trees stands a row of beach huts in colourful candy shades, reminiscent of those sweet sticks of rock, a feature of every British seaside shop.
Low tide is a child’s playground, with seashells to gather and decorate sandcastles with, and shallow pools of seawater in which to splash about. If you’re having a snoozy sunbathe, though, watch out for the incoming tide: it creeps in quickly and many have had to hurriedly grab belongings and scramble for drier ground.
This tailor-made walking holiday on the Jurassic Coast is one of the many ways to enjoy the spectacular scenery of the coasts of England. Walks range from easy to challenging. 6 days walking are included in this itinerary, as is an extensive pre-program in London and a last night back in the capital.
Discover a great foodie scene
Cafes and restaurants in Britain’s seaside areas often fall short on the food stakes, failing to make good use of the fresh fish close at hand, or the shellfish that can be foraged on local shores. But you’ll find many of Norfolk’s coastal pubs and restaurants have raised their game. In fact, Norfolk, in general, has come on in leaps and bounds.
You can put together a delicious picnic from high street delis and farmers’ markets, such as Swaffham and Creake Abbey. Or enjoy a modern spin on traditional dishes in gastropubs, and sample fine dining in hotel restaurants.
Morston Hall even has a Michelin-starred chef at the helm and features Blakeney lobster and Morston mussels on the menu. But for a simply-cooked fish supper and stunning views of sunsets over the marshland, head to the White Horse at Brancaster Staithe. For deli and farm shop produce, stop at the award-winning Picnic Fayre, in Cley-next-the-Sea.
Visiting BeWILDerwood adventure park – one of the best things to do in Norfolk with kids
Anyone with kids has probably spent many an hour standing in a crowded playground, watching their little ones wait their turn for the one and only slide, wondering when they can declare it’s home time. At BeWilderwood the experience couldn’t be more different.
This magical woodland playground is a day out of fun for the whole family, with treehouses to clamber about in, swaying aerial ropewalks and awesome zip wires, set in 50 acres of forest and marshland. And there are no plastic slides or swings in sight – it’s all made from sustainable wood.
Creator and owner Tom Blofeld has developed a wonderful fantasy adventure. This includes magical woodland folk, such as the Boggles, the BeWILDerbats and the Twiggles – all characters from his delightful book A Boggle at BeWILDerwood. And if children tire of the outdoor fun, there are also storytelling sessions and crafts activities.
Get amazed at Holkham Hall
Sitting rather imposingly within the extensive parkland of Holkham estate, which also includes the wonderful Holkham Beach and nature reserve, is 18th-century Holkham Hall. Behind the formal, Palladian exterior, is a grand entrance hall, complete with colonnade – a nod to ancient Rome – and statues of Greek and Roman Gods.
The house was built between 1734 and 1764 for Thomas Coke, first Earl of Leicester, and his taste is reflected in the opulent decor and artworks throughout the array of plush state rooms. There are sumptuous wall hangings, 17th-century tapestries and paintings by Old Masters, such as Gainsborough, Van Dyck and Rubens.
The grounds include a deer park, rolling lawns and a walled garden, which is the site of an annual plant fair in September. You can hire a bike to explore the parkland or hop aboard a rowing boat and relax on the lake.
When it comes to bird life, Norfolk is king. The wetlands, woodlands, heathland and coast offer the ideal habitat year-round for a variety of local and migratory birds. There are hundreds of nature reserves, often including first-rate visitor centres and observation hides, with details on guided walks and the latest sightings.
Enthusiastic bird spotters will delight in the Norfolk Broads. It’s a haven for birdlife, including grebes, herons and kingfishers, with Hickling Broad’s reedbeds and watermeadows home to bitterns, bearded tits and marsh harriers.
At coastal Cley-next-the-sea you can spot redshank, avocet, spoonbills and terns, among others. The reserve’s excellent visitor centre has a café with a glorious panoramic view over the coast. It also provides telescopes for customers – for those wishing to combine a relaxing cuppa with their bird spotting pursuits.
Admire the architectural splendour of Norwich Cathedral
There’s no doubt that Norwich Cathedral is impressive. For a start, there are more than 900-years of history to discover. Then there’s that soaring spire, the tallest in Britain after Salisbury, and those elegant arched cloisters – including the wonderfully preserved monastic cloister, the largest in England.
Adding to the splendour is the magnificent fan-vaulted ceiling with its intricate and decorative roof bosses, depicting stories from the Bible. Other highlights of this fine Romanesque cathedral include elaborate wooden carvings behind the organ screen, showing medieval scenes of strife, evil and sins. There’s also a fine medieval painted panel, Despenser Retable, in St Luke’s chapel, created around 1380.
About three miles north of Dereham is the Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse, one of only three Victorian workhouses currently open to the public. Though essentially a museum of rural life in Victorian England, its best displays focus on its time as a workhouse.
You can see the claustrophobic dungeon, where inmates were sent if they transgressed the rules, plus other rooms and artefacts. For example, the laundry, with its original steam-powered machines and drying racks; and the men’s exercise courtyard, complete with the inmates’ graffiti.
Outside you can visit the chapel and schoolroom, and mock-ups of village businesses – the post office, general store, blacksmith and suchlike. There’s also a really good adventure playground, and a working farm run on traditional lines by volunteers, with rare breeds, a barn full of old farm implements and the chance to jump on Gressenhall’s own tractor pulled trailer.
Pensthorpe Natural Park
Norfolk’s most popular nature reserve, Pensthorpe occupies a large slab of land and lagoon about two miles east of the centre of Fakenham. A network of footpaths negotiates most of the reserve, where waterfowl gather by the hundred and Norfolk’s birdlife is supplemented by (clipped-wing) imports from around the world.
One part of the reserve is dedicated to declining species – there is a red squirrel hutch and a corncrake breeding programme – and there are also several themed gardens. If you like things a little wilder, there are bird hides on the edge of Pensthorpe where you can observe waterfowl in a less constrained environment.
If you are looking for more destinations in England with stunning nature this tailor-made trip to Northern Cornwall is what you need. Northern Cornwall is a hiker’s paradise and this itinerary includes the most scenic parts. You will start your journey in London with some unique activities to get to know the city, before setting off on a 5-day walk across Cornwall.
Norfolk Lavender Fields
The north Norfolk coast pretty much ends (or begins) at Hunstanton, a bustling seaside resort positioned just where the coastline turns south to run alongside the wide and stumpy Wash. The (now-defunct) railway reached here in 1862 and thereafter Hunstanton grew by leaps and bounds, sprouting scores of good-looking Victorian houses that are still a feature of the town.
At Heacham, just south of Hunstanton, a semi-suburban tangle of narrow streets lies just inland from the army of static caravans that line up along the Wash.
The main reason to visit Heacham today is Norfolk Lavender, a popular tourist attraction. The big pull is the lavender gardens and the lavender plant sales. Though there are also a couple of gift shops, a mini-zoo, a farm shop and a large, indoor play area for kids with slides, climbing frames, a maze and so forth.
Where to stay in Norfolk:
- For couples: Cromer Country Club
- For village stays: The Harnser
- For peaceful stays: Heacham Manor Hotel
- For modern stays: Hotel Ocean
- For countryside stays: Sunset House Bed and Breakfast
Best time to visit Norfolk’s beaches
The best time to visit Norfolk’s beaches largely depends on personal preference and the activities you plan on enjoying. The summer months, from June to August, are extremely popular among beachgoers and families who seek warm weather and the opportunity to swim in the sea. For those who prefer a quieter beach experience, spring and autumn can be ideal.
For those who prefer a quieter beach experience, spring and autumn can be ideal. The weather is generally milder, and the beaches are less crowded. Spring brings the beauty of blooming flowers and migrating birds, while autumn offers stunning sunsets and the opportunity to witness seal colonies along the coast.
Planning a holiday in Norfolk?
With its sandy shores, stunning sunsets, and breathtaking scenery, this hidden gem is a must-visit destination and our most popular in the UK.
Whether you prefer a lively beach experience or a secluded retreat, Norfolk’s coastline has something to offer for everyone. So, pack your bags and get ready to experience the ultimate seaside getaway. Fabulous Norfolk awaits, where memories are made and worries are left behind.