Best Summer Beaches in Norfolk
Summer's coming (no, really, it is!) so we've got the inside scoop on the best Norfolk beaches for all tastes. Buckets at the ready! Just add ice and champagne. Well what else is that bucket for?!
Best for Everything: Sheringham
Beautifully clean Blue Flag beach perfect for a good old-fashioned day at the seaside. All smooth pebbles until low tide when you get hours of gleaming golden sand.
Being in town, you’re only a short stroll away from ice cream (delicious vegan flavours from super groovy Aloha Ices), hot fish and chips (all pretty decent – just join the shortest queue), a tub of vinegary cockles from lovely Joyful West’s and lush pizza from brand new Stubby’s Pizza opposite the mini Sainsbury’s. Plus plenty of places to buy buckets and spades, sun cream, hats (or rain capes) and anything else you’ve forgotten.
Great beach for swimming and check out the fab SUP Shack for paddle boarding. Their Mammoth size is brilliant fun for up to 8 people – it’s a whopper!
There are two sections with Lifeguards (on duty from May Bank Holiday to the end of school summer hols) which tend to be busiest. No dogs allowed on the main beach during summer season, but head west past the RNLI Lifeboat shed and your pups can play. Parking can be frustrating, so just drop someone with the beach gear and nip up to the station car park – only a few mins walk down the main road to the sea. Or take the train – hourly from Norwich.
Best for Rockpools: West Runton
There aren’t many rock pools in Norfolk but this newly accredited Blue Flag beach has loads for marine explorers to investigate. It’s also fab for fossil hunting on the foreshore. The chalk reef (Europe’s largest and an area of Special Scientific Interest) can make wading out a bit ouchy on the toes, but there are gentle shallows and sparkly sun-warmed pools in the sand hollows – perfect for little splashers. On the slope, the Seaview Café has simple snacks – toasties, cinnamon doughnuts, coffee, ice cream – and buckets and spades. And there are public loos. You pay about £3 for the car park – there are machines and a bloke in a shed during summer. You can get annual season tickets too. Then walk down the slope and you’re there. Easy.
Someone’s dog once found a bone here, which turned out to be part of the largest, best-preserved mammoth’s skeleton in the world. The café has a bit of fossilised poo left by the hyenas who ate it. My kids love looking at this more than having ice cream. Weirdos.
In summer, RNLI lifeguards do their Baywatch thing daily from 10am-6pm. A sought-after job for responsible local kids who’ve grown up on the beach. Their hut’s on the right hand side at the bottom of the slope.
Best for singing Beatles songs: Gorleston-on-Sea
Gorleston-on-Sea is a wide curve of soft sand, lovely for children, edged by an elevated promenade perfect for grandparents to stroll beside the seaside, beside the sea. It’s got charm with a working port’s gritty edge. More relaxed than neighbouring Great Yarmouth, you’ll find plenty of cafés, ice cream shops and places to grab a casual bite. There are tennis courts, bowling greens, lawns, a pitch & putt golf course, Edwardian theatre, yacht races, boating pond and a harbour.
For sailors, it’s also at the mouth of the River Yare, one of two entrances to the Norfolk Broads for visitors from the coast, or sailing off to see the world (usually via Holland).
You’ll recognise Gorleston from the hit film Yesterday (2019), written by Richard Curtis (who lives up the coast in Suffolk), starring Lily James and Himesh Patel. Director Danny Boyle called Gorleston, ‘One of Britain’s most remarkable beaches and one of the great secrets of England. It’s beautiful.’ Here comes the sun, it’s alright…
Best for Kites: Brancaster
Brancaster beach has miles of level golden sand, so there’s always room for building sandcastles without throwing shade on some other little architect’s plans. Dogs are allowed all year round – I’ll leave the pros and cons of that to you. There’s a lot of wind and kite surfing, also strolling with buggies if they have those fat off road wheels.
It’s part of the National Trust’s Brancaster Estate, a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and home the Scolt Head tidal salt marshes. Facilities are minimal but there’s a loo and a kiosk of hot coffee and delicious things. Usually parking’s easy, but with 2021 staycations being all the rage – check the latest info here.
It’s also home of the Royal West Norfolk Golf Club, an outstanding links course with the North Sea on one side and the saltmarsh on the other. The Clubhouse is cut off at high tide so you hazard being trapped in the bar with gentlemen wearing tailored shorts and knee length socks. Just saying…
A Word of Warning! If you walk out to the shipwreck of the SS Vina at low tide you’re highly likely to be cut off when the tide comes racing back in – it’s alarmingly fast and strong. Don’t attempt it, as this is a real danger and there is no lifeguard here.
Lecture over. Main thing is, Brancaster is beautiful and several Muddy favourites are within a four mile radius – check out Congham Hall, The Hoste Arms, The Rose and Crown, Snettisham and The White Horse, Brancaster with its lovely marsh side bar. Bliss.
Best for a pier: Cromer
Blue Flag (yes, another one!) traditional seaside town beach backed by cliffs and winding lanes of fishermen’s cottages plus indie shops like fabulous Roost – for all your houseplant dreams! Super fashionable in its golden Edwardian heyday (Arthur Conan Doyle LOVED Cromer), any subsequent shabbiness is again becoming decidedly chic. Cocktails from The Gangway float our boat, as does excellent coffee (with a shot?…er…OK, go on then) from The North Sea Coffee Company, right on the prom. But before it gets too cool for school, indulge in a night of sparkly end of the pier show nostalgia at Cromer Theatre and make some proper childhood memories.
Big town car park (machines take cards) and a steep walk down to the beach (there are slopes, stairs and a lift by the Rocket House Café). Word is, this year will be super busy (we see you 2021!) so you could always take the train…every hour from Norwich.
Best for kids who hate swimming and sand: Salthouse
So families looking for kiss me quick fun will be seriously disappointed. Swimming is off, there’s no sand, the current is strong and unpredictable and the shingle shore slopes steeply to deeper water. So why mention it?
Well, it’s uniquely beautiful. Peach-scented gorse flowers edge the shingle as you wander across marshy reedbeds to gaze at the sea. When my children were small they loved to make fairy houses and set-ups with action figures on the mossy grass near the old WW2 gunning placement. Salthouse is for days when you want salty air without sand between the toes. Also, fabulous pub The Dun Cow is in the village. Yes, you should book to be sure of a table. And try Hello Sailor! their new house gin…it’s a cracker.
Best for being completely stunning: Holkham
A vast, majestic sweep of luminous coast, constantly on everyone’s Best Beach in Britain lists. Fringed by sand dunes and pine forests it is part of the Holkham National Nature Reserve. It’s a very long (but beautiful) walk to the sea, so take bribes to keep weary children going on the way back. Carrying often required. And a pint at the lovely Victoria Inn to recover Daddy’s sense of humour.
It is an unforgettable place for outdoorsy families who love to race down sand dunes, tear about in pinewoods (smells amazing in the heat) and have endless space to whoop and shout. Also, there’s now a cool Lookout Café right by the beach, with snacks, loos and baby changing.
If you’re not a naturist family, be aware there’s a nudist area on the western part of the beach. Educational, but not necessarily the kind of seaside winkles you were expecting…
The Lady Anne’s Drive beach car park will undoubtedly get busy this year, so get there early. Another idea is to leave the car at Holkham (£5 for the day). This means you’re parked close to the fantastic Woodland Play Area but also means it’s over a mile’s walk to get to the beach. Yikes!
Best for Instagrammable Beach Huts: Wells-next-the-Sea
Beach huts like a sweetie pick and mix, with a pine forest backdrop and those wild Norfolk skies, Wells beach is all kinds of beautiful. And yes, dogs are welcome although there is also a No Dog Zone on the side nearest to the beach car park, which fills up early. Alternative is to park close to town, then stroll along a pleasant path to the beach (about a mile). There’s a tiny train too – which might be having its last hurrah in 2021…but the jury’s still out and there’s a petition to keep it!
Wells Beach Café is great – posh treats, bacon sarnies, Rainforest Alliance coffee, buckets and spades plus it’s super dog-friendly with ice-creams for gourmet pooches! The facilities are close, but pleasingly hidden from the beach by dunes and pines. Pining for a stripy hut of your very own? Of course you are! So book one from gorgeous Happy Huts and live the dream for a blissed out beach day!
To get to the beach, walk up wooden stairs in the pine wood and pause for a Wow moment. Every time. I always do. Wells is a very special place.
Best for sunsets: Hunstanton
Developed as a classy resort in the 1800s by the fabulously named Henry L’Estrange Styleman Le Strange, ‘Sunny Hunny’ is a down to earth seaside destination with elegant houses that would cost a fortune elsewhere. Although it’s on the east coast, Hunstanton faces west making it one of the few places on the Norfolk coast where you can actually watch the sun set over the sea.
Famous for photogenic red and white striped cliffs, at low tide there’s a wide expanse of sand with shallow waters making it popular with body-boarders and kite surfers as well as families. The Esplanade Gardens look like a vintage postcard, designed for strolling, with bowling green, children’s play area, putting green and crazy golf.
There’s also a promenade, arcades, fish and chips and all the expected British seaside attractions. Hunstanton Sea Life Sanctuary is on the prom too, a family favourite with an underwater tunnel and a seal hospital. In summer a little train trundles along the sea-front and a cool WW2 amphibious vehicle (The Wash Monster) operates from the South Promenade. Tempted to stay awhile? Check out Muddy favourite The Penthouse and settle in!
Best for Being Irresistibly Trashy: Great Yarmouth
Blinging with neon arcades and amusements, Great Yarmouth is the glitzy bar room queen of Norfolk beaches. The Pleasure Beach on Yarmouth’s Golden Mile is gloriously tacky with a log flume, dodgems, a roller coaster and the Sky-drop – a 22 meter high ride with
terrifying panoramic views of the beach and town before your heart and stomach leave your body as it plunges back down. If you liked the The Lost Boys (vampire bikers rule!) you’ll love Yarmouth’s rough diamond razzmatazz.
Central Beach is the flashiest, with a Wednesday night firework display each week through the summer. And no dogs allowed. North and South Beaches are quieter with dunes and dogs! There’s also the fantastic Hippdrome Circus with its spectacular water show (called ‘one of the seven wonders of the British seaside’ by the Telegraph), the new Yare Gallery and the Time and Tide Museum which tells the story of the town’s fascinating history, established as a herring port in the Middle Ages. Brash, lippy, garish, notorious, yes, Yarmouth’s all that. Badass Norfolk. Bring it on.
Best for Old School Charm: Overstrand
Overstrand, on the Norfolk Coastal Path, has a wide, sandy beach that disappears at high tide – check times before you head off! Modest, peaceful, a lot quieter than nearby Cromer, it’s great for an afternoon of wholesome sandcastle building and swimming. Note, there’s no lifeguard.
The car park (where there are public loos) is at the top of a long, steep slope. You really won’t want to let go of your buggy or watch someone pelting down on an out of control scooter.
There are cafes, a pub and a village shop. The Sea Marge Hotel is all white table cloths, afternoon tea on the elegant lawn and people with reading glasses behind newspapers, smiling vaguely at the odd well-behaved child. Overstrand is like going on holiday to the 1950s, really rather charming.