Driving along the coastal road in North Norfolk, you’d be forgiven for thinking you might just be somewhere else. The sea glittering in the early evening sun making silhouettes of the paddle boarders and kite-surfers, towering pines stretching along the soft sands of Wells beach and the raging sea roaring at the wild beach at Holkham – there are times when the raw, natural beauty of North Norfolk can rival any coastline in the world.
North Norfolk is wild and wonderful and all of it is perfect for families. I have to declare an interest here, I’ve been holidaying in Norfolk my whole life, my family live there and its an area I know really well. People ask me all the time about my top tips, so here they are, along with a suggested itinerary to help you plan your North Norfolk trip.
Where to stay?
Norfolk’s coastal road runs from Hunstanton to Cromer passing through all the coastal villages. Norfolk is surprisingly undulating which makes for great views of iconic Norfolk scenery from the road; rolling farmland stretching out to the marshes, a lone windmill looking over the sea and the endless watercolour sky. Staying anywhere along this road or near to it gives you easy access to all the best things to do in Norfolk with the added bonus of being close to the sea. A traditional Norfolk cottage in one of these coastal villages will allow you to really enjoy your time here to the max. Here’s a list of recommended places to help you choose:
- Snettisham is a small village with a lovely local pub, The Rose and Crown which serves fantastic food and has a children’s playground in the garden. Your nearest and best beach here is a 10 minute drive to Old Hunstanton. The beach at Snettisham is more of a nature reserve, great if you’re really into geese not so great if you want a swim. You can get some good deals here though so don’t be put off by the distance from a sandy beach. If you’re a large group looking for luxury, Snettisham is also the location of the very good looking Carrington House.
- A few miles down the road is Heacham, also a good base but again the beach is not great for swimming. You can walk along the seafront to Hunstanton from Heacham making it well connected to a bigger town and better beach. You can also get some good deals on cottages in here which make it bargainous. See also neighbouring Sedgeford.
- Old Hunstanton has an excellent sandy beach, a lovely antiques centre and a few good places to eat including the Michelin starred restaurant, The Neptune. It would make an excellent base. It is not to be confused with Hunstanton – the two are different beasts entirely. Kids love Hunstanton because it has a fair, an arcade and lots of places to spend their pocket money. There are also two good bakeries, a Sainsburys and Tesco and a good clothes shop that stocks Norfolk favourite clothes brand, Joules – so it’s a useful place. I have a soft spot for Sunny Hunny but I wouldn’t base myself there. A base in Old Hunstanton gives you the best of both worlds.
- Ringstead is a small pretty hamlet. Slightly inland, it has a little village store and an excellent pub, The Gin Trap, which has an extensive gin list and serves a mix of wholesome pub grub/gastropub style food. Make sure wherever you stay is a walk to this pub.
- Brancaster, Brancaster Staithe and Burnham Deepdale also make great bases for a family holiday. Brancaster has a long, sandy beach, set back from the main road, revealing a cool shipwreck when the tide goes out. The beach has all the essentials – a good cafe, shop and loos. Brancaster, Brancaster Staithe and Burnham Deepdale have some excellent places to eat including The Jolly Sailors, a really unique, family-friendly pub complete with table football, a play area for the kids and plenty of outdoor seating. The White Horse is seriously scenic, perfect for an aperitif with a view. Deepdale Café is a great place for breakfast, brunch or lunch and is situated in Burnham Deepdale, next door to a family friendly campsite Deepdale Camping and a yard with pop up shops selling local art and cool interiors. Oh, and a Fat Face for you (me) to buy ill fitting shorts.
- Thornham has some fantastic places to eat. I recommend award winning pub, The Orange Tree, Shucks and Norfolk’s trendiest chippy, Eric’s Fish and Chips. Orchard Groves (home to Erics and Shucks) is also the location of a women’s boutique, a stall selling home made ice cream, a farm shop and Gurney’s fishmongers (also in Burnham Market). Families looking for unique holiday accommodation should check out Wild Luxury for a memorable Norfolk experience.
- Wells Next the Sea is the perfect base. It has an award winning, picture perfect beach which is about a mile out from the town. You can easily base yourself in the town and walk the mile to the beach along the harbour path. Or you can get the miniature railway for £1.50 each way which is a medium to low fun experience and you’ll probably bang your head getting off it. The best location for rental is around The Buttlands where there are some beautiful Georgian houses and cute little cottages to rent but anywhere in Wells would be fine. Wells is next to Holkham which has an incredible wild beach and Holkham Hall, with its huge lake, nature trail and fantastic play area for kids. Wells and Holkham are perfect for families.
- Burnham Market is an upmarket, attractive little town with lots of shops, an art gallery and some nice places to eat including The Hoste Arms and my kid’s favourite, Tillys, who do the finest crayfish jacket potatoes known to all humanity. Some people don’t like Burnham Market because it is full of posh people wearing gilets and driving massive cars and yelling, ‘Hugo, did you pack the tapenade?’ which can get annoying, but also Hugo and his tapenade have to go somewhere on holiday. The nearest beach is Wells or Holkham.
- Blakeney, Moorston and Cley are stunning villages with nature reserves and working harbours. The brilliant seal trips run from Moorston Harbour and the village is also home to the Michelen starred restaurant, Moorston Hall. The villages are also situated just a short drive from Holt, a fantastic Georgian town, slightly inland, with excellent book shops and places to eat. Cley has a Windmill, Smokehouse and Deli. What more could you want from a place? The best beach is probably Sherringham or back to Wells and if you don’t head up to Salthouse to eat seafood at Cookies, you’ve basically wasted your entire life.
What to do?
Heacham, Thornham and Old Hunstanton
Spend a morning visiting the Norfolk Lavender in Heacham. Kids will enjoy the Rare Breeds Farm and, if it’s raining, Farmer Fred’s Playbarn. There is a lovely café there for lunch or coffee. Afterwards, drive through to Old Hunstanton and have an afternoon at the beach, a look in the Lifeboat Station or a browse through the Antiques centre. Drive on to Thornham to have a look around the Deli (there is a kid’s play area) and the shops at Orchard Groves. In the evening, head to the Orange Tree in Thornham for local seafood or the house curry and the world’s best dessert, the Fairground. The pub has a good kids play area meaning you can
drink in have some peace.
Hunstanton, Thornham and Brancaster
Have a trip out to sea on the famous Washmonster in Hunstanton (a strange boat/truck hybrid that drives along the beach and then into the sea – try not to be alarmed) followed by a morning being bullied by your children at the fair or a game of pitch and putt on the cliffs. I’m not a fan of the Sealife Centres generally – I find them too expensive for approximately 22 minutes of fun, there is one at Hunstanton though. Head out to Eric’s Fish and Chips for lunch. Take a walk on Holme Nature Reserve or Brancaster beach in the afternoon and eat in the garden at the brilliant, Jolly Sailors.
Holkham and Burnham Market
Spend a day in Holkham. Park in the car park for Holkham Hall and take a walk around the lake or hire bikes and tour the walled gardens and extensive grounds. Kids will love spotting the deer that roam freely around the estate. There’s a lovely nature trail to do as you walk around the lake and sometimes water sports on the lake itself. As an aside, we once saw a carp leap out of the water at Holkham, so keep your eyes peeled. Before lunch, let the kids burn off more energy in the fantastic woodland play area. Lunch in the café or at the Victoria pub and spend the afternoon on Holkham beach; walk through the pine forests and on to the beach for the best views of this beautiful place. Check before you go to Holkham Hall in the summer as they have a programme of outdoor theatre which sells out quickly. If you’ve got time, push on to Burnham Market, for a drink at the Hoste with Hugo and a bit of shopping. There is a great clothes shop called Lime Green in Burnham Market that sells second hand designer clothes, shoes and bags. Kids will love the Hat Shop with it’s cornucopia of random things to buy on the ground floor. Norfolk Living is also great for interiors and there’s a Jack Wills and a Joules because, Norfolk.
Wells Next the Sea
Have a day in Wells Next the Sea. Park on the Buttlands and walk through the town. Pick up a picnic at the Deli (celeb spot: I saw Stephen Fry in there once) and walk along the harbour wall to the beach or ride the miniature train. There is a café, a Joules (of course) and toilets at the top. If you want a more scenic walk, you can walk through the pine trees to the beach or there is direct access to the right of the shops. The scenic walk is a much nicer way to get on the beach if you can. Wells has rows of beautiful little beach huts that make this one of the prettiest beaches in the UK. In the evening, you can grab Fish and Chips from Frenches or eat cockles out of a polystyrene cup whilst your kids do some crabbing by the harbour. Alternatively, have a meal at the Crown on the Buttlands, a lovely place to sit outside in the summer. Wells carnival in August is always fun too.
Morston, Blakeney and Cley
You’ve not even been to Norfolk if you haven’t taken a boat ride out to see the seals at Blakeney Point. You can choose to go with either Beans or Temples and you must book ahead because the trips are dictated by the crazy Norfolk tides. The seals are amazing. Some will swim close to the boat and come and have a look at you, the others will lay slumped like drunks on the banks. After the seals, have your lunch at Cookies Crab Shack – be sure to take your own bottle of wine to wash down the local seafood. We like the Royal Salads pictured below. If you can’t get a table (you can and should book) and it’s a sunny day, they’ll bring your food out to the green in front. They take walk ins too and you can take sandwiches away with you. Visit the arty village of Cley after lunch. Just to confuse matters, Cley is pronounced Cligh (as in high) and not Clay. Angry locals will hound you out of the county if you get this wrong.
Holt and Sheringham
Have a morning in beautiful Holt, wandering around the antiques shops and book shops or have a walk around Holt Park . Have lunch in Byfords Café and head down to Sheringham (or West Runton for the rock pools) for an afternoon on the beach or to the National Trust’s Sheringham Park for a walk – well worth a visit. Kids will love climbing the tower here which gives an amazing view of the coastline and the steam train that runs for five miles along the coast. There is also a swimming pool in Sherringham with slides which is fun for an hour.
I’m sure I’ve forgotten things or missed out some of people’s favourite places – there’s The Lifeboat at Thornham and The Hero at Burnham Overy …. Oh and Titchwell Manor’s good for a date night. There’s Walsingham and the Creakes and Cromer and places I haven’t covered, but the ones I have written about are my favourite places to go with my family. There’s so much to do here – once you get the Norfolk bug, there’s nor-folking* way you’ll want to go anywhere else.
*so glad I got that gag in