9 Charming Norfolk seaside towns and villages

Melody Wren 28 June 2022

Discover the unspoilt beauty of North Norfolk's beaches, and its fishing communities' local cuisine, all hidden away on the south east coast

Norfolk is home to unspoilt long white sandy beaches, coastal market towns and quiet seaside villages. You can spend a day birdwatching, kayaking, crabbing, fishing or hiking the extensive trails

Windmills are scattered throughout the county, and a typical holiday involves renting a local country cottage, a converted horse barn or staying in one of the many country inns and B&Bs. Its towns and villages are crammed with traditional flint cottages and period houses.

Tidal marshes are teeming with wildlife, pine woodlands and the low-lying coastline provides incredible views, sunsets and expansive skies.

Hikes on expansive beaches such as Brancaster are fringed with sand dunes. The lengthy shorelines are so picturesque that it’s not unusual to see parts of a TV show being filmed there.

"The lengthy shorelines are so picturesque that it’s not unusual to see parts of a TV show being filmed"

Take the Norfolk coastal path to see many of the small coastal villages while getting your daily steps in. Eighty-four miles lie between Hunstanton and Hopton-on-Sea, with much of the walking trail running through dramatic landscapes.

Or, to get an overview of the coastal area, take the Coastliner 36 bus. At only £10 for a day, it gives you time to focus on the views.

Villages are strung like beads along the coast and each village has its own charm that you can discover for yourself…

Hunstanton

Red cliffs of Hunstanton beach, North Norfolk, against pink sunset skyHunstanton's impressive red cliffs have earned the beach a designation as a Geological Conservation Review site

Known for its dramatic red and white cliffs, Hunstanton's beach invites long walks. Brightly-coloured beach huts are set back from the sea, providing a vibrant backdrop to the sizeable beach.

Tour the delightful town for upscale restaurants, bakeries, cafes and novelty shops.

An old-fashioned midway invites families of all ages to take in the rides and refuel at the many food trucks stationed along the promenade.

Titchwell Marsh

This nature reserve hosts iconic Norfolk birds such as bitterns, spoonbills, marsh harriers and bearded tits within a patchwork of boardwalks, lagoons, reedbeds, woodland and sandy beach. 

Signs guide you to the different marshlands and gardens that have special huts or hides to view wildlife, like cranes at the Great Crane Project, egrets, and other marshland birds.

A Monet-style curved bridge is fringed by willow trees. Nearby, a wisteria-covered pergola leads to other gardens filled with unique Instagram-worthy sculptures.

Brancaster

This is a unique landscape with windswept dunes, marshes and one of the longest beaches in Norfolk. Wide swathes of sand meet an ever-changing vast sky.

Brancaster beach epitomises Norfolk with its wild expansiveness. A walk along footpaths to an inlet from the beach rewards you with the sweet faces of local seals.

It’s an ideal beach for a picnic or for the whole family to dig with a bucket and spade.

Brancaster Staithe

Sailing boat beached at Brancaster Staithe, NorfolkFamed naval officer Lord Nelson learnt to sail amongst the inlets at Brancaster Staithe

A staithe is a wharf or a landing place, and there are several wharfs along river inlets from the sea. Lord Nelson learned to sail in these very inlets.

The village has a rich fishing history with local fishermen growing mussels and oysters on beds out of the harbour.

The local White Horse pub is well placed for marsh views from the dining tables while you taste the catch of the day. The area is also known for sailing.

Burnham Overy Staithe

Burnham Overy Staithe has a beautiful natural harbour ideal for paddling at low tide, while Burnham Thorpe is where Nelson grew up with his father, the Rector at the local church.

To gain access to this stunning beach, the Burnham Overy Ferry offers trips to Scolt Head Island from mid-July to September.

Burnham Market

Three miles inland from the Staithes and well worth a visit, this well-kept market town is packed with character-filled shops, cafes, and tea rooms.

Pick up some fresh fish from the fish monger on the village green, join the queue at the bakery and putter around some of the unique shops. Take time for lunch or afternoon tea outside to watch people and cars go by.

Wells-next-the-Sea

Norfolk Coastal Exploration Company boat sailing on sea water For a fully immersive view of Wells-next-the-Sea, take to the water with Norfolk's Coastal Exploration Company

A lively fishing community, this historic town epitomises coastal Norfolk, and is a welcome stop-off for any walker. It has been a port for at least 600 years and is naturally protected by rare saltmarshes behind a sandbar.

The coastal village lures visitors with the best fish and chips, which you can eat sitting dockside while watching fishing boats come in. Stacks of lobster traps rest nearby. Crabbing in the harbour for an afternoon is an essential local experience.

The extensive sandy beach a mile from the harbour is lined with crayon-coloured beach huts, and is frequented by paddleboarders, surfers and swimmers, no matter the weather.

"The extensive sandy beach a mile from the harbour is lined with crayon-coloured beach huts"

To truly experience the tides and explore the area’s marshes and salt flats, take a journey with Coastal Exploration Company

The boats were specifically built for the unique conditions of the North Sea to sail along the wild North Norfolk coast. It’s a relaxing way to spend time in a 16’ traditional mussel flat boat. The flat bottom allows the boat to skim the very shallow water.

On my trip, the constantly changing puffs of clouds in the expansive Norfolk sky and the symphony of birds of Norfolk were the only interruptions in an afternoon journey.

Skipper George Getley anchored at Tebble’s Hole, pulled out a portable stove and made tea while chatting about the ever-changing tides under the sunshine. Occasionally he interrupted by pointing out an arctic tern or a curlew.

Traditional canvas sails went up and the boat raced along the creek. On the way back to the harbour George spotted a rare spoonbill, a tall white beauty scanning the saltmarsh for snacks.

Blakeney

Blakeney is an old-fashioned quayside village with lots to see.

Blakeney Point and the seals that have made it their home are a big draw. You can’t reach it from the bank at Blakeney, so park at Cley beach instead and head west along the beach.

Cley next the sea

The delightful village is famous for its 18th-century windmill and a wild bird habitat that stretches down to Salthouse. Cley is also known for the world’s largest chalk reef which begins just offshore of the beach.

The pristine beach is tricky to manoeuvre as it's covered with large pebbles, but it is so worth the struggle. The views show the distant wild North Norfolk Coast.

There is a large car park and a shelter. After the beach check out the visitor center for tea and scones.

"Visit the Norfolk Lavender farm in Heacham where nearly 100 acres of lavender is grown"

Did I mention the local food? Eat crabs, mackerel, local samphire (seaweed) and produce that Norfolk is known for including turnips, carrots and sugar beets, asparagus, new potatoes and strawberries.

Visit the Norfolk Lavender farm in Heacham where nearly 100 acres of lavender is grown. Lavender gives a decorative and tasty touch to shortbread, cakes and scones served in the many tearooms sprinkled throughout the area.

However you choose to spend your time in North Norfolk, you will return home refreshed and invigorated by this delightful corner of England.

Read more: Magnificent Marseille: France's oldest city

Read more: A mini guide to Norwich

Keep up with the top stories from Reader's Digest by subscribing to our weekly newsletter