You’ll find glorious Wells-next-the-Sea in the heart of the North Norfolk coast. This lovely town is today a hugely popular spot for a seaside holiday, famous for its wide stretch of golden sand and its candy-coloured beach huts backed by pine forest. It is, without doubt, one of the best places to visit in Norfolk.
If you’re looking for a fun holiday for the whole family that combines beach time with outdoor activities alongside some history, culture and great food then add this upmarket coastal town to your holiday wishlist. Read on for the best things to do in Wells-next-the-Sea.
What to do in Wells next the Sea
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Long before Wells became a fancy seaside town, it was a fishing port and later a a major importer of coal. Later still it was a commercial port and large wooden sailing ships were built here. There is still a fishing industry here today although its nowhere near on the same scale as before. Still, you will spot crabbers, fishing boats and commercial angling ships working out of the harbour.
Wells-next-the-Sea is a small town so it’s very easy to get your bearings. Wells quay buzzes with life throughout the day and from here you can wander along the front towards the Granary and its distinctive gantry; this was used to transfer grain between the building and ships. The building has been turned into apartment blocks but the gantry remains.
Oh, and in in case you were wondering, the name Wells-next-the-sea comes from the many spring wells that you could once find in the area!
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Wander the town
Staithe Street is the main high street in town, lined with old cottages that have been turned into shops and cafes. You’ll spot a number of upmarket stores along here, part of the reason why the town is sometimes called Chelsea-next-the-Sea, in reference to the upmarket London neighbourhood.
But you’ll also spot shops that look like they’ve been there for decades. Mr C’s, for example, displays giant tubs of old fashioned sweets in the shop window and is where we went to buy crabbing equipment.
Elsewhere, the charming town is filled with charming fishermen’s cottages and narrow lanes, which are a joy to wander around. Buttlands, a wide green space, sits at the top of town.
Crabbing on the quay
Crabbing, or gillying as it’s known locally, is a popular pastime in Wells-next-the-Sea. If, like us, you have never been crabbing before arriving in Wells-next-the-Sea, the concept is simple.
Buy your bucket and net from somewhere like the aforementioned Mr C’s, source some bait (called gilly bait) from Arthur Howell Butchers on Staithe Street and then join the families standing on the quay. Add some bait to your bucket, lower the net into the water and wait for the crabs to bite. If you get lucky you can add your trophy to your bucket filled with seawater until you’ve had enough and you release them back into the water. It provides hours of fun!
Fish and chips on Wells Quay
Another popular Wells-next-the-Sea activity is eating fish ‘n’ chips on the quay. There are two fish and chip shops right on the quay that serve excellent battered cod and piping hot chips, French’s Fish Shop and Plattens Fish and Chips.
We also ate a lot of ice cream during our time in Wells and can recommend the best place. We tried both Wells Ice Cream Company and John’s Rock Shop and can say with confidence that both produce excellent ice cream. However, if we had to choose one, it would be John’s – the flavours were multiple and excellent!
You’ll also find ice cream at the cafe next to the car park at Wells Beach and there’s often an ice cream van parked there too.
Wells Beach is part of the Holkham Estate and lies one mile from the town centre. It is a truly beautiful beach; a vast swathe of sand bordered by traditional colourful beach huts in candy stripes and pastel shades.
You can walk to the beach from town or there’s a car park right near the beach. During summer months the Wells Harbour Railway, runs between the town and the beach.
You can swim at Wells Beach and there’s a dedicated swimming area away from the shipping channel. Be aware that the tides change very quickly, however, so make sure to check the tide times if you do fancy a dip. We turned up one afternoon at low tide only to discover that we had a very long walk to reach the sea.
Walk along Wells Beach away from the town and you will eventually hit Holkham Beach. This is a stunning stretch of golden sand backed by beautiful dunes and pine trees, and its own nature reserve, located within the Norfolk Coast area of outstanding beauty. It’s extremely popular with locals, visitors and naturists – yes, Holkham Beach is a nudist beach!
The beach is also popular with Hollywood and has been used as a filming location for a number of films, most notably Shakespeare in Love with Gwyneth Paltrow and Jospeh Fiennes. Other films shot here include The Eagle Has Landed and The Avengers, and the TV series Kingdom.
Although the beach does get busy on a sunny day, it’s never quite as busy as Wells Beach.
Holkham Beach can also be access via Lady Anne’s Drive, just off the main coastal road and opposite the entrance to Holkham Village and The Victoria. The car park is open from 6am – 9pm.
The magnificent 18th century Palladian Mansion, Holkham Hall, was once the seat of the first Earl of Leicester, built between 1734 and 1764. Today the mansion is home to the 8th Earl of Leicester, Thomas Coke, and his family.
The house is, however, open to visitors and a visit to this beautiful place is one of the best things to do in Wells-next-the-Sea and a great family day out.
There are lots of things to do at Holkham Hall including visiting parts of the stately home itself. The Marble Hall is a stunning entrance hall followed by the beautiful state rooms filled with paintings by Old Masters including Rubens and Van Dyck.
Of more interest to young kids no doubt is the excellent Holkham Stories Experience, which shares some of the stories of Holkham’s 400-year history. The stories experience is also a great way to explore the grounds of Holkham Hall including the Walled Garden and the park.
Exploring Holkham Park on two wheels is a lot of fun and bikes are available to hire (or you can bring your own). Other activities include rowing on the lake and taking to the treetops on an adventure course.
Hire a beach hut at Wells-next-the-Sea
The beach huts that line the beach at Wells are reason enough to visit Norfolk. These traditional beach huts are insanely popular in the UK today with some selling for more than the average price of a house.
Many were former fishermen’s huts or boat sheds and others were converted from Victorian and Georgian bathing machines. You can hire some of the beach huts and I highly recommend that you do. We hired Stay-next-the-Sea for the day and had a wonderful time.
The hut, painted in pink and white stripes, comes equipped with everything you might need. There are deckchairs and wind breakers, camping chairs, beach games and picnic blankets. Tea, coffee and hot chocolate are also provided. During summer months the hut is available for hire on a weekly basis.
The hut is owned by Zoe who also has a couple of holiday rental properties in Wells.
Coastal Exploration Company
One of the best ways to enjoy this corner of Norfolk is with a boat trip out on the water. And, what better way to do it than on a traditional wooden sailing boat? Ex-marine Henry Chamberlain runs the Coastal Exploration Company and leads trips out to explore through salt marshes, across sand banks and onto the open sea.
Henry runs a number of different seafaring trips; some are on traditional mussel flats, others on crabbing boats and some on Salford, a proud 30ft whelker dating back to the 1950s. Boat trips run according to the tides (they can only leave the harbour at high tide). The trips are fantastic and can be adapted for families.
The Wells and Walsingham Light Railway
The Wells and Walsingham Light Railway is a 10¼” narrow gauge steam railway that runs between Wells-next-the-Sea and the Saxon village of Walsingham on the banks of the River Stiffkey. The railway had its first journey in 1982 and has been ferrying passengers back and forth through the beautiful Norfolk countryside ever since.
The half-hour trip is a fun thing to do in Wells-next-the-Sea, particularly if you are travelling with kids or have rail enthusiasts in the family. In Wells, the train station is on the Stiffkey Road just to the east of Wells-next-the-Sea.
You can purchase tickets at the station and there’s no need to book in advance but be aware that it gets busy during the school holidays. Trains run daily between March and the end of October.
Snacks are available from the Signal Box Café and there is a play area to enjoy before or after your adventure on the train.
Places to visit near Wells next the Sea
Norfolk is a beautiful corner of England and there’s plenty to do in the surrounding area as well. The following is quick overview of some of the best things to do in this corner of Norfolk. We didn’t get to all of them during our week in Norfolk but more detail on the places we did visit is given below.
- Cromer Pier
- Houghton Hall & Gardens
- Broads National Park
- Royal Sandringham
- North Norfolk Railway
- Captain Fawcett’s Marvellous Barbershop Museum
- Pensthorpe Natural Park
- Oxburgh Hall
The traditional seaside resort of Cromer is popular with families for its sandy beaches and surfing opportunities. It’s most well known for its Grade II listed, 151 metre long traditional Victorian pier. The pier opened in June 1901 and is still standing today despite storms, surges and an attempt to blow it up in WWII – the government were apparently worried that it enemies would use it to land their aircraft.
It’s one of only five UK seaside piers with a theatre and home to the only end of pier show of its kind in the world where variety acts entertain visitors during the summer months. We didn’t get to see a show but we did shelter in one of the pier pavilions to eat our lunch while the rain fell – a typical British seaside holiday activity!
I loved the town of Holt when we visited. The pretty town is filled with 18th century Georgian buildings that are today a mixture of restaurants, art galleries, independent shops and cafes. Nearby is Holt Country Park, a 100 acre woodland with various walking trails. There is also a playground and a cafe sits in the car park – perfect for pre- or post-walk treats.
The coastal village of Blakeney was another one of my favourite places to visit in Norfolk. It’s located in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is famous for its seal colonies.
You can walk from the village to see the seals, across the marshes, but be aware that it’s an 8 mile round trip.
The best way to see the seals is by boat and a handful of companies run daily tours out to see the grey seals and their pups. This is the largest seal colony in England with over 2,000 pups born every year between November and early January. Make sure to check the times as sailing depends very much on the tides.
Blakeney itself is a lovely village; the streets are lined with pretty flint cottages that once belonged to local fishermen.
Where to stay in Wells-next-the-Sea
We rented a cottage through Norfolk Hideaways and stayed in Quay View Cottage, a shorty walk from the quay in Wells-next-the-Sea. It was perfect for the five of us and the cottage was really well appointed. Other options can be found on the map below, which allows you to compare hotels and short-term rental / holiday cottages in Norfolk. All you have to do is add your travel dates and group size and you will see the best deals for your stay.
FAQ Visiting Norfolk
Where is Wells-next-the-Sea?
Wells-next-the-Sea is located on the north coast of Norfolk, between Holkham beach and the unique bird sanctuary of Blakeney Point.
When is the best time to visit Wells-next-the-Sea?
Summer is the most popular time to visit Wells-next-the-Sea and if you plan to visit during this time then make sure you book your accommodation well in advance. This is also the case if you hope to book a beach hut.
Wells Carnival Week is a fun traditional summer seaside festival with sandcastle building competitions, crabbing contests, a Carnival Day procession, and the Crowning of the Carnival Royals.
Spring and autumn are also good times to visit (October half term for example is a great option). Yes, it might be cold and it might rain but this is such a beautiful corner of the world even with inclement weather. Just make sure to pack layers, rain jackets and waterproof shoes!
How warm is the sea at Wells-next-the-Sea?
Although the sea warms up during the summer months, it’s the North Sea so will never feel like the Caribbean! If you plan to swim then it’s worth having wetsuits. The highest water temperatures are usually in August when they can be18C. February is the coldest month for swimming with sea temperatures around 4C.
Similarly, if you plan to swim then make sure to check the tide times. The waters rise and fall quickly in this corner of England and when the tide is out, it’s a long way out.