Driving the Norfolk and Suffolk Coast

18 Nov 2021

We're exploring the best road trips the UK and Ireland have to offer, and one of our favourite areas to explore is along the Norfolk and Suffolk coastlines.

The Norfolk and Suffolk coastline offers long, wild beaches, picturesque villages, historic buildings, pleasant market towns, and traditional seaside resorts. There are also fantastic opportunities for wildlife spotting, as well as sampling the abundant fruits of farm and fishery that go into the cuisine of this part of East Anglia. Here's our guide to taking a road trip along England's easternmost stretch of coast. Once you plan where to visit, you can browse our Local Deals and hotels and breaks in the area.

Driving the Norfolk and Suffolk coast

Beach huts at Wells-next-the-Sea

The drive along the East Anglian coast is approximately 200 miles in length, and with so many places to stop along the way, there's no point rushing. You can do the trip in three to five days, depending on how many locations you want to visit. There' an array of accommodation, including luxurious hotels, seaside B&Bs and guest houses, caravan parks, campsites, and glamping sites, on the route.

What to see on the Norfolk coast

Much of the North Norfolk coast is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), and features sandy beaches, marshland, and plenty of wildlife reserves. It's also a walkers' paradise thanks to the Norfolk Coast Path, an 83-mile hiking route that runs from Hunstanton to Hopton-on-Sea.

A good place to start your road trip is King's Lynn, a market town that's well worth a stroll. Sights include the 18th-century Custom House (which now contains the town’s tourist information centre), the impressive St Margaret's Church, the riverside, and the vast market square. Just outside of King’s Lynn is the 12th-century Castle Rising, where one of England's best-preserved castle keeps is surrounded by impressive earthworks. A few miles further on is Sandringham, home to one of the Queen’s royal residences — you can visit the house and gardens between spring and autumn, while the surrounding parkland is open throughout the year.

Blakeney Point seals

15 minutes’ drive from Sandringham is The Wash, a large bay containing marshes and mud flats that's an important habitat for birds. You can visit the wetland reserve of RSPB Snettisham to spot plover, oystercatchers, curlews, geese, peregrine falcons, and many other species.

The first seaside town you’ll come to is the Victorian resort of Hunstanton, known for its elegant gardens and distinctive striped cliffs. From there, head east along the top of Norfolk to Holkham Beach, a long stretch of golden sands backed by dunes and pine forests. At nearby Holkham Hall, a stunning 18th-century Palladian-style stately home, you can take a guided tour to see an impressive collection of art and furniture. The pretty harbour town on Wells-next-the-Sea, close to Holkham, is a good place to stop off for some fish and chips before making the 20-minute drive to Blakeney Point, an important nature reserve that's home to England's largest seal colony — there are about 500 harbour and grey seals — plus a multitude of bird species, including lapwings, terns, plovers, and wigeons. Getting to the reserve requires a long walk along the coast path, or you could just sit back and relax on a boat tour from the quayside at Morston.

Further along the coast are two famous seaside resorts. Sheringham is home to a church designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, as well as one end of the North Norfolk Railway, a heritage steam railway that runs for more than five miles to the market town of Holt. Less than five miles from Sheringham is Cromer, whose famous pier hosts a traditional end-of-pier variety show, while the resort is also known for Cromer crab — you can sample this North Sea delicacy at several restaurants in town.

Happisburgh lighthouse

A short detour inland from Happisburgh's candy-striped lighthouse brings you to the rivers and lakes of The Broads National Park. You can rent a boat and make a leisurely exploration of these waterways, which are not entirely natural; they are actually peat excavations from the Middle Ages that have subsequently flooded. It's also worth heading a little further inland to explore the historic city of Norwich, with its Norman cathedral and castle, Medieval streets, and busy market.

Back on the coast, Norfolk has one of the country’s most famous holiday destinations, Great Yarmouth. The town has all the trappings of an English seaside resort: you can hit the Golden Mile with its amusements, rides, and entertainment venues, visit the SEA LIFE centre, or just stroll along the beach with an ice cream. Venture south of Great Yarmouth and you'll soon reach the county of Suffolk.

Places to visit on the Suffolk coast

Southwold Pier

At the northern end of the Suffolk coast is Lowestoft, the UK's easternmost town and the first place in the country to see the sunrise. It was the birthplace of composer Benjamin Britten, and today the town's Marina Theatre hosts regular Royal Philharmonic Orchestra residencies.

Further south, charming Southwold has a restored 190-metre-long Victorian pier that houses a water clock. Nearby, you can stroll past colourful beach huts and a Grade II-listed lighthouse. The town, where George Orwell lived for 20 years, has a brewery, an arts centre, museums, and galleries, plus many pubs, cafés, and restaurants. Across the River Blyth from Southwold is Walberswick, a Georgian village that offers a much more relaxed pace of life than its neighbour, and has a long, dune-backed beach and a couple of pubs.

Like Norfolk, there are many places along the Suffolk coast to look for wildlife. RSPB Minsmere nature reserve offers wetlands, woodlands, and beaches to explore on foot, and there's an ever-changing array of fauna, including otters, red deer, bitterns, and marsh harriers, to spot throughout the year.

Aldeburgh beach

Further south is another well-loved seaside town, Aldeburgh, which is home to pretty pastel-coloured seafront homes, as well as the annual Aldeburgh Festival, founded by former resident Benjamin Britten (look out for the Scallop, a giant sculpture of a sea shell dedicated to the composer, on the town's shingle beach).

The Suffolk Coast & Heaths AONB extends along much of the county’s coast. It includes the remote Orford Ness, a shingle spit that's home to diverse wildlife, as well as the remains of buildings that were used in the development of the UK’s atomic bomb. Near Woodbridge, you can visit the National Trust's Sutton Hoo, where archaeologists unearthed an Anglo-Saxon cemetery in 1939, including a burial mound in which a king and his treasure were buried inside a ship.

You'll reach the southern end of the Suffolk coast at Felixstowe. In addition to being the UK's biggest container port, Felixstowe has plenty to offer visitors, including theatres, cafés, museum, historic forts, and the cliff-side Seafront Gardens. From Felixstowe, you can follow the Orwell Estuary to Suffolk's county town, Ipswich, where there are plenty of places to eat, drink, and shop. You can even take a trip on a traditional sailing barge.

Flatford Mill

South of Ipswich, where the River Stour marks the border with Essex, is Dedham Vale AONB. This is Constable Country, named after the painter John Constable, who lived in the area and made it famous with some of his works, including The Vale of Dedham and The Hay Wain. The latter was painted near Flatford Mill, which Constable’s father owned, and features a view of the Stour and Willy Lott's Cottage — both the mill and the cottage still stand.

And you can find great deals along the route on our Southeast hotels page.

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