Affordable and welcoming, Great Yarmouth has everything you need for fun at the beach, and is spliced with delicious layers of history too, discovers CAROLINE WHEATER.

One of Norfolk’s best-known resorts, Great Yarmouth has been making happy seaside memories for over 170 years, with its golden beach and battalion of amusements along the famous Golden Mile.

Intrigued, we enter the town across the River Yare and drive past an impressive array of Georgian and Victorian buildings on the South Quay before arriving at the long promenade and clean-as-a-whistle sands that have drawn tourists here since the railway opened in 1844.

En route, we’ve seen trawlers and small ships that service the North Sea renewable energy sector, while at the shoreline we’ve passed two piers, three theatres, a circus, a Sea Life aquarium and the Pleasure Beach amusement centre. Already, it feels like a town of two halves – a hard working hub and a fresh air haven.

Our first stop is the Venetian Gardens and Waterways at North Beach, a 1920s seaside park and boating lake that was restored in 2018 thanks to a £1.7m Heritage Lottery Fund grant. With Venetian-style bridges and pretty flowerbeds, it has a nostalgic air that we enjoy (

Lunch is close by, at the Beach Hut Café on the Esplanade. Sitting outside, we gaze over the marram grass towards Scroby Sands wind turbines and start to unwind. The welcoming café owner, Alberto Menezes is an ex-Londoner who relocated here in 2015 with his wife Sandie to enjoy a more relaxed way of life and start a business. The clam chowder is tasty, as are the dirty fries we order to go with it. No wonder Alberto has a local fan club. (


On civic buildings and on the Minster’s stained glass windows we keep spotting a heraldic emblem of England’s three lions rampant with fishy tails. This is because herring has played a vital role in the town’s success.

A century ago, it was the most important herring port in the world, as abundant shoals migrated down the North East coast every autumn, harvested by the fishing fleet and processed by an army of herring lasses. Great Yarmouth may be a seaside resort, but herring put it on the map. We want to know more and head to the Time and Tide Museum for an overview. Tellingly, it’s opposite a large section of medieval wall, part of the second most complete urban defence structure in the country. Who knew?

The Museum is housed in the old Tower Fish Curing Works, c1850, which closed in 1988 after the herring industry crashed due to over-fishing. We walk through the smoke houses and detect the lingering smell of kippers emanating from the oily, jet-black walls. The Museum covers many other aspects of Yarmouth’s life, including the history of the ‘Rows’ – 145 tiny streets where one-up, one-down houses snuggled next to merchants’ homes to create a tightknit community. Some 80 of the Rows survive today with evocative names such as Kittywitches Row and Bodysnatcher Row – on the lookout we find a few on the River Yare side of town. (


Our accommodation for the weekend, Hotel Ocean on Marine Parade, has a rare, uninterrupted view of that lovely beach and on our first night, drinking a cocktail and a glass of beer, we watch the moon rise over the sea from our second floor bedroom window.

For supper we eat at the hotel’s glamorous new restaurant, Jan. We choose king scallops with cured coppa for starters and pan-seared halibut and ravioli with crayfish and prawn for mains, served with a bottle of Malbec. Delicious. The next morning is bright and sunny and, fortified by a breakfast of fluffy pancakes, a Full English and several cups of Hotel Ocean’s own-brand coffee (so good, we bought some home), we go exploring on the famous seafront.

Our meander starts at the Britannia Theatre where big name comics and singers still perform today. Entertainment is at the heart of Great Yarmouth and one of its gems is the Grade II* Hippodrome Circus, Britain’s only surviving total circus building.

Owners, the Jay family, put on four spectacular productions a year featuring aerial artists, jugglers, contortionists and synchronised swimmers (the 1903 ring sinks down to create a pool). With steeply raked seats and dramatic lighting, it feels intimate and exciting and there are great sightlines throughout as well as a circus museum to enjoy after the performance is over. (

Ten minutes’ walk away lies Merrivale Model Village, another piece of town heritage that is being restored and revived by new, young owners. Merrivale dates to 1961, and was one of three model villages opened by the Dobbins family – the others are in Southport and Babbacombe.

It’s undergone a major overhaul and the little village (more like a town), complete with houses, streets, farms, mansion, river and bridge, and a parish church, is innocent fun. On the way out is The Old Penny Arcade where Peter Williamson displays his collection of vintage machines, one of the largest in the UK.

We buy 12 old pennies for £1 and play The Drunkard’s Dream, the Passion Tester and the Bunce Bunny fruit machine – it’s refreshingly interactive and fun and a magnet for grandparents showing their grandchildren a good time. (,

The Old Penny Arcade features one of the largest collections of vintage machines in the UK. Credit: Peter Williamson.


In the afternoon, we nip to Gorleston-on-Sea, Great Yarmouth’s quieter sister on the other side of the River Yare, with a large sandy bay. We enjoy a rib-sticking lunch at the buzzy Pier Hotel (01493 662631, overlooking the beach – their steak pie is legendary and rightly so, we agree – before going on a behind-the-scenes tour of the Pavilion Theatre where film director Danny Boyle is a patron. This Grade II ‘shelter hall’ is 121 years old and put on concerts as part of a day at the seaside. Events and performances run throughout the year with an audience seated at tables and waiter service. (

Keen for some retail therapy we walk up to the High Street to explore a thriving group of independent shops. First stop is CoCo Pretty Things at number 74, a cornucopia of vintage costume jewellery, healing crystals and oodles more sourced by Alison Payge and her daughter Coco.

Next, we visit What is Hip clothes store at number 72, run by father and son, Richard and Mark Routledge, to pore over the piles of ultra-cool T-shirts and jazzy patterned men’s shirts by Spectre, Mishmash and Gabicci that fly out of the shop.

Interest satisfied, we mooch down to the huge beach and go looking for an early supper at The Shed tapas bar on Quay Road. Another family-run restaurant, it’s full of groups of friends and has a lively atmosphere. We sip our drinks – a vibrant strawberry daiquiri for me – and feast on Greek salad, patatas bravas and dates wrapped in bacon (01493 282182,

Back at Great Yarmouth, we go out for a last walk on North Beach to watch the sun go down. To the west, above the town’s roofscape, the sky glows orange and pink in a stunning display. To the east the sea turns silvery as the Scroby Sands wind turbines fade into the darkness. It’s a magnificent vista and a fitting end to a weekend full of lovely surprises.

Great Yarmouth feels like a town of two halves. Credit: Visit Great Yarmouth


Great Yarmouth is surrounded by unspoilt countryside, including the Northern Broads. Book a self-drive boat trip from Martham Ferry Boatyard to immerse in nature. Electric boats are easy to operate and glide through the water unnoticed by reed buntings, cormorants and hunting marsh harriers.

Larger boats have a loo onboard, plus a kettle so you can have mugs of tea as you travel through the peaceful landscape of otherwise impossible to get to reed beds. From £45 for a two-hour trip out of season. (01493 748291,

Credit: Caroline Wheater


Andover House on Camperdown just behind the Golden Mile is a warmly lit, stylish hotel restaurant and bar with friendly service. It serves upmarket food such as tempura hake (£19), buttermilk chicken burger (£16) and chocolate trifle (£8.50). The eating area is relatively small and popular, so book ahead to be sure of a table. (01493 843 490,

The Fisherman’s Return run by Darrin Winter is a spacious and welcoming pub at the heart of Winterton-on-Sea, a village close to the Northern Broads. The menu is all about tasty pub grub and local ales, with dishes such as beer battered cod (£14.95), ploughman’s (£13.95) and toasties (£7.50) on offer. Book if you want to eat in the traditional bar area. (01493 393305,


Coast was hosted by Hotel Ocean on Marine Parade in the heart of Great Yarmouth and run by knowledgeable local hoteliers James Dockwra and Daniel Burt. The comfortable, seven-bedroom hotel is adults only and dogs are not allowed).

Breakfast is served in Café Ocean, looking out to the sea, and the menu ranges from eggs Benedict to American pancakes to the Full English, with vegan options available. In the evenings guests can book to eat at Jan restaurant and/or enjoy a drink in the beautifully done out lounge area. Rooms from £75 a night. (01493 266606,

Hotel Ocean was a great base from which to explore Great Yarmouth. Credit: Caroline Wheater


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If you’re searching for more inspiration on the Norfolk coast for your staycation, check out our 5 Secret Spots in North Norfolk.