27 of the best beaches in East Anglia
Oh, we do like to be by the seaside! Looking ahead to the summer, get some trips in the diary with our bumper guide to the best beaches along the East Anglian coast.
With most of us having a staycation again this year, it’s time to really explore England’s brilliant beaches. Plan your trips with precision this summer with our bumper guide to Essex’s, Suffolk’s and Norfolk’s seashores – complete with the lowdown on the vibe, the scenery, excellent eateries, attractions and even where to park – as curated by our expert county editors.
Best for old-school charm: Frinton-on-Sea
With its butterscotch sands, sweeping esplanade and wash of pastel beach huts, this pretty coastal resort offers up a slice of quintessential charm. Hugging the north Essex coastline, it first became a popular haunt for vay-caying Londoners in the 1920s, when its high street was affectionately dubbed the ‘Bond Street of East Anglia’. These days you can expect to find a small hub of independent boutiques, bistros and bars a short stroll from the shoreline, plus a thriving arts and culture scene. And this historic north Essex resort’s distinct lack of arcade games and beachside snack shacks seems to have paid off – because Frinton-on-Sea was just been voted the county’s best seaside town, according to a study conducted by Which?.
Best for oysters: West Mersea
Wedged between the weathered house boats of Mersea’s mudflats and the marshland causeway, ‘Monkey’ is a cracker of a beach that offers up myriad creeks to meander through as you unearth sun-bleached oyster shells from the caramel sands. Little ones will love the ample crabbing spots too, so bring a net, then head for nearby Company Shed or Oyster Bar for West Mersea’s signature dish: fresh, salty oysters served up with a hit of lemon and lashings of dry white wine.
Best for sun traps and swimming: Brightlingsea
Freshwater lido? Check. Pastel wash of pretty beach huts along the prom? Check. Splash-friendly bay the little ones will love while you masterfully launch the stand-up paddle board? Jackpot! This hidden gem of a beach maybe just 10 miles south of Colchester town centre, but it’s a far cry from some of the more overrun beaches (not mentioning any names – they each have their own charms) and often proves more popular with dinghy sailors than day trippers. Follow the curve of the bay round to the Brightlingsea Marsh nature reserve for the quietest coves and hidden sun traps.
Best for kite surfing: Shoeburyness
East beach serves up a prime golden-sand stretch for Southend Pier swervers. Think gentle lapping waves for paddling pooches (restrictions apply), buckets and spades galore, and a smattering of ice-cream vendors for that 11am gelato fix. In fact, you can get two out of three (no pooches, sadly) at Shoeburyness institution, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Fancy burning off that Cornetto afterwards? The beach also has a thriving community of kite surfers, so strap yourself in and fly like the wind.
Best for Dramatic Views: The Naze
A peaceful stretch of powdery sand, The Naze beach backs onto a crumbling set of cliffs that jut dramatically out into the sea and offer unrivalled views of the Essex coast. Often overlooked for neighbouring Walton-on-the-Naze, it’s a uniquely positioned spot for beach-goers keen to swap crowds for the Big Blue and boasts an eight-storey 18th century tower complete with art gallery, museum and tea room. Just be sure to bring a head for heights.
Best for fossils and messing about in boats: Wrabness
Home to Grayson Perry’s Turner-prize-winning ‘House for Essex’, Wrabness is a humble little corner in the north that deserves more coastal consideration. Set against the rolling hills of Manningtree, its generous slice of sandy coves hug a pretty stretch of the Stour Estuary and, dotted with rustic beach huts and a smattering of chalets on stilts, it’s not uncommon for passing dinghies to pull up on the sheltered shoreline for an impromptu picnic, adding a certain whiff of nostalgia to the sea breeze. Kids (and history buffs) might also want to give fossil foraging a go here: shark’s teeth and whale bones are common, prized finds.
Best for hipsters: Leigh on Sea
A small (we’re talking a sliver really) but perfectly formed sandy beach lined by cockle sheds, Bell Wharf Beach on the edge of Old Leigh is dinky but chocka with character. Great for an early-morning swim or a walk (it’s skinny but long at seven miles), before stopping off at one of the many on-trend eateries. Leigh on Sea has managed to blend its small-town-seaside charm with quaint pubs, cobbled streets, a buzzing café culture and quirky indies. There’s even an artisan vegan-friendly gelato house and it doesn’t come much more ‘Shoreditch of Essex’ than that. Later in the day, the beach becomes livelier in a chilled-out way, with windsurfing and sailing when the tide is right, followed by littlies cockle hunting in the muddy flats.
Best for a secluded spot: Bradwell-on-Sea
Bathed in a cream crush of cockle shells, Bradwell’s small stretch of beach marks the point where River Blackwater meets the North Sea and it’s an atmospheric find. Overlooked by monasteries and chapels, oyster sheds and layers of salty grey mist, consider this your new go-to hideaway when the weather won’t play ball and you decide to embrace the drizzle anyway and walk the tides in peace.
Best for Historic Lighthouses: Dovercourt Bay
Set against an industrial backdrop of Harwich harbour, Dovercourt’s swathe of toffee-coloured sand and shingle beaches are often overlooked for busier seaside resorts to the south, but there’s something to be said for this quiet, historic pocket of coastal Essex – not least, it’s lack of crowds. Head for the far end of the beach for views up to Cornwallis Battery and Beacon Hill Fort, or trek out to the two Victorian lighthouses at low tide. Oh, and there’s always the resident seals of nearby Hamford Water National nature reserve to say hello to.
Best for traditional family fun: Southend on Sea
If you’re all for a bit of kiss-me-quick and Waltzer action (that’s me all over), Southend has it all with flashing bells on. Famous for the longest pleasure pier in the world (a Victorian showstopper at 2km), you’ll find arcades, rollercoasters, and fish and chip shops galore. Want to take a breather from the action? No problem, as Southend’s sweeping coastline is also home to seven award-winning beaches, five of them with Blue Flags. The most recent one (it bagged its flag this year) is Westcliff Beach. Just west of Southend, it’s a good choice for families with nippers, as not only is it sparkling clean, but there’s a crabbing pool where littlies can play when the tide is out (be warned that the beach can be totally submerged in high tide), while the rest of the family can check out the kayaking and paddle boarding. Make sure you pay a visit to 1950s ice-cream parlour Rossi’s, loved by locals including Jamie Oliver, no less.
Best for crabbin’ and clearing your mind: Walberwick Beach
A pebbly delight, with spearmint Maran grass atop the dunes, and a view of the horizon that can soothe any muddled mind – Walberswick Beach is my happy place. Wonderful swimming when the waves are calm and although it can get busy, you can always head towards Dunwich and find a calm spot. Head to the bridges just through the dunes for superior crabbing spots, where you can catch a bucketload of the little fellas (put them back gently please!). The Anchor is a must for lunch – great gastro grub, fab rosé – my perfect day! Or, if you’d rather a picnic lunch, make your way up the high street to the Black Dog Deli and chose from a selection of sumptuous sausage rolls, tarts and treats. There is plenty of parking in two beach car parks, but get there early in the summer.
Best for getting away from it All: Covehithe
You’ll find this secret (almost – shh) beach between Southwold and Kessingland and it’s an absolute stunner. So lovely in fact that it was included in The Daily Telegraph’s list of Britain’s 40 Best Beaches. It’s soft and sandy with interesting tree sculptures. You can only get to it by foot or bicycle, and there aren’t any facilities, but this is the beauty of it. Perfect for a romantic picnic, or a bit of quiet time. You can park near the church and access the beach via the footpath.
Best for family fun: Southwold and Denes Beach
Southwold beach is famous for its candy-colored huts, and fantastically fun and quirky pier. Check all this out and enjoy the lovely indie shops in the town (Collen and Clare is a must for new get-up) and cafes – but it can and will get super busy this summer with many a staycationer. If you fancy a quieter moment then head to the stretch of beach from Gun Hill cafe called Denes beach – lovely soft sand and more space for beach games and chillaxing for mum. Park at the pier car park if you can, then head to Suzy’s cafe and brave the queues for toasties, crab sandwiches and amazing ice cream. Or, further down, get to Gun Hill Café, where you can also park. There is also parking, an ice cream kiosk and toilets towards the harbour / Walberwick end, near the Southwold campsite.
Best for foodies: Aldeburgh
This is a mostly shingle beach, but what Aldeburgh lacks in talcum powder-soft sand, it makes up for in beautiful views, amazing boutique shops and arguably the best fish and chip shop in the county (the queue down the high street is evidence enough if you don’t believe me!). If you want to try something different L’Escargot sur Mer has now taken up residence just off the high street how about lobster and frites – c’est délicieux! You could also try the incredible Seaspice at the White Horse Hotel – delicate curries that will have you coming back again and again. Parking is hard to find on busy days but if there is no space on the high street or car parks, why not walk from Thorpeness, where you can also check out the charming house in the clouds.
Best for Candy Floss: Lowestoft
This huge wide expanse of sand is as soft as a tropical island’s beach. Seriously, take off your shoes, shut your eyes, pretend you’re warm and ignore the sound of sea gulls and you could almost be in the Maldives. The town has a long, buggy-friendly promenade to walk on if the sand starts to get hard work, and there’s plenty of fish and chips and candy floss outlets along it. On a sunny day, you can’t beat Lowestoft for kiddy-friendly attractions, and we love the beach down at the Pakefield end for a spot of horse-riding against the wild backdrop of the dunes.
The best one for city under the sea: Dunwich
Image credit: ptwo on Flickr
Don’t throw the ball too far into the sea at this lovely little Suffolk seaside village, your dog might just discover a city underneath the waves! Dunwich was once a thriving seaport that disappeared beneath the sea centuries ago. Now, it’s a teeny-tiny village, with an amazing pub, a museum, a cute tearoom, and a glorious nature reserve. The beach here is shingle and is in a gap between two cliffs, making it beautifully sheltered. This area is run by The National Trust so it has great facilities and ample parking.
Best for everything: Sheringham
Beautifully clean Blue Flag beach, perfect for a good old-fashioned day at the seaside. All smooth pebbles until low tide when you get hours of gleaming golden sand. There are two sections with lifeguards (on duty from May Bank Holiday to the end of school summer hols), which tend to be busiest. No dogs allowed on the main beach during summer season, but head west past the RNLI Lifeboat shed and your pups can play. Parking can be frustrating, so just drop someone with the beach gear and nip up to the station car park – only a few mins walk down the main road to the sea. Or take the train – hourly from Norwich.
Being in town, you’re only a short stroll away from ice cream (delicious vegan flavours from super-groovy Aloha Ices), hot fish and chips (all pretty decent – just join the shortest queue), a tub of vinegary cockles from lovely Joyful West’s and lush pizza from brand-new Stubby’s Pizza opposite the mini Sainsbury’s. Plus plenty of places to buy buckets and spades, sun cream, hats (or rain capes) and anything else you’ve forgotten.
Great beach for swimming and check out the fab SUP Shack for paddle boarding. Their Mammoth size is brilliant fun for up to eight people – it’s a whopper!
Best for rockpools: West Runton
There aren’t many rock pools in Norfolk but this newly accredited Blue Flag beach has loads for marine explorers to investigate. It’s also fab for fossil hunting on the foreshore. The chalk reef (Europe’s largest and an area of Special Scientific Interest) can make wading out a bit ouchy on the toes, but there are gentle shallows and sparkly sun-warmed pools in the sand hollows – perfect for little splashers. On the slope, the Seaview Café has simple snacks – toasties, cinnamon doughnuts, coffee, ice cream – and buckets and spades. And there are public loos. You pay about £3 for the car park – there are machines and a bloke in a shed during summer. You can get annual season tickets too. Then walk down the slope and you’re there. Easy.
Someone’s dog once found a bone here, which turned out to be part of the largest, best-preserved mammoth’s skeleton in the world. The café has a bit of fossilised poo left by the hyenas who ate it. My kids love looking at this more than having ice cream. Weirdos.
In summer, RNLI lifeguards do their Baywatch thing daily from 10am-6pm. A sought-after job for responsible local kids who’ve grown up on the beach. Their hut’s on the right-hand side at the bottom of the slope.
Best for singing Beatles songs: Gorleston-on-Sea
Gorleston-on-Sea is a wide curve of soft sand, lovely for children, edged by an elevated promenade, perfect for grandparents to stroll beside the seaside, beside the sea. It’s got charm with a working port’s gritty edge. More relaxed than neighbouring Great Yarmouth, you’ll find plenty of cafés, ice cream shops and places to grab a casual bite. There are tennis courts, bowling greens, lawns, a pitch & putt golf course, Edwardian theatre, yacht races, boating pond and a harbour.
For sailors, it’s also at the mouth of the River Yare, one of two entrances to the Norfolk Broads for visitors from the coast, or sailing off to see the world (usually via Holland).
You’ll recognise Gorleston from the hit film Yesterday (2019), written by Richard Curtis (who lives up the coast in Suffolk), starring Lily James and Himesh Patel. Director Danny Boyle called Gorleston, ‘One of Britain’s most remarkable beaches and one of the great secrets of England. It’s beautiful.’ Here comes the sun, it’s alright…
Best for kites: Brancaster
Brancaster beach has miles of level golden sand, so there’s always room for building sandcastles without throwing shade on some other little architect’s plans. Dogs are allowed all year round – I’ll leave the pros and cons of that to you. There’s a lot of wind and kite surfing, also strolling with buggies if they have those fat off road wheels.
It’s part of the National Trust’s Brancaster Estate, a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and home the Scolt Head tidal salt marshes. Facilities are minimal but there’s a loo and a kiosk of hot coffee and delicious things. Usually parking’s easy, but with 2021 staycations being all the rage – check the latest info here.
It’s also home of the Royal West Norfolk Golf Club, an outstanding links course with the North Sea on one side and the saltmarsh on the other. The Clubhouse is cut off at high tide so you hazard being trapped in the bar with gentlemen wearing tailored shorts and knee length socks. Just saying…
A word of warning! If you walk out to the shipwreck of the SS Vina at low tide you’re highly likely to be cut off when the tide comes racing back in – it’s alarmingly fast and strong. Don’t attempt it, as this is a real danger and there is no lifeguard here. Lecture over. Main thing is, Brancaster is beautiful and several Muddy favourites are within a four-mile radius – check out Congham Hall, The Hoste Arms, The Rose and Crown, Snettisham and The White Horse, Brancaster with its lovely marsh side bar. Bliss.
Best for a pier: Cromer
Blue Flag (yes, another one!) traditional seaside town beach backed by cliffs and winding lanes of fishermen’s cottages plus indie shops like fabulous Roost – for all your houseplant dreams! Super fashionable in its golden Edwardian heyday (Arthur Conan Doyle LOVED Cromer), any subsequent shabbiness is again becoming decidedly chic. Cocktails from The Gangway float our boat, as does excellent coffee (with a shot?…er…OK, go on then) from The North Sea Coffee Company, right on the prom. But before it gets too cool for school, indulge in a night of sparkly end of the pier show nostalgia at Cromer Theatre and make some proper childhood memories.
Big town car park (machines take cards) and a steep walk down to the beach (there are slopes, stairs and a lift by the Rocket House Café). Word is, this year will be super busy (we see you 2021!) so you could always take the train…every hour from Norwich.
Best for kids who hate swimming and sand: Salthouse
So families looking for kiss me quick fun will be seriously disappointed. Swimming is off, there’s no sand, the current is strong and unpredictable and the shingle shore slopes steeply to deeper water. So why mention it?
Well, it’s uniquely beautiful. Peach-scented gorse flowers edge the shingle as you wander across marshy reedbeds to gaze at the sea. When my children were small they loved to make fairy houses and set-ups with action figures on the mossy grass near the old WW2 gunning placement. Salthouse is for days when you want salty air without sand between the toes. Also, fabulous pub The Dun Cow is in the village. Yes, you should book to be sure of a table. And try Hello Sailor! their new house gin…it’s a cracker.
Best for being completely stunning: Holkham
A vast, majestic sweep of luminous coast, constantly on everyone’s Best Beach in Britain lists. Fringed by sand dunes and pine forests it is part of the Holkham National Nature Reserve. It’s a very long (but lovely) walk to the sea, so take bribes to keep weary children going on the way back. Carrying often required. And a pint at the lovely Victoria Inn to recover Daddy’s sense of humour.
It is an unforgettable place for outdoorsy families who love to race down sand dunes, tear about in pinewoods (smells amazing in the heat) and have endless space to whoop and shout. Also, there’s now a cool Lookout Café right by the beach, with snacks, loos and baby changing.
If you’re not a naturist family, be aware there’s a nudist area on the western part of the beach. Educational, but not necessarily the kind of seaside winkles you were expecting…
The Lady Anne’s Drive beach car park will undoubtedly get busy this year, so get there early. Another idea is to leave the car at Holkham (£5 for the day). This means you’re parked close to the fantastic Woodland Play Area but also means it’s over a mile’s walk to get to the beach. Yikes!
Best for instagrammable beach huts: Wells-next-the-Sea
Beach huts like a sweetie pick and mix, with a pine forest backdrop and those wild Norfolk skies, Wells beach is all kinds of beautiful. And yes, dogs are welcome although there is also a No Dog Zone on the side nearest to the beach car park, which fills up early. Alternative is to park close to town, then stroll along a pleasant path to the beach (about a mile). There’s a tiny train too – which might be having its last hurrah in 2021…but the jury’s still out and there’s a petition to keep it!
Wells Beach Café is great – posh treats, bacon sarnies, Rainforest Alliance coffee, buckets and spades plus it’s super dog-friendly with ice-creams for gourmet pooches! The facilities are close, but pleasingly hidden from the beach by dunes and pines. Pining for a stripy hut of your very own? Of course you are! So book one from gorgeous Happy Huts and live the dream for a blissed out beach day!
To get to the beach, walk up wooden stairs in the pine wood and pause for a Wow moment. Every time. I always do. Wells is a very special place.
Best for sunsets: Hunstanton
Developed as a classy resort in the 1800s by the fabulously named Henry L’Estrange Styleman Le Strange, ‘Sunny Hunny’ is a down-to-earth seaside destination with elegant houses that would cost a fortune elsewhere. Although it’s on the east coast, Hunstanton faces west making it one of the few places on the Norfolk coast where you can actually watch the sunset over the sea.
Famous for photogenic red and white striped cliffs, at low tide there’s a wide expanse of sand with shallow waters making it popular with body-boarders and kite surfers as well as families. The Esplanade Gardens look like a vintage postcard, designed for strolling, with bowling green, children’s play area, putting green and crazy golf.
There’s also a promenade, arcades, fish and chips and all the expected British seaside attractions. Hunstanton Sea Life Sanctuary is on the prom too, a family favourite with an underwater tunnel and a seal hospital. In summer a little train trundles along the sea-front and a cool WW2 amphibious vehicle (The Wash Monster) operates from the South Promenade. Tempted to stay awhile? Check out Muddy favourite The Penthouse and settle in!
Best for being irresistibly trashy: Great Yarmouth
Blinging with neon arcades and amusements, Great Yarmouth is the glitzy bar room queen of Norfolk beaches. The Pleasure Beach on Yarmouth’s Golden Mile is a gloriously tacky attraction with a log flume, dodgems, a roller coaster and the Sky-drop – a 22m-high ride with terrifying panoramic views of the beach and town before your heart and stomach leave your body as it plunges back down. If you liked the The Lost Boys (vampire bikers rule!) you’ll love Yarmouth’s rough diamond razzmatazz.
Central Beach is the flashiest, with a Wednesday night firework display each week through the summer. And no dogs allowed. North and South Beaches are quieter with dunes and dogs! There’s also the fantastic Hippdrome Circus with its spectacular water show (called ‘one of the seven wonders of the British seaside’ by the Telegraph), the new Yare Gallery and the Time and Tide Museum which tells the story of the town’s fascinating history, established as a herring port in the Middle Ages. Brash, lippy, garish, notorious, yes, Yarmouth’s all that. Badass Norfolk. Bring it on.
Best for old-school charm: Overstrand
Overstrand, on the Norfolk Coastal Path, has a wide, sandy beach that disappears at high tide – check times before you head off! Modest, peaceful, a lot quieter than nearby Cromer, it’s great for an afternoon of wholesome sandcastle building and swimming. Note, there’s no lifeguard.
The car park (where there are public loos) is at the top of a long, steep slope. You really won’t want to let go of your buggy or watch someone pelting down on an out of control scooter.
There are cafes, a pub and a village shop. The Sea Marge Hotel is all white table cloths, afternoon tea on the elegant lawn and people with reading glasses behind newspapers, smiling vaguely at the odd well-behaved child. Overstrand is like going on holiday to the 1950s, really rather charming.