Wells-next-the-Sea is a quiet coastal town located on England’s South, Eastern coast. Having been used as a fishing port since the 14th century, its rich history is tightly tied to Norfolk’s stormy and unpredictable coastland.
While during peak summer, the town’s vast beaches are filled with sun worshippers and families, it still remains a quaint and idyllic town. Its rugged sand dunes, historic docks, and cosy streets are just a few reasons why this town is worth visiting.
Keep reading our guide to find out about the top things to do in Wells-next-the-Sea, as well as its colourful history.
A Brief History of Wells-next-the-Sea
Wells-next-the-sea has been a settlement since before the Doomsday Book in 1086. Although then it was called Guella, a hybrid name of French and Latin that originated from Wella, the Anglican name for spring. It’s obvious just from its name changes that both conquerors and native peoples have influenced this town.
The town’s primary industry has always been a seaport, trading with neighbouring countries such as Iceland and France. As early as the 1300s, Wells-next-the-Sea was exporting grains like corn, malt, and wheat to London.
When British manufacturing exploded in the 18th century, Wells-next-the-sea was at the forefront of the grain industry. And in 1750, it was the second-largest exporter of malt in the country, only trumped by Yarmouth. Luckily infrastructure has been preserved, and the town’s granaries can still be seen on the quay’s front today.
Wells-next-the-Sea has also been a prominent fishing town, trading largely in herring and cod. Something which can be appreciated in the town’s many fish and chip shops!
Unfortunately, most of the town’s industry is now uneconomic because of rising competition from huge trading vessels. However, new projects like the Sheringham Shoal Offshore Wind Farm show that Wells-next-the-Sea may have a future in sustainable energy.
Local Nature and Landscape
Wells-next-the-Sea’s rather unique name is exactly what it suggests, wells next to the sea. It’s thought that the local area used to have an abundance of natural springs, made possible by the malleable chalk landscape.
The surrounding environment is marshy grassland, fragile sand dunes, and flat beaches; while beautiful, it means that flooding can be a major concern for residents.
On the outskirts of Wells-next-the-Sea lies the Holkham National Nature Reserve (3,900 hectares). It’s populated by a dense pine forest and attracts many birds, including wildfowl, pink-footed geese, and wigeon. The reserve is unsurprisingly popular with bird watchers and even attracts horse riding enthusiasts.
Wells-next-the-Sea Shops and Restaurants
Although small, there are plenty of shops and restaurants in the Wells-next-the-Sea area. Clothing and gift shops such as Nomad and the Bower Bird and Natural East offer plenty of local crafts that make great souvenirs. Additionally, the town attracts many artists. You’ll find numerous studios selling unique pieces of both modern and traditional art.
Like all coastal towns, finding good quality seafood in Wells-next-the-Sea is easy. Many of the town’s best restaurants can be found right on the quay front, giving you a wonderful view of the moored boats. Find out which restaurant topped our ‘best things to do in Wells-next-the-Sea’ list below.
Top Things to Do in Wells-next-the-Sea
Whether you want to spend a few days on the Norfolk coast or want a fun day out with the family, Wells-next-the-Sea has plenty to offer. Take a look at our top things to do in Wells-next-the-Sea.
#1 Eat at Plattens Fish and Chips
No trip to the British seaside is complete without sampling the local fish and chip shop. While you’ll find plenty to choose from in Wells-next-the-Sea, Plattens has become a local institution. Established in 1966, they offer the convenience of both sit in and takeaway meals. Their quality speaks for itself; in both 2013 and 2018, Plattens were finalists and shortlisted for the National Chip Shop Awards.
The shop is also FAS accredited, which means they only catch fish from sustainable waters. Plattens really excel when it comes to choice. Customers can pick from cod, haddock, plaice, rock and more. In other words, you won’t leave here hungry!
#2 Wells-next-the-Sea Beach
One of the main attractions for visiting Wells-next-the-Sea is the stunning coastal landscape. Long sandy beaches and shallow waters make up a large portion of the Norfolk coast, and Wells’ beach isn’t any different.
The beach is just a short walk from the town, down the aptly named Beach Road. The walk itself is pleasant as it runs parallel to the East Fleet river. Once on the beach, you’ll have plenty of room to set up camp, or you can even rent one of the colourful beach huts that decorate the shore.
#3 Whinhill Norfolk Cider
When it comes to a pint of cider, is an explanation even required? It is when it’s this good. The Whinhill ciderworks was born in 1993 and is a celebration of everything local. This place is ideal for unwinding, it features a beautiful courtyard, artisan cider shop, and an orchard.
Made from a variety of apples, including Ashton Bitter and Kingston Black, Whinhill produces award-winning ciders. Over the past decade, they’ve won gold medals at the Cambridge Beer Festival, Great Yarmouth Beer Festival, and many more events. All of their ciders are available to sample, and customers can even buy large batches to take home with them.
#4 Boating along the Harbour
For those who want to explore the town’s waters, just like traditional trade and fishing boats, local companies offer boating trips. You’ll travel around the marches, quayside, and Holkham Bay, experiencing outstanding views of the Norfolk coast. It’s even possible to book sunset trips; watching the town disappear in the sun’s fading rays is something not to miss.
Additionally, the skippers are excellent sources of information about local ecology and history.
#5 Wells’ Maltings Art Gallery
Located just off the seafront, Wells Malting Art Gallery is a great place to visit come rain or shine.
The gallery building is a powerful reminder of Wells-next-the-Sea’s industrial past. In fact, the brick and flint structure is one of the last remaining malthouses in the area. Now, malt piles have been replaced with four open galleries, a contemporary theatre, a visitor centre, and essential amenities. Inside the gallery, local artists and photographers decorate the gallery’s walls.
If you’re lucky, you may be able to watch an open-mic poetry night or short story reading. Wells Maltings even hosts the Sea Fever Literary Festival every year.
#6 Holkham Hall and Beach
Holkham Hall is a stately home just outside of Wells-next-the-Sea. In fact, it’s so close that it takes just 30 minutes to walk there. The Holkham Estate is made up of a grand Palladian revival style house and gardens. The main house was originally constructed in 1734, although it wasn’t finished until 1764, primarily due to Thomas Coke’s love of gambling and drinking. Visitors can explore the grand interiors as well as the formal gardens, which feature an obelisk and monument commemorating Thomas Coke.
Just East of the Holkham estate lies Holkham Beach, which offers beautiful sand as far as the eye can see. This stretch of beach is unspoilt and perfect for a quiet walk; it was even voted ‘Best Beach in the UK’ by an anonymous survey pool of travel writers. If you’re feeling brave, you can even visit the nudist beach and ‘reconnect’ with nature.
Places to Visit Near Wells-next-the-Sea
If you find yourself with additional time in the area, make sure to explore more of the Norfolk coast. West of Wells-next-the-Sea, you’ll find a myriad of beaches, including Brancaster Beach and Old Hunstanton Beach. Additionally, you’ll discover Scolt Head Island National Nature Reserve; a small barrier island made up of mudflats and dunes. This spot is particularly popular for birdwatching and sailing.
East of Wells-next-the-Sea is equally interesting. Visit the Blakeney National Nature Reserve and catch sight of seals!
How to Get to Wells-next-the-Sea
How to Get to Wells-next-the-Sea by Car
There are plenty of car parks located in Wells-next-the-Sea so depending on where you want to be based, there will be one for you. Below are the two main ones.
To be in close proximity to the beach, it’s best to park at Wells Beach Car Park using the Satnav postcode NR23 1DR. The car park is open from 6am – 9pm and costs £2 for upto 1 hour, £3.50 for upto 2 hours, £6.50 for upto 4 hours and more than 4 hours and all day is £9.
To be close to the town, Wells Town Car Park is the place to be using the Satnav postcode NR23 1BF. The car park is open from 8am–7pm, April–September and from 8am–4pm, October to March. Parking for upto 2 hours is £2, upto 4 hours is £3.50 and more than 4 hours and all day is £5.
How to Get to Wells-next-the-Sea by Bus
The Coastliner bus number 36 stops in the towns of King’s Lynn, Hunstanton, Burnham Market, Wells-next-the-Sea and Fakenham as well as all the small villages in between. You can also get the Coasthopper bus number 1 which runs between Wells-next-the-Sea and Cromer. Both buses have regular and reliable services.
How to Get to Wells-next-the-Sea by Train
There is no train station located in Wells-next-the-Sea so the best thing to do would be to get a train to a nearby town and then get a bus from there to Wells-next-the-Sea. The nearest train stations are Sheringham, 17 miles away and King’s Lynn, 28 miles away.
Sheringham station details – https://www.nationalrail.co.uk/stations/shm/details.html
King’s Lynn station details – https://www.nationalrail.co.uk/stations_destinations/kln.aspx
You can get a train from Norwich to Sheringham, taking about an hour and then from there, the Coasthopper bus number 1 will take you to Wells-next-the-Sea, adding another 45 minutes to the journey.
To get to King’s Lynn train station, you can get a train from either London Kings Cross St. Pancras or London Liverpool Street and then from there, you can get the Coastliner bus number 36 to Wells-next-the-Sea.
A Complete Guide to Wells-next-the-Sea: Final Thoughts
Wells-next-the-Sea is a treasure trove of history and culture. It’s a town that’s managed to preserve its thousand year old history while celebrating the convenience of the present day. A balance that isn’t always easy to find.
This complete guide to Wells-next-the-Sea encompasses the town’s most remarkable sights. Visit Holkham Hall if you want to travel through history, sip on cold cider at Whinhill to wind down, or embrace the coastal beauty at Wells beach.