With miles of golden sand and entertainment, including a jaw-dropping circus and retro theme park rides, Louise Baty finds Great Yarmouth is just the ticket for a traditional seaside break.
Norfolk’s enduring seaside destination, Great Yarmouth, offers everything you’d hope to find in a traditional coastal resort. With 15 miles of stunning coastline, there’s something to suit every beachgoer.
The resort’s renowned Golden Mile beachfront strip leads straight on to South Beach – wide, sandy and perfect for building sandcastles, as well as being close to amenities. Dog walkers will love the wild, expansive sand dunes on North Beach. Just a short drive away at Horsey Beach, you may spot seals basking with their pups.
Strolling along the Golden Mile at dusk, as music booms from the Pleasure Beach and casino lights illuminate the sky, it’s clear why this resort has a reputation for high-octane entertainment. But for centuries, dating back to the Domesday Book, Great Yarmouth was a fishing port, as documented at the Time and Tide Museum, housed in the town’s former herring factory.
In the 19th century, Great Yarmouth became a fashionable resort, with wealthy Victorians arriving on the newly built railway to enjoy the sea air. With the opening of Wellington Pier and Britannia Pier in the 1850s, the town flourished, boasting a grand promenade, trams, fish-and-chip shops, theatres, funfairs and the iconic glass Winter Gardens pavilion.
Today, Great Yarmouth may be slightly faded in parts, but it still boasts many Victorian highlights. Standing on the golden sands facing the North Sea, you can’t help but sense the town’s rich history and understand its evergreen appeal.
Great Yarmouth must-dos
The pleasure beach
The Pleasure Beach has been entertaining holiday makers since 1909. Whether you’re a thrill-seeker who loves white-knuckle rides or you’d prefer something more child-friendly, you’re sure to find something to entertain you here. There are 25 rides, including dodgems, a haunted house, freefall tower, log flume and teacups. The most popular is the wooden rollercoaster, which first opened in 1932. There are also stands selling ice cream, hot dogs, fish and chips and candy floss, so you can be sure of the full seaside experience.
Merrivale model village
Merrivale is an animated model village on Great Yarmouth seafront, with bustling high street, village pub, funfair, roaring stadium, cricket pitch, cute cottages, castle and church, complete with bride, groom and guests. Tour complete, enjoy a trip down memory lane in the adjoining Old Penny Arcade with its retro one-arm bandits, strength testers and fortune tellers. There is also a cafe, gift shop and nine-hole crazy golf course to keep entertained.
The UK’s only surviving original circus building, the Hippodrome was built by George Gilbert in 1903. Dubbed ‘one of the seven wonders of the seaside’, the circus offers a mesmerising line-up of acrobats, music and comedy. In the second half, the stage disappears to reveal a pool with synchronised swimmers. Over the years, the venue has hosted entertainment legends including Lillie Langtry and Houdini. It’s the perfect end to a day beside the sea.
Thrigby hall wildlife gardens
Animal lovers will enjoy Thrigby Hall, whose gardens are home to a rare collection of endangered animals. Use the aerial walkways to climb through the treetops and see playful gibbons and cute red pandas. Venture into Tiger Tunnel to see Sumatran tigers and snow leopards. Recharge in Cockatoo Cafe and then pop to the gift shop for local chutneys and jams, a cuddly toy tiger or a safari-themed cushion.
Fun for families
Imagine coming face to face with curious sea turtles, mischievous penguins and snappy dwarf crocodiles! Then head to Sea Life Great Yarmouth, an aquarium offering an interactive underwater learning experience that kids will love. Discover amazing facts about zebra sharks, turtles, jellyfish and stingrays and learn about the devastating impact of water pollution on these incredible creatures. You can even touch a friendly starfish in the Rock Pool Explorer Zone.
Joyland is a dream for little ones. This kiddy theme park, right on the seafront, offers a host of child-friendly rides, including the Tyrolean Tub Twist, Spook Express, Jet Cars and Neptune’s Kingdom. There’s also a balloon wheel and pirate ship to explore. But the highlight is the world-famous snail ride, entertaining junior holidaymakers since 1949. Joyland also has a 1950s-style American Diner serving juicy burgers, scrummy milkshakes and showstopping ice-cream sundaes. For every £15 spent, you’ll get one free ride pass for Joyland.
Down on the farm
Find your way out of the Mega Maize Maze at this fun family-run farm park, which runs a summer event through the school holidays. Ride the barrel train, zoom down the zip-wire, play welly-boot croquet, scramble to the top of the hay- bale mountain and pretend you’re a farmer in the wooden play park. Kids and big kids can test their driving skills on the family-sized pedal go-karts before heading for the child-friendly arts and crafts tent. There’s a Hunger Hut coffee shop for homemade sandwiches and cakes, along with picnic tables if you’ve brought your own snacks.
Where to stay
Richardson’s Holiday Park in Hemsby Beach, a short drive from Great Yarmouth, is ideal for a family, with static caravans, chic lodges and refurbished 70s chalets. There are nightly shows, discos and a bowling alley, arcade games, indoor pool, wellness space, indoor and outdoor play areas, climbing wall and hire karts, along with the Yacht Club Bar and Quarterdeck Restaurant. Seven nights in a Gold 2 Caravan for up to six starts at £505. Call 01493 809903 or visit richardsonsholidayparks.co.uk.