In the early 19th century Cromer, long known for the high quality of its crab, became a getaway for affluent families, and in 1815 was mentioned by Jane Austen in Emma.
Cromer is a town of dainty gardens and ornate Victorian houses and hotels, and on its beach is a pier with the UK’s most fabled lifeboat station.
The local lifeboat crews have a reputation for gallantry, and you find out about Cromer’s own Henry Blogg, the most decorated lifeboatman in the history of the RNLI. Geologically speaking, Cromer gives its name to the Cromerian Stage, in the Middle Pleistocene epoch, and the skeleton of a mammoth from this time is on display at Cromer Museum.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Cromer:
1. Cromer Beach
Flat and sandy with bands of shingle, Cromer Beach carries on for miles and is divided by the pier into the East Beach and West Beach.
Both are fine for swimming on clear summer days, especially when low tide exposes acres of soft sand.
The view back to Cromer’s Victorian properties like the Hotel de Paris from the East Beach is very picturesque.
Further east, in the more remote stretches are high grass-covered chalk cliffs climbing to more than 60 metres.
Back in the town, at the end of the Esplanade is the Gangway, where you can watch crabbing boats being towed on and off the beach by tractors.
2. Cromer Pier
As it is now, Cromer Pier opened in 1901 and is one of the resort’s showpieces, having just come through a few years of refurbishments and repairs.
The pier is a much-loved feature of Cromer’s seafront, and won the National Piers Society “Pier of the Year” award in 2015. The pier’s Pavilion Theatre also goes back to 1901, even if it has needed a rebuild after a storm in the 1950s, and stages touring tribute acts, variety shows, comedians and talks by cultural figures (in 2018 this included politician-turned broadcaster Michael Portillo). You can also watch the world go by on a seat sheltered from the prevailing wind and pick up a tea, coffee, or light meal at the cafe on the landward end.
3. Cromer Lifeboat Station
The RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) has had a presence in Cromer since 1804. In that time the lifeboats have made 1266 rescues.
Cromer is also the home town of Henry Blogg, the most famous lifeboatman in the history of the institution, and there’s a museum to him on the seafront east of the pier.
At the tip of the pier is the Cromer’s main lifeboat station, which was established in 1923 and reconstructed in the late-1990s.
It houses Lester, a Tamar-class lifeboat built in 2008. This vessel is totally watertight and is able to right itself in seconds with 60 people on board.
The boat makes around 12 rescues a year, flying down its slipway from the pier.
At Cromer Lifeboat Day in July you can watch the Lester being launched, see lifeguarding demonstrations, catch some live music and browse market stalls.
4. RNLI Henry Blogg Museum
In the Rocket House on the East Promenade there’s a museum devoted to the most decorated lifeboatman in the history of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.
Henry Blogg (1876-1954) spent 53 years with the RNLI, making 387 rescues and saving the lives of 873 people.
His career was strewn with honours, including Gold and Silver Medals from the RNLI, a British Empire Medal and the George Cross, all of which are on show.
The museum also documents the 215-year history of lifeboats in Cromer, with the help of paintings, photographs, archive footage and models.
5. Felbrigg Hall
The gorgeous country house Felbrigg Hall dates to the 17th century, with a Jacobean East wing from 1624 and a Baroque west wing dating to 1680. The estate goes back a bit further, to Medieval times, and from the 15th century belonged to the Wyndham family.
Their lion and fetterlock (a heraldic padlock) motif appears throughout the house.
The interior is Georgian, and at turns opulent and homey.
The tour leads you through the Great Hall, which has 15th-century windows, as well as the Dining Room, Drawing Room, Cabinet Room, Library and Chinese Bedroom, embellished with block-printed wallpaper from China, ordered through the East India Company.
Felbrigg has more than 500 acres of woodland to walk in, along with a walled garden, orchards and an orangery.
6. Cromer Parish Church
The Church of St Peter and Paul is from the 1300s, but by the 18th century was in disrepair and due to be demolished.
A century later, in the late-1800s it was extensively restored by the architect Arthur Blomfield.
There isn’t a vast amount of historical interest at the church, but you’ll be impressed by the height of the arcades, the wooden ceiling and the stained glass.
This varies from Gothic-style imagery to modern Post-War designs commemorating Cromer’s lifeboat crews.
You can also take the steps up the 58-metre tower, the tallest of any parish church in Norfolk, for a panorama of the North Norfolk countryside, Cromer’s rooftops and the coast.
Cromer is renowned for its namesake crab, which appears on menus all over the town.
These crustaceans are plentiful in the water, particularly around Cromer Pier, and catching them has been a family activity for more than a century.
You’ll just need a length of line, bait and a bucket with water.
You can go crabbing for free off the side of the pier, and the trick to landing a crab is to lift it very gradually from the water when you feel a pinch on the line.
The idea of the game is to land the largest crab, not the most.
And when it’s all over you’re expected to return the crabs safely to their natural habitat.
8. Hillside Shire Horse Sanctuary
With a stance against factory farming, this sanctuary takes in mostly equines rescued from farms.
In 2018 there were more than 3,000 animals at Hillside, including horses, mules, donkeys and ponies, along with turkeys, sheep, pigs, goats and alpacas.
The animals are kept in spotless paddocks and stables, and you can find out about each of their stories and learn what goes into caring for them.
Hillside also has a vegan cafe, a giftshop, a children’s playground and a museum in converted outbuildings with historic farming implements.
9. Cromer Museum
At the back of the Parish Church, the Cromer Museum explores the town’s social history and rich geology.
The museum encompasses a Victorian fisherman’s cottage, decorated with period furniture and utensils.
You’ll find out about Cromer’s emergence as a seaside resort and the scandal caused when it became the first in Britain to allow “mixed bathing”. There are details about the Cromer shoal chalk beds, which are Europe’s largest chalk reefs, and some marvellous fossils collected in the area.
Most intriguing are the bones of the West Runton Mammoth, the oldest and most complete example of a Steppe Mammoth, discovered at the foot of the cliffs in West Runton in 1990.
10. North Lodge Park
A tranquil place to soak up the sunshine and sea air, this cliff-top park has views across to the Parish Church tower and down to Cromer Pier.
There’s a pond for model yachts, a putting green, bowls green and a corner for kids.
The cute little tearoom next to the pond gets great reviews, serving a variety of coffees, teas and crêpes.
Check online, as there are also regular theatre shows in the park in summer.
Grownups can watch Shakespeare, and there are productions like Treasure Island for kids.
11. Cromer Lighthouse
The lighthouse high on the cliffs at Foulness, just east of Cromer, is the third in a line dating back to 1680. The current lighthouse was completed in 1833, a few decades before its predecessor from 1719 was lost to cliff erosion.
Back when it was constructed Cromer Lighthouse was half a mile from the sea, and almost 200 years later is now much closer.
Since the light became automated the cottage has been let as holiday accommodation, and although you can’t enter the lighthouse, you can get up close and look around.
You can walk a circular to the lighthouse, beginning and ending at the Parish Church.
12. Boating Lake
Attractions like this small boating lake have been a feature of English seaside resorts since Victorian times.
Cromer’s boating lake is on the north end of Evington Gardens, just across the road from the cliff-top promenade.
Overlooked by pretty Victorian houses, the lake hires out pedal boats and single and double canoes, and is served by a cafe and terrace.
The lake was open for the entirety of the summer season in 2018, but according to local news there were plans afoot to turn the lake into an 18-hole crazy golf course for 2019.
If you like to squeeze in a round of golf on a holiday you’ll be in lucky in Cromer, as it has one of England’s best cliff-top courses.
The Royal Cromer Golf Club welcomes visitors seven days a week, although you’ll most likely have to pick a tee time in advance.
Green fees are reasonable, at a maximum of £40 per person at the height of summer.
Royal Cromer has all the hallmarks of a coastal course, with bracken and gorse rough, as well as sandy hills, grass decked valleys and far-off views of the North Sea.
If you’re staying at a local hotel you’ll get a 10% discount on the price for 18 holes.
14. Amazona Zoo
In secluded parkland a little way inland, this zoo in Cromer has more than 200 animal species native to tropical South America.
These might be jaguars, peccaries, tapirs, spider monkeys, rheas, macaws and capuchins, as well as a host of reptiles, birds of prey and spiders.
Children can get hands-on with guinea pigs and there’s also an “Education Yurt” presenting fun facts about South America’s wildlife and geography.
For under-12s Amazona also has two play areas, one outside and the other, Jungle Tumbles, set indoors.
15. West Runton Circular Walk
You can catch the train for one stop and six minutes from Cromer to West Runton to begin a delightful 2.5-mile walk on a trail managed by the National Trust.
Norfolk is well known for being rather low-lying, but this path incorporates some brisk inclines, including Beacon Hill, the highest point in the whole county at 103 metres.
It’s a refreshing way to pass a couple of hours, in meadows and mature oak and beech woodland.
On the way, at Beeston Regis Heath you can get onto the Norfolk Coast Path, which follows the coastline from northwest to southeast Norfolk and allows you to get back to Cromer on foot if you’re feeling fresh.