The definition of an English seaside resort, Great Yarmouth has enticing golden sands in front of a cheerful beachside dubbed the Golden Mile.
The resort is endearingly old-fashioned in its Victorian piers, miniature village and amusement parks with vintage wooden roller coasters.
Great Yarmouth has the extra appeal of being a port with military, fishing and trading pedigree.
The quayside on the River Yare has museums in its old merchant’s houses, and the Time and Tide Museum is in a repurposed herring curing works.
For nature, the Norfolk Broads are on Great Yarmouth’s western shoulder, and you can plan days trips to nature reserves, or set off on a blissful voyage up the River Bure.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Great Yarmouth:
1. Central Beach
There are 15 miles of generous sandy beach at Great Yarmouth.
In the resort this is all enhanced by facilities like deck chair hire, access ramps for the disabled, shops, cafes and ice cream vendors.
When the sun goes down on Wednesdays in summer there’s a fireworks display, and if the weather caves you’ll have no shortage of attractions at your fingertips on the piers and Golden Mile behind.
You can also board a boat at Britannia Pier to venture out to Scroby Sands to spot seals.
To the north at Hemsby Beach and Castor-on-Sea, Great Yarmouth’s glitz is substituted for flowing sand dunes and caravan parks.
2. Norfolk Broads
Great Yarmouth sits against one of England’s most enchanting national parks.
The Broads is a patchwork of navigable lakes and rivers in a low-lying landscape, partially formed by human hands at long-abandoned peat workings.
The River Bure, a tributary of the Yare, snakes off into the park.
You can hire a boat to cruise along the river, gazing at the windmills and boundless, open skies and mooring at waterside pubs for lunch.
By road you could drive up to Martham Broad, which is a National Nature Reserve.
This lake is inaccessible from the outside by boat, but families come to amble around its banks and hire stand-up paddleboards or canoes.
3. Golden Mile
From the Britannia Pier down to the Pleasure Beach, the Golden Mile is a beachside strip, home to most of the attractions on this list.
And in between the adventure golf courses, model villages, aquarium, theatres and amusement parks there are neon-lit twin rows of bars, restaurants, amusement arcades, souvenir shops, fish and chip shops and ice cream parlours.
If you can get into the spirit of the Golden Mile there’s not just something for everyone, but many things for everyone.
When the sun goes down the Golden Mile is illuminated by a long string of twinkling sail motifs attached to the street lights.
4. Time and Tide Museum
The third largest museum in the county, the Time and Tide Museum is housed in a preserved Victorian herring curing works.
This attraction investigates Great Yarmouth’s history from the Stone Age on, with special attention to its fishing and maritime activity.
Here immersive galleries drop you into scenes from different stages in Great Yarmouth’s past, like a fishing wharf from the 1950s and a “row” (narrow working class street) from 1913. All the time you’ll be able to meet and chat with an array of characters explaining their jobs and lives.
Kids can occupy themselves with puzzles, games and interactive displays, while there’s a cafe in the evocative surrounds of the factory courtyard.
5. Elizabethan House Museum
Hiding inside a Georgian facade, this house on South Quay is from Tudor times and has been converted into a museum by the National Trust.
The wood-panelled rooms are replete with fine art, decoration, furniture and paintings dating back to the 1500s and give an enlightening look at a merchant’s home in Tudor times.
Kids and adults can get involved, dressing up in period costume and finding out about the hardships of working in the kitchen and scullery.
Children can play with Elizabethan-style toys, and if you check the website there’s a calendar of special days when actors in costume talk about the realities of life in the Tudor, Civil War or Victorian periods.
6. Norfolk Nelson Museum
Admiral Horatio Nelson was a Norfolk native, and this genteel Georgian townhouse on South Quay has hundreds of exhibits dealing with one of Britain’s military heroes.
The museum is endowed with paintings, medals, ceramics, books and a chunk of wood from HMS Victory, the ship of the line on which Nelson was killed at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Some exhibits like a collection of letters open a window on Nelson’s rather difficult personality, his complicated love-life and the various debilitating wounds he suffered in his career.
You can feel what life would have been like aboard a warship in the Napoleonic Wars in a multisensory gallery, catching the whiff of smoke from cannon fire and listening to conversations among the crew.
There’s a maritime courtyard for picnics outside and a herb garden arranged in the Georgian style.
7. Merrivale Model Village
At the foreshore on South Beach Parade, Merrivale Model Village is exactly what it says; an old-school model village, rendered with a rare level of detail.
There’s a theatre, castle, stadium, houses, cricket pitch, holiday, a church and mansion, all populated with hundreds of miniature figures and a story told in each scene.
The attraction has a model railway on a 350-metre G gauge track, on which 28 different types of locomotive chug through the garden.
You can play a round at the nine-hole crazy golf course, and for a big dose of nostalgia there’s a penny arcade full of vintage slot machines from the mid-20th century and earlier.
8. Pleasure Beach
In the top ten most-visited amusement parks in the country Great Yarmouth’s Pleasure Beach has been around since 1909 and opens from March to October.
The park is free to enter, and has some 30 rides (paid for with tokens), joined by amusement arcades, entertainment for kids, food stands and ice cream parlours.
One ride you have to try out is the Roller Coaster or Scenic Railway, dating back to 1932. A few things make this wooden ride special, one being that a brakeman has to perch between the first and second cars, as brakes aren’t a part of the track design.
The park also has more recent white-knuckle rides for bigger kids and grown-ups, a 4-D cinema and lots to keep smaller children happy.
9. Tolhouse Museum
Backing onto Great Yarmouth’s central library is what is believed to be one of the oldest civic buildings in the UK. The Tolhouse Gaol dates from the 1200s and started life as a residence for a wealthy merchant, before being taken over by the town officials and turned into a court and prison.
Down the centuries the building has held pirates, smugglers, bandits, witches (accused) and murderers, and been damaged in riots.
Take the audio tour to set foot in the original cells, hear about former prisoners and learn some gruesome facts about crime and justice over the last 800 years.
Beside the Britannia Pier is a children’s amusement park that has been here since 1949. One of the remarkable things about Joyland is that some of the rides go back to the park’s earliest days.
Among these, the Tyrolean Tubs is the only remaining Virginia Reel roller coaster in the world, and also from 1949 is “Snails”, a quaint roller coaster also designed 70 years ago by the park’s founder Horace Cole.
More recent rides are a swinging pirate ship, a small Ferris wheel with beach views and ghost and space-themed rides, Spook Express and Major Orbit.
The park is open all year and has an American-style diner, serving fast food and equipped with a long counter, a checkerboard floor and leatherette booths.
11. Hirsty’s Family Fun Park
On the way to Hemsby, ten minutes up the coast from Great Yarmouth, Hirtsy’s Family Fun Park is a family attraction on a working farm.
The park changes with the seasons.
So, in summer the main event is the Mega Maze in a maize field, with a quiz to solve.
In autumn kids can pick a pumpkin from the farm’s patch and create a design for it in the carving tent, while in spring you can meet the newborn lambs in the lambing and calving shed.
In all seasons there’s play equipment for kids to clamber over, and lots of opportunities to learn about how farms work and interact with farmyard animals.
12. Great Yarmouth’s Piers
A linchpin of most English seaside resorts, there are two piers along the beach in Great Yarmouth, a few hundred metres from each other.
The southernmost is the 210-metre Wellington Pier, which first opened in 1853 and is dominated by a reconstructed theatre building, housing a bowling alley, amusement arcade.
Just to the side are the Winter Gardens, a fine metal and glass structure brought here in pieces from Torquay in 1903. Up the shore is the Britannia Pier, which opened five years later and, together with its rides, amusements and food stands, has a theatre booking tribute bands and high-profile comedians.
Sarah Millican and Jimmy Carr were on the programme in summer 2018.
13. Great Yarmouth Minster
The town’s parish church was only given the loftier title of “minster” in 2011 but was consecrated at the beginning of the 12th century.
Great Yarmouth Minster is the largest parish church in England at more than 70 metres long and almost 8 metres wide.
It was commissioned by the first Bishop of Norwich Herbert de Losinga as penance for committing simony (selling ecclesiastical privileges). The building was badly hit when Great Yarmouth was bombed in the Second World War, and had to be partially rebuilt.
There are elements from the earliest building in the tower, and you can go in from 10:00 to 13:00 to view the handsome interior and peruse the free heritage exhibition documenting the history of Great Yarmouth.
The church also has a small cafe during opening hours.
14. Thrigby Hall Wildlife Gardens
An excursion for families, Thrigby Hall has a rich variety of Asian birds, reptiles and mammals in its 250-year-old landscaped grounds.
Among them are big cats like Sumatran tigers, Amur leopards, clouded leopards and snow leopards, as well as red pandas and oriental small-clawed otters.
The outdoor enclosures are surrounded by a network of raised walkways for better viewing, while there are indoor spaces like the Swamp House and Forest House for reptiles like Asian water dragons, Burmese pythons, short-tailed pythons and three different crocodile species.
One crocodile pool can be crossed via a wobbly bridge, if you’re brave enough.
15. Sea Life Great Yarmouth
Great Yarmouth has a branch of this international aquarium brand, hosting more than 2,000 marine animals, from sea turtles to rays, sharks and jellyfish.
The main attraction is the Ocean Tunnel, through a 250,000-litre tank containing the centre’s largest ocean dwellers and given an Atlantis theme.
It’s not all about fish, molluscs and crustaceans as Sea Life also has a small colony of Humboldt penguins and a pair of African dwarf crocodiles.
There’s interactivity for youngsters at the rockpools, where they’ll be able to touch sea anemones, crabs and starfish and pick up some new facts about the species inhabiting the UK’s waters.