In the footsteps of Willy Wonka on a couples weekend in Great Yarmouth

Updated on 12 December 2023 | 0 Comments

Venture beyond Great Yarmouth’s amusement arcades and fish and chip shops to discover a seaside town with an enchanting history, unique works of art and a dash of Hollywood glamour.

Nestled on the Norfolk coast and a short hop from Norwich by way of the Broads National Park, Great Yarmouth is the quintessential British seaside town. A prime summer hotspot for families, the town also has much to offer couples on a weekend break at any time of the year. 

Gloriously deep and wide-open beaches allow you to quickly leave the bustle of the promenade behind, or you can throw yourself headfirst into the quirky seafront entertainment unique to a resort of this kind. But if you’re seeking something a little off the beaten track for a weekend away, Great Yarmouth has it in buckets and spades. Here are 7 of the best things to see and do here on a couples' weekend: 

1. Walk in the footsteps of Timothy Chalamet

Wander to Great Yarmouth’s South Quay and step on board the Lydia Eva, the world’s last ‘original’ steam drifter. Run as a charitable trust, Lydia Eva is staffed by a small team of friendly volunteers whose knowledge and enthusiasm for the vessel are irresistibly infectious. 

While her fishing career wasn’t the most successful – her eccentric but charming high bow tore through many nets – Lydia Eva enjoyed a second life when the RAF commandeered her during the Second World War for a series of secret missions.

Saved for preservation after years of painstaking work, at the grand age of 92 she’s enjoying a third act as a movie star, landing a role in the new Wonka movie alongside Olivia Colman and Hugh Grant, with her deck trod by none other than Hollywood heartthrob Timothy Chalamet. 

Lydia Eva, Great Yarmouth (Image: Kev Gregory/Shutterstock)Kev Gregory/Shutterstock

2. Take a trip to the circus with a difference

Once a garage and storage space for the adjoining Hippodrome Circus, Café 1903 is enjoying a new life as a beguiling and cosy lunch spot. Costumes, props and curiosities from the Hippodrome’s illustrious past literally burst from the walls, while striking posters and photos offer a ramshackle potted history of the venue.

Keep an eye out for the elephant on wheels looming above the cafe’s counter; once upon a time, it lumbered up and down the seafront to entice holidaymakers to the circus, but now looks very much at ease in its new home.

It all makes for an exhilarating visual feast in a super-relaxed setting, with tasty bagels and seriously loaded toasties the order of the day. 

Cafe 1903: Image (Jays UK Limited 2023)Jays UK Limited 2023

3. Go on a Banksy hunt

This corner of Norfolk boasts more than its fair share of Banksys, with the elusive street artist indelibly leaving his mark during his ‘Great British Spraycation’ in 2021. A 10-minute walk inland from the seafront opposite the Pleasure Beach leads you to Admiralty Road and the sight of two people dancing atop a bus shelter to the sounds of an accordion player. A perspex sheet protects the elaborate artwork on the side of a private property and it remains on show today. 

Banksy artwork, Great Yarmouth (Image: JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images

Retrace your steps back to the seafront and head for the Merrivale Model Village, where you’ll find a replica of the miniature thatched stable the artist mysteriously left behind during his (or her) visit. Opting to cash in on the latest addition to their attraction, the owners of the model village sold the original for £1 million.

The hunt continues in nearby Gorleston, where the design of a giant amusement arcade grabber can be found in a shelter on the seafront.

4. Discover the unique architecture of the Rows

The first mention of Great Yarmouth’s Rows – an intricate network of narrow, cramped streets that served as homes and places of work for thousands of people – can be traced back to 1198. Over the next 700 years, the Rows evolved within the city walls – not always for the better – until a combination of slum clearance projects and a Second World War bombing blitz almost finished them off for good. 

Great Yarmouth’s Time and Tide Museum, located in a lovingly preserved Victorian herring curing works, is home to an evocative recreation of a typical Row, with the scent of smoked herring (more alluring than you might think!) adding to the sense you’re taking a step back in time. The remnants of some Rows still exist today in varying states across Great Yarmouth. Once you know what you’re looking for, you’ll have fun spotting evidence of them everywhere you go in the town.

Historic Row, Great Yarmouth (Image: Heritage Images via Getty Images)Heritage Images via Getty Images

5. An evolving food scene, plus some old favourites

In a bid to cater to the foodie crowd, some of Great Yarmouth’s seafront hotels and B&Bs are upping their culinary game and throwing open their doors to non-residents. One such example is the Knights Court Hotel on North Drive, where an emphasis on fresh, seasonal and local produce makes for some tasty plates and a few surprises – there’s a peppercorn sauce in particular you won’t forget in a hurry. 

Elsewhere, and as you’d expect, there’s no shortage of fantastic fish and chip options and ice cream parlours offering all the flavours under the sun. To experience a cacophony of candy colours and varieties that would put Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory to shame, Wonka fans and visitors with a sweet tooth may want to check out Docwras Rock Factory & Shop.

Docwras Rock Factory and Shop (Image: loocmill/Shutterstock)loocmill/Shutterstock

READ MORE: Top tips for a family-friendly weekend in Great Yarmouth

6. Uncover a dastardly plot

According to historians, the “Conspiracy Room” at the Elizabethan House Museum was the nefarious location where a plan was hatched to execute King Charles I in 1648. Along with local merchants and politicians, there’s speculation Oliver Cromwell may also have been in attendance, owing to a gap of a few days in his known movements at the time. In fact, you’ll discover that Cromwell was a regular visitor to the house, lending further credence to his involvement.

The remarkable chamber itself is a sight to behold, and details of the plot and the fates of the alleged plotters are presented in a way that allows you to piece together the mystery and pass your own judgement.

Elsewhere, the museum is home to some unique and quirky exhibits – the sight of a dozen taxidermied squirrels sitting down for a raucous lunch isn’t one you’ll forget in a hurry.

The Conspiracy Room (Image: Credit Norfolk Museums)Norfolk Museums

7. Visit a fab hotel with a Beatles connection

A warm and friendly venue that ticks all the boxes when it comes to a classic Sunday roast, the Pier Hotel in nearby Gorleston also enjoyed a starring role in the 2019 film Yesterday. The movie, directed by Danny Boyle and written by Richard Curtis, imagines a world where the Beatles' music never existed, except in the ears of one budding musician. 

The album launch concert scene – which also featured 6,000 local extras – was filmed on the roof of the Pier Hotel, and Boyle was particularly taken with his time in the town and his stay at the hotel.

A star-studded premiere was held at the local cinema and attended by Himesh Patel, Lily James and relatively local lad Ed Sheeran, and you’ll find memorabilia and photos from the shoot dotted around the hotel.

Pier Hotel: (Image: Pier Hotel Gorleston)Pier Hotel Gorleston

On the subject of hotels, The Rampart makes for an ideal base when it comes to exploring all that Great Yarmouth has to offer. Located on the seafront and just a few minutes walk from some of the town’s most famous attractions, the recently renovated hotel is made up of nine premium, one-bedroom self-catering hotel suites.

Each modern suite is furnished to a high standard and provides a comfortable spot to rest and recharge after a day taking in the sea air. The contactless check-in process is quick and easy and there’s ample space to park your car. Double rooms start from £120 a night.

Rooms at the Rampart aparthotel (Image: The Rampart)The Rampart

Getting there

Great Yarmouth train station is largely served by Greater Anglia trains, which connect Norwich to Great Yarmouth in 33 minutes. 

For more information about things to see and do in the area, see

Main image: Alexey Fedorenko/Shutterstock

READ MORE: The UK's coolest beachside stays


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