Ruff Guide to… North Norfolk

If your dog loves to feel the sand between their paws, they’ll be in heaven in North Norfolk. With more than 45 miles of unspoilt coastline and an abundance of wildlife, the county is a joy to visit all year round. North Norfolk has lots of history to explore too, from imposing country houses to Victorian pleasure piers. It’s also home to Sandringham, the Queen’s much-loved country retreat, so you’ll be in good company when you visit.

Nick and Ernie walk through the pines to Holkham Beach
Ernie leads the way through the pine forest to Holkham Beach

Dog-friendly North Norfolk: the must-sees

North Norfolk is famed for its beaches, many of which are dog-friendly all year round. Whether you’re looking for miles of soft sand or rocky coves to explore, you will find it here. Holkham, which is backed by a pine forest, is probably the most famous Norfolk beach. It even appeared in 1999’s Shakespeare in Love movie. The two-mile walk through the pines to Holkham Beach is a must (it’s £2 an hour to park), but click here to see a list of the other top beaches. Remember to watch out for ground-nesting birds, too – they are quite common in this part of the world.

If you do head to Holkham Beach, pop across the road to Holkham Hall. Dogs are not allowed inside the main house but are free to explore the 3,000-acre estate, which is home to a large herd of fallow deer. They roam freely so dogs must be kept on lead at all times. The Holkham website recommends walking routes of varying lengths that take in the park, lake and farm. Dogs are also welcome in the courtyard of the cafe and, at peak times, the gift shop. It’s free to visit the Holkham estate but parking costs £3 a day – which you can claim back if you spend more than £12 in the shop.

Seals on the beach with a boat from Beans Boat Tours in the background
Go seal-spotting at Blakeney Point with Beans Boats

Put your sea legs to the test by taking a trip with Beans Boats. They make daily sailings to see Norfolk’s resident grey and common seal colonies. The hour-long trips leave Morston Quay and head to Blakeney Point. Depending on the tides, you sometimes have the option to get out there. Beans Boats is a family-run business and welcomes well-behaved dogs, although no more than two pets per family are permitted. Adult tickets cost £13 while dogs travel free.

If you visit between October and February, it’s well worth making the trip to Horsey Beach, too. Thousands of seals come ashore each year to give birth to their pups. When we visited in January, more than 2,300 had arrived so far that season. Well-behaved dogs on leads are welcome to watch the seals on the beach and wardens will make sure both you and your pet don’t get too close. Parking at Horsey Gap costs £3 for two hours.

Ernie on Cromer beach with the pier in the backgroun
Ernie explores Cromer beach, with the dog-friendly pier in the background

Pets are also allowed on Cromer Pier, which makes for a nice little stroll. The Grade II listed Victorian pier is just over 150m long and is a great spot for crab fishing. Dogs can also enjoy the beach out of season and strolls along the promenade all year round.

Another great day out can be had at RSPB Titchwell Marsh Nature Reserve, which is home to bird-filled reedbeds, lagoons and marshes. Avocets, bearded tits and marsh harriers are among the species that call this RSPB reserve home. Dogs on lead are welcome to explore the West Bank Path – find out more by clicking here.

Colourful beach huts at Wells-next-the-Sea, Norfolk
Colourful beach huts at Wells-next-the-Sea © Richard Humphrey

Dog-friendly North Norfolk: the best walks

Make the most of the North Norfolk coastline by checking out the 83-mile Norfolk Coast Path. Running from Hunstanton to Hopton-on-Sea, it takes in all the best beaches.

The five-mile walk from Wells-next-the-Sea to Holkham is lovely. Simply start from Wells beach, go past the iconic beach huts and keep going. Alternatively, enjoy a four-mile stroll from Cromer to Overstrand, heading out along the beach then returning via the promenade. Brancaster Beach is great for dogs, too. When the tide is out, you can see the remains of SS Vina, which the RAF used for target practice during World War Two. Check the tide times before you go though, to save you getting stranded!

National Trust sign at Sheringham Park
Sheringham Park © Martin Dawes

For woodland walks, head to Sheringham Park which more than 1,000 acres of land to explore. The park, which is owned by the National Trust, surrounds Sheringham Hall and has walks ranging from one to five miles. Dogs are also welcome in the gift shop, visitor centre and cafe. For more information about the park, click here. Parking costs £6 per day but is free for National Trust members.

Anyone hoping to spot the Queen should try their luck at Sandringham. Although dogs are not allowed on the official estate, they can explore the 142-hectare country park, where there are two walking trails. You can also get back to nature in and around Kelling Heath Holiday Park, which is between Sheringham and Holt. Staff at the family-run park have put together a range of walks to suit all abilities.

Ernie enjoys a Pupsicle iced treat at Wells-next-the-Sea, Norfolk
Ernie enjoys some doggy ice cream at the Beach Cafe in Wells-next-the-Sea

Dog-friendly North Norfolk: the best pubs and cafes

The Beach Cafe in Wells-next-the-Sea is excellent, and just a stone’s throw from the beach. It’s open all year round and pets are welcome both inside and out. Dog treats are readily available, alongside doggy ice cream during the summer months. There’s even a pet water station outside, which is really handy. The Funky Mackerel in Sheringham is also great – don’t leave without trying one of their flapjacks!

Sugar & Spice in Bacton is renowned for its gut-busting all-day breakfasts. Visiting pets will be given their own plate of biscuits to enjoy while vinyl classics play from the retro jukebox. Breakfast is also a big event at The Cliff Top Cafe in Overstrand, which has been serving homemade food since 1925. Your four-legged friend will really be spoilt here with a range of treats and doggy burgers cooked to order.

Sugar & Spice in Bacton has its own retro vinyl jukebox
Sugar & Spice in Bacton has its own retro vinyl jukebox

Pets are guaranteed a warm welcome at the Hill House Inn in Happisburgh, where Sherlock creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle once stayed. They can even enjoy afternoon tea or host their own party at the Doggie Diner in Cromer

Eric’s, an upmarket chippy with branches in Thornham and Holt, is the place to go for battered Mars bars and fried jam sandwiches, however. Dogs are not allowed inside the restaurants, but there is outdoor seating.

Exterior of the fully-vegetarian Art Cafe in Glandford, Norfolk
The quirky Art Cafe in Glandford is a real treat for vegetarians and vegans

Vegetarians and vegans should make a beeline for The Art Cafe in Glandford – the only veggie restaurant in North Norfolk. It is also home to a lovely little gallery and is proud to serve Grey Seal Coffee, which is roasted just across the farmyard. You can also get your Grey Seal caffeine fix at coffee shops in Wells-next-the-Sea, Blakeney, Sheringham and Cromer. All branches are dog-friendly.

Pets are guaranteed a warm welcome at The Wheatsheaf in West Beckham – formerly the West Beckham Manor House. As well as serving up traditional pub grub, it is home to a tea room. The White Horse in Brancaster is also worth a visit for its fresh shellfish, all caught in the village. Try to bag a table on the patio, which is a prime spot for watching the sunset.  The Ship Hotel, just up the road, also serves samphire – a Norfolk delicacy.

Exterior of the Lifeboat at Thornham
The Lifeboat Inn at Thornham is one of the oldest pubs in North Norfolk

Dog-friendly North Norfolk: where to stay

Thornham makes a great base for exploring the North Norfolk coastline and the village is home to no less than three dog-friendly pubs with rooms. Choose from The Orange Tree, which is renowned for its food, the traditional Lifeboat Inn or the stylish Chequers Inn. Another excellent dog-friendly pub with rooms is The White Horse in Overstrand.

If you’ve ever fancied being lord or lady of the manor, check out Holkham Lodges. Two of the four boutique boltholes on this 25,000-acre estate welcome dogs – including the Triumphal Arch, which is just magnificent. Guests will, of course, be close to famous Holkham beach as well as The Victoria Inn by the gates of Holkham Hall, which also offers dog-friendly rooms.

Ernie looks out of the window at Stable Court, Langham
Ernie checks out the view from our room at Stable Court

For something a little more budget-friendly, consider Stable Court, near Holt, which is linked to The Blue Bell gastropub. Albion Cottage in Happisburgh is packed full of Victorian charm. And if you’re travelling on a shoestring, check out Deepdale Backpackers, too. Dogs are welcome in the private rooms at the hostel or alternatively, you can choose to stay on the award-winning campsite.

Dog owners travelling with more than one pet should check out Pack Holidays, which offers a range of self-catering accommodation across North Norfolk sleeping from two to 12 people. East Ruston Cottages also specialise in dog-friendly breaks but be warned – its cottages often get booked up way in advance.

The iconic coal barn at Thornham marshes
The iconic Coal Barn in Thornham

How do I get to North Norfolk?

By road, it is easy to get to from most parts of the UK – especially the south, thanks to the A11. From Norwich, motorists can also pick up the Broadland Northway which will take you right to the coast.

Greater Anglia trains regularly leave London Liverpool Street and King’s Cross for King’s Lynn and Norwich. From the latter, you can pick up connecting services to Cromer or Sheringham. There are also daily National Express coaches from London, the Midlands and the south-east, while the nearest airport is Norwich International.

If you don’t have a car to get around when you’re in North Norfolk, there are plenty of bus services than can help you explore. The Coasthopper runs between Wells, Cromer and North Walsham while the Coastliner shuttles between Wells, Fakenham and King’s Lynn. Unlimited dog “Rover” tickets cost £1 per day.

Ernie with Barking Bugle
Ernie poses with his 2019 copy of The Barking Bugle Dogs’ Holiday Guide

Where can I find out more?

Check out The Barking Bugle – an award-winning online newspaper written by dogs, for dogs. Every year, it produces a free holiday guide for pet owners. If you can’t get your paws on a copy though, have it delivered for a small fee. For more about North Norfolk, visit the official tourism site or head to the North Norfolk District Council website.


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