Norfolk to Cornwall: 7 stunning coastal stop-offs

Growing up on the North Norfolk coast, I've always seen it as one of the UK’s best kept secrets. It boasts a gorgeous, largely untouched coastline, on which you can still escape the crowds.

After time abroad, I returned to the UK and started to plan the ultimate coastal road trip – with North Norfolk my starting point.

The UK has a wonderfully diverse coastline, with a combination of popular tourist locations and under-the-radar road trip stops – all perfectly accessible if you’re hiring a car.

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Here, I’ll take you through seven of the best coastal stops you can discover as you travel the east coast of England, all the way down to Cornwall.

North Norfolk

Before you set off on your coastal expedition, spend some time exploring North Norfolk itself.

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Start with a walk along either Old Hunstanton Beach or Brancaster Beach. On these magnificent beaches, I’m always taken back to childhood days spent at my family’s beach hut enjoying the fresh sea-breeze and piles of homemade sandwiches.

If you have the whole weekend at your disposal, take some time to explore Holkham Beach and Wells-next-the-Sea – a charming seaside town home to delicious fish and chips.

Once you start your engine and set off, the old fishing village of Sheringham is a 30-minute drive from Wells if you fancy a day crabbing on the pier or visiting the local museum.

Brighton

If you’re travelling over the weekend, get an early start to beat the traffic. With a clear run, the vibrant town of Brighton is a four hour drive south.

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One of my favourite cities in the UK, this seaside town successfully combines its charming past with modern eccentricity.

It wouldn’t be a visit to Brighton without a stroll along its pebbled beach, ending in an ice cream on its gigantic pier overlooking the sea. Just watch out for the seagulls!

Stepping off the beach and into the town, head to the Brighton Lanes for a browse of the numerous independent shops and boutiques. This is the city’s historic quarter and the creative heart of Brighton – it’s easy to get lost among the alleyways but that’s part of the appeal.

Brighton’s live music scene erupts in the evening across leading venues such as Brighton Dome and Concorde 2. Post-gig, head back to one of Brighton’s cosy seafront B&Bs for a well-earned rest.

Southampton

Waking up in Brighton the next morning, you’re faced with less than a two hour drive west to the next coastal destination – Southampton.

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Dubbed as the cruise capital of Europe, Southampton is home to a bustling port. Once you’ve parked up, or settled in your accommodation if you’re staying the night, head over to the shingle beach on Weston Shore. From here, visitors can keep a lookout for tiny boats, huge ships and cruise liners as they pull into or leave Southampton’s port.

Away from the water, there is plenty to do in Southampton by day and night. The Mayflower Theatre has an ongoing programme of plays, music, and comedy. If you’re looking for the perfect evening meal instead, you might want to try out the seasonal menu at Quay FIFTEEN at Shamrock Quay Marina.

Bournemouth

One of the best drives on this road trip route is actually away from the direct coastline. Southampton to Bournemouth takes you through the magnificent New Forest National Park.

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You can take your time driving through the looming trees of the forest at a leisurely pace to enjoy the scenery. If you’re short of time, however, you can reach Bournemouth in 45 minutes.

Bournemouth is lined with British nostalgia, from amusement arcades to beachfront hotels that once thrived. Yet, it’s also home to a seemingly endless beach and a truly stunning coastline.

It’s no surprise, then, that there is a flourishing outdoor activity scene in Bournemouth. There are mapped walking routes along the Bournemouth coastline, winding through grade II listed gardens as you go. For the more adventurous, the Bournemouth Activity Centre runs a programme of high-octane pursuits such as quad biking and assault courses.

Torquay

Leaving Bournemouth, head along the wild Jurassic Coast to the English Riviera.

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In two and a half hours you’ll reach Torquay, the jewel in the English Riviera’s crown. A once-favoured summer holiday destination of the British, Torquay still possesses the perfect ingredients for a road trip stop or a long weekend.

The harbour acts as a hub for tourists and yachtsmen alike, with many restaurants and cafés lining the water. A short drive away lies some of the area’s best beaches – Paignton, Breakwater, and Hollicombe. Nearby Saltern Cove, however, is a wild and rocky stretch of beach that shouldn’t be missed as you stop off in Torquay.

Plymouth

An hour down the South Devon Highway lies the port city of Plymouth.

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Known for its maritime heritage and historic Barbican district, boats and harbours give way to narrow, cobbled streets.

In the harbour you’ll find several marinas and the working Plymouth Fisheries. Integral to the region, the fishery is home to fish merchants trading goods on Fish Quay while visitors can call in on the market to see how it works behind-the-scenes.

A city with such an industrial past makes for a fascinating visit. Steeped in history, make sure you catch a glimpse of Smeaton’s Tower, the lighthouse that once stood on the dangerous Eddystone Rocks before being rebuilt on Plymouth’s Hoe in 1884.

Cornwall

A short drive over the famous Tamar Bridge will take you from Devon into Cornwall, where residents top their scones with jam first and clotted cream second.

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Aside from perfectly assembled scones, Cornwall is home to some of the UK’s best beaches and wild moorland that lines the winding roads.

On the southwestern tip of the UK, Cornwall has over 300 beaches – from surf-friendly sandy outlets to intimate sheltered coves. The turquoise water and Mediterranean feel to Porthcurno beach makes it a must-visit on this trip. Fistral Beach still reigns supreme for surfing, while visiting the smaller cove at Sennen will take you right to the UK’s tip at Land’s End.

Driving from Norfolk down to Cornwall gives you the perfect opportunity to take in some of the UK’s most notable coastline pit stops. From the energy of Brighton and Bournemouth to the idyllic beaches of Cornwall, each stop gives the whole family numerous reasons to get out of the car and stretch their legs.

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