Despite the name Wells-next-the-Sea,
The town is now a mile from the North Sea, as a result of the silting of the harbour. The Holkham Estate reclaimed some 800 hectares of saltmarsh north-west of Wells, and this was completed with the mile-long sea-wall in 1859: this reclamation reduced the tidal scour and is itself a further cause of silting.
The town has long thrived as a seaport and is now also a seaside resort with a popular beach that can be reached by a narrow gauge railway that runs partway alongside the mile-long sea wall north of the harbour. The beach is known for its long flat terrain, abstract sand dunes, varied unique beach huts.. A land-locked brackish pool called Abraham's Bosom is used for pleasure boating and canoeing. The beach is backed by dense pine woods and a nature reserve. The pine woods are home to rare birds and a unique species of Corsican Pine.
More pinewoods exist to the east of the beach over the shipping channel at an area called the East Hills. This can be accessed on foot at low tide though all of the tidal sands in the area are extremely dangerous due to the speed and currents of the rising tide. It is not advisable to cross the channel without detailed local knowledge.
The town stretches nearly a mile inland. The majority of shops and other such businesses are now found on Staithe Street but up to the 1960s commercial premises were also to be found along High Street which continues south towards St Nicholas's Church. The church burned after a lightning strike in 1879: the exterior shows the original stonework, John Fryer, Captain Bligh's sailing master on HMS Bounty was born at Wells, and is buried in the churchyard.
The distinctive landmark of the seafront is the granary with its overhanging gantry on the quay, finished in 1904. This is now converted to flats. The maritime tradition of the town meant it used to have a remarkable number of public houses for a town of its size although many of these have since closed. The northern end of the town used to be notable for parallel "yards", narrow rows of cottages similar to the northern "ginnels", which could be relics of Danish occupation. These were largely lost in the terrible 1953 flood damage, and subsequent "slum clearance".
A feature of the town is the area known as The Buttlands – a name suggesting archery practice historically – which is a large green ringed by lime trees. Large elegant Georgian houses overlook The Buttlands, as do the Crown Hotel, Globe Inn and the Wells Catholic Church. If you exit The Buttlands down the hill at its south-west corner you can see Ware Hall, which was rebuilt over a period of years from the 1970s by Miss May Savidge, who brought it in parts when she moved from Ware in Hertfordshire.