Wells is situated about 15 miles (24 km) to the east of the resort of Hunstanton, 20 miles (32 km) to the west of Cromer, and 10 miles (16 km) north of Fakenham. The city of Norwich lies 32 miles (51 km) to the south-east. Nearby villages include Blakeney (famous for its bird sanctuary), Burnham Market, Burnham Thorpe (the birthplace of Horatio Nelson), Holkham (with its famous stately home Holkham Hall), and Walsingham (a major medieval pilgrimage site.
The North Sea is now a mile from the town, as a result of the silting of the harbour. The Holkham Estate reclaimed some 800 hectares of saltmarsh north-west of Wells, completed by the construction of a mile-long sea-wall in 1859.
The town started to be known as Wells-next-the-Sea in the early 19th century to distinguish it from other places of the same name. When the Wells and Fakenham Railway was opened on 1 December 1857, the terminus was given the name of "Wells-on-Sea". In 1956 the Wells Urban District Council voted to (re-)adopt the name Wells-next-the-Sea, and this has been the official name since then