12 of the best British seaside towns

7 years ago

Sack the Med off and head to one of these British seaside towns

The Great British beach holiday is back in vogue. Ruth-Ellen Davis rounds up the best coastal resorts for a summer staycation.

1) Margate, Kent

Eating fish ‘n’ chips on the promenade. Licking ice-lollies on the beach. Paddling in the surf with your trousers rolled up. Think of the quintessential British beach holiday and Margate might well come to mind.

One of the original Victorian seaside towns, like so many others it was abandoned by holidaymakers in the 1990s when low-cost airlines promised better things abroad. But today this down-at-heel resort is enjoying a renaissance thanks to an influx of artists, high-speed rail links with London and the reopening of Dreamland, the UK’s oldest pleasure park.

A cultural renaissance is taking place in MargateA cultural renaissance is taking place in Margate

2) Brighton, Sussex

A lack of sand hasn’t stopped Brighton from establishing itself as the UK’s coolest beach town. With its anything-goes attitude, hip inhabitants (Nick Cave lives here) and pier filled with classic attractions, this kitsch seaside resort is a whole lot of fun.

Its winding Lanes are an Aladdin’s cave of retro trinkets, and there’s a good nod to the city’s green credentials – pick up everything from biodynamic wine to vegetarian shoes. This August marks the 25th anniversary of Brighton’s annual Pride parade: as the UK’s self-proclaimed gay capital, it’s sure to be one heck of a party.

Brighton has earned itself the nickname 'London by Sea'Brighton has earned itself the nickname ‘London by Sea’
DagDurrichPhotography / Thinkstock

3) Bournemouth, Dorset

Bournemouth is booming. This buoyant coastal town has the UK’s fastest-growing digital economy and is being touted as the next ‘silicon city’. Its unassuming football club has also made a surprise leap into the Premier League and its generous sandy shores are becoming a hotbed of action.

A new pier-to-shore zipline is the latest high-speed way to take in the coastal views. Participants are launched from a tower at the end of the pier, out over the Blue Flag beach and down to the throngs of bathers bellow.

Bournemouth offers a novel way of getting to the beachBournemouth offers a novel way of getting to the beach
Creative Commons / Lets Go Out Bournemouth

4) Whitby, Yorkshire

At a glance, Whitby is your classic coastal resort, with its traditional donkey rides, dubious amusement arcades and ubiquitous fish ‘n’ chip shops. But beyond its twee aesthetic, lies a Gothic spirit thanks to Bram Stoker, who set his 19th-century novel, Dracula, here.

A century on the book still haunts Whitby’s medieval cobbled streets and eerie abbey ruins. It also provides inspiration for the twice-yearly Whitby Goth Weekend (next event on 30 October), when the town’s Gothic inclinations are celebrated: think head-to-toe cadaverous costumes and a soundtrack to match.

Behind Whitby's seaside aesthetic lies the spirit of Dracula  Behind Whitby’s seaside aesthetic lies the spirit of Dracula
Creative Commons / Chris Jones

5) Woolacombe, Devon

Sweeping dunes and golden sands? Tick. Dramatic cliffs and intriguing rock pools? Tick. Limpid waters and undulating swells? Tick. Even amid Devon’s ample supply of noteworthy beaches, Woolacombe serves up an impressive slice of seaside action.

Its charms are no secret: this year Trip Advisor users voted it best beach in the UK and fourth best in Europe. On sunny days its 4.8km (3-mile) shoreline is carpeted with beach towels and bathers. Beat the crowds with an early morning horse ride along the sands.

A surfer weighs up the swell in WoolacombeA surfer weighs up the swell in Woolacombe
Creative Commons / Stuart Webster

6) Salcombe, Devon

Smart Salcombe feels more film set than reality. With its tiered hillside setting, crystal waters and lanes peppered with boutique shops and artisan eateries, it’s a thoroughly decorous affair.

The shellfish here is legendary, and many a leisurely hour can be spent devouring fresh seafood besides bobbing boats. The Salcombe Regatta brings jolly antics both on and off the water in August. Sandy beaches are a short and scenic ferry ride away: look out for the new ODE beach café at Gara Rock, which serves fresh Devonshire scones and stirring sea views.

Idyllic scenes and excellent seafood abound in SalcombeIdyllic scenes and excellent seafood abound in Salcombe
acceleratorhams / Thinkstock

7) St Ives, Cornwall

Artists have been drawn to this idyllic corner of Cornwall since the 1920s and it’s easy to see why: the vivid backdrop of bright sands, blue waters and rich greenery seem straight from a painter’s canvass.

St Ives’ creative scene grew so significant that its artists became known as the St Ives School. Some of their work is on display at the Tate Ives Gallery, a stunning building that overlooks the surf and sand of Porthmeor Beach.

Who needs the Mediterranean when you've got Cornwall?Who needs the Mediterranean when you’ve got Cornwall?
Creative Commons / Nana B Agyei

8) Torquay, Devon

It’s an upbeat mix of palm trees, shiny yachts and exemplary eateries at this fun Devonshire resort. Ok, it’s not exactly Cannes. But these days Torquay is much less Fawlty Towers (the town was the setting for the 1970s slapstick sitcom) and a lot more designer sunglasses and celebrity chefs.

Sat on the English Riviera, it’s also in easy reach of 20 plus beaches. This year marks the 125th year of Torquay resident Agatha Christie’s birth, and the annual International Agatha Christie Festival in September promises a literary feast for crime fiction fans.

Daybreaks over the picturesque Torquay harbourDay breaks over the picturesque Torquay harbour
Creative Commons / Larry Rivera

9) Skegness, Lincolnshire

Seaside stalwart Skegness is in the midst of a facelift. Once the cutting edge of UK coastal holidaying (it welcomed the very first Butlins in 1936), Skeggy fell on hard times when Brits abandoned it for the Med in the 1990s.

A new aquarium, set to open its doors this summer, has high hopes of revitalising the former holiday favourite, but those after some full-throttle seaside kitsch need not fret – the bumper cars, slot machines, bingo and jaw-cracking sticks of Skegness rock are still going strong.

Welcome to Skegness, a reassuringly British seaside townWelcome to Skegness, a reassuringly British seaside town
JasonBatterham / Thinkstock

10) Tenby, Pembrokeshire

Perched on the rugged South Walien coastline, Tenby’s cluster of pastel-hued buildings and snaking, medieval stone wall is an arresting sight. Beaches lie to the north, south and west, each with their own charms – from Castle Beach’s superb swimming to North Beach’s sheltered sun traps.

Ferries take passengers from the quaint harbour to the seabirds and seals at Caldey Island. And as the summer nights draw in, lamplight illuminates Tenby’s cobbled streets, pubs and restaurants filling with a jovial holiday vibe.

Pastel-hued buildings overlook Tenby's shimmering harbourPastel-hued buildings overlook Tenby’s shimmering harbour
Creative Commons / Richardjo53

11) Weymouth, Dorset

Well-balanced Weymouth has the lot: on the one hand a golden horseshoe beach studded with stripy deckchairs, on the other an atmospheric 17th-century harbour with lively maritime scenes and welcoming pubs.

The area’s waters are world famous, having hosted the 2012 Olympic sailing, and there are regular waterborne spectacles, such as the Weymouth Regatta in July. That same month crowds head to the beach to cheer on volleyball players as they shake up the sands with their annual tournament.

Relaxing in a very British way on Weymouth beachRelaxing in a very British way on Weymouth beach
Creative Commons / Stewart Black

12) Bude, Cornwall

As the waves sweep into Summerleaze Beach, swimmers look on smugly from the calm waters of the adjacent sea pool. The saltwater lido has been delighting Bude’s swimmers since the 1930s, who come from far and wide to rejuvenate on the windswept coastline.

A bells and whistles resort this is not. There’s not a Ferris wheel in sight. But the small Cornish beauty’s natural attributes certainly hold their own against bigger names, and last year Bude was ranked third after Bournemouth and Tenby in the Best UK Coastal Resort category at the British Travel Awards.

Dude more than compensates for its lack of Ferris wheelsBude more than compensates for its lack of Ferris wheels
Creative Commons / Giuseppe Milo

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