12 of the best British seaside towns

Published on: Tuesday, May 29, 2018

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

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.

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. August sees the annual Pride parade: as Brighton is the UK’s self-proclaimed gay capital, it’s one heck of a party.

3. Bournemouth, Dorset

Bournemouth is booming. This buoyant coastal town has one of the UK’s fastest-growing digital economies and is being touted as the next ‘silicon city’. Its generous sandy shores are becoming a hotbed of action thanks to its pier-to-shore zipline; a thrilling, 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.

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 found inspiration for his 19th-century novel, Dracula, here. A century on, the book still haunts Whitby’s medieval cobbled streets and eerie abbey ruins. This association also gave rise to the twice-yearly Whitby Goth Weekend, when the town’s Gothic inclinations are celebrated: think head-to-toe cadaverous costumes and a soundtrack to match.

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: 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.

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.

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 canvas. 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.

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, and the International Agatha Christie Festival in September promises a literary feast for crime fiction fans.

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 smart aquarium has gone some way to revitalising this 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.

10. Tenby, Pembrokeshire

Perched on the rugged South Wales 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.

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 crowds head to the beach to cheer on volleyball players as they shake up the sands with their annual tournament.

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.