You may associate the British seaside with summer – colourful beach huts, parasols, ice cream and piers – but its towns are thriving all year round. Yes, these destinations are arguably at their best on hot sunny days, but there’s plenty more to discover than their beaches. Here are six of the best British seaside towns that offer independent shops, gourmet restaurants and sights to admire all year round.
Margate has been a popular destination for British holidaymakers for generations. Yes, there’s a huge Blue Flag beach that offers plenty of space for swimming, sunbathing and surfing when the sun shines, but there’s plenty to see even on the gloomiest day.
Discover the beautiful and eerie Shell Grotto, underground tunnels lined with shells that no one knows the history of. Visit Dreamland, a Victorian theme park that was successfully revived in 2015. Stroll around the Old Town, discovering an interesting array of independent shops, vintage gems and quirky cafes. Don’t forget to visit the Turner Contemporary, supported by artist Tracy Emin, who grew up in the town.
Known for its sailing (the sailing events in the 2012 Olympics were held here) Weymouth is one of the gems of the south coast. Visitors should get acquainted to the town by strolling around its colourful Georgian harbour, watching the boats and eating at seafood restaurants.
Make sure you visit Chesil Beach made famous by Ian McEwan’s book and the recent Hollywood film On Chesil Beach. This 18-mile beach is bordered by Europe’s largest tidal lagoon and is perfect for a long brisk walk. There are also plenty of castles and ruins to visit nearby, such as Sandsfoot Castle and Nothe Fort.
Cornwall is home to plenty of interesting seaside towns, but Penzance is perhaps one of the most intriguing, thanks to its association with pirates and its beautiful surroundings. The town itself is a delight to stroll around, with many independent shops, stylish restaurants and boutique hotels.
If you fancy a swim, the Jubilee Pool by the promenade is the largest outdoor lido in Britain. Keen walkers will enjoy walking on the coastal path that passes through the town, perhaps venturing to Mouseholes, a quaint harbour village just three miles away. Further down the coast, you can discover the iconic Minack Theatre, perched on the cliffs above Porthcurno beach.
Saltburn-by-the-Sea, North Yorkshire
This delightful town on the North Yorkshire coast is the perfect destination for anyone seeking a seaside getaway such as the Victorians enjoyed. The town was originally designed as a holiday destination for the workers in Teesside, although it is perhaps more famous for its surfing beaches nowadays.
The Victorian pier and water-powered lift down from the cliffs have a charming appeal that visitors will love. There’s also a 52-acre nature reserve to explore, plenty of fish and chip takeaways and a 16th-century smuggler’s pub, the Ship Inn to enjoy a local pint by the fire.
Blackpool is perhaps one of the most iconic British seaside towns, nestled on the northwest coast. Its theme park is heralded as one of the best in the U.K, boasting exhilarating rides that tempt visitors with their fast speeds and dizzying heights. Visit Blackpool Tower inspired by the Eiffel Tower, offering views as far as the Lake District from the top.
Other sights not to be missed include the three piers, the Winter Gardens Art Deco entertainment centre and Blackpool Zoo. From August to November every year, the town lights up at night with the Illuminations, an annual festival of light that includes both traditional and contemporary installations.
Brighton, East Sussex
Brighton is just an hour from London on the train, making it an easy weekend getaway for visitors to the capital. In summer, the beach is packed full of sunseekers, but there’s plenty to see away from the water’s edge. Wander around the Lanes, a network of historic winding streets that are lined with independent shops, bars and restaurants.
The South Lanes offer more antiques and curiosities, while the North Lanes are a thriving independent shopping district beloved of local hipsters. Visit the pier and the amusement arcades, settle down in one of the beach bars to admire the view or take a walk down the promenade to Hove, admiring the colourful beach huts and seeking out the beachfront sauna.
Emma Lavelle is a UK based writer and photographer and has her own blog Field and Nest.