Quaint seaside towns to visit this summer

Thames not big enough for you? Upgrade your day by the water with a visit to the country’s cutest seaside towns instead
By Yolanda Zappaterra, Katherine Lovage and Ellie Walker-Arnott |
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It’s practically a British tradition to spend every single hour that the sun shines sat on the grass, balancing a beer, burning sausages and turning a shiny shade of pink. And, now that the sunny season is well and truly upon us, it makes perfect sense to wave (a brief and fond) goodbye to the city and slink off in a swimsuit towards the seaside.

The UK’s wild and sweeping coastline is peppered with pretty little towns that’ll offer a little respite from the sweltering depths of the central line for a day or two. This lot – our pick of Britain’s quaint seaside towns — may be small but there’s plenty of things to do, see, eat, drink and explore. They’re kitsch, cool and perfect for flip-flopping your way through a weekend of salty, sandy fun. Anyone for an ice cream?

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12 UK seaside towns for summer trips

Dreamland

Margate, Kent

What’s the vibe? Shabby chic, with a growing emphasis on the chic.

Why go? For some retro funfair action at Dreamland, Wayne Hemmingway’s revitalised 1920s amusement park, and for a plethora of cool shops and galleries – including café/gallery Hantverk & Found, skincare shop Haeckels, which uses only locally grown botanicals in its products, and RG Scott’s, a cornucopia of second-hand wonders housed in an old ice-machine factory – and for such offbeat gems as the Shell Grotto, where 4.6 million shells create a spectacular attraction in a subterranean chamber. Oh, and the Turner Contemporary’s not bad either.

Don’t miss: The Bus Cafe – a double-decker bus which has been transformed into a mobile kitchen and cafe, selling dishes made from local produce.

Get there: By train from St Pancras or Victoria. By car, in two hours.

St Ives, Cornwall

St Ives, Cornwall

What’s the vibe? The Cote d’Azur. With surfers.

Why go? Because of the 15-minute train ride from St Erth to St Ives, which is eye-poppingly gorgeous as it follows the curve of St Ives Bay. Once there, the town is just as picture-perfect, which might explain the number of artists who were drawn here and have left their mark in the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Garden, Tate St Ives and Leach Pottery. Make sure to see all the sights that inspired them, from the tumbling cottages and tangled lanes to lovely granite fishing harbour and beautiful beach, and make at least a weekend of it, if not a week.

Don’t miss: The subtropical gardens of Trewyn, and a restorative pint at the Sloop Inn, one of Cornwall’s oldest and most atmospheric pubs.

Get there: By train from Paddington. By car, in five to six hours.

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Broadstairs, Kent

Broadstairs, Kent

What’s the vibe? 1950s seaside innocence, with liberal splashes of Farrow & Ball.

Why go? The super-cute Broadstairs has something for everyone. On the one hand, the extensive shallows, sandy beach and gaily painted huts of Viking Bay are a delight for families, but it has plenty of appeal for grown-ups too, including a tiny cinema, great food and a clifftop walk to the romantic Botany Bay. The Charles Dickens Museum and Bleak House (where Dickens wrote various parts of novels such as ‘David Copperfield’) are just two attractions dedicated to the Victorian author, who holidayed it up here in the 1800s.

Don’t miss: Morelli’s. Founded in 1932, this retrotastic ice-cream parlour retains pink leatherette banquettes, a jukebox and a soda fountain.

Get there: By train from St Pancras or Victoria. By car, in two hours.

Whitby, Yorkshire

Whitby, Yorkshire

What’s the vibe? Melancholy gothic.

Why go? It’s huge fun checking out the locations of Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’, from the evocative ruins of the abbey looming over the town to the working harbour. But the appeal of this lovely Yorkshire seaside town extends beyond its gothic attraction, with the excellent Captain Cook Memorial Museum, the remarkably well-preserved Church of St Mary, complete with a Norman arch and sweeping 199-step staircase, and easy access to the glorious Yorkshire Moors.

Don’t miss: The railway - it's a great way to cross the moors and explore some of the county’s lovely inland villages.

Get there: By train from King’s Cross to Whitby (with two changes). By car, in five hours.

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Aldeburgh, Suffolk

Aldeburgh, Suffolk

What’s the vibe: Understated genteel wealth with a creative edge.

Why go? The home of composer Benjamin Britten is filled with delights, from the high street lined with organic food shops, chi-chi boutiques and upmarket eateries to the pretty beachfront cottages, nineteenth-century Martello tower and stunning sixteenth-century Moot Hall. A walk on the shingle beach to Maggi Hambling’s scallop shell sculpture, some great pubs and a boat trip to Thorpeness all ensure enough for a fantastic day out.

Don’t miss: The brilliant Red House Museum, the home composer Benjamin Britten shared with his partner Peter Pears for the last 20 years of his life.

Get there: By train from Liverpool St to Saxmundham, then bus or taxi. By car, in three hours.

Barry, south Wales

Barry, South Wales

What’s the vibe? It’s the home of Stacey and Nessa from ‘Gavin & Stacey’. Need we say more?

Why go? Because Barry, or more specifically Barry Island, is a historical taste of South Wales that’s fast disappearing. It’s changed very little in the century since a railway link with Cardiff turned it into a Bank Holiday must-do for Welsh folk who’d arrive in their hundreds of thousands to eat proper faggots and chips from the range of caffs housed in the lovely Neo-Greek style portico arcade (complete with imposing Doric columns), and enjoy a great beach and traditional fairground. All still there, all utterly lovely.

Don’t miss: Marco’s Café at Barry Island, familiar to anyone who’s watched ‘Gavin & Stacey’.

Get there: By train from Paddington to Cardiff, and a change to the Vale of Glamorgan line. By car, in three to four hours.

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Swanage, Dorset

Swanage, Dorset

What’s the vibe? Happy families.

Why go? The distinctly family-friendly Swanage has much to recommend it to grown-up visitors with or without kids in tow, as long as they’re as young at heart as their younger counterparts. In town, standouts include a tank museum, a lovely beach backed by pretty huts, a proper pier and everything from fish and chip shops to oyster restaurants; close by, Studland Bay and Old Harry Rocks, the island wildlife sanctuary of Brownsea Island, Lulworth Cove and castle, Durdle Door and Corfe Castle make Swanage a great base for some of the best excursions in the country.

Don’t miss: A trip on the Swanage Railway that brings you here through the glorious Purbeck countryside from Wareham, six miles away.

Get there: By train from Waterloo to Wareham, then train or bus. By car, in three and a half hours.

North Berwick

North Berwick, East Lothian

What’s the vibe? Rugged beauty and outdoor pursuits.

Why go? Edinburgh’s not the obvious seaside destination, but within easy reach of it are a handful of great traditional seaside towns, including our favourite, the gorgeous North Berwick. Its chief appeal lies in two great beaches – Milsey Bay and West Beach – but the great mix of dramatic coastal walks (including the challenging Law Hill), indie shops, good restaurants and galleries ensure lots to do if it’s raining. Which, this being Scotland, it almost certainly will at some point during your stay.

Don’t miss: A chance to watch puffins, gannets and seals on Bass Rock, the Isle of May and Craighleith cliffs via the webcams at the award-winning Scottish Seabird centre.

Get there: By train from King’s Cross, with one change. By car, in just over seven hours.

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Hunstanton, Norfolk

Hunstanton, Norfolk

What’s the vibe? Undersung but charming seaside resort with some unique attractions.

Why go? North Norfolk gets all the plaudits when it comes to seaside charm, particularly Holkham, Sheringham and Cromer, but easterly Hunstanton is the only place in the whole eastern coast from which you can watch the sunset. Plus it has multicoloured cliffs, lush lavender fields, Sandringham, the medieval King’s Lynn and some gorgeous country pubs nearby – the fourteenth-century Rose and Crown in pretty Snettisham tops our list. 

Don’t miss: A seal safari or trip on the Wash monster, a land and water vessel that entertainingly glides across both the waters and the sandbanks of the Wash.

Get there: By train from King’s Cross to King’s Lynn, then bus. By car, in three hours.

Ventnor, Isle of Wight

Ventnor, Isle of Wight

What’s the vibe? Enid Blyton’s Famous Five go to the seaside.

Why go? You really do half-expect to see sensibly clad wholesome kids on bikes pootling along the picturesque lanes of the Isle of Wight, so old-school is its vibe. This is particularly true of Victorian Ventnor on the south coast, where a microclimate has created flora and fauna in the botanical garden that make it feel like you’ve not only gone back in time, but to somewhere much further away from the UK mainland than the four miles it is from Hampshire. 

Don’t miss: A walk to the pretty Bonchurch and a peek into its eleventh-century church, visited in its time by Tennyson, Swinburne, Keats and Dickens.

Get there: By train from Waterloo to Southampton, then ferry/catamaran. By car, in just under four hours.

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Tobermory Seafront

Tobermory, Isle of Mull

What’s the vibe? A children's picture book meets your granddad’s favourite watercolour.

Why go? Because the colourful properties scattered over Tobermory light up the coastline during the Scottish winter, and in summer they’re even better. Walk around Tobermory and you’ll discover sights that have come straight from a postcard: Dun Ara Castle, Crater Loch and the Tobermory Lighthouse. Nature-lover’s can also go on wildlife tours to sneak a peek at whales, dolphins and seal pups. If you’re setting sail for the Treshnish Isles and Staffa, you’ll fall in love with the puffins who nest there.

Don’t miss: The incredible coastal walk at Ardmore, where you could see Golden and White-tailed Eagles - and a little light refreshment at the Tobermory Whisky Distillery.

Get there: By train from Euston to Glasgow and a change to ScotRail for Oban. Then Ferry and coach. By car, in 11 hours.

Dawlish Seafront Train

Dawlish, Devon

What’s the vibe? Traditional fun beside the seaside.

Why go? For a simple, old-fashioned slice of Devon. Little Dawlish is all slightly-shabby coastal finery. The town is positioned around a long green space called The Lawn, which has been home to black swans since the early 1900s, and is the perfect spot to sample cream teas, get tipsy on west country cider and send your nan a silly postcard. Jump on the train, which runs right along the surf, and go to Dawlish Warren around the headland, for a stretch of soft sandy beach lined by colourful beach huts, plus family-friendly golf, go-karts and piping-hot chips coated in salt and vinegar. The surrounding area is made for countryside hikes or cycle rides – and the shops and restaurants of Exeter are close by too.

Don’t miss: Ice-cream cones topped with clotted cream at local fave Gay’s Creamery.

Get there: By train, from Paddington, changing at Exeter St Davids. By car, in 4 hours.

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