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The best seaside towns to visit near London

The Thames not big enough for you? Upgrade your day by the water in one of these cute coastal towns near London

By Lucy Lovell and Time Out editors |
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Southwold Lighthouse
Southwold

When the sun shines, it’s a tradition in London to immediately seek out the nearest beer garden or patch of grass to soak up some rays. But with a little planning, it’s perfectly easy to slink off a little further afield and upgrade your place in the sun to a seaside deckchair. 

The UK’s wild and sweeping coastline is peppered with pretty little towns - some of which are surprisingly close to London. Don’t be fooled by the small stature of these coastal retreats - they’re packed with plenty of things to do, see, eat, drink and explore. They’re kitsch, cool and perfect for flip-flopping your way through a day of salty, sandy fun. 

RECOMMENDED: The best beaches near London

12 seaside towns near London

Margate seafront
Photograph: Dave Smith 1965/Shutterstock.com

Margate, Kent

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

Why go? City vibes meet coastal relaxation in Margate. Attractions are plentiful, including seafood restaurant and gallery Hantverk & Found, retro funfair Dreamland, uber-cool skincare shop Haeckels and the Shell Grotto, where 4.6 million shells create spectacular murals in a subterranean chamber. Oh, and the Turner Contemporary’s pretty awesome too. 

Don’t miss: Margate’s newest attraction. Margate Caves, an eighteenth-century chalk mine decorated with unusual carvings and paintings, will reopen to the public this summer. The caves have been used as a wine store and an air-raid shelter, and now they’re the seaside’s shadiest spot. 

Get there: One hour 30 minutes by train from London St Pancras to Margate; around two hours by car. 

Broadstairs, Kent
Photograph: Bob Deering/Shutterstock.com

Broadstairs, Kent

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

Why go? Super-cute Broadstairs has something for everyone. On the one hand the 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 romantic Botany Bay. 

Don’t miss: Stark is a very London-y looking restaurant that seats just ten – book in for a fixed six-course tasting menu and await a delicious evening.  

Get there: One hour 40 minutes by train from London St Pancras to Broadstairs; around two hours by car. 

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Aldeburgh, Suffolk

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

Why go? From the high street lined with organic food shops, chi-chi boutiques and upmarket eateries to the pretty beachfront cottages, there’s plenty here for a fantastic day out. Make your trip more magical with a visit to nearby Thorpeness, with its fairytale 70ft house on stilts known as ‘The House in the Clouds’, and Peter Pan-inspired lake to row on a rainbow of brightly coloured boats. 

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: One hour 55 minutes by train from London Liverpool Street Station to Saxmundham, then bus or taxi; around two hours 30 minutes by car. 

Hunstanton, seaside towns

Hunstanton, Norfolk

What’s the vibe? Bracing walks along sweeping coastlines and dramatic sunsets.

Why go? North Norfolk gets all the plaudits when it comes to seaside charm, but easterly Hunstanton easily has the most beautiful sunsets. It also has multicoloured cliffs, lush lavender fields, 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 on Wizzy the Wash monster, a land and water vessel that entertainingly glides across both the waters and the sandbanks.

Get there: One hour 50 minutes by train from London King’s Cross to King’s Lynn, then bus or taxi; around three hours by car. 

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Whitstable - day trips from London 2018
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Whitstable, Kent

What’s the vibe: Chocolate-box seaside town with a modern, indie undercurrent. 

Why go: The Kent coast is dotted with pretty towns, and Whistable is among the best. With its pastel-painted shop fronts, long shingle beach and seaside restaurants selling locally farmed oysters and the freshest seafood, the fishing town is tailor-made for weekend getaways. 

Don’t miss: The Lobster Shack is a charming seafront spot to crack into a fresh lobster or shuck the famous local oysters.

Get there: One hour 30 minutes by train from London Victoria to Whitstable; around two hours by car. 

Deal, Kent

What’s the vibe? Buzzy bars, contemporary crafts and the prettiest pebble beach.

Why go? Smaller than Whitstable and not as much of a hipster honeypot (for now) as Margate, the Kent town somehow manages to combine the best of both towns. Higgledy-piggledy Georgian houses, great food and a thriving creative community make for a special seaside spot. 

Don’t miss: Like a little piece of Bordeaux, Le Pinardier sells impeccably sourced bottles with a side of joie de vivre.

Get there: One hour and 20 minutes by train from St Pancras International; around 2 hours by car.

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Rye, East Sussex

What’s the vibe? A history buff’s dream of winding streets, medieval inns and ancient castles. 

Why go? From the ancient Rye Castle to the twelfth-century St Mary’s Church, Rye has a fascinating history to explore. It’s not as coastal as some of the towns on our list, but urbanites can shake off the city by exploring Rye Nature Reserve – a pretty patchwork of grassland, saltmarsh and woods – or take the very short trip to Camber Sands: it’s so wide and golden you’ll feel like you’re anywhere but the UK. 

Don’t miss: Marveling at Mermaid Street’s storybook charm – it’s all cobbles and wonky half-timbered houses.

Get there: One hour 10 minutes from London St Pancras International to Deal; around two hours by car. 

Hastings Castle
Hastings Castle

Hastings, East Sussex

What’s the vibe? A characterful seaside escape despite a well-worn path from London.

Why go? From William of Normandy in 1066 to eighteenth-century smugglers, people throughout history have flocked like gulls to Hastings. Nowadays it’s Londoners that come to seize freshly caught fish, stroll along the pier and uncover the bubbling creative scene.

Don’t miss: Climb into the carriage of the East Hill Cliff Railway and soar skyward. It’s the steepest funicular railway in Britain, running from Rock-a-Nore at the base of the cliffs to the top of the East Hill.

Get there: One hour 30 minutes by train from London Bridge to Hastings; around 2 hours by car.

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Herne Bay, Kent, UK. Children's entertainment and outdoor eating on the pier
Bob Deering / Shutterstock

Herne Bay, Kent

What’s the vibe? Nostalgic bucket-and-spade jollies.

Why go? Unlike its trendy neighbours, Herne Bay is relatively untouched by the trendy hordes of London. But what it lacks in style it makes up for with unspoilt beaches, charming traditional cafés and a recently jazzed-up pier. 

Don’t miss: The Vintage Empire for outrageous cakes and doorstop sandwiches amidst the kooky retro glamour. 

Get there: One hour 20 minutes by train from London St Pancras International to Herne Bay; around one hour 40 minutes by car.

Southwold, Suffolk

What’s the vibe? All-weather beachy shenanigans with a peerless pier.

Why go? It wouldn’t be a great British day out without a bit of drizzle, and Southwold is perfectly placed for family fun thanks to attractions that function come rain or shine. Scale the steps of the historic lighthouse, pop in to the crafty shops, or marvel at Tim Hunkin’s eccentric Under the Pier Show: an array of funny and baffling coin-operated machines. 

Don’t miss: Set up camp on the sand in front of one of Southwold’s pastel-painted beach huts. You can even rent one for the day, from £40, if you’re feeling flush. 

Get there: Two hours 15 minutes by train from London Liverpool Street Station to Halesworth, then bus or taxi; around 2 hour 40 minutes by car. 

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Worthing West sussex beach

Worthing, West Sussex

What’s the vibe? Beach-boho with arty enclaves. 

Why go? As well as the usual seaside suspects (fish and chips, pier, sandy beach come as standard) there’s a raft of crafty, creative attractions including beachside artist studios, gorgeous art galleries and the Grade II-listed Dome cinema. 

Don’t miss: The rows of quirky vintage stores, cafés and micropubs along Rowlands Road. 

Get there: One hour 20 minutes by train from London Victoria to Worthing; around 2 hours by car.

Lymington town seafront
Colin Burdett / Shutterstock

Lymington, Hampshire

What’s the vibe? A classy, yachty hangout with cobbled streets and proper boozers.

Why go? Lymington’s a refined seaside town with postcard-perfect high streets – but the boat-filled harbour is the main attraction. Get out on the water with one of the town’s sailing experiences, join a chartered fishing excursion or just watch the world go by with a pint from one of the wonky-fronted old pubs. 

Don’t miss: The Lymington Seafood Festival – where more than 90 food traders set up for two days of fishy fun, and live jazz bands provide a sophisticated soundtrack. 

Get there: One hour 55 minutes by train from London Waterloo to Lymington Town; around two hours 30 minutes by car. 

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Cromer beach, Norfolk

Cromer, Norfolk

What’s the vibe? Trad Victorian resort with pockets of forward-thinking foodiness

Why go? The north Norfolk coastal town has a rich history of fisherfolk, lobsters and crabs, and there’s a small pool of restaurants that are paving the way for new food trends in the area: the open-fire cooking and impressive art collection at The Gunton Arms, for example. Head towards the sea and you’ll find an expansive beach dotted with rookpools and some decent surf.  

Don’t miss: The pier: it’s relatively untouched by the usual commercial seaside tat, and boasts a theatre, restaurants and shops. 

Get there: Around three hours 30 minutes by car

 

Ramsgate beach
Photograph: Cally Robin/Shutterstock.com

Ramsgate, Kent

Ramsgate

What’s the vibe? Artsy indies meet massive ’spoons 

Why go? Previously in the shadow of bigger, better established seaside resorts, Ramsgate is now a destination in itself for day-tripping Londoners. Pretty townhouses, lifestyle shops and buzzing restaurants, this coastal town has the lot. Plus it’s home to the Royal Victoria Pavilion, the biggest Wetherspoon’s in the WORLD. Need we say more. 

Don’t miss: Enviably stocked charity and antiques shops: try Petticoat Lane Emporium, Arch 16 Antique Vintage and Retro Junk. 

Get there: One hour 40 minutes from St Pancras International

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Brighton - best day trips from London 2018

Brighton, Sussex

What’s the vibe? Cosmopolitan seaside party playground 

Why go? Brighton’s delightfully kitsch pier is often the first port of call for visitors, but this beachside city has loads more to offer. For a bevy of unique boutiques, cafés and music shops, head to The Lanes. Brighton’s vibrant LGBTQ+ party scene is known the world over, its clubs and bars are always buzzing, and there’s even a dayglo, dinosaur-themed crazy-golf course to be conquered.

Don’t miss: The Lanes are a delightful warren of narrow streets brimming with brilliant independent cafés, record shops, vintage emporiums, book stores and artwork – all housed in pretty eighteenth-century buildings. 

Get there: One hour from London Bridge 

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