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The best seaside towns to visit near London

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

Written by
Lucy Lovell
,
Time Out editors
&
Alexandra Sims
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When the sun shines, it’s a tradition in London to immediately seek out the nearest beer gardens 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. 

Day trips and domestic holidays are back on the cards now that overnight stays are allowed in self-contained accommodation (including Airbnbs and campsites). 

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.

And for adventures further afield, check out our comprehensive guide to the UK’s best and coolest seaside towns.

Please note: Some facilities and businesses in the towns and villages we mention may be closed when you visit. Always be mindful of the people who live locally, check whether car parks are open before you set off, and adhere to social-distancing and mask-wearing guidelines while visiting. 

RECOMMENDED: The best beaches near London

16 seaside towns near London

Manningtree, Essex
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Manningtree, Essex

What’s the vibe? A classy, historic hangout with winding ancient streets and a forward-thinking foodie scene.

Why go? Manningtree is thought to be the smallest town in England, but don’t let its size fool you. Steeped in history, its Georgian high streets have hardly changed since they were built and, even further back, it's famous for its links to gruesome witch hunts. Nowadays, the time-worn streets are peppered with independent shops and eateries, like Townsends bookshop, Italian bistro Lucca Enoteca, and record and natural wine shop Winyl, as well as arty spots like North House Gallery. 

Don’t miss Sprawled over 60 acres, Wrabness Nature Reserve is a charming patch of green with stunning views over the Stour Estuary. Follow the coastline through the reserve and up to Wrabness where you’ll find Grayson Perry’s ‘House for Essex’. 

Get there One hour by train from Liverpool Street station; two hours by car.

Walton-on-the Naze, Essex
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Walton-on-the Naze, Essex

What’s the vibe? Laidback wildlife haven lined with golden sandy beaches. 

Why go? If gaudy amusements aren’t your thing, this quiet town is a rustic seaside paradise. Think unpretentious cafs and tea shops, bric-à-brac emporiums, and colourful beach huts. While there’s not much in the way of entertainment - Naze Tower, a historic 86ft-tall cylinder with a small art gallery and museum is about it in the way of culture - nature’s the real draw here. Unspoiled headland The Naze is a wildlife haven, cliffs crumble away to reveal a treasure trove of fossils, and the backwaters around the estuary are ribboned with scenic walking trails. 

Don’t miss Hop onboard one of the regular wildlife boat trips. Guided by experts, it’s a chance to spot the resident seal population. 

Get there Two hours and 10 minutes by train from Liverpool Street Station; Around two hours by car. 

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What’s the vibe? Nostalgic seaside fun with an arty undercurrent.

Why go? Essex’s finest offers unbeatable seaside fare, from amusements and fairgrounds to ice-cream parlour Tomassi’s (which does the kind of towering, cream-topped and cherry-studded sugar bombs that are all too rare in twenty-first-century society) and old school chippies. But you’ll also find a new breed of ambitious seasonal eateries, like Aurum and The Pipe of Port. Plus, like Margate before it, a new arty set is bringing culture here in spades. Head to Focal Point Gallery for cutting edge exhibitions, or arts organisation Metal Culture’s annual Village Green festival.

Don’t miss At over one mile long, Southend is home to the world's longest pier. Stroll down to the restored Pier Head to see the ships coming in and out of the estuary, stopping by the cafe, sun deck, gift shop, and exhibition space on the way. 

Get there One hour and 15 minutes by train from London Liverpool Street; just under two hours by car. 

Leigh-on-Sea, Essex
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Leigh-on-Sea, Essex

What’s the vibe? Tiny, sweet and quintessentially English. 

Why go? Old Leigh’s main street is lined with cheerful cafés, a gallery, a pottery studio, a couple of restaurants and plenty of pubs. Just around the corner on the seafront are cockle sheds, working boats and passing tankers out at sea. At the west end, a tiny sandy beach gives way to a muddy gulch when the tide goes out – kids love it, but parents might want to take some spare clothes and a plastic bag for the journey home. 

Don’t miss Old Leigh Regatta in September provides excitement in the form of boating events, traditional greasy pole, pillow fighting and cockle-eating competitions.

Get there Just under fifty minutes by train from Fenchurch Street station; Around two hours by car. 

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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. Reopening April 12. 

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

Herne Bay, Kent
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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.

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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, is currently closed but will hopefully be reopening 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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Ramsgate, Kent
Photograph: Cally Robin/Shutterstock.com

Ramsgate, Kent

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 and Arch 16 Antique Vintage and Retro Junk. 

Get there: One hour 40 minutes from St Pancras International

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. Reopening April 12. Advance booking recommended. 

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

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Folkestone, Kent
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Folkestone, Kent

What’s the vibe? A former seaport that’s way cooler than you think.

Why go? For almost 15 years now, Folkestone has been trying its damnedest to shed its image as a dreary Channel ferry port. An art triennial? Sure! The founding of an official Creative Quarter up the steep and curvy Old High Street? Yes, please! Nowadays the old Harbour Arm hosts street food stalls instead of cross-Channel hulks, and there are multiple actually-very-trendy restaurants. Add in the longer established pleasures of the massive Leas coastal park and one of the south coast’s few sandy beaches (even if the latter vanishes at high tide) and you’ve got yourself a real sleeper hit of a seaside town.

Don’t miss A glass of champers from the converted lighthouse at the end of the Harbour Arm. Look out for dolphins! 

Get there Around an hour by train from London St Pancras; Two hours by car. 

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. 

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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.

Eastbourne, East Sussex
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Eastbourne, East Sussex

What’s the vibe? Old school seaside glamour meets cutting-edge culture.

Why go? All the classics are here: a trad Victorian pier, retro arcades, Victorian Tea Rooms, ice cream parlour and a handsome pebble beach. But, in recent years a burgeoning art scene has run through the town. Printers Playhouse opened in 2015 and plays host to comedy nights, live music from local bands and cutting-edge theatre. While, Little Chelsea is filled with craft shops, cafes and an antiques emporium.

Don’t miss: Rainbow-coloured arts centre Towner Gallery holds collections by Grayson Perry, Wolfgang Tillmans and Eric Ravilious, and also puts on indie film screenings and creative workshops. 

Get there One hour and twenty minutes by train from London Victoria; Two hours and twenty minutes by car.

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Brighton, Sussex

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 

Worthing, West Sussex

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.

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