15 of the UK's best seaside towns

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With no shortage of coastline, the UK has no shortage of coastal towns either. Up until Victorian times these habitations by the sea were largely regarded with disdain, after all they were damp, windy and worst still, often sandy!

All that changed with the notion that sea air might well be good for you and bathing in it could do wonders for your health. Britain's seaside towns became the new spa towns and we haven't looked back since.

So what makes the best seaside town? To some extent this is different for everyone. There are the traditionalists who couldn't be happier than when eating fish and chips on the pier whilst fending off pesky seagulls. Then there is the more demanding type who wants something more than sand and sea - quirky cafes, boutique hotels and a bit of culture thrown in.

The great news is the we have them all. So read on to find the best seaside towns in the UK.

Southwold, Suffolk

Southwold - Suffolk

Southwold is the quintessential English beach town that exudes a timeless charm. Set on the remote Suffolk coast this little town has managed to preserve its traditional appeal whilst not feeling like a throwback.

The Southwold beachfront is the British seaside personified; the sandy shingle is lined with colourful beach huts which lead to the resorts crowning glory, the beautifully preserved Victorian pier where vintage arcade games and quirky boutiques await.

The coastal charms don't end here either as there is a fine 19th century lighthouse that offers panoramic views of the North Sea to those willing to climb the spiral stairs. And with plenty of eating options – from seafood shacks to cosy tearooms – the towns appeal go beyond the beach.

Southwold's charms have not gone unnoticed with the town being the location for the BBC's children's favourite "Grandpa in my Pocket".

Tenby, Pembrokeshire

Tenby, Wales

Perched on the Pembrokeshire coastline, Tenby is a Welsh seaside haven that charms visitors with its fantastic beaches and historic appeal. This charming town boasts quaint pastel-colored Georgian houses that line cobbled streets, all set within Norman stone walls.

Called Dinbych-y-Pysgod in Welsh, which translates to "Little Fortress of the Fish", Tenby is still home to a working harbour. Towering above the harbour are the remains of the 13th century clifftop castle, whilst on the island just offshore is the equally impressive St Catherine's Fortress.

Tenby's four stunning beaches are the main attraction; with golden sands, clear waters, and safe bathing these are some of the best family beaches in Wales, and worthy holders of Blue Flag awards.

Not only is Tenby a great place to stay, it is also the perfect base to explore the rest of the stunning Pembrokeshire coast.

Margate, Kent

Margate, Kent© Antony Stanley | BY-SA

While many British seaside towns have hung on to their past and faded into obscurity and decay, Margate has dragged itself into the 21st century. Managing to preserve the best of what it already had and healthy does of regeneration the town is now considered the coolest spot on the Kent coast.

At the heart of Margate's revival is the iconic Turner Contemporary art gallery, occupying pride of place overlooking the town's harbour. On the traditional end of the spectrum is the recently reopened Dreamland amusement park providing old school seaside fun,

The Old Town also reflects this rejuvenation. You will still find quaint shops and pretty squares but there are also galleries and hip cafes, yet no shortage of traditional fish and chips.

Of course the town's broad sandy beach is still one of the main attractions and with great transport connections this is one of the easiest spots on the coast to reach from London.

Portmeirion, Gwynedd

Portmeirion, Wales

Tucked away on the wooded banks of the Dwyryd Estuary, on the edge of Snowdonia National Park, this is not really where you would expect to find an Italianate village. Portmeirion is a whimsical blend of Mediterranean aesthetics and Welsh coastal scenery, the result of which will not fail to impress.

The work of architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, the fantastical village is testament to his vision of harmonizing nature and man-made beauty. Set among the cobbled streets, terracotta roofs and lush gardens are numerous architectural flourishes. Grand porticoes, ornate towers and cupolas abound in a range of bright pastel colours.

Visitors can wander through ornate gardens, enjoy a choice of cafes, and explore the village's unique shops. And unlike Patrick McGoohan, "Number 6" in the cult 60s TV series, The Prisoner, you can go home at the end of the day!

Tynemouth, Tyne & Wear

Tynemouth© Arseni Mourzenko | BY-SA

Set at (you guessed it) the mouth of the River Tyne, this North East seaside town may come as a surprise to some. Located less than half an hour from the city of Newcastle, Tynemouth ticks all the boxes; sandy beaches, seafood dining, plenty of history and some great surf spots. Admittedly the weather rarely feels Mediterranean up here but we feel the town's charms more than make up for this.

There are three sandy beaches in Tynemouth, and plenty more just up the coast. For surfers, the aptly named Longsands has the best waves whilst for everyone else the more sheltered King Edward's Bay is a great spot. Overlooked by the ruins of Tynemouth Priory the beach is also home to a popular seafood shack.

St Ives, Cornwall

St Ives, Cornwall

On its day St Ives, in the far west of Cornwall, could top any list of seaside towns, anywhere. Sadly those days are fewer and further between owing to relentless overtourism. Whilst the town still retains much of its intrinsic appeal it becomes almost unbearably busy during the summer months.

Now we have the negatives out of the way there are plenty of good points, starting with the beaches. There are five or six beaches in the town, depending on who you ask – all of these are wonderful with pale golden sand and clear, azure water. Each has its own character from the surf beach of Porthmeor to the foodies favourite of Porthminster.

Even if you're not a fan of beaches (!!!) St Ives has oodles to offer. A jumble of cobbled streets lined with quaint whitewashed cottages, galleries, and boutique shops the town really does justify the picture postcard label. With its rich artistic tradition and some fine eateries you won't have any trouble finding something of interest.

Salcombe, Devon

Salcombe, Devon

It is probably no coincidence that the most expensive seaside town in the UK has made it onto our list. With the average house price in excess of an eye-watering £1.2 million it seems some people think there is something special about Salcombe. We would tend to agree, although it is a little out of our price range!

The main attraction of Salcombe is its location clinging to the steep side of the picturesque Kingsbridge Estuary and backed by the bucolic rolling hills of the South Hams. Steep streets wind their way down to the quayside, lined with pastel-coloured houses. It is easy to while away the time perusing the boutique shops, art galleries and numerous cafes.

Life in Salcombe revolves around the water and there is a big yacht scene here. However the estuary is equally good for exploring on smaller craft such as kayaks or paddleboards. There are some fantastic sandy beaches in and around Salcombe with the very best, such as Mill Bay and East Portlemouth, facing the town on the opposite side of the water.

Brighton, East Sussex


Whilst many a Victorian seaside resort town has seen its fortunes go south, the story couldn't be more different for the grandest of them all, Brighton. Much of the town's (or city's) prosperity can be attributed to its proximity to London with the A23 and good rail links making it a quick hop from the capital.

Brighton has all the seaside prerequisites ticked off; long (albeit pebbly) beach, the iconic Palace Pier, miles of promenade and all the ice cream / fish & chips you could eat. But Brighton has way more to offer than just bucket and spade based fun.

Significantly bigger than any of the other seaside towns on this list Brighton is more or less a city by the sea. But unlike Britain's other coastal cities the town was not built around industry and shipping. Instead you will find elegant hotels, gardens and some very well known attractions. Most notable among these are the Royal Pavilion, Grand Hotel, Palace Pier and to some extent the West Pier.

Brighton is also regarded as one of the hippest and trendiest spots on the UK coast. You don't have to go far from the beach to find the boho quarter known as The Lane. This vibrant and colourful neighbourhood is chock full of groovy cafes and shops selling all manner of things you probably didn't know you needed!

Ilfracombe, North Devon

Ilfracombe, Devon

North Devon is well known for its fine sandy beaches and great surf. Yet despite not looking that far from anywhere on a map it seems to take forever to get here. This goes some way to explaining why this rural region has something of an old fashioned feel to it.

To some extent this holds true for the old harbour town of Ilfracombe. Set around a picturesque natural haven among the rugged and towering North Devon cliffs, the town grew into a Victorian resort with rows of balconied guesthouses and some fine villas.

However, Ilfracombe also has something of a contemporary twist. The Landmark Theatre with its iconic twin chimneys could well be described as not everybody's cup of tea. But it is the 66ft tall Damian Hirst sculpture of a pregnant lady wielding a sword over the quayside that has really underscored this seaside town's renaissance. Combine all this with a host of award-winning restaurants and you can see why Ilfracombe is a stand out in North Devon.

There are a few beaches in and around Ilfracombe, most notably Tunnels Beach. Although these aren't the best beaches in the area Woolacombe is only a quick hop along the coast.

Tobermory, Isle of Mull

Tobermory, Isle of Mull

Another one for fans of children's television shows, Tobermory is instantly recognizable to a generation as "Balamory". It isn't hard to see why the little town was chosen with its brightly-coloured harbourfront houses. And if that wasn't enough, my sources reliably inform me the town was named after one of the Wombles!

But there is more to the Isle of Mull's main town than kid's TV programs. For starters it is home to the Tobermory Distillery with its rich history of producing fine malt whisky.

Looking out over the calm waters of the Sound of Mull to the Grampian Mountains beyond, Tobermory's location is idyllic, although you will only find the most modest of beaches here. In the summer the sheltered bay is a popular stopover for the yachting set which in turn supports a healthy selection of harbourside pubs and restaurants.

The waters off Mull are also teeming with wildlife. There are a range of boat trips from Tobermory taking visitors out to spot puffins, dolphins, basking sharks and even whales.

Weymouth, Dorset

Weymouth, Dorset

The bustling coastal town of Dorset is one of only a handful of seaside towns on the list that seem to thrive both as a resort and as a working town. One explanation for this is that Weymouth has a rich maritime history that predates the heyday of the Great British seaside resort.

The town grew up around its Old Harbour at the mouth of the River Wey which by Elizabethan times was a major trading port. However, Weymouth's heritage as a resort town also goes back further than most. In fact it is said that the British fascination with sea bathing started here when King George III took a dip. Whilst the health-giving properties of sea air seem to have eluded the mad king the English seaside resort was born.

Today Weymouth's Blue Flag beach is still front and centre. Overlooked by a clutch of imposing Georgian hotels the beach here really is a gem. A wide, curving stretch of golden sand, families are still well catered for here and traditional fun abounds. Deckchairs, beach huts, amusement arcades and even donkey rides are still the staple on Weymouth Beach.

Whitby, North Yorkshire

Whitby, North Yorkshire

With its dark literary credentials, bustling 16th century harbour, surfing beaches and charming streets Whitby attracts a diverse collection of visitors. Straddling the River Esk as it empties into the North Sea this really is a town with "something for everyone".

Much of Whitby's fame stems from Bram Stoker's 1897 novel, Dracula. It is said that Stoker was not only inspired by the eerily beautiful ruins of the 7th century abbey but by local tales and a book he found in the local library. This is not Whitby's only historic claim though, for this is the harbour where Captain Cook learnt his trade.

Whitby is a lovely little town to spend some time wandering the cobbled streets. Beyond the quayside are a veritable warren of streets with the east side of the river possibly winning in terms of quaintness while the west side is a touch grander.

Aldeburgh, Suffolk

Aldeburgh, Suffolk

Not sure if anyone was expecting another entry from Suffolk but it was impossible to deny Aldeburgh a place on our list. Located just 30 minutes from our other East Anglian gem, Southwold.

Instantly recognisable by the row of pastel-hued 19th century villas that practically sit on the pebbles of the beach, Aldeburgh offers a tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle of 21st century life. Some things haven't changed in the town and the small local fishing fleet still use the beach in front of the town to land their catch.

Talking about fish, Aldeburgh is home to not one, but two award winning chippys one of which was even named best in the country by Tripadvisor reviewers.

Aldeburgh also boasts a vibrant arts scene, with the Aldeburgh Music Festival drawing music enthusiasts from afar. Much of this stems from the town's association with Benjamin Britten who founded the festival. As well as being Britten's place of rest you will find another reminder of the musician on Aldeburgh beach, the stunning 4 metre high 'Scallop' sculpture.

In recent years Aldeburgh as been dubbed as "London-on-Sea" by some as it can easily be reached by train in less than 2 hours. Whilst this may have a few positives it seems many a seaside town has become a victim of its own popularity over the years with locals edged out as homes become rentals or second homes.