Many of the most popular resort towns had their heyday in the Victorian era, before going out of fashion as the rise of air travel and package deals made sun-drenched European destinations a viable option for much of the population, and vital rail links to the British coast were axed.
However, some of the UK’s best-loved retro favourites are enjoying a welcome resurgence, and i travel is exploring the best of them in its Seaside Break series – here are some of the highlights for your next British seaside break.
On Kent’s Isle of Thanet, Margate “has gone from shabby, has-been to emerging cultural destination”, writes Lesley Gillian here.
It now boasts a new generation of boutique hotels, a boho arts scene -kick-started by the opening of Turner Contemporary a decade ago, and the kind of restaurants that serve borlotti beans and biodynamic wines, as well as proudly declaring itself the gay capital of Kent.
The town retains its more old-fashioned charms for those who yearn for faded heritage – it has a gaudy confection of Vegas-style amusement arcades, funfairs and stripey deck chairs on yellow sands, as well as the UK’s oldest rollercoaster.
However, there are also new boutique hotels such as Fort Road, a smart reinvention of the former Fort Castle Public House, and Selina Margate, from the chain aimed at millennials and Gen Z travellers.
Best-known for a decisive battle on the outskirts of the town almost 1,000 years ago, Hastings had a tourism boom in the mid-19th century but has had an artistic renaissance, writes Joe Short.
Pick up speciality coffees, pastries and nut butters at Maker+Baker, a sourdough bakery launched in lockdown, before walking Hastings Pier, which has won architectural awards since being rebuilt after major storm damage.
The funicular Cliff Railway up West Hill still uses its original Victorian wooden coaches, while atmospheric pubs like The Albion on George Street (established in 1730) sit alongside modern restaurants like Farmyard, whose small plates put sustainability at their core.
Fashionable in the late 19th century, the Isle of Wight resort town of Ventnor remains a popular destination for the bohemian qualities which spawned the local mantra of “Keep Ventnor Weird”, writes Simon Christophers.
Blake’s Longshoremen on the seafront has a free mini museum offering an insight into Ventnor past and present, while the high street is lined with an interesting mix of antiques and curio stores, charity shops and places to eat.
The Spyglass at the end of the prom is perfect for a drink with a large terrace overlooking the sea, and head to the True Food Kitchen for clean global food and Japanese-inspired cocktails.
A popular time to visit is during the annual, award-winning Fringe festival, which runs from 21-30 July in 2023.
Steeped in history, with a touch of Dracula-inspired fantasy too, the Yorkshire harbour town of Whitby is enjoying a renaissance, writes Molly Blackall.
There’s quirky souvenir shopping to be had in the likes of The Little Shop of Wonderful Things and The Bazaar, before fish and chips at eaither Hadleys or The Quayside.
Drinking options at the harbour include the large, bright Abbey Wharf, or The Moon & Sixpence, which has tasteful industrial décor and unusual drinks.
Explore from a base at family-run B&B The Wheeldale or the lovingly restored Georgian House North Ings in nearby Robin Hood’s Bay, which has spectacular views, quaint buildings and a rugged coastline.
While Morecambe might be a little frayed round the edges compared to its 20th century heyday, it ticks all the boxes for any lover of the British seaside , writes William Stewart. And, thanks to a £50m injection of funds from the Eden Project Morecambe initiative, this is a resort on the up.
In the meantime, stay at the sleek white four-star Midland Hotel overlooking the famous Stone Jetty, or the Lothersdale Hotel, a bit further north along the beach, offers the same stupendous views at more affordable prices.
Morecambe is famous for its potted shrimps and the best place to pick up some to take home is Edmondson’s Fresh Fish on Yorkshire Street, before visiting the Bayside Emporium – a fascinating Aladdin’s Cave packed with curiosities.
Take in the famous statue of local hero Eric Morecambe on the sea front, before visting the Aspect Cocktail Bar and Bistro for a Cuba Libre or welcome pint, and enjoying panoramic views and locally sourced classics at The Sun Terrace Restaurant.
On the breath-taking Jurassic Coast in South Dorset, Weymouth is a traditional seaside resort with a historic harbour and one of the best beaches in the country that still draws the tourist crowds, writes Amy Burns.
Eastbourne is a long-standing hit with British holidaymakers, and the myriad of Victorian-era seafront hotels has been boosted by the arrival of the likes of the boutique Port Hotel, writes Connor McGovern.
Walking the South Downs Way and the iconic Seven Sisters cliffs are time-honoured favorites, as is Eastbourne’s recently-refurbished pier – but you can now tuck in to “Brunch on the Beach” courtesy of the West Rocks Beach Club, or midweek beach yoga sessions.
Skylark in Little Chelsea offers a strong seasonally-driven menu, and if you want dinner with a view you can head to Bistrot Pierre for beef bourguignon or a salade niçoise, set right above the beach.
On the northern coast of Northern Ireland, Portstewart became a popular destination for the Victorian middle classes and remains a haven for lovers of the outdoors, writes Jennifer Sterne.
You’re within striking distance of the Giant’s Causeway, the geological wonder that drawn visitors since Susanna Drury painted it in the 18th century, and the coastline offers a range of options for the more active tourist, from the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge to Portrush Surf School.
Its fresh seafood makes Harry’s Shack a perfect lunch spot after a morning on the Portstewart Strand beach, while Portrush’s multi-level Ramore restaurants serve cuisines to suit most tastes and budgets.
North Berwick remains one of the most desirable spots on Scotland’s east coast over a century after soaring to popularity, writes Fiona Laing.
The Marine, a seafront Victorian hotel, has been given an overhaul that cements its status as the place to stay in the town, although the boutique No 12 in the town centre is a more affordable option with a popular bistro.
Nature lovers flock to the the Scottish Seabird Centre, the jewel in the North Berwick crown, which also runs boat trips to the Rock, home to the world’s largest northern gannet colony – it boasts a superb café with the town’s only seaside sundeck.
Eat at The Lawn, where Chris Niven, a Masterchef: The Professionals finalist, has added a new culinary dimension to the town, or the Lobster Shack, the takeaway that kicked off the town’s crustacean fame more than a decade ago.