The British coast isn’t necessarily the obvious choice for a summer beach holiday, but its charming towns have got plenty of appeal.
Some offer such quirky seaside traditions as donkey rides on the beach and Punch and Judy puppet shows, while others have seafronts with picturesque coloured beach huts and fish and chip shops, faded high-streets with eccentric junk shops and trashy discos.
Elsewhere, regeneration schemes have brought world class sporting and cultural events. Whether you’re looking for kitsch or world class surfing, here’s our guide to the best to get you started:
A lively seaside town with award-winning, litter-free golden beaches and clean waters, Bournemouth is also home to several universities so it’s full of great student-oriented bars, clubs and eateries. The town is also set to become the UK’s leading surfing destination when it becomes home to Europe’s first artificial surf reef just in time for this year’s October swell.
Best beach: Boscombe, where you can launch yourself towards the artificial reef.
Where to stay: Urban Beach Hotel, a sophisticated but cozy boutique hotel with a cocktail bar that mixes chic urban styling with a laidback beach-living attitude, www.urbanbeachhotel.co.uk.
This Cornish town with long stretches of sandy beaches, crystal-clear waters and excellent swell is home to the UK’s most fanatical surfers. Follow the coastline and you’ll find dramatic cliffs, smuggler’s coves and tiny fishing villages.
As befits a surfing town, it’s also known for its party scene, international surf contests and music events throughout the year.
Best beach: Surfers should pose at the sandy Great Western Beach, right at the heart of town.
Where to stay: The two Reef hotels are run by surfers, for surfers. The lodges offer rooms with sea views and ‘60s style furnishings, great bars with live music, a surf school, secure board room and even a wetsuit drying room. Award-winningly clean with dirt-cheap prices; visit www.reefsurflodge.info for more details.
Brighton, East Sussex
The coolest town on the South coast, this famously bohemian place attracts a young party crowd thanks to its dynamic club, bar and gay scenes.
By day you can browse for clothes and music in the independent boutiques in the historic Lanes area, laze on the pebble beach, stroll through the stunning Georgian squares, or marvel at the eccentric Royal Pavilion, an Indian-style palace built in the early 1800s for the flamboyant King George IV. At night check out the huge choice of restaurants, clubs, pubs, music festivals, and arts events.
Best beach: Brighton Beach, a pebble beach with a fantastic pier.
Where to stay: Snooze, a fun, unpretentious guesthouse with kitsch interiors and colourful artwork; www.snoozebrighton.com.
New Quay, Wales
Actresses Sienna Miller and Keira Knightley fell in love with this pretty Welsh town while they were filming The Edge Of Love, a biopic of the life of Wales’ most famous poet, Dylan Thomas.
Not to be confused with Cornwall’s surfing capital, New Quay is an unspoiled town at the heart of sheltered Cardigan Bay in west Wales.
Go fishing off the pretty stone pier, spot the local seals and dolphins, stroll around the harbour and the streets lined with pretty painted houses, dine in fantastic seafood restaurants, and hunt shrimps in the rock pools when the tide goes out.
Best beach: Build a castle of golden sand on New Quay’s award-winning central beach or take the breathtakingly beautiful coastal road round to the wide sandy beach and dunes at Penbryn or the beach at Mwnt, where you’ll find a stunning little whitewashed church.
Where to stay: Ty Mawr Mansion, where the suites have been renamed in honour of guests Miller and Knightley, www.tymawrmansion.co.uk, or try cosy B&B, Craig Y Wig, where you can watch dolphins out of your bedroom window or take a guided sea bass fishing tour, www.craig-y-wig.co.uk.
St. Andrews, Scotland
There are many reasons to visit Scotland — majestic castles, windswept beaches, dramatic landscapes, lively towns and outdoor sports — and St. Andrews on the east coast has them all.
First, there’s the beautiful stretch of sandy beach where the Oscar-winning movie Chariots Of Fire was filmed, and then there’s the castle, dramatically perched on a headland overlooking the sea.
The town is also famous for being the spiritual home of golf, with seven courses including The St. Andrews Royal And Ancient Golf Club which first met here in 1754. It’s also home to Scotland’s oldest university, founded in 1410 and boasting alumni including Prince William.
Lounge on the beach, visit the Botanic Gardens or the St. Andrews aquarium, or explore the Medieval centre of St. Andrews, with its narrow alleys and cobbled streets, the ruined cathedral and the church of St. Regulus whose tower offers an amazing view over the town.
Best beach: West Sands
Where to stay: The Westport, a bar/restaurant with extremely reasonable rates. www.thewestport.co.uk.
For an over-the-top English seaside experience, visit Blackpool, the UK’s biggest seaside resort. What was once a booming resort now retains the most kitsch traditions of British seaside holidays. You’ll find crazy golf, slot machines, sunburned tourists in Union Jack shorts, donkey rides on the beach, outdated comedy acts, the world’s largest mirror ball, gallons of cheap warm beer, firework displays, and pairs of old ladies at the tea dance in the leisure complex under the Blackpool Tower.
There’s a tram that snakes along the promenade, three piers, theatres, ferris wheels and a theme park that boasts some of the tallest and fastest roller coasters in the world.
The town that once boasted more hotel beds than Greece and Portugal combined draws hundreds of conferences, from International Beach Volleyball tournaments, Ballroom dancing contests, gatherings of magicians and annual political party conferences.
In the autumn, the town is lit up by the famous Blackpool Illuminations, a massive show of lights along the seafront.
Best beach: Seven miles of flat sand stretch along the Fylde coast toward St. Chad’s. Hop on the Big Dipper and you’ll get a bird’s eye view of the beach.
Where to stay: Escape the madness at Number One South Beach, an award winning B&B, www.numberonesoutbeach.com.