All Articles 8 seaside towns in the U.K. for coastal getaways

8 seaside towns in the U.K. for coastal getaways

One word: puffins.

Nicholas DeRenzo
By Nicholas DeRenzo5 Apr 2023 6 minutes read
Aerial view of Whitby Abbey in Whitby, England
Aerial view of Whitby Abbey in Whitby, England
Image: Magnus Evershed/Getty Images

Think of a coastal town in the United Kingdom and your brain might immediately conjure images of seagulls hovering over a fish and chip shop and candy-colored changing huts huddled along the sand. But those are only some of the things you’d find in the hundreds of seaside villages dotting the rugged coastlines of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Depending on which hamlet you choose, you’ll find yourself communing with puffins, sipping single-malt at a centuries-old distillery, learning how to surf, or taking in cutting-edge contemporary art. Here, eight of our favorites for a dreamy holiday by the sea.

Margate, England

So many of East London’s cool kids have decamped to this Kent resort town that Margate earned the cheeky nickname “Shoreditch-on-Sea.” About two hours by train east of the capital, Margate may not immediately seem like the kind of place that would attract the indie rocker and hipster chef set: Its retro Dreamland Margate amusement park and kitschy Shell Grotto, a subterranean passageway covered in more than 4.6 million seashells, are more suited for a family holiday. But this corner of Kent has actually been on the radar of artists for centuries. In fact, J. M. W. Turner once said that the skies in these parts are “the loveliest in all of Europe,” and he often included Margate locations in his landscapes. The Turner Contemporary, an art gallery designed by famed architect Sir David Chipperfield, opened its doors in 2011, and last year, a team of creatives transformed an 1820 guesthouse next door into the Fort Road Hotel.

North Berwick, Scotland

Puffins off the coast of North Berwick, Scotland
Puffins off the coast of North Berwick, Scotland
Image: Olga Tarasyuk/Getty Images

Birders flock in droves to the rugged coast of North Berwick, which is home to the renowned Scottish Seabird Centre. Though it’s only about a half-hour train ride from Edinburgh, this stretch of coastline along the Firth of Forth can feel rather wild, attracting Atlantic puffins, razorbills, guillemots, and storm petrels. To get an up close and personal view, you can also book a boat tour to Bass Rock, which boasts the world’s largest colony of Northern gannets, cousins of blue-footed boobies.

Travelers say: "The Scottish Seabird Centre feels like a hidden gem. This was my first trip to Scotland and I was so glad I took the time to do the Isle of May boat trip. Guides were knowledgeable, casual, and fun. Our guide offered an optional tour of a little bit of the island, which I thought was definitely worth doing within your two-hour timeframe. …It is not hard to see the birds at all—they are everywhere!" —@Jenrud31

If you prefer birdies of a different kind, the town is also home to the North Berwick Golf Club, which was founded in 1832 and is reputed to be among the oldest courses in the world. Recently, the Marine North Berwick hotel opened in a restored Victorian landmark, complete with views out over the West Links course and an elegant dining room called The Lawn, where you can sample Highland venison with black pudding and Loch Etive sea trout.

Tenby, Wales

Coastal villages don’t come much prettier than Tenby, which sits along the 186-mile-long Pembrokeshire Coast Path in southwestern Wales. Squint and its gold sand beaches, pastel Georgian houses, and 13th-century stone walls almost call to mind the Amalfi Coast. The hamlet’s Welsh name, Dinbych-y-Pysgod, means “Little Fortress of the Fish,” a reference to the castle ruins that loom over the harbor and date back to the Norman Invasion. For something a bit more modern, you can sample the locally made ales at Tenby Brewing Co. and Harbour Brewery Tenby or the fresh Malaysian cooking at Nora’s Kitchen, where their jarred rendang curry pastes make for the perfect souvenir. As a home base, you can’t beat The Billycan, which occupies the former British Legion Club and triples as a bar, a restaurant, and a boutique hotel.

St. Ives, England

Aerial view of sandy beach in St. Ives, England
Aerial view of sandy beach in St. Ives, England
Image: Ben Pipe Photography/Getty Images

Following the decline of its fishing industry, Cornwall’s many coastal communities have had to reinvent themselves, with St. Ives emerging as a cultural powerhouse. The Tate St. Ives, an outpost of the venerated London art institution, showcases works by artists with personal ties to the region, including sculptor Barbara Hepworth, whose nearby studio and home has also been preserved as a popular museum and sculpture garden.

One of the sunniest spots in the U.K., St. Ives is also a favorite among beachgoers, and the St. Ives Surf School gives visitors a whole different view of the coastline; if you’re not quite ready to hang 10, the school also leads tours in coasteering, a sport that involves exploring the rocky coastline and its many gullies and caves by swimming, climbing, and jumping. Celebrate your day of adventure with a gin and tonic at the St. Ives Liquor Co., where the spirit is made with foraged botanicals like bladderwrack seaweed and gorse, a clifftop flower that gives the gin its trademark golden hue. Hidden away on a winding side street, the six-room Trevose Harbour House showcases a smart navy-and-white palette that nods to the sea without ever devolving into nautical cliches.

Oban, Scotland

In most British coastal settlements, you’re never more than a spud’s throw from a fish and chip shop, but Oban—which takes its name from the Gaelic word for “little bay”—is so blessed by the spoils of the surrounding waters that it earned the nickname “the seafood capital of Scotland.” The area’s bracingly chilly inlets teem with langoustines, lobsters, oysters, scallops, and mussels, which can be enjoyed in restaurants like the Michelin-recommended Etive and the tartan-carpeted dining room at The Manor House Hotel Oban, which occupies the 1780 Georgian estate of the 5th Duke of Argyll. Also dating back to the 18th century: The Oban Distillery, one of the smallest in Scotland, celebrated for its Highland-style single-malt whiskey.

Travelers say: “David, our immensely knowledgeable sommelier and waiter [at Etive], was able to tell us all about the food and its provenance, as well as the wine. …The wild halibut with the roasted cauliflower, kale, and a smoked haddock sauce was perfection and the loin of venison was a pick-up-your-plate-to-lick-it-clean moment! The whiskey ice cream followed by the apple soufflé was the perfect ending to an amazing dining experience.” —@emmalF9054GU

Looming over it all is McCaig’s Tower, a hilltop folly built in 1897 that looks a bit like the Colosseum. From up here, you’ll see why Oban enjoys a reputation as a gateway to the isles: The horizon is littered with a near-constant flurry of ferries heading to the Inner Hebrides.

Lyme Regis, England

Fossil hunters on the Jurassic Coast in Lyme Regis, England
Fossil hunters on the Jurassic Coast in Lyme Regis, England
Image: Goldfinch4ever/Getty Images

The UNESCO-designated Jurassic Coast is home to some of the richest marine fossil deposits in the world, and among the first people to explore its treasures was the groundbreaking paleontologist Mary Anning, who Kate Winslet portrayed in the 2020 biopic Ammonite. Anning’s Dorset hometown of Lyme Regis remains a must-visit destination for science nerds of all stripes, thanks to the incredible Lyme Regis Philpot Museum, which offers fossil-hunting walks so you can take home your own little piece of prehistory. Anning looms large in these parts: The church where she was baptized in 1799 now houses the Dinosaurland Fossil Museum, and Black Ven, the cliffs where she found her first ichthyosaur skeleton in 1811, lend their name to the porter at the Lyme Regis Brewery.

Strangford, Northern Ireland

Strangford, in Northern Ireland’s County Down, sits at the mouth of the Strangford Lough, one of three Marine Nature Reserves in the U.K. and home to common seals and gargantuan basking sharks—the second-biggest fish after whale sharks. On land, Strangford is home to the recently renovated guesthouse and restaurant The Cuan, which takes its name from the lough’s Viking-era moniker, and the “two-faced” Castle Ward, an 18th-century mansion with one neo-Gothic facade and one classical Palladian facade—not to mention a clock tower that served as a backdrop for Winterfell in Game of Thrones. You’ll get a similar two-for-one deal from the area as a whole: Strangford sits at the narrowest point on the lough, meaning you can take a ferry across to the other side in under 10 minutes to explore charming Portaferry and the Exploris Aquarium, Northern Ireland’s only aquarium and seal rehabilitation center.

Whitby, England

Rooftops of Whitby Abbey by sea and steps
Rooftops of Whitby Abbey by sea and steps
Image: John Dowle/Getty Images

When the sun’s out and the sky’s blue, Whitby looks every bit as inviting as your average seaside getaway. But this North Yorkshire fishing village hides a darker side: The ruins of the 11th-century Whitby Abbey helped inspire Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and a semi-precious stone called Whitby jet, which is mined from area cliffs, has been associated with mourning jewelry since the death of Prince Albert in 1861. Follow Queen Victoria’s lead and buy pieces of your own at the Whitby Jet Heritage Centre or learn about how the stone is processed at the W. Hamond Museum of Whitby Jet. And remember: The jewelry makes for an excellent addition to your all-black ensemble if you’re here for April’s annual Whitby Goth Weekend, the country’s largest goth musical festival.

Also dark as midnight are the soot-blackened walls at Fortune’s Kippers, where herring, haddock, salmon, and bacon are smoked over oak and beech wood as they have been since 1872. When it’s time to sleep, soak up the whimsy at La Rosa Hotel, a fantastical guesthouse that was once a favorite of Lewis Carroll’s; the property has nine themed rooms, including the Western-tinged Saloon, the Moroccan-accented Arabesque, and the Stoker, which includes a framed taxidermy bat.

Nicholas DeRenzo
Nicholas DeRenzo is a freelance travel and culture writer based in Brooklyn. A graduate of NYU's Cultural Reporting and Criticism program, he worked as an editor at Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel and, most recently, as executive editor at Hemispheres, the in-flight magazine of United Airlines. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, New York, Travel + Leisure, Condé Nast Traveler, Afar, BBC Travel, Wine Enthusiast, and more. Follow him on Instagram at @nderenzo to see his many, many pictures of birds.