Why the great British seaside holiday is back for good

When the sun is shining, you simply can’t beat the British seaside. Day trips to the coast have been a British tradition since Victorian times, and despite being nudged out of favour by cheap package holidays to Spain from the 1960s onwards, they are back in fashion.

Holiday lettings agency holidaycottages.co.uk says demand for coastal breaks is up by over 40 per cent on 2020 and there’s no doubt that the renewed popularity – borne largely out of necessity due to travel bans during the pandemic – has resulted in higher-calibre seaside breaks.

Don’t worry, the tried and tested ingredients are still there – we’ll never be too good for buckets and spades and swirls of ice cream topped with flakes, and everybody knows that a day at the seaside is not complete without sitting on the sand with vinegar-soaked newspaper on lap, as you race to gobble down your food before seagulls pounce.

However, now there is a far wider (and better) choice of places to stay for those looking for more than just a day trip, while battered fish is joined on beachside menus by other seafood delicacies, as well as plenty of other homegrown and seasonal produce from local suppliers. Whether you are looking for a nostalgic seaside break this year with all the traditional trimmings, or want to holiday on a beautiful beach away from the crowds, here are some of the best beach breaks to take this summer.

Classic resorts

Fistral Beach, Newquay, Cornwall

Fistral is well known to surfers and there are plenty of opportunities to learn how to join them. Fistral Beach Surf School runs lessons for kids and adults (from £40 for two hours, fistralbeachsurfschool.co.uk), or you can just kick back and watch the experts. If a child-free few days appeals, then check into Fistral Beach Hotel and Spa, which operates an adult-only policy and has stunning beach views from the restaurant and some of the bedrooms (rooms from £105; fistralbeachhotel.co.uk).

Fistral Beach, Cornwall

North Bay, Scarborough

Britain’s original seaside resort still attracts thousands of holidaymakers each year, but while 17th-century visitors came to Scarborough to take the North Yorkshire town’s mineral waters, today’s visitors are more interested in its clean golden sands, amusement arcades and charming, twisting old-town lanes. North Bay beach is slightly less commercialised than South Bay, but still comes with a vast sweep of sand. Opened in 2020, the Bike and Boot Hotel (doubles from £71; bikeandboot.com/scarborough) is dog-friendly and affordable, with a guaranteed warm welcome for muddy boots and sandy surfboards.

Saundersfoot, Pembrokeshire

The postcard-perfect beaches and villages of South Pembrokeshire may get busy, but they are brimming with old-world character and Saundersfoot is no exception. Its wide, sandy beach has everything for a perfect sunny day, with lifeguards from June to September and even an ice-cream van. You can also pick up windbreaks, buckets, spades and beach toys in the lovely harbour village, where there’s a good selection of pubs and shops to break up the day. For a room with a view, check into St Brides Spa Hotel (doubles from £200 B&B; rarebits.co.uk).

Portstewart Strand, Antrim

Backed by 6,000-year-old sand dunes and with a shoreline stretching for two miles, the town of Portstewart has long been a popular spot for Northern Irish residents to descend on for the weekend. Looked after by the National Trust, its beach has Blue Flag status and offers views of the clifftop Mussenden Temple to the west and Inishowen peninsula beyond, making it a great place for a summer’s walk or picnic. At the eastern end of the beach, Harry’s Shack serves locally-brewed beer and fresh seafood. Stay at Me & Mrs Jones (doubles from £212; meandmrsjonesportstewart.com).

West Wittering, West Sussex

Generations of families have visited the uspoiled sands of West Wittering to enjoy views of the South Downs and Chichester Harbour. Its popularity means a belt and braces approach is advised, however: don’t visit by car unless you’ve booked a parking space. Consider taking the Salterns Way cycle path from Chichester town centre. Or rent a beach house: you can book the one-bed Surfer’s Retreat in nearby Bracklesham (from £130 through Boutique Beach; boutiquebeach.co.uk).

West Wittering, West Sussex

Gourmet destinations

Whitstable, Kent

This seaside town has been a fashionable place to visit for a decade or two now, thanks in no small part to its colourful independent shops, beach huts and bubbling food and drink scene. Long before Londoners started moving here in their droves, Whitstable was renowned for its oyster harvesting, so it’s good to see that seafood still features highly on menus. At the Old Neptune (thepubonthebeach.co.uk) it’s almost obligatory to grab a pint and some fish and chips, and sit outside to watch the waves come in. Things are a little more refined at Michelin-starred restaurant the Sportsman (thesportsmanseasalter.co.uk) in Seasalter, with five-course tasting menus on offer. Stay at Hotel Continental, which has rooms from £78 per night (hotelcontinental.co.uk).

Hove, East Sussex

Brighton’s popularity with day-trippers from London every time there’s a hint of sun shows few signs of waning, but everyone knows that Hove is the smart person’s choice when it comes to seaside frivolity in the area. The beach is much quieter for starters and there are the attractions of the nearby Lagoon – a public park that features a boating lake – and the lawns that stretch the length of much of Hove’s seafront. And then there is a choice of excellent eateries, including the Little Fish Market, set a few streets back from the front, which offers a fish-led tasting menu under the watchful eye of chef Duncan Ray, with all fish hand-caught from the British Isles (tasting menu £85, plus £50 wine pairing; thelittlefishmarket.co.uk). The Ginger Pig offers rooms from £120 per night (thegingerpigpub.com).

Little Fish Market in Hove

Credit: Xavier D. Buendia

Porthleven Beach, Cornwall

Home to another one of Cornwall’s many sandy beaches, Porthleven is also rich in maritime and Cornish heritage thanks to its historic harbour. There are lots of good places to eat in the area, but multi-Michelin-winning chef Michael Caines’s the Harbourside Refuge (theharboursiderefuge.co.uk), is one of the best. When you book, ask for a table on the rooftop terrace so you can enjoy sunny seaside views of the boats bobbing below as you tuck into sustainable fish and seafood. To build up an appetite, you might want to start at Praa Sands and walk the coastal path to Porthleven. Stay at the delightful Kota Restaurant with Rooms, which offers doubles from £75 per night (kotarestaurant.co.uk).

The Harbourside Refuge in Portleven


Dornoch Beach, Sutherland

Some of Scotland’s many sandy beaches get all the press, while equally gorgeous ones like Dornoch – which would be flooded with visitors if it was located on England’s south coast – get all but overlooked. Those who do venture here are treated to a clean bathing beach that is within walking distance of the excellent Mara fine-dining restaurant, set within the five-star Links House Hotel (doubles from £374 per night; linkshousedornoch.com), which serves up the best of land and sea with minimal interference.

Torquay, Devon

Torquay has long been associated with good food, but the Elephant (elephantrestaurant.co.uk), overlooking the harbour, is the only Michelin-starred restaurant in the town and has held onto its star since 2005. Chef Simon Hulstone makes the most of the produce he can find locally to create succulent dishes and the best part is that the prices are very far from what you would expect, with the set lunch costing just £25.50 for two courses and £29.50 for three. Stay at Osborne Hotel, with rooms from £66 per night (osborne-torquay.co.uk).

Family favourites

Lulworth Cove, Dorset

A perennial seaside favourite for families, Lulworth on Dorset’s Jurassic Coast is filled with tiny palaeontologists from spring through summer – but whether you are searching for fossils or eating ice cream on the beach, there’s rarely a dull moment. For a chocolate-box-style stay, try the Castle Inn (family rooms from £214; castleinn-lulworth.co.uk), a 16th-century thatched family-friendly inn that houses 12 rooms and has a pleasingly cosy bar and restaurant downstairs.

Lulworth Cove, Dorset

Credit: Hayley Benoit

Hastings, East Sussex

With a (relatively) new pier, deck chairs, safe swimming and lots of cafés and kiosks to keep hungry children happy, Hastings is well suited to family days at the beach. Much of the beach is pebbly, but when the tide goes out some sand is revealed and there are amusements and funfair rides around Pelham Place, though a little less noise and more history can be found in and around the Old Town if you can drag little ones away from the seafront. Stay at the Old Rectory, which offers doubles from £130 per night (theoldrectoryhastings.co.uk).

Hastings, East Sussex

Credit: Hayley Benoit

Staffin Bay, Isle of Skye

England’s south coast wasn’t the only place where dinosaurs once roamed, as a visit to Scotland’s Inner Hebrides will show. Dinosaur footprints can be seen at low tide (if you know where to look) on this small beach on the Trotternish peninsula, one of the most picturesque parts of Skye. Before you visit, stop at the small but very good Staffin Dinosaur Museum (open 10am-5pm daily April to Oct; staffindinosaurmuseum.com). Stay at the Cottage Stein, with rooms from £105 per night (thecottagestein.co.uk).

Watcombe Bay, Isle of Wight

There are more obvious beaches for families to visit on the Isle of Wight, but this one gets our vote as it is only accessible on foot (when the tide is out) or by swimming or kayak, making it appealing for families who want their own space. There are hot-tub-like rockpools to enjoy and some great family-friendly places to stay at Tom’s Eco Lodges on nearby Tapnell Farm, which has safari tents and “modulogs” (camping pods) built into the hillside that sleep up to six – ideal for families – and come with board games and other fun extras (from £368 for two nights; tapnellfarm.com).

Horsey Gap Beach, Norfolk

This beach in East Norfolk is home to a colony of grey seals, which kids big and small will love seeing. Stay at Waxham Sands (grass pitches from £80 for four nights from May; lovatparks.com) behind the dunes and you will get direct beach access. As well as being able to listen to the sea from your tent, you can indulge in some family stargazing as it is a designated dark skies spot. The Nelson’s Head (thenelsonhead.com) near the beach is a traditional pub that is both dog- and family-friendly.

Secret spots

Waulkmill Bay, Orkney

While it may not be much of a secret to locals, this beach in the parish of Orphir, on the main island of Orkney, feels very much like a hidden pearl to visitors lucky enough to find it. Reached down a narrow, easy-to-miss unmarked road, a wildflower meadow gradually reveals a beautiful horseshoe-shaped bay below. Climb down the steep steps and, if you have timed it right for low tide, you will be treated to a vast sandy beach where yours may well be the only footprints and crystal-clear shallow waters. The nearby Foveran is an excellent restaurant with rooms (doubles from £137 per night; thefoveran.com).

Waulkmill Bay, Orkney

Credit: 13threephotography/iStockphoto

Pwllgwaelod, Pembrokeshire

While the allure of South Pembrokeshire is well known, far fewer visitors make their way further round the coast and so the beaches are much quieter. A mix of dark sand and shingle give this beach a wild feel, further enhanced by its elemental Atlantic-facing position. Still, it’s strikingly beautiful and has rock pools to explore and coastal walks to attempt, including access to Cwm yr Eglwys on the other side of Dinas Island. Make sure you pop into the Old Sailors (01348 811486; facebook.com/theoldsailorsdinascross) for a pint or a bite to eat. Stay at Dinas Island Campsite, with pitches from £20 (dinasisland.co.uk).

Embleton Bay, Northumberland

Northumberland has no shortage of expansive sandy beaches, nor castles for that matter, and Embleton Bay – overlooked by Dunstanburgh Castle – boasts both. But what makes this entry secret is not the beach itself, but the covert place to stay nearby. Dunstall Hill is a private campsite just a short walk away, which you can have to yourself, with the owner’s permission, following the ethos of Wild with Consent (wildwithconsent.com), which sources “wild” locations for campervans to stay for the night off-grid, without riling up locals. If you don’t want to cook in the van, book in for dinner at  the Ship Inn, a very good pub at the end of the beach, which has wonderful sea views (shipinnnewton.co.uk).

Embleton Bay, Northumberland

Credit: Graeme Peacock/Alamy Stock Photo

Newtrain Beach, Cornwall

Padstow is certainly no secret, but while most visitors rush to find space on Harlyn Bay or Trevone Bay, those unbothered by a rocky beach should opt instead for quieter Newtrain, which has its own natural swimming pool as well as brilliant rock pools and opportunities for shell-collecting at low tide. Opening this July in Trevone Bay is Atlanta House, a Victorian holiday home offering Hamptons-style beachside luxury and sleeping 6-10 guests (from £1,450 per week; atlantatrevonebay.com) with optional extras such as wild-cooking lessons with chef James Strawbridge, beach horse-riding, and den-building. And, if you’re looking for a sandy beach while you are here, Porthmissen Bay, which lies beneath a natural blowhole, is also nearby.

Tyrella Beach, Downpatrick

Set within a conservation area, this flat, sandy beach, which is over a mile long and backed by 25 hectares of mature dunes, is an important habitat for local fauna and flora, and kept impeccably clean. It is an idyllic spot for picnics and watersports, yet it still feels off the tourist trail, perhaps because there’s not much else around it. Your best bet for dinner after a day at the beach is the Squid Shack in nearby Dundrum (facebook.com/squidshack), and Meelmore Lodge offers rooms from £70 (meelmorelodge.co.uk).

The Cornwall conundrum 

It’s easy to love Cornwall – its natural beauty speaks for itself – but photos of overcrowded beaches and snide comments from locals may have put you off. Don’t let it. It is still possible to find quiet spots if you think smart, heed local advice, and be prepared to work a little harder for it.

Travel at quieter times

We know it’s not always possible, but if you can avoid school holidays (Inset days, anyone?), then you will be amazed at how much quieter things are. Similarly, while it is tempting to only travel to the beach in blazing heat, venture out on a cooler day and you will be wondering where everyone else is.

Stay inland

A seaside break that’s not by the sea? That’s just silly. Well yes, and no. Coastal hotels and campsites are often booked up way in advance, but stay a few miles inland and availability is usually better – plus, you will still be much closer to the coast than if you had stayed at home.

Ditch the car

We’ve all experienced the tailbacks driving into Cornwall, but what if you took the train and then swapped your normal four wheels for two? Think how smug you will feel when you arrive at the beach by bike and watch everyone else scrambling around trying to find a parking space.

Avoid the hotspots

An obvious one, but if you are looking for a quieter beach, then don’t visit Polzeath or Watergate. Ask locals where they like to go. It might not be quite as Instagram-worthy, but this is Cornwall: none of the beaches are ugly. Rather than Sennen Cove, for instance, why not try Porth Nanven – it might not be quite as easy to find, but that’s rather the point, isn’t it?

Porth Nanven, Cornwall

Credit: lleerogers/iStockphoto

Be beach savvy

With so much choice on offer, it can be easy to get bogged down, but keep things simple and you’ll be feeling sand between your toes and planning your next dip in no time:

Choose the right beach for you

Think about what you want from your beach break. There is no point going off the beaten track if you are itching to have a go at the slot machines

Plan where to eat

Whether you have set your heart on a lobster supper or want to try some of the UK’s top-rated fish and chips, do your research and, if needs be, book ahead. At the end of a day in the sun, nothing will dampen the mood quicker than scratching around for somewhere to eat

Plan your activities

If your kids have been nagging you to try surfing or paddleboarding, then don’t leave it to chance – book lessons or hire equipment before you arrive to avoid tantrums

Be shady

Whether you opt to take a long lunch inside during the hottest part of the day, intend to invest in an umbrella, or simply find a spot with some ready-made shade, try not to spend all day in direct sun