We’ve seen the beaches, but what about the towns themselves? These adorable seaside towns – and limitless fresh sea air – will have you feeling restored in no time.
We’re firm believers that everything you need can be found in London, but we’ll begrudgingly concede that picturesque seaside towns are the exception. Luckily, with the coasts of Kent, Essex, and Sussex reachable from the capital in under two hours, a weekend escape to coastal dreamlands awaits you at any of these gorgeous seaside spots.
Kent seaside towns close to London
This adorable town in Kent is just under an hour and a half’s train journey from London and is so quaint, you’ll think you’ve taken a step back into the golden ages. A nice little escape from the hustle and bustle, and it has enough independent coffee shops and stores to make you feel right at home. Oh and they even have a Michelin-approved restaurant, Frog and Scot, which serves up French bistro classics – meaning that on a clear day, you can scoff French food and then catch a glimpse of the French coast.
Say what you want about Margate but if you’re looking for some fresh sea air, nostalgic fairground fun and a large haddock and chips for less than a fiver, then you’ve found your place. Margate’s Old Town is pretty recognisable, but the place is also home to a couple of charming theatres, a Winter Garden, and an annual carnival every August.
So of course there’s the usual seaside fare available in this town, but who can be bothered to sunbathe when there’s cute ice cream parlours such as Morelli’s? Founded in 1932, this fancy ice cream parlour boasts pink leather seating and an oh-so-retro interior. We’re talking alcoholic flavours such as Mojito & Lime and delicious concoctions like Caramel Pecan & French Vanilla. Even before Morelli’s appeared, Broadstairs was tempting the likes of Charles Dickens for a sojourn, and the town celebrates this connection with a Dickens festival every June.
Should you find Broadstairs to be packed on a glorious summer’s day, salvation can be found a short hop down the coast. Ramsgate was one of the seaside towns du jour during the heyday of Victorian bathing holidays, and whilst it’s not quite as high on the bucket list nowadays, there’s more than enough charm to win you over. Cold but clear waters invite a swim, and you can split your time on land between the nostalgic amusement arcades, and exploring the fascinating Ramsgate Tunnels, which housed the town’s residents during The Blitz.
Whitstable is synonymous with one thing above all others: oysters. The town’s famed rock oysters can be sampled year round from any number of restaurants around town, but The Lobster Shack has a reputation for some of the best. Those with an aversion to seafood can still enjoy the town’s charms; settle in for a beachside pint at The Old Neptune pub, take an easy meander around Whitstable harbour, or dive into an eclectic range of independent shops hiding in the town’s backstreets.
Sussex seaside towns near to London
Often dubbed the “new Brighton”, but a lovely town within its own right, Hastings is home to galleries, independent shops, fresh produce and plenty of references to 1066. If you’re a history buff, there’s lots to see in the forms of museums and galleries, along with the moody ruins of Hastings Castle. Equally, if you’re looking for a relaxed day on the seaside, then this is the place for you.
Eastbourne is endlessly charming with its rockpools, seafront walks, rivers, and its handy proximity to the South Downs National Park. There’s quite a large number of things to get up to in Eastbourne – the more adventurous amongst you can strike out on a walk to picturesque nearby Beachy Head – and as it’s only an hour and a half train journey from London, you really have no excuse.
We’re cheating a little bit with this one, as Rye actually lies about two miles upriver from the English Channel. Still, since you can drive to the seaside in about ten minutes, we’re going to sneak this outstandingly cute town onto our list. Much-photographed Mermaid Street seems to have stumbled out of a fairytale, as has its local pub The Mermaid Inn. Nearby Camber Sands is rightfully one of the UK’s best beaches, but we won’t blame you if the endless charms of Rye keep you from seeing it.
Couldn’t really leave this one out, could we? A favourite weekend getaway for Londoners, Brighton lies an hour away by train and offers a wealth of delights, starting with the historic Brighton Palace Pier for cheap thrills and fairground rides. A visit to The Lanes for shopping and a tipple at famed gin bar The Gin Tub (130 gins and counting!) is a must, and you should also catch a peek at the exotic Brighton Pavilion before you hope on the train home. Alternatively, if you plan on staying the night, catching a gig or music night at The Green Door Store is a must – it’s handily placed beneath the train station, for you to stumble bleary-eyed onto a morning train!
Bexhill-on-Sea has a fascinating history, particularly with regards to music. Bob Marley’s first ever UK gig was at the town’s iconic modernist De La Warr Pavilion, and the likes of Elvis Costello and Patti Smith have also played here. The pavilion remains one of the town’s major attractions, a space for art and expression which offers free exhibitions all year round.
Essex seaside towns near to London
In the 1950s and 60s, Clacton was another seaside town enjoying a boom in visitors. Whilst time hasn’t been quite so kind to the town in recent years, huge beaches on Clacton seafront and at nearby Jaywick (pictured) still pull in the visitors. As with any seaside town worth its salt, Clacton Pier offers amusement arcades aplenty, and a pair of historic theatres – Princes Theatre and West Cliff Theatre – provide a steady diet of music, comedy, and theatre.
It’s a case of go big or go home in Southend; the town is home to the longest pleasure pier in the world (a whopping 2.16km in total), which features its own passenger railway. The Sea Life Adventure aquarium and Adventure Island amusement park on the seafront should also provide family-friendly fun if you’re planning a day trip with little ‘uns.
Leigh-on-Sea is technically a district of Southend, but it’s got more than enough going on to warrant a separate day trip. Cobbled streets and small independent shops make a lazy meander the best way to see the town (preferably with an ice-cream in hand), and if you’re visiting in June, be sure to check out Leigh Folk Festival. It’s the UK’s biggest free folk festival, and brings a parade of musicians, storytellers, and poets to the town each summer.
There’s something about Essex and massive piers, because Walton-on-the-Naze is second only to Southend in the “longest pier in England” sweepstakes. It’s far from the town’s only attraction, though, as one could also climb the Tower at the Naze for sweeping views across the Essex countryside and rolling waves. As you may have guessed, the Naze is quite important around here – for those wondering, it’s the peninsula that hugs the coastline north of the town, and is well worth exploring.
15. Mersea Island
Ok, we’re definitely cheating now by listing an entire island, but Mersea is an excellent spot for a day trip, and not just for the colourful beach huts that line the shore. The beaches are excellent, and the island boasts its own vineyard, nature reserve, and oyster fishery. The only peril here is being cut off from the mainland when the tide comes in, so do plan your visit with a little care!
Still feeling that wanderlust? See our guides to picturesque villages near London and the best UK city breaks for more inspiration!
Also published on Medium.