UK’s best seaside towns: From Margate to Whitby

Tamara Hinson
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UK’s best seaside towns: From Margate to Whitby

Margate’s hosting the Turner Prize, Brighton’s getting a Soho House and Exmouth will soon be home to a new restaurant founded by award-winning chef Michael Caines. Seaside towns have come a long way since kiss-me-quick hats and donkey rides reigned supreme: here are some of the capitals of coastal cool.

Margate

Margate is hosting the Turner prize (Getty/iStock)

The arrival of the Turner Prize at Margate’s Turner Contemporary Gallery isn’t the only thing putting Margate on the map in 2019. We’re just as excited about the reopening of the Albion Rooms, a hotel and studio, this summer. The seafront property – a five-storey Victorian building – is owned by rock band The Libertines, who’ll be performing there on the hotel’s opening night. And rock fans of a different kind will be excited to learn that Margate Caves will reopen later this year, following a lengthy battle to save the site from development. The caves, which first welcomed visitors in 1863, have been closed to the public since 2004, and the revamped site will have a cafe, shop and visitor centre.

Bournemouth

To put it simply, Bournemouth rocks right now. Start any visit with a wander through the hip Triangle area, where the most recent addition is the Upside Down House. This two-storey art installation, described as a zero-gravity illusion experience, will be in situ until June. We won’t spoil the surprise, so check it out yourself – just look for the bright pink house (the one that’s upside down). If you’re spending the night, head to the Boscombe area – the past few months have seen a number of uber-cool hotel openings here. Our favourite is Urban Beach, with its 12 beautifully designed bedrooms and gorgeous cocktail lounge. Equally hip is the Westbourne area, with its delicatessens, cafes and independent boutiques, many of which you’ll find inside a wonderfully gothic shopping arcade built by Henry Joy in 1884.

Plymouth

Ginophiles should head to Plymouth (Getty/iStock)

Plymouth’s the place to be right now. Foodies can satisfy hunger pangs at a recently opened Marco Pierre White’s Steakhouse Bar and Grill or sample the best of the southwest’s cuisine at the annual Flavour Fest, which takes place from 31 May to 2 June. During the event the city centre Piazza is taken over by local and celebrity chefs, and there’s a real ale and wine bar. Another fantastic summer event is Plymouth’s Summer of Outdoor Cinema, from July until September. Head to beautiful waterfront locations such as the grade II-listed Tinside Lido for a packed schedule of films selected by Plymouth Arts Centre. Finally, gin lovers are incredibly well catered for here – the Plymouth Gin distillery is the oldest in the UK, although a more recent opening guaranteed to appeal to gin fans is the brand new Barbican Botanics Gin Room inside a grade II-listed building on New Street. Head here to sample 98 different gins, or book out the 40-person tasting room for special events.

Hastings

Hastings is the latest ‘Shoreditch-on-sea‘ (Getty/iStock)

There’s a reason super-cool Hastings is now referred to as Shoreditch-on-sea. It’s cheaper and less busy than both Brighton and London, and significantly less crowded – but not for long. The town is increasingly popular with culture vultures, who flock to Kino-Teatr, a recently restored arthouse cinema on Norman Road – our favourite bit is the original Victorian ticket booth. Another hot-spot is the Jerwood Gallery, a sleek, black-brick contemporary art museum designed by architects from HAT Projects. The old town is a great place for some retail therapy – head to Roberts Rummage for a wonderful collection of vintage treasures, before enjoying a caffeine fix at the waterfront Love Cafe, with its enormous mural. For overnight stays, check into the Old Rectory, which has a Decleor spa. The hotel has regular collaborations with local artists and designers, too.

Exmouth

Exmouth is getting a revamped waterfront (Getty)

Next year will see the completion of an enormous project which will transform Exmouth’s waterfront. The Exmouth Waterfront project comprises event space and restaurants, including a new bar and cafe from award-winning chef Michael Caines. But then again, Exmouth has always been a hit with foodies, thanks to places like the River Exe Café, which opens between April until September and can be found on a custom-built barge floating just off the Exe Estuary. The town even has its own (free) festival. In 2019 the Exmouth Festival will take place between 25 May and 3 June, with a huge range of entertainment on offer, from jazz acts and rock bands to workshops and stand-up comedy.

Whitby

Whitby’s Dracula associations make it a draw for the ‘velvet pound’ (Getty/iStock)

The growing number of award-winning restaurants opening here has led food critics to dub Whitby “Padstow of the North”. Most recently, Michelin-starred chef Andrew Pern chose Whitby for his latest venture – The Star Inn the Harbour, inside the former tourist information centre. Bookworms will know that Bram Stoker set part of his famous novel Dracula here. Thousands flock here for the twice-yearly Whitby Goth Festival, and the so-called “velvet pound” is hugely appreciated by businesses. This includes the Bats & Broomsticks guesthouse, where guests eat breakfast by candlelight to a soundtrack of the Damned. But it’s not all doom and gloom – spring will see the reopening of Whitby Abbey following a major refurbishment (new additions include a sensory trail and a coffee shop) and the opening of the Museum of Whitby Jet, dedicated to this famous Yorkshire gemstone.