From London, it’s easy to hop on a train for a taste of the sea. Our round-up of seaside day trips explores the highlights of the south-east English coast, from sandy beaches and Victorian piers to thought-provoking artworks and delectable coastal cuisine. What’s more, it’s all just 90 minutes or less by train from the capital.
Start a trip to the south coast city of Brighton with a 15-minute walk to the Royal Pavilion, which was first built as a pleasure palace for King George IV more than 200 years ago. After taking in its mix of Regency and Indo-Gothic architecture, browse the diverse works on show at the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, found in the Royal Pavilion Gardens.
Foodies can tuck into traditional fish and chips on the seafront for lunch, before enjoying the rides and amusements at Brighton Palace Pier. Or take in the views from 450 feet up aboard the British Airways i360 – venture even higher with a Tower Top Climb or look out for events including yoga sessions and sky dining. Spend the afternoon in the world’s oldest operating aquarium at SEALIFE Brighton or stroll the independent shops and coffee houses of The Lanes. Discover everything from chic boutiques to hand-crafted jewellery and antiques, as well as small galleries and designer fashion.
For a spot of evening fine dining, try etch., a 12-table tasting menu restaurant from Masterchef: The Professionals winner Stephen Edwards. Alternatively, sample a menu packed with meat, fish and vegetarian options at the Coal Shed Brighton, all centred around its specially imported coal-fired Josper grill.
If staying for more than a day, hire a bicycle from the BTN BikeShare scheme for a slow cycle along the Undercliff Path from Brighton Marina to the village of Saltdean. Alternatively, a more strenuous route takes you into the striking greenery of the South Downs National Park for views of Devil’s Dyke and an abundance of wildlife. Glide past the city sights on a guided cycling tour, or for a more relaxed walking option, join Piers and Queers, a journey through the city’s LGBTQ+ history.
Getting here: Direct trains from London Bridge and Victoria take 60 minutes.
Places to stay: The city has a range of different accommodation options to suit all budgets, some of which can be viewed at Visit Brighton, including:
The Grand Brighton: located on the city’s seafront, the hotel first opened in 1864 and houses 201 lavish rooms, as well as its own Cyan Restaurant, terrace grill and bar.
Artist Residence Brighton: this quirky boutique townhouse features 24 individually designed rooms which mix eccentricity and creativity.
Margate’s sandy beach and seafront provides a taste of traditional seaside Britain, but the town on Kent’s northern coast is also awash with popular cafes, retro shops and vibrant independent stores. Take in the region’s artistic past by browsing the ever-changing exhibitions on show at the Turner Contemporary, join a free exhibition walking tour that runs daily for a unique insight into the creative pieces. Or immerse yourself in the mysteries of the Shell Grotto, a captivating subterranean complex first discovered in 1835. Covered with 4.6 million shells, its exact origins remain unknown.
Head into Margate’s Old Town for eclectic art at the Pie Factory, or tuck into tasty food from pop up stalls at Old Kent Margate, also home to crafts, cocktails and craft beer. Spend the afternoon enjoying the fun of the fair at Dreamland Margate. A new addition to its vintage ride collection is a lovingly restored Ghost Train, joining other classics including the Waltzer and Gallopers.
For dinner, Angela’s of Margate features a menu packed with ethically sourced seafood and vegetarian dishes, while Buoy and Oyster puts the focus on some of the best meat and seafood that the region has to offer. Alternatively, visitors can enjoy dining with a view at Waverly House.
If you have more time in Margate, explore the Dicken’s and Turner Trail, a four-mile accessible walking route linking the Turner Contemporary Gallery with Broadstairs, a popular holiday haunt of writer Charles Dickens. Colourful mosaics document the pair’s connections with the region along the route, while regular buses operate between the two locations for those not wishing to walk both ways. Or venture north along the coast to discover the golden sands, rock pools and chalk stacks of Botany Bay.
Getting here: Direct trains from St Pancras International and Victoria take 90 minutes to two hours.
Places to stay: A selection of places to stay in Margate, Broadgate and Ramsgate can be found at Visit Thanet, including:
The Walpole Bay Hotel: first opened in 1914, the hotel now features 36 rooms packed with character and original features.
Sands Hotel: this modern boutique hotel offers seafront views, 20 luxurious rooms and its own contemporary Bay Restaurant.
Eastbourne, on England’s southern coast, mixes history and culture with striking outdoor landscapes. Start the day by exploring the town’s wealth of independent shops in Little Chelsea, boasting vintage collectables and luxury delis – stop by Yummy Noodle Bar for authentic oriental eats. Browse contemporary art at Towner Eastbourne, the south-east’s largest purpose-built gallery, to discover an internationally renowned collection of 5,000 works, as well as a wealth of exhibitions which change every few months.
Foodies can sample fish and chips on the town’s Victorian pier for lunch, before an afternoon stroll along the promenade. Pass the Wish Tower, a historical Martello Tower dating back to the Napoleonic era, and the Eastbourne Redoubt, a fascinating coastal fort. You can also try your hand at mini golf, or venture out onto the water for a kayaking or paddle boarding adventure.
A second day in Eastbourne could be spent exploring the vast green spaces which surround the town. To the west, a four-mile scenic coastal hike takes you to Beachy Head, where you can admire the chalky white Seven Sisters Cliffs and the luscious Seven Sisters Country Park. For a longer excursion, opt to continue west along a section of the 90-mile South Downs Way, a National Trail through the heart of the South Downs National Park which links Eastbourne with the historic city of Winchester. Alternatively, venture north from Eastbourne along the Cuckoo Trail, a 14-mile cycling and walking route packed with natural wildlife. It follows a former railway line to the small market town of Heathfield, just inside the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and offers striking views of the Sussex countryside. Several of these routes also feature in the annual Eastbourne Walking Festival, a celebration of the outdoors which usually takes place in the autumn.
Getting here: Direct trains from Victoria take 90 minutes.
Places to stay: Visit Eastbourne lists numerous seafront hotels and guest houses for visitors to pick from, including:
The Grand Hotel Eastbourne: this luxury five-star seafront hotel and spa features 152 rooms, many overlooking the sea.
The View Hotel: a seafront pet-friendly accommodation, The View Hotel has 126 rooms and is situated close to the Turner Eastbourne.
An area steeped in history, Hastings has a rich fishing heritage and is home to Britain’s steepest funicular railway, which offers incredible views across the English Channel.
While the town of Hastings gives its name to one of the most significant battles in British history in 1066, the historic conflict’s actual location can be found a few miles to the north at Battle Abbey. Start the day by heading on a 15-minute train journey to trace the events surrounding William the Conqueror’s victory, wander around the battlefield and enjoy spectacular views from the Abbey roof – look out for Medieval themed events including a Knights Tournament. The remains of Britain’s first Norman castle can also be explored in Hastings, with The 1066 Story exhibition taking you on a journey from the point of conquest to the modern day. The castle is a short walk from the top of the West Hill Lift, a funicular railway dating back to 1891 which maintains its original wooden Victorian coaches.
Tuck into lunch from Maggie’s Fish and Chips along the seafront, before taking in the views and amusements on Hastings Pier. History lovers can stop off at the Shipwreck Museum to see its collection of rare artefacts from sunken vessels, or head to Bulverhythe Beach to walk across a wreck hidden in the sand. Or browse the eclectic mix of exhibitions and modern art at Hastings Contemporary. Found among the net huts in Hasting’s Old Town, the gallery overlooks the continent’s largest beach-launched fishing fleet.
For a spot of evening dining, visitors can tuck in to a mix of seafood and British cuisine at No. EIGHT Restaurant, or sample contemporary Italian delicacies made with East Sussex’s finest local produce at La Bella Vista.
Those with more time in Hastings should head to the East Hill Lift for access to Hastings Country Park Local Nature Reserve. Found in the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the reserve includes a number of coastal paths and other routes which meander through ancient woodland glens, providing numerous opportunities to spy birds and other wildlife.
Getting here: Direct trains from London Bridge, or from St Pancras International with one change at Ashford International, take 90 minutes.
Places to stay: A selection of accommodation in Hastings can be found at 1066 Country, including:
The Old Rectory: this luxurious boutique B&B with eight guest rooms can be found in the heart of Hasting’s Old Town.
The White Rock Hotel: overlooking Hastings Pier, the White Rock Hotel is home to 40 guest rooms which cater to both leisure and business guests.
You are encouraged to always check individual websites for the latest information, as details are subject to change.