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Top spots for discovering England’s Coast’s rich seaside heritage

For more than 300 years we’ve been holidaying at the seaside, transforming coastal towns into tourist resorts with a unique heritage, quite different from their inland cousins. So, what makes our coastal resorts so special?

Wonderfully eccentric, our resorts are fringed with pearls

Brimming with Victorian piers, ornate shelters and bandstands, our resorts also boast cool new arrivals too 

Worthing, West Sussex, is a quintessential English seaside resort, a genteel Georgian town complete with galleries and beautiful gardens, yes, but also a very modern heritage hot spot. Stroll along the Art Deco pier past Creative Waves’ changing art exhibitions to its fabulous Perch on the Pier restaurant, set beside local fisherman selling their daily catch. 

Nearby Selsey is awash with historic treasure and fisherman’s tales. ‘Secrets of Selsey’ brings it to life in a series of walks. Explore the town’s Art Trail, follow the family-friendly Bucket and Spade Parade or Sea Life Treasure Hunt. 

Charles Dickens is just one of the creatives drawn to the Isle of Thanet, 2023 marks its 50th anniversary. Visit the only harbour to warrant ‘Royal’ status, Royal Harbour Ramsgate and then explore Ramsgate Tunnels, a hidden city that housed hundreds of families in WWII. 

The heritage rides at Dreamland include the UK’s oldest wooden roller coaster, this year it also features a pinball section. Less well known attractions include the Micro Museum (go for vintage computers and retro games) and the Powell-Cotton Museum housing dioramas of African and Asian animals, Quex House and Gardens, a Grade II listed house with 10 acres of woodland and gardens.  

White Cliffs Country sits on Kent’s Heritage Coast, and bristles with history. Take your pick from three exceptional castles – Dover, Deal and Walmer – three forts - Richborough Roman, Burgoyne and Drop Redoubt as well as fascinating self-guided heritage trails tours, perfect for a mix of immersive history and nature. Head to Dover Museum to see the Bronze Age boat in its gallery and explore the Channel Crossings Exhibition, hosted to May 2024.

Further west, Gosport’s rich royal naval heritage is impossible to miss, through listed buildings, award-winning museums, ramparts, forts and historic trails. Find out what lurks beneath the waves at the Royal Navy Submarine Museum, take a tour onboard HMS Alliance with ex-submariners who have great stories to tell.  

At Explosion! The Museum of Naval Firepower, be blown away by the vast collection of naval weapons. The Museum of Diving showcases the best range of military, commercial and recreational diving equipment in Europe (perhaps the World!), whilst at the nearby Hovercraft Museum more than 50 hovercraft are on show, including those in James Bond movies. Wander through Little Woodham 1642 Living History Village to meet ‘villagers’ dressed in historic period costumes demonstrating the skills of the blacksmith, potter, lace-makers and weavers set rural woodland location. 

With millions of years of history oozing from its Jurassic cliffs, Dorset could be forgiven if it rested easy in its heritage pedigree, but far from it! Its coastal history has been unearthed in a new art trail along the King Charles III Coast Path. Sixteen impressive artworks mark heritage landmarks, from a beautiful wooden gate featuring Viking ships near Charmouth, where the alleged Viking landings took place, to a striking new artwork of Mackerel boats at the Bridport to Burton Bradstock boundary, celebrating the fishermen who used to shout, “Mackerel straying!” 

From its naval legacy to its connection with the Mayflower voyage, Plymouth merges history and culture with arresting natural beauty. Visit the Plymouth Naval Heritage Centre to track Sir Francis Drake’s historic sailing and the city’s contributions throughout history, including its role in World Wars. 

Follow the footsteps of the Pilgrim Fathers on the Mayflower Trail, stand on the iconic Mayflower Steps and track the story at the Mayflower Museum. The former dockyards at Sutton Harbour and Royal William Yard blend seamlessly the past with the present, they’re now thriving shopping and restaurant hubs and  cool, must-visit examples of regeneration. 

Explore seaside heritage around England's Coast Explore seaside heritage around England's Coast
Explore seaside heritage around England's Coast

The Yorkshire Coast celebrates hundreds of years of seafaring history

From a new heritage trail to live Dracula performances, the smuggling towns and villages of Yorkshire are alive with colourful stories 

On the Yorkshire Coast for 2023, Whitby is celebrating the 250th anniversary of the first crossing of the Antarctic Circle in a new exhibition, ICE! Exploring the Far South. Head to the Captain Cook Memorial Museum. During July and August, you can also catch live performances of Dracula at Whitby Abbey while at Whitby Museum they are celebrating ‘200 Years of Collecting’ with a look at all the artefacts amassed decade by decade. 

In nearby Scarborough, war is breaking out this summer on the lake at Peasholm Park in the Battle of Peasholm; 20-foot replica navy ships will be locked in 30 minute battles. The Scarborough Spa Orchestra is celebrating its 111th anniversary with performances throughout the summer.   

To unpack the town’s history, follow the new Sea Wall Heritage Trail – Portholes in Time, a series of 31 engraved granite panels, stories of local life from residents and visitors collated by the Maritime Heritage Centre. 

2023 is also the 50th Anniversary of the North York Moors Railway, climb aboard for 24 miles of stunning Moor’s scenery and visit celebrity station Goathland, aka Hogsmaede Station of Harry Potter fame.

Explore seaside heritage around England's Coast
Explore seaside heritage around England's Coast Explore seaside heritage around England's Coast

Acknowledging the importance of some of our iconic coastal structures, in 2021 the then Heritage Minister Caroline Dineage awarded six seaside sites Grade II listed status, essentially ensuring their preservation. 

Jaywick Martello Tower on the Essex coast is one of 29 defences built to defend the country from Napoleon Bonaparte’s attacks. Now open to the public, visitors can explore its history and exhibitions while enjoying outstanding sea views. 

The Crow Stone, an eight-metre-tall stone obelisk jutting out of the sea at Chalkwell Beach, Southend, is also now Grade II listed. Erected in the 1830s, it marks the eastern boundary of the City of London’s control over the River Thames. 

Hythe Pier, Southampton, stretches 640 metres out in the Channel. Opened in 1881, it facilitated ferry steamers between Southampton and Hythe and was a main point of access to the New Forest.  A map dating back to 1575 shows a ferry has sailed between Southampton and Hythe since the Middle Ages, and still does. 

Skegness’ former Town Hall was also awarded Grade II status. The impressive building was built in 1926 as a convalescent home and was used as council offices until 2022 when it was sold, It is now being transformed into a 57-bed hotel. 

The distinctive design of The Coronation Boathouse sits on the estuary of the River Avon, near Kingsbridge, Devon. Built to commemorate the coronation of King George VI in 1937, it features a thatched roof and stone walls with a Royal insignia and wall plaque at the gable end. 

Blackpool’s Middle and Lower Walk colonnades are a kilometre of reinforced-concrete pillars that circle the seafront. As Blackpool became an increasingly important leisure destination, the three-level promenades were constructed, built between 1923 and 1925, allowing tram tracks to be moved to free up space for cars. 

If you haven’t seen Blackpool’s promenade shelters, you should visit, they’re some of the most ornate on the coast and most have stood for more than 100 years. Prior to the listing in 2021, eight were already Grade II listed, now the resorts boasts a further eight.