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Where to see art and culture on England’s Coast

From art galleries to historic castles, you’ll find cultural inspiration all the way along the English coast.

The south-east’s Creative Coast is a hub of artists and culturally-rich seaside towns.

The English coast is exhilarating, it can clear the mind and inspire and inform the cultural visitor.

As you walk, cycle or drive along the coast you’ll notice artists, some professional, but most amateur hobbyists, endeavouring to paint the stirring sights laid out before you: heritage sites, iconic ruins, cliffs, seabirds, carpets of wild flowers, sandscapes and, always, the sea….

The Turner Contemporary at Margate is the region’s signature attraction and will not disappoint, thanks to its collection of works by the eponymous artist and outstanding contemporary collections. But the Creative Coast has much more to offer along a 1400km coastline that spans the Thames Estuary to the English Channel, from Essex via Kent to East and West Sussex.

In East Sussex, you’ll find the Hastings Contemporary which features modern painters and art and enjoys a fine beachside location. Nearby, on the marina at Bexhill is the De La Warr Pavilion, which was the UK‘s first public building built in the Modernist style and hosts temporary exhibitions of modern art.

Meanwhile, Eastbourne hosts the Towner Art Gallery, one of the most important collections in southern England which includes a major collection by Eric Ravilious along with works by Alfred Wallis and Henry Moore. A 30km coastal cycle route allows you to travel on two wheels between the De La Warr Pavilion and the Towner.

Further along the coast, there is plenty of contemporary art along Kent’s seaside edges. Folkestone Artworks is the UK’s largest outdoor contemporary art exhibition, comprising more than 70 artworks by nearly 50 artists.

On the north Kent coast, Whitstable is a charming town rightly famous for its oysters. But between dining on food from the sea, you can explore the small medieval alleys that criss-cross the town and the large number of nationally listed buildings dating to the 18th century. Some of the finest are found in Dollar Row, where red-brick buildings and inviting taverns stand cheek by jowl.

At the northerly end of the Creative Coast you can combine traditional seaside fun at Southend-on-Sea where in between beach wandering and ice cream you can meander around the old masters and exhibitions at the Beecroft Art Gallery or take in the contemporary art at Focal Point Gallery.

Where to see art and culture on England’s Coast Where to see art and culture on England’s Coast
Where to see art and culture on England’s Coast

Visit the Yorkshire and Northumberland coast for fine art and castles with even finer views

Some of the art found along the English coast was inspired by places on the other side of the world!

The Cook Museum Whitby is dedicated to the life, times and exploration of the 18th century seafarer Captain James Cook, who is most famous for circumnavigating the globe. But the museum also features works by the artists who sailed with him and depict plants, peoples, ceremonies and landscapes from the tropics. The museum has also acquired works by Gainsborough, a contemporary of Cook.

For a more modern artistic flavour, head for the Gallery@Woodend in Scarborough. This fine Grade II-listed building supports local artists and stocks a good range of fine art for sale.

The north-easterly edge of the English coast is as rich in art, history and drama as anywhere. The further north you go, the wilder and more exhilarating things get, with fractured volcanic cliffs that rise and swoop down to wide, curving beaches and brooding grumpy-looking castles, such as Dunstanburgh near Craster.

Where to see art and culture on England’s Coast
Where to see art and culture on England’s Coast Where to see art and culture on England’s Coast

Perched on a lump of volcanic rock 160 feet above the North Sea, Bamburgh is a tough-looking castle and with its striking sandstone walls, gateways and towers, punctuated with medieval arrow slits is one of the most iconic landmarks in the county.

Just 10km north from Bamburgh – as the oystercatcher flies – lies Lindisfarne, or Holy Island, reached by a tidal causeway. In the dark ages of the 8th century, a bishop, Aiden was given land to build a monastery on Lindisfarne, making it the cradle of Christianity in the north of England. That sense of elemental remoteness remains to this day: twice a day the sea rushes across the sandbanks and mudflats and closes the door on Lindisfarne.

Lindisfarne castle is perched on a crag above a broad sweep of green grass that suggests the castle has wrapped itself in a cloak. Built on the orders of Henry VIII, it was transformed by the architect Edwin Lutyens into an Edwardian summerhouse in the 20th century.

Just as striking are the remains of the 12th-century Benedictine priory founded by the monks of Durham Cathedral, which feature magnificently carved and richly decorated stonework and arches that front thin air. The priory museum helps you join the dots of everything you see on the island and includes a fine Viking Raiders stone depicting a brutal attack in AD 793.