The sound of lapping waves on the shoreline, huddles of children giggling as they hunt for sea life in the harbour and the smell of fresh seafood in the air – Great Britain is blessed with a vast and beautiful coastline, along which are dotted an abundance of quintessential seaside villages.
With summer 2021 set to be yet another of staycations, while foreign travel remains alarmingly chaotic, and with the British weather (finally) playing ball and the mercury rising, now’s the time to explore the British shores and these seaside gems.
Start plotting a trip to one of the UK’s prettiest coastal villages, chosen by our experts, below.
UK’s most beautiful seaside villages
Quite possibly one of the UK’s most idyllic coastal villages, Polperro in Cornwall is a picture-postcard treasure found between Fowey and Looe. While traffic has been a problem in the past, locals have sorted the issue by making all visitors use a park-and-ride. It also has a popular fishermen’s choir which can be found performing on selected evenings at Polperro Quay this autumn.
Staithes, North Yorkshire
This tiny village in North Yorkshire is one the county’s greatest hidden gems. Once the home of Captain Cook, the small fishing village is packed with history. For those interested in Staithes’ artistic heritage, catch the Staithes Festival of Arts and Heritage (staithesfestival.com), due to resume in 2022. It’s also a great spot for foodies, and you can tuck into freshly caught fish at Cleveland Corner or take a boat trip to catch your own with local captain Sean (sea-angling-staithes.co.uk).
Hope Cove, Devon
Living up to its name, Hope Cove in Devon has everything you could wish for from a British coastal village. It is, in fact two villages, Outer Hope and Inner Hope, and sits on golden sandy beaches, amid thatched cottages and the lulling sound of the sea. It’s a great place for diving, with 30 shipwrecks in the surrounding area, and is renowned for its delicious crab and lobster – hauled in each day by local fishermen. The Hope Cove Weekend is an annual festival of live music, good food and family fun. It will be back for summer 2022.
While it may be the only village on the list with opening hours, Portmeirion in Wales has to be one of the most interesting. Created by Welsh architect Clough Williams-Ellis from 1925 to 1976, who wanted to show that you could develop a naturally beautiful landscape without ruining it, the colourful tourist village offers free 20-minute tours between Easter and October, as well as a complimentary land train tour of the nearby Gwyllt woodlands (portmeirion.wales).
Tobermory, Isle of Mull
While this too-twee-to-be-true harbour village may look like it belongs in Denmark, it actually sits found on the Isle of Mull in the Inner Hebrides. Just a short ferry ride from Oban, it was built in 1788 on a design by Thomas Telford and is home to the Tobermory Distillery, an art gallery, live music venue, theatre and a Marine Visitor Centre. You can also hire a kayak and head out to explore the surrounding waters.
Mousehole (pronounced Mowzel) is one of the most picturesque harbour villages in Cornwall. In fact, in 1930, Dylan Thomas described it as the ‘loveliest village in England’, and it remains little changed today. Growing up around its small fishing harbour between Penzance and Land’s End, the village is home to a small coastal beach as well as small shops, galleries and restaurants.
The wooden bridge leading from the picturesque village of Walberswick to the beach is always crammed with children clutching crabbing lines and plastic buckets. Clamber over the ridge of dunes into the magical light of the Suffolk coast and you’ll understand why so many artists are drawn to paint this long, empty stretch of sandy beach.
One of Norfolk’s prettiest coastal villages, Blakeney back lanes are speckled with small flint cottages and a narrow, winding high street. The quayside is a prime spot for crabbing (or gillying) and children can be regularly spotted dangling their legs over the side, catching crabs on locally-bought lines. Blakeney Point bird sanctuary is a must and is home to common and grey seals, which sprawl lazily by the water’s edge.
Cocooned by the cliffs of the Roseland Peninsula, Portloe is yet another quintessentially picture-perfect coastal village that can be found in Cornwall. Sir John Betjeman once called it ‘one of the least spoiled and most impressive of Cornish fishing villages’ and it’s not hard to see why. Naturally sheltered (its name originates from the Cornish Porth Logh meaning ‘cove pool’), Portloe has grown, as many Cornish seaside villages have, from a history of fishing and smuggling.
West Lulworth, Dorset
This quaint little village in Dorset lives on the margins. Here, the great British countryside blends with coast, making for an impressive scene – 400-year-old thatched cottages sit alongside former coastguard houses and a pretty mill pond is snuggled at its heart. Close to Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door, the proximity of the village to the Jurassic Coast only adds to its allure.
Old stone walls, red sandstone cliffs and the fresh smell of the salty sea air characterises this pretty little Scottish village on the coast of Aberdeenshire overlooking the Moray Firth. With a pod of resident dolphins in the firth, keep your eyes peeled as you walk along the front. There are plenty of walks to enjoy in the area where you can spot the abundant local wildlife, as well as a selection of galleries and workshops.
The undoubted highlight of Bamburgh village is that it has a rather impressive 18th-century castle slap bang in the middle of it – not something that many British villages can claim. It also has a dune-fringed beach whose sands wouldn’t look out of place in the Mediterranean and is one of the North East’s top surf spots. There’s are plenty of English tea rooms to take a break in and a museum dedicated to Grace Darling (famed for participating in the rescue of survivors from the shipwrecked Forfarshire in 1838).
Portree, Isle of Skye
On the eastern side of bonnie Skye, Portree may only be a village, but it’s the capital of the Inner Hebridean island. With Ben Tianavaig to the south, Suidh Fhinn to the west and Ben Chrachaig to the north, the village is surrounded by hills and has everything you could hope for – there’s even a swimming pool to be found amid the brightly coloured houses.
Scattered up a hillside and clinging to a 400-foot cliff overlooking Bideford Bay, Clovelly has to be one of Devon’s most famous villages. While donkeys used to be the main mode of transport, now they’re just used for children’s rides, so be prepared for a hike if you want to walk down to the seafront and back. If you fancy trying some of the freshly caught fish, head to the Red Lion Harbour Restaurant (clovelly.co.uk).
Found at the tip of the rather hauntingly named Black Isle (which, confusingly is a peninsula rather than an island), Cromarty has the sea on two sides – Moray Firth to the south and Cromarty Firth to the north. Established as a port for the importation of the materials needed to feed the local cloth, rope and ironware factories, Cromarty has a more interesting history than your average coastal fishing village, with small cottages jumbled amid larger buildings.
Carnlough, Co. Antrim
Set to the stunning backdrop of Glencloy, one of the Nine Glens of Antrim, at the northern end of Carnlough Bay between Garron Point and Park Head, Carnlough has a rich history with the settlement believed to date back to 6,000 BC. The whole harbour has undergone a renovation and is popular for those that love nothing more than a spot of fishing.
There are few coastal views in the UK as stunning as those of the Jurassic Coast. Surrounded by the iconic white cliffs in Lyme Bay, Beer is one of the lucky villages that has this sensational world heritage site on its doorstep. Colourful fishing boats bring in hauls of fresh crab, fish and mackerel, while the village’s history includes its use as a base by notorious smuggler Jack Rattenbury. The village hosts an annual regatta every summer.
With charming cobbled streets lined by fishing cottages running down to a small harbour, Crail is arguably one of the prettiest villages in Scotland. Set on the East Neuk of Fife, just getting here offers some stunning views if you’re heading up from Edinburgh (a 90-minute drive away). The harbour front is a great place to enjoy a summery ice cream and watch the fishing boats return with their catch. There’s also plenty of eateries and tearooms to enjoy, galleries to explore and even a heritage centre to explore.
As the river Hawen makes its way down to Cardigan Bay, it breezes past this pretty village. While you can enjoy the main beach that’s popular with surfers for much of the day, if you wait until low tide, you can walk around to a second (which you can also climb down to from the cliff path when the waves lap higher). You can indulge on traditional pub grub, homemade ice creams and a quick bite at one of the cafes. There’s also a charming circular walk to enjoy around the headlands of of Ynys Lochtyn.