The British coast is a popular destination for many travellers even if the numbers visiting the traditional "seaside resort" have fallen significantly since their peak in the 1950s.
The British coastline has considerable variance, the potential destinations for travellers being as dynamic as the physical processes that have shaped the various natural coastal features that can be observed.
Although many locations on the British coast have some kind of beach this isn't a pre-requisite as Whitby is on a rocky inlet, Morecambe on the edge of wide tidal flat.
Although travel to the coast existed prior to the mid-19th century, it was the development of the railway network which opened the coast to a wider group of travellers, and led to the development of both the "seaside resort" and the coastal attraction.
Whilst developments in the late 20th century, reduced the popularity of the many British coastal resort towns compared to sun-destinations abroad, many coastal destinations in the UK retain a charm and unique character, whilst also showing the flux of continual repositioning as the dynamic tastes of travellers remain as varied as the coast itself.
- See also United_Kingdom#Climate
- Many sections of Britain's coastline are noted for their scenic importance:
- The Jurassic Coast, in Dorset, is famed for its geology, and fossils.
- The South Downs reach the sea in East Sussex, culminating in the Seven Sisters near Eastbourne. The Needles on the Isle of Wight are also worth seeing.
- Cornwall's rugged coastline, has inspired many myths and some legends of more contemporary origin.
- North Norfolk Coast.
- Britain's coast has extensive wildlife (including marine life), and many sea-birds.
- 1 Outer Hebrides, Scotland. Full of migratory birds, in particular on St Kilda. Also good for seeing seals, and if you are lucky whales.
- 2 Skomer, Wales is probably most famous for its breeding seabirds, most notably puffins and Manx Shearwaters.
- 3 The Farne Islands, Northumberland is good for seeing guillemots and puffins
- 4 Islay is a major winter home for geese, and 35,000 barnacle geese can visit in a year.
- 5 Orkney Islands are a major home for seals.
Seaside villages and towns
- The British coast has many attractive seaside villages and towns which have evolved from humble fishing settlements.
- Polperro, a charming Cornish fishing port, also known historically for its links with smuggling. There is a small museum covering both.
- Morecambe, once the gateway to the tidal expanse of Morecambe Bay
- St Ives, once a fishing port, it has attracted many artists, and is a quieter seaside resort.
- Whitby, which used to be a fishing harbour and centre for Jet, the town later acquired a reputation owing to its literary heritage, and associations with the 1970s counter-culture.
Seaside resort towns
The British seaside, which developed in the 19th century, retains some of its kitsch charm in places, even if major resorts as have continued to evolve to suit different niches.
Some resorts can be lively: Brighton has extensive night-life, whereas Newquay is widely seen by many as England's surf capital. By comparison quieter resorts such Torquay, Bournemouth, or Eastbourne might suit an older generation. Traditional resorts such as Blackpool, Scarborough and Skegness retain a middle of the road appeal.
Scotland has many coastal towns, and the "seaside" resort developed differently from its English counterpart. In places like St Andrews, the wide expanse of landward dunes was the perfect location for the sport of golf to develop and thrive.
Since 1824, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) has had a strong connection with Britain's coast and its maritime history. Many maritime museums have exhibits relating to them. Larger lifeboats can be seen moored or alongside in many harbours, or the sheds for the smaller inshore lifeboats; these are not normally open to visitors, but do have occasional fundraising open days, and you may sometimes see the volunteers training on a weekend.
- Main article: Lighthouses
- There are many lighthouses around the British coast. Most of these remain in operation, although they are all now automatic.
Many museums around the coast have exhibitions on maritime history, but there are some that specialise in this:
- 6 The National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, ☏ . Contains the UK's national collection of maritime artefacts (although do not expect much in the way of whole ships). Free.
- 7 The Historic Dockyard, Chatham, ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. An old naval dockyard now run as a museum. There are several ships open for tours including a 1878 sloop, a 1944 destroyer and a 1962 submarine. Also has the RNLI's collection of historic lifeboats, and a large working ropeworks.
- 8 Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, Portsmouth. The Historic Dockyard has a number of historic ships including the Mary Rose, HMS Victory and HMS Warrior 1860. In the Historic Dockyard is also Royal Naval Museum and Action Stations - an interactive look at the navy of today.
- 9 Scottish Maritime Museum, Irvine.
- 10 Aberdeen Maritime Museum, Aberdeen. This museum tells the story of Aberdeen's relationship with the sea, from fishing to trade to North Sea oil. It offers an extraordinary insight into the mechanics and technology of ships and oil rigs, Aberdeen's rich maritime history and the lives of some of the people who have worked offshore in the North Sea for the past 500 years.
- 11 Holyhead Maritime Museum, Holyhead, ☏ .
- 12 Merseyside Maritime Museum, Liverpool. Dedicated to the maritime history of Liverpool, complete with galleries on customs and excise and emigration to the New World. There are also a number of vessels to see, such as the Mersey river tug Brocklebank and the river cargo carrier Wyncham. A museum permanent gallery is devoted to the Titanic, Lusitania and Empress of Ireland, ocean liners lost at sea from 1912-1915 with 3,700 fatalities.
- 13 The Maritime Museum, Ramsgate. Containing four galleries examining the maritime history of the local area and describing the development of the eponymous harbour. Also featured are many artefacts from the various shipwrecks of the treacherous Goodwin Sands.
- 14 Maritime Museum, Kingston upon Hull. It is a huge, quaintly old-fashioned museum dedicated to Hull's glorious conquest of the High Seas and to the often tragic sacrifices made to it. There are displays to interest all ages from the skeleton of a whale to models of ships to explanations of fishing methods.
- 15 National Martime Museum (Cornwall), Falmouth, ☏ . Home of the National Maritime Museum's small boat collection and other exhibits.
- 16 Lancaster Maritime Museum, Lancaster. Reflecting Lancaster's 18th-century period as sea port, and displays on the canal.
- There's a long distance path around the entire coast of Wales, including the scenic beauty of the rugged western coast the charms of the remoter Pembrokeshire Coast, and where the very tip of the South Wales valleys meet the Bristol Channel.
- The South West Coast Path is a long-distance coastal path that allows you to walk around the entire coast of the South West region of England. It can be walked in a single trek, over several weeks, or you can walk a short section in a day trip. The coast path includes the entire coastline of Devon and Cornwall.
- The Fife Coast path, is a regional path of around 117 miles (188 km).
The coastal waters are tidal, with two high tides most days. This is something to beware of when walking on a beach - a half-mile of sand can rapidly be covered in water. Tide times are available online, but the free information only covers the following week.
There are a few places where the tidal flows are worth watching:
- 1 Gulf of Corryvreckan. A tidal whirlpool which can be seen from the shore of the Isle of Jura, or on boat trips from near Oban.
- The Severn Bore (near Gloucester). A tidal bore on the River Severn, which can be seen on about 130 days per year. The Severn Estuary has a tidal range of about 13 m. The bore is popular with experienced surfers.
If you observe someone in serious trouble on the coast, in or at sea off the British Coast, you should make the appropriate authorities aware. On a patrolled beach this will typically be a lifeguard, but elsewhere, where there is no lifeguard you should call the Coast Guard. Call 999 if it's an emergency or threat to life situation, giving the nature of the concern, and a location. If you are able to, give a precise location of an incident, as it assists responders immensely. Lifeboats in the UK are provided by the RNLI a voluntary funded (but professionally trained) organisation, and they will co-ordinate with the Coastguard as required.
Lifeguard-patrolled areas for swimming, are marked with flags having a red top and yellow bottom, . Swimming in areas should definitely be avoided in areas where singularly coloured all-red flags are shown. Local opinions about people ignoring red flags or obvious prohibition signs varies, but a very firm rebuke is not unexpected. Not all areas unsuitable for swimming are marked.
UK sea temperatures, average around 10–20°C (50–68°F) in the summer, with the Eastern and more northerly coasts being cooler. Winter averages are 5–10°C (40–50°F), and even an experienced swimmer will be wary of entering water that frigid. Cold water shock can occur in all UK coastal waters, even those as warm as 15°C. Dress appropriately if you plan activity in or on the water!
The coastal waters are tidal, with two high tides most days. This is something to beware of when walking on a beach – a half mile of sand can rapidly be covered in water. Tide times are available online, but the free information only covers the following week.
Portions are also tidal flats, and here (as on beaches) inlets and channels can open up between the nominal shore, and the flats. Don't get caught out, as these can flood or rise rapidly. Also the 'land' on tidal-flats can be less solid than expected in places, and without expertise, natural traps can arise. On some flats, seeking local expertise or a guide is advised.
If you are venturing out to sea in your own vessel, even in comparatively inshore waters, check that you understand the local topography both on and offshore, and that any charts you are using are current. "Drunken sailors" are best left ashore, as alcohol, inexperience and under-estimation of risk, make for a poor combination.
Don't forget about sun protection even though the sun may seem to be less intense in the UK. Some Weather Forecasts include UV level predictions.