A Cornish village with a population of less than 1,000 has triumphed over some of the nation’s most famous seaside resorts in Which?’s annual rankings of the UK’s best coastal destinations.
The survey – carried out before the coronavirus lockdown – shows British holidaymakers favour peace and quiet over crowds, crazy golf and roller coasters. It also highlights some of the lesser-known resorts savvy travellers can escape to if they want to avoid busy beaches, bars and restaurants this summer.
Which? asked thousands of holidaymakers to rate their recent visits to the UK seaside across a range of factors including food and drink, seafront, beach, value for money and peace and quiet.
St Mawes, in Cornwall, came top ahead of better-known beach destinations like Salcombe or St Ives – earning a full five stars for its scenery, seafront and peace and quiet – and a glowing overall customer score of 85 per cent.
Those who visited St Mawes recommended eating crab baguettes at Mr Scorse’s deli and spotting dolphins on the ferry to Falmouth, but admitted that avoiding peak season was the best way to dodge the crowds.
Dartmouth, arguably one of the most famous destinations in the Which? top 10, and home of Agatha Christie, scored 84 per cent. Those who visited drew attention to steam trains and delicious seafood, but advised using the park and ride service as finding a parking spot in town is “near impossible”.
With many people seeking to avoid already oversubscribed hotspots, particularly in Devon and Cornwall that may not be able to cope with the surge in people holidaying at home this year, Which? found that there are still lots of beautiful places which holidaymakers may not have considered.
Coastal Suffolk had two entries in the top five, with both Southwold (84%) and Aldeburgh (83%) scoring top marks for scenery and peace and quiet.
Holidaymakers highlighted the great food and drink on offer in Southwold – earning five stars in this category – as well as the deliberate lack of ‘kiss-me-quick’ gimmickry.
Aldeburgh was praised for its tranquillity, with one person telling Which?: “It’s not got the usual ‘seaside entertainments’”. Another described it as “far from the madding crowd of South East England.”
Bamburgh in Northumberland (83%), which topped last year’s rankings, has not fallen out of favour with visitors this year. It was rated a full five stars in almost every category.
One person summed up Bamburgh as “one of the UK’s top-secret locations,” adding that “Northumberland is outstandingly unspoilt and a UK treasure”.
St Andrews (81%), home of Scotland’s oldest university, also made it into the top 10, with a full five stars for food and drink, beautiful views and its attractions, including the world-renowned golf course.
Those who visited pointed to the West Sands beach, which extends for almost two miles and was made famous in the opening scene of the film Chariots of Fire. Visitors looking for peace and quiet were advised to check term times before travel, as the town is much livelier when the students are around.
For a more easy-going Scottish seaside destination, Oban (74%) could be a better option. It is best known as the ‘Gateway to the Isles’, thanks to its role as a hub for tourists departing to the islands of the Inner and Outer Hebrides, but this seaside town has enough to charm to warrant being a holiday spot of its own and also gets top marks for stunning scenery.
In Wales, St Davids (81%), Llandudno (80%), Tenby (79%) and Conwy (78%) all scored highly, with many destinations in Wales getting high ratings for scenery and value for money.
Which? found that crowds can easily be avoided by missing better-known destinations by heading a little further up the coast. For example, instead of Llandudno and Conwy, fewer people will know Criccieth which achieved a respectable 74 per cent customer score. This town was also received a full five-star rating for its stunning views, and being a bit further afield will also mean that hotel rooms are a little cheaper.
Also in the Which? top 10, but may be often overlooked by holidaymakers is Tynemouth (81%), eight miles east-northeast of Newcastle upon Tyne. This coastal town was awarded five-star ratings almost across the board, including for its sandy beach which is popular with walkers and is a nationally recognised watersports hub.
Meanwhile Skegness, the famous home of the original Butlins, only managed a 44 per cent customer score. It achieved one-star ratings in each category, apart from the three stars for its beach.
While some of those who spoke to Which? were scathing in their comments, going as far as to say the Lincolnshire town was “to be avoided,” nature lovers highlighted the seal sanctuary and bird watching at the Gibraltar Point National Nature Reserve.
There were also those who spoke fondly of a “typical town that caters for all ages” and one visitor who told Which?: “Don’t be put off by the stereotypical opinions of Skegness. It’s a well maintained, vibrant area.”
Further down the table were other iconic seaside resorts complete with Victorian-era piers, amusement arcades and roller coasters, including Great Yarmouth (48%), Clacton-on-sea (48%), Bognor Regis (49%) and Blackpool (53%).
Rory Boland, Which? Travel Editor said:
“With many people choosing to holiday in the UK this summer it is a good time to explore parts of the country you may not have considered before and to spread our sandcastles beyond the beaches of Devon and Cornwall. As our survey shows, it’s smaller seaside towns and villages with fewer visitors that holidaymakers love.
“Whether that’s hitting the waves in Tynemouth or camping in Criccieth, there are good options for those of us keen to keep our distance from the crowds this year but still want to combine stunning scenery with sumptuous seafood. Don’t forget, if you book your hotel or accommodation direct and over the phone, you may even get a discount or free bottle of bubbly thrown in.”
Notes to editors:
The results are based on an online survey of 4,146 members of the Which? Connect panel, who told
Which? about their recent seaside town experiences. The survey was conducted in Oct/Nov 2019.
Northern Ireland was included in the survey but Which? did not have the sample sizes to include these in the table.
What are the current rules on domestic holidays in the UK?
Northern Ireland – Caravan parks, camping sites and self-catering tourist accommodation have been allowed to open since June 26, the opening of hotels, bars, restaurants and cafes, as well as museums and cultural heritage sites opened on the 3rd of July.
England – In England pubs and hotels were allowed to reopen from the 4th of July.
Scotland – Pubs and hotels reopened on the 15th of July. VisitScotland Chief Executive Malcolm Roughead says it’s up to everyone in the country to get out there, rediscover what Scotland has to offer and help save the industry.
Wales – First Minister Mark Drakeford said hospitality businesses could reopen indoors from 3 August, providing coronavirus cases continue to fall.