Christchurch beach

The best seaside towns in south west England

23 May 2022

When you think of an English seaside town, what springs to mind? Perhaps sandy (or stony) stretches of shoreline? Fish and chip shops? Cute little harbours? Amusement arcades? There’s something about British seaside towns that is so quintessentially, well, British!

Being an island, we naturally have a lot of coastal options to choose from when it comes to planning days out with your friend, weekends away with your partner or long summer holidays with your family, so where should you start when it comes to choosing the best seaside town for your trip?

Some of the best seaside towns in the UK are undoubtedly found in the south west of England. We’ve compiled a list of our favourites to help you narrow down your choices. Read on to find out more about each of them, including the main highlights in each town and how to get there by train with South Western Railway.

Lymington, Hampshire

On the coast of the New Forest National Park is Lymington, one of the UK’s most beautiful seaside towns. Stroll down the town’s narrow streets and you’ll find lots of pretty cottages, cosy pubs and independent shops, all before arriving at the main event: the Old Town Quay. Down at the quay you’ll spot fishing boats, sailboats and even the occasional kayak or paddleboard – why not try your hand at one of the water sports on offer while you’re there? As well as water sports, Lymington is a good base for walking and cycling as it’s surrounded by miles of stunning countryside.

The nearest stations are Lymington Town, which is the best station for the town centre, and Lymington Pier, which is best for connections to the Isle of Wight.

Fancy making a weekend of it? Check out our guide on how to spend 48 hours in Lymington and Christchurch.

Lymington town centre

Ventnor, Isle of Wight

If you’re looking for a quintessentially English seaside town, then Ventnor, in the south of the Isle of Wight, should be top of your list. You’ll find beach huts made from Victorian “bathing machines”, cafes and shacks selling fresh local seafood, a traditional amusement arcade and so much more. Ventnor’s unique microclimate made it one of Britain’s most famous Victorian health resorts, and it’s still an amazing suntrap to this day, making it the perfect spot for sunbathing and swimming.

The nearest station is Shanklin, and from here it’s just a 13-minute bus journey on the number 3 bus.

Ventnor

Sandown, Isle of Wight

For a seaside town that’ll keep your kids entertained for hours – or even days – head to Sandown. Also in the south of the Isle of Wight, Sandown is famous for its long and golden sandy beach, its traditional seafront and its pleasure pier. Children will love the pier’s traditional amusement arcade as well as crazy golf and bowling, and just up the beach you’ll find Sandham Gardens, with crazy golf plus go-karts, trampolines and more! The area around Sandown Bay is known for fossil hunting, so search for special souvenirs before heading to the Dinosaur Museum to learn more about the island’s dinosaur history.

Sandown has its own station, so take the train directly here to begin your seaside adventure.

Sandown beach

Poole, Dorset

Wildlife, water sports and award-winning beaches make Poole the bustling seaside town that it is. Located in the east of Dorset, Poole is famed for being home to Europe’s largest natural harbour, and its shallow waters make it the ideal spot for trying your hand at more than 25 water-based activities, from windsurfing and sailing to fishing and kayaking. On dry land you can explore the lively quayside and the beautiful historic old town, with plenty of spots for kicking back and relaxing on the waterside.

To get here, take the train straight to Poole station.

Sandbanks beach Poole

Christchurch, Dorset

With a prime position on the seaside, the riverside and in the countryside, this historic harbour town ticks so many boxes that it would be a crime not to mention it as one of England’s best seaside towns.

Christchurch also boasts a number of award-winning beaches, nature reserves and heritage attractions, so there really is something for everyone and plenty to keep you entertained on your visit. While you’re here, walk or take the land train down to Hengistbury Head for particularly picturesque views.

The nearest station is Christchurch, which is just two stops on the train from Bournemouth.

Christchurch beach

Bournemouth, Dorset

Bournemouth is the largest resort in Dorset and one of the most popular seaside towns in the south west, attracting more than five million visitors each year. With seven miles of award-winning sandy beaches, lined with promenades, gardens and iconic piers, Bournemouth is a good old-fashioned seaside town with a twist. Cool beach huts, independent cafés and a vibrant nightlife scene are popping up left, right and centre, making this an ideal destination for a trip to the seaside with your family, your friends or your partner. Check out our guide to spending 48 hours in Bournemouth for help planning a weekend away.

Take the train to Bournemouth and let the fun begin!

BOURNEMOUTH

Swanage, Dorset

For a beautiful seaside town that the whole family will love, take a trip to Swanage. Located on the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset, this fun Victorian resort has plenty to offer, from golden beaches and picture-perfect beach huts to exhilarating activities including coasteering, climbing, scuba diving and kayaking. For a touch of nostalgia, stroll down Swanage Pier or take a ride on the steam train to Corfe Castle.

The nearest South Western Railway station is Wareham. From here, take the Purbeck Breezer 30 or 40 bus to get to Swanage. The bus journey takes approximately 35 minutes.

Bridport and West Bay, Dorset

They’re technically separate, but Bridport and West Bay are often thought of as one. Bridport is a quirky and lively market town with an amazing antiques quarter, while West Bay, just a mile away, is a small seaside village known to many as the setting for hit TV show Broadchurch. Get the best of both worlds and enjoy art, culture food and independent shopping before heading to the Jurassic Coast to admire dramatic cliffs and beautiful beaches. What more could you want from a seaside retreat?

The nearest train station is Axminster. From there, take the X51 or X53 bus for around an hour to get from Axminster to Bridport.

Lyme Regis, Dorset

Lyme Regis is well known as one of the best seaside towns in the UK – not just on the Jurassic Coast – for fossil hunting. Take a trip to this Dorset destination and keep your eyes peeled for prehistoric souvenirs to take home with you. Fossils aside, Lyme Regis is home to a variety of beaches, an iconic harbour and more than its fair share of seafood bars, bistros and restaurants, so if you fancy yourself as a bit of a foodie, this is the seaside town for you.

The nearest train station is Axminster. From there, take the X51 or X53 bus for 25 minutes to get from Axminster to Lyme Regis.

Sidmouth, Devon

With Regency architecture, charming gardens and award-winning beaches set against the backdrop of vivid red cliffs, you’re bound to fall in love with Sidmouth from the moment you arrive. Take a leisurely stroll along the picturesque coastal path, explore the trinkets on offer at the friendly shops and enjoy the unique microclimate as you relax on the sand and shingle beach.

The nearest train station is Honiton. From there, take the number 9 bus which will take you from Honiton to Sidmouth in around 30 minutes.

Ready to plan your visit to one of the best seaside towns in the south west of England? Explore our flexible range of ticket types and book your train tickets direct with us. Find out how you could save money with Railcards and discounts.