This coastal hotspot in north Kent is a pretty seaside retreat with long shingle beaches backed by weatherboard cottages and colorful beach huts. Take a breezy stroll along the seafront promenade before exploring the pastel-colored gift shops, cafes, and delis that line the old fashioned high street. Whitstable has been harvesting oysters since Roman Times, so don't leave without knocking back a couple at Wheelers, the town's oldest restaurant (pick up a bottle of chilled white wine from the store across the street to take advantage of the BYOB policy). Active types can rent a bike and head off on the Crab & Winkle Way, a 7-mile cycle track that links Whitstable and the ancient city of Canterbury with its World Heritage-listed cathedral.
How to Get There: The fastest trains are direct from either St Pancras Station (1 hour and 15 minutes) or Victoria Station (1 hour and 25 minutes). The beach is around a 15-minute walk from the station. Whitstable is just under a 2-hour drive from London.
West Wittering, West Sussex
Set in an "Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty" on England's south coast, West Wittering is an expansive sandy beach overlooking Chichester Harbour. With its Blue Flag award for its clean sands and safe bathing waters, it's one of the country's finest beaches and attracts day trippers all year round. Families flock here for picnics on the grassy banks and to splash around in the shallow lagoons at low tide. The beach is popular with wind and kite surfers and there's a rental hut right on the beach to hire gear or book a lesson. The small cafe serves ice cream and cups of tea depending on the weather (it's open only at weekends throughout the winter). The handsome Georgian market town of Chichester is less than 10 miles away.
How to Get There: Direct trains to Chichester are available from Victoria Station and take around 90 minutes. A regular bus service runs from Chichester station to the Old House at Home pub, a 10-minute walk from the beach. West Wittering is around a 2-hour drive from London.
Camber Sands, East Sussex
Backed by towering sand dunes, Camber Sands is a vast beach where the soft golden sand stretches for around 7 miles. It's a popular filming location and has starred as a backdrop in movies like The Monuments Men and The Theory of Everything. The shallow waters are ideal for paddling and the conditions are perfect for windsurfing, kitesurfing and sailing. Check the tides before you visit if you're looking to take a dip; you can walk for half a mile to reach the water's edge at low tide. The sand dunes provide a natural habitat for a variety of animals and plants and a large section is considered a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The beach is around 4 miles from Rye, a quaint medieval hilltop town with a 13th-century castle and cobblestone lanes lined with crooked houses.
How to Get There: Trains via Ashford International are available from St Pancras Station and take around an hour. A regular bus service runs from the town center to the beach. Camber Sands is around a 2-hour drive from London.
This family-friendly beach on the North Sea in Essex has a prestigious Blue Flag and gently shelving sands for safe swimming. Kids will love building sandcastles on the golden sands and hunting for fossils by the Red Crag cliffs. Take a stroll along the pier for fish and chips and a ride on the dodgems and don't miss a trip to Naze Tower for stunning coastal views. First built in 1720 as a navigational aid, it's now home to a viewing platform, an art gallery, a museum, and a tea room.
How to Get There: Trains via Thorpe-Le-Soken are available from Liverpool Street Station and take around 90 minutes. The beach is around a 5-minute walk from the station. Walton-on-The-Naze is around a 2-hour drive from London.
Brighton, East Sussex
England's coolest coastal city is an eclectic mix of grand Regency squares, narrow alleyways lined with indie boutiques, traditional fish and chip shops and a thriving club scene. The city is bookended by a Taj Mahal-inspired Royal Pavilion (built as a seaside party palace for George IV in 1787) and a landmark pier packed with retro fairground rides. Take a stroll on the beach to the neighboring town of Hove with its multicolored beach huts and cute cafes. Stop en route to head up the British Airways i360 tower, the world's first vertical cable car, and spend time exploring the laines, a bustling network of streets lined with Brighton's best shops, cafes and bars.
How to Get There: Direct trains are available from both London Victoria and London Bridge stations and take between 55 minutes and 1 hour. The beach is around a 10-minute walk from the station.
Popular in Victorian times, this classic seaside resort on the Kent coast has become something of a hipster hotspot in recent years. The opening of a high-speed rail link means that sun-seeking Londoners can now reach the beach in just 90 minutes. Margate has a thriving cultural scene and has inspired homegrown artists including landscape painter JMW Turner and contemporary artist, Tracey Emin. See works by both at the Turner Contemporary gallery on the seafront and head to Resort Studios and Crate for regularly changing art exhibitions and events.
Nostalgic thrill-seekers will love Dreamland, a modern rework of a 16-acre amusement park home to vintage arcade games, a roller-skating rink and the UK's oldest wooden roller-coaster. Enjoy a mooch around the vintage shops in the Old Town and don't leave without tucking into fish and chips on the beach from Peter's Fish Factory opposite the harbor.
How to Get There: Direct trains to Margate are available from St Pancras Station and take around 90 minutes. The beach is around a 5-minute walk from the station. Margate is around a 2-hour drive from London.
Bournemouth's seven-mile strip of soft golden sand attracts beach bums, fun-loving families and watersports fans throughout the year. This south coast resort grew in popularity in the 18th century when rich Victorians and members of the royal family would flock here to take advantage of the sea's medicinal benefits. There's plenty of Victorian architecture to see including the clifftop Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum and the grand covered shopping arcade in the town center.
The old-fashioned pier is home to cafes and restaurants as well as arcade games, a climbing wall and a zip line. The Boscombe area is popular with surfers and stand-up paddle boaders. Refuel at Urban Reef, a laid-back bar and deli right on the seafront or for posh nosh head to Sandbanks, a small peninsula with a Blue Flag beach backed by multi-million-pound houses.
How to Get There: Direct trains to Bournemouth are available from Waterloo Station and take just under 2 hours. The beach is around a 20-minute walk from the station. Bournemouth is around a 2-hour drive from London.