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Your Step-by-Step UK Coast Planning Guide

It’s easy to get overwhelmed when you think about planning your UK trip to the coast this article will help you.

From deciding when to go, where to go, what to see and do I will take you through each step and hopefully make your planning process smoother and less daunting.

There is a lot of information out there these days with blogs, social media, and guidebooks but at Coast Radar, we bring the UK coast to one place.

Step 1 – Decide when to visit the UK coast

Visiting the UK coast is wonderful at any time of year but it is important to be aware of the impact of the seasons on your trip. It is important to be aware of the possible weather conditions, sea temperatures and any restrictions on access.

The weather can vary greatly depending on where you visit within the UK. It will be typically colder in Scotland than on the south coast, generally the further north you travel the cooler it becomes at any time of year.

If you want to spend time in the sea then the sea temperature is important. The average sea temperature in the UK ranges from 6-10 °C in the winter to 15-19 °C in the summer depending on the region. In general sea temperatures in the UK are colder in the north than in the south and then the west coast is warmer than the east as they benefit from the warmer waters of the Gulf Stream. The warmest period is in late August and early September as you have had the benefit of summer sunshine and then the coldest is typically February.

Another aspect is the combination factor, as regardless of the sea temperature the chill factor of the wind and the heat of the sun will impact how comfortable a day on the beach is.

Spring (March, April, May)

March can still be a chilly time of year in the UK but at the end of the month, the clocks turn forwards for one hour and the daylight hours begin to increase.

Spring is a wonderful time to visit the UK. The shift from the dark days of winter to the colourful explosion of spring with daffodils and bluebells just some of the plants marking the change.

Easter marks the commencement of the beach season with many beaches starting to enforce dog restrictions around this time. Each year the RNLI’s beach lifeguard service starts with a small number of beaches being patrolled from the Easter school holidays, increasing through the season until the peak school summer holidays

Summer (June, July, August)

This is peak tourist season and it is busy all over the UK with school holidays throughout July and August leading to an influx of visitors to popular seaside destinations.

The hours of daylight are longer during the summer with light evenings enabling visitors to do and see more. There are also many popular outdoor festivals and events held during the summer months.

Durdle Door beach

Whilst the weather can be warm to hot in the UK during the summer it is sensible to check the forecast as you can get periods of showers.

If you are planning to visit during this peak time it is important to book accommodation, transport, tickets and sometimes places to eat as soon as possible.

The summer sees the peak of beach dog restrictions and the popular resort beaches have RNLI’s beach lifeguard service through the summer season.

Autumn (September, October, November)

Once the schools return in early September tourist destinations start to become less busy although increase a little through October half term. This is a great time of year to visit the coast as water temperatures are still up and you get the softer colours and the red of the turning trees. But, you do need to be aware that many resorts are closing or closed down and facilities may be reduced.

The clocks are put back one hour at the end of October, and daylight hours start to reduce.

Many beaches stop dog restrictions around the time of October opening up possibilities of more destinations for dog walkers.

Beach lifeguard service starts to end on the majority of beaches in September as the school holidays finish, although some continue up to the October half-term holidays.

Winter (December, January, February)

The coldest and darkest months in the UK can bring freezing temperatures but on a dry day you can wrap up warm and beach or coast path walks with a spot of beachcombing can be an enjoyable family winter activity.

Family Beach Walks

Many beaches have no dog restrictions and beaches don’t offer a lifeguard service during the winter months.

Step 2 – Decide on your budget

Deciding what your budget will be is an important step.

It can be expensive to travel in the UK particularly if you plan to travel in the summer. This peak period of school holidays also sees a significant increase in charges driven by the market demand so you need to be budgeting more. I would recommend that if you don’t need to travel in school holidays then don’t as you can save considerable sums of money.

However, there are ways to budget for your trip. In most locations, many free attractions available and I recommend also looking at the benefits of discount cards and passes to see if you can save money.

There are a variety of accommodation options available in the UK to suit all budgets ranging from Airbnb, hostels, B&Bs, holiday parks, camping, boutique hotels and luxury 5* hotels.

Using public transport such as trains, coaches and buses can be cheaper than taking or hiring a car. Just the cost of parking in a seaside town, that is if you can find a spot, can add considerable cost to a trip. You also need to validate that any accommodation also has car parking as in some busy seaside towns self-catering does not always have parking places. Public transport along the coast is often a cheap way of getting around and also seeing the coastline. For example, St. Ives in Cornwall is a nightmare for parking but if you park just outside and take the train line it becomes easier and a great way to see the town.

Step 3 – Decide what you want to do

Once you have decided when you will visit, for how long and your budget the next step is to settle on the goals of your trip. This is something I can’t really help with as often the makeup of your trip companions can direct you.

For example, families with young children will probably want beach time and facilities close at hand with limited travelling, start considering seaside towns with Blue Flag beaches. A middle-aged couple may want to travel an area taking in as much of the location and history as possible. Whilst, those looking to be active may want the correct sporting conditions, like good surf spots.

Step 4 – Decide where to go

So you now understand when you are travelling and what you want to do so this is now about getting the location nailed down. This is an enjoyable but also hard bit and we will spend some time in this step discussing options.

This can be overwhelming as there is so much information available, using Coast Radar can help you. You can take different approaches, the first is to look at an area and then drill down using the maps to see what is available or if you have a specific interest, you can look at that category across the whole of the UK.

The idea of this step is to identify which areas, cities and places match your goals and is a great way to start. You can use our blog articles for inspiration or whilst browsing Coast Radar then why not use our list tools to either add to favourites or create multiple itineraries with prospective locations and share with your family or the others on your trip to start the discussion.

coast signpost

Personality is a big factor in how far to take this planning step. Some like every minute of every day planned well in advance whilst others want an idea and then make local decisions often based on weather conditions or just how they feel on the day. I would recommend a balanced approach and pick the destination with the best options available, but remember it is too easy to include too many places and need another holiday after your trip.

In the earlier planning steps, you will have decided when and for how long you will be travelling so that gives you a baseline upon which to build your itinerary.

An important factor is to consider how to get around. Many places are easily reached by train including the major cities. However, the train has its limitations particularly if you plan to access rural areas such as Cornwall, the Jurassic Coast or the Highlands of Scotland, these are best done by car. Beware, distance in the UK may seem short on a map as compared with mainland Europe or the States, but it can take time, you are not going to want to drive 6 hours every day.

This does mean when creating a trip itinerary do consider carefully the locations of your chosen activities and the best ways to get around them. But specifically, when visiting the coast you may want to consider:

  • Lifeguard patrolled beaches – not all beaches have lifeguard patrols and each year the RNLI’s lifeguard service patrols popular destinations from Easter, through the peak school summer holidays and then ramps down in September.
  • Traveling with a dog – lots of coastal areas have dog restrictions during the Easter to October months although you can find dog-friendly beaches available all year but this may restrict your destinations.
  • Blue Flag or Seaside awarded beaches – looking for a beach holding an award is a signal that it meets a good standard in terms facilities. Although, for some this may be a reason to avoid as it means during the peak season it will be busy and have to many so called many bright light facilities like amusement arcades and parks.

Not sure where to start? Here are a few of the popular UK coastal places visitors want to see when in the UK?

  • In South West England the counties of Dorset, Devon and Cornwall attract visitors looking for beautiful beaches, coastal walks, stunning countryside and quaint villages.
  • For the many people based in London, then the South East coastal towns of Brighton and Broadstairs are both a popular seaside day trip option from London.
  • The counties of Yorkshire and Northumberland have a stunning coastline that is less busy than the south coast with areas of outstanding natural beauty, castles and great walks.
  • Edinburgh – popular with visitors for its history, architecture, culture and castle, although people forget it is by the coast making Edinburgh the perfect Scottish base for visitors to Scotland.
  • Scottish Islands – offering stunning scenery, wildlife, culture and history although with so many available choosing if to head to the West coast (Inner Hebrides, Outer Hebrides) or North East (Orkney, Shetland) coast is the first step.
  • The Scottish Highlands – people tend to think mountains but you also get beautiful scenic coastline. This is a large area and is best suited to a driving holiday and can include hops to some of the islands.
  • Swansea – although a little along from the Welsh capital of Cardiff, Swansea sees the start of the Gower Peninsula with great beaches and seaside towns like The Mumbles.
  • Welsh National Parks such as Snowdonia and Pembrokeshire are popular with nature lovers, walkers, climbers and adventurers.
  • Northern Island is often overlooked but has great coastline that includes the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Giants Causeway.
  • In the Irish Sea between England and Northern Island you have the Isle of Man, with unspoilt beaches on a very accessible and beautiful coastline. Just be aware of the Isle of Man TT week at the end of May as accommodation becomes very hard to get, expensive and the whole island becomes a motorbike island.

Also, pop over to the Coast Radar Facebook page, it is the perfect place to ask questions and discuss plans with other travellers visiting the UK coast.

Step 5 – Book accommodation

There is a huge range of accommodation options available in the UK to suit all travel budgets and styles including Airbnb, hotels, B&Bs, holiday parks, self-catering cottages and even lighthouse cottages!

I recommend using booking.com for your hotel accommodation. It is the site I use for my own trips all over the world. I find the ability to book with free late cancellation options flexible enough to make last-minute changes.

Airbnb is another great site to check for accommodation across the UK, offering many great locations not available with hotel options.

Self-catering is a great option and a couple of companies that cover much of the UK are Sykes Holiday Cottages and holidaycottages.co.uk

Often an overlooked option is holiday parks, these have some of the best coastal locations available and although not suited to many are a great option with companies like Haven offering 37 holiday parks dotted around the Great British coastline, 18 of which also offer touring pitches.

Step 6 – Book attractions, activities & places to eat

Once you have your itinerary planned I recommend checking if the attractions and activities require advance booking or not. In peak periods popular attractions can restrict entry making booking essential but even if not essential often advanced tickets can enable you to skip any queuing.

A couple of goto memberships in the UK are the National Trust and English Heritage charities.

National Trust manages gardens, parks, cafés, shops, many houses and over 780 miles of coastline. You can pay single on the day entry but an affordable option when visiting more than one location is National Trust membership that gives unlimited access to all locations like the below St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall.

St Michaels Mount, Cornwall

The English Heritage membership is similar and entitles unlimited access to more than 400 historic buildings, monuments, world-famous prehistoric sites, castles and Roman forts.

It is also worth searching for discounts as well, either online or to visit the local Tourist Information Office in the town you are visiting as often they have newsletters with discounts vouchers.

Step 7 – Last but not least enjoy your trip

And now, everything comes together, it’s time to go on your trip and have fun!

Trust your planning, follow your instincts, and you’ll have the trip of a lifetime.

Leave us some pictures on Facebook as we are keen to hear all about peoples successful trips to the beautiful UK coastline.

Over to you, start planning your trip

My step by step guide may have given you lots to think about. You can record all this information by creating an Itinerary enabling you can keep track of all your destinations and share it with your family and friends accordingly.

If you have any specific questions about the UK coast, want to discuss your itinerary or simply want to chat why not join us on our Facebook page.

Further reading

Here we list some useful links relevant to planning your trip.