The best clifftop, harbourside and beach hotels in the UK

·15 min read
Watergate Bay - one of the best beach hotels in the UK
Watergate Bay - one of the best beach hotels in the UK

These are unusual times, and the state of affairs can change quickly. Please check the latest guidance before travelling. Our writer visited these hotels prior to the pandemic.

More than 30,000 kilometres of coastline is said to fringe Great Britain and its islands, along which lie twisting coastal paths, clifftop villages, sandy bays, pebble beaches, busy promenades, smart harbours and plenty of rocky promontories. Whether you're venturing to the land's edges for a night, weekend, week (month?), choosing accommodation can be tricky when there are so many options to suit all holidays, tastes and budgets. So here's our pick of the best beach hotels in the UK for a seaside staycation, including the top places to stay for families and couples, sea views, excellent fish restaurants, impressive spas and charming rooms – in locations such as Cornwall, Brighton, Norfolk, Suffolk, Dorset, Isle of Wight, Jersey, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

A true highlight of Carbis Bay is the fact it is the only British hotel with its own Blue Flag beach; so for seaside breaks in the UK it's a stunning choice. The main house, erected by celebrated Cornish architect Sylvanus Trevail in 1894, blends historic grandeur – gilt mirrors, chandeliers – with cheery interior touches by co-owner Josie Baker. The handsome 125-acre estate includes fine-dining, a superb spa, watersports, a pool and myriad accommodation options. Most appealing are two-storey, balconied Beach Houses, offering direct access onto the sand.

With an appropriate beach shack look (bleached, driftwood style bar in the open, sunny bistro and similar furnishings in the bedrooms) the Gallivant overlooks the golden sands of Camber. Its name (‘to wander about, seeking pleasure’) is appropriate: it started life as the Blue Dolphin Motel, when no doubt it saw its fair share of gallivants and their dates. Now it’s one of the loveliest informal and affordable beachfront hotels in the UK with a youthful air and plenty of local fish on the menu.

Overlooking romantic Mawgan Porth beach, this scintillating eco hotel blurs the boundaries between inside and out, with glass walls, flat roofs covered in sea thrift and infinity pools that seem to reach to the sea. At its heart is its Ayurvedic spa, with pods suspended in the dark for deep relaxation. The Scarlet may be thoroughly green but there’s no sense of a hair shirt approach: once inside this adult-only sanctuary, the feeling is one of soothing, sybaritic luxury.

Gob-smacking ocean views are the heart and soul of this cool property, perched on the edge of a cliff on rocky Pentire Head. Whether gazing out of picture windows, or supping prawns and Prosecco on the terrace, it’s all about the sea and the sunsets and the amazing Cornish light. The coast path is on the doorstep with Fistral Beach, Pentire Head and the white dunes of Crantock sands also close by. The building is a sturdy block of Cornish stonework; a huge timber deck out-front seems to hang over the sea like the prow of a ship.

Loved by generations of the same families, The Blakeney stands in a prime position on the charming quayside in one of the Norfolk coast’s prettiest villages, with wonderful views across the estuary and salt marshes to Blakeney Point. Public rooms are smartly contemporary in soothing shades of greens, creams and dove greys. The soft-hued accommodation in this 60-room hotel reflects the public areas and the gentle seaside colours outside. There are panoramic views from the restaurant, bar and terrace.

Arguably one of the best hotels with a sea view in the UK, just a pebble’s skim from the water, this coastal south Devon hotel looks onto the magnificent Salcombe bay with its twinkling seas, bobbing fishing boats, sandy beaches and pastel cottages. A breezy waterside bar and decked terrace invites mojito-drinking, oyster shucking and panama hat-wearing visitors, especially in summer when DJ sets and rooftop yoga sessions lend it a Balearic vibe. Décor is pale and interesting, with splashes of nautical kitsch.

There’s nowhere more fun, and more in the spirit of theatrical, artistic Brighton than this highly individual 24-room hotel at the top of Regency Square, where each bedroom is individually painted by an artist, and more works of art are dotted around the hotel. There are views of Brighton’s seaside from the open-plan breakfast and reception room; a cafe-cum-cocktail-lounge; and chef-owner Dan Kelly's cosy Set Restaurant serving on-trend tasting menus using unusual ingredients and cooking methods.

The beachfront location is the inspiration behind Godolpgin's interior design, drawing on elements of the coastal surrounds and bringing the outside in. There are relaxed lounging spaces scattered throughout, plus a two-storey, light-filled, glass-and-zinc dining area at the centre. The restaurant and bar open out onto a balcony upstairs and a terrace below, both with views across to the Mount’s Bay sweep, directly opposite St Michael’s Mount. Whether it’s a late breakfast, afternoon tea or al fresco drinks, hours at the Godolphin can easily be lost gazing seaward.

The first boutique hotel to come to Llandudno, this design-led property combines the aesthetics of a Wallpaper* photoshoot with the home-from-home welcome of a family-owned b&b. The owners have clearly invested time and energy in the property – it shows in the eclectic, personal touches. They have sourced vintage pieces from European design fairs and continue to refresh the rooms regularly. It offers a frisson of style for weekend escapers seeking privacy, and a stylish base for exploring local adrenaline and cultural attractions.

A top choice if you're looking for UK seaside hotels with pools, excellent dining options and comfortable rooms. The Atlantic began life as an unforgiving Sixties building. Four decades on, after major refurbishment, the hotel now speaks more of Art Deco and ocean liners, with sophisticated all-white reception rooms that are stylish, yet timeless, complemented by beautifully mannered staff who provide the traditional element in a hotel that stays fresh, but refuses to follow fashion.

This one of the most majestic coastal hotels in the UK, built in 1897, right on the beach. As if the turreted Scottish Baronial-style building wasn’t impressive enough, it’s got a world-famous golf course on one side, the mountains on the other, the ocean in front and a great spa and old-school charm within. Owner the late Sir William Hastings was a big fan of real fires, and you’ll find them everywhere, making the atmosphere both grand and homely. The main Oak Restaurant is a lovely space.

The stretch of Cornish coastline that Watergate Bay occupies is like nature on steroids (bigger, brighter more brilliant), with an expansive bay, panoramic, glassy views over the Atlantic, huge waves specked by balletic pro surfers, and caves and rock pools. The concept is "ski resort on the beach" – laid-back, breezy and modern, everything looks cool but durable enough to have sand and saltwater dripped over it. Every exterior wall seems to be made of glass, drawing the eye to the sea, which is really the point, as this is a hotel that encourages you to get outside and into the saltwater and briny air.

With easy access to the Pembrokeshire Coast Path, gorgeous interiors and long tasting menus, this is easily one of the most romantic hotels on the coast of the UK. The 12 bedrooms are lovely and have views over the sea, and it’s a pleasure to dine in the restaurant with its candlelight and white-linen tablecloths. In the middle of the small, well-kempt village of Penally, which has its own beach and train station, guests don’t have to venture far to reach the coast; it’s just a 30-minute walk down to the seaside town of Tenby where there are plenty of 'secret' beaches to explore.

Hedda Hopper, the American actress and gossip columnist, commissioned Sir Clough Williams-Ellis to build this imposing mansion for her in the Twenties. The setting on a wide pebble beach between Romney Marsh and the sea is glorious and peaceful. Inside, it has attractive, homely bedrooms, a cosy bar, fire-lit sitting room, pretty conservatory dining room and top-floor ‘lookout’ with the feel of a beach hut and an old-fashioned telescope for scanning the horizon. On a clear day, you can see France.

This stylish seaside hotel is set right on the miniscule harbour, with wonderful views from sunrise to sunset from the terrace and glass-walled restaurant/bar/sitting room that runs the entire length of the hotel. Staying at this stylish, laid-back waterfront inn in chic St Mawes is guaranteed to make you feel like a very cool model in a World of Interiors shoot. Skies and sea often look Mediterranean, and sitting in the bar over a perfectly executed Fizz, it can be hard to believe you are in England.

Designed to resemble a Venetian palazzo, The Pier was built in 1864 to accommodate passengers departing for the Continent. The original Ha’penny Pier is still charmingly intact and gives its name to the hotel’s first-floor bistro. The downstairs Navyard bar is an appealing place for a drink, popular with locals for cocktails and its 140-strong 'Gin Library'. From six of the bedrooms you can soak up the view: the Orwell and Stour estuaries in the distance and tugs and fishing boats beetling about on the water at your feet.

Set beneath the cliffs on the beach, The Cary Arms’ location is nothing short of spectacular. Rooms are delightful, with retro red leather bed heads, pretty wardrobes and sticks of rock on snow white pillows. Best of all are the hotel's beach huts for overnight stays: luxurious touches abound, including walk-in showers, non-mist bathroom mirrors, soft carpets, White Company toiletries, a Smeg minibar, coffee-maker and sun loungers on the terrace. The South West Coastal Path is on the doorstep, the harbour towns of Brixham and Dartmouth are close, and Dartmoor is a half-hour drive away.

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Ynshir’s location is so peaceful that even Queen Victoria acquired the handsome white-painted house as a hidden retreat. The undulating grounds lead to the RSPB Ynyshir Nature Reserve saltmarsh and lowland wet grasslands at the head of the Dyfi estuary. Just across the water is Aberdyfi and its broad sweep of dune-backed beach. A modern, Scandi-style makeover has certainly given Ynyshir a new lease of life – and food lovers another reason to detour to North Wales (perhaps for chef Gareth Ward’s 19-course, four-hour-long tasting menus).

Island hotels have a magic all of their own and none more so than Eriska, connected to the mainland by a rumbly bridge but otherwise a world apart: all yours, with its seals and otters and dreamlike views. After a fine dinner in the turreted Scottish Baronial Big House, built in 1884, guests gather for an Eriska exclusive: badgers feeding from bread and milk on the terrace. There’s plenty to do: golf, leisure centre and multi-purpose sports hall.

The medieval core of a fine 16th-century mansion sits on Pydew Mountain and offers some of the finest views in this neck of North Wales. The warm-stone manor is reached by a track, which passes through sheep-nibbled meadows. There’s plenty of pretty garden and woodland walks right on the doorstep, but you’re also just a couple of miles down the road from the Victorian seaside resort of Llandudno, with its 19th-century pier, promenade and sandy beaches, and Conwy.

Hotelier and designer Olga Polizzi spent two years redesigning Hotel Tresanton and it still stands as a reflection of her personal style. Olga’s vision combines antiques, art, sculpture and colour pops of fabrics to evoke a stylish, relaxed and welcoming coastal retreat, with an eclectic mix of antique and contemporary furnishings, as well as artwork and sculpture from Cornish artists. There is no pool but instead, meet Pinuccia, the resident yacht, which you can sail around Falmouth Bay with the help of the hotel’s skipper.

A restored Georgian townhouse on genteel Hawley Square, a stone's throw from Margate's sandy beach, quirky Old Town and the Turner Contemporary. The bedrooms span a floor each and, with lavish breakfasts enjoyed in the privacy of one's room, it's more boutique luxury hotel than typical beachside b&b. Floorboards are stripped, walls unevenly undressed of layers of multicoloured paint and plaster, antique chandeliers hang above old radiators painted slate grey, and wildflower posies sit on ornate fireplaces.

The remarkably unspoilt Lutyens-designed Arts and Crafts house is located just outside the East Lothian golfing town of Gullane, overlooking the Firth of Forth and as close as you can get to the Muirfield championship course without actually sleeping on the greens. Edinburgh is only 30 minutes’ drive away and there are plenty of long walks, sandy beaches and appealing coastal towns nearby. As well as golf packages, there are other distractions including tennis courts, fishing, clay pigeon shooting and bicycles.

An Art Deco masterpiece, the Midland’s sleek white curve sits elegantly beside the shining expanse of Morecambe Bay. It offers magnificent views across the bay to the Lake District’s high fells, particularly from the handsome restaurant with its stylish sweep of window walls. After a multi-million pound restoration, the hotel is now as dazzling as it was in its glamorous heyday. There are just 44 rooms (splash out on the sea view) and an atmosphere that's more boutique than grand hotel.

The seaside setting, tucked into the south-easternmost fringe of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, is charming, and the hotel itself is bright, breezy and contemporary, with a maritime motif. Make the most of the excellent spa, with soothing thermal suite, including an infinity pool, herbal rock sauna and a host of pampering treatments. The 34 bedrooms are divided into three categories – Good, Better and Best – and stylish colours evoke the seaside ambience.

Opened by Toby Ashworth’s grandmother in 1988, The Nare was the county’s first luxury establishment. Today, Toby continues to uphold her vision of traditional British hospitality, resulting in a hotel to which guests return year after year, drawn by the kindness, the offer of collection by car from their home, the location on stunning Carne Beach and the good food in the splendid dining room. Children are usually part of multi-generational gatherings. Dogs have their own menus.

California meets the Atlantic Ocean at this terrific hotel on tiny Bryher. It takes commitment to get there by ferry and jeep, but when you do you’ll find nothing but grass, golden sand, a jumble of rocks and the vast ocean. There’s also a pool, tennis court, play area, games and fitness rooms. Dishes such as Bryher crabs and Tresco beef are served in sunny weather on the terrace where you can drink in those astonishing views.

A one-off. With its authentic Art Deco building and interiors and its determination to recreate a bygone era, this island hotel, reached by sea tractor at high tide, attracts people who love the idea of donning evening dress for dinner, every night, and recreating the past. In its heyday, many celebrities, including Noel Coward, frequented the hotel. Agatha Christie, who wrote two novels here, including And Then There Were None, based on the island, loved it too.

With its wacky profusion of turrets, gargoyles, stone casements and overlapping tiles on steep roofs, this enchanting 18th-century house will bring an instant smile and thoughts of Hansel and Gretel. As for the views, you’ll be entranced, especially looking across fields and sea to Old Harry Rocks. It brims over with charm: the signature conservatory restaurant; walled kitchen garden; original features; quirkily different bedrooms; spa in a shepherd’s hut and much more. For fun in the sun, look no further.

With a bar along one wall and kitchen open to view, the simple, glass encased L-shaped dining room of this fun-loving restaurant with rooms on a little bay near Cowes buzzes with life. Owner Ben Cooke no longer mans the stoves but has joined his wife Holly front of house, with no diminishment in the quality of the food: perhaps home-cured Gravadlax, smoked mackerel salad Niçoise and lobster in season, plus locally sourced meat dishes, including excellent steaks, for the less piscatorial.

Contributions by Telegraph Experts including David Atkinson, Gavin Bell, Suzy Bennett, Sophie Butler, Jade Conroy, Martin Dunford, Hattie Garlick, Lesley Gillilan, Geoff Hill, Gabriella Le Breton, Linda Macdonald, Robin McKelvie, Richard Mellor, Natalie Millar-Partridge, Benjamin Parker, Louise Roddon, Anna Turns, Kerry Walker, Tina Walsh & Antonia Windsor