Home » The 20 best grand British seaside hotels

The 20 best grand British seaside hotels

Once upon a time, there was nowhere so redolent with glamour as a Great British seaside hotel in the summer season and – for a while – the Grand Hotel in Scarborough led the pack. The Grand opened in 1867 and was reputedly Europe’s largest hotel. Yet recently, one mayoral candidate branded it “the shame of Scarborough”, promising to buy and restore it to its former glory. A shabby bowling alley now stands where the Cliftonville – once Margate’s finest hotel – was bulldozed in 1962. All is not lost, however. Because up and down the coast, other grande dames of the sea are currently staging a comeback.




The Grand Hotel in Brighton celebrates its 160th birthday this summer


Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

Their last golden era? “Undoubtedly the mid to end of the 19th century,” says Karen Averby, historian and author of Seaside Hotels, a book charting their remarkable rise, fall and recent resurgence. “The sense of centuries of delight and excitement is still palpable,” adds Madeleine Bunting, author of The Seaside: England’s Love Affair. “These places witnessed some of the nation’s most powerful and intimate experiences – of beauty, fantasy, adventure, indulgence. That, combined with the sound and smell of the sea, can’t fail to trigger the wistful pleasures of nostalgia.”



Burgh Island Hotel


Burgh Island Hotel is set on its own tidal island

Burgh Island Hotel, Devon

Arrive at high tide by sea tractor, dress for dinner, swim in the natural “mermaid” pool, retreat to the Palm Court Lounge for cocktail hour, dance to live jazz piano… This is a hotel – on its own tidal island, no less – that takes 1930s nostalgia seriously. A major refurbishment has revived the authentic art deco glamour that characterises the hotel. Noël Coward and Agatha Christie (both once regulars) would be proud. The latter would be especially tickled, surely, by the hotel’s murder mystery weekends.

Doubles from £410 a night, B&B (01548 810514; burghisland.com). Read the full review here and for more inspiration from beaches to cream tea, see our guide to Devon.

The Cliftonville, Cromer, Norfolk

This imposing seafront hotel was built in 1894 – Cromer’s golden era, when King Edward VII came for the golf, and grockles flocked to its shiny new pier. Less illustrious periods sadly followed, both for the town and the hotel. Now however it has been renovated, its glorious bones polished. There are lofty ceilings, shedloads of bright and billowy stained glass, Arts and Crafts carving and panelling. A grand split staircase frames the old-school reception desk, where keys are nostalgically hung on a board. The sea-facing dining room has a huge zebra-striped stone fireplace and every room has sweeping sea views.

Doubles from £99 (01263 512543; thecliftonville.com). Read the full review here and discover restaurants, pubs and more with our guide to Norfolk.

The Grand, Brighton, East Sussex

No other hotel is quite so baked into British history. When opened to great fanfare in 1864, this Victorian-Italianate grande dame (boasting the first hotel lifts outside of London and 12,560 cubic feet of York and Portland stone) earned the nickname the “Palace by the Sea”.  Abba stayed after their 1974 Eurovision win. Only Fools and Horses filmed an episode here. And, of course, the IRA targeted Margaret Thatcher here in 1984. The hotel sails on, dauntless and dignified, celebrating its 160th birthday this summer with an extensive (and expensive) renovation to all its 201 bedrooms.

Doubles from £133, B&B (01273 862 121; grandbrighton.co.uk). Read the full review here.



Carbis Bay Hotel & Estate


Carbis Bay Hotel & Estate has expanded over the decades but its glamour has not faded


Credit: Kieran Brimson

Carbis Bay Hotel & Estate, Cornwall

Built in 1894, on its own Blue Flag sandy beach, Carbis Bay has hosted Virginia Woolf and inspired Rosamunde Pilcher. The latter immortalised it in her novel The Shell Seekers, which describes its “enormously thick carpets, swimming pools, Jacuzzis, private bathrooms, televisions by our beds, huge bowls of fresh fruit, and flowers everywhere”. It has expanded over the decades but its glamour has not faded – in 2021 it hosted the G7 summit. There are six restaurants to pick from, and in the spa, a heated infinity pool sits on a large sea-facing terrace. 

Doubles from £265, B&B (01736 795311; carbisbayhotel.co.uk). Read the full review here and plan the perfect holiday to Cornwall with our guide.



The Midland Hotel


The Midland Hotel was designed by architect Oliver Hill

The Midland Hotel, Morecambe, Lancashire

Curving gracefully around the promenade like a dazzling white ship, this art deco masterpiece was designed by the architect Oliver Hill, who commissioned sculptor Eric Gill and artist Eric Ravilious to create murals and carvings inside, with no expense spared. It opened in 1933, fell into dereliction over the subsequent decades but following a recent multi-million-pound restoration is now spick, span and standing proud. Shell out for a sea-view – you won’t regret it.

Doubles from £113, B&B (01524 424000; inncollectiongroup.com).

The Pier at Harwich, Essex

Designed to resemble a Venetian palazzo, The Pier at Harwich was built in 1864 to accommodate passengers departing for the Continent. It stands right on the quayside, opposite the original clapboard Ha’penny Pier (one of Britain’s only working wooden piers, still charming and home to a visitors’ centre, café and seafood kiosk). The hotel’s first-floor bistro is named after this pier, and on its intricate wrought-iron balcony you can eat mussels or fish and chips while gazing at both it and the modern marine traffic, while the sun sets over the Stour. Its 14 bedrooms are individually styled to reflect the watery world outside. 

Doubles from £190 (01255 241212; milsomhotels.com). Read the full review here.



No 17 the Promenade Oban


No 17 the Promenade was entirely renovated in 2022

No 17 the Promenade, Oban, Scotland

This Victorian seaside hotel that sits proudly in the middle of the promenade was entirely and lovingly renovated in 2022. Its 19 bedrooms are sumptuous and just the right amount of eccentric. Think vintage telephones, fringed standard lamps and rich colour palettes. Downstairs, the salon and bar are witty and warm, the Italian restaurant whips up an excellent crab and mascarpone tortelloni, while from the terrace you can watch spectacular sunsets over the Isle of Mull.

Doubles from £160, B&B (01631 700211; no17thepromenade.com).



St Abbs


The Art Deco Saunton Sands Hotel has operated almost continuously since 1933

Saunton Sands Hotel, Devon

Barring a brief interlude during the Second World War, when it was requisitioned for the Duke of York’s Royal Military School, this glorious art deco hotel has operated continuously since 1933, when it was opened by the Christie family, who built the Glyndebourne opera house at around the same time. Coastal views don’t come much more operatic than those from its sea-facing rooms, which overlook three miles of beach. Inside are 74 bedrooms, two suites and 11 apartments. Walls are white and the interior design is reminiscent of an ocean liner. Expect excellent, old-school service, a grand two AA Rosette restaurant, an impressive spa and even a helipad.

Doubles from £198, B&B (01271 890212; sauntonsands.co.uk). Read the full review here.

St Brides Spa Hotel, Pembrokeshire, Wales

When it originally opened in the 1930s, this hotel’s brochure boasted of hot and cold water in every room, central heating and electric lighting. By 1938, a journalist for Great Western Railway’s Holiday Haunts magazine noted, with approval, the recent addition of a large glass lounge ballroom. A series of modern makeovers and expansions have now retired the ballroom, but the hotel remains one of Wales’ best seaside escapes. Today it feels bright, breezy and contemporary. And the running water is being put to good use these days in its excellent spa. 

Doubles from £210, B&B (01834 812304; stbridesspahotel.com). Read the full review here and find more inspiration for your next holiday with our Pembrokeshire guide.



St Brides Spa Hotel


St Brides Spa Hotel is one of Wales’ best seaside escapes


Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

Blakeney Hotel, Norfolk

This Edwardian hotel has watched over its small harbour and been welcoming travellers since 1922. It has undergone a number of renovations during that time, the most recent and sophisticated in 2022. Notably, a large heated indoor pool has been added, but still it remains the most comfortable and comfortingly traditional base from which to explore North Norfolk’s epic beaches. Nautical-themed curios decorate snug residents’ lounges. Waiters push trolleys bearing cake or kedgeree. Gin and tonics are taken in the hotel’s first-floor bar, with views across the water. 

Doubles from £386, B&B (01263 740797; blakeney-hotel.co.uk). Read the full review here.

The Royal Hotel, Ventnor, Isle of Wight

The Royal opened in 1832 to capitalise on Ventor’s therapeutic microclimate and has remained a prestigious address, commanding views across the bay and English Channel. Its 51 rooms are all comfortable, though some have more of the original character and grandeur than others. Outside, Lloyd Loom chairs wait on the pretty trellis-covered terrace, where Pimms is served overlooking the pool. Squint and you can almost see the ladies in crinolines who must have once played croquet on the lawn. 

Doubles from £150, B&B (01983 852186; royalhoteliow.co.uk). Read the full review here.



The Brudenell Hotel


The Brudenell Hotel has a winning formula that has not changed much over the decades


Credit: Matt Finch

The Brudenell Hotel, Aldeburgh, Suffolk

The Brudenell opened in 1868 and has served up more seaside holidays than you’ve had hot dinners. It has a winning formula that has not changed much over the decades. And why should it? Its suntrap, sea-view terraces and fish restaurant are popular with both tourists and locals. Its position – right on the shingle – cannot be rivalled, and it is only a short stroll from the (now rather chi-chi) high street. Bag a sea-view room and you might even spot a seal from your window. 

Doubles from £128 (01728 452071; brudenellhotel.co.uk). Read the full review here.



The Imperial Hotel


The Imperial Hotel’s Chantrey’s Restaurant holds two AA Rosettes

The Imperial Hotel, Llandudno, Wales

By 1872, when the Imperial first opened, Llandundo had become known as the “Queen of the Welsh resorts”. The hotel, in the middle of the town’s Promenade, was the jewel in its crown. Prince Leopold stayed the following year, while the exiled Queen Rambai Barni of Siam made a semi-permanent home here. You no longer have to be royalty to book a room, and while they are not sumptuous, they are crisp and classic (ask for a fifth-floor, sea-view room with balcony). Though the décor is dated, Chantrey’s Restaurant has held two AA Rosettes since 2017, ranking it one of the finest restaurants not only in Llandudno but in North Wales. The terrace (for sarnies and afternoon tea) has panoramic views over the Great Orme and across Llandudno’s sweeping bay. 

Doubles from £120, B&B (01492 877466; theimperial.co.uk). 

Harbour Hotel Brighton, East Sussex

This seagull-white Victorian hotel on a corner of Brighton’s promenade has been rescued by the Harbour Hotels group, which specialises in British seaside properties. While renovating this one, it discovered a long-forgotten, bricked-up lower basement and turned it into a grotto-like spa. Elsewhere the interior design is bright, cheerful and contemporary. Opt for the 40 per cent of rooms that face the Channel (though these are noisier). Best of all, book one of the five Seaview Corner Suites for 180-degree panoramic vistas.

Doubles from £145 (01273 323221; harbourhotels.co.uk). Read the full review here.



The Beachcroft


The Beachcroft is positioned right on the pebbles of Felpham beach


Credit: Fiona Mills

The Beachcroft, Bognor Regis, West Sussex

The Beachcroft does not have the illustrious past that others in this list can claim, but if any hotel channels that spirit of eccentricity and faded pride that characterises the Great British seaside hotel, it is this one. It’s positioned right on the pebbles of Felpham beach, beside that great rival to the seaside hotel – Butlin’s – and holds regular psychic nights and Fawlty Towers-themed dinners. The four “beach hut suites” – set just apart from the main hotel building – are its real treasures. Just a cycle path separates their private decks from the beach, and from their mezzanine bedrooms, you can watch the waves from bed. 

Beach Hut Suites from £310, B&B (01243 827142; beachcroft-hotel.co.uk). Read the full review here.



The Grand Hotel, Eastbourne


The Grand Hotel was christened the ‘white palace’ on its opening in 1875


Credit: Joshua Tarn

The Grand Hotel, Eastbourne, East Sussex

This vast wedding cake of a hotel was christened the “white palace” when it opened right on the prom in 1875 and immediately swarmed with the Victorian elite. Charlie Chaplin visited, Winston Churchill stayed, Claude Debussy composed his symphony La Mer while in residence. Its renovation last year was a masterclass in updating the tired without erasing the traditional. Think liveried doormen, a formal two AA Rosette restaurant, afternoon tea in the Great Hall. Terraces with sweeping sea views; two pools – all very gently genteel. 

Doubles from £159 a night, B&B (01323 412345; grandeastbourne.com). Read the full review here.

Walpole Bay Hotel, Margate, Kent

By the 1860s, the neighbourhood of Cliftonville was where the more refined visitors to Margate made their home. While many of its grandest hotels are now lost, the Walpole clings on. A 1927 Otis trellis gated lift services every floor. Corridors are lined by a “living museum” – sepia photographs of Margate, ancient teddy bears, vintage wedding dresses and other curios. Walls are decorated with photos of the hotel’s famous fans (Ray Winstone, Vic Reeves and more) and sketches on napkins donated by artistic guests (including Tracey Emin).

Doubles for £135, B&B (01843 221703; walpolebayhotel.co.uk). Read the full review here.



Fowey Harbour Hotel


More than 30 of the bedrooms at Fowey Harbour Hotel have views over the water

Fowey Harbour Hotel, Cornwall

Established in 1882 and now also part of the Harbour Hotels group, this clotted cream-coloured classic still has immaculate split-terraced gardens, with regal estuary and sea views, and where traditional Cornish cream teas are served in summer. Daphne du Maurier, Sir Arthur Quiller Couch and Kenneth Graham are among those who’ve stayed, and today’s guests still use the working period lift they travelled in. Most of the communal spaces and 37 bedrooms have views over the water. The latter and safely and serenely decorated in soft greys and blues. Do not forget to ask to borrow crabbing buckets and lines.

Doubles from £180, B&B (01726 832551; harbourhotels.co.uk). Read the full review here.



The Burlington Hotel


The Burlington Hotel recently got a £3 million renovation

The Burlington Hotel, Worthing, Sussex

Worthing’s oldest hotel was built in 1865, a short stroll down the prom from the pier. It hosted Charles Dickens and Charles Darwin before falling into sad disrepair. Happier times are on the horizon, though: the Grade II-listed grande dame recently got a £3 million renovation, restoring some Victorian features and installing soft slate shades to its 26 bedrooms, lobby and bar while creating a new restaurant, the Sea Pearl. The town is experiencing a sudden resurgence in popularity too, having been “discovered” by hipsters. Take the blue plaque tour from the Pier, past one of the UK’s oldest cinemas, Pinter’s place and Elizabeth Frink’s bronze sculptures.

Doubles from £119, B&B (01903 211222; theburlington.net). 



Premier


The Premier Inn Bournemouth Central in was built in 1936 in the classic “ocean liner” style

Premier Inn Bournemouth Central, Dorset

No, really. This is one of Averby’s top tips. Originally called the Palace Court Hotel, it was built in 1936 in the same “ocean liner” style as the Midland, with matching wrap-around balconies. For a while, it was the height of sophistication and the place in which to see and be seen. The Beatles stayed in 1963, posing for photographs on the roof. While the interiors, today, are “very much Premier Inn style”, says Averby, some art deco detailing remains. The exterior and sea views, moreover, are still glorious.  

Doubles from £49 (0333 777 3929; premierinn.com).