February 2007 The coast has always been a recreational environment, although until the mid-nineteenth century, such recreation was a luxury only for the wealthy. Even in Roman times, the town of Baiae, by the Tyrrhenian Sea in Italy, was a resort for those who were sufficiently prosperous. During the early nineteenth century, the Prince Regent popularized Brighton, on the south coast of England, as a fashionable alternative to the wealthy spa towns such as Cheltenham. Later, Queen Victoria's long-standing patronage of the Isle of Wight and Broadstairs in Kent ensured the seaside residence was a highly fashionable possession for those wealthy enough to afford more than one home. Nowadays, many beach resorts are available as far afield as Goa in India.
It was in the mid-nineteenth century that it became popular for people from less privileged classes to take holidays at seaside resorts. Improvements in transportation brought about by the industrial revolution enabled people to take vacations away from home, and led to the growth of coastal towns as seaside resorts. This is perhaps most strongly evidenced in England and Wales, where no point is more than 180 km from the coast.
As the nineteenth century progressed, British working class day-trippers traveled on organized trips such as railway excursions, or by steamer, for which long piers were erected so that the ships bringing the trade could berth.
The popularization of the seaside resort during this period was nowhere more pronounced than in Blackpool. Blackpool catered for workers from across industrial Northern England, who packed its beaches and promenade. Other northern towns (for example Scarborough, Bridlington and Skegness on the east coast) shared in the success of this new concept, which spread rapidly to other British coastal towns including several on the coast of North Wales and notably Rhyl, and Llandudno, the largest resort in Wales and known as "The Queen of the Welsh Resorts", a title first implied as early as 1864. Some resorts, such as Bournemouth, were built as new towns by local landowners to appeal to wealthier vacationers. The south coast is packed with a number of seaside towns, the most being in Sussex which has the title 'Sussex by the Sea.'
From the last quarter of the twentieth century, the popularity of the British seaside resort has declined for the same reason that it first flourished: advancements in transportation. The greater accessibility of foreign holiday destinations, through package holidays and, more recently, European low-cost airlines, affords people the freedom to holiday abroad. Despite the loyalty of returning holiday-makers, resorts such as Blackpool have struggled to compete against the favorable weather of Southern European alternatives. Now, many symbols of the traditional British resort (holiday camps, end-of-the-pier shows and saucy postcards) are regarded by some as drab and outdated; the skies are imagined to be overcast (although British summers from the late 1980s onwards have often been warmer and sunnier than at any other time in living memory) and the beach windswept. This is not always true; for example Broadstairs in Kent has retained much of its old world charm with Punch and Judy and donkey rides and still remains popular being only one hour from the M25.
Many seaside towns have turned to other entertainment industries, and some of them have a good deal of nightlife. The cinemas and theaters often remain to become host to a number of pubs, bars, restaurants and nightclubs. Most of their entertainment facilities cater to local people and the beaches still remain popular during the summer months. Although international tourism turned people away from British seaside towns, it also brought in foreign travel and as a result, many seaside towns offer foreign language schools, the students of which often return to vacation and sometimes to settle.
A lot of people can also afford more time off and 'second holidays' and short breaks which still attract a lot of people to British seaside towns and a lot of young people and students are able to take short holidays and to discover the town's nightlife. A lot of seaside towns boast large shopping centres which also attract people from a wide area and a lot of day trippers still come to the coastal towns but on a more local scale than during the 19th century.
A lot of coastal towns are also popular retirement hotspots and many older people take short breaks in the autumn months.
In contrast, the fortunes of Brighton, which has neither holiday camps nor end-of-the-pier shows, have grown considerably, and, because of this, the resort is repeatedly held up as the model of a modern resort. However, unlike the Golden Miles of other British resorts, the sea is not Brighton's primary attraction: rather it is a backdrop against which is set an attitude of broad-minded cosmopolitan hedonism. The resulting sense of uniqueness has, coupled with the city's proximity to London, led to Brighton's restoration as a fashionable resort and the dwelling-place of the affluent.
Other English coastal towns have successfully sought to project a sense of their unique character. In particular, Southwold on the Suffolk coast is an active yet peaceful retirement haven with an emphasis on calmness, quiet countryside and jazz. Weymouth in Dorset offers itself as 'the gateway to the Jurassic Coast', Britain's only natural World Heritage Site. Newquay in Cornwall offers itself as the 'surfing capital of Britain', hosting international surfing events on its shores.
Torbay in South Devon is known is also known as the English Riviera. Consisting of the towns of Torquay, Paignton and Brixham, the bay has 20 beaches and coves along its coastline, ranging from small secluded coves to the larger promenade style seafronts of Torquay's Torre Abbey Sands and Paignton Sands. Paignton Pier extends into the sea from the popular seafront.
Lahinch is a bustling seaside resort, and is very popular for holidaymakers because of its long beach, golf links, promenade, and Seaworld (a leisure complex). Lahinch is extremely popular with surfers.