The Great British seaside - Bournemouth's golden sands, deckchairs and a pier - Credit: BCP Tourism
The Great British seaside - Bournemouth's golden sands, deckchairs and a pier - Credit: BCP Tourism
things to do
Why we do like to be beside the seaside – now more than ever 

Dr Anya Chapman and Dr Duncan Light, Principal Academics in Tourism Management at Bournemouth University, reflect on our enduring love of the Great British seaside  

Dr Anya Chapman and Dr Duncan Light

There are over 150 resorts dotted along the British coast – including six in Dorset – with many developing in the mid-19th century as holiday destinations catering for mass tourism. A distinctive architecture developed at the seaside including extravagant hotels, piers, fairgrounds, theatres, winter gardens, towers, entertainment complexes, and bandstands. 

What made these buildings unique was their relationship with the sea. For the first time in history, seaside pleasure palaces were designed to actively embrace the sea. In addition, many were designed to make ‘mill girls feel like duchesses for a day’ and these opulent structures were influenced by architectural styles from India and China. 

Many iconic British seaside buildings first opened in the late 19th century: Blackpool Tower; pleasure piers at Brighton, Hastings and Bournemouth; theatres such as the Winter Gardens in Bournemouth, Blackpool, and Torquay; and grand seaside hotels such as the Royal Hotel in Weymouth. 

During the 1930s fashionable pastimes included outdoor activities and sunbathing, resulting in new attractions in the modern Art Deco style. Notable structures opened during this time include Saltdean Lido, Bexhill-on Sea’s De La Warr Pavilion, Weymouth’s Pier Bandstand, and Bournemouth’s Palace Court Hotel. 

Beach huts at Bournemouth beach, an enduring element of the seaside experience - Credit: BCP Tourism

From the 1970s onwards resorts were hit hard by the rise of cheap Mediterranean package holidays. Seaside resorts experienced a long period of decline and became associated with dilapidation and decay. Many of their distinctive buildings were neglected and by the late 20th century piers, lidos and swimming pools (including the Pier Approach Baths in Bournemouth) as well as iconic entertainment venues such as Weymouth’s Alexandra Gardens Theatre, were demolished.  

However, it appears that the tide is turning and many of Britain’s seaside resorts have been undergoing a revival. There are a number of reasons for this. There is a growing nostalgia for the traditional seaside holiday – after all it was seaside towns that people flocked to once the first lockdown was lifted in 2020.  

For older people who visited traditional seaside resorts during their heyday, the seaside is important for grounding personal memories, with resorts becoming destinations for heritage tourism. Iconic structures such as piers, beach huts, and entertainment venues are becoming much loved seaside attractions once again.

Bournemouth Pier on of the seaside survivors - Credit: BCP Tourism

Seaside resorts have also benefitted from a range of government strategies and funding initiatives, and local community groups are involved in the revival of their seaside heritage. Swanage has two flagship visitor attractions that are operated by community trusts which have prospered from government funding: Swanage Pier and Swanage Railway. 

Some resorts are regenerating through arts and the creative industries: indeed, the creative classes are attracted by the ‘edgy’ vibe of some seaside towns. The recent revival of Margate was spearheaded by the opening of the Turner Contemporary art gallery. And creative digital businesses are so important to Bournemouth’s economy that it was dubbed ‘silicon beach’. 

Recent research on blue health has shown that having access to an area of water can improve mental and physical wellbeing. Seaside resorts have the unique combination of beach, sea and sky that make them perfect blue health destination. Consequently, resorts such as Bournemouth are able to reposition themselves as destinations for outdoor activities and wellness for all ages. 

Moreover, there is a growing move towards more responsible travel, where tourists seek locally sourced produce such as the catch of the day at Lyme Regis, or sustainable forms of transport such as Bournemouth’s Beryl bikes. 

Resorts have proved themselves to be adaptable and resilient, and many have reinvented themselves for new types of tourism and tourist. Iconic seaside buildings have also been repurposed – such as the Rock Reef Adventure Experience in Bournemouth Pier’s former theatre. Tourists are rediscovering their love of the British seaside, and resorts will continue to evolve for future generations that still like to be beside the sea. 

Beside the seaside: the past, present and future of the Great British seaside is part of Bournemouth University’s free online public lecture series. Join Dr Anya Chapman and Dr Duncan Light on March 24 at 7pm book at