Brighton & Hove
Raves on the beach, Graham Greene novels, mods and rockers in bank-holiday fisticuffs, naughty weekends for Mr and Mrs Smith, the UK’s biggest gay scene and the Channel’s best clubbing – this coastal city evokes many images for the British. But one thing is certain: with its bohemian, hedonistic vibe, Brighton is where England’s seaside experience goes from cold to cool.
Canterbury tops the charts for English cathedral cities and is one of southern England’s top attractions. Many consider the World Heritage–listed cathedral that dominates its centre to be one of Europe’s finest, and the town’s narrow medieval alleyways, riverside gardens and ancient city walls are a joy to explore.
West Sussex offers a welcome respite from past-paced adventures. The serene hills and valleys of the South Downs ripple across the county, fringed by sheltered coastline. Beautiful Arundel and cultured Chichester make good bases from which to explore the county’s winding country lanes and remarkable Roman ruins.
Down-in-the-dumps Dover has certainly seen better days. Its derelict postwar architecture and shabby town centre is a sad introduction to England for travellers arriving on cross-Channel ferries and cruise ships, most of whom pass through quickly. Lucky, then, that the town has a couple of stellar attractions to redeem it.
Possibly the south of England’s quaintest town, Rye is a little nugget of the past, a medieval settlement that looks like it’s been dunked in formaldehyde and left on the shelf for all to admire. Even the most hard-boiled cynic can’t fail to be softened by Rye’s cobbled lanes, mysterious passageways and crooked half-timbered Tudor buildings.
Despite its official title as ‘Britain’s sunniest town’, Eastbourne has been slow to throw off its unattractive image as death’s waiting room by the chilly Channel, all snoozing octogenarians in deckchairs and fusty guesthouses populated by vitamin D–deprived bank-holidaying Scots.
As close as you’ll get to a living museum, Sandwich was once England’s fourth city (after London, Norwich and Ipswich). It’s a fact hard to grasp as you wonder its drowsy medieval lanes, ancient churches, Dutch gables, crooked peg-tiled roofs and overhanging timber-framed houses.
The White Cliffs of Dover
Immortalised in song, film and literature, the iconic white cliffs of Dover are embedded in the national consciousness, and are a big ‘Welcome Home’ sign to generations of travellers and soldiers. The cliffs rise to 100m high and extend on either side of Dover, but the best bit is the 6-mile stretch that starts about 2 miles east of town, properly known as the Langdon Cliffs.
Perhaps it’s the oysters, harvested since Roman times? Maybe it’s the weatherboard houses and shingle beach? Or perhaps it’s the pleasingly old-fashioned main street with petite galleries, been-there-forever outfitters and emporia of vintage clothing? Most likely it’s for all of these reasons that Whitstable has become a bit of a weekend mecca for metropolitan types looking f.
The most varied of Thanet’s towns, Ramsgate has a friendlier feel than rival Margate and is more vibrant than its quaint little neighbour Broadstairs. A forest of masts whistles serenely in the breeze below the handsomely curved walls of Britain’s only royal harbour, and the seafront is surrounded by bars and cosmopolitan street cafes.