The Great British Seaside Holiday is all about epic beaches and buckets and spades, cheeky postcards, pleasure piers and fish and chips on the promenade. As one of the UKs best kept travel secrets, Southport in Merseyside offers all that and more, a quintessentially British seaside town that offers all the traditional fun of the seaside resort but also has a unique Victorian heritage and charm that makes it a perfect option for a Great British seaside holiday.
This is a paid article written in partnership with Visit Southport, with products or services supplied by them. Full editorial integrity is maintained at all times. The views and opinions expressed are entirely the authors own based on personal experiences when travelling and are honest and factual without any bias.
When it comes to looking for a staycation in the UK, you just can’t beat a traditional British seaside holiday and I took advantage of the last of the summer weather to take a cheeky seaside break and head to my favourite childhood beach, Southport.
Southport is Merseyside’s hidden treasure. It is one of the UKs best and most loved seaside resorts, holding internationally renowned annual events such as the Southport Flower Show and the Southport Air Show, yet at the same time always seems to miss out on the huge crowds that descend on other seaside towns, which is not a bad thing! Set between Liverpool and Blackpool, it is a Victorian jewel along the north west coastline that has managed to retain a certain charm amongst its slightly faded grandeur and still offers up an amazing seaside day out.
The kitsch and fun of the bucket and spade shops by the beach and of course the ubiquitous fish and chips on the pier or an ice cream on the promenade are just the tip of the iceberg in Southport, and first time travellers here will discover what locals have known for a long time, Southport is the perfect UK day out and Great British seaside holiday all rolled into one.
Southport is all about perfecting that balance between fun, family seaside holiday and upmarket, Victorian faded splendour. The traditional seaside fairground sits neatly beside the regal landscaped gardens and lakes, and tree lined Victorian boulevards with ornate canopies and grand Italian Gothic and Neo Classical architecture allows the brash arcade halls and independent modern restaurants to nestle between them. Southport not only offers a traditional seaside resort spirit, but a timeless, regal atmosphere that evokes the grand old Victorian era seaside escape and this is what makes it such a charming destination as well as a fun one.
Getting To Southport.
Southport is really easy to get to on public transport. Southport Train Station is the main rail line into Southport and is served by the main transport hubs of Manchester and Liverpool as well as more regional rail lines from Blackpool, Wigan and other areas. The train station itself is right in the centre of town and is no more than a ten minute walk to most attractions.
Regular buses serve Southport from all over Merseyside and West Lancs, and National Express Coaches serve all major cities across the UK.
A Day At The Beach.
My first stop of course was the beach, because on a seaside break why wouldn’t it be? Southport beach is huge, and with a coastline so far away from the promenade it rarely gets so packed that it feels crowded. In fact you often feel you have the place to yourself, even on a hot sunny day! And that is not a claim you can make for many of the UKs more popular beaches. This is just one of the reasons I genuinely hold Southport to be one of the consistently best beaches in the UK!
I couldn’t wait to get to the beach and feel the sand between my toes and have the sea wind on my face, but not before a brief stop at a few of the many little seaside shops along the promenade.
The great British seaside holiday is all about cheeky postcards, buckets and spades and sticks of rock, and I don’t care if they are kitschy, they are part and parcel of the whole experience! No trip to the seaside is complete without grabbing a few sticks of rock and a cheap bucket and spade!!
I didn’t actually need anything from these shops of course but they hold so many fond childhood memories of my mum and dad buying me some rock or one of those cheap seaside toy swords that I couldn’t really help myself. Just walking through them and seeing the brightly coloured pieces of plastic evoked a fond childhood reminiscence. The nostalgia factor is strong in Southport, and for me childhood memories are a huge part of that.
That is why I love Southport beach so much!
Of course the beach itself has a lot of impressive statistics in its own right that it can rightly be proud of, it is obviously one of the biggest beaches in the UK and part of the 22 mile long stretch of Sefton coastline. It has an extensive stretch of untouched sand dunes, parts of which have been designated a national nature reserve and is considered a Ramsar site, which is awarded to wetlands that are considered to be of international importance, particularly as a habitat for unique flora and fauna. And as far as beaches go it is huge! So big in fact when the tide goes out it can really feel like you are in a desert as opposed to a beach in certain parts. The beach really is that big!
But for many, myself included, Southport is the personification of all those fond memories of playing on the beach with a bucket and spade, of family holidays and days out. Even if you have never been to Southport before that sense of comforting familiarity adds to the charm of discovering somewhere wholly new.
This is why I was determined to spend as long on the beach as possible. It was a glorious day, catching the end of the warm summer weather, there was hardly anyone else about and with the exception of a few dog walkers and a few families spread out enjoying the sand, the whole beach felt empty.
Taking a slow walk right down to the oceans edge takes a long time, but it is worth it. The peaceful solace of being in your own company with such an amazing view is something to be treasured, and believe me, the rewards you get in terms of views are immense! On a clear day you can even see Blackpool tower way down the coast!
Honestly, if all you want is a day at the beach, you really can’t beat Southport.
But of course it wouldn’t be a traditional seaside break without a good old pier would it? And Southport Pier is one of the best in the UK! The oldest iron pier in the UK, dating back to 1860, and the second longest in the country, it was designed to allow tourists to view the ocean during high tide when it was not visible from the shore and is now a designated Grade II listed building.
Whether you choose to admire it from the beach itself, where you can walk the length of the pier and admire the original iron craftsmanship that makes the structure so unique, or walk on top of the pier itself and enjoy some fish and chips as you take in the views of the beach from above, Southport pier is truly one of the north west UK’s hidden treasures.
One of many pleasure piers designed to take advantage of the birth of the seaside resort at the turn of the 19th Century, the pier is the heart of Southport’s Victorian seaside heritage and plays an essential role in keeping the spirit and atmosphere of that holiday tradition alive. It has recently completed a long period of refurbishment and feels very fresh and modern in a lot of ways, but the pier itself still retains that nostalgic, Victorian charm.
This subtle mixture of old and new is compounded when you reach the end of the pier and find the grand, revamped pavilion. The modern building is huge, with floor to ceiling glass windows that give a grand view out onto the beach, and picture perfect booths designed to take in the views as you eat lunch or dinner, and trust me you really have to grab some fish and chips and watch the sunset here.
But right next door, in the same modern building, is the vintage penny arcade with old penny slot machines giving you a glimpse into the pier’s Victorian past.
The quirky penny drop arcades and the historical casual disregard for childhood gambling gives a welcome respite from the modern world of high tech screens and really takes you back in time.
There is even a Zoltar fortune telling machine for those 80s kids who want to relive their childhood and inexplicably get a job offer for an awesome toy company! Extra points if you get the reference!
Right outside the Pavilion is where the quaint pier tram stops to turn round and take visitors back down to the start of the pier again, but before you hop on make sure you take some time to enjoy the views of the vast beach reaching out into the Irish Sea. It’s hard to comprehend just how big the beach is until you view it yourself from this viewpoint.
Traditional Victorian Charm.
Southport’s vintage nostalgia doesn’t just end with its famous pier though. A short walk away from the pier itself are the King’s Gardens, a 17 acre marine lake and park dating back to 1887 and officially opened in 1913 by King George V and Queen Mary.
This genuinely stunning park and lake dominates the promenade and provides Southport with much of its gentrified elegance. Carrying on the Victorian tradition of public botanical gardens, you can take a stroll through the community flowerbeds, admire the Venetian bridges and Victorian shelters and rest at the tea room.
Walking around the lake is an absolute must do in Southport whether you enjoy walking or not, especially on a nice, sunny day where you can just admire the scenery and evoke an era when British nobility would flock here to do exactly the same. The best thing about the gardens central location and the fact that most of the towns central attractions are within easy walking distance of each other, you will find yourself walking through the gardens at least once anyway, and you can’t help but admire the pleasant atmosphere they bring to the promenade.
Thankfully there is far more for families to do here than just admire the scenery. The Marine Lake stretches out for a mile along the promenade and you can choose to go out on an old fashioned swan pedalo, a motorboat or even take a lake cruise.
For those who don’t like the water so much you can even take a ride on the Miniature Railway, dating back to 1911 and is the oldest continuously running 15 inch gauge railway in the world!
And if that isn’t traditionally charming enough for you then check out the UKs only outdoor model railway village too! Only in the town that brings you the fantastically kitsch British Lawnmower museum (I kid you not), can you get a model railway village and Miniature railway ride! If you want a taste of traditional British idiosyncrasy alongside the charming Victorian heritage you can’t get better than Southport!
A Light Lunch.
And you really can’t get more traditionally British than an afternoon tea at Nostalgia Tea Rooms. All of this seaside air really works up an appetite, and a tea room was just what we needed.
I stopped into this gloriously old fashioned and beautifully decorated tea room for a spot of lunch and was welcomed not only by a scene straight out of Downton Abbey with costumed servers and art deco embellishments, but the warmest and friendliest hello I have had in a long time by the owner who showed us to our table.
The food here was beyond amazing, with everything home made and fresh on the day with pride by the owner Lynn who served us too. They have a huge range of British favourites, from basic sandwiches and locally renowned fresh soup to a full Sunday Roast. And as an added bonus those travellers with dietary restrictions like gluten allergies are welcomed and served with food especially prepared for them.
The choice of food was great too, but given we were on a Great British seaside holiday we had to go for the afternoon tea, because frankly what is more British than that? And the scones were just perfect! The only question is, what do you put on first? Jam or Cream?
Taking a step back in time with your cup of tea and scone is an absolute must do experience and sets you up perfectly for an afternoon of shopping on Lord Street, Southport’s famous Victorian shopping boulevard.
A Touch Of Culture.
The Atkinson is Southport’s cultural mecca, showcasing music, theatre, film, art, literature and history, and has a proud Victorian heritage dating back to 1923 when it integrated the earlier 19th Century Atkinson Art Gallery and Library and the neighbouring Manchester and Liverpool District Bank.
It has permanent art and historical collections, including the amazing Ancient Egypt exhibition that showcases the collection of Anne Goodison, a om Liverpool who was one of the earliest pioneers of Victorian Egyptology and a woman that would have given Indiana Jones a run for his money!
They also hold a variety of temporary events and exhibitions regularly and whatever time of year you visit there is always something on.
I loved the fact that I lucked out and managed to catch the last week of the Lego Wonders exhibition while I was here. All the Great Wonders of the World, both past and present that I have spent a lifetime visiting, all represented here in perfect Lego form!
An Afternoon’s Shopping.
Southport is also famous for shopping and the town centre just a few minutes walk away from Lord Street has all the big name high street brands you can ask for, but with more independent businesses per square mile than even London it is the small, unique boutique shops and arcades that locals really love Southport for!
Lord Street was originally built in 1820 and established as a traditional seaside residential and retail space in 1840. Designed with distinguished wrought iron canopies, edged gardens and a famous tree lined boulevard, Lord Street is the quintessential essence of Victorian elegance and charm.
In 1846, Napoleon Bonaparte himself, the future self styled Emperor of France lived on Lord Street for a brief period. Now I’m not suggesting he stole all his ideas from Southport, but when he moved back to France and organised the reconstruction of Paris, the once medieval capital was rebuilt with tree lined boulevards, covered walkways and arcades, just like Lord Street! Just a coincidence, I’m sure.
But although Southport may not be as famous as Paris, it is still renowned for it’s shopping! So forget the Champs Elysees, Lord Street is the original and still the best!
Full of vintage, independent shops and boutique retailers, not to mention the myriad of small cafes and tea rooms, Lord Street is a delight to wander through even if you aren’t there to shop. You never know what hidden treasure you’ll discover among the unique designer clothes shops, exclusive smaller brands and hand made jewellery.
The small, quirky Wesley Street is affectionately referred to as a village within a town despite its small size, thanks to its small collection of old fashioned, family run traders and community spirit, and there are plenty of small side streets and hidden arcades both on and off Lord Street for you to explore.
Of course all of this walking is thirsty business and you’ll need to stop regularly for a cup of tea. The best places for this are the smaller independent cafe’s, you do of course get the larger brands here too when you walk further into the town centre but why would you want to go there when you can get a truly decent cuppa at a better price in a far more charming environment? As a general rule of thumb, follow the pensioners! They really know where to get the best cups of tea at the best prices, so if a cafe’s seating area is full of those of a slightly older persuasion, then make a beeline for it!
And if you look carefully, you will find the slim, canopied entrance to the iconic Wayfarers Shopping Arcade nestled in between two of the Victorian shop fronts. This grade II listed building has operated since 1898 and is a striking, glass roofed arcade that houses two floors of tiny independent shops and cafes, but honestly the building is an attraction in and of itself just for its Victorian architecture and atmosphere.
I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside.
Of course you can’t go to the seaside without having some fish and chips, and Southport has a ton of places you can choose from to sample this famous British dish.
The touristy option is of course Silcocks huge fish and chip bar right at the start of the pier, and the pier pavilion restaurant itself at the end can get you a good meal, but a much better option is to head slightly away from the pier area itself and into the many restaurants that serve up much better options at much better prices. The King’s Plaice on Lord Street is a prime example of good food at solid chippy prices and a nice sit in restaurant area too.
But Southport is far more than just fish and chips, ice cream and afternoon tea, although to be honest I could have all of those things non stop, Southport is also full of small, family run and independent restaurants that fly under most foodie guides radars, but really shouldn’t! Most are within walking distance from the central area of Lord Street so you are spoilt for choice for genuinely world class cuisine.
All The Fun Of The Seaside Fair.
Shopping, eating and sightseeing are all well and good, but what could be more traditional than a good old seaside fairground?
Southport Pleasureland is an absolute institution in Southport, having originally opened in 1913 as a sister park to Blackpool’s fair, it has since been drastically redeveloped and refurbished and is now on track to become a large theme park destination in the north west in its own right, but the fair is still as intrinsically linked to Southport as the pier is and you just cannot have a British seaside holiday in Southport without a ride on a Ghost Train or the good old Waltzers!
Of course all the old fashioned favourites are there, hook a duck, the shooting galleries and the famous Carousel, but for me it is the flying swings and the frisbee that are just absolute classics and guaranteed to make you regret that second candy floss and ice cream!
And of course where there are fairground rides, there are also arcades! When I was a kid my mum and dad bought me to Southport all the time, and there were always two things I remember distinctly, apart from the plastic toy swords of course, and those are getting a choose your own adventure book from a small bookshop that is sadly no longer there, and getting to play the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles (as they were called back then in the UK) arcade game for hours and hours on end! A memory I still cherish to this day!
Sadly the classic arcade games like TMHT, The Simpsons and Street Fighter are no longer to be found, but the arcades at Funland are still a lot of nostalgic fun with penny drop machines, table air hockey games and good old classic shoot ’em ups!
Southport spoils you for choice when it comes to accommodation options including classic bed and breakfasts to unique boutique hotels. I stayed at the gloriously art deco Bliss Hotel.
The Great British Seaside Holiday.
Southport is a unique destination in the UK and is one that can legitimately call itself a hidden gem. Constantly overlooked by travellers and holidaymakers who head to its more famous neighbours, but whether you are looking for a simple day out to the beach or the fair from nearby cities like Liverpool or Manchester, or you want to experience all the traditional fun of a Great British seaside holiday, Southport is an amazing choice for any traveller.
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