Seaside resort

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The seafront of Torquay, a seaside resort in Devon, England.
The seafront of Torquay, a seaside resort in Devon, England.

A seaside resort is a resort located on the coast. Where a beach is the primary focus for tourists, it may be called a beach resort.

The coast has long-standing appeal as a recreational environment, although until the mid-nineteenth century, such recreation was a luxury afforded only to the wealthy. Even in Roman times, the town of Baiae, by the Tyrrhenian Sea in Italy, offered a resort to those who were sufficiently prosperous. During the early nineteenth century, the Prince Regent popularised Brighton, on the south coast of England, as a fashionable alternative to the wealthy spa towns such as Bath. Later, Queen Victoria's long-standing patronage of the Isle of Wight ensured the seaside residence was a highly fashionable possession for those wealthy enough to afford more than one home.

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 regular holidays away from home, and led to the redevelopment and growth of many coastal towns as seaside resorts. This is perhaps most strongly evidenced in England, an area shaped such that its coast is no more than 180km from any point.

English seaside resorts

The Grand Pier and donkey rides at Weston-super-Mare
The Grand Pier and donkey rides at Weston-super-Mare

As the nineteenth century progressed, British working class day-trippers often travelled on organised trips such as railway excursions, or by steamer, for which were erected long piers so that the ships bringing the trade could berth.

The popularisation of the seaside resort during this period was nowhere more pronounced than in Blackpool. Blackpool flourished, catering for workers from across industrial Northern England, who packed its beaches and promenade. Other northern towns (for example Scarborough, Bridlington and Skegness) shared in the success of this new concept, which spread rapidly to coastal towns along all English shores.

From the last quarter of the twentieth century, the popularity of the English 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 favourable 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 and the beach windswept.

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.

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