Upgrade your Half-Term – train your way to a hidden gem holiday

Say it very quietly, but it looks like the weather is finally improving (fingers crossed, knock on wood, pagan sun dance). Hopefully, a sunshiney May half term is on the cards – so we’ve chosen some brilliant getaways on the British beach. We’ve done a deep dive and found some of the lesser known spots, too, to try and avoid the crowds (and the prices).


1hr 19mins direct from York

Cheapest upgrade from £8, travelling with TransPennine Express

No, not that Saltburn. This is Saltburn-by-the-Sea, a seaside town in North Yorkshire. Very far removed from any murder on the dancefloor, as far as we know. Instead, you’ll find a charming Victorian seaside resort with plenty to keep the whole family entertained, from arts centres to coastal walks to a smuggling museum.

Saltburn beach is a lovely mix of sand and shingle, backed by a promenade. It’s also a popular surf spot, if hanging ten is your thing. Getting down the beach is an adventure in itself – the Saltburn Cliff Tramway is the UK’s oldest operating water-balanced cliff lift. Opened in 1884, this fun funicular will ferry you down the 120ft cliff from the town direct to the Saltburn pier, the only remaining pleasure pier on the northeast coast. It makes for a beautiful stroll out over the water, particularly at sunset.

Love a good train ride? Us too. And you’re in luck – there’s a miniature steam train that departs from the seafront car park and puffs its way to Forest Halt, a short walk from the beautiful Italian Gardens, created in 1860. There’s also the most important part of any British holiday – a tearoom. And speaking of sweet treats, Saltburn has its own local signature ice cream that’s been served since 1924. The lemon top is vanilla ice cream mixed with lemon sorbet. Perfect on a hot day! Or a rainy one.


25mins on the metro from Newcastle station (which is 3hrs direct from London)

Cheapest upgrade for London King’s Cross > Newcastle from £10 travelling with LNER

Britain’s coolest seaside town? It’s here, according to Time Out. Golden sands, Georgian buildings, a castle – and an incredible foodie scene.

Arriving into Tynemouth, you’ll be welcomed by a stunningly restored Victorian station, considered to be one of the finest in Britain. And it’s not just a home for Metro trains – it’s a marketplace, too, hosting regular markets selling everything from books to brownies. With more than 150 stalls, you can browse for hours.

For a brush with history, head to Tynemouth Priory and Castle, sitting dramatically on the headland. Dating back over 2,000 years, it started as an Iron Age settlement, later becoming a monastery, a royal castle, and a defensive fort. Now ruined, it’s still a magical place to spend time – a perfect spot for exploring, sitting down with a picnic and enjoying the views.

Back on the seafront, there’s a mile-long stretch of golden sand beach to spend days relaxing, swimming, or enjoying watersports. If you’re more interested in what’s under the sea, Tynemouth Aquarium is a great family day out – it even has seals, otters and… monkeys? (No, us neither). Head to Tynemouth Park for a classic seaside round of mini golf (dinosaur themed, of course), or a turn about the lake on a pedalo.

If it’s seafood you’re after, Tynemouth is a fishy dream. There are plenty of places to get your fill, but the quintessential experience is Riley’s Fish Shack. Smack on the beach in King Edward’s Bay, it serves the freshest seafood, simply cooked. There are a few tables inside, but for the best experience, bag a deckchair on the sand – if it’s a bit chilly, there’ll be a firepit and blankets. Bliss.


3hrs 8mins direct from Glasgow Central

Cheapest return £48.40 travelling with ScotRail

This seafront town is usually somewhere people pass through briefly on their way to catch a ferry to one of the islands, or to head to the Highlands. But it’s really worth stopping to spend some time here and enjoy Oban as more than just a gateway. If you look beyond the touristy shops selling tartan t-shirts (but if that’s your bag, no judgement), there’s so much to do and see – from boat trips to spot basking sharks, to climbing castle towers.

Oban (meaning ‘little bay’) is known as the seafood capital of Scotland, thanks to the very chilly, pristine inlets that team with oysters, mussels, langoustine, prawns – basically anything that tastes good dipped in garlic butter. You can sample the salty spoils in a fine dining establishment like the Waterfront Fishouse, or get it fresh fried in batter at one of the many fish and chip shops. But the ultimate spot is Oban Seafood Hut – also known as ‘the green shack’. An unassuming spot at the ferry terminal, they buy direct from the fisherman and serve the freshest seafood, simply and oh-so-deliciously.

Need to wash it all down? Head to the Oban Distillery, right in the heart of town overlooking the bay. It’s one of the oldest whisky distilleries in Scotland – established in 1794 – as well as one of the smallest. You can take a tour, understanding the process behind whisky production, and naturally have a few wee drams yourself. If it puts you in the mood, there are numerous friendly pubs in town, and there’s often live music or even a ceilidh going on.


1hr 36mins direct from Manchester Piccadilly (which is 2hr 6mins direct from London)

Cheapest return £18.40 travelling with Northern Rail

Not technically a beach town, but still seafront, Grange Over Sands is perched over the better-known Morecambe Bay, just seven miles from the wildly popular Lake Windermere. It really feels like stepping back in time – this lovely town became very popular in the 19th century once the railway station was built, and like so many other coastal towns it has plenty of Victorian charm.

There is a stretch of sand (hence the name), but it’s separated from the town by marshland. Don’t try and walk on this, because there’s a danger of quicksand (really). Instead, take a relaxed stroll along the seafront promenade. On one side, the shoreline, on the other, the Ornamental Gardens, packed with rare trees and plants. If walking’s your thing, the town is perched on the Cartmel peninsula – a beautiful mix of meadows, hills, and coast, with plenty of paths, trails and lanes to explore.

Once you’ve worked up an appetite, stop in at Hazelmere Café and Bakery for locally baked goods and specialities, like potted Morecambe Bay shrimp on toast. And if you’re really feeling flush, the three Michelin-starred L’Enclume is less than three miles away. Or maybe just pick up some local Cartmel sticky toffee pudding – that’s good too. Like, really good.


2hrs 40mins from London Paddington to Totnes (Then bus, taxi or boat to Dartmouth)

Cheapest upgrade from London Paddington > Totnes from £19 travelling with Great Western

OK, so not technically a beach town. Dartmouth sits on the River Dart which just a couple of miles from the sea – we think that counts. With colourful harbourside houses and pebbled streets, it’s one of the most charming spots in Devon. Think nostalgic seaside holidays mixed with modern culture and fine dining.

The best way to enjoy Dartmouth to get out on the water. Hire a boat to explore the river (and say hello to the local seals), or hop on a ferry to Greenway and explore Greenway House – the holiday home of none other than Agatha Christie. Now owned by the National Trust, Agatha called it ‘the loveliest place in the world’. Spend some time wandering the house, walled gardens and woodland, then head down to the Quay and ring the bell to summon the little ferry to take you across the river to the Anchorstone Café for a stunning seafood lunch.

Back in town, meander down Foss Street to discover independent shops and galleries, selling beautifully made arts and crafts like ceramics and jewellery. Then take a stroll up to Dartmouth Castle, perched on the mouth of the river next to St Petrox Church, dating back to 1192. Reward yourself at the Dartmouth Castle Tea Rooms, where the panoramic views are almost as good as the Devonshire Cream Tea. Now, is it jam or cream first?

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