Your guide to museums and galleries by the sea
Featuring idyllic seaside views, beachwear exhibitions and bold buildings, these coastal museums and galleries all have something unique to offer and make the most of their spectacular settings by the sea.
From pebble beaches to sloping sand dunes, fish and chips to 99p flakes, Brits have long been lovers of the seaside. Why not combine the fun of the seaside with arts and culture by hitting some of these sensational coastal museums while you’re there?
The museums and galleries featured here boast spectacular seaside views, iconic architectural structures that complement their coastal settings, and art that celebrates life by the sea.
Add a splash of culture to your close-to-home vacation by combining a trip to the beach with one of these outstanding venues.
A celebration of small boats and their place in people’s lives, the National Maritime Museum Cornwall houses an array of intriguing nautical objects telling the story of Cornwall’s important maritime history. Gaze out over the aptly named Discovery Quay and explore the many tales of the sea in this gorgeous harbourside museum in Falmouth.
Tate St Ives is a former winner of Art Fund Museum of the Year, set in a spectacular Cornish location overlooking Porthmeor Beach. This gorgeous contemporary art gallery celebrates the colourful, artistic history of the idyllic fishing town in which it sits. With an array of large-scale seasonal exhibitions, this modern art hub is coastal museum perfection.
Also in St Ives, concealed behind the stone walls at its centre, is the tranquil paradise of the Barbara Hepworth Museum & Sculpture Garden, which offers a unique insight into the life of one of Britain’s most important artists of the 20th century. Explore the studio and garden where Hepworth lived and worked, and wander the exquisite garden designed by the artist herself. Many of the bronze sculptures remain in the positions Hepworth placed them in – the museum and garden standing as an homage to this beloved artist’s life and creative practise.
This dazzling contemporary art gallery on the Margate seafront boasts unrivalled views of the harbour and a bright and elegant interior behind its glass skin. Looking out on the scenery that was said to inspire its namesake, JMW Turner, the gallery shows a mix of historical and contemporary works, and its pioneering exhibitions explore the social, cultural and political makeup of our time. A spectacular example of how art can change the landscape of a town, this seaside gallery in Kent is one for the must-see list.
Wales’ foremost contemporary art gallery in the charming seaside town of Llandudno boasts a spectacular Edwardian terracotta façade, landmark gold spire and six gallery spaces exhibiting contemporary arts and crafts from Wales and beyond. The seasonal programme of exhibitions ranges from large-scale shows to small site-specific art projects.
In 1901, Bournemouth’s mayor Merton Russell-Cotes gave his wife, Lady Annie Russell-Cotes, an extravagant birthday gift: her dream house at the top of a cliff with a panoramic view over the sea – and would later gift the property to the town. Today the site boasts four galleries, a delightful garden, and the fairytale Victorian turreted property that started it all. Displaying works from the museum’s permanent collections, and hosting changing exhibitions, events and family activities, this coastal house turned art hub is the perfect addition to a day in Bournemouth.
At the centre of artistic life in the seaside town of Blackpool, Grundy Art Gallery is hailed as a leading contemporary art gallery in the North West. With a varied programme of exhibitions drawing on the heritage of Blackpool itself, the Grundy presents work examining the relationship between contemporary art and pop culture, all inside this gorgeous Edwardian building. Combine a visit here with a trip to the iconic Blackpool tower or the old-school amusement park, and you’ve got yourself some enviable weekend plans.
Tucked in Scarborough bay, just a short walk from the beach, Scarborough Art Gallery aims to reflect the varied nature of the community it sits in and the cultural heritage of the resort town of Scarborough. The Italianate villa is one of the finest buildings in the area, and the gallery is home to a range of collections, notably acting as the archive of the Printmakers Council, and regularly displays a selection of contemporary prints to peruse.
The interior of the Royal Pavilion is completely dazzling. Its colourful, opulent decorations are indicative of ‘chinoiserie’ – a decorative style inspired by Chinese art, which became increasingly fashionable in the mid-18th century. Now an architectural icon on the Brighton coastline, a short walk from Brighton’s famous pier, the pavilion’s extravagance is not to everyone’s taste but a feast for the eyes nonetheless.
Founded in 1923 as an ‘art gallery for the people’, Towner Eastbourne sits within Eastbourne’s cultural centre, the Devonshire Quarter, collecting and exhibiting contemporary art for nearly 100 years. Best known for a fine collection of British art, including one of the largest collections of work by Eric Ravilious (1903-1942), the gallery is also home to Eastbourne's only independent cinema and hosts a dynamic programme of exhibitions year-round. And, the dazzling rainbow mural on the outside of the building by artist Lothar Götz is the perfect backdrop for a snapshot of your visit.
This beautiful circular building is over 180 years old! Its primary focus is the life and work of geologist William Smith (1769-1839) and 18th and 19th-century Scarborough, as well as the millions of years of earth history that underpins the building. It is located right on the Yorkshire coast, with lovely views out to sea and presents a rolling programme of temporary exhibitions.
The more you see, the more we do.
The National Art Pass lets you enjoy free entry to hundreds of museums, galleries and historic places across the UK, while raising money to support them.