The UK seaside town that inspired the Champs-Elysees

This traditional seaside town dates to 1792 and, by the early 1800s, it was a fashionable resort. There are reminders of its 19th century heyday, including its iron pier (which has been closed since 2022, following extreme weather), the second-longest in Britain, the Grade II listed Wayfarers Arcade and the Victoria Baths building on the promenade. The elegant tree-lined shopping street of Lord Street is thought to have inspired the boulevards of Paris, with the iconic Champs-Élysées bearing a striking resemblance.

Southport is also part of the largest dune system in England. The dunes of the Sefton Coast stretch between here and Liverpool, and the town is connected to 22 miles of coastline, including Crosby Beach (featuring Antony Gormley’s Another Place statues), Formby Beach, Ainsdale Beach and Southport Beach. The many walking and cycling trails around Southport offer sea views and wildlife spotting opportunities.

When to go

Southport is at its best in the warmer months when events include Southport Food and Drink Festival (31 May–2 June), Seaside Weekender Southport (8–9 June), Sefton Pride (15 June), Summer Dog Festival (29-30 June), Southport Airshow (13-14 July) and Southport Flower Show (15-18 August, celebrating its centenary this year). However, visitors also come for the British Musical Fireworks Championship in September and the coast’s year-round natural beauty.

How to get there

Southport railway station is served by Northern, with regular trains to Manchester, Bolton and Wigan, and Merseyrail for connections to, and around, Liverpool. Merseytravel operates bus services to and from Southport, while National Express coaches serve Southport from major UK towns and cities. The town itself is walkable.

Where to stay

The 10-bedroom Sunnyside Guesthouse in the town centre was handed the Ethical, Responsible and Sustainable Tourism Award at the Liverpool City Region Tourism Awards 2023. It is one of 25 B&Bs across the UK to be awarded the Gold Award by Green Tourism. Breakfast is made using ingredients from the North West and owners Anthony and Larissa aim to buy direct from farmers where possible. Doubles from £85, including parking and Wi-Fi. Breakfast is £10 extra per person.

The Vincent Hotel is centrally located, with spacious rooms that include super king-sized beds. There is a spa, restaurant and bar within the hotel. Doubles from £100 room only, £115 with breakfast for two. Accessible rooms available.

Southport, Lancashire, UK, June 24, 2023; aerial view of the historical Atkinson Gallery in Southport, England, UK
The historical Atkinson Gallery in Southport (Photo: David Marsden/Getty/iStockphoto)

Day one

Up with the sun

Start the day with a walk in Southport’s picturesque Hesketh Park and the 17-acre King’s Gardens with its ornate Venetian bridge.

Next, you could head to the village of Churchtown, 15 minutes on the bus from the centre of Southport, for the Botanic Gardens. Entrance is free. There is a lake surrounded by trees and flower beds.

The Squirrel Cycle Route links Southport to Formby and passes through several nature reserves. This 7.5-mile trail has sea views, and the surrounding area is a habitat for natterjack toads, great crested newts, lizards and wading and sea birds. The Formby Pinewoods Red Squirrel Reserve leads to Formby beach and includes a walk through woodlands.

Souvenir hunting

Lord Street is the heart of Southport, with independent businesses mingling among high-street chains, restaurants and bars, amid elegant Victorian architecture. Wayfarers Arcade shopping centre has a domed glass roof and stained-glass windows. Among the places to browse are La De Dah antiques, Shaw’s Jewellery Workshop, Ideal Accessories and Pudding & Pie, which serves homemade cakes.

Southport Pier under a blue sky captured as an HDR image in March 2022 in Merseyside.
Southport Pier is the second longest in Britain (Photo: wellsie82/Getty/Moment RF/Ason Wells)

Don’t miss

The Asparagus Trail in Formby’s National Trust site offers walkers or cyclists a fascinating insight to the story behind Formby’s crop. This circular route from Formby railway station passes through the town and along the coast and is just under three miles long. During the 1800s, local families worked to level areas of the sand dunes specifically to grow asparagus. You can buy some at the family-run Larkhill Farm.

Dinner reservation

Kalash Divine Indian lives up to its name. Highlights include monkfish simmered in a green herb curry (£16.95) and aromatic chicken biryani with a pastry lid (£15.95).

Time for a sundowner

After a day of exploring, the Top Gun-inspired Mavericks on Lord Street is a lively place for a drink. As well as playing the film continuously on one television screen, it is a haven for sports fans as it has six television screens playing different games or matches.

Day two

Hit the beach

The beaches around Southport each offer something different. Formby Beach has rolling sand dunes and lush woodlands, as well as prehistoric human and animal footprints, which lay trapped for thousands of years in sediment beds.

At Ainsdale Beach, strong winds attract fans of kite-based activities, including kite buggying, land boards and kitesurfing. Ainsdale Discovery Centre and Ainsdale & Birkdale Sandhills Local Nature Reserve are also worth a visit.

Southport’s beach has Marshside RSPB reserve, with viewing screens, hides and a viewing platform.

Time to relax

Based in refurbished 19th century buildings, The Atkinson on Lord Street includes a theatre and studio, museum and galleries, with collections ranging from Egyptology to 10,000 years of Sefton’s coast. Live events in the coming months include The McCartney Songbook (30 May) and John Lydon’s spoken-word show, I Could be Wrong, I Could Be Right (19 June).

Southport Market Image supplied by Sadie Skelland
Southport Market is carousel inspired (Photo: Sadie Skelland)

Lunch time

The refurbished Southport Market has a carousel-inspired bar and food outlets with options including Asian fusion (Kaizen), burgers and seafood (Lenny’s), and Italian (Pasta 51). At the latter, options include Polpette (homemade meatballs, £8.50).

A final treat

The Swan Restaurant and takeaway is Southport’s oldest fish and chip restaurant and has been run by the Defty family for 50 years. It sells around 3,000 portions of fish alone each week and has won numerous awards. The homemade steak pie is a hit, too.

Three things you might not know about Southport

1) Legend has it that the future Napoleon III stayed in Southport during his mid-1800s exile and his experiences inspired the famous boulevards of Paris.

2) Southport is home to the British Lawnmower Museum, with displays including mowers that belonged to Brian May, Eric Morecambe, Hilda Ogden and Alan Titchmarsh.

3) Triple Grand National winner Red Rum was trained on its beach.