As the UK is an island steeped in maritime history, we are spoiled for choice for fantastic sailing destinations. From the lochs of Scotland to the flatlands of the eastern coast, there’s a location to suit every sailor from the novice to the expert yachtsman. The weather is reliable and we are fortunate enough to have a temperate coastal ocean. We’re a nation of four-season seafarers not just fair-weather sailors which makes choosing the very best UK sailing destinations a particularly hard job with so many fantastic locations to pick from. However, we’ve narrowed it down to a field of 10 destinations, each with their own unique charms.
1. Dartmouth, Devon
Dartmouth sits in an area of outstanding beauty and is one of seven or eight estuaries lying between Exmouth and Plymouth. Castles and vineyards line the Dart estuary and there’s plenty of boat-friendly pubs along the way. Dartmouth itself is a town with a buzz with its fishing fleet, naval college and boat building industry, particularly in the summer months. The Royal Regatta Week is held every August and, if you prefer some land-locked activities, there’s some great walks and hidden coves. It’s also a convenient departure point for sailing to the Channel Isles.
The island of Jersey is steeped in history and is an ideal destination for a week’s break. Part British and part French in its character, the island offers excellent boating facilities, a vibrant calendar of events and has plenty to see and do. If wine tasting and the German War Tunnels aren’t your cup of tea then how about the world-famous Gerald Durrel Zoo? The island has easy access to many cruising destinations and hidden bays, ideal for laying low with a picnic in the sun.
3. Loch Lomond, Scotland
The largest stretch of inland water in Great Britain, Loch Lomond is a mecca for sailors with hundreds of islands and inlets to explore. Sited at the north end of the bay is Loch Lomond Sailing Club who hold regular races if that floats your boat. If Michelin-stars are more your thing then restaurant Martin Wishart, part of the Cameron House hotel, is the perfect place for fine food and sumptuous tartan-bedecked bedrooms.
4. Cowes, Isle of Wight
Probably the UK’s most well-known yachting destination. Famed for its annual August festival of sail, Cowes Week, where 8,500 sailors compete and nearly 100,000 spectators descend on the town. The town itself has plenty to offer including some very fine beaches, cafes and bars. Stretching across the river Medina estuary, the town even boasts a chain-link ferry to shuttle pedestrians and cars from one side of the river to the other. If you’re interested in history there’s Queen Victoria’s seaside palace and several maritime museums well worth a visit. Cowes also has a vibrant nightlife with plenty of good quality eating establishments to choose from.
5. Lymington, Hampshire
The Georgian town of Lymington is perched on the south coast and overlooks the Solent, and because of its rich maritime legacy, it boasts two marinas to set sail from. It’s a great base for sailing to the Isle of Wight with the Needles Channel just three miles away. Lymington is one of the major stopping points for yachts on the south coast and thus, there are plenty of beautiful coastal inns dotted around the town and surrounding area. A perfect place to explore the delights of the New Forest.
6. Norfolk Broads
This popular holiday destination is made up of 200 square miles of navigable waterways, perfect for the more relaxed sailor. The place operates at a different pace of life, slow and easy with no locks on any of the waterways. There are plenty of great mooring spots and picturesque villages just begging to be explored. Either take your own boat or charter one from the many hire companies in the area. Oh, and it’s got windmills, many open to the public, and who doesn’t love windmills!
7. Caernarfon, Wales
Home to a vast 13th century castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Caernarfon is worthy of a visit in its own right. The town is situated at the western edge of the Menai Strait between the Isle of Anglesey and the north Welsh coast. With lively narrow streets, this market town has easy waterfront access and offers pretty much every form of maritime entertainment, from the challenges of the Irish sea to the more leisurely lush waterways.
8. Pwllheli, Wales
A protected area of outstanding beauty, Pwllheli is possibly the best sailing destination in Wales. It’s so good that it’s one of only four UK locations of Olympic standard and in the past eight years has hosted six world championships and more than 30 UK national championship events. With beautiful scenery and stable winds, Pwllheli is a “European Centre of Excellence” for sailing.
9. Weymouth, Dorset
Home to the Olympic sailing events at London 2012, Weymouth is certainly one of the best sailing destinations in the UK. Set within the stunningly beautiful Jurassic coast, Weymouth’s waters are some of the best in not just the UK, but in the entire world. There are plenty of sailing challenges for every level of seafarer from greenhorn to sea-dog. The harbour, home to a bustling fishing industry, is chocked full of shops, bars and restaurants for every taste and wallet size.
10. Windermere, Lake District
If your preference is for an inland destination, then Lake Windermere is the perfect choice. At ten miles in length, Windermere is the largest lake in England. Arthur Ransome based his timeless novel “Swallows and Amazons” here and partly on nearby Coniston Water. The lake boasts three sailing clubs, Royal Windermere Yacht Club, South Windermere Sailing Club and Lake District Boat Club, and several marinas.
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