An old-school English seaside resort, Lincolnshire’s Skegness has a Blue Flag beach, a Victorian pier, fairground rides and a line-up of nostalgic family amusements.
Most of the appeal is on or near Grand Parade, along a strip of foreshore intersecting with the pier and embroidered with gardens.
The resort’s abiding mascot is the Jolly Fisherman, created in 1908 by illustrator John Hassall for a Great Northern Railway tourism poster.
He is shown on the beach with the tagline, “Skegness is so Bracing”, which is true.
On sunny July and August days the north-easterly breeze is welcome, and you can laze on the beach, go for fish and chips, visit the National Trust Gunby Hall and meet the rescued pups at the Natureland Seal Sanctuary.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Skegness:
1. Skegness Beach
An annual Blue Flag winner, Skegness Beach has also been handed the “Quality Coast Award”. The breach is a gigantic and spotless belt of flaxen sand, and it can take a couple of minutes of walking just to get your feet wet.
On the horizon, eight kilometres from the shore are the 75 turbines of the Lincs Wind Farm, with a capacity of 750MW. At low tide there’s a long lagoon where kids can search for beach wildlife.
A small promenade starts south of Skegness Pier, with shelters to escape the force of the raking wind in winter, and donkey rides and ice cream vans in summer.
2. Skegness Pier
Pleasure piers are a linchpin of most English seaside resorts, and the pier in Skegness has been here since 1881. It was inaugurated by the Duke of Edinburgh and in its glory days received 100,000 visitors a year, and was the base for a steamboat company that offered cruises down the coast to the Wash.
In 1978 the pier was shortened dramatically from half a kilometre to 118 metres by storm damage.
You can walk these remaining boards to stare out at the North Sea and survey the massive sandy carpet of Skegness Beach.
The pier has a soft play area, trampolines for children and an amusement arcade where kids can earn tickets for prizes.
3. Natureland Seal Sanctuary
By the beach on north parade, Natureland Seal Sanctuary is an animal attraction that has been around since 1965. Above all else, it’s a rescue centre for injured harbour seals and lost pups found washed up on Lincolnshire’s beaches.
You can see rehabilitation in progress, as the seals are readied to be released back into the North Sea.
The seals are kept stimulated at the Sanctuary Bay Pool, where open feeding times take place.
The park has an array of other animals like alpacas, penguins, meerkats and farmyard animals, along with a tropical house for crocodiles, snakes and scorpions.
The humid Floral Palace has an array of tropical and Mediterranean plants and is inhabited by vibrant tropical butterflies.
4. Diamond Jubilee Clock Tower
The resort’s most visible landmark is this Neo-Gothic clock tower, which was put up in 1899 to mark Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee two years before.
Along with the Jolly Fisherman, the tower has helped put Skegness on the map, and has blind arches flanked by pinnacles below an octagonal shaft capped with a four-faced clock under a slate roof and weather vane.
With the resort’s entertainment and attractions on all sides, the tower is at the intersection of Grand Parade and Lumley Road.
Over the years the ground has subsided a little, causing the tower to lean slightly towards the town.
5. The Village Church Farm
Close to Skegness railway station is the only open-air farm museum in Lincolnshire.
You’ll find it on the site of a former farm, preserving its 18th-century farmhouse.
Some buildings have also been saved from local villages and moved here, like a cosy “mud and stud” thatched cottage.
These buildings hold exhibitions about agriculture and rural domestic life in the 19th and 20th century, with home interiors, machinery and manual tools, as well as details of regional breeds like longwool sheep and red poll cattle.
The Havenhouse tea room has home-baked cakes and freshly cooked food, while you can also time your visit for one of the weekly activities like archery or painting classes.
6. Gibraltar Point National Nature Reserve
Drive south from the centre of Skegness and the resort soon gives way to a National Nature Reserve made up of two parallel ridges of sand dunes framing a valuable expanse of salt marsh.
Gibraltar Point is a wintering nest for Arctic waterfowl and shorebirds like red knots, grey plovers, bar-tailed godwits and Eurasian oystercatchers, while little terns breed in this environment.
The reserve is laced with walking trails and have hides and artificial lakes to help you get a closer look at these birds.
The Visitor Centre is equipped with terrariums and tanks with species from the Lincolnshire coast, and detailed information about the unique habitat of Gibraltar Point.
7. Tower Gardens
Close to the Clock Tower on Grand Parade, the Grade II listed Tower Gardens were drawn up in the 1870s as part of the new town plans of 1868. Previously this land had been owned by Lord Scarborough, and on their unveiling in 1878 they were presented to the people of Skegness as a place to unwind.
Before then this space had been a cargo depot for the port and later a coal yard.
The gardens were reworked in the 1920s, and the pavilions, bridges, sunken formal gardens, mock castles and bowling green from that time are all characteristic of English seaside resort parks.
When summer comes there’s lots of free entertainment in Tower Gardens, from Punch and Judy puppet shows to jazz bands.
8. Gunby Estate, Hall and Gardens
Ten minutes outside Skegness on the edge of the Lincolnshire Wolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Gunby Hall is a Grade I listed country house built around 1700. It sits at the end of a long, half-mile drive, and both the hall and its spacious grounds are run by the National Trust.
On a visit you’ll learn about the Massingberd Family, who lived here from 1700 to 1967, and will make your way through three floors of the house: You’ll go up a 300-year-old oak staircase and into bedrooms, a dining room, a wonderful library, bathrooms (the “loo with a view” is a joy) and a study with bits and pieces brought back from India by Field Marshal Sir Archibald Montgomery –Massingberd.
Also allow some time for the gardens, which have pristine clipped lawns, a wildflower walk, canal and a walled kitchen garden with seasonal produce sold at the tea room.
9. Pleasure Beach
Hugging Skegness Beach between the Pier and the Clock Tower Esplanade, Pleasure Beach is a fairground-style attraction for children, teenagers and young-at-heart adults.
There are amusement arcades, carousels, dodgems, a giant wheel with 18 gondolas, a rocking pirate boat, along with a safari train, an adventure golf course and a ten-pin bowling alley.
For braver older kids and grownups with a strong constitution there’s the dizzying Freakout ride.
And to really push the boat out, Pleasure Beach has classic fairground food like doughnuts, candyfloss, ice cream and hot dogs.
10. Hardy’s Animal Farm
A ten-minute walk from the beach at Ingoldmells, Hardy’s Animal Farm is a safe place for youngsters to meet animals and find out how a modern farm works.
Hardy’s Animal Farm is in seven acres of lush countryside and offers the chance to feed a wide assortment of animals and to see pigs being born in a special glass enclosure.
There are newborns at the farm all spring and summer, with calves, lambs, chicks and goat kids to fawn over.
The farm also has an indoor play area and a large outdoor playground for children to really cut loose.
On sunny days kids can go on tractor rides for some good old-fashioned fun.
11. Embassy Theatre
If you’re hankering for some light entertainment, there’s a feast at the Embassy Theatre on Grand Parade.
All through the summer season there’s a long line-up of cover acts, established musicians, musicals, comedians and audiences with celebrities (Anthony Joshua and Paul Gascoigne when this post was written). And while not everything on the programme is appropriate for children, there are matinees designed for littler theatre-goers, like “Peppa Pig’s Adventure” in 2018.
12. Skegness Aquarium
On days when the weather isn’t cooperating families could pass an enjoyable and educational couple of hours at Skegness Aquarium.
The attraction has a loose pirate theme, with staff dressed up like buccaneers and a quiz trail to keep younger minds engaged.
Most exciting of all is “Davy Jones’ Locker”, an underwater tunnel with sharks and rays swimming above.
In between the tanks there are plenty of smartly designed interactive stations.
One is the Interactive Sandpit where kids can mould the landscape, creating mountains, rivers and seas with the help of an overhead projection.
Draw Alive allows kids to colour in their own marine creature and then see it rendered in a CGI environment.
13. Skegness Model Village
The kind of gentle attraction that was the backbone of English seaside resorts in the middle of the 20th century, the Skegness Model Village is in a relaxing landscaped garden.
Unlike many model villages, this one doesn’t aim to build replicas of existing landmarks, and instead is an idealised English village, with shops, houses, a church, hundreds of little figures and a fairground that has some moving rides.
Part of the fun is reading the witty business names and shop signs like “Willie Cheatam’s” Greengrocers and the “Curl Up & Dye” hairdresser.
14. Horse Riding
Lincolnshire’s countryside may be flat, but can be very bucolic, and is great to traverse on horseback.
There are four equestrian centres inside a few minutes of Skegness, providing lessons for newcomers and hacks into farmland and on the coast.
If you have a little experience with horses you could enquire about a trek along a beach, with the surf lapping at your mount’s hooves.
Orchard Farm Riding Centre, 15 minutes from Skegness, offers 18-mile whole day rides into the Lincolnshire Wolds, stopping for picnics and ending a natural spring where the horses will cool off in summer.
If your ideal break involves a round or two of golf, Skegness has three courses at hand.
The oldest by far is Seacroft Golf Club, which is a links course partly on the Gibraltar Point dunes, founded in 1895 and often cited in magazine lists of the 100 best courses or holes in the country.
Green fees are reasonable for a club of this stature, at a maximum of £70 on a summer weekend.
Even cheaper, Skegness Golf Centre has a nine-hole course with a 3rd and 9th that will punish over-zealous approach shots.
Rounds here will cost as little as £11, while there’s also a good pro shop and a driving range with 16 bays to blow the cobwebs off your swing.
The North Shore Golf Club, just up from the Seal Sanctuary, is an equally affordable 18-hole par-71, with a mixture of links and parkland holes.