Gone are the days when marinas were simply places to moor a boat. Now, they are thriving destinations for everyone to enjoy, as CHRISSY HARRIS discovers the top marinas along the British coastline.

Most of the people out enjoying a sunny Saturday in Gunwharf Quays, Portsmouth, Sutton Harbour, Plymouth or Sovereign Harbour in Eastbourne probably haven’t arrived by sea. Instead, the majority of visitors to these busy marinas will be landlubbers, through and through.

Yes, they might like looking at boats but really, they’re here because marinas are nice places to walk around and explore or sit outside a waterside restaurant with a chilled glass of white.

“They’re not just boatyards anymore,” says Andrew Lewis from Premier Marinas, which owns and operates ten marinas on the south coast. “Marinas are very much communities in their own right and great places to enjoy being by the water, even if you haven’t got a boat.”

The UK has around 560 marinas and the sector is thriving in the wake of a post-pandemic boom in boating and marine tourism. Berth occupancy levels are high and millions of pounds of investment is being poured in to improve infrastructure at sites up and down the country.

But linked to this is a growing realisation that marinas are the anchor of any coastal destination experience. They’re often where an area’s regeneration starts, bringing together new developments, communities and businesses.

Here we round up the marinas – large and small – that are much more than mooring.

Gunwharf Quays and Port Solent, Portsmouth

The UK’s island city is blazing a trail when it comes to showing how marinas can become full-on waterfront resorts. Gunwharf Quays, beneath the iconic Spinnaker Tower, welcomes boats of all sizes and has immediate access to the Solent and some of the best sailing on the south coast.

But you’ll also find 90 designer outlet shops and more than 30 places to eat and drink, some overlooking the berths. There’s also a multiplex cinema, bowling alley, casino, contemporary art gallery and a kids’ play park.

North of the city is Port Solent marina, where you can dine, shop, watch a film and go to the gym (all on the same day, if you want). There’s even a dog grooming spa. And there’s free parking.

While you’re here: Visit Gracie-Ann’s Tea Room at Port Solent for breakfast, lunch, amazing cakes and scones, all washed down with a decent coffee or fruit tea.

Troon Yacht Haven, Ayrshire

This picturesque spot was named Marina of the Year 2022, thanks to a £1.4 million investment that has seen a luxury hotel added to the site. The Salt Lodge offers contemporary, comfortable and flexible accommodation, overlooking the boats. You can sit on the balcony and watch the world float by.

Next door is Scott’s bar and restaurant, serving oysters, sharing platters, freshly-landed lobster and prime Scotch steaks.

For berth holders, there’s a new lounge and an upgraded laundrette.

While you’re here: Explore Troon. This popular holiday destination has it all going on – sandy beaches, walks and world-famous golf courses.

Whitehaven Marina, Cumbria

Whitehaven has been the scene of much waterfront regeneration as part of a drive to revitalise this ‘gateway to the lakes’ town. The marina is busy, with 400 fully serviced pontoon berths and extensive quay wall berths for larger boats. Nearby, the harbour is being given the love it deserves, with a series of projects designed to celebrate its heritage and prime location.

Work to bring the 19th century North Pier and West Pier lighthouses back to their former glory began last year, overseen by Whitehaven Harbour Commissioners. A new, architecturally bold activity multi-million-pound coastal centre is set to dominate the skyline and bring in more jobs, businesses and visitors to the area.

All in all, these are exciting times to be waterside in Whitehaven.

While you’re here: Discover the history behind the quietly fascinating town. The Rum Story is a visitor attraction, built into the original 1785 trading shop, warehouse and cellars. It tells the dark story of the rum trade in Whitehaven and has recently been renovated.

Milford Waterfront and marina, Milford Haven, Pembrokeshire

Milford Haven is also benefitting from a marina and dock uplift. The regeneration project is being led by the Port of Milford Haven and sets out to revitalise an already lively area. The offering here is pretty good already, with a diverse range of independents and big-name brands setting up shop next to the water. From the functional (Windjammer Marine) to the fun (Velluto Gelato), there is plenty to occupy visitors and locals.

One of the most exciting additions has been the recently opened Tŷ Milford Waterfront Hotel’s four custom-built Floatel Cabins at Milford Marina. The nicely kitted out rooms sit among the boats at Milford Marina, offering a restful retreat, right on the water.

Further developments are on the way. Over the next few years, there will be more hotels, event spaces, cultural hubs and fine dining restaurants, making this Welsh waterfront a real flagship of the genre.

While you’re here: Eat local at Martha’s Vineyard, a family-run restaurant and bar overlooking the marina. Steaks come from Pembrokeshire cattle. The lobsters and crab are from Danny on his day boat, the Martha Rose in Little Haven. Even the homemade chips are from potatoes grown five miles away.

Sovereign Harbour Marina, Eastbourne

Described as Eastbourne’s ‘best kept secret’, this laid-back spot is home to four linked harbours and the popular Waterfront shop and restaurant development.

It’s a great weekend hang-out, with an impressive range of food and drink to choose from, including Turkish, Thai, Indian, Italian and big slabs of cake.

There’s a busy events programme, too. Quarterly food and drink markets, Easter egg hunts, a children’s urban beach and an orienteering race were just some of the offerings last year.

The local fisherman are a key part of life around these parts. About 30 to 40 family-owned fishing boats operate out of Sovereign Harbour.

While you’re here: Paths and walkways, bridges and locks will take you in and around the boats and restaurants and across to the nearest beach. Look out for the Martello Tower, one of many built along the south coast to defend against Napoleon in the early 1800s.

Sutton Harbour Marina, Plymouth

Although the big, beautiful boats and cool cafes are a great distraction, it’s worth looking down at your feet when you walk around here.

The cobbled streets and the remains of a 19th century railway line are clues to the area’s heritage and Sutton Harbour’s role in the growth of a coastal city.

It’s also been the start of a few famous voyages. In 1620, the Pilgrim Fathers sailed to America from the Mayflower Steps at the western end of Sutton Harbour. Before that, Sir Francis Drake gathered his fleet here before facing the Spanish Armada.

It’s a lot to ponder over while you choose where to have lunch. Sutton Harbour is now more of a leisurely place to be. The area is home to some great restaurants and bars where you can sit back and indulge in game of ‘which is your favourite boat, then?”.

You can choose your favourite flat or office, too. This bit of Plymouth’s waterfront (always much quieter than the busy Barbican around the corner) is now a prime residential and business district, with more developments planned in the coming year. Up to 14 stylish waterside apartments and penthouses are being constructed at Harbour Arch Quay, a new addition to the Sutton Harbour waterfront.

While you’re here: Live like a resident and hang out at Honky Tonk Wine Library, ‘a hybrid wine deli’, with sharing boards and some of the finest tipple around. They have more than 250 wines in stock and 30 by the glass, along with a growing rum collection. There are regular wine tastings, a comedy club and a Sunday ‘jazz and roast’ event.

Bangor Marina, County Down

Bangor Marina is right in the heart of town on the ‘sunny side’ of Belfast Lough, making it a fabulous place to stroll along and take in the scenery.

Well-kept and well looked after, this marina has achieved the highest rating of five Gold Anchors, a star rating equivalent under the Yacht Harbour Association’s Gold Anchor scheme. They look after their boat folk well, hosting summer barbecues and other events for berth holders and families.

But non-boat owners are drawn to the pretty and tranquil marina, with Bangor’s visitors praising it as a lovely part of a beautiful seaside town. There are lots of restaurants, cafes and bars nearby. The grand-looking Salty Dog Hotel and Bistro is in two Victorian townhouses overlooking the marina. The Jamaica Inn has Log fires, hot toddies, delicious food, sophisticated cocktails and a sea view.

The marina is also doing its bit for local biodiversity. There is a project underway to support the rewilding of native oysters. Working in partnership with the charity Ulster Wildlife Trust, Boatfolk, which runs Bangor Marina, is helping to establish the first native oyster nursery on Belfast Lough. Twenty-six cages will be tethered and suspended some of the pontoons in the marina. The oyster cages (or oyster hotels) are relatively small and will sit about a metre beneath the surface. See? Not just a pretty view.

While you’re here: Get paddling. A mobile stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) school offers lessons in the beautiful waters around the marina. SUP Hub NI offers lessons for all ages and abilities.

Whitby Harbour and Marina, Yorkshire

This is proper, honest boat watching. Whitby has been a port for more than 1,000 years and is still very much a seafarer’s town. The narrow streets and alleys climbing down to the quayside will make you feel like you’re part of centuries of comings and goings.

The swing-bridge is where the action is. Bridge openings take place in the two-hour period either side of high tide and are marked by the ringing of a handbell by the ‘bridge-men’. Stand in awe as 75 feet of roadway – complete with its streetlights – starts moving.

The Upper Harbour, above the swing-bridge, is home to the marina yacht berthing. There’s a nice riverside walk here, with great views across the harbour to the hauntingly spectacular Whitby Abbey ruins.

On the opposite bank is the still busy and hardworking Parkol shipyard and dry dock.

Locals tip: parking is a nightmare, so plan ahead and park and ride, if possible.

While you’re here: To fish and chip is practically a verb in Whitby – you just gotta sample the local cuisine. Trenchers on the harbourside is the famous one. Established since 1980, they serve the main event, plus options including seafood salads, crab, lobster, homemade pies and Whitby scampi.