Britain's best beaches

Fancy a day on the coast? The UK is spoilt for choice when it comes to stunning beaches. From the spectacular Isles of Scilly to the rugged beaches of the Scottish Highlands, here is our guide to the most beautiful beaches in Britain.

Kynance Cove, Cornwall
Published: June 16th, 2022 at 9:00 am
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Britain's coastline is dotted with beautiful beaches, from the far southern counties of Cornwall and Devon to the remote north os Scotland. Grab your beach bag and a picnic and take to the coast with some of our favourite sandy spots.

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Being an island, we are never far from a stretch of stunning coastline and the UK has an abundance of long beaches with vast expanses of sand. This is perfect for comfortably accommodating a variety of beach users from dog-walkers to swimmers, surfers and kite-surfers.

Alternatively, if this is all a bit too high octane for you, just enjoy a coastal walk at one of these lovely locations. Then watch the keen kite-surfers perform tricks whilst relaxing with coffee and cake.

Our guide to the UK's most beautiful beaches includes sandy and pebble beaches, best beaches for swimming and the cleanest beaches in Britain.

Best beaches in England

Durdle Door, Dorset

A colourful sunset over Durdle Door on the Jurassic Coast/Credit: Getty

Durdle Door's iconic stone archway is popular with photographers, and it's easy to see why. This natural wonder soars out of the cliffs like a dinosaur curled around a stretch of beach and wonderfully clear water.

Reach Durdle Door via a short walk along the South West Coast Path from West Lulworth, Dorset.

Beer, Devon

Panoramic view over Beer, Devon, Alamy
The tiny seaside village has a handful of traditional pubs/Credit: Getty Getty

The small village of Beer, sheltered by white chalky cliffs above a steep shingle beach, sits on the Jurassic Coast near Lyme Regis. Along this stretch of the Devon coastline, the rocks provide a haven for wildlife, and it’s a site of geological and historical interest, too.

If you’ve built up a thirst walking from Branscombe along Devon’s coastal cliffs and beaches to Beer, then you’re in luck – the tiny seaside village has a handful of traditional pubs, perfect for a well-earned pint.

Walk: Branscombe to Beer, East Devon

Beachcombing guide: things to find along the seashore and best beaches in the UK

Extraordinary and beautiful treasures can be found along the British coastline.

Beachcombing is a soothing activity which involves combing the shoreline to see what objects of interest you can see. This could be shells, pebbles, seaglass or one of the seashore marvels listed in our guide below. 

Read our expert guide to beachcombing

Female beachcomber

Holkham, Norfolk

Holkham beach is located on the North Norfolk coast of East Anglia/Credit: Getty

Holkam beach offers four miles of unspoilt beauty with a pine forest on one horizon and the rugged North Sea on the other.

Take a walk through Holkham's creaking pinewoods and along its beautiful beach with our five-mile route. Access is via Lady Anne’s Drive in Holkham village, just off the A149, opposite The Victoria Inn.

Embletone Bay, Northumberland, England

Beach and dunes on coast
Embleton Bay deservedly won BBC Countryfile Magazine’s Beach of the Year in 2017/Credit: Getty

Northumberland’s beaches are rarely crowded. Even on a beautiful summer’s evening you will often have the place to yourself, including the stunning Embleton Bay.

Walk over ruddy-gold sands, across babbling coastal rivers and through wind-shaped dunes to the dramatic ruins of a 14th-century castle – welcome to Embleton Bay, one of Britain's most beautiful beaches.

Walk: Embleton Bay, Northumberland

Anderby Creek Beach, Lincolnshire

Sun rises over sandy beach
The England Coast Path hugs the length of Anderby Creek Beach/Credit: Darren Ball, Alamy

Anderby Creek Beach, a long, sandy spot backed by dunes between Skegness and Mablethorpe, is vast, yet remains tranquil and unspoilt. It is the kind of place that may remind you of childhood beach visits as you stride out for miles along the sand

No matter what time of year you visit, this stretch of coastline leaves you feeling a little more alive when you leave is sandy shores than when you arrived.

Runswick Bay, North Yorkshire

Coastal village and beach
Runswick Bay is a quaint little coastal village near Whitby in West Yorkshire/Credit: Getty

The pristine, mile-long sands of the former fishing village of Runswick Bay on the North Yorkshire coast were recently crowned “Britain’s best beach” by the Times and Sunday Times.

With its sheltered, sweeping bay, golden sands and delightful cluster of pantile red-roofed cottages tumbling down to the sea, it is a firm favourite with many families. The beach, which once provided anchorage for scores of brightly coloured fishing boats, is now more popular for rockpooling, Jurassic Age fossil-hunting and bracing coastal walks.

Crosby Beach, Merseyside

Sculpture on beach
“I’m trying to make work that is reflective and is encouraging of reflection,” says Antony Gormley/Credit: David McCulloch, Alamy

From Waterloo Marina, with its café and lake with swans, scramble over the dunes to Crosby's two-mile stretch of beach. Search for sea holly, cranesbill and evening primrose seeded by the wind in this ever-shifting landscape. The tide moves around Antony Gormley’s Another Place figures, now corroded by seawater and colonised by barnacles.

Bamburgh Castle Beach, Northumberland

Bamburgh Castle sits proud above the beach/Credit: Getty

Bamburgh Castle, near Alnwick stands majestically on the basalt cliff side, watching down on waters home to inquisitive seals.

The castle stands on a 55m- (180ft) high dolerite crag, part of the Great Whin Sill. The original wooden Saxon fort was replaced by the Normans in the 12th century. After much destruction during the Wars of the Roses, its military importance declined. It was partly restored in the 1750s by Lord Crewe, and more extensively in the late 19th century by Lord Armstrong, whose descendents continue to reside there.

Southwold, Suffolk

Take in the brightly coloured beach huts/Credit: Getty

The string of brightly painted beach huts and the bucket-and-spade charm of this shingly cove on the Suffolk Heritage Coast will take you back to childhood holidays by the sea.

Porthcurno Beach, Cornwall

Porthcurno, Cornwall/Credit: Getty

Porthcurno beach at the end of our island is a lovely one, a rich seascape of blue waters and golden sand three miles fro Land's End.

Bournemouth Beach, Dorset

Bournemouth Beach and Pier/Credit: Getty

Bournemouth might be a city beach, but its seven miles of sands are home to a pier, beach huts and water sports. Buzzy and fun.

Appletree Bay, Isles of Scilly

There are no cars on the Isles of Scilly, so you'll have to walk or bike to beautiful Appletree Bay/Credit: Getty

Robinson Crusoe would be at home on this wild beach on the island of Tresco, where white sand, turquoise water and sub-tropical plants may make you wonder if you've woken up in the Caribbean. Fly to the Isles of Scilly, catch a boat to Tresco and then hire a bike to pedal along the road to the beach (there are no cars on the island). Phew!

Couple walking on cliff path

Best beaches in Wales

Three Cliffs Bay, Swansea

Three Cliffs Bay, Gower Peninsula, South Wales
Three Cliffs Bay at sundown/Credit: Alamy

It’s not as if the south Gower coast is otherwise unremarkable – maritime grassland atop limestone rock, which has been scoured into beaches and bone caves, yielding to an expansive sea with Devon fizzing on the horizon – but Three Cliffs Bay is a truly special place.

The cliffs are triangles of a single promontory, swimming out like a dragon to guard a bay brightly ringed by Pennard Pill river, which has squirmed through the saltmarsh to reach it. At high tide, Great Tor in the west grants seclusion. But at the tide’s ebb, Three Cliffs Bay merges with Tor Bay, Oxwich Bay and Pobbles Bay – with its dramatic cliffs and caves – to create one vast dazzling magnitude of sand.

Walk: Three Cliffs Bay, Swansea

Whistling Sands, Gwynedd

The shape of the sand grains at Whistling Sands is what causes the beach to sing/Credit: Getty

Walk along this stretch of beach and you may hear a curious whistling from under your feet. The shape of the sand grains strike against your feet to produce this intriguing sound.

Rockpooling along the British coastline

Hidden beneath the surface of our seas are landscapes every bit as varied and beautiful as those we see on land, with undersea cliffs, caves, chasms, mountains, dunes and plains. But it is not until the waves have retreated and the tide is low that we get a glimpse of this mysterious world and the weird and wonderful wildlife that inhabits it.

Explore our rockpooling guide for tips on what to look for on your next beach trip

Boy looking into a rockpool

Porthmelgan, Pembrokeshire

Coastal path along Porthmelgan, Pembrokeshire
At the end of a vale on St David’s Head, a stream flows into the rolling sapphire waters of Whitesands Bay/Credit: Alamy

Sheltered beneath the bulk of St David’s Head and its Iron Age remains is a half-moon of silvery rock and blonde sand known as Porthmelgan – the ideal summer escape.

The cove is the perfect place to gaze toward Ramsey Island and the Bishops and Clerks rocks. South Bishop Lighthouse, almost 8km away, seems like a dreamy trick of the eye as it appears to hover above the water on hazy summer days. Porthmelgan’s seclusion owes to the fact the nearest car park is 1.5km away at Whitesands Beach, where there’s also a café and toilets.

Walk: Porthmelgan, Pembrokeshire

Barafundle Bay, Pembrokeshire

Barafundle Bay is part of Stackpole Estate/Credit: Getty

No roads in, no convenient cafés, no seaside stores – few Welsh beaches can compete with the isolated nature of beautiful Barafundle Bay on the southern coast of Pembrokeshire. The broad-crescent beach is accessible by foot through woodland and grassy dunes along a short trail from Stackpole Quay beside Bosherston Lily Ponds.

Rhossili Beach, South Wales

Rhossili Bay is the most westerly bay on the Gower peninsula in Wales, with a sandy beach three miles (5 km) long/Credit: Getty Images

Often thronged with salt-crusted surfers, this enormous beach is more suited to experts. It can get big swells coming in which means punchy, aggressive waves. Head down to the right side of the beach to keep out of the way of surfers, swimmers and paddlers. There is also a bit of a trek across the sand dunes to reach the beach.

Rhosneigr, Anglesey

The sun goes down at Rhosneigr, Anglesey/Credit: Getty

Due to its consistently good winds, Rhosneigr on Anglesey is one of the premier kite-surfing destinations in the UK and consequently some of the best kiters and windsurfers sail here. There are two sandy bays and it works best for kiters at the northern end. But there are rocks around so try and get a good look at low tide to work out where they are. There’s also a café which looks on to the beach that will suit the non-kiters. It's also a lovely spot for a beach walk or picnic on warmer days.

Freshwater West, Pembrokeshire

Freshwater West Beach Pembrokeshire
Beautiful scenery of Pembrokeshire coastline, South Wales/Credit: Getty

For somewhere that is so easy to access, this stretch of the welsh coastline hardly gets any visitors. On a glorious day you can literally have the golden sands and waves to yourself. If you really want to get back to nature, it is possible to wild camp right near the beach in the sand dunes. However, there are reefs around so it’s worth checking out the terrain at low tide. Beginners may prefer the nearby blue flag beach at Newgale.


Best beaches in Scotland

Achmelvich Beach, Highlands

Explore the pristine sands of Achmelvich beach/Credit: Getty

This slice of the coastal good life is far from the madding crowds, and hence home to dolphins, porpoises and whales. Achmelvich beach is on a minor road signposted to Achmelvich.

Learn more about Achmelvich.

Sandwood Bay, Highland

Sandwood Bay sits just south of Cape Wrath/Credit: Getty

Only accessible by foot, remote and beautiful Sandwood Bay sits between a deep freshwater loch his beach and looks out at a tall sea stack standing sentinel in the ocean. The nearest bus stop is Kinlochbervie.

Island of Tiree, Outer Hebrides

Tiree Beach View with Turquoise Sea and White Sand, Getty
Tiree beach, Outer Hebrides/Credit: Getty Images

If you are looking to get away from it all and fancy having white sands and turquoise waters all to yourself, it couldn’t get much better than the isolated wilderness of the Hebrides. This area receives wind from the Atlantic but is also strangely the sunniest place in the UK. It is also full of rare species such as puffins, golden eagles, basking sharks and whales.

Portobello, Edinburgh

Beach breakwater
Wooden breakwater at Portobello Beach/Credit: Getty

Sitting on the outskirts of Edinburgh, Portobello’s beautiful beach is the focal point of a short, simple walk around this vibrant town.

Having been a popular haunt for many centuries with seamen and smugglers, Portobello reinvented itself in the early 1800s as a fashionable spa town, after a number of mineral wells were discovered. This led to the town becoming the preferred location of Edinburgh’s wealthy middle classes, who spent their weekends and holidays here, taking advantage of the beautiful beach, relaxing spas and water baths.

Walk: Portobello, Edinburgh


Best walks in Northern Ireland

Downhill Strand, Londonderry

Mussenden Temple above Downhill Strand/Credit: Getty

From Downhill Strand, the sight of Mussenden Temple teetering on a blustery cliff edge is an incongruous one – the circular neo-classical building more at home in sun-kissed Rome than Northern Ireland’s wild Causeway Coast

Discover wild shores, muscular mountains, surfing seabirds and an 18th-century Italian-style temple on Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coast.

Murlough National Nature Reserve, County Down

Sandy beach
The granite tops of the Mourne Mountains – Northern Ireland’s highest peaks – overlook Murlough National Nature Reserve/Credit: Alamy

Situated 3.5 miles north-east of the coastal town of Newcastle in County Down, Murlough National Nature Reserve is a wildlife-watchers’ dream.

Its range of habitats play host to a vast diversity of flora and fauna, and the long, sandy beach is the focal point of a fantastic walk, overlooked by the iconic Mourne Mountains.

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Walk: Murlough National Nature Reserve, County Down

Authors

Carys MatthewsGroup Digital Editor

Carys is the Group Digital Editor of countryfile.com and discoverwildlife.com. Carys can often be found trail running, bike-packing, wild swimming or hiking in the British countryside.

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