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As someone who has adventures in over 50+ countries and grew up in Scotland, I have a profound love for the hidden treasures of the British Isles. Let’s take this wealth of personal experience and an eye for the extraordinary to unveil the best beachside delights the UK offers.
England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland are far from a tropical paradise and not the first countries on your lips when you think of white sands, crystal clear waters, and exotic cocktails with little umbrellas.
But that’s doing them a disservice – and who wants all those tropical bugs anyway?! With thousands of miles of breathtaking coastline and around 1,500 beaches in the United Kingdom, the UK will surprise you.
There are beach vacation options to suit families, honeymooners, water sports enthusiasts, and casual sunbathers. Aside from pristine sands, you’ll discover quaint getaways, lively nightspots, historic castles, dramatic rock formations, and hidden gems, and there’s a long and proud tradition with the British seaside that deserves to be explored.
Look out for famous piers, Punch and Judy shows, fish & chips, donkey rides, arcades, and candy floss. Even when you visit in winter, there’s a magical nostalgia here.
Let’s examine the best beaches in the United Kingdom, broken down by country and county, so you know where to go the next time you visit Blighty’s shores. Altogether now – “Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside…”
- Best Beaches in England
- 1. The Isles of Scilly, Cornwall
- 2. Bournemouth Beach, Bournemouth, Dorset
- 3. Tolcarne Beach, Newquay, Cornwall
- 4. Whitby Beach, Whitby, North Yorkshire
- 5. Ruislip Lido, West London
- 6. Camber Sands, Camber, East Sussex
- 7. Priory Bay, Seaview, Isle of Wight
- 8. Bamburgh Castle Beach, Bamburgh, Northumberland
- 9. Nanjizal, Land’s End, West Cornwall
- 10. Blackpool Sands, Blackpool, South Devon
- 11. West Wittering Beach, West Wittering, West Sussex
- 12. Speke’s Mill Mouth, Hartland, North Devon
- 13. Worbarrow Bay, Tyneham, Dorset
- 14. Bigbury Beach, Burgh Island, South Devon
- Best Beaches in Scotland
- 15. The White Sands of Morar, Mallaig
- 16. St. Ninians Isle Beach, Bigton, Shetland
- 17. Scarista Beach, Isle of Harris
- 18. East Beach and West Beach, Lossiemouth, Moray
- 19. Durness Beach, Lairg, Sutherland
- Best Beaches in Wales
- 20. LLanbedrog Beach, LLanbedrog Gwynedd
- 21. Rhosneigr Beach, Rhosneigr, Anglesey
- 22. Barafundle Bay Beach, Stackpole, Pembrokeshire
- 23. Three Cliffs Bay Beach, Swansea
- Best Beaches in Northern Ireland
- 24. Benone Beach, Limavady, Northern Ireland
- 25. The Giant’s Causeway, Bushmills, Northern Ireland
- What are the best beaches in the UK?
- What is the water temperature like at the UK’s beaches?
- Are there any beaches in the UK that are good for surfing or other water sports?
Best Beaches in England
1. The Isles of Scilly, Cornwall
As it was almost impossible to single out just one beach from the Isles of Scilly, I’ve included all of them. Dubbed “like the Caribbean, but closer,” the Isles of Scilly are an archipelago located off the coast of Cornwall in southwest England.
Accessed by ferry ride from Penzance Harbor, the islands of St Mary’s, Tresco, St Martins, Bryher, and St Agnes share more than 30 beaches between them. Each has its distinct character and charm, and you’ll discover why so many Brits flock here as a cheaper alternative to more exotic locales.
St Marys Hall Hotel in Hugh Town has a delightful garden on what is arguably the most popular of the islets, although the tiny island of Tresco is regarded as the more picturesque.
See Related: Most Beautiful Beaches in the World
2. Bournemouth Beach, Bournemouth, Dorset
Located on the south coast of England, Bournemouth is a popular seaside resort that boasts one of the best beaches in the UK. Enjoy seven miles of award-winning sand, an iconic pier, and enough activities to keep every family member occupied for days.
You’ll find some of the warmest waters in the UK break on Bournemouth Beach, making it an enticing spot for swimmers and sunbathers. Enjoy a trip to the Jurassic Coast of Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door, and the kids will love you forever if you take them to Splashdown Water Park in nearby Poole.
As a holiday resort town, Bournemouth is overflowing with accommodation options. Derby Manor is one of the highest-rated, offering a luxurious stay just 0.6 miles from the beach.
3. Tolcarne Beach, Newquay, Cornwall
When I was a teenager, all the cool kids went to Newquay. It became some kind of mecca for young people to let loose and have a good time. Not least because it has some of the best sandy beaches in England, but because the waves of the Celtic Sea offer the most consistent surfing on the island.
There are several top sandy beaches in and around the town, including Fistral Beach, Great Western Beach, and Newquay Beach. Tolcarne is one of the highest rated, a wide expanse of golden sand that is extremely popular in the summer months. The relatively calm waters ensure safe swimming for families, and it’s a great place to learn how to surf if you’re a beginner.
In these parts, you couldn’t ask for a better place to stay than the Newquay Beach Hotel, which faces the beachfront and features a terrace with sea views.
See Related: Travel Shorts for Warm Destinations
4. Whitby Beach, Whitby, North Yorkshire
Located in North Yorkshire, Whitby is one of my favorite places worldwide. This was my family’s seaside destination of choice, a quintessentially British holiday experience. Sure, the sandy beach might not be on par with the Maldives, but it more than makes up for that with heart and character.
You’ll find every traditional British seaside trope here. Colorful beach huts, rock pools, donkey rides, a pier, and more ice cream than you can shake a nut-encrusted chocolate wafer cone at. And as one of the best villages in the UK, Whitby itself is not to be missed.
Located right on the iconic 199 steps that lead to the dramatic ruins of Whitby Abbey, Speedy’s Cottage offers the perfect romantic getaway when visiting North Yorkshire.
5. Ruislip Lido, West London
Ruislip Lido is a 60-acre lake on the edge of the bucolic Ruislip Woods National Nature Reserve. It features an artificial beach that might not necessarily be one of the best in England. But given that it’s only an hour from London city center, it’s a popular escape from the hustle and bustle of the capital.
It’s an excellent option for local families, too, as there are playgrounds, an ice cream shop, and a miniature train for trips around the lake. Be aware, though, that even on a hot day, swimming is not permitted, but it still makes for a lovely beach day while you’re touring London.
See Related: 2 Days in London Itinerary
6. Camber Sands, Camber, East Sussex
Camber Sands is just over two hours from London, in East Sussex. The only rolling dunes system in the area (everything else is a pebble or shingle beach), it’s a well-maintained three-mile stretch, popular with dog walkers, and with plenty of activities to keep you entertained.
Thanks to the optimum conditions, kitesurfing, kite buggying, and landboarding are popular here. Lessons can be taken daily between March and November. The wide, flat, sandy terrain is perfect for beginners, and the water is only about waist-high up to 300 meters out.
Try the Seagull’s Crest vacation home, which is mere steps from the beach, for a comfortable place to stay.
7. Priory Bay, Seaview, Isle of Wight
Located on the Isle of Wight in the English Channel, Priory Bay Beach is something of a well-kept secret. You’ll always find a quiet corner, even in the middle of summer, and this gently sloping, sandy, tree-lined beach makes for ideal sunbathing. Swimmers love the calm waters, too.
Visitors to the Isle of Wight tend to gravitate to the popular beaches of Shanklin and Ventnor, and the entire island is known for its sandy shores and chalk cliffs. But the privately-owned Priory Bay is well worth a look, so long as you remember to pack some provisions; the beach isn’t exactly well served with food and amenities.
To get there, why take a ferry when you can take a hovercraft? The world’s only commercial foot passenger service gets you from Portsmouth to the Isle of Wight in no time.
See Related: Best Islands to Visit Around the World
8. Bamburgh Castle Beach, Bamburgh, Northumberland
The waters of the North Sea might be chilly, but Bamburgh Beach is one of the best-known stretches of sandy coastline in the UK. That’s thanks to the gorgeous backdrop of Bamburgh Castle.
This ancient fortification has a rich and storied history and boasts some outstanding gardens. It’s also a regular TV and film location and features in the likes of Downtown Abbey, Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, and Harry Potter.
The wide beach the castle overlooks is ideal for surfing and kite surfing, as well as rock-pooling near the Stag Rocks lighthouse. It’s also a wonderful place to ride horses, and if you’ve ever wanted that hooves in the surf experience, this could be the best beach for you.
For historic and elegant accommodation, the Victoria Hotel is close to Bamburgh Beach, and some rooms feature castle views.
See Related: Visit Bamburgh Castle
9. Nanjizal, Land’s End, West Cornwall
Of all the United Kingdom beaches, Nanjizal at Land’s End feels like the edge of the world, even if it’s only a cliffside away from civilization. Lined with sandstone caves, this shoreline is particularly dramatic when a storm hits. But at low tide, a white sandy beach is magically revealed.
Swim in the turquoise sea at the Song of the Sea rock arch and contemplate the ocean’s mysteries beyond. To the south, there are several coves and crystal-clear rock pools that are also worth exploring.
Try the comfortable Land’s End Hotel at Senna, which offers excellent views over the wild Atlantic Ocean.
10. Blackpool Sands, Blackpool, South Devon
Blackpool Sands is located in the historic county of Devon. Not to be confused with the seaside resort of Blackpool on the northwest coast of England.
Known for its beautiful beaches and miles of stunning coastline, you’re never too far away from some of the best beaches in England. And Blackpool Sands is a perfect example.
One of the cleanest pebble beaches you’re likely to find, the waters are tested regularly. As lush evergreens and pines surround the sheltered cove, you might think you’re on a section of the Amalfi Coast when the sun is shining on Blackpool Sands.
Try Channel View Guesthouse at nearby Stoke Fleming, an ideal base for exploring all the beaches and coves along the Dartmouth coast.
11. West Wittering Beach, West Wittering, West Sussex
Go celebrity spotting at West Wittering, in West Sussex, as the town is known for having several famous residents. They might well be enticed by one of the leading Blue Flag beaches in the country. West Wittering Beach offers grassy picnic areas, pretty beach huts, and attractive views of Chichester Harbor.
The East Head area provides some wonderful nature trails for hikers. Low tide exposes a series of shallow lagoons that toddlers, with mom and dad in tow, will enjoy exploring. The sea has outstanding water quality, and wind and kite surfers enjoy excellent conditions throughout the year.
For an alternative place to stay, check out the Witterings Shepherds’ Hut – a sustainable, cozy vacation home in a countryside setting.
See Related: Things to Know as an American Driving in the UK
12. Speke’s Mill Mouth, Hartland, North Devon
On our list of best beaches in the United Kingdom, Speke’s Mill Mouth will thrill historians as well as naturists. You can collect pieces of driftwood from long-ago shipwrecks pitched onto the shore by crashing Atlantic waves. All in the shadow of a cascading 50-meter waterfall.
Soft sand forms rock pools where you’ll find unusual shells and other ocean treasures. Sort through your spoils and hear stories of the doomed vessels at one of the nearby pubs or tea gardens. And hikers will enjoy the South West Coast Path, which runs along the beach and is one of the world’s greatest walks at 630 miles.
Perched on a rocky headland, the Hartland Quay Hotel is as good as it gets for coastal accommodations, and it even has an on-site museum.
13. Worbarrow Bay, Tyneham, Dorset
Worbarrow Bay Beach is about a mile from the ghost village of Tyneham and was used for army training during World War II. Residents of the town had to leave to make way for the military, and even today, the bay is only accessible when Lulworth Ranges are open to the public.
The bay is part of the area’s Jurassic Coast and is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. The nearby woods are home to abundant wildlife, and there are ruins and caves to explore. The sands are usually quiet with little activity, and it makes a peaceful spot to throw a good beach blanket and enjoy the tranquillity.
A short trip down the coast is the highly-rated Lulworth Cove Inn, which makes a great base for exploring the Jurassic Coast and the area’s numerous points of interest.
See Related: The Ultimate Summer Trip Packing List
14. Bigbury Beach, Burgh Island, South Devon
Fans of Agatha Christie will love a visit to Burgh Island, said to have influenced the iconic crime writer thanks to its 1920s Art Deco hotel, which towers over Bigbury Beach. Surrounded by an area of outstanding natural beauty, it’s the perfect backdrop for a romantic weekend getaway.
Close to the town of Bigbury-on-Sea, this popular beach offers shallow waters, rock pools, golden sand, and charming seaside walks. Watersports are also popular here, including snorkeling, bodyboarding, and kite surfing.
A stay in the Burgh Island Hotel is essential, with its commanding vantage point, stunning views, and easy access to the beach. And it’s an absolute must if you love murder mysteries.
Best Beaches in Scotland
15. The White Sands of Morar, Mallaig
Located between Arisaig and Morar, the famous white (or silver) sands of Moraris are a string of some of the most beautiful beaches in the UK. Boasting spectacular views of the Small Isles on Scotland’s rugged west coast, you can expect clean, pristine white sand across several rocky coves.
As part of the banks of the River Moidart, these sandy beaches are popular with hikers – especially at low tide. Facilities are scarce, and toilets are only available at Moray Bay car park, but that’s all part of the charm.
The last time I visited the White Sands of Morar, I camped on the beach, but please remember to clean up after yourselves if you do. The nearby Morar Hotel is a better option if you prefer bricks and mortar.
See Related: Visiting Scotland’s Iconic Eilean Donan Castle
16. St. Ninians Isle Beach, Bigton, Shetland
As someone who grew up in Scotland, I know that Scotland’s most beautiful beaches are also one of the most unusual. The natural sand causeway of St. Ninians Isle is the largest tombolo in the UK, a stretch of golden sand that connects the island to the South Mainland of Shetland’s western coast. If you’ve ever seen promotional photographs of Shetland, you’ve likely seen this gorgeous beach.
Walking the 500 meters of white sand, you’ll have sea views on either side. The region is also a big draw for history buffs, thanks to its prominent ruins and archaeological sites.
St. Ninians Isle was last inhabited in 1796, and as you’re surrounded by rural farmland, if you want to get away from it all, this is the perfect retreat. Given its remote location, accommodation options are limited, but Hayhoull Bed & Breakfast is the best.
17. Scarista Beach, Isle of Harris
The islands of the Outer Hebrides offer some of the most breathtaking and dramatic coastal scenery in the world. Anyone making the trip to this remote corner of the British Isles will be rewarded with multiple white sand beaches, rocky cliffs, and the wild waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
I could have chosen any one of dozens of stunning sands, but I’ve gone for Scarista Beach on the west coast of Harris. If you’re here in the summer months, you might think you’re on a tropical vacation, such as the color of the sand and turquoise sea. In an area of outstanding natural beauty, even on a cloudy day, Scarista Beach is a jewel in the Hebridean crown.
The well-equipped One Sea vacation home is located within two minutes of Sgarasta Mhòr (to give it its proper, Gaelic name).
See Related: Visiting Fingal’s Cave (Cave of Melody) in Scotland
18. East Beach and West Beach, Lossiemouth, Moray
Two of the finest beaches in the United Kingdom can be found in Lossiemouth, Moray. This delightful town is a golfer’s paradise located in northeast Scotland.
East Beach and West Beach feature golden sand dunes and visitors can enjoy the beautiful views as they walk along the shore. Keep an eye out for dolphins and seals on your stroll.
West Beach has the landmark Covesea Lighthouse, while East Beach is popular with surfers and bird watchers. Lossiemouth is a quaint seaside town with a championship golf course, Fisheries Museum, and many cafes.
The Stotfield Hotel sits in a great location overlooking the Moray Firth and right next door to the historic Moray Golf Club. Perfect if you want to hit the links after a morning stroll on the beaches.
See Related: Best Golf Bachelor Party Destinations
19. Durness Beach, Lairg, Sutherland
One of the best UK beaches is located right at the top of Great Britain, in the highlands of Scotland. There are several stunning beaches with golden sands in the area, including Balnakeil, Sangomore, Sango Sands, and Durness itself.
A perfect stop on the North Coast 500 – one of the best road trips in the world – Durness Beach is a small but perfectly formed swatch of spotless sand. Don’t be dishearted if the weather turns “bad,” as a walk on this beach in the wind and the rain is still a memorable experience, as you feel like you’re on the edge of the world.
Campsites are a bit hit-and-miss in the area, so try the Durness Youth Hostel instead. It’s a great place to meet fellow travelers and the ideal spot for anyone exploring the NC500 on a budget.
Best Beaches in Wales
20. LLanbedrog Beach, LLanbedrog Gwynedd
A list of the best beaches in the United Kingdom wouldn’t be complete without a look at the dramatic coastline of Wales and, particularly, Llanbedrog Beach in Gwynedd. This sheltered, sandy beach overlooks Cardigan Bay and is a favorite of visitors and locals.
Best known for its row of 70 bright beach huts, you can book one in advance and own it for a full season. And with slightly warmer water temperatures, seals and dolphins are easy to spot playing in the bay. Don’t miss an easy hike up to the famous “Tin Man” sculpture on the cliffs, which offers excellent views of the Llŷn Peninsula.
21. Rhosneigr Beach, Rhosneigr, Anglesey
Rhosneigr Beach is two broad sandy beaches – Traeth Crigyll and Traeth Llydan, separated by the town. Visitors can expect a vintage seaside experience in this charming village and a traditional British holiday of yesteryear.
Water sports can be enjoyed year-round because of the constant wind. For the less energetic, Rhosneigr Beach boasts four miles of warm, sandy shores lined with shops, ice cream parlors, and cafes.
The elegant Sandy Mount House in Rhosneigr offers a warm welcome. The inn is perfect for exploring all that Anglesey has to offer.
See Related: Best Black Sand Beaches in the World
22. Barafundle Bay Beach, Stackpole, Pembrokeshire
Formerly a private beach, tropical-looking seas and golden sands await in the remote Barafundle Bay in Pembrokeshire. Located close to Stackpole Quay Park, the bay is only accessible by a half-mile trek from a paid parking lot. There are no facilities so you need to pack all your essentials.
Managed by the National Trust, this award-winning stretch of golden sand has been previously voted the best beach in Britain. It has even been considered among the top 12 beaches in the world.
Surrounded by cliffs and inaccessible by car, it has a secluded, secret vibe. And hikers will enjoy the Pembrokeshire Coast Path, which runs behind.
Try the charming Chestnut Cottage for a cozy vacation rental in nearby Stackpole.
23. Three Cliffs Bay Beach, Swansea
Located on the Gower Peninsula, just over 20 20-minute drive from Swansea, Three Cliffs Bay has a spectacular sandy beach. It is called because of the three distinctive limestone cliffs that form one side of the bay. The beach is an easy walk from a free car park and is well worth the effort to get there.
Surrounded by sand dunes and salt marshes, the cliffs are popular with climbers. One of the most photographed sections of the Gower Peninsula, Three Cliffs Bay is up there with the finest sandy beaches in Europe. And best of all – dogs are allowed!
See Related: Hiking the Heart of Wales Line Trail
Best Beaches in Northern Ireland
24. Benone Beach, Limavady, Northern Ireland
Seven miles of unspoiled sandy shores await you at Benone Beach, one of the longest beaches on the island. The Binevinaugh Mountain creates a majestic backdrop as you picnic, swim, walk, or bike-ride along the waterline. And there are amazing views of Donegal and Scotland on a clear day.
Take a stroll on the boardwalk, ride horses, fly kites, fish from the shore, paddleboard, or take part in any number of fun activities available year-round. This beautiful beach is also a nature preserve and is great for watching birds, porpoises, and seals. And, of course, don’t miss the Mussenden Temple, dramatically perched on top of the cliffs.
The nearby town of Portstewart offers excellent accommodation options. Try the Anchorage Inn on the main promenade, which has breakfast included.
See Related: Best Coastal Towns in Ireland
25. The Giant’s Causeway, Bushmills, Northern Ireland
Beaches don’t always need to have pristine white sand, and the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland is evidence of that. Formed nearly 60 million years ago, this iconic landmark consists of more than 40,000 hexagon-shaped tubes made from basalt stone.
Northern Ireland’s most popular attraction is remote, rugged, and utterly breathtaking to see. Entry is free, although there is a ticketed visitor center if you’d like a tour or audio guide. Wear sturdy shoes because the rocks can get slippery, and there’s a moderately challenging climb to the cliff top.
The Causeway Hotel boasts excellent reviews and is less than five minutes walk from the visitor center. As an extra incentive, hotel guests are granted free entry. Day trips from Belfast are also popular.
See Related: Best Cheap Castles to Stay in Ireland
What are the best beaches in the UK?
With around 1500 beaches in the UK, it’s not easy to pick the very best! My personal favorites include Whitby, the Giant’s Causeway, and the White Sands of Morar. Head to the Isles of Scilly if you want a warmer vibe. Bournemouth and Newquay offer some of the best beaches for kids and activities. Scarista Beach, Worbarrow Bay, and St. Ninians Isle Beach are all ideal if you prefer something a little more remote.
What is the water temperature like at the UK’s beaches?
It depends on the time of year and the beach you visit. As a rule of thumb, the water gets colder the further north you go. Typical temperatures range from around 40F-50F (4C-10C) in winter and around 60F-68F (17C-20C) in summer.
Are there any beaches in the UK that are good for surfing or other water sports?
Yes! There are plenty of beaches in the UK that are perfect for watersports. Some of the best include any of the beaches at Newquay (Fistral, Watergate Bay, and Tolcarne), Camber Sands, and the East Beach at Lossiemouth. But there are many more!
- About the Author
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With over 70 countries under his belt, Stuart is a well-seasoned globetrotter hailing from the UK, now living in Madison, Wisconsin. After traveling the world for seven years (including a hitchhike from Germany to Cambodia) his current mission is to visit all 50 states before turning 50 – something he’s going to fail to do if he keeps collecting board games.