When dreaming of sun-kissed sands and idyllic ocean waters, the United Kingdom might not immediately spring to mind. While it’s true that the seas aren’t as warm as the tropics, the best beaches in the UK still provide highly scenic spots to lay down your towel.
The country’s coast has countless golden bays backed by white or vegetation-specked cliffs, vast swathes of protected sands perfect for afternoon strolls, and a charming retro beach culture tied to arcades, fish and chips, and overflowing ice cream cones.
Here are 16 of the best beaches in the UK.
Durdle Door, Dorset, England
One of the crown jewels of the UK’s south coast, Durdle Door is perhaps Dorset’s most famous beach—and for a good reason.
It’s part of the World Heritage Jurassic Coast, home to some of the best hikes in the UK and a significant geological center due to the discovery of ancient fossils from when dinosaurs roamed these shores.
Given the popularity of Durdle Door, small fossils are harder to find here, but if you search along the beach, you may stumble upon an ancient fossilized crustacean among the rocks.
Nowadays, the most dramatic thing isn’t free-roaming dinosaurs but the curved rock archway, which is the main symbol of the shingle beach. Accessed by a relatively steep hill and stairs, the secluded nature of this beach doesn’t stop the crowds coming to admire its beauty.
Just next door, the bay of Man’O War beach sparkles, and a walking trail continues over the verdant hills to Lulworth Cove, a picturesque spot with a few beer-garden pubs, perfect for enjoying the traditional British coastal staple of fish and chips.
St. Ninian’s Beach, Shetland, Scotland
Situated on the Shetland Islands in the country’s far northern reaches, St. Ninian’s isn’t just one of the best beaches in the UK, but also one of the most secluded.
The deceptively crystal-clear waters wouldn’t look out of place on a tropical island. However, given this archipelago is on the same parallel as Scandinavia and Anchorage, Alaska, the sea temperatures rarely go above 55℉.
Even if cold water swimming isn’t appealing, the attractiveness of this beach is reason enough to visit.
The sand-bar-style causeway stretches across the ocean from the central landmass to the island on the other side, creating a double-bay beauty lapped by turquoise waters. The dazzling white of the beach is due to the shell composition of the sand.
It’s a popular destination for exploring by kayak, with dramatic cliffs and further bays nearby. Being on the Shetland Islands, there is always the possibility that seals, porpoises, or dolphins may put in an appearance.
Branscombe Beach, Devon, England
On the South Devon coast, in the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, around an hour and 20 minutes’ drive from Portland, gorgeous Branscombe Beach is framed by green hills and crossed by coastal trails.
You’ll want to pack a towel and beach shoes due to the shingle nature of the beach, but once you’re here and the sun is shining, the lapping waves and refreshment stand provide everything you need.
Still, if you get a little restless, the South West Coast Path passes through here, linking Branscombe with the nearby village of Beer on a clifftop trail.
Branscombe village’s historic streets also deserve a wander to admire the thatched cottages before savoring a delicious lunch at the quaint countryside pub.
Swanage Beach, Dorset, England
Swanage is a quintessential southern seaside town that has been a popular beach getaway for generations.
The sandy bay beach is a constant Blue Flag winner, thanks to the inviting clear waters and bathing quality. You can also rent traditional deck chairs or a beach hut for that proper British seaside holiday feel.
Nearby, Old Harry’s Rocks are well worth a visit. From the glistening white headland cliffs, these white chalk rocks climb up from the ocean, dazzling in the sun. A photo spot at the end of the trail provides the best views.
Helen’s Bay Beach, near Belfast, Northern Ireland
Wild and relatively untouched, Helen’s Bay, a short drive from Belfast, is one of the best beaches in the UK, specifically in County Down, Northern Ireland.
Enveloped by Crawfordsburn Country Park, the sandy beach provides a defining contrast between the cerulean waters and the verdant golf course behind. The waters may be a little chilly, but it’s perfect for a few hours in the sun on a summer day.
If you get the craving for a snack or slice of cake, the delightful Woodlands Café is a short walk away, hidden among trees backing the shore. To the left of the beach, the well-preserved early 20th-century Grey Point Fort is worth a look, especially for the giant guns which guard the Belfast lough (the Irish word for lake).
Formby Beach, Liverpool, England
A short hop from Liverpool, the National Trust-protected Formby Beach is a true coastal haven of dunes, wildlife, and vast golden sands.
With ample parking, it’s a quick walk through the high dunes and shady woods to reach the beach, which looks out over the Irish Sea.
After enjoying the long stretch of shoreline, try to spot some of the local wildlife back from the beach—the native red squirrels and colorful butterflies that live here are particularly pretty.
Camber Sands, near Dover, England
While most beaches in East Sussex are coated in shingle, Camber Sands, near Dover, offers a more traditional experience with fine sands backed by dunes.
To find the best section of soft beach far from the pebbles, head to the western end of this five-mile-long beauty. At low tide, the beach expands substantially, adding to the already untamed feel of this picturesque destination
You’ll also want to allow time to visit one of the prettiest towns in the United Kingdom, Rye, a short drive away. The cobbled lanes and medieval homes feel like stepping back in time.
Bournemouth Beach, Dorset, England
On Dorset’s south coast, Bournemouth boasts one of the best beaches in the UK—so much so that people flock here from across the country when the mercury rises. Even with the summer crowds, there is plenty of space to find your perfect spot as the sands span an impressive seven miles.
Having won multiple awards for its cleanliness and water quality, Bournemouth is a great destination for bathing, tanning, and entertainment. The pier and arcades add a retro feel to the central part of the beach, and there is also an aquarium to keep inquisitive minds entertained.
The beach runs all along the front of Bournemouth town, so all the shops, cafés, and restaurants are just a short walk away through the pretty gardens. There are plenty of beach bars and restaurants, too, that serve wonderful cocktails and fresh seafood.
Lochend Beach, Inverness, Scotland
An alternative Scottish spot from the typical coastal sands, the rocky Lochend Beach is shrouded in myths and legends thanks to its position on the far end of Loch Ness, one of the most famous lakes in Europe.
Usually, this location is close to deserted, as most visitors to this part of the world have hopped on boat tours to try and witness the mythical Loch Ness Monster that Scotland is known for.
While Lochend is far from a conventional beach outing in Inverness, the surrounding forested landscapes and the still waters providing perfect reflections on a calm day are spectacular. It’s advisable to avoid swimming in the loch, though, as the deep lake waters are extremely cold.
Chesil Beach, Dorset, England
Chesil Beach is quite the sight to behold, stretching for 18 miles from the Isle of Portland to West Bay.
The shingle beach rests on a barrier island, separated from the mainland by a lagoon. While this makes a large portion of the beach harder to access, it also means more secluded strolls.
Chesil Beach is wild and remote, backed by green pastures on the mainland, and you’ll certainly want to bring comfy shoes rather than going barefoot when walking along the pebbles.
There are some wonderfully quaint attractions nearby to visit after the beach, such as the Abbotsbury Swannery, which houses hundreds of swans, and Bennetts Water Gardens, a tranquil space with lily-coated ponds.
The Sands of Meal, Shetland, Scotland
One of the country’s most northern beaches, and a true remote wonderland, The Sands of Meal radiates intense color on a sunny day like a lost speck of the South Pacific, with fine, white sand and the sea a deep shade of aquamarine.
Just a short drive from Lerwick, it’s also easy to access. You just need to pack a picnic to enjoy a day out at one of the best beaches in the UK.
Don’t expect to share the sheltered spots with many others, as Shetland’s shorelines are often places of solitude. Even when there are other bathers on the warmest days, there’s little noise or distractions from the lullaby of waves, just one of many reasons the archipelago is so appealing.
Deal Beach, near Dover, England
Deal Beach is one of Kent’s signature spots, thanks to the presence of a long, skinny pier with a glass-walled restaurant at the end. Deal’s promenade stretches along the sands, offering plenty more quality cafés and restaurants when lunch comes around.
As with most of the county’s beaches, it’s all pebbles, but don’t let this deter you from visiting, as there’s plenty more to do along the town’s coast. From crazy golf and top-notch fishing from the pier to the town’s handful of museums and galleries, a visit to Deal is a delightful British seaside day out.
Crosby Beach, Liverpool, England
Quickly accessed from Liverpool by train, Crosby Beach is a true city-beach escape with an artistic streak.
Acting as an open-air sculpture gallery, the beach is decorated with 100 life-size statues crafted from cast iron, all staring out to sea with a solemn appearance.
Titled “Another Place” and designed by Antony Gormley, the installation should have been temporary, but it was so popular that the sculptures found a permanent home on the sands.
If that wasn’t reason enough to visit, the beach has been awarded for its cleanliness and has a seasonal lifeguard, making it a trusted bathing spot.
Stevenston Beach, near Glasgow, Scotland
Like much of the Ayrshire coast, sand dunes define the landscape, and Stevenston Beach is no different. It’s breathtakingly wild, without being far from civilization, and the impressive wildlife-laden dune system makes it one of the best beaches in the UK for solitary strolls.
Designated a Local Nature Reserve in 1998, in part thanks to the colorful wildflowers and delicate small birds that can be seen in and around the sands, Stevenston Beach has remained relatively pristine.
The beach itself is also devoid of facilities, adding to the rural appeal, although you’re only a short walk from some local cafés. For those seeking a windswept beach less than an hour from Glasgow, Stevenston is the ideal choice.
Calshot Beach, near Southampton, England
Colorful beach huts line this mainly shingle shoreline close to Southampton. Blessed with good winds, it’s a popular destination for windsurfing and sailing, although the calmer waters in the lagoon area are great for other water sports, such as kayaking and SUP.
The beach is equipped with an activity center at the end of the split, so you can easily hire equipment in the summer months to get out on the waters. There’s also a good quality café serving snacks and drinks without having to travel far.
Next to the activity center, Calshot Castle still stands proud, an impressive defensive point constructed by Henry VIII.
Blackpool Beach, Blackpool, England
Blackpool Beach has quite the reputation, and with so many ways to keep you entertained after lounging on the seven miles of sands, it can quickly turn into a full day of seaside fun.
The most impressive features of the beach are the three fabulous piers, one of which has Grade II listed status to celebrate its history. They offer plenty of entertainment, from the towering Ferris wheel and comedy shows to the all-singing and dancing two-tier Venetian Carousel.
Inside the arcades, popular for their penny slot machines, you’ll be able to soak up a traditional beachside atmosphere.
But, the fun doesn’t end there. You can also visit the aquarium, take a ride at the theme park, or tour the celebrity wax works of Madame Tussauds. Before you know where you are, you’ll have run out of time to top up your tan.
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