If you’re after a slice of seaside action, then you don’t really have to leave the city. During the summer months London is awash with urban beaches that let us indulge our deck chair fantasies between bus-hopping to work. But as even the most city-loving urbanites know, there’s nothing quite like the real thing.
Thankfully, heading off to sandcastle heaven couldn’t be easier. London is excellently connected to some of the best beaches in the country, where picturesque dunes, indulgent ice creams and the chilly, refreshing sea all await.
Whether you fancy a day trip or weekend away from London, where you can feel the sand between your toes (and then spend hours picking it out of everything you own), check out these salty stunners. Here's our pick of the top ten beaches near London. Heat up, chill out, and take Baz Luhrmann’s advice - wear sunscreen.
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The 10 best beaches near London
Camber Sands, East Sussex
Four miles west of Rye in East Sussex, the impressive dunes system that makes Camber Sands the south coast’s most Arabian-looking beach destination is filled with wonders, from the marram grasses and pretty chestnut fences that help keep the sands from shifting to the Kit Kat Café, perfect for watching kitesurfers on the water and horseback riders along its edge. A number of 'desert' films were shot here, including ‘Carry On Follow That Camel’.
Getting there: 1hr 40mins from London St Pancras International to Rye, with a platform change at Ashford. Plus a short bus ride to the beach.
Tankerton Beach and The Street, Whitstable, Kent
The Street, a 750-metre-long stretch of shingle that pokes out from Whitstable's pretty Tankerton beach at low tide, offers lovely views back to the groyne-dotted beach, and beyond it the colourful clapboard houses and beach huts of nearby Whitstable proper. When you've had your fill of beach time, it's time for a bellyful of the town's native oysters; head for Harbour Street and High Street for a fantastic selection of places to try them.
Getting there: 1hr 20mins from London Victoria to Whitstable; 1hr 10mins from St Pancras International. The beach is a 15min walk from the train station.
West Wittering, West Sussex
Weathered shabby-chic beach huts on a huge powder-white Blue Flag beach makes this West Sussex spot one of the south coast’s finest for all kinds of beach activities. You can get involved in sunbathing and safe swimming in sandbar-sheltered tidal lagoons, go rock-pooling or just explore the ecology of the salt marshes at the western end of the beach, where East Head marks the entrance to Chichester Harbour. Behind the beach, the South Downs stretch away to offer lots of great countryside walks, too.
Getting there: 1hr 30mins from London Victoria to Chichester, plus a bus ride to the beach.
Rediscover your childhood on a one-third scale steam railway, explore strange World War I concrete ‘listening ear’ radar devices, and discover houses made of neoprene and old railway carriages in this most surreal corner of Kent. There’s some wonderfully idiosyncratic landscaping to enjoy, too – notably filmmaker Derek Jarman’s garden. Best of all though is a few hours spent on the huge shingle beach – classified as Britain's only desert.
Getting there: 1hr from St Pancras International to Folkstone, with a 1hr 30min bus ride to Dungeness.
Botany Bay, near Broadstairs, Kent
Between Margate and Ramsgate, this strip of coastline is as understated as it is hidden, with no funfairs or slot machines, just a 600ft-long strip of sand and a kiosk in a pretty little cove that’s one of seven along this part of the Kent coast, all backed by the longest continuous stretch of chalk cliffs in Britain. Should you need anything beyond a sandwich or ice cream, a low-tide seashore walk will bring you to Broadstairs in an hour.
Getting there: 1hr 25mins from St Pancras International to Broadstairs, and a short bus ride.
Minnis Bay, Birchington, Kent
This long and lovely Blue Flag sandy beach on the north Kent coast is a firm family favourite, offering lots of free parking, a children's outdoor play area and a paddling pool that’s perfect for discovering crustaceans and other marine life. Windsurfing, kite boarding, sailing and a restaurant with a bar and great sea views should keep older daytrippers happy too, while walkers and cyclists are well-served with the Viking Coastal Trail, a 27-mile trail along the Thanet coastline.
Getting there: 1hr 30mins from London St Pancras International to Birchington-on-Sea, and a short walk.
Mersea Island, Essex
There aren’t many beaches near London that involve a tide timetable, but Britain’s most easterly inhabited island does, being an estuary island reached via the Strood – an ancient Roman causeway linking it with the mainland. Foodies beat a path to West Mersea’s various oyster bars, while fossil hunters and nature-lovers make for East Mersea’s quiet beaches backed by cliffs that have revealed shark's teeth and animal bones dating back 300,000 years. Wine aficionados can pick up a local souvenir at the Mersea Island Vineyard and Brewery.
How to get there: 1hr from London Liverpool Street to Colchester, then a 45min bus to Mersea Island.
Holywell Retreat, Eastbourne, East Sussex
Eastbourne’s long zig-zagged shingle beach at Grand Parade is an understandable draw, but just on the edge of town, at the end of the promenade and past the Italian Gardens and Holywell Tea Chalet, Holywell Retreat is worth seeking out. It’s a laidback, peaceful little shingle beach that has some pretty blue and white beach chalets on it, backed by the gorgeous white cliffs of Beachy Head. The South Downs coastal path and Rick Mathers’s elegant Towner Gallery of Contemporary Art are two more reasons to visit.
Getting there: 1hr 30mins from London Victoria or London Bridge to Eastbourne.
East Beach, Littlehampton, West Sussex
A faded prom and an old-school funfair give Littlehampton a ramshackle air that’s stopped it becoming too hip, despite the architecture fans and foodies making for Thomas Heatherwick’s sculptural East Beach Café, which looks like a weird giant piece of driftwood that’s washed up on the gorgeous sand beach. It’s a great one for swimming, particularly if you head past the groynes, while neighbouring West Beach offers great homemade ice cream and gourmet fish and chips in the Asif Khan-designed West Beach café.
Getting there: 1hr 40mins from London Victoria or London Bridge to Littlehampton.
The lovely peninsular that Walton on the Naze sits on is filled with interesting things to do, including hunting for turtle and bird fossils, a climb up the 86ft tower for spectacular panoramic views over the Essex coast, and spotting common harbour and grey seals at the Hamford Water Nature Reserve. Boat trips are likely to reveal all sorts of other wildlife and plant life too in a rich area of tidal creeks, mudflats, salt marshes and grasslands. Oh, and the Blue Flag beach isn’t to be sniffed at either.
Getting there: 1hr 50mins from London Liverpool Street to Walton-on-the-Naze, with a platform change at Thorpe-Le-Soken.
Rather get sandy in the city?
There's nothing quite like settling into a deckchair with an ice cream and feeling the warmth of the sand between your toes. Luckily for us Londoners there are plenty of chances to soak up some 'seaside' sun this summer – just throw down a towel on one of these urban beaches.