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Photograph: Shutterstock
Photograph: Shutterstock

The best beaches near London for a sandy escape

Time to swap the sounds of the city for some salty sea air? These are the absolute best beaches near London

Rosie Hewitson
Written by
Rosie Hewitson
Annette Richardson

So the British summer is finally getting going, and you're itching to catch some rays. There's a lot to be said for London's outdoor swimming spots, but why not get a bit more ambitious? The British seaside lets you pair your paddling with stunning views, tons of charm, and the promise of a hefty fish and chips as the sun sets. You've probably already taken a jaunt down to Brighton, but your feet deserve better than ouchy pebbles and overly cocky seagulls. Luckily, London is within easy reach of plenty of gorgeous seaside towns and scenic coastal walks – not to mention some of the best beaches in the UK

From the vast unbroken expanse of Camber Sands to the eerie other-worldly beauty of Dungeness, we’ve rounded up the 15 best beaches within two hours of the capital. Whether you’re after secluded spots or photogenic hotspots, we’ve got you covered. 

RECOMMENDED: The best day trips from London

Best beaches near London

Tankerton Beach and The Street, Whitstable, Kent
© Tom Cattanach

1. 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. 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.

Get there: one hour 20 minutes by train from London Victoria, one hour 20 minutes from London Cannon Street, or one hour 10 minutes from St Pancras International to Whitstable; approx one hour 40 minutes by car. 

East Beach, Littlehampton, West Sussex
Photo: Jon Crel

2. 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: one hour 40 minutes from London Victoria or London Bridge to Littlehampton; approx two hours 30 minutes by car. 

Minnis Bay, Birchington, Kent
Flickr: Garry Knight

3. 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 32-mile trail along the Thanet coastline.

Getting there: one hour 30 minutes from London St Pancras International to Birchington-on-Sea, and a short walk; approx two hours by car.  

Leigh-on-Sea, Essex
Photograph: Sue Chillingworth / Shutterstock

4. Leigh-on-Sea, Essex

Nestled close to Southend-on-Sea is Leigh-on-Sea, its older, quainter cousin. If you like your beaches flanked by cobbled streets, boats swaying in the breeze and traces of a historic fishing past such as olde worlde cockle sheds then this is one for you: it’s a bit of a photographer’s gift. While the beach is small it is also sandy and you are in close proximity to some fine seafood eateries. Try Osborne's cafe and Seafood Hall, which won the 2021 British Food Awards in the Fish & Seafood category for its cooked cockles.

Getting there Just 50 minutes from London Fenchurch Street; approx an hour and half by car.

Holywell Retreat, Eastbourne, East Sussex
Flickr: debs-eye

5. 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: one hour 30 minutes by train from London Victoria or London Bridge to Eastbourne; approx two hours 30 minutes by car. 

Botany Bay, near Broadstairs, Kent

6. 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 Blue Flag-awarded 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: one hour 40 minutes by train from London St Pancras International, London Victoria, or London Cannon Street to Broadstairs, and a short bus ride; approx two hours by car. 

Mersea Island, Essex

7. 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: one hour by train from London Liverpool Street to Colchester, then a 45 minute bus to Mersea Island; approx two hours by car.

Fairlight Glen, East Sussex
Photograph: Shutterstock

8. Fairlight Glen, East Sussex

If you fancy going a bit more au naturel with your beach time then you might want to get down to Fairlight Glen, about two miles east of Hastings, where some of the shingle shore (although not all) is given up to a naturist beach. Be warned, it’s not the most accessible beach, as it has a steep descent and the views (of the sea, people) are pretty rugged, but this does give it the virtue of being wild and secluded for those who like their coast time without any candyfloss in sight. You may even bump into an Exmoor pony, as they’ve been introduced to the area as part of a rewilding initiative.

Getting there London Charing Cross to Hastings, 1 hour 45 minutes, then 101 bus towards Rye (approx 20 minutes).


9. Pegwell Bay, Ramsgate, Kent

You may decide, on hopping off the train at Ramsgate, that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with simply staying put and getting acquainted with its popular sandy beach. You’re not wrong- it’s great for kids and offers sailing, jet skiing and windsurfing, and the architecture is a jaunty blend of Edwardian seaside flourishes and Georgian neo-classicism, it even has its own tide pool. If you want to head slightly off the beaten track, however, then Pegwell Bay is not only a wildfowl-heavy nature reserve, but laden with history with archaeological traces of the earliest Roman landings and Viking longships discovered here.

Getting there London St Pancras International to Ramsgate, 1 hour 40 minutes, then the 45 bus to Sandwich or a six-mile coastal walk.

Cuckmere Haven, Seaford, Sussex
Photograph: Shutterstock

10. Cuckmere Haven, Seaford, Sussex

If you like your beaches with iconic views, then you won’t do much better than Cuckmere Haven. Pack your painting gear as the famous Seven Sisters white chalk cliffs to the east of the pebbled beach are a picturesque eyeful, attracting countless artists over the years. It’s a quiet spot that’s also popular as a film location with scenes from Harry Potter and Robin Hood shot here. Dogs are also allowed and it’s a good spot for angling if you want an excuse to sit quietly gazing out to sea for hours. To eat, stick to Seaford as there are some great seafood and gelato options there.

Getting there: 1 hour 40 minutes from London Victoria, and then a short  seven-minute taxi ride or two-mile walk: approx an hour and a half by car

Walton-on-the-Naze, Essex

11. Walton-on-the-Naze, Essex

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 shipping tower-turned art gallery 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: one hour 50 minutes from London Liverpool Street to Walton-on-the-Naze, with a change at Thorpe-Le-Soken; approx two hours 10 minutes by car. 

Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex
Photograph: / Shutterstock

12. Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex

Great for windsurfing and kitesurfing, Shoreham has a laidback shingly beach that is dog-friendly and has a children’s play area too. Close by, if you need a bit of culture with your ice cream and deckchair time is the River Adur Coastal Link & Sculpture Trail, plus Shoreham-by-Sea has a historic harbourfront, which is great for a stroll and a pit stop at a café or harbourside bar after you’ve topped up your ozone levels.

Getting there: London Victoria to Shoreham-by-Sea, 1 hour 20 minutes, then approx 12-minute walk to Shoreham Beach.

Dungeness, Kent

13. Dungeness, Kent

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 isolated home and garden. But the most memorable activity is a walk on the huge - and somewhat eerie - shingle beach, classified as Britain's only desert.

Getting there: one hour by train from London St Pancras International to Folkstone, with a one hour 30 minute bus ride to Dungeness; approx two hours by car. 

West Wittering, West Sussex

14. West Wittering, West Sussex

Weathered shabby-chic beach huts on a huge 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 (lifeguards patrol here in the summer months), 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: one hour 30 minutes by train from London Victoria to Chichester, plus a bus ride to the beach; approx two hours by car. 

Camber Sands, East Sussex

15. Camber Sands, East Sussex

Four miles from 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’.

Get there: one hour 40 minutes by train from London St Pancras International to Rye, with a change at Ashford and a short bus ride to the beach; approx two hours by car. 

16. Joss Bay, near Broadstairs, Kent

One cove along from Botany Bay is another equally gorgeous, even more remote spot, Joss Bay. There are no shingles here, and the soft sand is excellent for sculpting sandcastles, or just as a comfy base for passing out under the balmy British sun. The 200m cove is quiet but not totally devoid of amenities, as the charming Joss Bay Cafe is there to keep you fed and watered. It’s also great for surfing; kooks wanting to perfect their hang ten can hit up the Joss Bay Surf School.

Getting there: An hour and 50 minutes by train from London Victoria to Broadstairs, then a five minute bus and a 20 minute walk; approx an hour and a half by car.


17. Birling Gap, East Sussex

Laden with prehistoric treasures, Birling Gap is the place to go for fossil hunting and rock pooling. You can also walk 15 minutes east along the coastal path to get to the stunning Grade II listed Belle Tout lighthouse, which doubles up as a very cool B&B. For history aficionados, smugglers, shipwrecks and World War 2 (the Battle of Britain was fought over the iconic chalk cliffs) all make up this place’s fascinating story. 

Getting there: One hour and 15 minutes by train from London Victoria to Polegate, and then a 15 minute taxi-ride; approx an hour and a half by car.

18. Shellness Beach, Lesydown, Isle of Sheppey

Just a mile from its louder, more garish cousin, Leysdown-on-Sea, Shellness serves up secluded vibes with rickety beach huts and washed up fishing boats. And it’s more private for a reason, as ‘Shell Beach’ at Shellness is also an official nudist beach. If you do plan to kick back and tan your nether regions, just don’t forget the factor 50! This beach is also a stop on the Isle of Harty cycle trail – a 16-mile route that’s largely flat and very manageable for adults and kids. Getting here can be a bit of a palaver given the train and taxi situation, but if you’re willing to fork out for a cab (or you have access to a car), it’s worth it.  

Getting there: An hour and five minutes by train from London St Pancras to Faversham, followed by a half hour taxi; approx an hour and 15 minutes by car


19. Isle of Grain, Medway, Kent

Often described as the edge of the earth, this mysterious spot is one of the more secluded beaches close to London, with towering power stations on the horizon giving the place a cinematic feel. There’s also the fort: a dilapidated artillery fort that was built in the 1860s stands solitary in the water, and when the tide’s low enough adventurous souls can get right up the epic structure. In the surrounding marshland you might encounter rare wetland birds, or forage for samphire. You can sunbathe here too, with both shingle and sand to recline on. 

Getting there: 45 minutes by train from London Victoria to Chatham and then a 50 minute bus; approx an hour by car.

20. Climping Beach, Littlehampton, West Sussex

Gently sloping sand dunes and 79-acres of shingle make up this gem that’s also a protected nature reserve, thanks to its uncommon vegetation that hosts a variety of wonderful invertebrates and birds. Often overlooked because of its neighbouring tourist hubs Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, it’s worth making the journey here for a tranquil escape away from hoards of people. It's great for furry friends too, as dogs are welcome here all year round. 

Getting there: An hour and 40 minute train-ride from London Victoria to Littlehampton and a five minute bus; approx two and a half hours by car.

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