The UK’s best beaches
Best for Rolling your trousers up and splashing through the shallows.
Camber Sands is so wide and golden you’ll be transported to other shores. In fact, this Arabian-looking beach has been used for a number of desert film locations, including ‘Carry On Follow That Camel’. The sandy shore stretches for almost five miles, before it starts to turn into shingle towards the eastern end. From the western side it’s four miles to the pretty town of Rye, where cobbled streets, proper pubs and rickety old houses make for a charming day trip.
Need to know Dogs on a lead are allowed on the beach from May to September, although there are restricted zones.
Get there Closest train station is Rye, a 12-minute drive away.
Stay here The duneside boutique hotel The Gallivant’s restaurant sources virtually all of its ingredients from within a 10-mile radius. Residents of the 20 bedrooms can lounge by log fires, read in the book-lined snug, or prop up the bar – which is dog-friendly, by the way. Rooms from £155 per night.
Best for Traversing the most beautiful corner of the South West Coast Path.
Around 10,000 years ago, water broke through a stack of rocks on the Jurassic Coast and started to create one of the most stunning formations in the UK. Now, Durdle Door is a spectacular archway that frames the crystal clear waters beyond it. The rock formation is best paired with a visit to nearby Lulworth Cove. Just a 30-minute stroll on the coastal path brings you to a sheltered white pebble beach that is almost perfectly circular, offering a haven of relaxation as you watch the boats bobbing in the emerald water.
Need to know The car park can get full at peak times – cycle or arrive early to get a space during the summer months.
Get there Closest train station is Wool, a 15-minute drive away.
Stay here Travel light and pitch up at a wooden camping pod at the Durdle Door Holiday Park. Just 200m from the beach, pods feature picnic tables, heating and electricity – you will need to bring your own bedding. Pods from £45 per night.
Best for Beautiful barefoot walks along soft white sand by a turquoise sea.
Small but perfectly formed, this little turquoise bay is the stuff that dreams are made of. At least that’s what the ’Poldark’ location scouts thought: they used this beautiful beach on the western foot of Cornwall as the location for a dream sequence in series two. But it’s not just actors that like to hang out here: dolphins and basking sharks are sometimes spotted in the calm waters, too. The soft, white-shell sand and freshwater stream also makes this a popular beach with families. On the granite cliffs above, you’ll also find the legendary Minack Theatre, quite possibly the most attractive open-air theatre in the UK.
Need to know There’s a dog ban from Easter to October 1, and lifeguards keep watch during summer months only.
Get there Closest train station is Penzance, a 25-minute drive away.
Stay here Surrounded by ferns and foxgloves and sweeping lawns to the sea, Cove Cottage is one of the most delightful retreats in Cornwall. The tiny B&B offers romantic getaways, complete with four-poster beds and private flower-filled terraces. There’s chintz and geraniums by the bucketload and we’re totally on board. Rooms from £150 per night, with a two-night stay minimum.
Best for Frolicking on a subtropical beach with barely another soul to be seen.
This next beach will take some determination to reach – but it’s so very worth it. Based on the Isles of Scilly – an unspoilt archipelago off the coast of Cornwall – Pentle Bay is a secluded stretch of bright white sand lapped by glassy-blue waters. The beauty of this coastline hasn’t gone unnoticed, and the beach was named among the top four under-the-radar beaches in the world by the Wall Street Journal. Despite this, it’s still generally quiet – maybe it’s the chilly water that does the trick.
Need to know The nearest toilets are a ten-minute walk away at Abbey Gardens.
Get there It’s a 30-minute flight from Newquay to the Isles of Scilly, then roughly 20 minutes by boat from St Mary’s to Tresco, then a 25-minute walk to Pentle Bay. (It’s worth it though, we promise.)
Stay here Based on the opposite side of the island, but still only a 20-minute walk away from Pentle Bay, The New Inn is a cut above your average pub, with an AA Rosette-awarded restaurant and modern, comfortable rooms, some with their own sun terrace overlooking the swimming pool. Rooms from £185 per night.
Best for Channelling your inner Gwyneth Paltrow and re-enacting the beach scene from ‘Shakespeare in Love’.
Easily one of the best-looking beaches in the UK, Holkham would be flooded with visitors if it were just that little bit closer to London. The beach – which makes you feel a million miles from civilisation – has deservedly starred in many a film and pop video, including All Saints’ ‘Pure Shores’. An enormous sandy stretch is backed by a verdant nature reserve with a warren of well-signposted walking trails within it; trek through the pinewoods and saltmarshes to see orchids, sea lavender and rare birds.
Need to know The nearest toilets are a short drive away, at Wells-next-the-sea. For more facilities, park up at Holkham Hall, where you’ll also find a play area, a café and a museum.
Get there Closest train station is Sheringham, a 45-minute drive away.
Stay here The perfectly polished Victoria Inn has 20 rooms with a posh contemporary-cottage feel. Live your best life and stroll through the walled rose gardens, dine in the restaurant for fresh shellfish with samphire from the Holkham coastline, or walk the few minutes to the golden sands of the beach. Rooms from £130 per night.
Best for Forgetting city stresses on a huge stretch of perfect white sand.
Go out of season to Luskentyre and you might be lucky enough to have miles of bright-white sand all to yourself. Just a short drive north of Scarista, this is one of Harris’s biggest beaches, and visitors come here to unwind on deserted shores between the blue sky and turquoise water. To refuel, drive 15 minutes down the coastline to The Machair Kitchen – a community-run café that doubles as an arts and entertainment hub overlooking Niseaboist beach.
Need to know Facilities are sparse, but you can find toilets by the car park. Dogs welcome all year round.
Get there One-hour 25-minute bus from Stornaway.
Stay here It’s not the most glamorous place to stay, but what the cosy B&B Shore Cottage lacks in style it makes up for with location. Seemingly perched on the edge of the world, this remote hideaway is just a ten-minute walk from Luskentyre beach and offers a homely base to explore the rest of the island. From £500 per week at low season.
Best for A good ol’ bucket and spade holiday right by a rainbow lineup of beach huts.
One of Bude’s best-loved beaches, Summerleaze is the embodiment of the classic British seafront. Perfect for families who want more home comforts, cute beach huts are available to hire in a range of prices – splash out on a seafront hut from £32, or bag a quieter four-berth set back from the crowds from just £8. At low tide a paddling pool emerges, as does an expanse of golden sand for walks along the coast. And there’s no need to bring a packed lunch – the family beach has brilliant bars and restaurants within walking distance. Dust off the sand and head to Temple for fresh sourdough loaves, bright seasonal lunches and exceptional coffee.
Need to know Dogs should stay on a lead from 10am to 6pm.
Get there Closest train station is Okehampton, a 50-minute drive away.
Stay here The Beach (yes, that’s the hotel’s name) balances style and charm with slick contemporary rooms and a traditional Victorian terrace overlooking Summerleaze beach. The restaurant showcases the best of Cornish produce, while the beach bar comes to life with live music on Sunday afternoons. Rooms from £105 per night.
Best for Sunny picnics on the grass overlooking the sea.
Rolling grassy slopes, a long promenade, pretty beach huts, and of course, the sea: Tankerton Beach has the perfect combo, with the added bonus of Whitstable – one of the UK’s buzziest seaside towns – just a 20-minute walk away. When you’re all splashed out on the pebble beach, head into the lively town to refuel. Feast on fresh seafood at the rustic and reputable Whitstable Oyster Company, or share a bottle and mezze at the popular seafront bar JoJo’s.
Need to know Between May 1 and September 30, it’s a dog-free zone.
Get there Closest train station is Whitstable.
Stay here With the beach literally on its doorstep, The Marine Hotel is the seaside retreat dreams are made of. Splash out on a superior sea view room, with refined, classic decor and double doors which swing open onto a private balcony overlooking the ocean. Rooms from £95 per night; superior sea view rooms from £140 per night.
Best for Breathtaking rambles through the dramatic cliffs of the Gower Peninsula.
Remote but by no means overlooked, Rhossili Bay has a list of accolades longer than its sandy shore, with titles like ‘best beach in Europe’ and ‘top ten beaches in the world’ among its plaudits. One visit here and it’s easy to see why – the steep, winding walk down to the coast from Rhossili village is stunning, with panoramic views over three miles of golden sand, and on clear days, to the coastline of North Devon. The beach itself is all about the unspoilt nature, but there are facilities nearby: visit the National Trust shop and visitor centre near the village, or pop into the Bay Bistro for homemade soups and sandwiches if you’ve forgotten your packed lunch.
Need to know Dog-friendly all year round.
Get there Closest train station is Gowerton, a 37-minute drive away.
Stay here The views from The Worm’s Head Hotel are so staggering, you’ll barely notice the dated decor. We’re not fussed about a few mad carpets when every room has a view over the cliffs of Rhossili Bay. Take advantage of the view with their restaurant’s cliff-top terrace – bagsy a table and settle in for some proper pub grub. Rooms from £80 per night.
Best for Windswept walks with an ice-cream lunch.
Just a few minutes’ walk from the idyllic former fishing town of Whitby, Whitby Sands is a perfect British seaside setting, with bright beach huts, sandcastles in the sand and miles of the big blue. The battered cod is so good at Magpie Cafe there are often queues snaking down the street. And if you haven’t been to Fortune’s Kippers, have you even been to Whitby? These fish fans have been smoking scales for more than 139 years, and a bloody good job they do too. Buy a smoked kipper for the road from their shop across the bridge from Whitby beach.
Need to know Dogs are not allowed in the summer.
Get there Closest train station is Whitby.
Stay here Beautiful and bonkers, it’s unlikely you’ll come across anything like La Rosa elsewhere in the UK, let alone in Whitby. A former haunt of Lewis Carroll when he visited the seaside, the hotel has embraced the ‘Alice in Wonderland’ theme, adapting it for a grown-up audience with whimsical decor in each room. Breakfast is delivered to your door in a hamper, and is best consumed from beneath your quilt. Rooms from £90 per night.
Best for Making more sandcastles than you can shake a spade at.
One of north Devon’s best-loved hangouts, Woolacombe is a beast of a beach with miles of uninterrupted golden sand – get into epic sandcastle building and play hide and seek at the dunes. A favourite with surfers and families, this beautiful bay also has rock pools for kids to explore. Grab some beach-side grub from the seaside cafés, or head to nearby Ilfracombe for a more substantial bite to eat. Hip wine bar The Antidote is the best place to round off a beach day, with a weekly changing menu and refreshing decor that truly is the antidote to the stuffy tea rooms that Devon was once known for.
Need to know There’s a lifeguard service in summer months.
Get there Closest train station is Barnstaple, a 30-minute drive away.
Stay here Set in an old Edwardian building perched on the quiet end of Woolacombe Bay, the Watersmeet Hotel offers glorious views over the sea to Lundy Island. There’s a pool on site, but guests are more likely to use the private steps to Combesgate Beach. It’s pitted with rockpools and rarely gets busy. Rooms from around £120 per night.
Best for Porpoise-spotting from the pristine shoreline.
One of the most dazzling beaches in the Hebrides, even on a cloudy day Scarista Beach is breathtaking – visit in the sunshine and you’ll struggle to pull yourself away from the sugary soft sand and inviting water. Despite its remote location, there are some top foodie trips nearby. Pop into Scarista House, the Georgian manor set on the edge of the sand for a fancy afternoon tea, or drive ten minutes south to The Temple Cafe, a cute, hand-built stone-and-timber café with a counter full of tempting cakes.
Need to know There’s no signage or parking, but that helps to keep this hidden paradise safe from the majority of tourists.
Get there One-hour 25-minute bus ride from Stornaway.
Stay here For dramatic views, starry skies and cosy fires, book a stay at the Oran Na Mara. Based on the north of Scarista beach, its curved walls make the most of the azure sea views with floor-to-ceiling windows, and winter offers a chance to see the Northern Lights from its secluded patio area. Three nights from £1,500.
Best for Spotting red kite birds among the coastal salt marshes.
Backed by bushy dunes and lush marshland perfect for bird-spotting, West Wittering beach is a pristine destination with ample facilities – including three blocks of toilets, drinking-water taps and shower blocks. After a bracing dip in the sea, warm up with a cuppa at the beach café, or take the five-minute drive to East Wittering, where restaurants serve up a broader range of lunch and dinner – we recommend Drifters for craft beers, homely dishes and veggie options.
Need to know Dangerous currents occur at The Hinge, so don’t go splashing around there.
Get there Closest train station is Chichester, an 18-minute drive away.
Stay here A quintessential British retreat, Millstream Hotel is set back from the bustling beach in perfectly preened gardens. Bedrooms are prim and proper, and the two AA Rosette restaurant is a destination in itself. Rooms from £140 per night.
Best for Magical walks spotting dinosaur footprints (or footcasts, more accurately) on the shore.
Beach bods will be content hanging out on the sandy shelves or surfing the waves of Compton Bay, but stretch your legs across the glorious grassy banks and you could catch a glimpse of the dinosaurs. When the tide goes out, head to the east of Compton Bay car park at Hanover Point and look for the large three-toed footcasts of Iguanodon at the base of the cliffs. From here it’s a ten-minute drive to Freshwater, where The Freshwater Coffee House serves up a good flat white, or head south 30 minutes to Ventnor for OTT burgers and a cheeky cocktail from Stripped.
Need to know There are toilets on site and a food van in the summer.
Get there One-hour bus ride from Newport.
Stay here Adorable doesn’t begin to cover the collection of wee little homes at Tiny Homes Holidays. Each with their own cute designs and names, every home is like an eco-friendly tardis, packed full of sustainable features such as solar power, composting toilets and recycled water. Take part in equally cute workshops while you stay, such as spoon-whittling and willow-weaving. Tiny homes from £185 for two nights.
Best for An epic walk along seemingly endless rugged shingle.
Put away those buckets and spades – you won’t be needing them here. Chesil Beach is as rugged as it is beautiful – an 18-mile strip separated from the mainland by a shallow lagoon. It’s a breathtaking structure, and best viewed from the top of the Tout Quarry Nature Reserve and Sculpture Park on the Isle of Portland. To refuel, visit the nearby Crab House Cafe, where locally caught crabs come served with a hammer and a bib, and fresh oysters grown on the café’s own beds are eaten within minutes of leaving the ocean.
Need to know A visitor’s centre with toilets and a café can be found near the bridge leading to the Fortuneswell end of the beach.
Get there Closest trains stations are Weymouth or Upwey, 20 minutes drive away.
Stay here The Manor House is a little green oasis on the coastline with refined, classically beautiful rooms. The sixteenth-century manor house has been lovingly restored, and now features a restaurant serving modern British dishes with a focus on local produce. Rooms from £105 per night.
Best for Riding the salty waves on a surfboard.
You’ll find big waves at this lively bay, which makes it a magnet for surfers and thrillseekers. The family-friendly spot is buzzing with extreme sports activities all year round; take surf lessons from Extreme Academy, or just spectate from your deckchair on the two-mile long sandy shoreline. Events take place all year round, from the Surfaced Pro surf competition each April to the Rock to Rock music festival (June 29 this year). And dog owners can rejoice – there’s no seasonal ban and pooches are always welcome.
Need to know Lifeguards are on watch during the summer months only.
Get there Closest train station is Newquay, a 10-minute drive away.
Stay here Set slap-bang in the middle of the beach, the family-run Watergate Bay Hotel is the beating heart of the bay. The second generation of owners took over in 2004, and the 69-room hotel saw an £8 million redevelopment, transforming it into a hub of activity and relaxation. Expect luxury rooms with beach-chic decor (some featuring freestanding baths with sea views) and a jam-packed events programme. Rooms from £190 per night off-season.
Best for Reliving your childhood and parading down a pier.
Peaceful beaches and crystal-clear rock pools aside, the magnificent Victorian pier is the main attraction here. Refreshingly, it’s mostly untouched by the usual seaside tourist tat – instead, it’s home to a thriving theatre, where regular soul nights, comedy shows and original productions keep tourists and locals entertained. After the show, head to No1 Cromer for the local crab and addictive deep-fried cockle popcorn.
Need to know Time your visit with low tide for maximum sand action.
Get there Closest train station is Cromer.
Stay here Four miles from the sea and a short car ride from Cromer, The Gunton Arms is a handsome old pub with seriously cosy rooms. Venison from the deer park next door is cooked over a spectacular open fire in the pub’s kitchen and served with goose-fat roast potatoes. Rooms from £99 per night.
Best for A bangin’ breakfast served while you look at the best view in Devon.
The small entry fee for Blackpool Sands is worth it for a spotlessly clean coastline despite a high number of visitors, while families will appreciate the modern and well-equipped facilities. The wide pebble beach is one of the cleanest in Devon, and is sheltered by pine trees and evergreens, while rocks at the far corners provide shade. Brave visitors can hire kayaks from £15 per hour, while less brave visitors can explore the menu at the Venus Beach Cafe, which serves amazing breakfasts and cakes with a view of one of the best beaches in Devon.
Need to know The entry is around £8, but changes depending on the season – call 01803 771800 for up-to-date prices, and barbecues are allowed after 5pm.
Get there Closest train station is Totnes, a 30-minute drive away.
Stay here Views don’t get much more stunning than those at Gara Rock. The secluded hotel and restaurant is perched on the coastline just 30 minutes by car from Blackpool Sands. Inside, the artsy fit-out features grand open fires, cosy seating areas with sheepskins and boardgames. The kitchen celebrates local produce including Dartmouth kippers, vegetables from its onsite allotment, and locally foraged ingredients. Rooms around £135 per night.
Best for Getting an all-over tan *wink wink*
You might spot a few beach balls at Studland Bay, the beach being one of the most popular naturist spots in the UK. And if skinny-dipping doesn’t float your boat, keep to the south, which is backed by lush heathland and a wooded area marked with walking routes to spot wild deer and bird life. The little village of Studland – which is so ridiculously cute it inspired Noddy’s Toytown – has a number of places to eat, including the Michelin-approved Pig on the Beach, where homely British dishes are made from ingredients either grown on site, or sourced within a 25-mile radius.
Need to know Facilities are ample – there’s even public wi-fi at the Knoll Beach visitor centre.
Get there Closest train station is Corfe Castle, a 15-minute drive away.
Stay here It’s eclectic furniture and mad wallpaper galore at Pig on the Beach – the rejuvenated country manor house which is home to the popular aforementioned restaurant and spa treatment rooms set in a wild meadow. Rooms from £215.
Best for A digital detox on one of the most peaceful beaches on the western coast.
If rugged Scottish coastline is your bag, you won’t do much better than Camusdarach Beach. One of the cleanest, most peaceful beaches on the western coast, this crescent of pillow-soft white sand is hugged by clear-blue waters and framed by dramatic, jagged rocks. The catch? There’s not a lot in the way of facilities, but the nearby town of Morar (an eight-minute drive) offers home comforts in the way of cafés, restaurants and hotels. Drive a little further north to Mallaig where The Jacobite steam train (as seen in the Harry Potter movies) calls by. Have a meal in the old dining cars or even stay over in the restored carriages.
Need to know Bring a picnic – there are no facilities here, save for a small car park.
Get there Closest train station is Morar, a 10-minute drive away.
Stay here There’s no TV, no wi-fi and no phone at The Wee Lodge – and they make no apologies for it. What it does have is a cosy double bed, the sound of the birds singing, and a stunning view of Loch Morar. Set on the grounds of a working farm, this secluded hideaway is the perfect place to switch off and recharge your batteries. £80 per night, sleeps two.
Best for Running into the sunset with your four-legged furry friend.
A favourite among families and dog owners, Saunton Sands is a vast three-and-a-half-mile stretch of the gold stuff, flanked by dunes with tufts of green and a row of colourful beach huts. There’s room enough for dogs to run amok, without treading on the toes of sunbathers, surfers and beach-loungers. There’s also a strong community feel here, with regular beach cleans and BBQ days, as well as spectacular D-Day events with military rallies and battle reenactments.
Need to know Take care swimming here as there can be riptides by the cliffs.
Get there Closest train station is Barnstaple, a 20-minute drive away.
Stay here For the best view over the beach, stay at Saunton Sands Hotel – a brilliant white 1930s art deco building, which presides over the huge sandy vista. The new spa is a good reason to book, while the supervised children’s play area with two hours of free childcare is a godsend for parents. Rooms from £134 per night.
Best for Braving the chill for a sheltered dip in crystal-clear water.
Yet another award-winning beach for Wales, Barafundle Bay caught the globe’s attention when it was named among the best in the world. After walking the pretty half-mile route from Stackpole Quay, visitors will find a picture-perfect beach, where small turquoise waves lap on a crescent of sand. The sheltered cove is the perfect swimming spot, while the Pembrokeshire Coast Path offers more routes for the keen rambler. For refreshments with an added feel-good factor, visit the tea room at the Stackpole Walled Gardens (a ten-minute drive away). This community garden and farm that provides work experience and training to people with learning disabilities.
Need to know Bring everything you need and take it back with you – there are no facilities on site. And be sure to check the tide times and leave in plenty of time to avoid getting stranded.
Get there Closest train station is Lamphey, a 13-minute drive away.
Stay here If picturesque country pubs are your vibe, book a room at The Stackpole Inn. Downstairs, the restaurant is warmed by a log fire and serves the likes of Welsh-reared steaks with locally sourced produce. Upstairs, bedrooms are modern and cosy, and include an unmissable traditional Welsh breakfast. Rooms from £65 per night.
Best for Spotting red squirrels on a wild walk from beach to woodland.
One of the National Trust’s quickest-changing shorelines, the glorious, family-friendly Formby beach is hugged by a network of dunes which move at an alarming rate of four metres a year. The shifts are revealing prehistoric footprints: stroll along the sand to spot them and look out to the ocean for stunning views across the Irish Sea. The woodlands which shadow the beach are managed to preserve the red squirrel’s habitat – visit the National Trust’s site to download ‘squirrel walks’. While you’re here, make the 30-minute drive to Crosby beach to see Antony Gormley’s iconic public artwork ‘Another Place’.
Need to know Facilities can be found at Victoria Road, and there are pushchair-accessible paths through some of the woodlands.
Get there Closest station is Formby.
Stay here Cosy bell tents overlooking a wild meadow, complete with a crackling log burner, a basketful of logs and a proper double bed: Watkinsons Farm is more on the rustic end of the glamping scale, and that’s why we like it. Tents from £95 per night.
Best for Fish and chips in the salty sea air before you hit the bars.
Busy and buzzy, Brighton Central beach is the culture vulture’s seaside holiday – it has more top bars, clubs and cutting-edge restaurants than you could ever visit. After soaking up some sun (or rain) on the pebbly seafront, foodies will flock to 64 Degrees for inspired cooking, or dine alfresco with fish and chips from Bankers. Of course, no trip to the beach is complete without Brighton Palace Pier, where a short stroll is rewarded with a helter-skelter slide and traditional arcade games.
Need to know Car parking around the beach can be a faff – avoid the stress and take public transport.
Get there Closest station is Brighton.
Stay here The Ginger Pig boasts 79 rooms, many of which face out to sea. Bright and contemporary-looking, it’s the thoughtful extras here that give this place that extra sparkle: complimentary decanters of gin and sherry, White Company toiletries etc. A cocktail bar and the Jetty restaurant complete the picture. Rooms from £100 per night.
Best for Playing hide-and-seek in the grassy dunes.
In between the mouth of the River Bann and Portstewart are rolling dunes and pristine sands. And designated drivers rejoice: the two-mile stretch is one of the last places in Ireland where cars are still allowed to drive straight on to the beach. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s incredibly popular with families who want to picnic on the shores. Afterwards, pack up and pack in to the 3hree Kings Coffee Company (30-minute walk) for a proper flat white, sourdough sandwiches and seriously good pancake stacks.
Need to know The National Trust facilities are open 10am-5pm.
Get there Closest train station is Castlerock, a 6-minute drive away.
Stay here Rooms that are 50 shades of white, plumped Egyptian cotton linens, and an optional nutritional therapy service with Instagrammable chia smoothie bowls, Saltwater House wouldn’t look out of place on the beachfront of Santa Monica. A peek out the window of your tastefully designed abode will remind you that you’re not – with grand views over the Portstewart Strand and the Atlantic Ocean. Rooms from £130 per night.