35mm

The UK’s Best Beaches: The Ultimate Bucket List

June 26, 2020

I’ve been wanting to compile a list of the UK’s best beaches for a while, mainly for my own benefit really, but to share on here too as a bit of a resource for everyone’s summer exploring. This summer more than ever, staycations, road trips, and day trips to the seaside are calling. Our little island has a whole lot of coastline — endless sandy shores, pebble beaches, rugged coves and hidden corners to explore. Not to mention, infinite amounts of fish, chips and mushy peas to devour, compare and never ever tire of…

Last year we’d made a pact to ourselves to travel more consciously going forward. That’s not to say we’ll never fly again (we will) but, instead of always jetting off to the nearest sun trap for a weekend of salty skin, aperitivos, and that switch-off holiday feeling we all crave, we’re making a determined effort to explore more of the UK and get more of that holiday feeling at home. Thanks to a little help from some great recommendations via Instagram, I’ve managed to compile a pretty meaty list of just some of the UK’s best beaches, scattered all over the country. So whether you’re looking for a day trip, a weekend getaway in a beachy B&B, or a week driving along the coast with the tent, the below should have you set. I’ll keep adding to this list, so save it, work through it, and please do keep letting me know any other faves!

KENT

Think quintessential British seaside vibes: fish and chips, giant seagulls, colourful deck chairs no matter what the weather, and pretty (mostly) pebbly beaches. Most of these beach towns are easily accessible by direct train from London but if you’re taking the car, beach-hop and work your way around the coast. 

Margate — stay at The Well or The Reading Rooms, and don’t miss the fun of the rides at Dreamland.

Whiststable — oysters galore and stripy rainbow-hued beach shacks. Shall we all retire here? If you wanna go boujee hit up The Sportsman for Michelin-starred grub otherwise Wheelers and The Whitstable Oyster Company are also bloody great.

Deal — make a weekend out of it and stay at The Rose, a damn stylish boutique hotel that put Deal on everyone’s radar.

Sandwich — if you want to do more than just sit on the pebbles, there’s a great 8km circular walk we did recently.

Joss Bay — sandy shores and steep chalk cliffs

Dumpton Gap — not the nicest of names but a charming spot near Ramsgate. It has toilets and a small cafe for ice creams (essential)

Botany Bay — a busy spot for families on sunny days but an impressive spot whatever the weather.

Dungeness — not your typical beauty spot, this one is more nature meets man with industrial power stations towering over a protected wildlife sanctuary. Unique though, eh? Get a gang together and stay at the mighty fine Shingle House.

SUSSEX

Find some of the UK’s most beautiful beach spots in Sussex, a mix of sandy dunes, pebble shores, and towering white cliffs.

Camber Sands — a beautiful wild and open beach with impressive sand dunes. It gets super super packed on sunny days, but it’s beautiful all year round. Make a weekend out of it and stay on a vineyard at Tillingham in Rye. For something much quieter nearby, walk or cycle along Rye Harbour Nature Reserve to Winchelsea Beach instead.

Brighton — probably the UK’s best city beach, I do love Brighton! Get fish and chips from The Melrose and later, a bottle of wine from Plateau

Cuckmere Haven — one of the wildest and most wonderful beaches in the whole of the southeast.

Birling Gap (next to Cuckmere Haven)  

Littlehampton

West Wittering — a gorgeous spot that many flock to in the summer. If you prefer your beaches without the people, Medmerry Nature Reserve just beyond Bracklesham is a much quieter spot with less facilities but the perks of much less people. 

ESSEX

Head east out of London for a close-to-home quintessential British seaside fix.

West Mersea Island — a great beach for long, leisurely strolls, followed by great seafood at The Company Shed.

Frinton-on-Sea — a charming British beach town that boasts easy access from London

NORFOLK + SUFFOLK

Head here for beautiful wild sandy beaches with undulating dunes that stretch out for miles — perfect for long beach walks and blowing away the cobwebs. 

Holkham Beach — one of the most beautiful and unspoilt stretches of sand in the country. 4 miles of golden wild sands, backed by a pine forest. Gorgeous for walks whatever the weather and lots of great camping opps on the north Norfolk coast too.

Thornham Beach — remote, quiet and out of the way.

Wells — an easy walk from Wells-next-to-the-sea, Wells is another stunning unspoilt, wild and sandy beach.

Burnham Ovary Staithe — great for those who like to work for their beach, expect a 20-25 minute walk to appreciate this one (good for keeping the crowds down!)

Brancaster — miles of golden sand, this whole area (including the beaches above) is noted as Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

Southwold — quintessentially British complete with lighthouse, pier and candy-coloured beach shacks. Beer fans might want to take a tour of the Adnams Brewery which is right in the town.

Walberswick — wild, sandy and oh-so-charming. In walking distance of Southwold too. 

DEVON

For raw, rugged coastline with beautiful green scenery, you can’t beat Devon. Drive along the coast to find hidden coves, jumping out for a swim at each stop. 

Putsborough — a vast sandy stretch of beach surrounded by stunning green scenery. 

Croyde — an often busy but beautiful beach. If you’re camping, Combas Farm is a brilliant hidden away campsite nearby which is great value and has good facilities including an honesty box full of local Devon produce. 

Woolacombe — top local tip: you can get a great Sri Lankan curry on Barricane Beach near Woolacombe. Also look out for the little coves and tucked away (much quieter) beaches on the drive to/from here.

DORSET

The Jurassic Coast — aka, the 95-mile coastline that runs along the bottom of Dorset and East Devon is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This part of the country offers an impressive mix of towering cliffs, golden sandy shores and stunning green landscapes — often all at play at once, and has no shortage of beauty spots.

Purbeck Peninsula —The Purbeck Peninsula is a 60 square-mile chunk of land that juts into the English Channel and offers no shortage of impressive coastal views. Knoll Beach, Shell Bay, Studland Bay, Kimmeridge and Lulworth Cove are just a few highlights, not to mention the great hikes. climbs and off-the-beaten-path swim spots like Winspit Quarry around there too. Stay a few nights to do the area justice. We camped near Wareham at Primrose Field Campsite (highly recommend) but if you’re more into hotels, The Pig on the Beach is a very special very beautiful hotel with a great farm-to-table ethos.

Durdle Door — a little further west and celebrated by many as the highlight of the Jurassic Coast, Durdle Door has to be one of the UK’s most iconic coastal sights. It’s stunning! It’s quite a walk back up to the car so don’t forget your water/ picnic/ suntan lotion!

Hengistbury Head — top local tip: get fish and chips on Mudeford Beach, then jump on the chain ferry over Hengistbury Head where you can have an ice cream while you decide if you want to swim in the sea, the lagoon or both!

CORNWALL

Home to many of the UK’s most tropical beaches, Cornwall is something else. You could probably spend 3 months here and still discover endless new coves, hidden beaches, and crystal clear waters. I’m yet to do Cornwall any real justice (I can’t wait to compile a huge post when I do) but here are just a few highlights to get started on. 

Kynance Cove — voted by many as one of the most beautiful places in Cornwall. Kynance Cove is no secret to out-of-towners but there’s a myriad of hidden coves to explore and get away from the crowds.

Porthcurno — white sandy shores, crystal clear waters, you’ll pinch yourself that you’re in the UK.

West Cornwall — there’s loads but get started on Treen, Gwenver, Prussia Cove, Godrivy and Boat Cove.

Pedn Vounder — a quiet, sandy cove that’s a 15-minute walk from the village of Treen, and gets totally cut off by high tides. Get there beforehand to enjoy secluded shipwrecked kinda vibes!

Sennen Cove — a mile-long sandy cove where you might catch sight of frolicking dolphins if you’re extra lucky!

St Ives — check out Gwithian and Godrevy beaches.

YORKSHIRE + NORTHUMBERLAND 

It definitely ain’t grim up north (I’m allowed to use that line, I’m northern!). The Northumberland Coast is very worthy of your beach-hopping attention and there are a couple of beautiful spots in good ol’ Yorkshire too. 

Robin Hood’s Bay — a pretty little fishing village in the North York Moors. Make more of it with an amble along the coast — this is great short circular walk.

Filey Brigg — a peaceful North Yorkshire beach with a sculpture trail running along it and plenty of rockpools to explore.

Bamburgh — a dramatic beach complete with a castle! Impressive whatever the weather and great for walking trails around here too. Pack a picnic and soak in the views. 

Alnmouth — a vast and serene sandy stretch great for walking and blowing away any cobwebs. 

King Edwards Bay, Tynemouth — head here specifically for Riley’s Fish Shack, a shack on the beach which serves the best fresh fish, oysters and crab. 

Low Newton-by-the-Sea — a postcard-pretty beach with a sweeping sandy curve, fisherman’s cottages, and a microbrewery pub perfect for hiding in when the rain comes.

WALES

Besides Llandudno where we used to go on the reg as kids, my Wales footprint is small. My bucket list however is long! We’re yet to do a proper trip to Wales, but here are a few of the places at the top of my list. 

Barafundle Bay — Pembrokeshire has the creme de la creme of Wales’ beaches and Barafundle Bay is one of the very best. Trek half an hour across the cliffs to reach it (always good to keep crowds away) and be rewarded with glorious Caribbean-esque bright blue waters. Pack water and a picnic as they ain’t no cafes nor loos. 

Broad Haven Beach — one for adventurers and water explorers, Broad Haven Beach has secret coves, limestone caves and a giant blue crater accessed via sea cave. Wild Welsh swimming at its best!

Harlech Beach — a four-mile stretch of clean sandy shores with epic views of the Snowdonia peaks.

Pen-Y-Banc — sitting in the shadow of soaring Snowdonia, pretty Pen-Y-Banc is a vast sandy beach great for sunbathing and strong swimmers (careful of strong currents).

Gower Coast — no shortage of beauty spots along here. Try Mewslade, Fall Bay and Rhossili Bay.

SCOTLAND

It’s no secret that some of the UK’s very best (and most gloriously deserted!) beaches are in Scotland. Wild, open and idyllic, and in the summer months hours and hours and hours of sun to enjoy them in. The Outer Hebrides — The Isle of Lewis and Isle of Harris especially — are particularly noteworthy for their exceptionally beautiful beaches.

Isle of Harris — a hotpot of breathtakingly beautiful beaches in the Outer Hebrides. Put Scarista Beach at the top of your list for its miles and miles of pale golden sand. Hushinish is the most remote point on the west coast of Harris and is worth travelling for, as is Seilebost Beach, one of the largest beaches on Harris.

Isle of Lewis — remote and exceptionally beautiful. Tolsta Beach, Uig Beach, Cappadale Sands, Mangersta Sands and Reef Beach are all very worthy of a pilgrimage.

Coldingham Bay — just an hour from Edinburgh, on the Berwickshire coast. A great sandy stretch for strolling or surfing the waves. Take The Creel Path from St Abbs to Coldingham for beaut views and wildlife.

Camusdarach Beach — a glorious arc of glistening sand and crystal clear waters on the north west coast near Arisaig.

[photos taken on 35mm film on Yashica T4/ Olympus AF10]

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