For many of us, an ideal summer holiday involves spending time in or beside the water while soaking up the sun. Britain is often not people’s first-choice destination for this type of break, due to its decidedly, and increasingly, unreliable weather, but its beaches can certainly compete with overseas alternatives. On a nice day, some stretches of the British coastline offer a truly wonderful day out, so much so that you can easily think you are a long way from home!
Perhaps the most underrated aspect of British beaches is simply how diverse they are. Whether you want a relaxing, tranquil experience on golden sands, ideal surfing conditions, or the sight of waves hitting rugged cliffs, there is something to suit everyone. All offering something special, here is our list of Britain’s best beaches ordered north to south.
Durness Beach, Scotland
Starting our coastal exploration from the far north of Scotland, Durness Beach enchants visitors with its unspoiled and wild beauty. Nestled against a backdrop of north Scotland’s rocky coastline, this golden, sandy beach is something of a hidden gem. Its remote location helps keep its sands pristine and you will never be short of space. For anyone seeking a little adventure at the beach, nearby Smoo Cave provides quite the unique experience. You can walk into the cave on foot all year round while boat tours are available in the warmer months to venture further inside (weather dependent).
Ideal for: A peaceful retreat or cave exploration
White Park Bay, Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland is probably low down on your list of places when you think of lovely beaches but Whitepark Bay is a fantastic option. The crescent-shaped bay boasts unspoiled sands, flanked by ancient limestone cliffs. To the west, Giant’s Causeway is only a few miles away and in between you have the charming Causeway Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty including the Dunseverick Castle.
For seeking nature in all its glory, a trip to Whitepark will not let you down. It is even a designated Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI) due to its rich biodiversity and unique geology!
Ideal for: Nature lovers
Bamburgh Beach, Northumberland
Back across the Irish Sea and not too far from the Scottish border, we arrive at Bamburgh Beach in Northumberland. As with Durness Beach, this is quite the secluded spot and its significant size means it never suffers from overcrowding. What stands out most about this stretch of coastline is not its golden sands or sweeping views of the North Sea but the magnificent Bamburgh Castle. Former home of Kings of Northumbria, this incredibly well-preserved fortress adds a fantastic historical intrigue to any beach trip.
Ideal for: Coastal walking & history lovers
Embleton Bay, Northumberland
Roughly 10 miles further south you will stumble across the even more secluded Embleton Bay. Unsurprisingly, the characteristics of the coastline do not change much in this short space of time but Embleton does provide something a little different to Bamburgh. For one, there is even less sign of human life and, at times, it can feel like you have the whole coast all to yourself. There is also perhaps an even greater array of fauna and wildlife should you enjoy spotting such things. As with Bamburgh, Embleton Bay does have a historical element, Dunstanburgh Castle, should you walk towards the south. There is not too much left of the 14th century building but it still makes for a wonderful sight against the backdrop of the water.
Ideal for: A place to unwind
Runswick Bay, Yorkshire
Many people know what a fantastic place Whitby can be for a UK-based seaside getaway but far fewer know about the nearby Runswick Bay. Located just a few miles further up the Yorkshire coast, this quiet spot offers a charming day out away from the larger crowds that descend on Whitby. Dotted with distinctive red-roofed cottages overlooking the water, built up on the steep banks, it is the perfect place for taking a few pictures. Although far from the biggest beach around, there is plenty to do to keep you busy, such as fossil hunting and kayaking.
Ideal for: Beachcombers or keen photographers
Formby Beach, Merseyside
Part of the reason why so many Liverpool and Everton FC players and staff choose to live in Formby is because of its gorgeous beach. Owned by the National Trust, this terrific stretch of golden sand is very popular among people from Liverpool and surrounding areas especially due to its handy public transport links. It also sits adjacent to a fascinating nature reserve which is home to a red squirrel reserve. Offering both a full-of-life pine woodland and a long beach, it is easy to see why Formby is such a popular pick, particularly with families. And maybe footballers!
Ideal for: Families with younger kids and public transport users
Rest Bay, (Porthcawl) Wales
Offering a new state-of-the-art water sports centre, Porthcawl’s Rest Bay is an ideal spot for anyone seeking a little adventure. Surfing is the most popular of the sporting options here and there is a well-rated surf school for anyone seeking to improve their skills. Waves do tend to be on the smaller side though making it more beginner-friendly rather than ideal for seasoned veterans. In addition to other activities like paddleboarding and kayaking, Rest Bay also provides a fairly traditional beach experience for families. So, feel free to bring a bucket and spade with you and just soak up the wonderful view of the Bristol Channel.
Ideal for: Beginner/intermediate surfers
Woolacombe Beach, Devon
On the other side of the Bristol Channel, you have some excellent beach options, but perhaps none better than Woolacombe Beach. Now, this is far from a hidden gem so you can expect big crowds on a busy day but there is an awful lot of sand to fill during most of the day. So, do not think you need to race down early in the morning just to get yourself a decent spot. Why is this so often voted one of the best beaches in the UK and Europe? Well, its two miles of luscious golden sand offers something for surfers, swimmers and sunbathers alike. Contributing to this is the local water quality, which is regularly rated excellent by the Environmental Agency.
Ideal for: Swimmers
Lulworth Cove, Dorset
Far from your typical looking seaside resort, Lulworth Cove is something of a geological wonder. Erosion from the constant crashing waves of the sea has managed to carve out this horse-shoe-shaped bay, providing natural protection from the wind. Offering crystal clear waters, this UNESCO World Heritage site provides some truly unrivalled views as well as plenty of things to do such as rock-pooling and watersports. Its lack of crashing waves also makes it a rather more child-friendly destination than many other beaches.
Ideal for: Families or anyone seeking a unique experience
Blackpool Sands, Devon
One of the most southern beaches Britain has to offer is Blackpool Sands in Devon. Unlike its bustling namesake in the North West, Blackpool Sands, with its lush green hills and crescent-shaped bay, provides a more serene escape. It is hard for a beach to accommodate all types of visitors but Blackpool Sands does a mighty fine job. Whether you want to sail, swim or simply relax, this is an ideal spot for it. Offering clear waters, clean sand, a variety of food options, all the major amenities you could want, and lifeguards (during the summer months), there is not much more you can ask for.
Ideal for: Almost everyone!