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Crystal clear turquoise waters, sweeping bays packed with golden sand, towering cliffs and the opportunity to spot seals and dolphins. It's all right here in the UK.
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Emily R

Our Top Picks: The 20 Best Beaches in the UK

Imagine a beach holiday with crystal clear turquoise waters prime for snorkelling, sweeping bays packed with soft golden sand, nature reserves nestled beneath towering cliffs and the opportunity to spot seals, porpoises and dolphins. Sounds like a honeymoon destination in the Maldives, right? Oh no, that's all right here in the UK.

If there were ever a good year to discover that we needn't expend the air miles to get to epic coastal destinations, it's this year. We have a hunch that most people aren't even aware these places exist, let alone that on a summers day they can feel like the Med (ok, water temperature excluded...)

Read this list at your own risk though, the beachy itch in my feet got so bad I had to take a break from writing it halfway through and make a run for South Devon (more on that below).

Beach and Sea hike near Land's End

Barafundle Bay, Pembrokeshire

Photo Credit: @hgravrilov

The lowdown

Pembrokeshire, in the far reaches of West Wales, has to be the UK's best-kept secret. Wild, untamed and largely undeveloped, it is a sweeping expanse of towering heather-topped cliffs (which are epic for climbing, by the way) and remote sandy beaches. Barafundle Bay is one of these. Framed behind its famous stone archway, it is a real-life postcard.  

Though it has in fact been voted as one of the best beaches in the UK several times, venture down there in the height of summer and you won't find it as crowded as anywhere in Cornwall or Devon. On a sunny day you could be forgiven for imagining Barafundle Bay is somewhere in the med. Crystal clear, turquoise waters and stretches of golden sand only happen abroad, right? Wrong. It's all here, on your doorstep. Get exploring.

Great for:

Weekend explorers, climbers wanting a bit of beach action and wild swimmers looking for the perfect dip.

What not to miss:

The loop walk from Stackpole Quay, passing Barafundle Bay, Broadhaven South and winding back through the liliponds and bridges of Bosherston. Stop at Bosh Tea Rooms or Stackpole Cafe for a spot of lunch. Not had enough adventure? Finish up with a swim or a SUP at the quaint Stackpole Quay.

Porthcurno Beach, Cornwall

Photo Credit: @elmelling

The lowdown:

Packed with every type of beach, from the surf kind to the family kind, to the-only-accessible-by-foot kind, Cornwall is the kind of place you can happily get lost in and explore, knowing that the coastline will always nudge you back on track, and always reward you with something different.

Porthcurno is a true pocket of wilderness in the furthest-flung corner of the Cornwall and the UK. Where the UK mainland comes to a screeching halt, Porthcurno beach waits to greet you. Hidden between the towering cliffs that make up the South West Coastal Path, it's powdery golden sand and clear waters make this beach truly unique.

Great for:

Families, South West Coast Path hikers needing a swim (and ice cream!) break, weekend beach hoppers.

What not to miss:

There's a lot to see in this part of Cornwall. The cliffs are not only famous for many a scene in the BBC series Poldark, but for being home to the infamous Minack Theatre, an open air theatre perched on the edge of the cliffs looking out to sea. It's a feat of architecture in itself but comes alive when hosting one of it's many plays throughout the summer. A must-visit, trust us.

The Logan Rock Inn in Treen and Porthleven Beach just along the coastal path are also well worth a visit, as is Pedn Vounder Beach (below) just down the road. If you're camping, make sure you stay at Treen Farm Campsite, a stunning little family-run campsite (for 5 generations!) on the cliffs. The shop sells milk from the organic Guernsey cows that occupy the next field, along with other local handmade produce.


Pedn Vounder Beach, Cornwall

Cornwall's  best UK beaches

The lowdown:

Just down the road lie the dreamy shores of Pedn Vounder. A beach so carribean-looking in the sun you really would have a hard time believing it was in the UK if you saw a photo. At low tide the beach is a swirling maze of natural lagoons (don't the best beaches have lagoons?!), perfect for bathing - oh, and it's a nudist beach this one, so we're talking real bathing.  

At high tide it's a bit of a scramble down from the coastal path (at low water you can walk round from Porthcurno beach) so make sure you've got some decent shoes on.

Great for:

Nudist beach lovers, wild swimmers - as long as you're happy with peaking here and no swim ever being as good and Coastal Path Walkers.

What not to miss:

The walk from low tide round to Porthcurno, and to be honest, just the beach at low tide in general, it's spectacular. If you've got kids, check out the rock pools with them. Make sure you snap a shot of the infamous Logan Rock too, the infamous precariously balanced 65 ton rock that has sat there since the mid 1800's.

Sennen Cove, Cornwall

Photo Credit: @ijperkins

The lowdown:

Undeniably one of the best beaches in the UK. Just round the corner from Land's End, the water at Sennen Cove is some of the clearest in the UK. It's a bit colder too, with it being so exposed to  Atlantic waters, but the lack of any pollution makes it incredible surfing and swimming territory and the clarity is definitely worth losing a few degrees for.

It's a mega surfing beach, popular for not only it's clean lines and regular swell, but for its pubs and beach cafe, perfect for post surf pasties and ice cream.

Great for:

Surfers, wild swimmers, sun-worshippers and families with body-boarding loving kids.

What not to miss:

Try your hand at body boarding or surfing (there's a hire place right on the beach) and have a proper Cornish pasty on the beach from the cafe.

If you've got time and fancy exploring, Nanjizal Cove just round the corner is an incredible cave-strewn bay home to towering coves of pink granite that shimmer next to crazy clear waters and golden sand. Don't miss the Song of The Sea, the unique narrow arch that winks through the middle of the granite.

Kynance Cove, Cornwall

Kynance Cove White Sandy Beach

The lowdown:

Kynance Cove is a unique spit that emerges at low water and one of the most beautiful beaches in Cornwall. Golden sands meet turquoise waters to create the perfect sheltered and shallow swimming spot that truly feels like a tiny Greek island cove. There's an adorable little cafe serving up ice cream, coffees and local beers and there's plenty of opportunity to explore the rest of the coast and other close-by coves.

Great for:

Families (it's a bit of a scramble from the car park though so maybe only family friendly if you've got older kids), honeymooners (yes, really), wild swimmers and snorkelling fans.

What not to miss:

If the tide is high in the evening at Kynance you'll lose the sun and the sunset so move to higher ground and sit on the cliffs with a glass of wine as the sun dips down.

We recommend getting there early too so you don't miss a spot in the car park too. Don't miss the caves at low tide either, there's the bizarrely named ‘Drawing Room’ and the ‘Ladies Bathing Pool’ to explore.

West Wittering, West Sussex

Sandy Beach Uk West Wittering
Photo Credit: @andy_whiting_marketing & little.coastal.cottage

The lowdown:

Miles of powder soft, white sand meet colourful beach huts, grassy sand dunes and wildlife such as Brent geese and Solent seals at this award-winning London escape.

Largely regarded as one of the best beaches to get to from the capital, West Wittering packs a punch for families, watersports lovers and swimmers alike. Described as having 'excellent water quality', West Wittering is a popular spot for wild swimmers trapped in the city all week looking to get their dose of saltwater adrenaline.

Great for:

Watersports fans, families, couples and swimmers - West Wittering is pretty much for everyone. Except the spontaneous. It's a private owned beach meaning access is restricted and you have to pre-book a parking spot to visit.

What not to miss:

The walk from West Wittering to East Wittering. The perfect castle-building sandy beach of West Wittering gradually gives way to a slightly more rugged, shingle beach, where the sands shift regularly and seals and skylarks rest. If you want adventure, try your hand at windsurfing or kitesurfing followed by fish and chips from on of the many beachside takeaways.

Rhossili Bay, Gower Peninsula

Rhossili Bay Beach Gower
Photo Credit: @sloanecourt

The lowdown:

The best beaches, in our opinion, are not only good for sunbathing, swimming or building sandcastles, but they're surrounded by other possible adventures. Ways to experience the beach from a different angle.

Rhossili Bay Beach in Wales is one of these beaches. with 3 miles of golden sand and crystal clear waters to paddle and swim in, Wales' Rhossili Bay would easily win an award for being one of the best beaches in the UK. But it is the unique 'Worm's Head' headland that makes this a truly special place.

The Worm's Head isn't to be taken on lightly. There's a few hours where it's safe to explore, while the tide is low (the coastguards have been called out many a time to save people stranded at high tide). The terrain is incredibly rocky and takes some serious scrambling nous, but a real adventure for those keen for a coastal walk with an edge. The stretch of sand that makes up Rhossili Bay looks even better from the edge of the headland, as do the views of the ocean.

There's also plenty of seals, wild horses and precariously perched sheep to watch out for. Just a few hours from Cardiff, you'll feel like you're in one of the wildest places on earth.

Great for:

True coastal adventurers, surfers and wild swimmers. And if you don't want to take any of that stuff on, it's great family friendly beach too.

What not to miss:

Well, as mentioned, you should definitely take a trip to the Worm's Head if you feel able, and make sure you go seal spotting whilst you're at it! If you're not into hiking, there's plenty of water sports to check out and it's prime surf territory.

Woolacombe Beach, North Devon

Photo Credit: @thebusytravellers

The lowdown:

Long hailed as one of the best beaches in the UK for surfing, sunbathing, family days out and romantic getaways, Woolacombe beach fails to disappoint. Long stretches of golden sand line this sweeping bay that will always have space fro you even in the summer months.

Don't get us wrong, this is North Devon and in summer it will be jam-packed, but different areas of the beach have different things to offer. Nearer toward the town and main car park are where the families tend to hang out, whereas further west you'll find a slightly quieter stretch of sand popular with surfers.

Great for:

Pretty much everyone - families, surfers, day-trippers and campers.

What not to miss:

You have to try a wood-fired pizza from the Stoned truck parked by the beach (sometimes even on the beach) and the beaches either side of Woolacombe and just along the coast if you fancy exploring (Barricane Beach and Rocky Bay). Don't miss the chance to squeeze in a surfing lesson, too

Barricane Beach, North Devon

Photo Credit: @bever1ey

The lowdown:

Right next door to its big sister Woolacombe beach and often never discovered by holiday makers, Barricane Beach is a small pebble beach packed with locals (the best places are). It's a cracking surf spot too but there's no hire place on this beach so best if you have your own board.

Barricane Beach is a mega spot for rock pools and a perfect place to take the kids exploring. What's more, it's home to the beautiful and rare European Cowrie shell, so if you usually come home from your holidays with a jar full of shells, this is the place to go!

Great for:

Families with young kids, couples, solo travellers and surfers.

What not to miss:

Ok, so we think Barricane beach might be the best beach based on this and this alone: they serve authentic Sri-Lankan curries on the weekends in summer. We're talking 3 types of curry, sambol, poppadoms, the whole deal.

Beaches in the UK aren't generally known for their exotic culinary delights and don't get us wrong, fish and chips are great, but Sri Lankan Curry? We're here for it. Get there between 5 and 7 and take cash though as they don't take card.

If you're camping nearby, North Morte Farm Campsite is an absolute must-stay. It is little known, hasn't won any awards and looks like a static caravan park from the front. The camping field however, if on a grassy headland right above the ocean and beach with 270 degree views of the coastline and sea. Incredible.

Blackpool Sands, South Devon

Blackpool Sands South Devon best British beach
Photo Credit: @theoldwashhousedartmouth

The lowdown:

Just like the South Coast of Cornwall, the South Coast of Devon is hugely underrated. It's seen as having sub-par beaches that are covered in shingle and are generally just not as nice as those on the other side. But let us tell you friends, the grass is not greener on that side, because the South Coast is where it's at. Blackpool Sands in an AONB and all-round sheltered dazzler of a beach.

If you're one of those people who hates getting sand everywhere, this one is a fine pebble beach, so whilst visually it's golden and beautiful, it won't quite get up in your grille in the same way. Backed by evergreens and scented pine trees, it is truly heaven on earth. Or, at least heaven in the UK.

On top of all the pines and the meditteranean vibes, the water is unusually clear and excellent quality for swimming, plus it's way calmer as it doesn't get that North coast swell rolling in. Dogs aren't allowed, but water sports hire is a-plenty, with kayaks, SUP's and wetsuits all available.

Great for:

Families, couples, water sports lovers and sun bathers.

What not to miss:

Walks along the coast, an early morning coffee from the beach cafe, sunrise paddleboarding, the list goes on. You could do literally anything at this beach and it would be amazing.

Bigbury-on-Sea, South Devon

Photo Credit: @bellalovesbear

The lowdown:

Along the coast from Blackpool Sands, near Plymouth, lies Bigbury on Sea. A real hit with windsurfers and kitesurfers and an epic British beach holiday if ever we saw one. The waters at low tide form a beautiful swirl of shallow lagoons which are really shallow and great for swimming with kids. It's also located in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which is always a good sign.

Bigbury-on-Sea is basically a sandy adventure playground for water sports enthusiasts, the selection of differently angles bays means there is always a working swell of some kind. The beach also has great disabled access and a tractor passenger ferry to Burgh Island and it's famous art deco hotel.

Great for:

Families, those in wheelchairs, wind surfers, kitesurfers and sun worshipppers.

What not to miss:

If you're a water baby and have never tried kite surfing or windsurfing, it's time to get your wetsuit on and make the most of some serious opportunity for saltwater adrenaline. Bigbury's rock pool game is great too if you've a budding marine biologist in your family. Check out the beaches either side too, there's a lesser-known one just below Thurlstone Golf Course with white sand and turquoise waters to die for.

Durdle Door, Dorset

Durdle door

The lowdown:

A classic, we couldn't leave Durdle Door out, could we? One of the most visited places on the Jurassic Coast and for good reason.

Durdle Door is generally regarded and being one of the most iconic and beautiful beaches in the UK on account of its famous natural limestone arch, miraculously formed over 150 million years of waves pounding the headland. Peppered with shingle, sand and fossils, this beach is a haven for summer picnic goers and hardy winter explorers.

True to it's name, fossils, ammonites and belemnites are not uncommon, though neither is falling rock from the cliffs to be careful! This is a great day out for those with young kids or couples wanting to soak up the rays together. A wild swim here would be truly unforgettable, though care should be taken as there's no lifeguard present and the bay has a tendency to dump in places.

Great for:

Families, experienced wild swimmers, walkers and a picnic lovers.

What not to miss:

Tramp over the limestone cliffs and you'll find Lulworth Cove, an equally beautiful beach that has a serious med vibe and is popular for anchoring sailing boats.

Lulworth Cove is a perfectly sheltered, almost circular cove lined with the charming shops and cafes of Lulworth village. Hit up a pub lunch or afternoon tea overlooking the cove, then drop down onto the beach to check out some of the coolest rock pools on the Jurassic Coast.

white boat on sea near green mountain under blue sky during daytime


Luskentyre Sands, Isle of Harris, Outer Hebrides

Photo Credit: @jonnykilpatrick

The lowdown:

So, if you hadn't already figured it out, we're pretty mesmerised by the beauty of the UK and we don't think people know it enough. So we challenge you to show someone a photo of Luskentyre and ask where they think it is.

We're pretty confident you'll get Hawaii or Australia as your answer. It's won awards for being one of the best beaches in the world several times, surpassing the Virgin Islands and the South of France.

Luskentyre has to be the best beach in the UK, maybe even the best place hands down in Scotland. It certainly wins hands down for us. on the east coast of the formidable Isle of Harris, Scotland, the Atlantic Ocean stretched out before it, it certainly makes for an invigorating swim or a walk to blow the cobwebs away.

Catch it on one of Scotland's sunny days and you're in for a serious treat however. Spoiler alert, it involves insanely turquoise, crystal clear waters and white sands to rival the Whitsundays. And because it's Scotland, it's rarely busy, so you'll be able to enjoy one of the best beaches in the world with just a handful of others.

Great for:

Scottish road trippers, wilderness lovers and coldwater swimming advocates.

What not to miss:

Three miles of single-track road that links the beach to the Isle of Harris’s main road make for an epic bike ride in the wilderness, as does a kayak trip around the surrounding beaches or a dip in the low tide lagoons. The beach is also backed by acres of sand dunes and wildflowers in the spring so very popular for budding or professional photographers.

Tolsta Beach, Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides

brown grass near body of water during daytime

The lowdown:

Technically attached, the Isle of Lewis and the Isle of Harris offer some of the last truly untamed landscapes this country has to offer. Sheltered and entirely remote, Tolsta is tucked behind the headland and offers unparalleled wilderness. At the end of Tolsta's long stretch of golden sands lie 5 caves visible at low tide, perfect for exploring and rock pooling.  

Great for:

Lovers of the wild, naturalists, seriously wild swimmers, road trippers and walkers.

What not to miss:

The sea stacks and natural arches formed over thousands of years, a dip in the turquoise waters (don't be fooled though, it might look like the med but a wetsuit might be in order!) Set yourself up with a proper picnic and a pair of binoculars and head for the cliffs because seals often bask at the bottom of the high cliffs and porpoises, dolphins and occasionally whales can sometimes be seen close to shore.

Compton Bay, Isle of Wight

Compton Bay

The lowdown:

Of all the beaches the UK has to offer, Compton Bay might be one of its best kept secrets. Tucked away on the Isle of Wight away from the mainland crowds, Compton Bay is a wild and windswept two mile stretch of golden sand reaching far out to the Freshwater chalk cliffs in the distance.

Bar a trusty ice cream van that frequents the beach fairly often, you won't find a lot here in the way of shops and cafes. Compton is a place for fossil hunting, dinosaur footprints, windswept walks and wild dips in the bay's exceptionally clear waters. This Isle of Wight gem is also a mecca for UK surfers all year round and its large expose beach break makes it super accessible for beginners in the summer months.

Great for:

Families, sunbathers, wild swimmers, surfers and beach-walking enthusiasts

What not to miss:

A walk to Hanover Point will take you to the huge three-toed footprints of the Iguanodon dinosaur, with plenty of dinosaur teeth and bone fossils around to discover too. For families with older kids, why not try a bit of orienteering? The Wight Orienteers have set up a course on the land around Compton Bay and it's an epic way to really explore this beautiful piece of National Trust land.

Wells next the Sea Beach, Norfolk

colourful beach huts
Photo Credit: @camillamount

The lowdown:

Of all the lovely British beaches out there, we think Wells-next-the-Sea wins the most diverse beach award (we made that award up). Families, nature lovers and water sports enthusiasts flock to this beach every year for something completely different.

It's cute, too. Colourful beach huts of all sizes, heights and shapes adorn the back of the beach where soft sand meets rolling dunes and a forest of dense pine trees. It's a haven for kite-flyers, kite surfers, sailors and basically any body who loves a bit of wind-powered adrenaline. The surrounding area is also densely populated with wildlife, scenic walks and many a nature reserve.

Great for:

Families, bird watchers, wildlife lovers and water sports enthusiasts.

What not to miss:

Just a short drive away, a visit to Blakeney Point is a must for nature and wildlife lovers, and a huge reason why Wells-next-the-Sea is commonly referred to as one of the best British beaches.

A 4 mile spit that is constantly moving and shifting due to longshore drift, Blakeney Point is an incredibly special nature reserve, home to the largest seal colony in England (in the winter you'll find around 1000 on the shoreline!), a number of breeding sea birds, and a diverse mix of flora and fauna, including samphire and sea asparagus.

Hunmanby Gap, North Yorkshire

Photo Credit: @theneverendingexplorer

The lowdown:

When we think of beaches in the UK, we tend to imagine those of Devon, Cornwall or the south coast, right? But the north is seriously underrated when it comes to beach game and Hunmanby Gap beach is one example. Like all of the best beaches, Hunmanby Gap isn't too restricted in terms of what you can do. Bracing walks with the dogs as the North Sea air blows the cobwebs away, summer BBQ's, kitesurfing and wild swimming are all regular happenings here.

While the Devon and Cornwall beaches are filling up, you'll generally find North Yorkshire beaches such as Hunmanby vast and empty. It's a huge stretch of sand with plenty of opportunities for a quiet sunbathe or a long beach walk.

Great for:

Families, kitesurfers, walkers, bird watchers and wildlife enthusiasts

What not to miss:

If you're feeling adventurous, a hike from Hunmanby round to Flamborough Head is not to be missed. Flamborough Head is an 8-mile a sheer chalk headland jutting out into the sea, featuring traditional lighthouses, puffins from May to July and even seals and dolphins if you're lucky. A nature lover's paradise.

Bamburgh, Northumberland

Bamburgh Castle
Photo Credit: @lowes33

The lowdown:

The north strikes again! Of all the beaches in the UK, Bamburgh has to be the coolest, simply because it's backed by the epic Bamburgh Castle that has stood there for 1,400 years. Home to many former kings from Henry VI to James 1, the castle has progressed from Norman stronghold to modern day filming location in its lifespan, with its most recent use being for Downton Abbey, Robin Hood and Harry Potter.

And that's not even mentioning the beach. A perfect place for windswept walks at any time of year, Bamburgh is popular with dog walkers and holiday makers throughout the year. Though the water is chilly (never too chilly with the right wetsuit), Bamburgh beach is a popular spot for surfers and hardy cold water swimmers all year round.

Great for:

Dog walkers, families in summer, history lovers and surfer

What not to miss:

Well, Barmburgh Catsle obviously! Get yourself booked onto a tour of the castle and imagine you're whooshing through the halls with a broomstick... A walk along the coast to Seahouses is also a great one if you fancy a windswept walk.

Pentle Bay, Tresco, Isles of Scilly

Isles of Scilly British Beach
Photo Credit: @pamlar86

The lowdown:

Most people haven't even really heard of the Isles of Scilly, let alone visited them. If you're fed up of familiar UK scenery, the Isles of Scilly, though only 28 miles off the Cornish coast, do offer something a little different.

Pentle Bay barely resembles anything else in the UK and has in fact been recognised as one of the best 'under the radar' beaches in the world by the Wall Street Journal. On the west coast of the isle of Tresco, you'll find an unspoilt sweeping bay of white powdery sand, shimmering aquamarine waters and grass-adorned sand dunes.

As it's on the opposite side of the island to where the boats moor up, it's common to have the beach entirely to yourself. Much like Barafundle Bay, Pembrokeshire, Pentle Bay is completely wild and without lifeguards, cafes or bars, so perfect if you need to escape all the madness.

Great for:

True lovers of the wild, dog walkers, honeymooners and couples looking for a romantic getaway.

What not to miss:

A swim here is unforgettable, as is a barefoot walk along the sand at sunset. If you're on Tresco a while, check out Tresco Abbey Gardens, a beautiful 17 acre maze of lush flora and fauna designed in the 19th century around the ruins of a Benedictine Abbey.

Home to around 20,000 plants from over 80 countries, from Brazil to New Zealand and Burma to South Africa, the gardens are a must visit for nature lovers. If you're not a nature lover, this could turn you.

Whiterocks Beach, Portrush, Northern Ireland

Photo Credit: @em_weir

The lowdown:

Beautiful beaches in Ireland are so plentiful it was hard to choose the best. But Whiterocks Beaches in Portrush is a truly special place. Just off the Causeway Coastal Route (Northern Ireland's only World Heritage Site) and backed by towering white limestone cliffs, Whiterocks draws in adventures from all over Northern Ireland. Natural rock arches on the beach sit alongside huge blooms of wild thyme, purple heather and pink thrift on the cliffs and make it truly beautiful in the height of summer.

The beach is naturally popular with hikers and nature photographers, as well as water sports lovers and budding naturalists. Rich biodiversity stretches along the Causeway Coastal Route, packing in eight Areas of Specific Scientific Interest (ASSI's) and a National Nature Reserve boasting rare flora and fauna, seals, seabirds and even small whales and basking sharks.

Great for:

Coastal route walkers, photographers, surfers, naturalists and geology nerds.

What not to miss:

Obviously a walk along the Causeway Coastal Route is a must, with so much to see along the way and the formidable Giant's Causeway just 10 miles away. Head in the other direction and you'll stumble across Dunluce Castle, the ruined old seat of the McDonnell Clan and one-time set for Game of Thrones. Down on the beach, try your hand at surfing, go for a beachside horse-riding adventure or lap up the sound of the wild waves.

So, we've given you our pick of the Best UK Beaches. We seriously hope you enjoyed it. Got any more you think should be on the list? Hit us up!

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