There's a lot of coastline wrapped around this isle – over ten thousand miles of it, in fact. Factor in Britain's astonishing variety of landscapes and you have a country whose beaches range from epic strands to tiny notches chipped from cliffs, wilderness islands to prim Edwardian resorts. Here's ten of the best beaches in Britain – add your own to the list below.
Small but exquisitely formed, Porthcurno’s wedge of white sand, surrounded by ragged cliffs and framing a sapphire bay, creates an improbably idyllic scene. Nor is Porthcurno just a pretty face; the cliff-top Minack Theatre hosts open-air performances, while a museum celebrates the birth of transatlantic telegraphy here in 1870. Staggering beauty, culture and history all in one spot makes this one of the top beaches in England.
Best for: Porthcurno is popular with families – there's a stream down one side that is perfect for paddling.
Where to stay: Lizard is a fine holiday cottage in the area, with cozy "home-from-home" vibes and a little patio outside.
What to see and do in the area: Don't miss a stellar production at the Minack Theatre – for a performance setting, this is the one to beat. If it's a full holiday you're after, book onto a 5-day tour of Devon and Cornwall.
Keith Richards may have a beach hut here, but West Wittering excels in peace’n’quiet rather than rock’n’roll. Swish through the dunes (pictured at the top of the article) to emerge onto 55 acres of unspoilt sand that somehow swallows 10,000 visitors on sun-drenched summer bank holidays. Wind- and kitesurfers love it. So do kids, splashing in sandy pools or crabbing at low tide. Everyone else loves it, too – just dawdling or gazing out at the Channel with a cuppa. Keith’s probably doing the same.
Best for: Peace and quiet, and long walks along the shore
Where to stay: Willow House B&B has an exceptional cleanliness rating, as well as a terrace and smart flat-screen TV. What's not to love?
What to see and do in the area: A short journey away in East Sussex is Brighton, where you should savour views from the British Airways i360 viewing platform, explore the Royal Pavilion or take a bike tour.
St Martin’s seems to lie at the end of the world. Rawer and wilder than neighbour Tresco, this is an island for connoisseurs, a fertile fuzz of green fringed by sugar-white beaches that swell as the tide drops. Don’t forget your mask and snorkel: seals bob among kelp forests in the clearest bluest water in the archipelago.
Best for: Getting off the beaten track
Where to stay: Karma St. Martin's is nautical luxury at its best. With a spa, bar, restaurant and sprawling grounds, you'll find everything you need right here.
What to see and do in the area: Be sure to pay a visit to Tresco Abbey Gardens on Tresco Island.
Barafundle is among the most sensational of British beaches – scalloped into the Pembrokeshire cliffs – and makes a fabulous picnic spot. Space has a lot to do with it; the walk here from Stackpole Quay keeps crowds to a minimum and gives Barafundle the frisson of a shared secret. Shallow seas and shelter from prevailing winds also score points. But the clincher? Superlative sands that are just perfect for sand castles.
Best for: Beating the crowds
Where to stay: Portclew House offers seven charming en-suite rooms in a grand Georgian mansion. There is also a range of self-catering holiday cottages in the sprawling grounds.
What to see and do in the area: To see more of Wales, book onto a Wales and the Southwest 5-day tour.
There’s no better model for sand-castle-making than the storybook silhouette of Bamburgh Castle. It rises behind the pale sand of this pristine beach, which stretches into the distance beneath a pale pure sky and extends a mile out to sea at low water. Add in the romantic outline of Holy Island at its northern end and it is a magnificent vista fit for Viking longships, one not nearly as well known as it should be. (That’s half the reason to go.)
Best for: History buffs
Where to say: About a 15-minute stroll from the beach, two-bedroom Pintail Apartment is perfect for self catering, with a fully kitted kitchen.
What to see and do in the area: Be sure to pay a visit to the castle itself and be ready to have your imagination fired.
With its pristine sands, old thatched cottages and lack of commercialism, the south Devon village of Bantham is a small timewarp, preserved from much development over the past sixty years by its staunchly protective owners, the Evans Estate. It's one of the top sandy beaches in England. The waves are popular with surfers but the beach, with its shallow waters and wide expanse of sand, is also good for the bucket-and-spade brigade, and there are rock pools and dunes to explore.
Best for: Families
Where to stay: In nearby Salcombe you'll find Gara Rock. For luxury and style, this gem can't be beat, with its gorgeous boutiquey rooms. Sea views and an indoor and outdoor pool complete the picture.
What to see and do in the area: Hire a surfboard and take to the waves! Beginners may want to have some lessons, like the full or half-day lessons offered in Croyde (over on the other side of Devon).
We've seen plenty of stellar beaches in England, but what about on Scottish shores? Fear not, there are plenty to write home about here, too. Beaches are about escapism, and Scarista on the Isle of Harris has it in buckets and spades. As if the adventure of getting to the Outer Hebrides wasn’t enough, the wide-open vistas of rolling hills and empty seascapes from this raw, elemental beach give you a walk on the wild side at the outer edge of civilization. Sparkling white sands and vivid blue water add to the appeal.
Best for: Having the beach to yourself
Where to stay: Scarista House is a cute and quaint hotel in a blissfully remote part of Scotland. The building is listed.
What to see and do in the area: If you want a flavour of what the Western Islands have to offer, book onto a tour of Lewis, Harris and the Outer Hebrides.
Let’s hear it for Holkham: white-gold sands (a rarity among Norfolk’s more usual shingle), shells and starfish, a fringe of aromatic pine woodland and a nature reserve teeming with saltings and water birds. Gwyneth Paltrow strode its shoreline alone in the closing scene of Shakespeare in Love, and for good reason: there’s an introspective intensity to this minimalist landscape, a romantic Turner-esque vista of empty sea and sky stung by the North Sea breeze.
Best for: Wildlife lovers
Where to stay: Those with kids in tow should make for Victoria Inn. The interior is decked out in all dark woods, and there are family rooms to be had.
What to do and see in the area: Make a trip to glorious Holkham Hall, with lavish interiors, a walled garden and plenty of woodland for stretching the legs.
Holkham, Norfolk ©StevenDocwra/Shutterstock
Crosby is the permanent gallery for artist Antony Gormley’s Another Place installation; a hundred life-size iron men who stare to the open sea either side of the tide line. Some are now half-buried in sand. Others are dressed in a coat of weeds. Gormley says his work tackles themes of migration and illustrates that every landscape has a social dimension. We say it creates the most haunting beach in Britain.
Best for: Art lovers and dreamers
Where to stay: Friendly staff and the full English breakfast are highlights of the Marlborough Hotel in Crosby.
What to see and do in the area: Why not view Gormley's work from another perspective on a cruise from Liverpool Bay?
Studland Bay is not as famous as the Jurassic Coast (which starts at the tip of this lovely bay as Old Harry’s Rocks) – reason enough to visit. Another is the astonishing natural beauty preserved under the aegis of the National Trust. Tramping along trails through dunes and woods behind the bay you may spy deer, while in the heath you could uniquely spot all six British reptiles. There’s a catch, of course: walking the trail means dragging yourself away from Middle Beach, with its charmingly ramshackle beach-hut café and sheltered water perfect for swimming.
Best for: Keen swimmers
Where to stay: Knoll House is pick of the bunch for lovers of sport: there's tennis courts as well as an outdoor pool. Sea views and a hot tub are sure-fire hits, too.
What to do and see in the area: Hire a kayak from Middle Beach and paddle along the coast.
Whether you're after a secluded wander, a romantic picnic or some bucket-and-spade fun with the family, Britain's beaches have got you covered.
Top image: Bamburgh Castle © Michael Conrad/Shutterstock
This article contains affiliate links; all recommendations are editorially independent.