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 region whose beaches range from epic strands to tiny notches chipped from cliffs. Here are the best beaches in the UK.
The information in this article is inspired by the The Rough Guides guidebooks — your essential guides for visiting the world.
1. Porthcurno, Cornwall
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 best beaches in the UK.
- Best for: Porthcurno is popular with families – there's a stream down one side that is perfect for paddling.
- Where to stay: Tater-du is situated in Porthcurno, less than 1 km from Porthcurno Beach and a 13-minute walk from Pedn Vounder Beach.
- Find more accommodation options to stay in Cornwall
- 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.
2. West Wittering, West Sussex
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.
3. Par Beach, St Martin’s, Isles of Scilly
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.
4. Barafundle, Pembrokeshire
Barafundle is among the best beaches in the UK – 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. Also, find more travel ideas in Wales with our guide to the best things to do in Wales.
5. Bamburgh, Northumberland
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.
6. Bantham, Devon
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 best sandy beaches in the UK. 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).
7. Scarista, Harris, Western Isles
We've seen plenty of stellar beaches in the UK, but what about on Scottish shores? Fear not, there is 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.
8. Holkham, Norfolk
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 dark wood, 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 woodlands for stretching the legs.
9. Crosby, Merseyside
Crosby is the permanent gallery for artist Antony Gormley’s Another Place installation. Here you'll find one hundred life-size iron men who stare to the open sea on either side of the tide line. Some are now half-buried in the 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 the UK.
10. Studland Bay, Dorset
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.
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 the pick of the bunch for lovers of sport: there are 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.
11. Pelistry Bay, Isles of Scilly
The Isles of Scilly have many beautiful beaches, but Pelistry Bay on St Mary’s has to be one of the loveliest, making it one of the best beaches in UK. Unspoilt, sandy and secluded, the beach has teeming rock pools and is connected at low tide to rocky Toll’s Island. There’s also a great café nearby, called Carn Vean Café.
- Best for: Unspoiled nature
- Where to stay: St Marys Hall Hotel. Set in Hugh Town, St Marys Hall Hotel features a garden and free WiFi. With a shared lounge, the property also has a bar. Guests can make use of on-site dining.
- What to see and do in the area: Experience the thrill of riding the waves at a beach in Cornwall. Discover the joy of surfing as your instructor teaches the skills you need to catch a wave.
12. Compton Bay, Isle of Wight - one of the best beaches in the UK for surfing
Multi-coloured cliffs beetle down over breezy Compton Bay, the much-loved haunt of the Isle of Wight’s surf (kite- and -board) dudes. The waves pound upon the sand, churning up milky froth and spitting salty spray up into your face. Watch the surfers from a height up on the cliff top, where the Tennyson Trail laces its way along the coastline.
- Best for: Surf lovers
- Where to stay: The Wight Mouse Inn. Commanding far-reaching views over the English Channel, the Wight Mouse Inn is peacefully located amid grassy downs just 15 minutes’ drive from Ventnor. There is a large garden and terrace with a children’s playground, and fresh seasonal dishes are served in the restaurant.
- What to see and do in the area: Immerse yourself in the marvellous Isle of Wight on this thorough 3-day adventure. Along with your professional guides, explore what this marvellous seaside location has to offer and witness all of the Isle's most important historical landmarks.
13. Rhossili Bay, Wales
Wales has plenty of incredible beaches, and Rhossili Beach is certainly one of the best beaches in the UK. As the westernmost beach along the Gower peninsula, its brutish waves and powerful Atlantic swells are not for the faint-hearted – so it’s understandable you’ll find surfers rather than swimmers here. Be warned that the path down to the beach is very steep.
- Best for: High-wave seekers
- Where to stay: Culver House Hotel offers accommodation in Port-Eynon. Tenby is 37 km from Culver House Hotel, while Ilfracombe is 38 km away. The nearest airport is Swansea Airport, 12 km from the property.
- Find some of the best accommodation options to stay in Wales with our guide to where to stay on the Welsh coast.
- What to see and do in the area: Explore the charming area of Mumbles and the scenic beauty of the Gower Peninsular on a guided tour from Cardiff.
14. Bigbury-on-Sea, Devon
Bigbury-on-Sea on the South Devon coast is a particularly child-friendly beach, with shallow waters and clean sand as well as numerous rock pools to examine.
Bring your fishing net, plastic bucket and unshakeable enthusiasm for marine beasties. When the tide is out, wander out to Burgh Island and stop off for a pint in the Pilchard Inn.
- Best for: Families with kids
- Where to stay: Burgh Island Hotel. Located in Bigbury on Sea, 500 m from Bigbury on Sea Beach, Burgh Island Hotel provides accommodation with a garden, free private parking, a shared lounge and a terrace.
- What to see and do in the area: Enjoy 5 days exploring Devon and Cornwall. Home to the legends of King Arthur, Celtic Kingdoms and Roman towns, stop at one of the best beaches in the UK and wild moorlands. Visit Norman cathedrals and extraordinary coastlines as you see this beautiful pocket of England.
15. Blackpool Pleasure Beach, Lancashire
The UK’s most visited tourist attraction, Blackpool Pleasure Beach features in this list because of its unfailing and cherished legacy. The beach’s sand and water have benefitted from a major clean-up – Blackpool South Beach is now the only Blue Flag beach in the North West. But it’s the backdrop of the frenetic resort town and scream-filled theme park dating back 100 years that provide the charm.
- Best for: Off-beach entertainment
- Where to stay: Mode Hotel St Annes. Mode is a modern boutique hotel situated in a prime seafront location in Lytham St Annes, just a 5-minute drive from Blackpool.
- What to see and do in the area: Go on an adventure in Clitheroe, Lancashire, and spend the day riding motorbikes offroad with the help of a guide. Do different activities on the bikes and learn new skills, then head back for lunch.
16. Sandwood Bay, Scotland
Boldly facing the icy North Atlantic blasts on Scotland's northwestern coast, Sandwood Bay certainly makes for a brisk beach trip. But with its lovely pinkish sand that undulates into soft dunes, and views over to remarkably weathered sea stacks, it really is a magnificent sight and easily one of the best beaches in the UK.
- Best for: Stunning scenery
- Where to stay: Kylesku Hotel offers 3-star accommodation with a terrace, a restaurant and a bar. Certain rooms at the property include a balcony with a lake view.
- What to see and do in the area: This tailor-made trip to Scotland's Wildest Natural Scenery is a breath of fresh air and perfect to explore the most enchanting landscapes of the Highlands. It will allow you to get to know the wildest landscapes of Scotland, its fast-paced history and its amazing traditions.
17. Whitesands Bay, Pembrokeshire
Wide and wild, with a pretty mix of sand and rocks, Whitesands Bay curves around close to St David’s head. It’s one of the best beaches in the UK for surfing, and makes up a portion of the famous Pembrokeshire Coast Path. On a sunny day, the sea turns a deep and mesmerizing sapphire blue.
- Best for: Water sports
- Where to stay: St. Davids Cross Hotel set in the centre of St David’s, on Cross Square. This hotel features a restaurant, lounge and bar. The hotel has an ideal setting for visiting the picturesque Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. You can go bird watching, visit Ramsey Island and visit the beach at Whitesands, 10 minutes’ drive away.
- What to see and do in the area: Enjoy 5 days exploring Wales. Visit an incredible array of castles, three national parks and learn about ancient Celtic culture. Travel in comfort through beautiful countryside on this luxury, small-group tour.
18. Kynance Cove, Cornwall
A magnificent chink in the Cornish coastline north of Lizard Point, Kynance Cove has been hugely popular since Victorian times; Alfred Lord Tennyson was a regular visitor. The rocks round here are coloured green and red, polished smooth by the endless waves.
- Best for: Charming atmosphere
- Where to stay: Mullion Cove Hotel & Spa. An elegant destination on the Lizard Peninsula, the Mullion Cove Hotel & Spa features an AA Rosette-winning restaurant and offers spectacular sea views. On the south Cornwall coast, this cliff-top hotel is a 5-minute drive from idyllic Mullion village.
- What to see and do in the area: Northern Cornwall is a hiker's paradise and this tailor-made trip to Northern Cornwall includes the most scenic parts. You will start your journey in London with some unique activities to get to know the city, before setting off on a 5-day walk across Cornwall. End your trip in Bath and explore the backdrop of Bridgerton.
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Top image: Bamburgh Castle © Michael Conrad/Shutterstock