This little island in the Atlantic has some big beach game. From the southern coast of England to the northern reaches of Scotland, these are the UK’s best beaches.
1. 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. 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.
2. Crosby Beach, Liverpool
North of the busy urban sprawl of Liverpool, Crosby Beach is worth a visit for its controversial sculptures, Another Place, by Antony Gormley. Cast iron figures of Gormley’s own body look out to sea and appear and disappear beneath the waters with the ebb and flow of the tide, and are dotted about over 2 miles of the beach – a spooky but beautiful sight.
3. Porthcurno, Cornwall
Famous Porthcurno beach lies close to England’s westernmost portion of land, Land’s End. On a (admittedly rare) summer’s day, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d tripped up and landed in the Mediterranean, as the turquoise sea here sparkles and shimmers in the sunlight. To add to the attractions, Porthcurno is overlooked by the wonderful open-air Minack Theatre.
4. Hunmanby Gap, North Yorkshire
North Yorkshire has lots of big, breezy beaches – Robin Hood’s Bay, Scarborough and Bridlington to name the most famous – but Hunmanby Gap near the little resort town of Filey is one of the least known. Huge clay cliffs loom down over a flat, sandy beach that easily soaks up the bucket-and-spade crowds.
5. Scolt Head, Norfolk
It’s difficult to reach Scolt Head, an offshore island between Brancaster and Wells-next-the-Sea, but that’s part of the charm. A seasonal ferry heads over from Burnham Overy Staithe (the best way of accessing the island) during fine weather, and once you’re there, plop down on the sandy dunes for a picnic, grab your binoculars for some intensive birdwatching (the island is a protected conservation area) and comb the beach for some intriguing seashells.
6. Compton Bay, Isle of Wight
Multi-coloured cliffs beetle down over breezy Compton Bay, 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.
7. Bamburgh Beach, Northumberland
It’s rarely the weather for a sunbathe and swim here but this enormous beach on the wild Northumberland coast is the perfect place for a brisk morning walk with the dog. Brooding Bamburgh Castle, dating from Norman times, overlooks the golden sands, forming a marvellous, moody backdrop.
8. Rhossili Beach, Wales
Wales has plenty of incredible beaches, and Rhossili Beach is certainly one of them. 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.
9. Beadnell Beach, Northumberland
You could walk for miles here and not see a soul (most likely in the winter, of course). Massive and golden, Beadnell Beach on the Northumberland coast is a wind-swept beauty that’s perfect for windsurfing, sailing, canoeing and surfing. Diving is also popular, as there are many shipwrecks in the local waters.
10. 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 – so 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.
11. 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 are admittedly not the cleanest (a major clean-up is underway), but it’s the backdrop of frenetic resort town and scream-filled theme park dating back 100 years that provide the charm.
12. Barafundle Bay, Pembrokeshire
Certainly no stranger to the “Best Beach” awards, cute little Barafundle takes a small bay-shaped chunk out of the inimitable Pembrokeshire Coast. It’s a walk from the car park but its pristine sands and crystal clear waters really are worth the trip; ramp up the temperature gauge a bit and you might well mistake it for the Caribbean…
13. Longsands, Tynemouth
Connected by metro to the centre of Newcastle, Longsands makes an easy and invigorating escape from the city. The sea might be perpetually chilly but hardy surfers still flock here in their droves, which explains the number of surf schools, pro-surf events and rental shops in town.
14. 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.
15. West Wittering, Sussex
A long-time favourite among the UK’s beach-going folk – hence the privately owned beach huts that are quickly snapped up should they come up for sale – West Wittering earns its Blue Flag status with flying colours. The water and sands are impeccably clean, while facilities (café, watersports clubs) are tip-top.
16. Whitesands Bay, Pembrokeshire
Wide and wild, with a pretty mix of sand and rocks, Whitesands Bay curves round close to St David’s head. It’s a top spot 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.
17. Studland Bay, Dorset
Those who like to strip down to their birthday suit will enjoy Studland Bay in Purbeck – it’s the most popular naturist beach in the UK. National Trust-protected, the beach is a golden strip of sand, from which you can admire views of Old Harry Rocks chalk formations and the nearby Isle of Wight.
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.
19. Portstewart Strand, Northern Ireland
Two miles of blonde sand lapped by fresh, clean seawater, Portstewart Strand in County Londonderry is (understandably) one of Northern Ireland’s top visitor attractions. The dunes are home to butterflies and rare wild flowers, while the sand is usually populated with bucket-and-spade-toting children, Frisbee-throwers and picnickers.
20. Achnahaird, Scottish Highlands
A relatively unvisited spot along Scotland’s western coast, Achnahaird Beach is a simple swathe of cream-coloured sand punctured with mollusc-encrusted rocks and little rock pools inhabited by scuttling crabs and anemones. Views from the beach of nearby mountains, including Stac Polly, are breathtaking – depending on the weather, of course.