British beaches - England
Often spacious and spectacular,
with fine sand, efficient access, good facilities and safety precautions (some would argue too many), but UK beaches suffer from cold water (September is best for warmer swimming), occasional pollution , generally rather coarse yellow sand, shigle or pebbles and unreliable, fast-changing weather conditions.
From mid June to mid September beach-lovers are most likely to get toasted, but it's a gamble at any time. Be prepared for anything is the bottom line; walking is always a good alternative if the weather goes wobbly as Britain's coast is lined with well-posted, picturesque trails, lovely even if it is drizzling. The lengthy South West Coast Path is particularly impressive.
Bournemouth's 7 miles of soft, well-sorted sand, and fine promenade, Dorset.
Bugbog's best UK beaches listing starts on the south west coast with Dorset, Devon and Cornwall counties due to the many spectacular beach locations, the outstanding sights and entertainments available on 'off beach' days, the plethora of awards for efficiency and cleanliness received and the warmer, drier weather due to the latitude and micro-climates.
Porthcurno beach, Cornwall.
Woolacombe Bay, Devon.
Brighton beaches, East Sussex, looking east from the pier.
Brighton's beach can hardly be described as one of Britain's best in terms of swimmability but deserves inclusion for the great walks and entertainments along both upper and lower promenades, the brash pier, the long history of the city and the easy access from London for day trippers since the one hour rail connection was completed in 1841.
Broadstairs beach, Kent
Broadstairs is a tranquil old resort town 78 miles from London and only 15 from medieval Canterbury, a place to experience old-style, traditional British beach-going, complete with donkey rides, live bands (brass bands, not the modern racket made by surly long-hairs, damn their girly looks) and fireworks in summertime. Old fashioned it is, but Broadstairs still offers fine, large beaches (Viking Bay is the big one but another six are available if space runs out) with soft sand, Blue Flag waters and an air of timeless gentility that is missing from neighbouring Ramsgate or Margate.
Bamburgh Castle beach, Northumberland.
Not exactly a great beach in terms of climate and facilities perhaps but Bamburgh beach's spectacular setting is great compensation, with not only the biggest sand castle you've ever seen behind you and a half-crown of glossy grassy dunes, but also views across to Lindisfarne, the moors of Northumberland and the medieval walls of Berwick-upon-Tweed. Bamburgh is near Berwick-upon-Tweed, off the A1 motorway.
Sandscale Hawes, like Bamburgh is more about staggering views on a lovely bit of dune-clustered sand than traditional fooling about in the water with the kids, but what dunes (700 acres), what bird life and what peaks in the distance!
Isles of Scilly
Higher Town Bay, St Martin's, Isles of Scilly, UK
If you don't mind a bit of travel time the Isles of Scilly, 28 miles off the coast of Cornwall, host some of the best British beaches, especially the tiny island of St Martin's (pop. 140), its one hotel, St Martin's on the Isle and solitary pub. Get there via ferry from the biggest of the Scilly islands, St Mary's.
Another island, Tresco, not only offers more great beaches - such as Appletree Bay - but also a botanical fairyland of 20,000 exotic world plants scattered with strange statuary, in Tresco Abbey Gardens.
Getting there: Flights go to the Scillies from Land's End, Newquay, Exeter, Bristol, Southampton mostly only in summertime, check the Skybus Timetable. Ferries run from Penzance, along the Cornish coast to St Mary's from April to end of October and take 2hrs 40 minutes.
These beaches have lifeguards unless stated otherwise. Parking generally costs between £3-£7.
1 Woolacombe, Devon
Ignore the crowds flocking to the glorious three miles of sand that form Woolacombe’s Middle Beach and follow the Esplanade north to two more exclusive sandy spots: Barricane and Combesgate.
2 Harlyn, Cornwall
It’s worth enduring the narrow lanes and caravans to find this one. When you arrive, you’ll find the stuff of childhood memories: perfect paddling, acres of proper sandcastle-building sand, rockpooling at the eastern end, and a surf school.
3 Treyarnon, Cornwall
South of busy Constantine Bay, you’ll find Treyarnon, a narrow, dog-friendly inlet sheltered on three sides and perfect for older kids honing their body-boarding skills. Cave-riddled rocks and snorkelling in the safe yet thrilling 30ft tidal pool.
4 Praa Sands, Cornwall
Praa Sands is popular with locals and tourists so get there early and stake your claim among the rocks at the western end.
5 Blackpool Sands, Devon
Despite the name, this beach, a four-mile drive southwest of Dartmouth, is composed of fine shingle. It is privately owned and perfectly manicured, with a bathing raft, wood-framed sandpits for castle-building, posh showers and an organic cafe.
6 Weymouth, Dorset
This town beach celebrates tradional British beach holidays: donkey rides, boat trips, Punch and Judy, sand in your sandwiches and a stripy deckchair on which to turn lobster red.
7 Sandown, Isle of Wight
Pick the section to the south of the pier, where there’s parking on the Western Esplanade, just above the soft, clean sands and clean, shallow, water.
8 Broadstairs, Kent
This traditional seaside town seems sunnier than other resorts. Choose between the busy curve of Viking Bay, with donkeys, trampolines and Mr Punch, and the quieter, more spacious sands of Louisa Bay, to the south.
9 Southwold, Suffolk
The soft, sandy beach welcomes rich and poor alike, and the quieter end, with the easiest parking, is north of the pier.
10 Wells-next-the-Sea, Norfolk
The sea can be hard to find here - it’s somewhere across the vast expanse of sand - so the crowds cluster close to the car park, cafe and toilets. You, however, should trek west past the pretty beach huts towards Holkham, or north to the island of dunes.
11 Brancaster, Norfolk
You want wild, unadorned beauty, but your kids require ice cream, paddling, a short walk to the beach and toilets. Welcome to Brancaster beach - two miles of sand offering huge skies, vast open spaces, superb beachcombing and even a shipwreck. Facilities are minimal: the beach has a kiosk and loos, but no lifeguards.
12 Skegness, Lincolnshire
After decades spent gaining a reputation as the fags, chips, drizzle and booze capital of the east coast, Skeggy is becoming trendy again. The Blue Flag beach is magnificent and the neon-lit hinterland is switching from low-cost kitsch to high art.
13 Filey, North Yorkshire
The timeless Edwardian resort of Filey has buckets of charm and all the essentials: spotless sands, donkeys, a tiny harbour and no neon. You can stay close to town with toddlers, but older kids will love the walk out to Filey Brigg, a cave-finding, rockpooling adventure to the spit of rock that juts out like a natural pier at the north end of the beach.
14 Balnakeil, Highlands
Few exotic locations come close to the wild beauty of the northern Scottish beaches, but you’ll find scant facilities on these deserted shores. At Balnakeil, where the burn crosses dazzling white sands to the shallow turquoise waters of Balnakeil Bay, the chances are you’ll have the entire beach to yourselves, except for the herd of seaweed-munching cattle that drops by. With no loos or lifeguards, this is one for the more adventurous family. Your best bet is to rent a cottage and stay put - try the community website durness.org.
15 Mellon Udrigle, Ross-shire
Mellon Udrigle is a thumbnail of golden sand, 44 miles by road from Ullapool. Mobbed by mountains and surrounded by peat bogs, the tiny bay is where you take the kids for rockpooling, swimming, messing about in boats and barbecuing on the beach. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to book Foxglove Cottage, a mile up the road in Opinan. If you’re not, hire a camper van; from £425 a week with Campers Scotland. There are no lifeguards here.
16 Porth Lago, Gwynedd
At the end of the Lleyn peninsula, Porth Iago takes some finding - once you’ve located Ty Hen farm, you’re almost there. If you persist, you’ll find a fabulous little cove. There are no facilities here, which is distressing for those with toddlers, but it’s the stuff of dreams for older kids. Families with younger children should try the beach next door - Porth Oer, aka Whistling Sands, so called for its squeakiness. There are no lifeguards.
17 Barmouth, Gwynedd
Barmouth looks like a model-maker’s fantasy, with rugged mountains, a busy harbour, a serpentine estuary, and forested hills. The beach isn’t bad, either: a vast tract of shimmering ash-blonde sand. The southern end is best for family fun - ice-cream outlets, trampolines, deckchairs — but don’t forget to take the narrow-gauge train to Fairbourne. No lifeguards.
18 Tenby, Pembrokeshire
Tenby has four beaches, all of them crackers. South Beach is the quietest; Harbour Beach is best for toddlers; Castle Beach, opposite St Catherine’s Island, is great for adventurous types; and North Beach is where you go to run wild. Three have Blue Flags and all have clean, well-maintained facilities. Parking close to the beach after 11am is impossible, so use the North Beach park and ride.
19 Inchydoney, Co Cork
Often called Ireland’s most beautiful beach, Inchydoney is a hammerhead of silver sand on an island in Clonakilty Bay. Gently shelving, with shallow water, the beach is popular in summer, so get there early if you want to stake a claim. The eastern end is the quieter.
20 Silver Strand, Co Wicklow
Not a beach for buggies, Silver Strand is nevertheless well worth the effort for families with older children. Reached via a steep descent down hundreds of well-worn stone steps, the beach is a horseshoe of sparkling sand set against a sea more Mediterranean than Irish. If the effort seems too great, or you want facilities, try the almost-as-pretty Brittas Bay, a five-mile drive to the south.
Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland beaches
Nudist beaches and UK Water Quality UK Travel Guide
Pictures Scotland Pictures
Dorset beaches Cornwall beaches Devon beaches
England Map England Counties Map
Top of Page