With nearly 8,000 miles of coastline, it’s not surprising that the UK is one of the best places in Europe to enjoy a beautiful and bracing coastal walk. From sweeping white sand beaches to craggy cliffs and dramatic tidal marshes, the coastal landscape in the UK varies enormously, and there are thousands of miles of walking trails to explore – all of which offer something different.
So, if you’re hoping to do more walking this year, which coastal walks are among the very best? To get you inspired and have you reaching for your walking boots, here are seven of the best coastal walks to try in the UK.
1. The Norfolk Coast Path, England
In East England, the Norfolk Coast Path is undeniably one of the most breathtaking coastal paths to hike along. Stretching for miles from Hunstanton to Hopton-on-Sea, most of this trail passes through the Norfolk Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). So if you’re looking to be truly awed by your surroundings – and spot plenty of wildlife – you’re definitely in the right place.
The trail is mostly flat, making the Norfolk Coast Path one of the country’s most gentle coastal walks – but just because the walking is leisurely, it doesn’t mean the scenery is any less spectacular. You’ll walk through charming seaside towns, huge sandy beaches, ancient pine woodlands, tidal marshes that burst with wildlife, and of course, pass beneath the huge skies this part of the country is so famous for.
Following this trail allows you to visit pretty villages and seaside resorts like Cromer, Blakeney, and Wells-next-the-Sea, where there are plenty of places to relax, refuel, and rest tired feet.
The trail is lovely throughout the year, but in summer and autumn the hedgerows are in full bloom and bird migration is most active, so you’ll spot plenty of wildlife. Be sure to admire the magnificent red and white striped cliffs at Hunstanton!
2. The Fife Coastal Path, Scotland
The Scottish coast is known for its raw, awe-inspiring beauty, and one of the best ways to admire its scenery is to follow the Fife Coastal Path.
Beginning in the small town of North Queensferry at the foot of the Forth Bridge, the trail follows the shore for 117 miles, taking you along sandy beaches, narrow country lanes, and towering cliffs, before passing limestone rock formations at Caiplie Caves and finally finishing up in the university town of St Andrews.
If you want to discover just how diverse this part of Scotland is, the Fife Coastal Path is the perfect way to do it. Not only will you hike along golden beaches, mysterious woods and vast nature reserves, but you’ll also get to learn about this region’s unique history.
The route winds its way past ruined castles, caves adorned with prehistoric carvings, and old industrial towns – and though there are shorter sections of the trail you can enjoy day-by-day, the full route takes about eight days.
The Fife Coastal Path is a haven for wildlife, and you can often spot basking seals as well as puffins, razorbills, and guillemots. If you love hiking through peaceful scenery, the miles of cliffs, caves, and rocky seashores will give you the solace you crave – and if you enjoy exploring bustling seaside towns, Elie and Crail are lovely places to stop overnight. Then, St Andrews, with its ancient churches, beautiful botanical gardens and exceptional golf courses, is the perfect place to finish your walk.
3. The Northumberland Coast Path, England
As England’s least populated county, Northumberland has long been popular with hikers and nature lovers who prefer to keep away from the crowds – but whether you prefer hiking in peace or passing plenty of other ramblers, there are few people who won’t agree that the Northumberland Coast Path is one of the most stunning walking trails in the UK.
Ribboned with pristine beaches, ancient ruins and quaint fishing villages, the Northumberland Coast Path runs the entire stretch of Northumberland’s AONB – and though the path is split into six daily walks, it’s perfect for a walking holiday too. Starting in the lovely village of Cresswell in Druridge Bay, the trail hugs the shore, passing through pretty seaside villages, the foreboding Bamburgh Castle, and then taking you into the rolling Cheviot Hills.
If you’re interested in nature, the section of the trail that takes you along the open sand and mudflats of the Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve will be a highlight; as this is one of the best places in the UK for bird-watching. After Lindisfarne, the path continues north, winding through sandy beaches and cliff-top paths to the historic town of Berwick-upon-Tweed, just below the Scottish border.
4. Pembrokeshire Coast Path, Wales
According to Lonely Planet, the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path is one of the very best long-distance trails in the world (and if you’ve ever hiked along this gorgeous stretch of scenery, it’s likely you’ll agree!). Spanning an impressive 186 miles in total, the Pembrokeshire Coast Path was the first National Trail in Wales – and walking the full length of the trail, takes around two weeks.
Stretching from St Dogmaels in the North to Amroth in the South, the Pembrokeshire Coast Path cuts through some of the most varied coastal scenery in the country – from rugged cliff tops to secret coves, and sweeping estuaries to vast sandy beaches. If you’re interested in geology, you’ll also be interested to know that the Pembrokeshire Coast is home to a greater variety of rocks and scenery than any equivalent area in the UK.
But aside from breathtaking coastal scenery and fascinating geology, the Pembrokeshire Coast is also home to many birds and animals; foxes, rabbits, and squirrels are often seen from the path, and grey seals, dolphins, and porpoises can be spotted in the water. History fans will also be in their element here, as the trail takes you past Neolithic cromlechs, Iron Age forts, and Celtic churches and chapels.
5. The South Downs Trail, England
The South Downs Way National Trail isn’t strictly a coastal walk, as it follows the old routes of the chalk cliffs and ridges of Sussex’s South Downs. However, one section of the trail runs along what’s surely one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline in England – and the elevated position of the South Downs means you can admire breathtaking views across the English Channel and Isle of Wight.
The particular section of the 100-mile South Downs Way is called the Coastal Trail, and it takes you past all the highlights of the South Downs Heritage Coast. The part of the trail between Brighton and Eastbourne includes a few urban areas, but it’s also home to some of the most gorgeous walking scenery in the country – and allows you to feel like you’re truly ‘away from it all’ – even though you’re not too far from the capital.
From Eastbourne, the trails boast a beautiful coastline that winds past Birling Gap; one of the most unspoilt stretches of coastline on the South coast. Here you can visit the Belle Tout Lighthouse, relax on the pebble beach at Cuckmere Haven, marvel at the chalk cliffs of Seven Sisters and Beachy Head, and from the highest coastal point in the UK, gaze inland at the gently rolling hills of the South Downs.
6. The Causeway Coast Way, Northern Ireland
Though the longest trail in Northern Ireland is the Ulster Way – a 636-mile walking path through the country’s six countries – if you’re after magnificent coastal views, the Causeway Coast Way is the section of the trail you’ll want to explore.
Taking you from Portstewart to Ballycastle, this 33-mile coastal walk usually takes two to three days to complete, and you’ll venture past some of the most popular tourist attractions in Northern Ireland.
The most famous landmark on this trail is the legendary Giants Causeway, which is Northern Ireland’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site – and seeing these ancient and unique rock formations as they’re battered by the wild Atlantic Ocean is something you won’t forget. Learning about their formation at the visitor centre is also fascinating, but this is just part of what the Causeway Coast Way has to offer.
The path winds through sandy beaches, soaring cliffs, wide bays, and rugged rocks. Plus, it passes by both the thrilling Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge and the romantic and historic Dunluce Castle. Though much of the terrain provides awe-inspiring views, none of the off-road sections are too remote or challenging, so this is a walk that can be enjoyed by inexperienced walkers as well as expert hikers.
7. The South West Coast Path, England
As England’s longest waymarked footpath, the South West Coast Path provides hikers with a serious challenge. It stretches for 630 miles, starting from Somerset, following the Devon and Cornish coasts, and ending in Dorset.
While the full trail is beloved by endurance walkers, it has seven different segments: Somerset and Exmoor, North Devon, North Cornwall, West Cornwall, South Cornwall, South Devon, and the Jurassic Coast.
These different sections are walked by millions of people each year, so you can choose to walk as much or as little of this trail as you like. Regularly cited as one of the best walking trails in the world, the South West Coast Path passes through five Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, two World Heritage Sites, a UNESCO designated Biosphere reserve and Geopark, and one National Park.
Aside from the sensational views, walking the trail is a great way to learn more about England – from its heritage and geology to the wildlife and scenery.
The Jurassic Coast section of the South West Coast Path is one of the most popular segments, and walking this trail takes you through 185 million years of English history – from the vivid red cliffs at Sidmouth to white chalk at Old Harry Rocks, and the shingle sweep of Chesil Beach to the famous arch of Durdle Door.
The beauty of living on an island is that most of us are never more than a couple of hours from the coast at any point – meaning that these coastal paths are all pretty accessible.
If you’re planning a walking holiday, many of these trails stretch for hundreds of miles, providing you with weeks of gorgeous hiking opportunities. Though, if you’re just looking for a day walk to enjoy, you can simply choose a specific segment of the trail to explore.
From the dramatic rock formations of Giant’s Causeway to the sweeping beaches of Pembrokeshire Coast and the soaring cliffs of the South Downs, the UK is home to some of the most spectacular coastlines in the world – and hiking along coastal paths allows you to explore our lovely landscape from a whole new perspective.
Have you walked along any of these coastal trails – and if so, which segments did you enjoy most? Or are you thinking about a walking holiday and tempted to hike any of these longer trails? We’d love to hear about your walking experiences in the comments below.