When we’re in the mood to relax on white sand and swim in crystal clear waters, our first thought might be to plan a trip to the Mediterranean, or even further afield to places like South-East Asia and Australia. Although, from the coves of Cornwall to the shores of the Shetland Islands, the UK is home to some truly beautiful beaches.
1. Rhossili Bay, Gower
Located on the very tip of the Gower Peninsula (an area that was named the UK’s very first Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty back in 1956), it’s not difficult to see why Rhossili Bay is considered by many to be the most beautiful beach in the British Isles.
Rhossili Bay is a stunning three-mile crescent of white sand overlooked by rolling dunes and high cliffs. For relaxers and adventurers alike, it’s the perfect, picturesque location for a day out.
You can walk out to Worm’s Head, a thin tidal island that’s accessible for only two and a half hours a day on either side of low tide. It’s also a popular surfing spot, so why not catch a wave or two?
2. Kynance Cove, Cornwall
Tucked between towering cliffs and impressive rock stacks is Cornwall’s most scenic beach. As you make your way down the steep path from the car park towards the white sands of Kynance Cove, you might think you’ve stumbled onto a Greek island.
Famous for its dazzling, crystal clear waters, at low tide, you can explore the series of caves and dramatic rock formations made of Lizardite – a stunning red and green rock famously found in the area.
The water is also generally quite calm at Kynance, so taking a dip in the glistening waters can be a pleasant experience. Although it’s best to exercise caution if you plan on swimming, as the tide can be unpredictable at times and there are no lifeguards on duty.
3. Benone Strand, County Londonderry
With its glorious views of Binvenagh mountain to the south and County Donegal across the estuary to the west, whether you’re relaxing on the sand or taking a stroll, you’ll be spoilt for views at Benone Strand. On a clear day, you can even see as far as Scotland.
If you like an active day at the beach, you won’t be disappointed with what this place has to offer. Like many of the beaches on this list, you can hire surfboards or even take a lesson. Or, if you’d rather stay dry, why not walk up to Mussenden Temple? This 18th-century structure sat atop the cliff has a rich backstory, and the views are unparalleled.
What’s more, walk east along the coast and you’ll encounter a few lovely neighbouring beaches, like Downhill Strand and Castlerock.
4. Sandwood Bay, Sutherland
Located on the remote north-western coast of Scotland, Sandwood Bay is famous for its fluffy, dig-you-toes-into-it sand and the unique and impressive sea stack located just off the western headland.
However, what’s most unusual about Sandwood Bay is that, to reach it, you’ll need to complete a four-mile hike from the car parking area located in the nearby village of Blairmore. This trail isn’t particularly challenging, and it offers lovely views of the surrounding moorlands.
Plus, your hard work will be rewarded tenfold when you reach the top of the trail’s final crest and the breathtaking view of the beach is laid out before you.
5. Bamburgh Castle Beach, Northumberland
Boasting stunning views of Lindisfarne and The Inner Farne Islands, which lie just off the coast, Bamburgh Castle Beach is a top spot for a sightseeing walk or a peaceful afternoon on the sand. And the ever-looming presence of the castle itself gives the place an entirely unique feeling.
While you’re there, you can explore the rock pools at the southern end, take a leisurely stroll through the village, or even visit the castle itself and learn about its rich history. Bamburgh Castle Beach is also a popular surfing destination, as it gets pretty consistent waves all year round.
6. St Ninian’s Isle Beach, Shetland
We all tend to have a pretty unanimous picture of what beaches look like. Although, St Ninian’s Isle Beach in the Shetland Islands might challenge that. This is because, unlike the rest of the entries on this list, it has water on both sides.
St Ninian’s Isle Beach is a tombolo (also known in Scotland as an ‘ayre’), which is a natural sand pathway that links the island to the mainland.
Since this is the most Northernly entry on our list, the water at St Ninian’s is somewhat nippy. But if you’re brave enough, its Caribbean-like turquoise waters make it a great place for a quick dip. In fact, back in 2013, Travel magazine named this secluded spot one of the 50 best places to swim in the world.
History lovers can also explore the ruins of a nearby 12th-century chapel where, in 1958, a large booty of Pictish silver treasure was discovered.
7. Brighton Beach, East Sussex
Everyone’s ideal beach day is different. For some people, it involves strolling along wild, remote sands without another soul in sight, while others might enjoy something a bit livelier. And for those in the latter camp, where’s better to visit than Brighton?
Set in the thriving city, Brighton Beach is backed by an array of trendy bars, restaurants, and shops, so once you’ve topped up your tan or been for a quick dip, you can retire to the lanes for a spot of shopping or a bite to eat. Alternatively, if you’re in a whimsical mood, you might want to head over to the pier to enjoy the rides and arcade.
8. Barafundle Bay, Pembrokeshire
Barafundle Bay Beach is another gem that’s regularly listed as one of the best beaches in the UK, if not the world. Like Sandwood Bay, it’s stunning and has that blissful off-the-beaten-track feel, so it’s a great place to sit, unwind, and admire the breathtaking scenery.
Nestled between two limestone cliffs, and a mile away from the closest car park, there are no facilities here, so you’ll have to pack some food and drink if you plan on staying a while. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, in the past, Country Life has named Barafundle Bay Beach the best place in the UK to have a picnic.
9. Runswick Bay Beach, North Yorkshire
Overlooked by an old fishing village that seems to have been plucked from the Italian Riveria, this secluded bay is a must-visit if you ever find yourself up in this neck of the woods. As well as sporting some spectacular views, Runswick Bay is also a popular spot for sea angling, kayaking, and canoeing.
This beach is probably the sandiest you’ll find in this area of the UK, and it’s relatively wide; so there’s plenty of space to relax or play a game of cricket or rounders. If that doesn’t take your fancy, why not spend some time fossil hunting among the rock pools that bookend the beach?
10. Loch Morlich, Badenoch and Strathspey
Imagine this: you’re walking through a lush forest deep in the Scottish wilderness. The smell of pine is in the air and you can make out the peaks of mountains through the canopy. When suddenly, you stumble into a clearing and find yourself standing on a sandy beach.
A visit to Lake Morlich, the UK’s most beautiful inland beach, is certainly an unusual one. Whether you’re paddling through the calm waters of the lake or catching some sun on the sandy banks, it’s easy to forget that you’re an hour’s drive from the coast.
If you love to spend time at the beach and in the mountains, then here you can get the best of both worlds.
11. Murlough Beach, County Down
Vast, windswept, and magnificent, Murlough beach in County Down offers visitors perhaps the greatest views of any slice of coast in the world. As you walk southwards along this spectacular expanse of sand, you can admire the imposing arches of the Mountains of Mourne as they rise from the horizon.
Part of the Murlough Nature Reserve, an ancient system of sand dunes and Northern Ireland’s first ever recognised reserve, there’s lots to be seen at the Mountains of Mourne. For example, it’s an internationally-famous location for spotting wildlife, including rare waterfowl, seals, and dolphins.
The wind can really pick up here, so, while it’s not always ideal for sunbathers, Murlough Beach is especially popular for kite surfing and windsurfing.
12. Durdle Door Beach, Dorset
Famous for its iconic stone arch, Durdle Door Beach is a must-visit if you love sandy beaches and picture-perfect views.
Formed by thousands of years of erosion, this geological formation is one of the UK’s most photographed natural wonders. In fact, it’s become somewhat of a trend to catch a snapshot of this beach just as the setting sun shines through the doorway.
13. Luskentyre Sands, Isle of Harris
For a truly wild beach experience, why not visit Luskentyre Sands on the Isle of Harris? Although it’s somewhat out of the way, this stretch of coast in the Outer Hebrides is well worth the trip.
Located at the mouth of a wide estuary, a trip to Luskentyre Sands will enable you to unplug from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and recharge.
Offering panoramic views of the surrounding mountains, aquamarine waters, and ivory white sands, you might have to remind yourself from time to time that you’re not in South-East Asia.
14. Llanddwyn Beach, Anglesey
Backed by rolling, grass-topped dunes and the Newborough Warren National Nature Reserve, Llanddwyn Beach on the south-western side of Anglesey is a must-visit for nature lovers.
Upon arrival, visitors are treated to exquisite views of Snowdonia and the Llyn Peninsula across the water. And while it’s a great spot for laying down a towel and having a snooze, it’s also popular with explorers.
Why not spend some time investigating Llanddwyn Island, a lighthouse-topped finger of land that juts out into the sea on the east side of the beach, or the nearby path that takes you into the reserve?
15. Woolacombe Beach, Devon
What’s a list of the best beaches in the UK without an entry from Devon? Woolacombe Beach on the county’s northern shore doesn’t just sound like an Australian beach, but with its wide, three-mile expanse of golden sand and cobalt blue waters, it looks like one too.
Although it’s open to the public, Woolacombe is a privately owned beach that’s famous for its excellent facilities (like a daily clean-up service, beach hut rentals, and watersports), as well as its natural beauty. And with plenty of accommodation in the village on the north side, Woolacombe is a top destination for a staycation break.
For sweeping, panoramic views, why not hike up to Morte Point or Baggy Point, the two headland cliffs that flank this stunning bay?
16. Whitepark Bay Beach, County Antrim
A few miles east of the Giant’s Causeway on the North Shore of the Emerald Isle lies Whitepark Bay Beach. Famous for its ‘singing sands’ which hum as walk across them, it’s a tranquil spot with spectacular views.
There’s plenty of wildlife to spot here – like orchids, butterflies, and otters – though you might be most surprised to see cows wandering along the sand. The herd is used to keep the dune grass at bay, but they’re often seen strolling along the shoreline.
Due to the dangerous rip currents, swimming is generally discouraged here. But, this ancient beach is full of fossils, so why not spend some time scouring the sand and rockpools looking for ammonites?
With thousands of miles of coastline, the UK is home to countless beautiful beaches. And while we can’t include all of these impressive spots on our list, we hope that it’s given you a taste of what our spectacular shores have to offer.
For more ideas on places to visit in the UK, why not head over to the travel section of our website? Here, you’ll find articles like; 10 most breathtaking areas of natural beauty in the UK and 8 incredible campervan holidays in the UK.