Not all beaches are created equal, but take some time to explore the coastline and you might just find an idyllic stretch of sand with the ability to slow time, erase reality and deliver you a soul-stirring moment of pure bliss -- all without having to leave the shores of the UK.
From the forget-me-not coasts of Cornwall to the secret sands of Scotland to the stunning scenes of Wales, we've searched high and low to bring you the most unmissable beaches in the UK. So whether you want to watch epic sunsets from majestic cliffs or stroll along sugary white sands at dawn, these British beaches are as endless and enticing as they come.
Suffolk isn’t short of idyllic beach adventures, from the soft shingles of Dunwich to the luxury seaside destination of Southwold. But head south of the River Blyth’s mouth and you’ll discover the dune-drenched beach of Walberswick, where life feels quieter, wilder and ready to explore. Stroll along the soft-sands, dangle your feet off the picturesque pier, explore the postcard-perfect village, hop from pub-to-pub and then earmark this spot on your road map so that you never forget to go back.
There are hidden beaches you hear about and then there are hidden beaches that completely take your breath away. Devon’s Blackpool Sands is the latter and it starts long before you even reach its sweeping sands because the road trip through the coastal pines almost feels like a little slice of the Amalfi Coast just upped and dropped itself here. Just don’t be fooled by the name because this hidden lagoon is actually made from the smoothest little pebbles, and that’s what makes the bay’s bright blue waters so crystal clear. And with everything from a floating pontoon to a café serving sustainable seafood, this spot is a real contender for coolest place on the coast.
North Norfolk isn’t somewhere you travel through; it’s a stunning stretch of coastline that you visit with purpose and then never want to leave again -- and that’s partly because it boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in the UK. There’s Holkham, Sheringham, Old Hunstanton and a hundred more. But for a sweep of sand with a low-key wow-factor, Brancaster Beach is the one. There’s mile after mile of golden sands to wander along, millpond-like waters to kitesurf across, signs that remind you dogs are oh-so-welcome and a shipwreck that can only be seen at low tide. Yet it is the abundance of wildlife that makes this an even more special place with everything from avocets to skylarks, pink-footed geese to sun-basking seals found just a couple of miles away in Titchwell.
Picture Cornwall and the busy beaches of Polzeath and Sennen Cove will no doubt flood your mind. But head to the northern peninsula of Penwith and you’ll stumble across Cornwall’s most remote and remarkable coastline, and Pedn Vounder Beach is the gem in that crown. It is a sandy cove that lolls around in perfect seclusion thanks to the high-tide cutting it off from every nearby beach. This makes it a by-boat-only kind of secret, unless you walk from the next-door Porthcurno at low-tide. Whichever route you take, though, the Treryn Dinas cliffs that overlook the blue Atlantic are worth every step of the journey.
With a beautiful crescent of white sand hemmed in by tall limestone cliffs and turquoise waters lapping against the shore, how Rhossili Bay has remained an almost-untouched secret is a mystery. And that’s not the only moment of mystery to enjoy, for erupting out of the sand are the remains of the Norwegian ship Helvetia, which has been beached in this bay since 1887. But what makes it so special is the way it never feels busy thanks to the sheer size of this bay, especially if you head north, where the surfers go, with it’s perfectly formed waves for both beginners and longboarders.
The size of this beach is enough to make you feel tiny, but in a way that makes you appreciate the power and beauty of Mother Nature as you navigate the almost-endless sea of rolling dunes; dunes that are formed in such a way that you’ll feel like you have Harlech beach all to yourself. Yet, beyond these mountainous sands is where this beach really comes into its own, with golden sand running alongside the clear waters as far as your binoculars can reach.
Found on a secluded Scottish island in the Outer Hebrides, with deserted white sands and turquoise lagoons, Scarista Beach is about as far off that beaten path as you can get, but worth every step of the journey. It is the idyllic island life of far-flung daydreams, full of shell-scattered dunes, moorlands painted with wildflowers, spectacular views out to sea and huge skies that hang above the otherworldly landscapes, from the beach to the mountains and beyond. Scarista is as close to paradise as it gets and a place that feels stunningly un-Scottish when compared to the adventure playgrounds of the Highlands.
For such a small isle in such a remote place, there’s a lot to be celebrated on Islay, and the desert-coloured sands are near the top of that list, especially when the sun is setting and both the sky and sea are drenched in a mind-blowing tableau of colour. That’s what makes Islay such an unforgettable destination: it’s 130 miles of rambling coastline that takes you through boggy marshlands, green meadows, coastal crags, hidden forts and into Machir Bay, one of the dreamiest beaches anywhere. And with eight distilleries found on this tiny isle, it’s the perfect place to unscrew your hip flask and watch the sun make its descent.
The UK isn’t short of endless coastal sand dunes, but none is quite as impressive as the one that Malligan Point hides on. Yet that is only half of the spectacle because this ever-changing stretch of sand is also one of Northern Ireland’s most impressive nature reserves, where winter storms can make huge dunes suddenly disappear only for them to reappear soon after. Visit here in the summer months, however, and the dunes will catch your eye for a very different reason with wildflowers painting the dunes a myriad of colours.
Sweeping along the northern coast of County Londonderry, this two-mile expense of golden sand has been one of Northern Ireland's dreamiest beaches for decades. Nurturing a serene and upmarket atmosphere, it’s the views across the Inishowen headland that make this spot so special. Spend the morning surfing the north coast breaks and the afternoon enjoying a lazy picnic before exploring the pansy-filled sand dunes as you head toward the Mussenden Temple that is perched on the cliffs above. Whatever you decide, this is one of those beaches that breeds happy memories.
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