14 most beautiful UK beaches to enjoy the sunshine at this weekend

Jun 17, 2022

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As chaos in U.K. airports seems set to continue as summer progresses, and with temperatures across the country holding steady (if not exploding into a full-blown heatwave), now is the perfect time to enjoy the U.K.’s best beaches.

There are plenty of idyllic beaches across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Too many to list all at once and when the weather is sweltering, many can rival those found in Spain, Greece and other European destinations and don’t (usually) require a plane to get there – just a train trip or a car.

Related: Considering a UK staycation? Why you should probably book it now

Whether you just want to visit for a weekend, or are looking for some longer ‘staycation’ inspiration, feast your eyes on some of the most impressive, interesting and naturally spectacular beaches on U.K. shores. Coastal gems that stand apart from the rest.

Here’s our guide to the best U.K. beaches that are actually worth planning a short trip around, and that are well worth the drive it takes to get there.

1. Woolacombe Beach, Devon

(Photo by John Harper / Getty Images)

The beach: Woolacombe Beach along the North Devon coast is well known as one of the county’s best beaches. In 2021, it was even voted as the Sunday Times Best Beach. With a three-mile stretch of pure golden sand and clear, high-quality water, it doesn’t take long to work out why. Beyond its good looks, it’s loved by families for day trips and holidays, local and visiting surfers hoping to catch a wave, and dog walkers who are allowed all year round (albeit with a few summer restrictions).

Beyond the beach: The beach is hugged by natural wonders on either side, from the National Trust site Baggy Point and Putsborough Beach, to Morte Point (from which you might be able to spot some grey seals) and the picturesque cove Barricane Beach. An ideal coastal walk, but if you fancy a drive, Ilfracombe and Combe Martin – pretty villages with more stunning beaches – aren’t far away. Exmoor National Park is also within reach.

Hotel tip: While not best served for points hotels, there’s an abundance of lovely hotels in the vicinity.

2. Bamburgh Beach, Northumberland

Bamburgh Castle reflected in a tidal pool in early morning sunlight. (Photo by: Loop Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

The beach: With its 12th-century castle and towering sand dunes, Bamburgh Beach on the Northumberland coast is the very definition of picturesque. It’s ideal for a springtime or summer coastal walk, but if you time your visit in autumn/winter just right, you’ll have a chance at seeing the Northern Lights — where streaks of green and purple light glitter across the night’s sky, a phenomenon often most associated with Iceland, Finland and Norway.

Beyond the beach: Visit Bamburgh village, or take a boat trip to the nearby Farne Islands. Go in May or June to see more than just grey seals, but groups of the rare and colourfully-billed puffin bird. In the nearby town of Alnwick, you can explore yet another famous castle, as well as stop by its iconic bookshop Barter Books. Also fairly close (by car) is the town of Berwick-upon-Tweed and the city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

Hotel tip: Spend Marriott Bonvoy points with a home or villa rental in Northumberland. Prices start from 14,000 points per night. There are quite a few Alnwick-based options.

3. Durdle Door, Dorset

Durdle Door, Dorset. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

The beach: This insanely beautiful shingle beach in West Lulworth village is set on the UNESCO-recognised Jurassic Coast. It is probably one of the U.K.’s most photographed seaside spots – mostly thanks to the Durdle Door itself, a sweeping limestone arch formed around 10,000 years ago. It’s connected to Man O’War Beach, to the east, and the start of a 30-minute coastal walk (or even shorter drive) passing Dungy Head viewing point, Stair Hole – the slowly-curving limestone strata known as ‘the Lulworth Crumple’. Further beyond that, you’ll reach the surreally-blue Lulworth Cove.

Beyond the beach: Also in the area is the 17th-century Lulworth Castle, but for a coastal town trip Weymouth and Poole are all reachable by car within 30-35 minutes, while Bournemouth is a 50-minute drive away. Expect art galleries, an Oceanarium and even more enjoyable beaches.

Hotel tip: Marriott Bonvoy points can be used for stays at the Bournemouth Marriott, starting from 27,500 points per night. Or stay at Bournemouth’s The Green House, a boutique hotel that is part of IHG’s Mr & Mrs Smith collection. While Mr & Mrs Smith properties are not bookable with points, you will be able to earn IHG rewards when staying.

4. Pentle Bay, Isles of Scilly

Sea Asters (Tripolium pannonicum) in flower in spring in dunes in Pentle Bay, on the island of Tresco, in the Isles of Scilly, England, United Kingdom, Europe (Getty Images)

The beach: OK, so you can’t take a car to the Isles of Scilly, as it’s an archipelago located 28 miles off the Cornish coast. Instead, you’ll have to ditch your car at the airport (flying from either Exeter, Newquay or Lands End) or board a ferry from Penzance to reach the island of Tresco. Once there you can enjoy some of its (compared to tourist hotspot Cornwall, anyway) under-visited beaches. Pentle Bay is one of Tresco’s loveliest and is perhaps best known for its white (rather than golden) sand.

Beyond the beach: Tresco is a private island, but there’s plenty for visitors to experience. The botanical Tresco Abbey Garden compares itself to Kew – just ‘without the glass’ – and is well worth a visit. Boats will take you between the other major isles, including St Mary’s, St Martin’s and Bryher.

Hotel tip: It’s just a 10-minute walk to Pentle Bay and the surrounding coast from the Tresco Sea Garden Cottages, one of IHG’s Mr & Mrs Smith boutique properties. As noted above, while not bookable with points you will be able to earn them.

5. Achmelvich Bay, Scottish Highlands

Sand and rocks on Achmelvich Bay, Scotland. (Getty Images)

The beach: You’ll really need to commit to a long drive to reach Achmelvich. For one thing, it’s way up in the Scottish Highlands and along the North Coast 500. Frequently cited as one of Scotland’s most stunning beaches, this highly-rated beach is worth the trek e to admire its natural beauty – think clear, unpolluted skies, literal turquoise water and grassy, rocky surroundings. Perhaps you’ll even get to glimpse the local sea life. Both dolphins and porpoises (and the occasional rare minke whale) have been sighted here.

Beyond the beach: Stop by Clachtoll Beach, just a few minutes away. Scotland’s major cities are nowhere near, but there is a village, Lochinver, which can be reached in 20 minutes by car. And to get to the town of Ullapool, you’re looking at an hour’s drive.

Hotel tip: If you’re not camping out, you’ll certainly be looking at an independent guesthouse or rental.

6. Aldeburgh Beach, Suffolk

Scallop sculpture by artist Maggi Hambling, at Aldeburgh, Suffolk, England (Photo by: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

The beach: The Suffolk town of Aldeburgh has a long stretch of pretty pebble beach. It has those classic, colourful seaside houses overlooking it, but is probably best known for the very-Instagrammable sculpture on its shore. The four-metre tall steel scallop shell is a tribute by artist Maggi Hambling to Benjamin Britten, the famous composer who lived in Aldeburgh and was known to regularly stroll along the coast. While many absolutely love the shell, when it was first erected in 2003 some thought it detracted from the beach’s natural good looks. Today, it attracts plenty of interest from visitors.

Beyond the beach: Aldeburgh has a lot to offer for a weekend seaside stay, from high street shopping and cool bars to the timber-framed Aldeburgh Museum and Britten’s former home, The Red House. Every year, the town hosts festivals devoted to food, drink, music and arts, all of which are usually located at Snape Maltings, a nearby outdoor arts hub. Time your visit accordingly. For a sandier beach, another popular Suffolk coastal town and its eponymous pier, Southwold, are 35 minutes away by car.

Hotel tip: IHG’s Mr & Mrs Smith boutique hotel The Swan in Southwold is an excellent choice.

7. Whiterocks Beach, Portrush, Northern Ireland

Sea Pinks or Thrift a Whiterocks, Portrush, County Antrim, Northern Ireland (Picture by Getty Images)

The beach: Surf’s up all year long at this beach in County Antrim, which is on the popular Causeway Coastal Route. Here, you can enjoy water sports (including surfing and kayaking) – as well as a sandy, two-mile stroll with the perfect backdrop of limestone cliffs and naturally-formed sea caves.

Beyond the beach: Along the 212km-long Causeway Coastal Route, there’s plenty more driving to do. The main attraction is the Giant’s Causeway. Made of 40,000 basalt columns, mostly hexagon-shaped, this unusual rock formation rises high above the sea and is the first (and currently only) natural spectacle in Northern Ireland to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You might also recognise it from Led Zeppelin’s iconic album cover for House of the Holy. There are also the dramatic ruins of Dunluce Castle. Start the route in the capital, Belfast, where among many other attractions is the famous Titanic Museum.

Hotel tip: There’s the Hilton Belfast about an hour from the beach, which can be booked using Hilton Honors UK points.

8. Dungeness, Kent

Dungeness, Kent.
(Photo by Tim Grist Photography / Getty Images)

The beach: OK, The headland of Dungeness does not house a sandy beach but it comes with it’s own charm and is certainly beautiful in its own right. It’s shingle and stone beach has become well known for its beautiful alien-like landscape, though it may sometimes seem a bit desolate for some, save for a smattering of shipwrecked boats along the shore. Expect walks, cycling opportunities and uninterrupted sunsets. Don’t expect to build sandcastles with the kids. Aside from the sea, you’ll also find a Grade II-listed Old Lighthouse, a Snack Shack, and not too far away from the beach, a dedicated RSPB Nature Reserve, as the area attracts rare and unusual bird species.

Beyond the beach: Beyond Dungeness itself, this part of the Kentish coast is a delight. A must is a visit to the unique Romney Marsh, which can be reached either by car or the historic Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway. Those villages and towns are visitable, and if you kept going you’d eventually reach the seaside town Folkestone – at which point you could continue on to see the famous White Cliffs of Dover.

Hotel tip: Stay in Dover at the Holiday Inn to spend IHG points, while IHG’s boutique Mr and Mr Smith property St Leonard’s is just over an hour away by car inland, where you can earn (but not spend) points while you sleep. You’d be within driving distance to plenty of Kent’s seaside towns from either.

9. Formby Beach, Merseyside

Formby Point, Merseyside, England. (Picture by Getty Images)

The beach: Formby is more than just an attractive and sometimes busy beach for summer day trips and dog walking (though it is good for both those things). It’s also an ideal place to discover history and watch wildlife thrive. Once you’re done splashing in the sea, search the shoreline to find prehistoric footprints, or climb Formby’s sand dunes to see if you can spot the rare natterjack toad. The beach is also near what used to be asparagus fields and is surrounded by pine woodland, where you can follow a National Trust walking trail and perhaps catch a glimpse of the elusive red squirrel.

Beyond the beach: 20 minutes away by car is the Merseyside coastal town of Southport, which has a range of things to see and do – everything from another great beach, a seaside amusement park and a classic Victorian pier. There’s also the Atkinson art hub (with regular exhibits and events) and an odd museum devoted to antique lawnmowers (seriously). But if you’d rather visit as part of a city break, Formby is a 40-minute drive from Liverpool, which offers so much to do we couldn’t possibly list it all here.

Hotel tip: At the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel & Spa in Liverpool, you can book with and earn Hilton Honors points.

10. Three Cliffs Bay, Wales

Three Cliffs Bay on the Gower Peninsular, Near Swansea in South Wales. One of the best beaches in Wales. (Picture by Getty Images)

The beach: Rugged and slightly wild, Three Cliffs Bay is one of many must-visit spots in the Gower Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. There are (you guessed it) three limestone cliffs peering over this wide, golden sandy beach, for the super-fit willing to climb you’ll be rewarded by some seriously photogenic views over the bay. For those who prefer to stay low, you can also walk alongside and in parts underneath. Often, Three Cliffs Bay is dubbed as one of Gower’s most-photographed beauty spots, and upon visiting, you certainly won’t be left scratching your head wondering why. Just behind Three Cliffs is another beach, Pobbles Bay.

Beyond the beach: Rhossili Bay, another breathtaking Gower Peninsula beach,  is slightly more famous and home to an unusual shipwreck remnant called Worm’s Head. Up for a walk? Or more beaches? Tackle a trek along the Wales Coastal Path. And less than 30 minutes by car is the Welsh city of Swansea, which has its own beaches, a Victorian pier, a marina, an art gallery, several museums and the 12th-century ruins of Oystermouth Castle.

Hotel tip: Though not the most luxurious option, there is a Marriott in Swansea. Prices start from 22,500 Marriot Bonvoy points per night. If you’d rather go for something more luxe, try independents such as Oxwich Bay Hotel or Parc le Breos.

11. Holkham Beach, Norfolk

A view of Holkham Bay. (Photo by Loop Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

The beach: Holkham Beach on in Wells-next-the-Sea on the North Norfolk coast is seemingly never-ending, with golden sand and dark green pine forest stretching as far as the eye can see. It’s an Area of Outstanding Natural beauty, but Holkham National Nature Reserve is also an outstanding spot for anyone with an interest in birdwatching. Look out for horned shore larks, oystercatchers, cormorants, and Pallas’s leaf warblers, depending on the time of year.

Beyond the beach: As part of Holkham Hall & Estate, there’s the eponymous stately home, a Walled Garden, plus cycling and walking trails to enjoy. As for coastal towns to stay in, there’s Hunstanton (40 minutes by car) and the idyllic Cromer (50 minutes by car). Moving away from the sea, there’s the historic town King’s Lynn a 45-minute drive away – meanwhile visiting from the city of Norwich takes approximately one hour, 10 minutes by car. There, you’ll find its iconic cathedral, the Museum of Norwich, a 14th-century museum called Stranger’s House, and the National Trust-run Felbrigg Hall.

Hotel tip: The Norfolk town of Swaffham is where you’ll find Mr & Mrs Smith hotel Strattons. You can earn IHG Rewards during your stay. It’s ideally located for reaching Holkham with a 40-minute drive, but also Hunstanton.

12. Seilebost Beach, Isle of Harris

Seilebost beach on the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides. (Photo by: Jan Holm/Loop Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

The beach: On the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides, you’ll find among others the unforgettable Seilebost Beach, near the petite village of the same name. The water is crystal clear, the beach sandy, and examples of incredibly-rare, wildflower-friendly machair dune grassland are all around you. It’s also a cracking vantage point for views across to Taransay Island and Luskentyre Beach, which along with Seilebost is often dubbed one of the UK’s most gorgeous.

Beyond the beach: Head to Seallam! Visitor Centre to learn more about the Isle of Harris’ history or continue your drive around the coast for more stunning beachside spots. From Harris, the smaller islands of Taransay, St Kilda and Scalpay are easily reached by boat. Meanwhile, the Isle of Lewis is a one-hour, 20-minute car ride away (yes, Lewis and Harris are attached) and well worth the drive to see the ancient Calanais Standing Stones, the Norse Mill & Kiln, plus the Butt of Lewis lighthouse, among other visitor attractions.

Hotel tip: Nowhere to use up points it seems, but you can camp nearby or stay in a hotel on Harris itself, including Harris Hotel and Scarista House. There’s even a castle called Amhuinnsuidhe that can be booked.

13. Kynance Cove, Cornwall

Kynance Cove, Helston,Cornwall, United Kingdom, U.K. (Image by Jason Sturgess / 500px via Getty Images)

The beach: The otherworldly Kynance Cove is extremely famous, and therefore it gets extremely busy. For a less-packed visit to this stunning part of Cornwall’s Lizard Peninsula, you’ll need to arrive super early in the AM, or completely swerve summer altogether and visit in spring or autumn. Whatever the weather, you know you’ll get the perfect photo here. In sunlight, you’re looking at white sand and deep turquoise waters encircled by craggy rocks jutting out in all directions, and in cloudier times a moody, dramatic landscape, one that’s inspired countless works of art. It’s not really a beach built for sunbathing, rather adventures like climbing, coasteering and exploratory walks.

Beyond the beach: A 45-minute walk or 15-minute drive away is Lizard Point, the clifftop area known as mainland England’s most southerly point. There’s another breathtaking beach, and a nature reserve, in the area. Nearby villages include Lizard and Mullion, where you’ll find the historic Marconi Centre, and nearby towns include Helston and Porthleven. Pretty coastal town Falmouth is 50 minutes away by car, while it takes just over an hour from Kynance Cove to reach hotspots Penzance, Mousehole, the lovely and Land’s End, the mainland’s most southwesterly point. You’ll certainly need more than just a few days to explore.

Hotel tip: In Penzance, you can earn IHG Rewards by staying at Mr & Mrs Smith hotel Artists Residence. There are plenty of independent hotels closer to Kynance Cove, though, including the four-star Polurrian on the Lizard and Mullion Cove Hotel.

14. Filey Beach, Yorkshire

South end of the long beach at Filey with high chalk cliffs full of nesting gannets. (Photo by R A Kearton / Getty Images)

The beach: This golden sand beach is frequently rated as one of the best in Yorkshire, and is particularly impressive to see at low tide. While you can easily just enjoy the view, the amusements dotted on the promenade or take a quiet stroll along the five-mile stretch, you can’t miss Filey Brigg, the peninsula beauty spot at the edge of the beach that marks the end of the Cleveland Way, a 109-mile long walking route in North Yorkshire.

Beyond the beach: The village of Filey has a few attractions, from a local museum to a Bird Garden & Animal Park. Plus, it’s close to plenty of Yorkshire seaside destinations – as Whitby, fishing village Robin Hood’s Bay, Scarborough and Bridlington are all within driving distance, with the latter two each taking about 20 minutes by car. While Whitby is famous for its Captain Cook connection, Scarborough offers an ancient castle and the coast-focused Rotunda Museum. Bridlington’s wide, sandy South Beach is quite peaceful, too.

Hotel tip: Five-star All Seasons Boutique Hotel is a lovely B&B for those wanting to stay in Filey itself, but if you’re happy to drive a good distance, the York Marriott is one hour, 10 mins away from Filey and accepts/earns Marriott Bonvoy points.

Featured image by ianknowles via Getty Images

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