Britain's Best Beaches

As a modestly sized country Britain has an infeasible large coastline. If all the major islands around the coast are included then one estimate puts the UK's coast at 19,491 miles (31,368 km) in length. This is four times that of France and over double that of Spain. Not only is the coast huge, it is varied.
So, to get to the point, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out there are going to be lots and lots of beaches around the British coast. A rough figure puts the number of UK beaches in the region of 3,000 and these range from vast expanses of sand to cosy little rocky coves, steeped in history.

In this article I have selected just ten of these beaches. Whilst they may not be everybody's favourites and given the huge number of contenders it is by no means exhaustive. However, they are all great beaches and I have selected them for being representative both geographically and in terms of features.

So, without further ado, let's get down to the list. These beaches are not in any particular order of greatness, it's just the order they occurred to me!

Porthcurno Beach, Cornwall

Porthcurno Beach
Credit: © Chris Leather / Cornwall Guide

It seems fitting to start this list of UK beaches from the geographical tip of mainland Britain. Porthcurno beach is located in the far west of Cornwall tucked just around the corner from Land's End on the very tip of mainland Britain. It has always attracted a degree of attention for its natural beauty; set in an amphitheatre of granite cliffs, the sand is made up of millions of crushed up shells and as a result near white. This in turn creates the stunning turquoise water colour that Porthcurno is renown for. 

Porthcurno is also the site of the Minnack theatre. Perched high on the cliffs this outdoor theatre was the handiwork and lifelong project of one woman, Rowena Cade. Today the theatre is busier than ever with shows on every day of the summer, come sun, rain or storm.

Luskentyre Beach, Hebrides Islands, Scotland

Luskentyre Beach (Tràigh Losgaintir)
Credit: Dave Fergusson/ Geograph

Licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Despite being located in the far north of Scotland the beach Luskentyre beach has been compared to the Caribbean on more than one occasion. On the right day this comparison is not quite as far fetched as you might imagine. With fine white sand and crystal clear blue-green waters it might take dipping a toe into the frigid sea to remind you that you are in fact on the Isle of Harris. It is also true there are no palm trees to sway in the breeze, instead there is the stunning backdrop of the mountains of North Harris.

West Wittering, West Sussex

West Wittering has been a family favourite since time began. With a prestigious Blue Flag award to certify not only the cleanliness of the water but the quality of the facilities this is a great spot. It is an attractive spot perched on the edge of the rolling hills of the South Downs. Expanses of neatly mown grass run down to the gently sloping sands of the beach and from here there are views to Chichester Harbour and the Isle of Wight.

The beach is also popular for watersports, particularly kite surfing and windsurfing with lifeguards on duty in the summer months. Along with beach huts there is also an abundance of wildlife and birdlife.

Obviously all this West Wittering a popular beach but it is big enough that a few minutes walking should secure you a quiet spot.

Holkham Beach, Norfolk

Holkham Beach, Norfolk
Credit: iStockPhotos

The attractive Norfolk coastal town of Wells-Next-The-Sea is home to one of the county's finest beaches. Holkham beach is a four mile stretch of golden sand backed by pine woodland. It is part of one of the largest nature reserves in the country guaranteeing its unspoilt character. At higher tides there is a shallow lagoon to the rear of the beach adding an extra layer of fascination to an already wonderful beach

Portstewart Strand, Northern Ireland

Another Blue Flag awarded beach, The Strand in Porth Stewart is regarded as one of the best beaches in the country. With 2 miles of fine golden sand backing onto extensive sand dunes it is  easy to imagine why. It's a great family beach with all the facilities nearby. Not only that but it has plenty of interesting nooks and crannies plus it is big enough to find a spot to yourself.

The beach is managed by the national trust and is a haven for wildlife. There is an abundance of flowers, birds and other wildlife to be found in the dunes. The clean water is not only inviting for swimmers and surfers but marine wildlife sightings.

Bamburgh Castle Beach, Northumberland

Bamburgh Castle
Credit: iStockPhoto

Bamburgh Castle Beach is on the Northumberland coast (obviously!) a region not only steeped in history but an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). This large sandy beach is overlooked by a most impressive castle dating back to the 5th century. But this is really just the icing on the cake as Bamburgh really is a great beach.

Stretching for three miles there is never going to be a problem with crowding here. In fact the beach retains a feeling of the wilderness on all but the very busiest summer's day. It's also a great spot for the kids with miles of space, high sand dunes and a scattering of rock pools.

A short distance of the coast are the Farne Islands and a little to the north are the equally lovely beaches of Lindisfarne.


Rhossili beach, South Wales

The Gower Peninsula is the jewel in the crown of the South Wales coast and Rhossili Bay is one of the loveliest spots in the area. Located at the very tip of the promontory, bordered by the impressive (in all but name!) Worm's Head to the south Rhossili is a superb four mile stretch of golden sand. Jutting out into the ocean as it does the beach here is a magnet for Atlantic swells making it popular with surfers. Swimming can be safe when the sea is calm and the water is clean.

The beach is owned by the National Trust and there are plenty of facilities on hand including a car park and pub serving up good food. Access is a little tricky involving a fairly steep cliff path so Rhossili might not be perfect for everybody.

Woolacombe Beach, North Devon

Woolacombe Beach Sunset
Credit: Chris Leather / Devon guide

Along with Croyde beach, Woolacombe is probably the most popular beach along the North Devon Coast. At around two and a half miles in length and graced with fine golden sand this beach is a firm family favourite. It's standing is further cemented by the prestigious Blue Flag award it holds. And there are no shortage of facilities; cafes, a pub, toilets, disabled access, surf hire... the list goes on. But this is the northern end of the beach, head further down the beach and it gets progressively quieter until you hit the far end known as Putsborough Sands.
The beach is backed  by sand dunes and there are plenty of rock pools at either end for exploring.

As well as being one of Devon's best surfing beaches Woolacombe is in the North Devon AONB. 

Filey Beach, Yorkshire

Filey in North Yorkshire is a fine example of a seaside town, not the run down, depressed towns often associated with this phrase, but an attractive, well presented town with a slight feel of days gone by. The beach here does not disappoint either. A large expanse of sandy beach bordered by the sailing club at one end and a children's paddling pool at the other. At low tide the beach stretches on indefinitely! The water here is clean too, it has been given the Marine Conservation society seal of approval being rated as excellent.

Filey's traditional Great British seaside roots can be seen in a number of activities on offer including the quintessential donkey ride. There is also a promenade replete with tea shops and beach huts.


Studland Beach, Dorset

Shell Beach, Studland
Credit: Chris Leather / Dorset Guide

The beach I have chosen to conclude my list of best British beaches is Studland beach in Dorset, and more particularly Shell Bay at the eastern tip. Yet another National Trust managed section of the coast Studland is a beautiful  finger of beach-fringed land separating Poole harbour from the English Channel.

Shell Bay sits on the other side of a network of low sand dunes and looks out over the mouth of Poole harbour. From here you can see everything from small fishing boats up to container ships passing by. It is also from here that you can catch the ferry across to the exclusive haven that is Sandbanks on the other side of the harbour.

The beach here has a fantastically remote feel, even though geographically it isn't that remote at all. Probably for this reason it is popular with naturists. If this, understandably, isn't to your taste then neighbouring Knoll Beach is equally lovely and comes complete with the National Trust beach cafe.