Believe it or not, it’s not as bleak, wet, and cold in the UK as you think. It rains an awful lot and the weather changes so fast you’ll barely notice the rainstorm heading towards you, but it’s an island nation, after all, so cut it some slack. Despite the unpredictable mercury, the sun is known to come out from time to time (normally for two weeks in July or August). By Luke Abrahams
Luckily, all four nations that make up the UK — England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland — have their fair share of beautiful beaches, from charming seaside towns to the most idyllic coves you’ve ever seen. To help you narrow down your options, here are 18 of the best beaches in the UK.
18 of the best beaches in the UK
Holkham Beach, Norfolk, England
Remember when Gwyneth Paltrow frolicked on that pretty beach in “Shakespeare in Love”? Well, this is it. The Norfolk seaside gem is often voted one of the best sandy patches in the UK — and for good reason: It makes you feel light-years away from civilisation. Enormous and windswept, it’s backed by a grassy nature reserve filled with excellent walking trails that were made to help dust off all those cerebral cobwebs. The pinewoods are also a great spot to check out flora and fauna, from stunning orchids to kaleidoscopic birds.
Bamburgh Beach, Northumberland
Northumberland was the backdrop for much of the Harry Potter film franchise, thanks to its Hogwarts-esque appearance. Though it can get very cold, it’s well worth braving the chill to walk along the pristine sandy stretch for a boat trip to the famed Farne Islands. The medieval castle here is something straight out of “Hamlet,” and it’s a great spot to eye local wildlife such as seals, sea puffins, and skipping dolphins.
Whitepark Bay, Antrim, Northern Ireland
If you need to get away from it all, go here. It’s isolated, quiet (save for the sometimes-howling bay winds), and has precisely three miles (4.82 km) of white sand to tread through. Set on the remarkably photogenic sweep of Northern Ireland’s first World Heritage site — the Giant’s Causeway — Whitepark Bay tops many a travel wish list, thanks to a very rare phenomenon dubbed “singing sand.” Basically, the sand here is so fine that when the particles vibrate together, they emit an eerie humming sound. If you miss out on this unique wonder, scour the dunes for fossils — there are loads of them.
Kynance Cove, Cornwall, England
Clear white sand, hidden coves, crystal clear waters, wildflower paths, and a string of perilous and dramatic rock formations might make you think you’ve stumbled on something that looks more like California than rural England. Kynance Cove is one of the most photographed beaches in the country, and it’s just an hour away from the beautiful Cornish town of Penzance (well worth spending the night). A National Trust landmark, the place gets busy during the summer months, so go early to avoid the crowds.
Scarista Beach, Lewis and Harris, Scotland
People far and wide head here to catch a glimpse of the porpoises that call this gorgeous place home. One thing to note: As Scarista Beach is way out in the Scottish Hebrides, it’s incredibly remote. This isn’t a bad thing, though, especially if you’re a nature lover or introvert partial to the wilderness. In fact, it’s so out of the way (and special) that there’s not even one sign that denotes where it is, but that help keeps this pathway to nirvana protected and virtually free of tourists. Tip: Bring your camera.
Compton Bay, Isle of Wight, England
The summer months can see Compton Bay lined with spritz-sipping visitors, but there’s also a treasure trove of geological wonders that make this England’s real-life answer to Jurassic Park. When the tide goes out, make your way to the east side of the main car park and head for Hanover Point. It’s an easy trek, and once you get there, you’ll see what all the dino fuss is about: massive three-toed casts of Iguanodon at the base of pretty cliffs. Cue the iconic John Williams theme.
Whitby Sands, North Yorkshire, England
Another must-visit is the darling, mystical, and sometimes moody Whitby Sands, a sandy jewel in northern England. It’s wild, windy, and busy come summertime, but that’s part of its charm. It was the gothic setting of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” but most flock here to grab some battered cod from Magpie Café, followed by an obligatory Mr Whippy (soft-serve with a chocolate stick in a cone).
Oxwich Bay Beach, Wales
Wales has its fair share of gorgeous beaches, but the ones that make up the Gower coast stand out from the rest. Oxwich is one of the most jaw-dropping spots (picture windswept sand dunes, salt marshes, and fairy-tale woodlands that back a two-mile (3.21 km) seashore. The rolling hills mean you’re a little more protected from the elements, plus the shallow waters make it a great place for swimming in the warmer months.
Pentle Bay, Tresco, Isles of Scilly
Hidden offshore on the Isles of Scilly, this spot requires some extra effort to reach. But once you arrive at one of the best beaches in the UK, expect the clearest waters, white sand, and one of the quietest (and genuinely secret) beaches this side of the English Riviera. The only downside? The water is freezing, so be prepared for a cold swim.
Llanddwyn, Anglesey, Wales
This Welsh wonder was the home of Prince William and Kate Middleton for three years after their wedding, so it naturally boasts a regal atmosphere like no other beach in the UK Dubbed the “beach of romance,” this three-mile (4.82 km) stretch on Llanddwyn Island has an interesting backstory. History says it was here that Princess Dwynwen ran away after a love affair went topsy-turvy, and not long after, she became Wales’ very own patron saint of lovers. Other than all the romance, Newborough Warren National Nature Reserve is also worth visiting for a peek at England’s elusive red squirrels.
Porthcurno Beach, Cornwall, England
Barefoot walks on soft, white sand alongside turquoise waters in England? Yes, really. Believe it or not, Cornwall has some of the best beaches in Europe. Popular with locals and a celebrity or two, it’s a great place to spot dolphins and sharks — if you’re lucky — breaking the water. Scale the cliffs, and you’ll also find the famous open-air Minack Theatre.
Durdle Door, Jurassic Coast, Dorset, England
This is one of the most famous beaches in the UK, if not the world, thanks to a century’s worth of guidebooks and social media stardom. Crowned by a spectacular arch — nicknamed the Durdle Door — it’s a truly remarkable corner of the South West Coast Path. Most pair a visit here with a stroll to the nearby Lulworth Cove, but this place is so breathtaking, that we wouldn’t blame you for staying put.
Three Cliffs Bay, Wales
If you love horseback riding, this is one of the best beaches in the UK to get your gallop on. Often regarded as one of Britain’s most stunning beaches, the rugged Three Cliffs Bay is guaranteed to make you go wild for the Welsh coastline. Even better, it’s quiet year-round, thanks to the sand dunes, which are well worth the gruelling hike over. Fun fact: Folklore says Thumbelina and crew hang out in the nearby Pennard Castle.
Whitstable Beach, Kent, England
Most head to this seaside destination for the oysters and pretty beach huts. While stone beaches are not for everyone, the town itself is well worth exploring, especially come lunch or dinner. The Lobster Shack offers a mean, well, lobster served with chips, and the crab sandwiches at Elliott’s at No. 1 Harbour Street are legendary. The water can get a little rough on some days, but when the sun comes out, the beach proves itself to be one of the best places to take a dip in the country.
West Dunes, Camber Sands, England
This place is home to rickety houses on the coastline, armies of ice cream trucks, and golden shores filled with couples and families wearing rolled-up trousers as they walk along the beach. Note that dog-watching is nonnegotiable. The charming village of Rye (you may have seen it all over Instagram) is also just a 12-minute drive from this picture-perfect spot.
Hunstanton Beach, Norfolk, England
Quintessentially British, with rows of cute tea shops and even adorable pony rides along the promenade, this slice of Norfolk paradise is one for families and couples. Visitors can avoid the crowds up in Old Hunstanton Beach, going barefoot in the custard-yellow sand or simply watching the sunset, complete with a cushy blanket and picnic.
Cuckmere Haven, Seaford, East Sussex, England
If you’re visiting London and pressed for time, this is one of the closest beach destinations to the capital. But Cuckmere Haven is not for the faint of heart, as it’s also one of the wildest beaches on England’s south coast. The Seven Sisters are the main draw, and the adventurers who make it here will be treated to beautiful views of the chalk cliffs. A once-favourite haunt of the infamous Bloomsbury Set — Virginia Woolf, included — the sea caves are well worth a peek, along with the stunning Birling Gap, too.
Druridge Bay, Northumberland, England
If you really need to escape the dregs of the modern world, Druridge Bay is just the wellness tonic the doctor ordered. Splattered with rocky dunes, the unspoiled seven-mile (11.26 km) coastline stretches as far as the eye can see. One of the best beaches in the UK, it is a haven for bird-watchers, walking types, and anyone wanting to breathe in the fresh North Sea air.
(This article first appeared on travelandleisure.com)