Scarborough beach. Lynne Cameron/PA Archive/PA Images
Hooray for summer holidays! But less so for parents trying to figure out how to entertain the kids for six weeks. Here’s some of our favourite UK beach destinations.
Scarborough beach. Lynne Cameron/PA Archive/PA Images
When you think of the United Kingdom, it’s not normally of their glorious beaches with white sand and clear blue water. Plus, most of their beaches are only known for pebbles (shall we build a rock castle?), donkey rides, fish and chips, and 99p Flakes (which aren’t even 99p). Yet there are a few places on this little island that can satisfy any serious beach or surf critic, especially if you don’t mind wearing a wetsuit. If you’re not into surfing though, there are plenty of other activities on offer from beaches in the UK. However, it is the combination of things that helped compile this top ten list of beaches in the UK.
A Blue Flag beach (meets strict standards set out by the Foundation for Environmental Education), Brora Beach is a nature lover’s playground. It is ideal for wildlife watching with dolphins, minke whales, and grey and common seals sometimes being spotted off the coastline. It is a rural and unspoilt beach located next to a magnificent golf course. A relatively small beach with golden sand and not particularly strong breaks, it’s ideal for swimming if you can handle the freezing water! Benches are conveniently located along the coast with many holiday makers enjoying picnics in the idyllic surroundings.
Located in the Highlands of Scotland, it is great for a romantic getaway or a relaxing break from city life. Surf conditions can get quite flat but there are some decent breaks opposite the golf club. Waves can vary and can be ideal for beginner surfers. Brora is also known for their angling with sea angling, loch fishing, and Salmon and Trout fishing available.
What Brighton lacks in sandy beaches (all pebble), it makes up in family fun and nightlife. Brighton Pier holds a massive arcade area with ample funfair rides further back, guaranteed to keep the kids (and adults) entertained for hours. Also famous for its seaside treats such as doughnuts, fish and chips, and ice cream, it is a shopper’s dream. The Lanes will supply you with quirky items definitely not found on the high street. Brighton is also host to an assortment of bars, restaurants, and clubs. During good weather the beach is almost always packed with a very cool vibe. It’s not often you see people swimming though or partaking in any water sports, so if you’re looking for adrenaline and adventure, it’s not particularly ideal on that front.
Brighton does however host plenty of events that can be viewed and enjoyed from the comfort of the pebbles; for example: London to Brighton Bike Ride, Brighton Pride, Paddle Round the Pier, and The Brighton Marathon. Another ideal choice for those not wanting to travel too far from London.
Known for perhaps the best reef breaks in the UK, Thurso is an experienced surfer’s dream producing quality waves sometimes up to 15 feet. Among the ideal surfing conditions, Thurso also hosts two World Championships for Kayak surfing. Water there is cold at the best of time so an adequate wetsuit is a must. If you’re also into fossil hunting this is the place to be, although the foreshore is quite slippery and rocky so not really ideal for kids. The town itself has lovely traditional shops, cafes, restaurants, and bars.
This may not be an all-round beach destination, but it is still highly regarded amongst the UK surf community.
The closet sandy beach (although some beaches in Eastbourne do have shingles) to London, Eastbourne apparently has the beast ice cream. I did hear that from someone who grew up there so there may be a bit of bias in that statement. Surf wise the beaches along the marine parade are rather inconsistent, with the best surf usually in autumn or winter. Not ideal times for beach visitors there not to surf. There are plenty of other things to do in Eastbourne though. The Eastbourne Extreme showcases skateboarding talent with pro-skaters showing off their skills. You’re also not far from Hastings, a historical place with castles, museums, and galleries to peruse.
It is an extremely popular place for Londoners in the summer, so be sure to get there early if you’re planning a day trip as beach huts and umbrellas get scooped up fairly quickly.
Another surfing gem of the UK, Croyde Bay offers sandy beaches, friendly locals (the local surfing community have worked hard to improve local beaches), and a well-rounded experience for surfers and non-surfers. Croyde Bay in particular is thought to be one of the best places to learn to surf so holiday makers need not worry about hard core locals who may be intimidating in the water. It also has plenty to offer for beach goers not interested in surfing with scenic walks, coasteering, kite flying, and great shops and restaurants in the area. With plenty of ideal campsites to choose from, it is also easy on the finances.
Croyde is a very pretty place with buildings largely unchanged giving it a quant, rustic look. Croyde Bay itself gets extremely busy in the summer (booking accommodation well in advance is highly recommended) but surf schools are open all year round. Devon is well known for their clotted cream, so be sure to treat yourself to some high tea after a hectic day on the beach.
If you’re into camping and breath taking views, go to Three Cliffs Bay! I urge you! The winner of numerous awards, Three Cliffs has sandy beaches and rocky coves to explore. A very popular destination for families and couples, it is in the top three beaches in Wales. The surf is quite consistent but for some reason not many people surf here. Perhaps they’re too busy staring off into the distance. Breaks also work at any time of the year if you do decide to bring a board along.
Another award winning beach, Bournemouth can boast some of the warmest waters in the UK as well as glorious views of the Isle of Wight. A mecca of events, beach goers in Bournemouth can experience the Bournemouth Air Festival (August) and Arts by the Sea Festival (October). The East side is by far the most popular side for surfers (beginners welcome and there are plenty of surf schools in the area) with the whole beach being extremely busy in the summer. It’s close to Bournemouth University so students find it a popular spot too. Adjacent from the beach are the stunning Victorian style gardens which offer a 2.5km walk through beautiful shrubbery and foliage.
Bournemouth offers plenty of variety in terms of bars and restaurants and is a great shopping location. Head down to Bournemouth Pier for some delicious Dorset pork sausages and bacon as well as locally sourced teas and coffees.
Voted as the best beach in Wales, it’s not difficult to see why. As far as white sands and blue water in the UK goes, this is the one! A remote beach (about a 1km walk from the nearest car park), it is often linked to a Caribbean beach. Surf conditions can produce quite big swells and its sheltered location makes it ideal for sun tanning. With a back drop of limestone cliffs it is an excellent location for some scenic walks too. Caves, arches, and brachiopod fossils make it a great place for exploring. Ideal for families, dog owners, and nature lovers.
The only downside of it being so secluded is the fact that there are no facilities (there are toilets and a tea room near Stackpole Quay) so everything you bring has to be taken back over the cliff. However, if intimacy and seclusion is what you’re looking for, then this is the beach for you.
The little city of St. David’s has a lot going on for its size including the beach of Porthmawr. Another Blue Flag beach with white sands and amazing views. It is also regarded as the best surfing beach in Pembrokeshire and one of the best tourist beaches in the world. It is located only 3km from the quant city of St. David’s and can get extremely busy in the month of August. Porthmawr also offers visitors the chance to experience sea kayaking and the adrenaline pumping activity of coasteering. This is a combination of walking, climbing, crawling, swimming, and cliff jumping and is a great way to explore the coastline.
The city itself is small with homely cafes and shops. In terms of night life and entertainment it’s not as ‘wild’ as some of the other beaches which can be a bit disappointing for some people, especially if the weather is too awful to visit the beach. During the day, however, there is something there for everyone!
1. Fistral Beach (Newquay, Cornwall)
Fistral Beach is Cornwall’s most iconic beach and probably the most consistent surf spot in the UK (some say even in Europe). Hosting annual events such as Boardmastsers (Europe’s largest surf and skate festival) in August, the UK ZapCat championships in April and August, the English National Surfing Championship, and the King of the Groms Junior Surf Festival, it is easy to see why it attracts such a large number of surfers and surf fans. If you’re looking for a more intimate surf experience without the tourists (and if you’re willing to surf in the cold) then visiting during the off season is recommended. You can hang out with the locals and not have to compete for space with other tourists.
If you’re not into surfing or water sports in general and don’t mind the throng of people, this beach is still a gem in the summer. Located only 200m from the High Street, there are plenty of shops to keep any tourist entertained. Newquay also has a great nightlife and restaurant scene. You’re spoilt with choices of fine dining or traditional fish and chips. Of course special mention needs to be made about their Cornish cream teas and Cornish pasties, a big must when visiting Cornwall. Newquay Zoo is also close by, a great activity for the family and if you’re up for a bit of a drive then visit The Eden Project, an amazing collection of plants and climates under huge, artificial biodomes.