2023 has officially been declared The Year of the Coast in the UK, so we thought it was about time we came up with a rundown of some of our favourite beaches around the country. It was a tough choice so we decided to turn it up to the max, with not only the best beaches in Britain but also some brilliant places to stay nearby.
Scilly has some major contenders for the best beaches in the UK and this is one of our favourites, with golden sands, where you can dip your toes into sparkling azure waters that stretch across the Tresco flats. It's a perfect place for a picnic, and you're also likely to have it to yourself for much of the year. Stay for a few nights at Flying Boat Cottages, also in Tresco, and you'll think you've died and gone to heaven!
Could this be the best beach in the UK? It's half a mile walk over the cliffs to get here. but very much worth it, with an intimate, isolated feel that makes it feel a little bit special. There are no facilities, but who cares? You cna spend a magical day here and then head back to one of our favourite places to stay hereabouts – the brilliant luxury glamping pods at The Little Retreat, a few miles inland.
One of the top three beaches within easy reach of London, and a big, sandy exception among the predominantly pebbly beaches of England's South Coast. Clamber up the big Camber dunes and take in the immensity of it all before stripping off and diving in. There are places to park and plenty of places to eat and drink, plus a great place to stay at The Gallivant - although our preferred options are really the superb self-catering apartment, Eagles Nest at Greyfriars, on the edge of the charming village of Winchelsea.
Two of the Isle of Wight's best beaches are within close proximity of each other in the less crowded far west of the island, not far from the famous Needles. Colwell Bay is the quintessential British seaside resort in miniature, never too crowded, with clean water and aa large sweep of pristine sand. Nearby Freshwater Bay is a small sand and shingle cove with fabulous rock pools that are a major attraction at low tide.Stay at the excellent Highdown Inn ,not far from the trail to the National Trust's Tennyson Monument, or just browse some of the brilliant properties available through Isle of Wight specialists Island Cottage Holidays.
The 18-mile-long stretch of Chesil Beach is a geographical oddity – a 15-metre-high bank of pebbles enclosing England’s largest tidal lagoon. It's not especially good for swimming, but it's very atmospheric and attracts a huge variety of marine life and birds. Just don’t be tempted to try and walk its length: Bill Bryson described it as 'the most boring walk I’ve ever had'. Stay in the nearby resort of Weymouth, preferably right in the picturesque harbour at the handsome Boat House.
Together with adjacent Earlsferry beach, the spruce seaside town of Elie has almost a mile of clean soft sand, and is popular with both sandcastle-building families and watersports enthusiasts, windsurfing, canoeing, waterskiing and generally indulging in active waterborne activities. As a result, it's not Fife's most peaceful of beach, but its village location is perfect, and there's a tremendous place to stay in comfy rooms of the Ship Inn, whose cricket team occasionally takes to the sands, too!
Made for swimming, games and lounging, this one of south Cornwall's finest beaches, backed by subtropical gardens, tennis courts and the funky Gylly Beach Café and looking across to Pendennis Castle, It's just a short walk from Falmouth, as well as from the wonderful St Michaels Resort hotel, where they have beautiful rooms with sea views, great facilities including a pool, and a series of luxury apartments, in case you prefer to self-cater.
Widely regarded as perhaps Norfolk's finest stretch of sandy beach (and therefore one of the best in the county), Holkham Bay is an absolute delight – a broad expanse of golden sands in front of a ribbon of dunes and a thicket of fragrant pine forest. Nearby Wells-next-the-Sea is a thriving seaside town that makes a lovely base for the whole of the North Norfolk Coast, especially if you hole up at the Globe at Wells, which has 29 beautiful guest rooms and serves excellent food.
The beach at Low Newton is one of the best in Northumberland - on a coast where there is quite a lot of competition! .It's a wide sandy strand in front of a picture-perfect village where there is a magnificent pub for lunch, the Ship Inn. There are miles of beach to explore, swimming, rock-pooling and dune-wandering, and you can also. stroll along Embleton beach to the ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle and over to Craster (for another great pub lunch!). Stay at Beadnell Towers – a beautifully updated hotel, restaurant and bar that serves terrific food and has 18 contemporary rooms and suites.
A mile of curving sand, backed by cliffs and lines of sandstone ‘chimneys’, Marloes looks more like The Algarve than South Wales, and is nowadays part of the National Trust. Marloes is by no means unknown but the nearest carpark is 20 minutes’ walk away, so it doesn't get too busy. Bring a picnic: there’s no shop or café anywhere near. If you want to stay somewhere that feels as awesome and exclusive as the beach, try the ingeniously updated rooms at the historic landmark of Roch Castle, just a few miles inland.
There's nothing like a great all-rounder, and Polzeath Beach, a 15-mile trip round the estuary from Padstow (much shorter if you cross by ferry) more than fits the bill - a superb family beach but equally good for watersports, with surf schools and plenty of rentals for boards and wetsuits, and there are a few decent beach cafés and restaurants too. For places to stay, it would be hard to beat the superb rooms, food and location of the Polzeath Beach House hotel; and for self-caterers they also offer seaview apartments. In Padstow itself there are also the various, very comfortable outposts of the Rick Stein empire, where you can eat and also sleep in the greatest comfort – try Rick Stein's Cafe Rooms, St Petroc's Hotel or the original Seafood Restaurant & Rooms.
Is this Devon's great best beach? It really has it all: three miles of sand, superb surf, the massive dunes of Braunton Burrows right behind, and one of the North Devon Coast's best places to stay in the Saunton Sands Hotel, perched on the clifftop up above. If the beach seems vaguely family, it may be because it featured heavily in the video for Robbie Williams’s single ‘Angels' back in the day.
Another National Trust reserve, the soft sands of Studland Bay in Dorset stretch for four miles from the Sandbanks ferry terminal to the base of the Old Harry Rocks. Backed by dunes and heathland, the beach also marks the start of the South West Coast Path, and although it can get busy here in summer. it's large enough to have quieter areas secluded areas (including one that is naturist). Stay in the Bankes Arms nearby, a lovely country inn that has nice rooms and serves excellent food.
Perhaps the best of Fife's many great beaches, St Andrews’ West Sands is famous for being the place where the movie ‘Chariots of Fire’ was filmed, and budding athletes can still batter along the firm, wide sands today. It's also popular with birdwatchers and of course is a great place for a swim – though beware the tides: the beach here can quickly become a sand bar, which then becomes rapidly becomes the sea, after which you may need to make a Chariots of Fire-style dash back to dry land! Stay at the newly revamped Saint in St Andrews, which has boutique rooms and serves good Modern Scottish food.
One of Cornwall's best and also most dog-friendly beaches, Watergate Bay is maybe the ultimate Cornwall beach, a two-mile stretch of sand that's perfect for families, sunbathers, swimmers and– perhaps most importantly – surfers and watersports enthusiasts. There are also two fabulous beachfront hotels– the Watergate Bay Hotel and the Sands Resort Hotel, both of which have tons of great facilities and are perfect for both families and couples.