Seaside Staycations: 14 of the Best Beaches in the UK

While Britain is not usually associated with cliché descriptions of azure waters and powder-white sands, the UK is home to some pretty impressive beaches. Their quaint charm and laid-back atmosphere draw returning visitors for bracing winter walks and snatched moments of sunbathing come summer, while nothing beats fish and chips by the sea. So grab a bucket, spade and cagoule and head out to explore these best-of-British beaches.

Making waves: our favourite coastal retreats, hidden coves and wild shores

Portstewart Strand

Londonderry

Giant's Causeway steals the spotlight that filters through the sea mist of Northern Ireland's Causeway Coast. Venture beyond the basalt columns, however, and you'll discover scores of Blue Flag beaches, including Portstewart Strand. Flanked by cliffs and the River Bann, this stretch of golden sand in Londonderry is caressed by the Atlantic. In nice weather, you'll find a healthy amount of picnickers, surfers and sand-castle builders here. For respite, head into tufted dunes populated by butterflies and wildflowers (you can join the Causeway Coast Way trail) or visit neighbouring Portrush where the limestone cliffs of Whiterocks Beach have been carved by the waves. The Cathedral Cave is spectacular.

STAY: Whiterocks Beach House

St Bees

Cumbria

A shingle bank gives way to blonde sands at this mile-long beach overlooked by the eponymous St Bees Head. This dramatic red sandstone bluff battles continual erosion, so you'll find some fascinating old shells and pebbles here. The area also supports the North West's only cliff-nesting seabird colony, making it prime territory for twitchers - though on a clear day, you'll also spot the Isle of Man on the horizon. Time to stretch your legs? St Bees marks the start of Wainwright's Coast-to-Coast route, which unravels from here, across the neck of the UK, to Robin Hood's Bay in North Yorkshire.

STAY: This converted chapel

Formby Beach

Merseyside

Formby's monumental dunes are its main draw; they're a designated Site of Scientific Interest and can rise and fall as much as four metres in a single year - often revealing prehistoric footprints. Climb to the top of one for panoramas that stretch across the mountains of Cumbria - in good weather, you might even spot Blackpool Tower piercing the horizon. Sightseeing done, follow the footpaths that lead through the adjoining pinewoods to a red-squirrel nature reserve or hop in the car for a 30-minute drive to Crosby Beach where you'll spot Sir Antony Gormley's Another Place sculpture.

STAY: Hope Street Hotel

Kynance Cove

Cornwall

Trimmed by deserted coves, ultramarine waters and a roaring surf scene, Cornwall lays a strong claim to having the UK's best beaches. Porthcurno Beach and Sennen Cove are great options if you're near Land's End, but we recommend hot-footing it to the Lizard Peninsula's Kynance Cove. This fairy-tale spot is among the county's most painted and photographed places (Alfred Lord Tennyson was a regular visitor) thanks to moss-clad serpentine rocks that pierce the green-blue water with jagged shapes. The beach gets cut off at high tide; plan well and there'll be a network of caves begging to be explored.

STAY: Scovarn House

Holkham Beach

Norfolk

You may recognise this vast swathe of a beach from the closing scenes of the 1999 flick Shakespeare in Love, in which Viola de Lesseps (aka Gwyneth Paltrow) brooded across the sands at low tide. Part of the Holkham National Nature Reserve - one of the UK's largest of its kind - it's a haven of rare flora and fauna crowned by a seemingly endless expanse of blue sky. It can get pretty windy here; duck behind one of the dunes for a picnic or trace a path east through pinewoods to the more sheltered Wells-next-the-Sea.

STAY: Morston Hall

Luskentyre

Outer Hebrides

Comprised of more than 40 islands and innumerable islets, the Hebrides archipelago is a go-to for lovers of windswept, secluded shores. Amid the rugged headland that hugs the west coast of the Isle of Harris (home of Harris Tweed), Luskentyre is a long and brilliant stretch, blotched with shallow turquoise water. Keep your eye out for wildlife: otters, sea eagles, basking sharks, seals and wild ponies are regular visitors here. Keen photographer? Tack on an excursion to the Isle of Skye's Talisker Beach and its colourful harbour at Portree.

STAY: The Wee Wooden Yurt at Caolas Gallery

Filey Brigg

Yorkshire

Some great beaches have washed up on Yorkshire's windswept coast. In the North York Moors National Park, Whitby is overlooked by the abbey that inspired Bram Stoker's Dracula; the historic fishing village of Robin Hood's Bay marks the end of Wainwright's Coast-to-Coast hike; Scarborough is a go-to for neon lights and candy-striped rock. If you're the type that likes a more under-the-radar stretch of shore, head to Filey Brigg, a beach at its most raw and elemental. Jutting out into the North Sea, this skinny peninsula is almost as tall as it is wide, with cliffs that climb 20 metres into the air - folklore has it that these are the bones of a dragon. Weave through rock pools as you follow the sculpture trail and spot the many seabirds that call this place home.

STAY: The Talbot

Bamburgh Beach

Northumberland

For long windswept walks, head to Bamburgh Beach in Northumberland, where history meets nature on a gorgeous sandy coastline. Overlooking the white dunes sits the ancient Bamburgh Castle, which has dominated the skyline since the 11th century, while just opposite are the islands of Inner Farne, once home to hermits and monks. There are plenty of interesting coves and rock formations towards the north of the beach, which is also scattered with seashells - find some washed-up fishing twine and string yourself a souvenir necklace.

STAY: The Joiners Arms

Rhossili Bay

Swansea

British beaches certainly don't just mean striped awnings, melting 99s and lobster-red tourists. This three-mile long expanse of wide beach with fantastic views from atop Rhossili Down and an exposed shipwreck which is visible at low tide is a truly exceptional stretch of the British coastline - so much so that we listed it as one of our favourite beaches in the world.

STAY: This cosy barn

Botany Bay

Kent

Named after an Australian bay where smugglers are said to have been deported, Botany Bay is a quintessentially British beach boasting magnificent views of white cliffs, chalk stacks and surprisingly clear waters. The bay is just a stone's throw from the picturesque seaside towns of Broadstairs and Margate - well worth a visit for those seeking a traditional British experience. When the tide is out, hunt for fossils and delve into rock pools before heading to the Botany Bay Hotel for a good old pub lunch.

STAY: Botany Bay Hotel

West Wittering

Sussex

West Wittering is an all-time favourite among beachgoers and it's not hard to see why. Soft sand, shallow lagoons and neat grassy areas beckoning for a picnic rug make it an ideal spot for a day out, while the area holds a blue flag award for safety and cleanliness. With wonderful views of Chichester Harbour and the South Downs as well as rows of candy-coloured beach huts that are available to rent, this is a snapshot of British summertime.

STAY: The Crab & Lobster

Marloes Sands

Wales

It's not all grey skies and rain in Wales - the country boasts some of the UK's most incredible topography. One such place is Marloes Sands in Pembrokeshire, where over a mile of golden dunes meet striking cliffs, making it a favoured walking spot among families and birdwatchers. The coast surrounding the peninsula is a designated marine conservation zone where you can spot grey seals, porpoises, dolphins and rare sea birds. At low tide, there is also plenty to explore; the rock strata has divided the beach up into lots of little bays where you can find rock pools and even a shipwreck sticking out of the sand.

STAY: Grove of Narberth

Saunton Sands

Devon

Famous for its ideal surfing conditons, Saunton Sands stretches for three miles on the north coast of Devon, backed by the Baunton Burrows, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The long, straight stretch of coastline is perfect for swimmers and watersports lovers as well as those after more of a relaxed ramble. The neat, picture-perfect shore is incredibly aesthetically pleasing, which is probably why Robbie Williams featured Saunton in his "Angels" music video.

STAY: The Barn

Studland Bay

Dorset

This National Trust beach is the gem of the south coast, overlooking nearby Bournemouth and neighbouring the Hartland Moor nature reserve. The bay boasts chalky white sand and panoramic views of the nearby heathland, as well as the largest colony of breeding seahorses in Britain. As well as marine life, the reserve is home to all six species of British reptile but you'll find more than just lizards basking in the sun - Studland Bay is famous for being one of the most popular naturist beaches in the UK. On your return journey, a brief detour to nearby Durdle Door is advised.

STAY: The Pig on the Beach

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