Perhaps a day out to the beach isn’t the first thing you think of when planning a trip to England. With its reputation for the rain and the cold, people forget that in the summer temperatures can often reach 25-30 degrees Celsius. Being an island, the country is surrounded by a beautiful coastline. You won’t find palm trees or tiki huts, but whether you prefer a popular and traditional seaside town or an empty natural getaway, there are tonnes of options to visit. There are many more incredible beaches on the surrounding smaller islands, and in Scotland, Wales and Ireland, but this list only covers the amazing offering on the English mainland.
The blue flag awards granted to only the finest beaches promise high water quality, lifeguards, during summer (and no dogs in the peak months) and an overall quality experience. At many of these locations, you can sample some of the classics of a British seaside holiday – fish and chips near the waves, ice cream and seaside rock (an ever-popular hard-boiled sweet), a visit to the arcades (at the busier destinations), or a search for crabs in one of the many tidal rock pools. While most of the beaches on the list are free to enter, you will usually have to pay for parking if you arrive via car. Here are 15 of the best beaches in the country, in no particular order.
1. Blackpool Sands, Devon
Set in a sheltered bay, overhung by evergreen trees, this blue flag awarded beach is one of the most pristine and beautiful to be found anywhere. Unusually for an English beach, there is a small cost of entry, but this guarantees a clean and well-maintained slice of paradise.
Popular with families, consider grabbing a snack with a side of incredible views at the wood-built beach bar, or hire a kayak and venture out into the sparkling water.
2. West Wittering, Sussex
Another Blue Flag beach, West Wittering is set in an officially recognized area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Its long stretches of sand, backed by rolling dunes, make it an excellent site to spot rare seabirds. With a beachside cafe and iconic brightly colored beach huts, it is an ideal place to bring the family.
The beach has excellent views of nearby Chichester harbor and the South Downs beyond, as well as a popular windsurfing club. Braver visitors will find it is possibly even more beautiful (and far more peaceful) in the winter months, the subtle pastel colors in the sky blend with the dune grasses to become a photographer’s delight.
3. Whitby Sands, Yorkshire
One of the larger traditional coastal resorts that has been popular with the English people for years – there are few better places to come for award-winning fish and chips, tasty sweets and the arcades mentioned in the introduction to this article. The large town also boasts a beautiful harbor and many charming seafront hotels.
Following the fairly busy and harbor-walled beach for a few miles will bring you to the much quieter and more naturally beautiful Sandsend – a refuge for the lovers of peace, quiet and gorgeous views.
4. Watergate Bay, Newquay, Cornwall
These 2 miles of golden sand are a popular spot with surfers thanks to the massive waves that crash in daily from the Atlantic. You’ll see the wetsuit clad surfers braving the sometimes icy water no matter the season.
As well as the more extreme sports, there are rock pools and lifeguard-patrolled (in summer) safe swimming areas. Celebrity Chef Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen Cornwall Restaurant is to be found here, as well as some cheaper but still delicious options.
5. Robin hood’s Bay, North York Moors
This family and dog-friendly sandy beach is set just below the lovely traditional fishing village of Robin Hood’s Bay. Cobbled streets and narrow alleys lined with excellent cafes and shops lead down to this pretty stretch of coastline.
A range of countryside walks leave from or pass through this area, and the beach is dotted with rock pools as well as, for the keen-eyed, an assortment of ancient fossils. The nearby North York Moors is a fantastic area for nature lovers to explore and the famous seaside towns of Scarborough and Whitby are a fairly short drive away.
6. Botany Bay, Kent
This beautiful bay is hemmed in by lofty chalk cliffs and stacks that give an epic proportion to the environment. Dotted with rock pools and fossil hunting opportunities, it is best explored at low tide when the far ends of the beach become accessible. See if you can find the smugglers caves hidden among the soft sands.
There are toilets nearby as well as a beach cafe and atop the cliffs is a hotel/restaurant. The car park is small but free to use. For a beach of such beauty, it is surprisingly quiet and unknown. Non-local visitors do have a bit of a reputation for leaving litter though – respect the residents and the environment by leaving the beach as you find it.
7. Holkham Beach, Norfolk
This scenic and environmentally significant beach has a bit of a reputation for the nudists that are known to frequent it for that sense of freedom and a full body tan. Don’t worry, you don’t have to join in, only one area of the large beach is reserved for naturists. The unspoilt sandy stretch was at one point voted the best beach in England by a group of travel writers.
The beach sits in front of a large and beautiful nature reserve, full of sand dunes and rare and protected flora and fauna. Modest facilities are available at the recently built, architecturally impressive visitor center, but its main aim is to educate visitors about the wonderful and precious creatures that call this large and important reserve home.
8. Formby Beach, Merseyside
This national trust beach near Liverpool is an excellent nearby alternative to the well known and once-beloved Blackpool (which is now in decline and generally avoided by locals – not to be confused with Devon’s charming Blackpool Sands).
One of the best things to do is to take a walk on one of the many excellent coastal routes. Keep your eyes peeled for the wildlife – notably rare seabirds, the endangered Natterjack toad and the iconic native red squirrel – that call this beach and the coastal pine forests behind it home.
9. Camber Sands, Sussex
Probably the most notable of Sussex’s beaches due to its soft sand – the area mostly has much coarser pebbles or shingle on its beaches. It is also home to the only dunes in East Sussex.
The lovely wooden boardwalks that lead to the beach from the nearby village of Rye reveal a coastline that still retains some of its wilderness – there are facilities here, but if you find yourself on the farther reaches of the beach you may have to walk a bit to find them. The area is also popular with windsurfers, so be prepared for a bit of a breeze.
10. Walberswick, Suffolk
Sandwiched between a marsh and heath nature reserve to one side, and the lovely seaside town of Southwold across the River Blythe to the other sits Walberswick beach. Backed by lovely dunes, the village of Walberswick and its facilities is a short walk away.
This sand and shingle beach is dog-friendly and has acquired a bit of a reputation as the home of The British Open Crabbing Championship. In the waterways that run down the beach, people compete to find the largest crab in the 90 minute time frame.
11. Filey Beach, Yorkshire
Filey Beach is a bit like a less commercialized version of the nearby and popular Scarborough and Whitby beaches. It still has plenty of facilities, and a fairly sizeable town boasting plenty of things to do, but you’ll find the beach less swamped with tourists and the natural side a little better preserved.
The enormous five-mile stretch of sand boasts a quarter-mile width at low tide, with plenty of rock pools for kids to explore. Stretching from Filey Brigg, past the lovely promenade all the way down to an RSPB nature reserve at Bempton, you’re sure to find a quiet spot. Dogs are allowed year-round on certain stretches of the beach. There is a strong fishing heritage that still survives to this day, and the views from the cliffs above the sand are fabulous.
12. Studland Bay, Dorset
Studland Bay is a nature lovers paradise. A stretch of beautiful and environmentally significant coastline that lounges for 4 long miles down the Purbeck coast. The waters gradually deepen through a series of gentle shelves and are perfect for bathing, with excellent views of the Isle of White and the towering chalk formations called Old Harry Rocks.
The area behind the beach is a wildlife haven of heath and woodland, with designated trails running through to help you spot deer, birds, wildflowers and perhaps something unique scuttling in the sand – all six of Britain’s reptile species can be found here.
13. Porthcurno Beach, Cornwall
This beach feels like paradise on Earth and has won many awards which testify to the fact. Soft white sand and turquoise blue water is surrounded by high cliffs providing ample shelter to the pretty cove.
The large beach has a picturesque stream running down one side, perfect for younger kids to paddle in. High up on the cliffs above sits the renowned Minack Theatre, probably the best outdoor theatre in the country.
14. Summerleaze, Cornwall
Summerleaze beach is a 5-minute walk from the popular holiday destination of Bude. The charming River Neet runs down one side of the beach, often bobbing with small fishing boats.
There are beach huts that can be booked by the day and ample facilities such as bars and cafes in close proximity. The beach is popular with families as well as surfers. Not to mention the partially natural sea pool – cleaned twice a day by the changing tide, and very popular with swimmers.
15. Bamburgh, Northumberland
The iconic and massive Bamburgh castle, a Norman fortress, towers over the sandy beach and makes it an unforgettable experience, as well as being another attraction to add to your trip. The inner Farne islands are also visible across the waves, home of monks and monasteries from the 7th to the 16th centuries.
The walking opportunities here are fantastic, try heading to Stags rocks and the little lighthouse that sits at the northern end. The sandy dunes behind the beach are an official SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) and a great area for nature lovers to explore.