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The Best Beaches in England

By Alex Boag-Wyllie, Marketing Assistant
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Oh I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside

From the soft white sand of the Isles of Scilly to surreal shingle shores in Kent, England’s coastline is as varied as it is beautiful. It is no surprise that a day at the seaside is a classic British pastime. The smell of suncream brings to mind hazy summer days spent playing in the sand, a cone of ice cream gently melting in our hands, and the cool nip of the ocean over our toes. No matter your age, you can find a child-like joy by the sea. Beaches aren’t just great for a fun leisure day; spending time by the water can also be great for your mental health.

There are three main types of beaches to discover on the English coastline:

  • Sand: soft sand that ripples gently beneath your toes is the quintessential type of beach. Comprised of rock broken down into fine sand over thousands of years, the gentle slope of a sandy beach is a joy to experience.
  • Shingle: Often steeper than sandy beaches, shingle beaches are made up of small pebbles. Generally, these will be larger at the top of the beach, decreasing to course sand by the sea.
  • Rock: Rocky or pebble beaches offer a treasure trove of marine ecology due to their chunky landscape. While sand is formed from rocks that have been eroded over large distances, rocky beaches are the result of cliff erosion.

Whatever your reason for a trip to the beach, and whenever or wherever you go, read on to discover the best beaches in England.

I’m Taking My Bucket and Spade to:

Bamburgh Beach, Northumberland


Rugged and windswept, Northumberland might not conjure thoughts of some of the best beaches in England. Yet you would miss out if you overlooked Bamburgh Beach. Nestled in the heart of the Northumberland Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and only 25 miles south of the border to Scotland, this beach offers 2.5 km/1.5 miles of soft sandy beach. With a gentle slope, this pretty beach becomes an impressive expanse of light, clean sand at low tide. If the beach alone wasn’t enough, the views add an extra dimension – the mighty Bamburgh Castle looks over Bamburgh Beach. Over 1,400 years old, the impressive castle stands watch on a hill above the sand.

Don’t admire Bamburgh Castle from afar. After a morning enjoying the feel of the sand beneath your toes, head up to the castle for a step back through history. As you pass through Bamburgh village, enjoy this charming community, winner of Which? Travel’s Best Seaside Town in Britain 2021 and 2022. The village is home to the RNLI Grace Darling Museum. A Victorian heroine, Grace Darling gained national recognition in September 1838. After a storm wrecked the steamship Forfarshire, Grace and her father saved nine people stranded on a rock out to sea. Today, the museum commemorates the life and legacy of this brave young girl.

Don’t just take our word for how lovely Bamburgh Beach is. The beach has been awarded a place in the top 10 of ‘The 25 Best Beaches in Europe’ in TripAdvisor’s Travellers’ Choice Awards 2022. It was also ranked sixth in Kuoni Travel’s ‘Most Eye-Catching Beaches In The World’ in 2021.

Bantham Beach & Bigbury Beach, Devon

Sat in southwest England, Devon is renowned for its outstanding natural landscape. We’re heading to the heart of the South Devon AONB to the mouth of the river Avon. The villages of Bantham and Bigbury-on-Sea flank the Avon, where it meets the English Channel after flowing from its source in the south of the vast moorland of the Dartmoor National Park. Although technically two beaches, you can only talk about one with the other.


Back in 2015, Lonely Planet ranked Bantham Beach among the top 10 beaches in Europe. It is still apparent how these vast sands earned the title. Backed by grassy dunes, the soft, pale sand slope gently into the clear water below. At low tide, the receding sea reveals captivating rockpools, while the waves offer some of the best surfing in south Devon.

 

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A seasonal ferry crosses the mouth of the Avon to the west bank, where the picturesque expanse of beach at Bigbury-on-Sea beckons. A good stretch of golden sand at high tide, Bigbury Beach shines at low tide. Low tide reveals new worlds in rockpools and a stretch of sand, allowing you to cross to Burgh Island.

Both beaches are among the best in England, offering a lovely day by the sea on the south coast. However, we recommend Bantham if you prefer a quieter beach. Bigbury and Bantham have RNLI lifeguards working on the beach during the summer.

Brancaster Beach, Norfolk

Tucked in northwest East Anglia is Brancaster Beach. A wide beach with a smattering of shingle, Brancaster is a quieter alternative to the famed Holkham beach, 13 km/8 miles to the east. Both beaches sit within the Norfolk Coast AONB. Brancaster Beach is a pristine stretch of golden sand. It can get reasonably busy at high tide but offers a large expanse of sand at low tide.

The receding North Sea also reveals the wreck of the SS Vina. Vina was built in the late 1800s to carry cargo between England and the Baltic States. The Navy requisitioned Vina during WWII to defend against a possible attack on the Norfolk coast. A storm blew her onto the sand bar in 1944, and she has remained here. Although it might be tempting to explore the wreck, the tide comes in very quickly here. The National Trust manage the beach and warn against exploring the wreck.

Instead, head 8 km/5 miles inland to the pleasant Georgian village of Burnham Market. Burnham Market is a charming dwelling, rated among ‘The 20 Most Beautiful Villages in the UK and Ireland’ by Condé Nast Traveller in 2022. The village has links to the famed Royal Navy officer, Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson. He was born in the neighbouring village of Burnham Thorpe. If you are passing through Burnham Market, leave time to stop in Socius, a Michelin-star restaurant and the AA Restaurant of the Year 2022/23.

Camber Sands, Sussex & Dungeness Beach, Kent

Much like Banthan and Bigbury-on-Sea in Devon go hand in hand, so too do Camber Sands and Dungeness Beaches on the other end of England’s south coast. These two beaches sit on a small crescent of coastline between the High Wealds AONB and Kent Down AONB. As different as chalk and cheese, these two beaches near London offer a great day out exploring.

 

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Camber Sands is just over 24 km/15 miles from the historic seaside town of Hastings. Unusual for a beach on the pebbled Sussex coast, Camber Sands embodies its name, and the beach offers miles of golden sand at low tide. Speckled with a soft spray of shingle, this is a popular destination for watersports and power kites. However, the beach rarely feels overcrowded due to its long sandy expanse. Backed by short but steep dunes, it is a short walk inland to Camber Castle. Built by King Henry VIII in the early 1500s, the inside of the castle is only open to the public occasionally. Of course, the outside is accessible all year round, offering castle lovers a chance to admire this imposing stone fortification.


13 km/8 miles east of Camber Sands and over the border into Kent lies the very different landscape of Dungeness Beach. A vast stretch of shingle beach, the Dungeness landscape is desolate and surreal. The unusual feel of this beach is due in part to the pair of Dungeness nuclear power stations. Alongside two tall lighthouses, these structures loom over the wash of the pebbles underfoot. Four miles along the coast, the Denge Sound Mirrors further add to the dystopian landscape. A part of Britain’s national defence strategy in the first half of the 20th century, these concrete structures are up to 60 m/200 ft in size. The bleak landscape is a haven for rare birds, and the Dungeness National Nature Reserve offers a glimpse into this unusual wildlife.

Whether you visit one beach or both Camber Sands and Dungeness, you can look forward to time spent on some of the best beaches in south England.

Filey, Yorkshire

On the northeast coast of England, on the same stretch of coastline as Whitby, Robin Hood’s Bay and Scarborough, lies the seaside town of Filey. In summer 2022, Which? Travel reported Filey was one of the UK’s least crowded beach towns, alongside Bamburgh (above).

The shoreline beneath the town is Filey Beach, an 8 km/5 miles stretch of soft, pale sand. 400m or a quarter of a mile wide at low tide, this lovely beach disappears as the waves come in. Visitors at low tide can enjoy the mysterious world of rockpools and sightings of seals and oystercatchers. The beach is always large enough to find your own space.

If you visit Filey at high tide, look out for fishermen on the water as you explore Filey Brigg. A narrow peninsula at the end of the beach, Filey Brigg is the site of an old Roman signal station. A walk out here offers stunning views both out to sea and back at the glittering beach below.

Make a day of your visit to Filey by heading 6.5 km/4 miles south to Flamborough Headland Nature Reserve. Home to the most northern outcrop of chalk in Europe, this is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Protection Area due to the seabird colonies here. Out at sea, the offshore environment is a Sensitive Marine Area and a Special Area of Conservation where you might spot porpoises, dolphins and even minke whales.

Pentle Bay, The Isles of Scilly

44 km/28 miles west of the western tip of Cornwall lie the Isles of Scilly. Often considered the best all-around AONB in the UK, the Scilly Isles comprise five inhabited islands and dozens of small uninhabited islands.

Owned by the Duchy of Cornwall for almost 700 years, Tresco Island is unusual as it is privately managed. The second largest of the islands, Tresco Island is just 4 km/2.5 miles long and 1.5 km/ 1 mile wide and only takes about 3 hours to walk around the entire island. This pint-sized island manages to pack in plenty, and visitors to this car-free oasis can look forward to the stunning abbey gardens and medieval monastery engulfed by plants.

Tresco is also where you will find Pentle Bay. While many of the beaches on the Scilly Isles are nice, Pentle Bay is spectacular. This remote beach offers white sand and turquoise waters, perfect for swimming and snorkelling. Even in the height of summer, the tranquillity of Tresco makes it easy to forget you’re in England. In fact, The Wall Street Journal named Pentle Bay as one of its ‘Under-the-Radar Beaches’ of the world.

Porthcurno, Cornwall

Last but certainly not least on our list of the best beaches in England is Porthcurno. On the Penwith Heritage Coast, south of Penzance, the beach at Porthcurno offers soft white sands and shimmering turquoise waters. Nestled in a cove, large cliffs on either side of the beach offer shelter from the full force of the sea. The waves here can still be powerful, but an RNLI lifeguard is on duty during the season, and the beach offers excellent swimming and surfing.

This is a small beach, but it is undoubtedly beautiful. There is a good reason the BBC drama, Poldark, used Porthcurno as the filming location for Nampara Cove. For a quieter alternative, head along the coast path to Pedn Vounder at low tide.

The beach at Porthcurno is lovely, but don’t miss the small village of the same name. This charming village is home to PK Porthcurno, a museum celebrating the communication history of the area. In 1870, Porthcurnon was the site of the British termination of early telegraph wires between the UK and India. This innovation reduced the communication time from weeks to less than 10 minutes. 150 years later, Porthcurno is where six fibre optic cables come ashore.

Another landmark to enjoy in Porthcurno is the Minack Theatre. Built into the natural clifftop on the coast, this impressive theatre is the brainchild of Rowena Cade.

Visit the Coasts of England

Meet the Author: Alex Boag-Wyllie

Born in the Scottish Highlands, I was lucky enough to spend my early childhood playing on beautiful, sweeping beaches and learning to ski (or, more often, fall over). My father’s job kept us on the move though, and I was soon just as at home amidst the rolling Wiltshire downs, the dramatic Yorkshire Dales and the expansive East Anglian coast. I’ve had almost 40 bedrooms to date across the UK, so I’m your gal if you need a good cafe recommendation (almost) anywhere in the country; if I haven’t been there yet, you can be sure it’s on my trip list…

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