The Top 15 Most Beautiful Beaches in the UK

Traigh Iar is on the Isle of Harris in Scotland's remote Outer Hebrides
Traigh Iar is on the Isle of Harris in Scotland's remote Outer Hebrides | © Ian Cowe / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Hannah Bergin
25 August 2020

When people think of Britain, they often imagine grey skies, bitter winds and torrential rains – not all the stunning beaches the British Isles have to offer. In reality, however, Britain gets its fair share of sun drenched days too, which are perfect for enjoying the country’s coastal areas of outstanding natural beauty.

British beaches come in all shapes and sizes, with diverse terrains and microclimates. Here are 15 of the best.

Luskentyre, Isle of Harris

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Luskentyre Isle of Harris
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Luskentyre Beach looks like a South Pacific paradise (albeit with some fairly chilly temperatures), with its pearly-white sands and placid, cerulean-blue waters that meet crisp, cloudless skies. Luskentyre in fact lines the western coast of the Isle of Harris – just off the north-western tip of Scotland – and it’s blissfully secluded and peaceful, with panoramic views of the ocean that make it seem as if it clings to the edge of the world.

Three Cliffs Bay, Wales

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Three Cliffs Bay, Gower, Wales, United Kingdom, Europe
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Several pathways wind across the grasslands atop the limestone cliffs of the Gower Peninsula, passing through small swamps, unkempt meadows and castle ruins and finally ending at Three Cliffs Bay – a picturesque little cove that is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful sites in Wales. A river meanders through the bay in the jagged peaks out towards the ocean. This natural phenomenon forms a narrow marshland, which seeps into a beach patched with rushes, rock pools and shallow lagoons. A short, pleasant drive from Swansea and easily accessed from a designated car park, it isn’t one to miss.

Pentle Bay, Isle of Tresco

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While tourists flock to Cornwall’s picturesque beaches and charming towns, few venture as far as the Isles of Scilly, even though they lie just a little way off shore. The Isles have to be reached by ferry (or small plane) but the journey carries amazing rewards. The archipelago comprises five inhabited islands and hundreds more tiny islets. At Pentle Bay, on the Isle of Tresco, rugged grassland lines a narrow and immaculate white sand beach where the waters shimmer in a hundred different shades of blue.

Traigh Iar, North Uist Island

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There is an ethereal beauty to Traigh Iar beach, in a far-flung corner of the United Kingdom. Situated on the western side of North Uist Island, off the western coast of Scotland, Traigh Iar is a serene, crescent-shaped beach lined with the Hebrides’ distinctive and beautiful machair terrain. Cattle and wild horses graze around the occasional thatched-roofed cottage. The beach is wonderfully secluded, the waters still and the island air pure. A ferry runs from Skye regularly.

Llanddwyn Island, Wales

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© paul weston / Alamy Stock Photo
Llanddwyn is an enchanting little island that’s connected to the west coast of Anglesey, North Wales, by a narrow causeway surrounded by several small coves and sandy bays. A winding pathway leads along craggy precipices and grassy verges to the iconic white lighthouse that sits upon its rocky peak, overlooking the Irish Sea. Mystic and ethereally beautiful, Llanddwyn is thought to be where St Dwynwen, the Welsh patron saint of love, settled after having been outcast by her family and attacked by the man she loved. St Dwynwen’s legacy seems to blanket the island and imbues the beach with a touch of magic.

Moulin Huet, Guernsey

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Guernsey is a small island in the English Channel which belongs to Britain, but is geographically closer to the French coast of Normandy. Guernsey is accessible from England via the super-fast Condor ferry and boasts stunning beaches, including Vazon, Cobo and Grandes. Moulin Huet is an intimate and charming little cove that just might be the island’s most idyllic. A small inlet sheltered by dark cliffs and scattered with large rock formations, this pretty seaside spot was frequented by French impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir who spent the summer of 1883 sketching it.

Holkham Beach, England

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Holkham hall Stately home in North Norfolk, East Anglia, England, UK
© Andrew Michael / Alamy Stock Photo
Holkham Beach in Norfolk, England, is a panoramic beachfront lined with windswept rushes, tall grasses and back-dropped by magnificent sand dunes. It is part of the Holkham National Nature Reserve, which protects approximately 3,706 hectares (9,158 acres) of British land. It’s a 4.8km (3 mile) walk from the car park, which deters many people from visiting, meaning that the crowds are often pleasantly thin. The hazy beach becomes almost completely submerged at high tide, leaving shallow streams and small lagoons when the water recedes. Holkham provided the romantic locale for the 1998 movie Shakespeare in Love.

Rhossili, Wales

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The magnificent green hills that drop right onto the beachfront are what make Rhossili Beach in southern Wales unique. Officially designated as an area of outstanding natural beauty, Rhossili boasts three kilometres (1.9 miles) of golden sand, less than an hour from Swansea. It curves around the foot of the slopes which are emerald-green in the summer and turn a fiery-auburn autumn. The bay culminates at the iconic Worm’s Head landmark – a long, serpent-like island connected to the mainland by a rocky causeway.

Murlough, Northern Ireland

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Cottage at Murlough Bay North Antrim Northern Ireland
© Gerard O'Connor / Alamy Stock Photo
The gorgeous Murlough Beach is part of the Murlough Nature Reserve in Northern Ireland. It is a 5km (3 mile) stretch of smooth white sand at the foot of the shadowy peaks of the Mourne mountain range. The lack of car access beyond a certain point means that it is often peacefully quiet. The beach backs onto a majestic collection of 6,000-year-old dunes, many of which are blanketed in wild grasses and wonderful flowers, making it a site of great ecological significance and which several species of butterfly call home. Wild horses, fowl and waders can also be found wandering the sand hills, while the elusive and beautiful grey seal is frequently spotted in the water.

Marloes Sands, Wales

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The dramatic coastline of Marloes Sands in Pembrokeshire, Wales, is a fascinating geological site as well as a unique, strikingly beautiful beach. Distinctively dark, tilted cliffs line the narrow waterfront and there are some truly spectacular waves. It sits right on the tip of the Pembrokeshire coast (Pembroke itself being the nearest town) and is surrounded by a wide ranging nature reserve, ensuring that it is kept in pristine condition.

Pedn Vounder, England

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Porthcurno Beach, Pedn Vounder Beach, South Coast, Cornwall, England, United Kingdom, Europe. Image shot 2009. Exact date unknown.
© Bernd Tschakert / Alamy Stock Photo
Cornwall boasts some of the best coastline in the UK, kissed by the gulf stream and with the kind of white sands and crystalline turquoise water you’d expect to see in the Mediterranean. Pedn Vounder is a little tricky to access – either from the neighbouring Porthcurno beach, or directly via a scramble down some rocks – but the cove itself is worth the hassle. The clear water and knives of granite rising around it make for quite a sight, while the seclusion makes it a popular spot for naturalists.

St Ninian’s Isle, Scotland

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Why settle for having the sea on one side of you when you could have it on both? St Ninian’s Isle boasts a natural causeway of sand tethering the tiny island to Shetland, which is your access point to this unique little beach. It was once made famous by the discovery of St Ninian’s Treasure – a cluster of artefacts from around 800 AD – by a local schoolboy in 1958. Now it is simply one of the best, and most unique, beaches in Scotland.

Compton Bay, Isle of Wight

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Coastal Erosion Compton Bay Isle of Wight England UK. Image shot 05/2008. Exact date unknown.
© Peter Titmuss / Alamy Stock Photo
There’s a lot to love about the Isle of Wight, and with ferries running from Lymington, Portsmouth and Southampton, it’s easy to reach and well worth the effort. The island is belted by great beaches, with Compton Bay in particular standing out. It’s a long stretch of sand with rising white chalk cliffs and in the summer months there’s a tinge of pink as the orchids come into bloom, attracting rare species of butterfly. It is, like much else of the Isle of Wight, also a great place to fossil hunt, with new treasures constantly being uncovered in the rock by the ocean waves.

Whiterocks Bay, Northern Ireland

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Just a stone’s throw from the town of Coleraine, and less than an hour from Derry-Londonderry, Whiterocks Bay has become a renowned spot for beachgoers in Northern Ireland, having been awarded the coveted Blue Flag status. It sits in the shadow of Dunluce Castle, and various columns of limestone rise from the waves to create a dramatic, even imposing scene as visitors relax on the sand. If you’re lucky, you might even spot the birds of prey which use the area as a hunting ground.

Blackpool Sands, England

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View over the Blackpool Sands Beach near Dartmouth, Devon, England
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Despite the name Blackpool Sands has no relation to the famous Northern seaside town of Blackpool. It’s actually in Devon, just outside Stoke Fleming. Surrounded by a garrison of pine trees, it feels wild and remote, despite being relatively easy to access. The water is some of the clearest in the UK, and the stringent rules (no dogs allowed) keep it pristine for visitors who are eager to take a tip in the glassy waters.

Additional reporting by Callum Davies

These recommendations were updated on August 25, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.