The British capital might not be your first thought when dreaming of a beach break, but London is just a short journey from a range of stunning seaside spots. Grab your bucket and spade and your appetite for ice cream, and discover the best beaches within two hours of London.
London may be one of the world’s most fast-paced and vibrant metropolises, but the soothing sound of waves and feeling of sand between your toes is just a short drive or train ride away from the city. From the magnificent rolling sand dunes of Camber Sands to the colourful Victoria Esplanade on Mersea Island, London is an ideal base for exploring the delights of the British coastline – along with some lakeside oases.
While most beaches along the Sussex coast are shingly or pebbly, Camber Sands delivers on the promise of its name: silky, golden sand is the name of the game here. Stretching around eight kilometres (five miles), the beach is backed by rolling sand dunes – the only sand dunes in East Sussex. Such is the beach’s beauty that it has even served as a backdrop to blockbuster movies, including The Invisible Woman (2013), and The Theory of Everything (2014). Thanks to the sand and often perfect wind conditions, Camber Sands is primed for exhilarating activities including kitesurfing and kite landboarding. The best, sandiest section of the beach is at its western end, while further east the beach becomes more shingly underfoot. Camber Sands is approximately two hours by car from London, or can be accessed via a one-hour-40-minute train from London’s St Pancras Station (changing at Ashford) followed by a short bus ride.
For a classic British seaside day out, look no further than Brighton. This buzzing university town is fun personified with a varied food and nightlife scene, but peak beach high jinks start on the iconic Brighton Palace Pier. Opened in 1899, here you’ll find an amusement park, replete with traditional fairground rides, roller coasters and an arcade. Rent a deck chair and settle in to enjoy fish and chips with a view of the sea on the pebbly beach – but do be aware of the rather courageous seagulls. Brighton is approximately an hour away from London by train, leaving from London Bridge or Victoria stations. Alternatively, driving takes 1.5–2 hours.
When it comes to beaches, Whitstable is three for the price of one. Set on the north coast of Kent, this charming town is famed for seafood (and particularly for its annual Oyster Festival in July), but is definitely a big-hitter in terms of beaches, too: close to town, shingly West Beach is perfect for a seaside stroll, while Tankerton Beach is backed by grassy slopes that offer a great vantage point over the sea. Come low tide, Tankerton hosts a natural temporary promenade known as “The Street”, which runs at a right angle to the coast for around half a mile. Though it is very popular to take a stroll on The Street, stay aware of the changing tides. To visit the charming Kentish town of Whitstable (and explore its eclectic art scene), take the train from London’s St Pancras, Cannon Street or Victoria stations (1.5 hours) or drive for a journey time of around 1.5 hours.
Rich in history – look out for pillboxes from World War II and 300,000-year-old fossils in the East Mersea cliffs – Mersea Island is accessible via a causeway and is cut off from the mainland at high tide, meaning that journeying here feels like a proper adventure. Beyond the cafes and guesthouses of the town of West Mersea, fronted by the colourful beach huts of Victoria Esplanade, Cudmore Grove in the island’s east is an oasis of calm complete with grassland, meadows and a sandy beach. Visit in August to watch the sailing races at the annual West Mersea Town Regatta, or perhaps make a pitstop at the island’s very own vineyard. Mersea Island can be reached via train from London Liverpool Street to Colchester or Colchester Town (one hour), followed by a bus or taxi. Driving takes between 1.5 and 2 hours.
So beautiful is this beach that you won’t be able to stop wittering on about it. Aside from a name ripe for puns, West Sussex’s West Wittering is known for its expansive sandy beach, which is set within an Area Of Outstanding Natural Beauty and boasts fantastic views of Chichester Harbour. Nature lovers will want to explore the nearby protected nature reserve, hoping to spot oyster catchers, grebes and egrets, while anyone looking to take a dip in the (admittedly often chilly) British waters can do so safely in summer, when the beach is patrolled by lifeguards. This Blue Flag-awarded beach is approximately 1.5 hours from London by train (from London Victoria to Chichester) followed by a bus or taxi, or a 1.5–2 hour drive.
No coastline, no problem. Surrey’s answer to its seaside-rich neighbours comes in the form of Frensham Ponds: two ponds, first built to provide fish for the Bishop of Winchester’s estate during the Middle Ages, set within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Surrounded by a colourful landscape of purple heather and vibrant yellow gorse, Frensham Great Pond boasts a golden sandy beach most unexpected in the Surrey countryside, along with two marked swimming areas. Frensham Little Pond, on the other hand, is reserved for the local wildlife. While exploring around the ponds, look out for dragonflies, nightjars and woodlarks. Getting to Frensham Ponds on public transport is a cinch – simply take the train from London Waterloo to Farnham (approx. one hour) and take Stagecoach Buses Route 19 towards Haslemere Station, which stops opposite Frensham Pond. Alternatively, Frensham Ponds is around one hour from London by car.
Undoubtedly one of the southeastern England’s most photographed beaches, Botany Bay is remarkable for its imposing white cliffs and spectacular chalk stacks. Though parts of the bay are cut off at high tide, come low tide Botany Bay offers a picturesque sandy stretch and rock pools bursting with life just waiting to be discovered. This Kentish gem can be accessed by train from London’s St Pancras or Cannon Street to Margate, followed by a bus, taxi or cycle ride. Alternatively, the drive from London takes just under two hours. If you’re considering bringing along a furry friend, bear in mind that dogs are not allowed on the beach from May to September between 10am and 6pm.
A big hit with families, Kent’s Minnis Bay is prime bucket-and-spade territory. Should you look for something more exhilarating than sandcastles on this Blue Flag-awarded beach however, the bay is a popular spot for windsurfing and kiteboarding, and there is also a sailing club on the bay. Also appealing to visitors with children, there is an outdoor play area and lifeguards during the summer months. Dogs are not allowed on the beach from May to September at any time. Getting to Minnis Bay takes approximately 1.5 hours by train from London St Pancras, Cannon Street or Victoria – take the train to Birchington-on-Sea and walk 20 minutes to the bay. Driving from London takes around 1.5 hours, and there is plenty of free parking available.
Beaches near London are one thing, but how about a beach you can actually get to on the London Underground? Get off the Piccadilly Line at Ruislip or the Metropolitan Line at Northwood Hills, and you’re just a 20-minute walk from Ruislip Lido. This natural lake is set on the edge of a 700+ acre (280+ ha) nature reserve, packed with woodland trails. Make your way through the forest to reach the lake, and you will be greeted by a sandy beach. But that’s not all: a miniature train is ready to take you for a spin around the lake, while there is also a playground, outdoor gym and “splash pad” in the summer. As tempting as it might look, swimming is not technically allowed in the lido, so stick to the sands.