With the bank holiday approaching and sunny temperatures predicted – it’s time to face the music: Britain’s beaches are going to be mobbed.
After all, there are few nicer ways to spend a summer’s day than sprawled on the sand (or pebbles) at one of the UK’s most-loved seaside villages, an ice cream in one hand, a bottle of sun cream (or beer) in the other, as you work up the courage to amble into the gently lapping waves for a refreshing dip.
Unfortunately, you may well be sharing your favourite spot of shoreline with the world and his wife. Your imagined peaceful experience might actually include a blanket of towels and bodies as far as the eye can see in every direction, endless queues for the loo, an inevitably errant frisbee, and a swarm of bodies to plough through each time you decide to brave the waves. Not ideal, all things considered. But you’re in luck – the UK boasts one of Europe’s longest coastlines, which means that just around the corner from every heaving stretch of sand, there’s guaranteed to be an all-but undiscovered quiet cove just begging to be sunbathed, swam and sandcastled in.
So before you resign yourself to spending the bank holiday weekend at home, pack up the cool bag, grab the bucket and spade and make a break for one of these appealing alternatives just a pebble’s throw from the crowded big hitters.
You won’t have to fight for towel space or risk tripping over anyone as you dive for the blow-up ball, and – if you’re really lucky – you might even end up with a whole beach all to yourself.
Instead of Achmelvich, go to Clashnessie Bay
Hidden away on the Drumbeg road along Scotland’s popular North Coast 500 route, photos of Achmelvich’s turquoise waters and dazzling white sands have assured its spot as one of Britain’s most lusted-after beaches. However, just nine miles further north, you’ll find Clashnessie Bay, a much quieter beach, whose ever-changing water colour is every bit as inviting. The big sandy shore in its private rocky inlet is clean and peaceful and has a mini microclimate, thanks to the Gulf Stream.
Where to stay: B&B Philosophy, a simple B&B in a converted barn, is just three miles away and ideal for adults looking to fully switch off as there are no TVs, and no kids are allowed. Doubles from £130 (01571 855261; bnbphilosophy.com)
Instead of Balnakeil, go to Farr Beach
Probably the most famous of all of Scotland’s beaches, Balnakeil near Durness is undoubtedly beautiful, but it’s also a bit of a tourist hotspot. If you’re up for a bit of a journey, then Farr Beach, further east along Scotland’s northern coast, is still very much under the radar. Park near the Farr Bay Inn and then it’s a gentle walk through a couple of kissing gates before you descend through sand dunes to this huge sandy beach, where – bar the odd dog-walker – there’s rarely another soul.
Where to stay: The Farr Bay Inn is a boutique hotel with simple rooms and a good restaurant, just a few minutes’ walk from the beach. Doubles from £152 (01641 521 230; farrbayinn.co.uk)
Instead of Nairn, go to Dornoch Beach
Known as one of the sunniest and driest places in Scotland, Nairn, east of Inverness, has long been a popular seaside resort for visitors to the Highlands’ gateway city. However, if you’re struggling to get booked, head north from Inverness to Dornoch, another seaside resort, albeit more discreet. Lying along the Dornoch Firth, this expanse of golden beach, is a delight to wander along – it stretches all the way to Embo beach, which is also lovely – and it’s safe for swimming.
Where to stay: Links House is a five-star hotel just a 10-minute walk from the beach, offering classic, grand rooms and suites, exemplary old-school service, and a brand-new fine-dining restaurant. Double from £275 (01862 810 279; linkshousedornoch.com)
Instead of St Andrews West, go to Kingsbarns Beach
The beach that played a starring role in Chariots of Fire is a hub for locals and visitors to Fife’s attractive main town, not least because of its closeness to the celebrated Old Course. Go a few miles down the road though and Kingsbarns Beach, also by a golf course, is a lot less crowded and has two miles of golden sands backed by rolling sand dunes.
Where to stay: The Inn at Kingsbarns, double from £125, two-night minimum stay (01334 880 778; theinnatkingsbarns.co.uk)
Instead of Skegness, go to Anderby Creek
As one of England’s first ever seaside resorts, Skegness on the Lincolnshire coast is good for a bit of nostalgia, but if you want some respite from the arcades and loud family attractions, try the calmer, more natural setting of Anderby Creek. With huge expanses of sand, it’s great for dogs, and you can take a long walk up the coast or enjoy some time out at the Cloud Bar, thought to be the world’s first dedicated cloud observation platform.
Where to stay: Manor Farm Stay offers a mix of B&B rooms in an 18th-century farmhouse, plus glamping in bell tents and some soon-to-be-launched pods. B&B from £80 per night, bell tents from £70 per night, glamping pods from £100 per night (based on two adults sharing, extra charges for kids) (01507 440 947; manorfarmstay.co.uk)
Instead of Scarborough, go to Cayton Bay
If you want respite from the rides and loud attractions, head further south to Cayton Bay. This lovely sandy beach has clean water for swimming and a sense of calm that feels about as far removed from Scarborough as possible.
Where to stay: Camping and caravanning is popular here, but for more luxury, book a room at The Farrier, a decadent restaurant with rooms. Doubles from £190 (01723 861 432; the-farrier.co.uk)
Instead of Bamburgh Beach, go to Ross Back Sands
There’s something wildly romantic about walking along a beach with a castle backdrop, but Bamburgh’s popular main beach is not the only one to provide such epic views. Ross Back Sands, just a little north, offers views of both Bamburgh Castle and Lindisfarne. It also has miles of sandy beach with dunes providing privacy for the occasional naturist, and is a good place to spot seals hauled out on the rocks.
Where to stay: Post Office House in nearby Belford is a delightful B&B with just three rooms in a Grade II-listed Victorian home. Doubles from £97 per night (minimum three-night stay) (01668 219 622; postofficehouse.com)
Instead of Llandudno, go to Porthor
Though West Shore beach is a lot quieter than Llandudno’s more developed North Shore, for a beach truly to yourself, head further west to the Llyn Peninsula, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. On Porthor beach, it’s peaceful enough to hear the whistling sands (the particles make a strange squeaking sound as you walk on them), and the small, secluded cove feels lovely and private.
Where to stay: Glampio Coed, just a short drive away, has luxury pods with woodburners, double beds covered in thick welsh blankets and hampers filled with local produce on arrival. From £90 per pod per night (01758 719 180; glampiocoed.com)
Instead of Rhossili, go to Fall Bay
Rhossili beach in Gower is phenomenal in scale and views, but thanks to its multiple awards is no longer a secret. Fall Bay, on the other hand, remains off the tourist trail, thanks to the fact that it is quite tricky to reach, including some light scrambling to the bottom. If you are up to the challenge though, you’ll be rewarded with your own private sandy cove for the day.
Where to stay: Pitton Cross Caravan Park is the closest place to stay and offers pitches for caravans or tents. Tent pitch from £15, campervan/caravan pitch from £28 (01792 390 593; pittoncross.co.uk)
Instead of Tenby, go to Amroth Beach
Tenby and Saundersfoot in South Pembrokeshire are always popular with holidaymakers, but just a little further round the curve of Carmarthen Bay lies Amroth, a much quieter section of Blue Flag beach. It’s completely flat – ideal for games at low tide – and there are excellent facilities for such a small beach, including lavatories, a couple of pubs and free parking.
Where to stay: Amroth Castle has a range of self-catering apartments and cottages, plus an outdoor pool in its grounds. Cottages for four start at £699 per week (01834 813 217; amrothcastle.com)
Instead of Blackpool, go to Silverdale Cove
Blackpool Pleasure Beach is the most visited beach in the whole of the UK, but away from the seafront theme parks, Lancashire has plenty of tranquil coastal treasures to discover. Known for its amazing sunsets, Silverdale is more suited to exploring than sunbathing or taking a dip (it has sinking sands and rip tides), but there are great rock pools and a cave, plus the attractive village shares an arts-and-crafts trail with nearby Arnside.
Where to stay: The New Inn Yealand is a boutique hotel with roll-top baths, a bar and restaurant within a 10-minute drive. Doubles from £90 per night (01524 805 037; thenewinnyealand.co.uk)
Instead of Brighton, go to Rottingdean Beach
Brighton is often the poster child for British days at the beach, and its popularity endures, even with its pebbly shoreline. For a paddle in the sea without hordes of others to contend with, it’s worth taking the short drive east of the city to the picturesque village of Rottingdean. Its narrow village roads house a smattering of medieval buildings, several pubs and lots of independent shops, and though its beach is mainly pebbly, there is some sand at low tide.
Where to stay: Perched on the white cliffs above the seafront, the White Horse Hotel offers clean, pet-friendly rooms with sea views in a 1930s building. Doubles from £140 (01273 300 301; greenekinginns.co.uk)
Instead of Southend go to Shoeburyness
Just three miles from the mayhem that is Southend in summer, Shoeburyness actually has two Blue Flag beaches which are far less well known. Its East beach is the nicest and popular with local paddleboarders and kite surfers, thanks to its long strand of sand. On weekends there is a snack wagon for grabbing a cup of tea, but not much else, so bring a picnic.
Where to stay: There’s not much on offer in Shoeburyness itself, but Roslin Beach Hotel is a vintage-style spot with gorgeous sea-view rooms less than a 10-minute drive away. Doubles from £104 (01702 586 375; roslinhotel.com)
Instead of Cromer, go to Bacton
North Norfolk has become increasingly popular in recent years and, while Cromer is beautiful, it also gets crazily busy. Just 20 minutes away is Bacton, a lovely sandy beach that even on sunny bank holidays remains quiet. This beach is the result of the huge Sandscaping scheme to protect the eroding coastline. Bacton gas station is nearby, which is presumably what keeps people away, but if you can ignore that, it’s a lovely beach on an undeveloped stretch of coastline.
Where to stay: The Leas Beach Park is a small family-run site with just nine caravans overlooking the beach. Caravans from £405 per week (01692 652 115; theleasbeachpark.co.uk)
Instead of Bournemouth go to Worbarrow Bay
If you’ve been put off busy Bournemouth, head further west to Worbarrow Bay. Accessed via the abandoned village of Tyneham, you’ll need to walk the last mile to the chalk-backed crescent beach, a detail that ensures the crowds stay away.
Where to stay: The Old Mill B&B is a converted 18th-century mill just a 20-minute drive from the bay. Rooms from £85 per night (minimum two-night stay) (01929 472 641; theoldmillbereregis.co.uk)
Instead of Burnham-on-Sea, go to St Audries Bay
Somerset’s short coastline has some little-known alternatives to resorts like Burnham-on-Sea. St Audries Bay, at the foot of the Quantock Hills, is a wide bay of sand, shingle, pebbles, and rocks. The sea is not the clearest but there are two waterfalls at the edge of the beach, which give it a natural beauty.
Where to stay: Nearby Home Farm Holiday Centre has a couple of holiday cottages and some more basic lodges for rental. Cottages from £475 per week, lodges from £350 per week (01984 632 487; homefarmholidaycentre.co.uk)
Instead of Weymouth, go to Ringstead Bay
This small shingle beach, with lots of sand at low tide, is a little tricky to access. Once used by sneaky smugglers, today its dramatic cliffs are topped with farmland, and it has views over to Weymouth and the Isle of Portland. There’s a free National Trust car park at the top but it’s a long walk down. A good place to hunt for fossils, and with fewer visitors, you’re likely to find something interesting.
Where to stay: Marren B&B has just three rooms, all with sea views, and is set in a beautiful house with a glorious garden. Doubles from £115 (01305 851 503; marren.info)
Instead of Paignton, go to Fairy Cove
For some reason this beach never seems to get very busy. Situated at the southern end of Paignton Sands (just over the harbour wall), its sands are tinged red thanks to its sandstone cliffs, and at low tide its rock pools reveal all sorts of small marine creatures.
Where to stay: Amber House Hotel is a charming four-star guest house just 10 minute’s walk from Fairy Cove. Rooms from £86 per night, based on two sharing (minimum two-night stay) (01803 558 372; amberhousehotel.co.uk)
Instead of Porthcurno, go to Pedn Vounder
In Cornwall’s far west, Porthcurno is a picture-postcard beach with its own amphitheatre, the Minack, but you’ll struggle for space on a sunny day. Pedn Vounder, near the village of Treen, may have turned a few heads recently thanks to its sparkling celeste waters and white sandy beach backed by rugged rocks, but it remains considerably quieter. There’s a reason for this: you must climb down those rocks to reach it, so wear appropriate footwear.
Where to stay: Downs Barn Farm has a pair of luxury B&B rooms for couples that still have some summer availability. Doubles from £110 per night (minimum three-night stay) (01736 810 295; downsbarnfarm.co.uk)
Instead of Exmouth, go to Ness Cove
Though Exmouth beach and nearby Sandy Bay are nice, they can get swamped on a sunny day. If you cross over the River Exe and head west past Teignmouth, you’ll find Ness Cove. Largely hidden beneath huge sea cliffs and accessed via an old smugglers cove, its clandestine nature ensures it remains a local secret.
Where to stay: It may not be trendy, but Lyme Bay House is a clean and comfortable B&B overlooking Dawlish beach, which still has summer availability on this popular coastline. Doubles £110 per night (01626 864 211; lymebaydawlish.co.uk)
Instead of Newquay, go to Pentire Steps
Newquay and the nearby beaches of Porth and Fistral are a hub for surfers and sunbathers each summer – but just seven miles up the coast there’s a beach that’s virtually unknown and just as lovely. Just north of Bedruthan Steps, Pentire Steps has a golden sliver of sand lapped by azure waters that is hidden from the world by high cliffs. These cliffs do make access tricky, particularly for children, so risk assess as you go – you may prefer to make do with the viewing platform. If you are prepared to brave it, follow the steep path that winds down the beach with care – you'll scramble over some rocks at the bottom to reach your goal. Once on the sand, there’s a good chance you’ll be on your own, or in the company of a few in-the-know locals, but don’t forget, you’ll have to climb back up again.
Where to stay: Try the glamping and camping pitches at nearby MacDonald’s Farm, which has a café and playground on site, plus lots of animals. Bell tent from £225 for three nights (01841 540 829; macdonaldsfarm.co.uk)
This article is kept updated with the latest information.