The UK's 10 best beach destinations for a summer staycation

Hazel Plush
·7-min read
Bamburgh beach with a view to the castle: Getty
Bamburgh beach with a view to the castle: Getty

While visiting far-flung shores might be tricky this year, the coastlines of our island nation are ripe for exploring.

Whether it’s for a bucket-and-spade break, a wild walk on the sand, or a day trip of picnics and paddling, the UK has a beach for every occasion.

Here are some of the best:

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Porthcurno beach, west Cornwall, England

Porthcurno is cream of the crop (istock/krzych-34)
Porthcurno is cream of the crop (istock/krzych-34)

While it’s got some seriously stiff local competition, Porthcurno is the cream of the Cornish beach crop – a winsome combo of soft sand, high cliffs (for natural wind protection) and clear shallows. The freshwater stream is ideal for paddling, too.

But it’s the Minack that makes this a must-visit: an open-air amphitheatre carved into the rock, it’s a spectacular setting for everything from storytelling to Shakespeare performances. Pre-booking only.

Where to stay:

Throughout Porthcurno and the surrounding area, First & Last Cottages offers self-catering accommodation for two to eight guests – such as the dog-friendly Cara apartment (two bedrooms), which has beach views from its private balcony. Three nights from £572.

Saunton Sands, north Devon, England

Sandwiched between rolling dunes and Atlantic breakers, this three-mile stretch of golden sand feels wonderfully wild – albeit with a few food outlets, public facilities, and everything from beach-friendly wheelchairs to deck chairs for hire (see Saunton Beach shop). As such, it’s a hit with families and couples alike – while those rolling waves attract keen surfers too.

Feel like joining them? Walking on Waves and Surf Saunton offer lessons for all abilities.

Where to stay:

On a small clifftop overlooking the shore, Saunton Sands Hotel combines easy beach access with some seriously luxe extras. There’s a spa and wellness centre with two swimming pools (indoor and out), a tennis court, and award-winning restaurant – while the kids’ club and entertainment programme are a hit with families. Double rooms from £160, excluding breakfast.

Barafundle Bay, Pembrokeshire, Wales

It’s a short hike to Barafundle Bay but well worth it (iStock/Matt_Gibson)
It’s a short hike to Barafundle Bay but well worth it (iStock/Matt_Gibson)

Fortune favours the adventurous at Barafundle Bay, which can only be reached via a half-mile hike over the cliffs – it’s hard work, but keeps those silky sands free from crowds. This is a place of simple pleasures: sandcastles and picnics on the gently-shelving shore, and bracing dips in the sheltered shallows. There’s a cafe and toilets in the National Trust car park at Stackpole Quay.

Where to stay:

The Stackpole Inn, an excellent local pub, has a handful of beautifully-appointed bedrooms – each accommodating up to four guests. It’s a five-minute walk from the beach car park, and offers an all-day menu of locally-sourced fare. Double rooms from £120, including breakfast.

Bamburgh beach, Northumberland, England

As if its mile-long sands and wildlife-rich dunes weren’t impressive enough, this beach is overlooked by Bamburgh Castle – an imposing fortress with over 10,000 years of history. Though it’s rarely crowded, the area is popular with horse-riders, dog-walkers, kite-surfers and more – though it’s just as pleasing to kick back on the sand, paddle in the water, and pootle through the rock pools at the nearby lighthouse.

Where to stay:

A three-mile yomp along the beach from the castle (or a 10-minute drive), the Bamburgh Castle Inn is a pet-friendly pub with beautiful coast views and cosy rooms. On clear days, you can spy the Farne Islands from the beer garden – and overnight guests get 10 per cent off admission to the castle. Doubles from £134, including breakfast.

Balnakeil Beach, Near Durness, Scotland

The waters are pristine around Balnakeil Beach (istock/rpeters86)
The waters are pristine around Balnakeil Beach (istock/rpeters86)

The North Coast 500, Scotland’s shore-hugging road trip, has no shortage of spectacular beaches – but Balnakeil is a fine spot indeed. Here, grass-covered dunes tumble down to wide, windswept sands: ideal for long walks, tousled picnics and sorbet sunset views (the beach is west-facing). Linger for a couple of days to explore nearby Suilven mountain and Smoo Caves too.

Where to stay:

Mackay’s Rooms is far fancier than its name suggests: expect deep-soak bathtubs, luxurious linens, and Elemis toiletries at this far-flung B&B. Located in Durness, it’s a five-minute drive from Balnakeil beach – and serves slap-up Scottish breakfasts, with takeaway lunches available on request. Deluxe double rooms from £169 per night, including breakfast.

Portstewart Strand, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland

Not just a haven for sun-seekers and walkers, this two-mile beach also harbours wildlife aplenty. The sand is spliced by the River Bann’s mouth, which attracts sanderlings and redshanks to the freshwater streams. Eagle-eyed visitors will spot thyme and fritillaries growing here too. Out at sea, those white-tipped waves are catnip for surfers; picnickers, meanwhile, will enjoy the sheltered beauty of the undulating dunes. Perfect for lazy, hazy summer days.

Where to stay:

Not your average beach-side bolthole, Me & Mrs Jones is a ritzy boutique hotel with decor seemingly plucked from the Palace of Versailles. The cocktail bar and bistro-style menu attract a fun-loving crowd, while Portstewart’s shops and restaurants are right on the doorstep. Classic double rooms from £140, including breakfast.

Rhossili Bay, Gower Peninsula, Wales

At Rhossili Bay, you might be able to spot the wreck of Helvetia at low tide (istock/nicolamargaret)
At Rhossili Bay, you might be able to spot the wreck of Helvetia at low tide (istock/nicolamargaret)

This glorious area is full of surprises. It’s home to Neolithic burial chambers and Iron Age forts, while seals and dolphins are often spotted in the sea. But Rhossili Bay is the real show-stealer, with its endless sands and mirror-like shallows. Even at high tide, there’s oodles of room for sandcastles and sunbathing – while low tide reveals the eerie Helvetia shipwreck, which was caught in a storm over 100 years ago.

Where to stay:

Looking out over the beach to Worms Head and the south Gower, 1 Coastguard Cottage is a former Station Officer’s house – and part of the National Trust’s holiday rental collection. With room for up to six guests, it’s ideal for breaks with family and friends. Weekly prices from £721.

St Andrews West Sands, Fife, Scotland

West Sands is a beach of two halves: the southern end is sandcastle heaven, overlooked by the historic Old Course and St Andrews golf links. The northern end, meanwhile, is altogether wilder: close to the Eden Estuary Nature Reserve, it attracts seals and birds in abundance – as well as kite surfers, who enjoy its more blustery conditions. You might recognise the beach from the opening scenes of Oscar-winning flick Chariots of Fire.

Where to stay:

Even if you’re not a golfer, The Old Course Hotel is a treat: as well as myriad restaurants to choose from – some with front-row views of the beach – there’s a sumptuous day spa, whisky-tasting room, and fancy afternoon teas. King rooms from £240 per night, including breakfast.

Holkham/Wells-next-the-Sea, Norfolk, England

On the shore of the Holkham nature reserve, Holkham beach is an untamed beauty – its wide, white sands surrounded by pine forest and tufty dunes. Even on summer days, the beach is unfettered by crowds: there’s ample space for sunbathing, crab-fishing and goofing around on the sand.

It’s part of the Holkham Estate, as is a second beach near Wells-next-the-Sea: here you’ll find 200 colourful beach huts, a wheelchair-friendly promenade, and a swimming area marked by yellow buoys. It’s the ideal balance of wild and welcoming – with a narrow-gauge train to the harbour town, too (£1.50).

Where to stay:

The Holkham Estate has a handful of luxe rental properties – the star of which is The Triumphal Arch, a one-bedroom nook at the top of a beautiful 18th-century gatehouse. It’s surprisingly spacious, with a roll-top bath, open fireplace and four-poster kingsize bed. From £545 for three nights, including a welcome hamper of locally-sourced produce.

Weymouth beach, Dorset, England

The sand is soft, the water is clean, and there’s always an ice cream parlour within a few paces: it’s easy to see why Weymouth is such a holiday hit. For generations, families have flocked to gawp at the sand sculptures, dawdle on the promenade, and scoff fish-and-chip suppers on the beach. It’s certainly no hidden gem, but the bay’s handy facilities and warm welcome make it a top choice for family-friendly getaways.

Where to stay:

Weymouth has a wealth of B&Bs, but No.98 stands head and shoulders above most of them: it’s smart and stylish, with decor worthy of an interior design magazine. The sea views are its main draw (it’s right across the road from the beach), but the thoughtful extras – such as goose-feather duvets and complimentary sherry – make it feel super special. Doubles with sea views from £110, including breakfast.