Best England Beach Destinations 2023
The best beaches in England can be found all over the country and, despite the varying and shifting weather, are still breathtaking even on drizzly cold days. Some of England’s beaches are off the beaten track or simply more difficult to reach, making them a more peaceful seaside retreat. So, before exploring the splendor that English beaches have to offer, visit some of the seaside towns and feast on fish and chips. Here are our picks for the top 20 beaches in England.
Flanking a triangular green in the lee of its castle, three miles north of Seahouses, the tiny village of Bamburgh is only a five-minute walk from two splendid sandy beaches, backed by rolling, tufted dunes.
From the sands Bamburgh Castle (April-Oct daily 11 am-5 pm) is a spectacular sight, its elongated battlements crowning a formidable basalt crag high above the beach.
This beautiful spot was first fortified by the Celts, but its heyday was as an Anglo-Saxon stronghold, one-time capital of Northumbria, and the protector of the preserved head and hand of St Oswald, the seventh-century king who invited St Aidan over from Iona to convert his subjects.
Overlooked by Bamburgh Castle, a lovely, chilly beach. More than a mile of flat sand when the tide’s out — and plenty of fresh sea air!
The water is clean and good for paddling but there are no lifeguards and facilities are few.
The Northumbrian coast is renowned for its desolate, windswept beaches where you can walk for miles without spotting another person.
The best place to stay hereabouts is Beadnell, nine miles up the coast from Craster, with a couple of fine beaches and the best windsurfing on the northeast’s coast – boards can be rented from the Outdoor Trust shed (Ј10/hr, Ј30/day; closed Nov-Feb), along with kayaks, bodyboards, and sailing dinghies.
Among several accommodation options, the excellent Beach Court on Harbour Road is a distinctive guest house right next to the shore, with sea views and three lovely rooms.
There are several local campsites, including Dunstan Hill (closed Nov-Feb), a mile inland from Dunstanburgh castle, close to the B1339.
Shamelessly brash Blackpool is the archetypal British seaside resort, its “Golden Mile” of piers, fortune-tellers, amusement arcades, tram and donkey rides, fish-and-chip shops, candyfloss stalls, fun pubs and bingo halls making no concessions to anything but low-brow fun-seeking of the finest kind.
There are seven miles of wide sandy beach backed by an unbroken chain of hotels and guest houses, and though the sea-water quality is still highly debatable, even after heavy investment in a new sewage system, there’s nothing wrong with the beach itself – except for the crowds packing the central stretches on hot summer days.
With seven miles of beach – the tide ebb is a full half a mile, leaving plenty of sand at low tide – and accompanying promenade, you’ll want to jump on and off the electric trams if you plan to get up and down much between the piers.
The major event in town is Blackpool’s Pleasure Beach on the South Promenade (March-Easter Sat & Sun 10 am-8 pm; Easter-June Mon-Fri 2-8 pm, Sat & Sun 10 am-10 pm; July to Nov 5 daily 10 am-11 pm; hours can vary ), just south of South Pier – visited by over seven million people each year.
Entrance to the amusement park is free, but you’ll have to fork out for the superb array of “white knuckle” rides including “The Big One”, the world’s fastest roller coaster (85mph) which involves a terrifying near-vertical drop from 235ft. If you’re not leaving until you’ve been on everything – a sensible course of action – buy an unlimited ride wristband.
Across the road, the Sandcastle (June-Oct daily 10 am-5:30 pm; Nov-May Sat & Sun only) is the only place you are likely to want to swim. With every aquatic diversion kept at a constant 29°C, it can be a welcome respite from the biting sea air.
Jump a tram for the ride up to Central Pier with its 108-feet high revolving Big Wheel. The Sea-Life Centre (daily 10 am-6 pm; July & Aug Fri & Sat to 10 pm) here is one of the country’s best, with eight-foot sharks looming at you as you march through a glass tunnel.
Renowned for its clean sandy beaches, the resort of Bournemouth is the nucleus of Europe’s largest non-industrial conurbation stretching between Lymington and Poole harbor. The resort has a single-minded holiday-making atmosphere.
The water is remarkably warm, usually above 20 degrees C through summer, and people swim here all year round. Bournemouth has every sort of attraction associated with a trip to the seaside.
There is little distinctively Cornish in Cornwall’s northernmost town of Bude, four miles west of the Devon border. Built around an estuary surrounded by a fine expanse of sands, the town has sprouted a crop of holiday homes and hotels, though these have not unduly spoiled the place nor the magnificent cliffy coast surrounding it.
Of the excellent beaches hereabouts, the central Summerleaze is clean and wide, though the mile-long Widemouth Bay, two and a half miles south of Bude, is the main focus of the holiday hordes – it has the cleanest water monitored between Bude and Polzeath, though bathing can be dangerous near the rocks at low tide.
Surfers also congregate five miles down the coast at Crackington Haven, wonderfully situated between 430-foot crags at the mouth of a lush valley. The cliffs on this stretch are characterized by remarkable zigzagging strata of shale, limestone, and sandstone, a mixture that erodes into vividly contorted detached formations.
To the north of Bude, acres-wide Crooklets is the scene of surfing and life-saving demonstrations and competitions.
A couple of miles farther on, Sandy Mouth holds a pristine expanse of sand with rock pools beneath the encircling cliffs.
It is a short walk from here to another surfers’ delight, Duckpool, a tiny sandy cove flanked by jagged reefs at low tide, and dominated by the three-hundred-foot Steeple Point.
English Riviera Beaches
The wedge of land between Dartmoor and the sea contains some of Devon’s most fertile pastures, backing onto some of the West’s most popular coastal resorts.
Chief of these is Torbay, an amalgam of Torquay, Paignton, and Brixham and the nucleus of an area optimistically known as “The English Riviera “. To the south, the port of Dartmouth offers a calmer alternative, linked by riverboat to historic and almost unspoiled Totnes.
West of the River Dart, the rich agricultural district of South Hams extends as far as Plymouth, cleft by a web of rivers flowing off Dartmoor. The main town here is Kingsbridge, at the head of an estuary down which you can ferry to the sailing resort of Salcombe.
“English Riviera” Beaches:
South of Torbay, and eight miles downstream from Totnes, Dartmouth has thrived since the Normans recognized the potential of this deepwater port for trading with their home country, and today its activities embrace fishing, freight, and booming leisure industry – as well as the education of the senior service’s officer class at the Royal Naval College, built at the start of this century on a hill overlooking the port.
South along the coastal path brings you through the pretty hilltop village of Stoke Fleming to Blackpool Sands (45min from the castle), the best and most popular beach in the area.
The unspoiled cove, flanked by steep, wooded cliffs, was the site of a battle in 1404 in which Devon archers repulsed a Breton invasion force sent to punish the privateers of Dartmouth for their raiding across the Channel.
Blackpool Sands is a brilliant beach for families, owned and managed since the 1950s by the Newman family. The crescent of coarse sand, two-thirds of a mile long, lies between steep, green pine wooded cliffs and the turquoise sea.
From Dartmouth, there are regular ferries across the river to Kingswear, the terminus of the Paignton & Dartmouth Steam Railway.
There are also various summer cruises from Dartmouth’s quay up the River Dart to Totnes (1hr 15min); this is the best way to see the river’s deep creeks and the various houses overlooking the river, among them the Royal Naval College and Greenway House, the birthplace of Walter Raleigh’s three seafaring half-brothers, the Gilberts, and later rebuilt for Agatha Christie.
Not so much a rival to Torquay as its complement, Paignton lacks the gloss of its neighbor, but also its pretensions.
Activity is concentrated at the southern end of the wide town beach, around the small harbor that nestles in the lee of the appropriately named Redcliffe headland.
Otherwise, diversion-seekers could wander over to Paignton Zoo (daily 10 am-6 pm or dusk if earlier), a mile out on Totnes Road, or board the Paignton & Dartmouth Steam Railway at Paignton’s Queen’s Park train station near the harbor.
Running daily from June to September, with a patchy service in April, May, October and December, the line connects with Paignton’s other main beach – Goodrington Sands – before trundling alongside the Dart estuary to Kingswear, seven miles south.
You could make a day of it by taking the ferry connection from Kingswear to Dartmouth, then taking a river boat up the Dart to Totnes, from where you can take any bus back to Paignton – ask about “Round Robin” tickets at the station.
Sporting a mini-corniche and promenades landscaped with flowerbeds, Torquay, the main center of the tourist conglomeration at Torbay, comes closest to living up to the self-penned “English Riviera” sobriquet.
The much-vaunted palm trees (actually New Zealand cabbage trees) and the colored lights that festoon the harbor by night contribute to the town’s unique flavor, a slightly frayed combination of the exotic and the classically English.
The town is focused on the small harbor and marina, separated by limestone cliffs sprouting white high-rise hotels and apartment blocks from Torquay’s main beach, Abbey Sands.
Good for chucking a frisbee about but too busy for serious relaxation, it takes its name from Torre Abbey, sited in ornamental gardens behind the beachside road. The Norman church that once stood here was razed by Henry VIII, though a gatehouse, tithe barn, chapter house, and tower escaped demolition.
The present Abbey Mansion (Easter-Oct daily 9:30 am-6 pm 😉 is a seventeenth- and eighteenth-century construction, now containing the mayor’s office, a suite of period rooms with collections of paintings, silver and glass, and one devoted to Agatha Christie.
There’s more material relating to the Mistress of Murder at the Torquay Museum, above the harbor at 529 Babbacombe Rd (Easter-Oct Mon-Sat 10 am-5 pm, Sun 1:30-5 pm; Nov-Easter Mon-Fri 10 am-5 pm), but most of the space is given over to the local history and natural history collections.
Walking north round the promontory from the harbor, you’ll reach some good sand beaches, the nearest of which Meadfoot Beach, lies at the end of a pretty half-mile coastal walk that takes you through Daddyhole Plain, a large chasm in the cliff caused by a landslide locally attributed to the devil (“Daddy”).
If you’re searching for something a little more low-key, continue round the point to where a series of beaches extend along the coast as far as the cliff-backed coves of Watcombe and Maidencombe.
The Norfolk coast pretty much ends at Hunstanton, a Victorian seaside resort that grew up to the southwest of the original fishing village – now Old Hunstanton.
Like Yarmouth, it has its fair share of amusement arcades, crazy golf, and entertainment complexes, but it has also hung on to its genteel origins – and its sandy beaches, backed by stripy gateau-like cliffs, are among the cleanest in Norfolk.
Incidentally, in “The World of Fun” on Greevegate, Hunstanton possesses the self-proclaimed largest joke shop in Britain with more whoopee cushions and Dracula fangs than even the most unpleasant 10-year-old could want.
The most popular resort on Devon’s northern coast, Ilfracombe is essentially little changed since its evolution into a Victorian and Edwardian tourist center, large-scale development having been restricted by the surrounding cliffs.
Nonetheless, the relentless pressure to have fun and the ubiquitous smell of chips can become oppressive, though in summer you can always escape on a coastal tour, a cruise to Lundy Island or a fishing trip, all available at its small harbor.
For walkers, an attractive stretch of coast runs east out of town, beyond the grassy cliffs of Hillsborough, where a succession of undeveloped coves and inlets is surrounded by jagged slanting rocks and heather-covered hills. There are sandy beaches here, though many prefer those past Morte Point, five miles west of Ilfracombe, from which the view takes in the island of Lundy, fifteen miles out to sea.
Below the promontory stretches a rocky shore whose menacing sunken reef inspired the Normans to give it the name Morte Stone.
A break in the rocks makes space for the pocket-sized Barricane Beach, famous for the tropical shells washed here from the Caribbean by the Atlantic currents, and a popular swimming spot.
There’s more space on the two miles of Woolacombe Sands, a broad, west-facing expanse much favored by surfers and families alike.
At the quieter southern end, Putsborough Sands is a choice swimming spot bracketed by Baggy Point, were from September to November the air is a swirl of gannets, shags, cormorants, and shearwaters.
South of this promontory, Croyde Bay is another surfers’ delight, more compact than Woolacombe, with stalls on the sand renting surfboards and wet suits, while Saunton Sands is a magnificent long stretch of coast pummelled by endless ranks of classic breakers.
Facing west into Padstow Bay, the beaches of and around Polzeath are the finest in the vicinity, pelted by rollers which make this one of the best-surfing sites in the West Country.
Tuition and gear to rent are offered from stalls here.
If you want to stay, try Pentire View, a pleasant B&B; a few yards up the hill from Polzeath’s beach.
On the beach itself, the Galleon does various snacks and takeaways, and Finn’s serves full meals as well as cream teas, while the Oyster Catcher bar is a lively evening hangout just up the hill.
The oldest resort in the country, Scarborough first attracted early seventeenth-century visitors to its newly discovered mineral springs.
Fashionable among the Victorians-to whom it was “the Queen of the Watering Places” – Scarborough saw its biggest transformation after World War II when it became a holiday haven for workers from the industrial heartlands.
All the traditional ingredients of a beach resort are here in force, from superb, clean sands, kitsch amusement arcades, and Kiss-Me-Quick hats to the more refined pleasures of its tightknit old-town streets and a genteel round of quiet parks and gardens.
Most of what passes for family entertainment takes place on the North Bay – massive water slides at Atlantis, the kids’ amusements at Kinderland, and the miniature North Bay Railway (daily Easter-Sept), which runs up to the most educational of the lot, the Sea Life Centre, with its pools of flounders, rock-pool habitats and fishy exhibits.
The South Bay is more refined, backed by the pleasant Valley Gardens and the Italianate meanderings of the South Cliff Gardens, and topped by an esplanade from which a hydraulic lift (daily 10 am-4 pm, till 10 pm July & Aug) putters down to the beach.
East along the East Devon coast, cream-and-white Sidmouth is the chief resort on this stretch of coast, set amid a shelf of crumbling sandstone.
The town boasts nearly five hundred buildings listed as having special historic or architectural interest, among them the stately Georgian homes of York Terrace behind the Esplanade.
Moreover, the beaches are better tended than many along this coast, not only the mile-long main town beach but also Jacob’s Ladder, a cliff-backed shingle and sand strip beyond Connaught Gardens to the west of town.
To the east, the South Devon Coast Path (part of the South West Coast Path) climbs steep Salcombe Hill to follow cliffs that give sanctuary to a range of birdlife. Farther on, the path descends to meet one of the most isolated and attractive beaches in the area, Weston Mouth.
Sidmouth hosts what many consider to be the country’s best folk festival over eight days at the beginning of August.
Perched on robust cliffs just to the north of the River Blyth, Southwold gained what Dunwich lost, and by the sixteenth century, it had overtaken all its local rivals.
Its days as a busy fishing port are, however, long gone – though a small fleet still brings in herring, sprats, and cod – and today it’s a genteel seaside resort, an eminently appealing little town with none of the crassness of many of its competitors.
There are fine old buildings, a long sandy beach, open heathland, a dinky harbor, and even a little industry – in the shape of the Adnams brewery – but no burger bars and certainly no amusement arcades.
Southwold’s breezy High Street is framed by attractive, mainly Georgian buildings, which culminate in the pocket-sized Market Place. From here, it’s a brief stroll along East Street to the curious Sailors’ Reading Room (daily 9 am-5 pm; free), decked out with model ships and nautical texts, and the bluff above the beach, where row upon row of candy-colored huts march across the sands.
Queen Street begins at Market Place too, quickly leading to South Green, the prettiest of several greens dotted across town. In 1659, a calamitous fire razed much of Southwold, and when the town was rebuilt the greens were left to act as firebreaks.
Beyond, both Ferry Road and the Ferry footpath leading down to the harbor, at the mouth of the River Blyth, an idyllic spot, where fishing smacks rest against old wooden jetties and nets are spread out along the banks to dry.
East of Zennor, the road runs four hilly miles onto the steeply built town of St. Ives, a place that has smoothly undergone the transition to holiday haunt from its previous role as a center of the fishing industry.
So productive were the offshore waters that a record sixteen and a half million fish were caught in one net on a single day in 1868, and the diarist Francis Kilvert was told by the local vicar that the smell was sometimes so great as to stop the church clock.
By the time the pilchard reserves dried up around the early years of the last century, the town was beginning to attract a vibrant artists’ colony, precursors of the wave later headed by Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth, Naum Gabo, and the potter Bernard Leach, who in the 1960s was followed by the third wave including Terry Frost, Peter Lanyon, Patrick Heron, and Bryan Wynter.
The wide expanse of Porthmeor Beach dominates the northern side of St Ives; unusually for a town beach, the water quality is excellent, and the rollers make it popular with surfers.
South of the station, Porthminster Beach is another favorite spot for sunbathing and swimming, but if you hanker for a quieter stretch you need to head east out of town to the string of magnificent golden beaches lining St. Ives Bay – the strand is especially fine on the far side of the port of Hayle, at the mouth of the eponymous river.
Despite its name, Wells-next-the-Sea, some eight miles west of Blakeney, is situated a good mile or so from open water. In Tudor times, when it enjoyed much easier access to the ocean, it was one of the great ports of eastern England, a major player in trade with the Netherlands.
It’s still one of the more attractive towns on the north Norfolk coast, and the only one to remain a commercially viable port. There’s nothing specific to see among its narrow lanes, but it does make a very good base for exploring the surrounding coastline.
The town divides into three distinct areas, starting with the broad rectangular green to the south, lined with oak and beech trees and some very fine Georgian houses, and known as The Buttlands since the days when it was used for archery practice.
North from here, across Station Road, are the narrow lanes of the town center with Staithe Street, the tiny main drag, flanked by quaint old-fashioned shops.
At the north end of Staithe Street stands the quay, a slightly forlorn affair inhabited by a couple of amusement arcades and fish-and-chip shops. A few yards away is the mile-long road to the beach, a handsome sandy tract backed by pine-clad dunes.
The road is shadowed by a high flood defense and a tiny narrow-gauge railway, which scoots down to the beach every forty minutes or so during the season.
With a wonderful stretch of open space behind the best natural and uncommercialized sandy beach within easy reach of central London, it is not surprising that West Wittering is a favorite destination for a family day out.
Sand dunes provide areas for picnics and barbecues, and walks across the grassy headland to the east have great views across the Solent to Chichester.
Swimming is safe, and the site is also popular with windsurfers and kitesurfers.