12 Top-Rated Beaches in England
England's coastline encompasses regions of outstanding beauty, areas distinguished by dramatic sea cliffs, yawning bays, and some truly remarkable beaches. These glorious swathes of golden sand can be found the length and breadth of the country, fronting towns and cities, skirting estuaries and countryside, and embellishing islands both big and small.
Outstandingly diverse in their environmental makeup, these beaches afford endless vacation opportunities for anyone looking to spend time beside the sea. Hotels, restaurants, and first-rate leisure amenities, including an abundance of fantastic water sports facilities, serve many of these beaches. Some are located off the beaten track and make ideal retreats for those seeking peaceful oceanfront solitude. Others, meanwhile, are located near historic landmarks, buildings that help define their character and sense of place.
Find a picturesque pocket of sand for your next vacation with our list of the top beaches in England.
1. Bournemouth Beach
Comprising over 11 miles of glorious golden sand, the grand sweep that is Bournemouth Beach in fact embraces several areas, from Hengistbury Head in the east, through Southbourne, Boscombe, Bournemouth itself, and westwards toward Poole.
An entire entertainment industry has grown up in and around the city of Bournemouth — a favorite south coast resort destination since the Victorian era. Theaters, concert halls, cafes and restaurants, cinemas, and numerous hotels embellish the town center and the esplanade.
Distinguished by its landmark pier, Bournemouth Beach itself offers a host of family-orientated leisure activities, including an exciting pier-to-shore zipline, the Happylands Amusement Park, a supervised Kidszone for toddlers (July and August), and the nearby Bournemouth Oceanarium. Out of season, the waters either side of the pier are the realm of surfers. And even if you're not much of a beach-goer yourself, the walk along the seafront is a wonderfully relaxing salt-laced option anytime of the year.
Location: Bournemouth, Dorset
Addommocation: Where to Stay near Bournemouth Beach
2. Fistral Beach
The UK's premier surfing destination, Fistral Beach enjoys legendary status among water sports enthusiasts. Straw-blonde sand; world-class waves; and a picturesque setting put this beach in a league of its own.
A year-round destination, Fistral is at its most vibrant and animated during the summer months. This is when you can fully appreciate the leisure amenities geared towards beach-goers and the pro-surfer, anything from trendy boutiques stocked with colorful beachwear to the funky restaurants lining the boardwalk, including an eatery named for British celebrity chef Rick Stein.
Home to the UK Pro Surf Tour, Fistral also welcomes novices eager to hone their surfing technique: the family-run Fistral Beach Surf School is renowned for its coaching methods, and they'll have you up and hanging ten in no time at all! Annual gigs held at the beach include the unique surf night and the famous Boardmasters Surf, Skate & Music Festival.
Location: Newquay, Cornwall
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Newquay
3. St. Brélade's Bay Beach
A favorite destination for families, St. Brélade's Bay is sand castle central, a playground for kids with buckets and spades and all the time in the world. The beach is noted for its soft, white sands and safe swimming and is served by an elegant boardwalk, a palm-fringed esplanade lined with cafes, restaurants, and tourist shops selling beachwear, items like flip-flops, and candy-colored beach balls.
South facing, St. Brélade's Bay is sun soaked for most of the day: sunbathing spots are at a premium mid-summer! The warm shallows make ideal paddling territory for inquisitive toddlers to splash around in and explore. At low tide, you can walk the whole beach, a wonderful winter activity option for young and old alike. Incidentally, beachgoers with mobility issues can access the beach with assistance from the local charity BeachAbility, which provides specially adapted wheelchairs for use on the sand.
Location: St. Brélade, Jersey, Channel Islands
Accommodation: Where to Stay in St. Brélade
4. Weymouth Beach
A favorite seasonal haunt of Britain's King George III (1738–1820), scenic Weymouth is regarded as one of England's most traditional seaside resorts. The yawning arc of its expansive beach forms Weymouth Bay, a popular year-round vacation destination.
During the summer months, the beach — three miles of wide, gently sloping sand — becomes an open-air stage for all sorts of wonderfully old-fashioned attractions, pastimes that include donkey rides, Punch & Judy puppet shows, and sandcastle competitions (the sand on Weymouth Beach is regularly voted the best for making sandcastles). There's also a funfair set on the esplanade and the Weymouth Pavilion, a first-rate theater and entertainment complex.
King George visited the beach on the advice of his physician, who recommended the monarch immerse himself in the warm waters to treat an ongoing skin condition. Instead, the ailing king made bathing fashionable, and Weymouth Beach today is famous for its crystal-clear shallows, awarded a Blue Flag environmental award for cleanliness.
Location: Weymouth, Dorset
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Weymouth
5. Brighton Beach
Brighton is one of England's liveliest and most culturally diverse towns, and boasts a fabulous 5.5-mile shingle beach. As such, Brighton and its beachfront have previously been voted one of the top ten city beach break destinations in the world.
With the famous Brighton Pier providing a suitably iconic backdrop, the destination attracts beachgoers from around the country, as well as water sports enthusiasts lured by kayaking and stand-up paddle options, plus classic beach activities like volleyball and extreme Frisbee.
Many of the beach's historical attractions were built during the Victorian era, such as the Grand Hotel, opened in 1864, and the Volks Railway, Britain's oldest electric railway, inaugurated in 1883 and still in service today. Enhancing the area's modern, cosmopolitan vibe are crowd-pullers like the British Airways i360 — the world's tallest moving observation tower— and Sea Life Brighton, an aquarium brimming with seriously happy fish.
As well as being home to a vast range of restaurants, sports facilities, amusement arcades, and year-round entertainment, Brighton is also known for nearby Cliff Beach, Britain's first naturist beach.
Location: Brighton, East Sussex
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Brighton: Best Areas & Hotels
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The quaint village of Bigbury-on-Sea nestles within a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, a stunning canvas heightened by the presence of Burgh Island, Bigbury's famous landmark set 270 yards offshore. The beach, the largest sandy beach in South Devon, fronts a vacation resort that even in mid-summer retains an old-fashioned air about it.
Dotted with rock pools at low tide (a delight for youngsters to explore), an exposed causeway offers a link to the island, noted for its Art Deco hotel, which has been featured in several movies and television productions. Even at high tide, tourists can still get to Burgh onboard a unique "sea tractor," which trundles slowly across the shallow bay to a landing stage set below the hotel.
In breezy conditions surfers, bodyboarders, and windsurfers congregate along the beach to take advantage of a restless sea, but for the most part, Bigbury-on-Sea belongs to couples and families seeking a quiet seaside break on one of the most picturesque coastlines in southern England.
Location: Kingsbridge, Devon
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Kingsbridge
7. Blackpool Beach
One of England's most famous tourist destinations, Blackpool rose to prominence in the mid-19th century and by 1880 was arguably the most popular seaside resort in the country. While not nearly as alluring as it was in its Victorian heyday, Blackpool Beach nonetheless continues to attract millions of visitors a year, drawn as much to a collection of major landmarks as a sense of nostalgia for a traditional day beside the seaside.
Celebrated for the 513-foot Blackpool Tower, the design of which was inspired by the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the town is also known for its annual lights festival, the Blackpool Illuminations, which first lit the place up in 1879.
Blackpool Beach, recently awarded Blue Flag status, is the only British beach to boast three fabulous piers, each a major tourist draw in its own right. The town's esplanade, the famous Golden Mile, is crammed with leisure amenities, from mini theme parks to old-fashioned tearooms. A family favorite, the Blackpool Pleasure Beach amusement park includes the fantastic ICON, the UK's first ever double-launch roller coaster. And even if you're not a thrill seeker or sun lover, Blackpool still makes a great day out in a uniquely English kind of way.
Location: Blackpool, Lancashire
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Blackpool
8. Pelistry Bay Beach
Sheltered on St. Mary's, one of the small islands that make up the Isles of Scilly off the Cornwall coast, Pelistry Bay is seldom overcrowded due to its secluded location. But therein lies the attraction. The pocket-sized beach, a carpet of fluffy pale sand, is the perfect place to enjoy some well-earned rest and relaxation away from the tourist hordes that tend to overwhelm Cornwall during the summer months.
The Scilly Isles (pronounced as "Silly") can be reached via air or sea, and the effort to get there is rewarded with an unspoiled cluster of subtropical islands, each blessed with their own unique character. St. Mary's, the largest and most populous island, has a concentration of low-key holiday accommodation and leisure amenities. But it's the natural environment that the less hurried visitor will appreciate, especially places like Pelistry Bay.
An added attraction is Toll's island, anchored in the bay and connected to St. Mary's by a sandbar. At low tide, it's possible to walk to this delightful offshore stepping-stone. Just remember to make a note of the tide times if you don't want to end up being stranded.
Location: Isles of Scilly, Cornwall
9. Porthcurno Beach
Embracing the beach at Porthcurno Bay is a spectacular coastal cliff range from where the signposted South West Coast Path meanders gently down the grassy cliff slope towards a crescent-shaped wedge of sand regarded as one of the finest beaches in the country. Part of the Cornwall Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Porthcurno is a visual feast and the subject of many a landscape artist and photographer.
Beachgoers can take advantage of a car park at the top of the cliff, which is served during the high season by a café and restaurant. Semi-isolated and offering a fair bit of privacy, this is a beach to escape the masses, but it doesn't always offer safe swimming. Wind, tides, and sea currents sometimes conspire to make bathing treacherous; paddling at low tide is a safer option.
Besides stunning scenery, Porthcurno is noted for the unique Minack Theatre, an open-air venue carved out of the cliffs and commanding glorious coastline views. Between May and September, performances are staged by a variety of theatrical companies. Plays have previously included works by Shakespeare. Minack often appears in listings of the world's most spectacular theaters.
Location: Near Lands End, Cornwall
10. Compton Bay Beach
Located at West Wight and bereft of any notable leisure amenities, this is a wonderful do-it-yourself beach, where beachgoers should pack everything they need to enjoy a day out on one of the island's most prominent stretches of sand. In fact, Compton Bay Beach comprises a contrasting blanket of both golden and black sands met by rolling seas and a sometimes-capricious breeze. Adding further color are the honey and caramel-hued sandstone cliffs that provide a pleasant backdrop and where seabirds hover on rising thermals.
The beach is gently shelving and, for the most part, soft underfoot. However, you need to be aware of a few lengths of submerged rock that finger out to sea and remain hidden at high tide. Paddling is safe in the shallows.
Further out when conditions permit, surfers can ride in decent Channel swells. This area of the Isle of Wight is famous for its fossilized dinosaur footprints. During low tide, it's quite common to see fossil hunters combing the beach for a 65-million-year-old souvenir. Budding paleontologists can book tours on the beach to see dinosaur footprints in the sandstone ledge at Hanover Point that are exposed at low tide.
Location: Freshwater, Isle of Wight
11. Bamburgh Beach
This majestic sweep of sand is named for imposing Bamburgh Castle whose brooding ramparts overlook one of northern England's most iconic beaches. A castle is known to have stood here since the 6th century, though what you see today dates largely back to the 12th century.
A pristine swathe of sand backed by a shifting bank of flower-topped dunes, the beach at Bamburgh is a rewarding surfing and kitesurfing destination, in fact one of Northeast England's top spots. The water is fairly chilly throughout the year but can offer welcome respite during particularly hot summers.
The rock-pooling opportunities afforded around the Stag Rocks lighthouse will appeal to anyone who appreciates marine life in miniature. Kids, meanwhile, have endless raw material to construct a castle using the real thing as a nearby visual reference. Otherwise this is prime walking territory, a landscape that is also fun to explore on horseback.
Opposite the beach are the inner Farne Islands, once the home of monks and hermits and now the domain of a fantastic variety of seabirds.
Location: Bamburgh, Northumberland
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Bamburgh
12. West Wittering Beach
Hugging the coast not far from the historic city of Chichester is the village of West Wittering, which is renowned for its A-list celebrity residents and a splendid beach — one of the premier Blue Flag beaches in the country. A traditional bucket-and-spade destination for visiting families, the beach also falls within the boundaries of a Site of Special Scientific Interest, such is the international importance of the surrounding wetlands, a habitat recognized for its wildlife, birdlife, and astonishing beauty.
The sea, known for its exceptional water quality, draws wind and kite surfers, while low tide exposes a series of shallow lagoons that toddlers, with mum and dad in tow, will find irresistible to explore. Leisure facilities extend to a popular beach café, a useful shower block, and a water sports club.
The National Trust manages the surrounding land, and the area in and around East Head makes for some rewarding ambles over nature trails anytime of the year. And what of those celebrities? Don't be surprised to see Rolling Stone Keith Richard or actress Kate Winslet pottering around the village.
Location: Wittering, West Sussex
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Explore More of England and the UK: For more ideas to help plan your travels, see our article on the Top Tourist Attractions in England and the Best Places to Visit in the UK. And of course, if you are spending time in London, be sure to have a read through our Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in London.