The United Kingdom has some of the world's most beautiful beaches. That shouldn't seem so surprising. After all, Britain is an island kingdom. It has nearly 7,800 miles of coast. Nowhere in the entire country is more than two hours from a beach - and in practice, most places are a lot closer than that.
Okay, so the UK's beaches are not the sort where you can bask in the sun (not very often, anyway) or spend hours swimming warm seas. The water, even on UK beaches washed by the Gulf Stream is pretty chilly. But what the UK's beaches lack in tropical charm, they more than makeup for in sheer drama. For walking, surfing, exploring, wildlife watching, these are some of the most beautiful and isolated beaches in the world. Many of the best are in England's Southwest and along the coast of Wales.
One word of advice—Do check tide tables before visiting UK Beaches - especially those that are west-facing or backed by cliffs. Some beaches disappear at high tide.
Barafundle Bay - The Most Beautiful Beach in Pembrokeshire, Wales
The Pembrokeshire Heritage Coast
Barafundle Bay on the Pembrokeshire Heritage Coast of South Wales, is a remote stretch of soft, golden sand and clear water, that can only be reached via a cliff path and then a steep descent through woodlands and dunes. Now owned by the National Trust, it adjoins the trust's Stackpole Estate, once home to the Earls of Cawdor. There is a National Trust cottage that can be rented nearby at Stackpole Quay.
- Facilities Cafe and toilets near the carpark by the quay.
- Precautions No lifeguards or emergency facilities.
Kynance Cove on the Lizard, in Cornwall
The beach, managed by the National Trust, is located on The Lizard, a spit of land off the coast of Cornwall that is the most southerly point of the United Kingdom. The beach rims Kynance Bay, characterized by turquoise waters and small, colorful islets. The National Trust maintains 18 vacation rental cottages in the area.
- Facilities Toilets with baby changing facilities, award-winning, environmentally friendly National Trust approved café.
- Precautions No lifeguards, no emergency facilities, danger of being cut off at high tide.
- Seasonal dog ban
Whistling Sands in Porthor, Wales
Porthor, also known as Port Oer, is a stretch of National Trust-owned beach and coastal path on the Llyn Peninsula in North Wales. A highlight is the Whistling Sands, so called because the rounded grains of sand squeak when walked upon.
The sandy beach surrounds a bay that is popular with bodyboarders because of the way that the waves break in large swells. Seals have been known to join body surfers for a bit of fun.
The National Trust's gorgeous rental cottage, Plas Yn Rhiw, is nearby.
- Facilities Seasonal cafe and picnic site.
- Precautions No lifeguards, no emergency facilities, very strong rip tide - don't swim or surf alone.
Watergate Bay - A Surfer's Paradise in Cornwall
Watergate Bay, between Newquay and Padstow on the north coast of Cornwall, is a long, privately-owned beach resort, accessible to the public via the UK coastal path. The west facing beach, at the bottom of cliffs, is very popular with surfers - and the location of the well-known Extreme Academy. It is big enough and far enough from both Newquay and Padstow to offer lots of room, peace and quiet. There are emergency services and accommodations available as well as several very good restaurants nearby - one right on the beach.
Marine Conservation Society's annual Good Beach Guide 2009 Rating: Guideline(good water quality standard)
Dining Near Watergate Bay
British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver runs Fifteen Cornwall on the beach at Watergate Bay. The restaurant was established to support, train and guide the young apprentices, who are disadvantaged young people from around Cornwall, to become world-class chefs.
There are several other restaurants that are part of the Watergate Bay resort complex. And not far away, in Padstow, the UK's seafood celebrity chef, Rick Stein, runs a veritable empire of restaurants, including:
Rhossili Bay on the Gower in Wales
The Gower peninsula extends from the south coast of Wales, at Swansea (home of Catherine Zeta Jones), into the Bristol Channel and the Atlantic Ocean. The Gower has a remarkable number of extraordinary beaches. It was the first part of the UK to be named an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, in 1956.
Rhossili Bay, a three-mile sweep of atlantic beach at the western end of the Gower, is amazing. The first time I visited, it was socked in with a pea soup fog. Locals suggested I go to Rhossili in hopes it would clear. I parked in the National Trust carpark, and following the park ranger's instructions, walked blind along the clifftop path, touching the stone wall to my left. Halfway along, the fog suddenly lifted. I was 600 feet above the three-mile long, sandy beach. At one end, the bones of a sunken ship poked out of the sand, at the other, Worm's Head, an island at the end of a mile long tidal causeway beckoned dangerously. And no sooner had the cloud of fog lifted, than paragliders were airborne off the cliffs. I have never had such a stunning introduction to a landscape.
Marine Conservation Society's annual Good Beach Guide 2009 Rating: Recommended (highest water quality standard)
- Facilities The National Trust owns this beach. There is a shop, and a campsite as well as a National Trust Visitor Center. There is also a hotel and pub at the top of a steep path. Surf hire is available nearby in Llangennith village. The nearest toilets are in the Rhossili parking lot.
- Precautions No lifeguards or emergency facilities.Worms Head is accessible at low tide but the incoming tide is fast so planning for the tides is essential to avoid getting trapped. Swimming in the heavy surf is not advised because of a strong undertow.
Three Cliffs - Another Spectacular Beach on the Gower
Three Cliffs, near Pennard on the South Coast of the Gower, definitely deserves a spot on any list of the UK's most beautiful beaches. It is named for the three strangely shaped and gigantic rock formations that jut out of the soft, flat, golden sand.
Like Rhossili, this is another beach that surprised me with its massive presence. I'd walked along the valley of the meandering Pennard Pill stream, winding through salt marshes and freshwater swamp with wild daffodils in the Spring. Pennard Castle, is an 800-year-old fort near the beach. From there, I'd navigated stepping stones across the stream - now widened to a small river - and emerged onto a beach divided by a three-toothed cliff formation. It looked small until I started to walk toward it. I walked and walked and walked some more, finally appreciating their scale. At low tide, there is a natural archway and you can walk through the cliffs.
- Facilities Camping and caravan site above the beach.
- Precautions No lifeguards or emergency facilities. Very strong rip currents at high tide, when swimming is not advised.
- Directions From Swansea take the A4118 to Sandylane, then turn left and follow signs to Pennard and Southgate. From the car park at Southgate take the footpath to the beach.