Visit these 10 beautiful beaches in Wales for glorious sunsets, dramatic cliffs, rock pools rich with sea life and long stretches of the best golden sands in Europe. A few are beside charming and colorful seaside towns but most are found via scrambles through grassy dunes or down stony steps. The Atlantic-facing beaches of West Wales in Glamorgan, Pembrokeshire, Ceredigian (formerly Cardiganshire) and Gwynedd, beneath Snowdonia, are irresistable, unforgettable and very Instagrammable. But if you are planning to swim, bring a wetsuit. Gulf Stream or not, the North Atlantic is very cold.
This mile long stretch of soft sand sits at the westernmost tip of Pembrokeshire. With the exception of St. Davids, which faces it across St Brides Bay, this is almost the westernmost reach of Wales into the wild Atlantic. Despite the dangers of strong tides, rip currents, large breaking waves and the possibility of being cut off by the tides, this beach is popular with the "wild swimming" community. Wild swimming is UK jargon for swimming in cold, open waters as opposed to nice, warm swimming pools.
It's also noted for its fantastical rock formations and excellent rock pooling. The beach, which is looked after by the National Trust, is located on the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path. It is about three quarters of a mile from the nearest National Trust parking — so consider adding a visit to the beach to a day out on the coastal path. There's also a new coastal path cafe, Runwayskiln, in a former youth hostel within sight of the beach. As of spring 2019, plans were afoot to offer some accommodation there as well.
The area is known for birdwatching and the end of the Marloes peninsula, about 2 miles from the beach over the headland, is the Lockley Lodge Visitor Centre run by the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales. The center is the gateway to two major bird sanctuary islands, Skomer and Skokhomn Islands and boat trips are launched from there. When the weather is too rough for the boat trips, visitors can watch closed circuit television of the island wildlife on a big screen in the center.
Tenby is a historic walled city within the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park that is ringed with 2.5 miles of sheltered sandy beaches. The town, with its pastel colored fishermen's cottages, its Tudor buildings and its ruined castle (abandoned since the 1400s) has been a tourist magnet for at least 200 years. Its beaches, North Beach, Castle Beach, South Beach and Harbour Beach (named best beach in Europe in 2014) can be crowded in busy summer months. But their crystal clear water and scenic location, beneath a stony headland and the town walls make them well worth putting up with a little company. And there are loads of places to stay and eat.
Castle Beach actually sits between two castles. Its golden sands spread like skirts beneath the ruins of the abandoned castle. St. Catherine's Island, rising like a mini Gibraltar from the sea, faces the beach and is topped with an abandoned mid-19th century fort. At low tide, it is possible to cross to the island, though the fort is not currently opened to the public.
From North Beach, Tenby Water Sports, runs jet ski rentals, jet ski safaris, kayak rentals and a whole range of towed water sports — from water skiing to inflated banana, doughnut and even crazy sofa rides.
The beach at Saundersfoot Bay, just up the coast, north and east of Tenby, is wide, flat and safe for swimming. It has a small, pretty harbor, locked between scenic sea walls, and during the summer months, there's a lifeguard on duty. At high tide, quite a lot of the beach disappears but there is still plenty of room.
Rocky shelving at the northern end of the beach is good for rock pooling and, energetic visitors can continue north along the Pembrokeshire Coast Path toward the small resort settlement of Wiseman's Bridge. Access is through an abandoned rail tunnel — an adventurous but somewhat creepy walk in the dark — so bring a flashlight.
Saundersfoot itself is a small, low-key family friendly resort with a good selection of self-catering and b&b accommodations. There's a small shopping area and several cafes as well as a luxury resort, St Brides Spa Hotel, high on a cliff overlooking the beach.
The Gower is a peninsula that reaches out into the Bristol Channel, south and west of Swansea. It is ringed in sandy beaches, several of which are considered among the most beautiful beaches in Britain.
Rhossili Bay is one of these. It is 3.5 miles of golden sand that, at low tide, is a wide, flat expanse, popular for sand yachting and, from the cliffs above, hang gliding. As one of the most exposed west-facing beaches in Wales, it is often washed by big waves, making it a popular spot for surfers.
At low tide, the wreck of the Helvetia, which ran aground in the late 19th century, is exposed in the middle of the beach.
At one end, the beach ends with a rocky spit known as Worm's Head, because of its resemblance to a sea serpent. Adventurous walkers can reach this at low tide but it's important to pay attention to the tide tables, because the unwary can be stranded on the rock at high tide.
Getting down to the beach itself requires navigating a steep path and several flights of stone steps. But it is possible to enjoy remarkable views from a headland path that winds along the cliff tops from the beach parking area.
The National Trust, who maintain this beach, also have an unusual cottage, The Old Rectory, where you can stay if you're lucky in enough to get a booking.
Three Cliff Bay is another remarkable beach on the Gower. It is named for the three, towering cliffs that extend off the end of the headland. This flat, sandy beach is stunning but usually pretty quiet because it's surrounded by cliffs and stony bluffs and thus relatively difficult to reach. It is also too dangerous for swimming because of riptides that form quite close to shore. As ever with Wales's west-facing beaches, the tides can be huge and it's wise to check the tide tables before you descend to the Three Cliffs,
But if you are looking for amazing photographs, they don't get much better than what you can capture here.
There are three approaches to this beach:
- From the National Trust Parking at West Cliff, follow the path along the cliff tops. It eventually descends to Pobble Beach, a small, sheltered cove. At Pobble beach, turn right along the sand and in a few hundred yards, the three cliffs will appear, huge and startling.
- Head on a path heading west from Southgate and past Southgate Farm, across a water meadow to Pobble Beach.
- From the ruins of Pennard Castle, descent to the Pennard Pill Valley, cross the river on stepping stones and you are on the beach.
Newport Sands and the Parrog are opposite sides of the Nevern Estuary near the northern end of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path and the small, arty village of Newport, Pembrokeshire. This is the kind of beach that is never going to make the big, splashy "best of" lists. But the walks along the woodland path along the Nevern to the Parrog and, on the opposite shore, the path beneath gorse-spattered upland meadows to Newport Sands, are magical. The views from the beach to Dinas Head to the south or the high pastures, broken by cliffs to the north are incredibly peaceful. If you're lucky, you might spot a horse and rider on the beach.
At low tide, you can walk from the Sands to the Parrog. There's a small resort with a golf course nearby and, if you continue southward from the Parrog, you can climb up to an easy stretch of the coastal path, looking back across Newport Bay to wonderful views, and then circle back to the village. The village has a few small inns and one of them, Llys Meddig, has a kitchen with a Michelin mention.
Poppit Sands, near the mouth of the River Tiefi on Cardigan Bay, is a wide expanse of hard sand that's perfect for wheel based sports like power kiting, sand boarding and sand yachting. It's also popular with surfers and wind surfers.
This scenic beach is backed by a small area of dunes and then rises to lovely green pastures divided by hedgerows. During the summer it's patrolled by lifeguards.
The beach is relatively safe but its a good idea to check the tide tables at the RNLI Lifeguard Station (near the parking) because the size of this beach can be deceptive. At highwater, it's enormous but at low tide the sands stretch nearly all the way to Gwbert on the opposite side of the estuary. Don't be tempted to try to cross because the tide rushes in at an amazing speed.
Facilities include toilets and disabled toilets as well as a cafe during the summer.
Dolphins and seals play offshore near Mwnt Beach. It's considered one of the best places to watch sea life in action in Cardigan Bay. The beach, owned by the National Trust, is a level stretch of gold sand at the head of a small, secluded bay wrapped in cliffs. It is considered safe for swimming but is not monitored by lifeguards.
On the bluffs above the beach, there's National Trust parking and a tourist information building with toilets and a kiosk selling ice cream, drinks and beach paraphernalia. From there, a series of wide concrete steps lead down to the beach. They are not too difficult to navigate but it's a long way up if you are carrying a lot of beach gear.
One of the best things to do here, at any time of day, is to walk to the top of Foel y Mwnt for the great views of Cardigan Bay and a good chance of spotting dolphins, whales and seals.
It's remarkable that more people don't flock to Harlech Beach: It's a stunner yet it's rarely crowded.
The 4 miles of light gold sands are backed by dunes — part of the Morfa Harlech National Nature Reserve, a site of special scientific interest. The dunes, especially those at the northern end of the beach near the Glaslyn Estuary, are the only growing dune system in Wales and an example of longshore drift. They are visited by all sorts of birds, in season and, in spring and summer, are liberally dotted with flowering plants.
From the beach you can see Harlech Castle, about two minutes away, and the peaks of Snowdonia National Park. Look out in the other direction, into Cardigan Bay, and the rolling hills and gleaming sands of the Llŷn Peninsula stretch away in front of you.
It's an easy drive from the town of Harlech along the beach road. Once you arrive there's a large pay-and-display parking lot, a clean toilet block (closed in winter) and usually a van selling ice creams and snacks.
From the parking, the beach is a short walk across about 500 yards of dunes — part paved and part a sandy path. In places, you can look out across to the sand traps of The Royal St. Davids Golf Club.
Porthor (or Porth Oer on some maps) is known, in English as The Whistling Sands. Due to a peculiarity of nature, the unique shape of the grains of sand on this beach makes the sand whistle (or squeak actually) when you walk on it. It's one of only two beaches in Europe that do this. The best way to sample the effect is to stamp on the dry sand.
The beach, on the north side of the Llŷn Peninsula, has a lot more to offer than this odd sonic effect. It's popular with families and usually has good waves for surfing and bodyboarding beginners. It is also possible to kayak there but visitors usually bring their own kayaks.
Though owned and managed by the National Trust, it has few facilities. National Trust Parking is about a quarter of a mile away. There is a seasonal cafe, with restrooms, on the beach for teas and light snacks.