When the British summer is in full swing, you really don’t have to jet off to Spain for sunshine – especially with so many great beaches on our very own shores. While everyone flocks to Fistral and the like, you can easily escape the crowds by heading a bit off the beaten path.
These hidden gems can all be reached by car, train or ferry – so pop your (full-size) sunscreen in your holdall and get ready for a staycation to remember. After all, you can always fly south in autumn for a cheap, shoulder-season trip instead.
1. Man o’ War Bay, Dorset
One of the Jurassic Coast’s most underrated beaches, this pretty cove sits between two headlands: Man o’ War Head and (the fantastically named) Durdle Door. To reach the bay, you need to walk down a steep 800-metre track. The effort is well worth it. When you reach the bottom you’ll be rewarded with a peaceful stretch of beach, with a fine mix of sand and pebbles. Since it’s well-sheltered, the waters tend to be calm and shallow. It’s ideal for swimming or, if you’re feeling adventurous, stand-up paddle-boarding through the limestone arch.Search flights to Bournemouth Search car hire at Bournemouth Airport
2. Porthcurno, Cornwall
Tucked between Penzance and Land’s End, Porthcurno is one of Britain’s best-kept beach secrets: unless you’re a fan of Poldark, in which case you’ll know it as Nampara Cove. The soft golden sands are lapped by turquoise waters and backed with rocky granite cliffs, making it a true summer paradise. If you’re not a strong swimmer, no worries – a gentle stream runs along one side of the beach, perfect for paddling. There’s also a lifeguard patrol all summer.Search trains to Porthcurno Search flights to Penzance
3. Mwnt, Wales
This sheltered sandy beach, owned by the National Trust, is the perfect spot to get back to nature. The neat rectangle of soft golden sand is backed by steep cliffs and towered over by the Foel y Mwnt headland – climb up and you might be lucky enough to spot pods of dolphins playing off the coast. As a Green Coast award winner, Mwnt has Blue Flag quality water without the bustling infrastructure. So there are no huge hotels or restaurants to spoil the view – just a small kiosk if you fancy an ice cream.Search flights to Swansea Search car hire in Swansea
4. Broad Sands, Exmoor
Not to be confused with South Devon’s Broadsands beach, Broad Sands is part of North Devon’s wild coast. The double cove is a paradise for swimmers – the two shingle beaches are sheltered and calm, plus there are plenty of interesting rock formations. The adventurous will enjoy exploring the caves and tunnels, or swimming out to the island lookout spot. As it’s a wild beach, there are no lifeguards on duty, so remember to check the tides before diving in.Search trains to Exeter
5. Long Sands Beach, Tynemouth
Probably the most beautiful beach in the North East, Tynemouth’s Long Sands Beach has recently made headlines for its crystal clear waters. Tynemouth is just the second place in the country to nab itself a Plastic Free Coastlines title – the other is Penzance. If bathing in the North Sea isn’t your thing, there’s a mile of pristine golden sands, perfect for sunbathing or playing beach games – Newcastle United sometimes train for matches here.Search trains to Newcastle Search hotels in Newcastle
6. Lunan Bay, Scotland
Scotland has some pretty incredible beaches, but this two-mile long stretch of sand really takes the biscuit. When you’re not basking on the shore, you can explore the caves or dip your toes in the Lunan Water: a shallow river that cuts the bay in half. Surfing and beach-combing are popular here, especially after storms when precious gems can be spotted glinting in the sun. There’s even a ruined castle to explore – dating back to the 12th Century, it was built to protect the coast against Vikings.Search trains to Montrose
7. Kingsgate Bay, Kent
As it’s just a two hour drive from London, Kingsgate Bay is the perfect escape from sweltering summer days in the capital. Despite this, it’s surprisingly peaceful: it doesn’t have its own car park, so is much quieter than its popular neighbours Joss Bay and Botany Bay. The dramatic white cliffs form a dramatic backdrop, and are home to some of the country’s best sea caves. The bay gets cut off at high tide, so keep an eye on the time and look out for the beach patrols – they’ll tell you when to start heading back.Search trains to Broadstairs Search car hire in London
8. Knockvologan, Isle of Mull
The Hebrides are renowned for their Barbados-like beaches, and Mull’s Knockvologan is one of the best examples. The crystal clear water is super shallow and calm, as the large Atlantic waves break on the outlying islands. The only indication you’re still in Scotland is the sheep happily grazing nearby – and the seals basking on the rocks. During low tide you can reach the Isle of Erraid, which inspired the classic Robert Louis Stevenson novel Kidnapped.Search trains to Mull Search hotels in the Hebrides
9. Benone Strand, Northern Ireland
Seven miles of sandy, seaweed-free shoreline makes this Northern Irish beach a popular spot with sun-seeking locals. It’s split into different zones, with a dedicated area for water sports and a Blue Flag awarded section with a lifeguard on duty during high season. It’s backed onto by one of the largest dune systems in the UK and Ireland, and towered over by Benevenagh Mountain. On a clear day you can see all the way across to Scotland.Search flights to Derry Search car hire in Derry
Want more tales of paradise beaches?
Our list of 10 of the best beaches in Wales proves that there’s more to the valleys than, well, valleys.
These alternative summer beach destinations are a dream for off-the-beaten path travellers.