Scotland has some pretty spectacular shores. This is where you'll find more than 800 islands and some of the most beautiful beaches in the UK, and the great news is that you’ll often have the place to yourself – bar the odd seal, seabird or even dolphin. Here are 12 eye-opening beaches to visit when on holiday in Scotland.
1. St Ninian’s Isle, Shetland
This jaw-dropping beach looks like something out of a James Bond film and would make a fine backdrop to your Scottish holiday. The wide stretch of golden sand by the mainland narrows dramatically as it pushes out towards the point where it meets with St Ninian’s Isle. In geographic terms it’s called a tombolo and it’s the largest active one in the UK. Whatever you call it, it looks remarkable, as does the surrounding scenery, with ocean on two sides and grass covered hills and sea cliffs all around.
A picnic is the way to go here, best enjoyed out on St Ninian’s Isle itself while gazing down at this truly remarkable beach – in summer you may well be sharing the sands with cute puffins. Get your supplies at the main Shetland town of Lerwick (30 minutes away), which also makes a good base for exploring the islands; try Kveldsro House Hotel for country house styling close to the town centre.
How do I get to St Ninian’s?
Flybe fly into the nearby airport at Sumburgh on the Shetland mainland. From here you’ll need to hire a car or a bike to cover the 10 miles (20 minutes) to the beach itself. Check online for accommodation, as there are many lovely cottages for hire throughout the surrounding region.
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2. Luskentyre Beach, Isle of Harris
The beaches of Harris are frankly breathtaking, and if they were in any climate warmer than Scotland’s they’d be packed with hotels and tourists. Many visitors actually make the mistake of remarking how like the Caribbean they look – in fact, it’s the other way around as the ancient landscape here is millions of years older, and boasts local rock Lewisian Gneiss, one of the oldest in the world. But these are just a handful of reasons why Harris is a popular fixture when planning a Scottish islands holiday.
A broad sand fringe runs right up Harris’s southwest coast – you can drive or cycle along and pick your perfect beach. We love Luskentyre Beach because it boasts great views of the mountains of North Harris and the isle of Taransay (which starred on BBC’s Castaway), and if you’re a fan of Harris Tweed, Donald John Mackay (telephone 01859 550261) runs his loom from a wee croft overlooking the beach. You can ask him about his big order from Nike – it’s a brilliant (true) story! See more beautiful Scottish views from Harris to Glencoe, here.
How do I get to Luskentyre?
CalMac run ferries to Harris from the Isle of Skye and the Isle of Berneray. The easiest way to avoid hours on the road: catch a flight to Stornoway and take in more of the best beaches in the UK, in neighbouring Lewis…
Tempted by a trip to the legendary island of Skye? Our guide to this beautiful Scottish isle has plenty of reasons to make this your next holiday destination.
3. West Sands, St Andrews
We reckon it’s practically impossible to run along the sweep of St Andrews’s famous West Sands without hearing the unforgettable Oscar-winning soundtrack for Chariots of Fire echoing around the place. The locals are well used to it so don’t worry about getting carried away!
The infamous Scottish beach enjoys a dramatic backdrop with the historic town centre (home to both a remarkable ruined castle and cathedral) at one end, and the North Sea at the other. Keen golfers can’t go wrong with many local courses in what is still very much the ‘Home of Golf’. The Open Championship Old Course is the best, running just behind the beach, but you don’t need to stay in a pricey hotel to access it – Agnes Blackadder Hall is just over the road and offers smart, good value rooms on part of the university campus. So if you ever fancy a wee golf holiday in Scotland, you know where to start. Visit more cinematic settings around Scotland with our guide to Scotland’s amazing filming locations.
How do I get to West Sands?
4. Redpoint Beaches, Gairloch
Known for its dusky red sands, the aptly named Redpoint boasts some of Scotland’s most alluring beaches. Similar to West Sands at St. Andrews, the beaches of Redpoint have also appeared on film, specifically the movie What We Did On Our Holiday starring Scotland’s own David Tennant and Billy Connolly, alongside Gone Girl’s Rosamund Pike.
Redpoint’s beaches are found on the north east coast of Scotland, and give adventure seeking holidaymakers a clear view of the isles of Skye and Rassay. If you drive half an hour south you’ll encounter the village of Gairloch, which is bustling with outdoor pursuits such as the local golf club, mountain walking and even whale-watching cruises, where you might also encounter dolphins, puffins and seals. Make no mistake, this is Scotland at its most natural.
How do I get to Redpoint?
5. Sandwood Bay, North Highlands
This is one of Scotland’s hidden beaches, so elusive in fact, that some people living nearby don’t even know about it. Sandwood Bay is certainly remote, with no handy car park at the beach and no public transport nearby, but the effort of hiking here (four miles from Blairmore) is well worth it when the mile-long golden sands unfurl in front of you, and the sea stack of Am Buachaille stares back from the Atlantic. The chances are it will be just you – or anyone daft enough to take their poor pooch for a seriously long walk. This is one Scottish beach that’s more for budding Robinson Crusoes than those looking for a hip beach hangout.
How do I get to Sandwood Bay?
Right at the northerly tip of Scotland, Sandwood is accessible on foot from either Blairmore to the west or the viewpoint at Cape Wrath to the east. The closest airport is Stornoway on the nearby Isle of Lewis, and there’s a ferry service between here and the mainland at Ullapool, which is also the nearest hub to Sandwood for shopping and accommodation. Stay at The Ferry Boat Inn, and you’ll be handily next to the ferry terminal.
If the secrecy of Sandwood Bay’s remote beauty appeals to your wilder side, why not check out our inspirational guide to the best hiking spots in Scotland
6. Luce Bay, Dumfries and Galloway
If it’s epic seascapes you crave, then this is the beach for you. This southerly beach in Galloway is located in Scotland’s balmiest region on the (ahem) Scottish Riviera and on a good day, from its 20-mile sweep, you can not only see the Mull of Galloway, but you’ll notice Cumbria and Ireland in the distance too. The best place to stay is the Sands of Luce Holiday Park, who will lay on everything from kite flying to sand yachting and wild beach foraging. If you’ve got some wheels – four or two will do – head to nearby Portpatrick for boat-fresh seafood at the Crown Hotel. Luce Bay and its surrounding areas really do offer the best of the Scottish coast in one place.
How do I get to Luce Bay?
Take a train to Stranraer and then taxi, hire car or cycle to cover the 15 miles eastwards. The nearest airport to Stranraer is Glasgow, which is around 3 hours’ drive away but will dramatically reduce your journey time if you’re coming from the Midlands or South of England.
7. Achnahaird, Ross-Shire
Considered by Visit Scotland to be one of the nation’s best beaches, Achnahaird is definitely one for the music lovers out there, as its creamy white sands are just a 45-minute drive away from the cheerfully named Ullapool.
This musical village is home to the Loopallu music festival, now in its 13th year. The family-friendly weekender has been graced by bands such as Twin Atlantic, Mumford and Sons and The Stranglers. You can also catch live gigs, have a dram or dine on fresh seafood at local hotel The Ceilidh Place. For a small community it sure knows how to rock it with the best of them.
And guess what? Achnahaird beach has also been in a film. This time it’s a historic war drama called The Eagle starring Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell. Surely ‘Scottish Beaches’ are long overdue a star on the Hollywood walk of fame?
How do I get to Achnahaird?
Handily, you can catch a flight direct to Inverness and either drive an hour and a half west or catch a bus by Traveline Scotland from Inverness Bus Station to Ullapool. Then you drive 45 minutes north to reach the golden sands of Achnahaird.
8. Machir Bay, Islay
You will often see the name of this 2km island stunner written as ‘Machair’ – an easy mistake to make, as it’s backed up with machair, the Scottish name for the dramatic sand dunes that are populated by chirping birds and colourful wildflowers. As well as being a pristine Scottish island beach, the added attraction here is whisky.
Islay is serious whisky country, and with eight distilleries crammed into the island, it’s the ideal venue for a small whisky tour of Scotland. Handily, one of the most charming – and the second smallest distillery in Scotland – is within walking distance of Machir Bay. Kilchoman does fun tours of their wee farm operation and has a great café serving fresh local produce. Want to know which Scottish islands to visit for beaches, whisky and dramatic walks? Take a look at our comprehensive guide to the Scottish Isles.
How do I get to Machir Bay?
CalMac runs ferries to Islay from Kennacraig and less frequently from Oban, both on the Scottish mainland. It’s then a 40 minute (20 mile) drive across to the west of the island. Save yourself a longer journey by catching a flight to Glasgow first, where you can also hire a car to get around the remote island roads.
9. Sands of Morar, West Highlands
Seen the movie Local Hero? Even if you didn’t catch this blockbuster, which starred the Sands of Morar as much as it did Burt Lancaster, you’ll appreciate the cinematic quality of these starched white beaches. The setting is pure Hollywood, with the isles of Eigg, Rum and Muck (no we didn’t make these names up!) tempting for day trips offshore, as well as Skye, a premier destination for holidaymakers and campers seeking the ‘real’ Scotland away from city life.
There is little else to do here bar light up a campfire and be blown away by a Hebridean sunset, knowing the next landfall out West is America. It’s also one of the best Scottish beaches for camping, with Camusdarach a good option.
How do I get to Sands of Morar?
From Fort William you’ll need your own car or (even better) a camper van for the 40 mile (approx one hour) drive. If you’re coming from distant parts of the UK, consider flying into Glasgow Airport and renting some wheels to continue northwards – Scotland’s west coast makes for a beautiful road trip.
10. Calgary Bay, Isle of Mull
Looking for a budget holiday to Scotland? Then Calgary Bay in the Inner Hebrides is the beach for you, with its fab free campsite set back from the dunes. The sand here is dazzlingly white and creates an idyllic scene, framed by the cobalt blue Atlantic and the sturdy Scottish hills. Mull offers the only island Munro (Scottish mountain over 3,000ft) outside Skye as well as a challenging section of the Stevenson Way. The island capital of Tobermory is a picture-perfect place where the waterfront is lined with pastel-coloured houses and boutique shops. There’s a whisky distillery and a superb seafood restaurant nearby that serves up fine Scottish cuisine.
How do I get to Calgary Bay?
Again, CalMac run regular ferries from Oban to Mull, while there are more remote routes from the Morvern and Ardnamurchan peninsulas. Your own car or bicycle is essential for Mull, unless you are seriously into walking, but if you’re coming via Glasgow, it might be worth taking the train to Oban for the chance to ride the West Highland Line up the beautiful west coast of Scotland.
11. Uig, Lewis
Chess geeks, this is one for you: the Uig sands on the west coast of the Isle of Lewis brought the world its most famous chess set. The beautifully ornate, walrus ivory Lewis Chessmen date back to the twelfth century and are thought to be of Viking origin. They were found here in the nineteenth century, but some pieces now reside in the National Museum of Scotland (Edinburgh) while others have been spirited off to the British Museum in London.
Come to the bay at high tide and you’ll wonder what all the fuss is about, but visit at low tide and you’ll be skipping around the expansive sands like a loon – as they say in these parts. You can play chess here enjoying a sweeping view, but remember to bring your own set as there are few facilities on this remote Scottish shore.
How do I get to Uig?
CalMac sail to Stornaway on Lewis from Ullapool on the mainland. You can also fly into Stornoway with Flybe from Aberdeen, Inverness, Glasgow or Edinburgh. It’s a 35 mile (50 minute) drive west across the island to Uig.
12. Traigh Mhor, Isle of Barra
Not content with having to travel to your beach of choice by bus or car? Well, then fly to Barra where you can land on Traigh Mhor beach itself! That’s right – Flybe propeller planes swoop in right onto the sands. It’s probably the only scheduled flight in the world that lands on a runway that’s washed by tides twice a day. Almost as a bonus, it’s one of Scotland’s nicest beaches, with a wide arc of clean white sand.
If you’re hungry, don’t overlook dining at the airport terminal, a surreal place at high tide and with a café serving garlic cockles, plucked from the beach right in front of you. You definitely don’t get that at Heathrow! You can pick them at parts of the beach yourself, though not from the runway section for obvious reasons.
How do I get to Traigh Mhor?
Have we overlooked your favourite Scottish beaches? Let us know in the comments section below and we might just feature your pick in our next round-up.
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