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Best beaches in Scotland to visit this summer

If a Scottish staycation is on the cards this year, these are the sandy hotspots you won’t want to miss

Natalie Wilson
Wednesday 31 May 2023 15:28 BST
A view of Achmelvich Beach, one of Scotland’s best, from the sand dunes
A view of Achmelvich Beach, one of Scotland’s best, from the sand dunes (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The Caribbean-looking coasts of Scotland and its isles are a surprising addition to its already spectacular portfolio of rugged landscapes, unspoiled environments and unique wildlife.

White sands, turquoise waters and roaring surf fill a summer holiday to the top of the UK with endless potential for activities, including surfing, swimming and sunbathing in secluded beach locations. From the wonders of the famous North Coast 500 to mountain lochs and tombolo sand bars, a Scottish seaside break has something for every beach lover.

Sunny days can be sparse, but the summer months from June to August attract the warmest weather and most visitors to Scotland’s abundance of sandy shores and food and music festivals. While scorching hot summers are no guarantee, the bravest swimmers can take a refreshing dip in the crystal-clear seas all year round – make sure to remember your wetsuit. Try visiting in April or May for a quieter, albeit much colder, day on some of the UK’s best beaches.

Here’s The Independent‘s selection of the 10 best stretches of sand from the Isle of Skye to the Scottish Highlands.

Read more on Scotland travel:

Achmelvich Bay, Lochinver

White sand and turquoise water form Achmelvich Bay (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Best for: Swimming

With an emerald sea and immaculate white sand, Achmelvich Bay in the northwest of Scotland more closely resembles a Mediterranean paradise than a UK beach. Outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy swimming in the clear waters or unwind on shore to catch stunning sunsets over the gentle waves. A day at Achmelvich is well worth the trek down the narrow track road to reach the bay – make sure to head down early in peak season, as the popular swimming spot is also a huge hit with campers and kayakers.

Where to stay

Just two miles away, Suil na Mara glamping pod boasts sea views, a private balcony and a skylight to the stars in the bedroom.

Balnakeil Beach, Durness

Balnakeil Beach is an azure gem in the far north of Scotland (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Best for: White sands

A Caribbean dupe, the crescent-shaped white sand dunes of Balnakeil Beach in Durness, north Scotland, are wide, pure and unspoiled. The idyllic setting just off the NC500 route is a must-visit stop for those exploring Scotland’s scenic north coast to take a relaxing break. Balnakeil is within walking distance of historic church ruins and Balnakeil Craft Village; visit in off-peak season for a frosty winter walk to Cocoa Mountain, the Scottish chocolatiers who have mastered the art of hot chocolate.

Where to stay

Bae Seren in Durness features a garden, sea views and three double bedrooms so the whole family can enjoy proximity to some of the best beaches in Scotland.

St Ninian’s Beach, Shetland Islands

A tombolo sand bar connects St Ninian’s Island to the mainland (Getty Images)

Best for: Windswept walks

Sandwiched between sapphire seas, Shetland’s crowning jewel is the longest tombolo sand causeway in the UK. Easily accessible from Bigton town on the west coast, St Ninian’s links the mainland via a picturesque fine sand beach to an archaeological site on St Ninian’s Isle. The curved sandbar is ideal for long walks, and is a favourite with families wanting to discover the rich history of religion and buried treasure on the now uninhabited island.

Where to stay

Hayhoull B&B is situated just a five-minute walk from St Ninian’s sands and offers hearty breakfasts, cycling opportunities and Shetland literature (for the more culturally inclined).

Doubles from £45pp

Book now

Tolsta Beach, Isle of Lewis

Tolsta Beach, Isle of Lewis (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Best for: Wildlife spotting

Tolsta Beach, on the east coast of the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, boasts two miles of golden sand and grass banks rich in plant life. Easily accessed from Stornoway, the stunning, sheltered shoreline attracts visitors to remote North Tolsta. Be sure to bring your binoculars to spot Scottish wildlife, such as seals, porpoises, dolphins and whales offshore alongside a range of seabird species. For the best view, head up the cliffs or explore the area and walk to the “Bridge to Nowhere”, a failed attempt by Lord Leverhulme in the 20th century to expand Tolsta’s eastern road to Ness.

Where to stay

Remuera holiday home in North Tolsta is a secluded stay that offers a terrace, barbeque and garden, in addition to its four bedrooms; it’s just a short drive from Tolsta’s beaches.

Luskentyre Sands, Isle of Harris

The emerald waters of the beaches of Luskentyre (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Best for: Surfing

Forget you’re in the UK on the secluded white sands of Luskentyre stretching as far as the eye can see. A gem of south Harris’ west coast, Luskentyre surpasses some of the finest blue flag beaches in Europe, with panoramic views of rolling waves at the end of a single-track road. The expansive beach is popular in the summer, but large enough that the stunning backdrop of dramatic mountains and vivid green-blue waters will never feel busy. Don a wetsuit – average water temperatures are low year-round – and paddle out to catch a wave; the Atlantic coast gets great northern swells in the winter and the surf comes in unbroken.

Where to stay

Solas, a luxury self-catering home, sits above the shores of Luskentyre Beach. A wood-fired hot tub, sauna and yoga deck are on offer to guests after a long day of riding the waves.

From £3,295 per week for up to six guests

Book now

Loch Morlich Beach, Glenmore

Loch Morlich is Scotland’s only award-winning freshwater beach (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Best for: Mountain views

The long stretch of natural golden shoreline on the banks of Loch Morlich, 318m above sea level and 30 miles from the sea, is a sandy haven with spectacular views. Situated at the foot of snow-capped mountains Cairngorms and Ben Macdui in Glenmore Forest Park, it’s the beautiful setting that steals the show. Chill out al fresco on the peaceful loch near Aviemore, the only award-winning freshwater beach in Scotland (and the highest in Britain), reached via a short meander through Caledonian pine, birch and alder trees. The loch’s sands are well-equipped with watersports, yachting and camping facilities, perfect for those looking to enjoy the calm waters and breathtaking mountain views.

Where to stay

Pine Marten Bar Glenmore Treehouse is a quirky Scottish stay in Aviemore that boasts mountain views, a small kitchen and a cosy living space perfect for a family.

Clachtoll Beach, Sutherland

Clachtoll Beach, Assynt, Sutherland (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Best for: NC500 pit-stops

Press pause on your road trip and relax on the white shores of Clachtoll Beach, in the stunning area of Assynt, Sutherland. Sat five miles north of Lochniver, directly on the iconic NC500 route and a snorkelling trail by the Scottish Wildlife Trusts, geometric rock formations including the famous Split Rock stack in Clachtoll’s Bay. The less popular neighbour of Achmelvich Beach on the Stoer peninsular features unspoiled rugged terrain and views over to the isles of Lewis, Harris and Skye. With its crystal-clear sea, wooden walkways and bustling campsite, the Scottish paradise is a must-visit shore on any road trip.

Where to stay

North Coast 500 Pods in Achmelvich feature a terrace, kitchenette and communal barbeque facilities, and they’re just a short walk from several of Scotland’s gold sand beaches (and a 20-minute drive from Clachtoll Beach).

Vatersay Bay, Isle of Barra

Think crystal clear water and immaculate sand on Vatersay Island (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Best for: Sunbathing

Vatersay Bay, otherwise known as Traigh a Bhaigh or “East Beach”, is one of two beaches in the centre of Vatersay Island. Linked to the Isle of Barra by a causeway, Vatersay features unique wildflowers, a scenic coastline and the azure waters of the Atlantic. The most southerly of the Outer Hebrides’ inhabited islands, the shallow bay is perfect for swimming, paddle boarding and stretching out on the wide dunes. Visitors can camp overnight and head over to “West Beach”, Traigh Siar, to learn the tragic history of the Annie Jane shipwreck.

Where to stay

The Todday Snug Studio in Ersary features sea, mountain and garden views from a private patio, all just a 15-minute drive from Vattersay Bay.

Coral Beach, Isle of Skye

The Coral Beaches on the Isle of Skye (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Best for: Off-peak holidays

In the north of Skye, Coral Beach is an isolated stretch of Skye’s coastline, reached by a drive down a rough country track and scenic walk. The beach's white shores are made up of neither sand nor coral – they’re a combination of dried and sun-bleached seaweed and algae. On a sunny day, the blue waters near Claigan sparkle, and Coral Beach’s variety of shells and fossils stand out in its rock pools and banks. The sun makes an occasional appearance in Scotland during the off-season, and while there is no guarantee of warm weather, taking in the tropical scenery without crowds is well worth a try, come rain or shine.

Where to stay

Lampay Chalets offer holiday homes with sea views, double bedrooms and picnic benches just 1.3 miles from Coral Beach.

Uyea, Shetland Islands

The rugged coastline of Uyea Island in Northmavine (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Best: Secluded spot

The uninhabited tidal island of Uyea, off the northwest of mainland Shetland and the Northmavine peninsula, has a landscape of dramatic granite rock and emerald water. Connected by a long sand tombolo, much like the beach at St Ninian’s, the secluded spot and its surrounding skerries stun at low tide on sunny days. Although it is not advised to scramble down the cliffs to cross the sandbar, the view is just as breathtaking when admired from above. It is quite a walk to the remote viewpoint through wild Scottish environments – a celebratory picnic overlooking Uyea’s golden sands comes highly recommended.

Where to stay

St Magnus Bay Hotel, in the heart of Shetland. boasts tranquil surroundings, traditional décor and a rich cultural history. It’s less than a two-hour drive from Uyea.

Read more of our best Scotland Highlands hotel reviews

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