Best UK beaches that look like they’re abroad

You don’t need a plane journey to feel like you’re in the Caribbean

Chris Wilson
Tuesday 25 April 2023 16:45 BST
<p>Kynance Cove in Cornwall</p>

Kynance Cove in Cornwall

When we think of holidays, many people instantly think of flying abroad to find tropical beaches, historic cities or countryside retreats.

While many Brits look to foreign climes for their taste of sun, sand, sea or city break, the UK is blessed with an enviable number of picturesque destinations, whether you’re looking to explore a new town, take a stroll in a National Park or spend a day by the seaside.

And, with the cost of living crisis having closely followed the “end” of the Covid-19 pandemic, plenty of travellers are reconsidering their holiday habits and looking within the UK for their next trip.

In fact, Visit Britain recently reported that 6.5 million UK residents planned to go on a domestic break over the Easter weekend.

If you’re one of millions of Brits planning a holiday closer to home this spring or summer, take a look at our list of UK beaches so idyllic they look like they belong on the Med.

Durdle Door, Dorset

Durdle Door, with it’s iconic archway, is a great coastal spot for dogs

In 2001, the Jurassic Coast became the UK’s first Unesco World Heritage site. The 96-mile section of coastline stretches from Exmouth to Studland Bay in Dorset, and Durdle Door is the jewel in the coastal crown.

The famous limestone arch (pictured) was forged through waves eroding a hole in the rock and is one of the UK’s most iconic landmarks, as well as being one of the most popular beaches on this list (and a dog-friendly one too).

Achmelvich Beach, Scotland

A hidden beach near Achmelvich

Located in the north-west of Scotland, Achmelvich Beach offers the kind of white sand usually reserved for tropical beaches – but just three miles away from Lochinver.

The beach is a great place for wildlife spotting, with a range of birds, porpoises, dolphins and even minke whales sometimes visible from the shore. It’s also popular for those in search of water sports such as fishing, windsurfing, kayaking and water skiing.

Kynance Cove, Cornwall

Kynance Cove Beach

Visit Cornwall reckons that Kynance Cove is “probably the most photographed and painted location in Cornwall”, and for good reason.

Famous for the dark red and green serpentinite rock that makes up its cliffs – and that, in the past, tempted Queen Victoria to install a fireplace made of it – the beach sits on part of the Lizard coastal walk. Nevertheless, it’s the white sand and turquoise sea that really attract thousands of visitors per year.

Pentle Bay, Tresco, Isles of Scilly

The white sands of Pentle Bay

Pentle Bay’s sub-tropical climate admittedly gives it the edge on other entries.

Found on the island of Tresco within the Isles of Scilly, Pentle Bay has previously been cited as one of the best beaches in the UK and has even made it onto a Wall Street Journal list of “Under-the-Radar Beaches”.

Praised by the publication for “bone-white beaches” and “turquiose if chilly sea”, Pentle Bay is one of numerous excellent beaches on the Isles but shines due to its wild, untouched appearance and the fact that it can often be found empty, even in high season.

Great Bay, St Martin’s, Isles of Scilly

A scenic view of the Great Bay

Staying within the temperate Isles of Scilly, the island of St Martin’s is home to another superb UK beach that could have any visitor thinking they were in the Azores.

With green hills and rugged, rocky coastline, Great Bay’s untouched appearance gives the impression of an Atlantic destination only reachable by multiple hours of flying rather than just a short distance from the Cornish coast.

Great Bay has been widely praised as one of the Isles’ best beaches, but the islands offer plenty of choice, as well as laying claim to being the UK’s warmest location.

Fistral Beach, Cornwall

Fistral Beach, famous for its surfing reputation

Billed (on its own website, admittedly) as “the UK’s most prestigious surfing destination”, Fistral Beach has become famous within the UK as a popular beach for surfers. The Cribbar – a nearby reef – can generate waves up to 12m high and attracts experienced surfers from all over the world.

However, due to its sporting popularity, few have given this famous beach the credit that its aesthetics deserve. The high cliffs, headlands and sand dunes provide a dramatic backdrop, while long stretches of golden sand and blue sea await both surfers and onlookers. Who said you need to go to Sydney to see Bondi Beach?

Read more on UK travel:

Barafundle Bay, Wales

Barafundle Beach, Pembrokeshire

Wales may not be many’s first thought when it comes to golden sand dunes, pine trees and crystal-clear water, but Barafundle offers them all.

Look out towards the sea if you want to feel like you’re in the Caribbean, or look back towards land to feel like you’re on an Atlantic island.

What’s more, the isolated location (half a mile from the town of Stackpole) and the subsequent lack of facilities mean that this Pembrokeshire beach remains untouched, so visitors can enjoy a less crowded experience than at many other UK hotspots.

Holkham Beach, Norfolk

Holkham Beach, Norfolk

Another beach that has been saved from commercialisation, Holkham Beach boasts a vast expanse of sand and sea. Backed up by forest to shelter you from those days when the sun is too much, the sheer size of this unspoilt landscape will have you feeling like you’re abroad.

Here, the attraction is the natural setting, with the grassy knolls and pine woods that sit behind the beach similar to some US beaches.

Portmeirion Beach, Wales

Portmeirion Beach during the summer

If the village itself wasn’t enough of an attraction, Portmeirion is also home to an impressive beach. It may not have the white sands or turquoise waters that other entries on this list have, but the scenic backdrop – and it’s uniqueness within the UK – make this a worthwhile visit.

Located in northern Wales, the beach here is one that benefits from its setting: the pastel buildings and classical architecture of the village are intertwined with classic British woodland to give the entire location a rather Italian feel.

Luskentyre Sands, Outer Hebrides, Scotland

Luskentyre Beach, part of the Outer Hebrides

Named as one of the 29 best beaches in the world by Condé Nast Traveller, Luskentyre isn’t as easy to reach as some beaches in this list, but it’s more than worth the trip.

With golden sand and incredibly blue water, this Is a UK beach where the scenery and geography lend themselves equally to sunny relaxation days or stormy hiking ones.

That said, visit on a warm summer’s day if you want to try and convince yourself that you’re somewhere in the Indian Ocean rather than in Scotland (but remember to pack a waterproof, just in case).

Read our reviews of the best UK hotels

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