From deserted craggy coves to family favourites, we reveal our ultimate seaside selection for the best beaches to be found along Britain’s stretches of award-winning coastline.
The British seaside has been a beloved national institution for decades. From parasol-toting royals strolling down the promenades to sandals-and-socks-clad gents with a handkerchief precariously balanced atop their heads, the British love the beach and swarm to it in droves upon the first glimmer of summer sun.
But despite popular belief, the British coastline is much more than kiss-me-quick hats, murky waters and the relentless ker-ching of arcade games. Outside of the main tourist haunts, there are glorious swathes of untouched sands and evian-clear waters to be discovered; in fact, an ample 372 of the UK’s beaches fly the famous Blue Flag. Here is our choice of the best beaches Britain has to offer:
For some old-school beach fun, head to the family seaside resort of Frinton-on-Sea. The self-proclaimed ‘discerning’ beach resort has resisted the temptations of modernisation, instead it has retained a quaint traditional feel that the area prides itself on.
With only one pub and not a glimmer of neon in sight, Frinton-on-Sea has shunned the lures of a quick-buck and instead welcomes visitors to its collection of independent shops and tea rooms found along tree-lined Connaught Avenue. The beach itself retains much of its former glory and is lined with Victorian style beach huts, reminiscent of the days when the town was a favorite retreat for the aristocracy.
Eat: Head to leafy Connaught Avenue where there is a collection of family-run restaurants serving delicious home cooked grub.
Stay: Much like the surrounding area, The Rock Hotel (website: www.therockhotel.co.uk) exudes a chintzy charm that brings to mind the bygone era of doilies and flock wallpaper. Sat on The Esplanade, the hotel offers uninterrupted views of the sea and double rooms from £80.
Getting there: By road leave the A133 at Weeley and take the B1033 directly into Frinton-on-Sea. Trains go from London Liverpool Street to Thorpe-le-Soken, from where a connecting train takes you into Frinton-on-Sea.
Holkham Bay, Norfolk
Tucked beyond the secluding fringes of a pine-tree blanket, Holkham Bay is easy to miss from the road, but well worth the hunt. After a short trip down Lady Ann’s Drive (opposite the Victoria Hotel), and a walk through the dunes, three miles of custard cream sand stretches as far as the eye can see.
If you prefer to spread your picnic in peace rather than squeezing onto a stamp-sized patch of sand this is the beach for you. The stretch of coastline is so quiet that the Queen herself often does a spot of corgi-walking whilst in residence at Sandringham. Hollywood royalty has also graced Holkham’s sands with Gwyneth Paltrow strolling down it in the last scene in Shakespeare in Love.
Eat: with its distinct lack of fish and chip shops and candy floss stalls, the only place to buy some grub is at the sandwich hut near the car park. But if you don’t want to shell out a small fortune then bring a picnic with you. Stock your hamper in Wells-next-the-Sea, which also has a few dining options. A closer choice is the Victoria Hotel (website: www.victoriaatholkham.co.uk) which can arrange a picnic hamper or you can try the local produce in its restaurant.
Stay: the Victoria Hotel (doubles from £120) offers a mixture of chic and old-world charm and is within walking distance of the beach. For a cheaper option head into Wells-nest-the-Sea where there is a choice of great value b & bs.
Getting there: By road turn off the A149, and take the turning opposite the Victoria Hotel, for Lady Anne’s Drive, where you can also park for £3 per day.
Three Cliffs Bay, Gower
With craggy coves, a hefty slab of sand and toiling surf, this is one of the most charismatic bays in Britain. The strong coastal breeze makes it an ideal spot for sailing and windsurfing and nature enthusiasts will revel in the nearby sprawling National Nature reserve straddling the cliff tops. The walks are definitely not for the faint-hearted as some of the trails cut a steep route up towering sand dunes and along hair-raising coastal paths. If you are feeling active, head into the salt marshes and valley; complete with its very own fairy-tale Castle.
Eat: There are many restaurants in Gower itself or head to the village of Mumbles and dine in one of its many tea rooms.
Stay: You don’t get much of a better beach view than from the cliff top campsite overlooking the bay. The Three Cliffs Bay Holiday Park (website: www.threecliffsbay.com) has its own private path to the beach and a view that was voted ‘Best in Wales’ by Country Life Magazine.
Getting there: By road leave the M4 at junction 42 and follow the signs towards South Gower and Port Einon. Trains go to Swansea City Centre, from where you can catch the 118 bus to Gower.
Porthminster beach, Cornwall
Cornwall’s answer to the star-studded shores of Biarritz, this ‘urban’ beach is minutes from the surfer-studded bustle of St Ives and boasts alluring jade green waters. Although St Ives has made its name as the South’s answer to the glitzy Grand Plage, Portminster is actually a great family choice. The award-winning half-mile crescent of powdery perfection is in a sheltered location making it ideal for letting little ones take a dip without fear of being bowled over by waves as seen on other beaches along the bay.
Eat: St Ives is awash with restaurants and cafes to suit all tastes, from traditional pubs and sugar-scented bakeries serving homemade treats to gourmet delicatessens and high-brow eateries. If the walk into town doesn’t appeal, Porthminster Café is beach-side and serves up a delicious range of fish fresh off the line.
Stay: The Porthminster hotel (website: www.porthminster-hotel.co.uk) is nestled in subtropical gardens and perched above St Ives Bay, with direct access onto Porthminster beach. Doubles rooms are from £60 per person, per night for dinner and bed and breakfast.
Getting there: Trains go into St Ives, from where Porthminster beach is a short walk on the south side of town. By car follow the A3074 through Lelant and Carbis Bay to St Ives.
For more information: See the VisitBritain website at www.visitbritain.com.