The UK’s coastline weaves in and out of craggy inlets and sandy stretches totalling around 12,500km. And when the sun beats down on us weather-mad Brits we head to the shores like bees to lavender. But in our desperation to dip a toe in icy waters surely we should head somewhere clean and unpolluted.
Thankfully, the Blue Flag status awarded to European beaches for both their cleanliness and provision of facilities means we don’t have to do too much research. And from the 169 UK beaches awarded Blue Flag status in 2016, we’ve handpicked a few of our favourites.
The great swathes of sand on the coastal tip of the Ynyslas estuary are also known as Barmouth beach. Back in the day there were donkey rides and fairground rides, but it’s been a while since I day tripped here on the train from Aberdovey. I hear there is still an amusement arcade for those seeking some retro, or rainy day, distractions – what else do you save your pennies for the rest of the year… Once you’ve pitched your windbreaker, get digging and cover granny in a mermaid sand shell then head for a paddle on the seashore.
Dogs welcome? May to September you’ll find zones for exercising dogs, while the rest of the year you’ll have the beach to yourself
Best bit: this is one of north Wales’ best stretches of sand
Good for: kayaking, jet skiing, windsurfing and sandcastles
If you want to be papped on the beach in your best bikini, the chances of it happening here are probably (see Suffolk) higher than anywhere else in the UK. Lovingly referred to as Britain’s Palm Beach, these white-as-British-sand-gets grains grace the coastline of Britain’s most expensive peninsula – Sandbanks. And with hot property comes high society (or rich kids of Instagram, depending on your generation and perspective). These (technically) golden sands stretch from Poole harbour to Bournemouth, are connected to Studland by chain ferry and have more than a handful of expensive restaurants and bars serving their peckish patrons.
Dogs welcome? Restricted in summer months between Sandbanks Promenade and Haven Point
Best bit: soft sand and property porn
Good for: celeb spotting, house envy, sailing and sandcastles
Polzeath is one of Cornwall’s top surfing beaches. If you’re near Wadebridge or Padstow you’ll likely head here one day but get here early to bag a spot in the summer months. Oh and check the tide times – there’s very little beach left at high tide. The surf is the main draw card but a cute seaside resort has grown around that audience and there are plenty of cafes, pubs and restaurants should you get caught out by the tide (or the rain). If you’re feeling brave, there are surf schools aplenty and if you get bitten by the bug there are more than a handful of shops to get kitted out in.
Dogs welcome? Only between October and Easter weekend
Best bit: the surf
Good for: sandcastles and surfing, body boarding too
South Tenby, Pembrokeshire
The South Beach in Tenby is one of 13 Pembrokeshire beaches to have held Blue Flag beach status over the years. It’s one of those sandy favourites that’s all firm and flat after the tide has gone out, just waiting for spade digging and moat building to begin. Two miles of golden sand mean you’re really spoilt for choice in terms of where to park your bums – it all depends how much of a view you want of Caldey Island. There’s disabled access from the car park at the north end and restaurants and coffee shops popping up along the dunes to keep you fed and watered.
Dogs welcome? Yes! You need to keep them on a lead between May and September on the stretch nearest the town, otherwise let them loose (responsibly, of course).
Best bit: you can enjoy proper coffee while judging the sandcastle wars
Good for: swimming, sailing, surfing
It’s Southwold Pier that claims the fame around here – over 100 years old and recently refurbished, it’s quite the calling card for this traditional British seaside town. Meanwhile its county coastal neighbour, Aldeburgh, is currently riding on the coattails of Tom Hiddleston and Taylor Swift sauntering along the seashore. But without the prospect of paparazzi, Southwold’s pier, promenade and a beach that’s all shingley sand will have to suffice along with a healthy selection of tea rooms and the like.
Dogs welcome? Mostly. But in the summer look out for sections of the beach that dogs are not allowed on.
Best bit: traditional seaside stuff (there’s even an amusement arcade)
Good for: safe swimming, fishing, jet skiing
Predominantly sandy – you might have to skirt wave-swept clusters of pebbles and shells – Mundesley beach is said to be one of Norfolk’s finest coastal offerings. Good job really; it provides the perfect magnet for day trippers to this picturesque seaside town with its Victorian promenade and brightly painted beach huts. Pack your SLR for plenty of quintessential English seaside photography opportunities.
Dogs welcome? Restricted 1 May to 30 September along the stretch that is parallel to the promenade
Best bit: safe swimming at low tide
Good for: nostalgic day at the seaside with windbreakers, coolbox and sand sandwiches
Botany Bay, Kent
One of seven bays in Broadstairs, this is the most northerly of them all. This sandy bay is perhaps best known for its rather dramatic chalk stack that appears to have detached itself from the main cliff – it creates one hell of a doorway! Vista aside, this is as good as any Kent beach for sunny days out with the kids.
Dogs welcome? Early and late doors only in the summer months (6pm-10am, 1 May – 30 September)
Best bit: stunning coastline for a spot of sand fort creation
Good for: epic sandcastles, kayaking, surfing
A beach of soft sand and rustic shingle that’s edged by a pretty promenade and chalk cliffs put Yorkshire on the map for seaside escapes. The chalky Flamborough Headland happens to be the only mainland nesting site for gannets, so watch over your picnics. Look north for your next UK beach break – you’ll be more than pleasantly surprised.
Dogs welcome? Winter months only (1 October – 30 April)
Best bit: there’s a land train to distract and entertain the kids when they’re demanding their third ice cream of the day
Good for: rock pooling, kite surfing, wind surfing
West Wittering, West Sussex
From our landlocked base here in Oxfordshire, West Wittering beach is oft recommended as the nearest sandy beach for a day out with kids. It’s about 1.5 hours’ drive to this West Sussex haven if you’re up bright and early with the larks we know as toddlers. And when you get there you won’t be disappointed. It’s sand, sand and more sand plus a healthy calf workout otherwise known as sand dunes to reach the flatter sandy plains. Come armed with buckets, spades and bathers. This is a great beach for a paddle and a dip if you’re brave.
Dogs welcome? There are dog zones and no-dog zones so you’ll know where to go if you’re here on a pet friendly holiday between May and September
Best bit: sandy beach loved by families
Good for: swimming, snorkelling, kite surfing
South Sands, Devon
The beaches closest to Salcombe won’t win any awards for size, but Blue Flag beach status will do for us. This hugely popular part of craggy Devon coastline draws the crowds in the summer months and South Sands cove is a dinky beach perfect for sunbathing, swimming and sandcastles. The tractor ferry will trundle you back and forth to Salcombe for your essentials. Ice creams come courtesy of the old school trolley. And for a saunter inland there’s the National Trust’s Overbecks house and gardens a wee climb up the hill.
Dogs welcome? Yes. But if you don’t pick up after your pooch you’ll be busted on such a small patch of sand. Be warned.
Best bit: sheltered estuary cove
Good for: canoeing, paddling and windsurfing
All you have to do is pack the SPF. See you there!