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The best British beaches, chosen by the travel desk

·5-min read
<p>Sunny Sands beach</p> (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Sunny Sands beach

(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

We’re in the midst of an unexpected heatwave across the UK right now, with temperatures set to hit 30C this weekend in London. Phew.

The warm weather has come from the Azores, according to the Met Office, which is about the only thing allowed to come from the Portuguese territory since it got shunted on the UK’s amber list on 3 June.

So, British beaches it is. Thankfully, our fair isle has plenty of decent ones – more Blue Flag beaches than Cyprus, even.

There’s nowhere quite like a British beach; in all their sticks-of-rock, wind-in-the-hair, sandy-sandwich glory. Our little island has plenty of great options, and given international travel is currently...unlikely, The Independent travel desk has put together our edit of our favourite British beaches.

Sunny Sands, Folkestone, Kent

Folkestone – perhaps best known for its proximity to the Chunnel – may seem like an odd inclusion in the “best beach” stakes. But it’s the place I’m most keenly anticipating returning to, for several reasons. First up, it’s extremely convenient when travelling from London – a swift 52 minutes on the high-speed Southeastern train service from St Pancras. Secondly, it has a smashing harbour arm, replete with food and drink stalls (including a champagne bar operating out of a lighthouse). And thirdly, it’s one of the few spots along the Kent coast that boasts an actual sand, rather than pebble, beach: Sunny Sands. There’s also a pebble beach too if that’s more your thing, stretching who-knows-how-far and enlivened with a variety of vibrant public artworks, added to every three years during the Folkestone Triennial. - Helen Coffey

Oddicombe, Torquay, Devon

Whenever I’m asked to pick my favourite beach, my answer is swift and certain: Oddicombe in south Devon. My answer largely stems from pure nostalgia – this is the beach we would go to most summers when I was a kid during holidays to visit my dad’s family in Torquay. With a soft shingle beach, striking red cliffs (that are perpetually falling into the sea), cute kiosks to buy snacks, inflatables and buckets and spades, and even a cliff railway, it is the epitome of everything I want from a great British beach. -HC

Whitby Beach, Whitby, Yorkshire

There are plenty of reasons to visit Whitby besides its long stretches of magnificent sand and shingle beach. The perfect fish and chips for one; the glorious “lemon top” (vanilla ice cream topped with a swirl of lemon sorbet) for another. It even hosts one of the world’s premier Goth festivals, the twice yearly Whitby Goth Weekend, thanks in part to Bram Stoker, for whom the Gothic Whitby Abbey served as inspiration for “Dracula”. Anyway, back to that beach – this blue flag beauty is ideal for rock pooling, paddling and bathing and has a spectacular cliff backdrop, plus a row of brightly coloured beach huts for added charm. - HC

South Bank, Waterloo, London

Calling this strip of sand and pebbles, properly visible only at low tide, a beach is possibly pushing it a little – but it’s a personal favourite of mine, as I held my wedding reception at the South Bank’s Oxo Tower that overlooks it. There’s a bombastic view of the financial district’s skyscrapers and St Paul’s, and it’s oddly disorientating to look up at the people walking along the riverside path above. The South Bank beach changes with the seasons: in winter, the Thames looks bleakly beautiful in its gunmental glory; while in summer, seeing the sun bounce off the surrounding buildings while sunbathing in a bikini is a special kind of thrill. Plus, you’re sandwiched between the Southbank Centre (for art and culture) and Borough Market (for food): no sticks of rock and cheap kiss-me-quick attractions here. - Cathy Adams

Frinton-on-Sea beach, Essex

If you grew up in Essex, as I did, then Frinton was the beach to go to. Unlike nearby Clacton or boisterous Walton-on-the-Naze, Frinton has the nice sand and the quiet, family-friendly feel – so much so that it’s picked up a Blue Flag award. The beach itself is a real looker: it sweeps down to the sea from a high coastal promenade ideal for walking off the fish and chip lunch, and there’s a row of colourful beach huts I used to enjoy peering into as a child. But possibly the best thing about this place, as my parents will tell you, is the free parking close to the beach. - CA

Ballycastle, County Antrim

The Bay Cafe – which overlooks the broad beach of Ballycastle and has conveniently vast bay windows – serves the Big Fry special (sausage, bacon, egg, beans, tomatoes, hashbrowns, soda bread, toast, tea) before long. This is a beach with a view: the hills of County Antrim subside into the sea – and beyond the tumbling cliffs, through the mist, stands the Mull of Kintyre, that bulky punctuation at the end of Scotland’s Argyll Peninsula. – Simon Calder

Aberdeen, north-east Scotland

Few British cities include a beach in their repertoire. Brighton and Swansea boast strips of shoreline, but are limited in their appeal by, respectively, shingle in Sussex and the humdrum urban backdrop in South Wales. In contrast, the Granite City of Aberdeen has a formidable beach: a wide arc of sand that is perfect for a pre-breakfast dip on a bright morning. After a splash or a surf, enjoy the architecture just inland in Old Aberdeen. – SC

Rhossili Bay, Gower Peninsula, South Wales

The sweep of sand at the far end of the Gower Peninsula is far from the easiest beach in Britain to reach, even if you start from, say, Cardiff. But wherever you begin, it is worth the journey – with a wild, western aspect that makes it especially appealing at the end of a warm summer afternoon, when the muscular headlands cradle the sands and seem to collect the warmth. “Wake up to one of the best views in the world,” is the claim of the family-run Worm’s Head Hotel. – SC

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