10 of the best beaches in Britain and Ireland, from sandy spaces for families to places of exquisite natural beauty

Rosie Paterson picks out 10 of the very best, and suggests places to stay near each once tourism is back up and running.

If you’re heading around the coast of Britain or Ireland this summer, you’re in for a treat: the spectacular coastlines of these countries get battered by weather in autumn and winter, but on a fine day in spring or summer they’re the equal of anything in the world.

If you’re exploring new areas, however, remember to be safe and take care: unexpected currents and tides can be dangerous. The essential advice to to float until you regain your breathing and strength, then  message is  RNLI Float to Live campaign has these five tips that could literally be lifesavers should you get into difficulties:

  • Fight your instinct to thrash around
  • Lean back, extend your arms and legs
  • If you need to, gently move them around to help you float
  • Float until you can control your breathing
  • Only then, call for help or swim to safety

The RNLI’s message is being passed on through flip-flops provided to lifeguards by Ford, and made using recycled car tyres, with the ‘Float to Live’ message. Picture credit: Aaron Chown/PA Wire

With caveat taken care of, here’s the list. Enjoy!

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1. For active types: Lahinch, Co Clare

Lahinch beach, Ireland.

The west coast of Ireland bears the brunt of some of the Atlantic Ocean’s most terrific swells. As a result, its beaches are a Mecca for surfers. Lahinch — a mile-long, sandy crescent — is regarded as one of the best. And remember your golf clubs: the links course at Lahinch is a joy, one of the finest in the country.

There’s a strong current, so beginners should book a lesson with Lahinch Surf School (www.lahinchsurfschool.com). More experienced surfers should head for the wild and windswept Aran Islands, just off the same coastline. The best breaks tend to be off the rocks and are not for the faint-hearted.

Where to stay
Moy House, an 18th-century country house with 15 acres of grounds, overlooking the sweep of Lahinch Bay (www.moyhouse.com), or Inis Meáin Restaurant & Suites, a five-bedroom, design-led retreat on Inishmaan (www.inismeain.com).

2. For outstanding beauty: Luskentyre, Isle of Harris

Luskentyre beach at Seilebost on South Harris in the Outer Hebrides.

On a sunny day, Luskentyre beach could easily be mistaken for somewhere in the Caribbean — something that could be said of all the best beaches in Scotland. The sand is a brilliant sugar-white sweep and the sea a vivid shade of blue. Sand dunes to the north provide protection on windier days and there are excellent walking trails for those who don’t fancy a dip. If bad weather sweeps in, you’ll certainly feel ready for a dram afterwards.

Where to stay
Scarista House — a Georgian country-house hotel with the beach on one side and heather-covered mountains on the other. Inside, the decoration is traditional and there’s a separate dog-friendly cottage (www.scaristahouse.com).

[READ MORE: Scotland’s 10 best beaches]

3. For sand dunes: Saunton Sands, Devon

Saunton Sands on a sunny day is unbeatable.

Saunton’s three-mile-long, straight beach is backed by Braunton Burrows, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and the second-largest sand-dune system in Britain. The dunes support more than 470 species of flowering plants and an important insect population. It is part of a working estate, but visitors have unrestricted access to the 1,800-acre space.

Where to stay
Saunton Sands Hotel — an impressive, family-owned hotel and spa, with unobstructed sea views and direct beach access (www.sauntonsands.co.uk).

4. For swimming: Green Bay, Bryher, Isles of Scilly

Green Bay, Bryher Scilly Isles.

Green Bay is the biggest beach on Bryher, with a tropical feel. The water is calm and clear enough for swimmers to make out an old field-boundary wall, which dates back 2,500 years.

Where to stay
Hell Bay Hotel — a New England-style oasis that carries the accolade of being England’s most westerly hotel (www.hellbay.co.uk).

5. For dramatic coastline: Bedruthan Steps beach, Cornwall

Sunset over the Bedruthan Steps.

Even from the elevated coast path, it’s hard to appreciate the enormity of Bedruthan’s monolithic rock formations. They’re best viewed from the sand, where they tower like giants above you. Cliff erosion in late 2019 means the steep steps down to the beach are currently closed, so check before you travel even if going after lockdown ends.

Where to stay
Prennek House — a sustainable build in Mawgan Porth that uses repurposed materials throughout. It sleeps eight and has lots of cosy nooks to curl up in, despite the contemporary style (www.perfectstays.co.uk).

6. For fossil hunting: Compton Bay, Isle of Wight

The Cliffs and beach at Compton Bay, Isle of Wight, looking towards Hanover Point.

The Isle of Wight has the richest source of dinosaur remains in Europe — 20 different species have been discovered around Compton Bay alone. Look for fossils in areas recently uncovered by the tide and don’t miss the large, three-toed Iguanodon prints.

Where to stay
Rose Cottage, a historic stone rental that sleeps four, owned by the National Trust. There’s a large garden and another Trust property — Mottistone Manor — within sight (www.nationaltrust.org.uk/holidays ).

7. For privacy: Church Doors Cove, Pembrokeshire

The Church Doors natural limestone arch rock formation, Skrinkle Haven, Pembrokeshire.

Accessible only at low tide or via the coast path, Church Doors Cove is a geological wonder, framed on three sides by vertical, stratified sandstone cliffs. One side extends out into the water and has been eroded over the years to form a gargantuan and slightly perilous-looking opening, or door.

Where to stay
Penally Abbey, a lovingly restored, Straw-berry Hill-Gothic house, set above the sea. The interiors are airy and romantic, a world away from twee (www.penally-abbey.com).

8. For rock pooling: Porthdinllaen, Llŷn Peninsula, Wales

Only small signs of Porthdinllaen’s industrious past remain, such as an Iron Age fort on the headland. It’s now a peaceful fishing village and the sheltered bay and seagrass meadows attract anemones, crabs, fish, jelly-fish and grey seals. Sand martins and cormorants nest on the cliffs.

Where to stay
Plas Bodegroes — a whimsical Georgian restaurant with rooms and gorgeous gardens and woodland, where more than 100 varieties of old rose bloom throughout the summer months (www.bodegroes.co.uk).

9. For dogs: Holkham, Norfolk

Norfolk is famous for its huge beaches, such as Holkham Beach, in Wells-Next-The-Sea, Norfolk. Now the county has three more miles of beach for visitors to enjoy.

Norfolk is famous for its huge beaches, such as Holkham Beach, in Wells-Next-The-Sea, Norfolk. Now the county has three more miles of beach for visitors to enjoy.

Holkham is the semi-circular basin — and shallow lagoon at high tide — that appeared in the closing scenes of the film Shakespeare in Love. The four-mile sweep of sand is also where the Household Cavalry exercises its horses in July. Close by is The Victoria Inn and, in spring and summer, an ice-cream truck offers perfect post-dog-walking fuel.

Where to stay
The White House Hotel, where a Georgian façade belies the light-filled, contemporary interiors. And, of course, it’s dog friendly (www.stayatthewhitehouse.co.uk).

10. For families: Sandbanks, Dorset

Day trippers and holidaymakers enjoy the warm weather and clear waters of Sandbanks.

What Sandbanks lacks in terms of wild and remote character, it more than makes up for with soft golden sand, shallow water, child-friendly play areas and water sports and equipment hire, making it a family’s dream.

Where to stay
The Outspan, a detached three-bedroom house, five-minutes on foot from the beach (www.toadhallcottages.co.uk), or The Pig on the Beach, a short ferry ride from Sand-banks. In quieter, neighbouring Studland. It’s more suited to couples and older families. There’s a walled kitchen garden, a private beach hut and a resident herd of Dorset Horn sheep (www.thepighotel.com).