What an amazingly hot summer we’ve had this year, and a fab opportunity to enjoy our best family beaches in the UK. And there’s still the promise of a glorious autumn to make the most of our spectacular coastline. In fact, these beaches are so lovely they are perfect to visit any time of the year. I actually really love going in the depths of winter, when you’re likely to have to whole place to yourself. I’ve chosen these beaches as the best family beaches in the UK because they tick both adults and kids boxes – family-friendly, with good access, possible refreshments or activities and shallow waters or weak currents, but also just so beautiful with gorgeous surroundings and, hopefully, fairly peaceful too.
Barafundle Bay, Pembrokeshire
Oh this beach is the stuff of dreams. It’s a bit of a trek (about half a mile from the National Trust cafe and car park through a field) and there’s also some steep steeps to contend with, so it ‘s a bit tricky with all the kiddie paraphernalia, though it can be done, obviously. Some families even managed a pushchair, though I;d go with sling if you’ve got a properly little one.
The reward is the view (see below) – like an explorer who first lands and glimpses paradise I expect. Then, of course, the beach itself. It’s really just perfect. Soft golden sands. Clear, calm, shallow waters and cocooned by cliffs and sand dunes. There are no refreshment stands, no toilets, no car parks, just the beach and you. Because it’s a little tricky to get too, it’s also far less busy than if it was an accessible beach. And all the better for it I say!
Obviously, you’ll want all the ice creams, and for that, the National Trust does it so well back at the lovely cafe. So either stock up before you trek over, or wait till you return.
Botany Bay, Thanet, Kent
Weirdly this beach is very accessible, though you wouldn’t think it, judging how little people know about it. I’m not sure if there is another car park but I parked down a non-descript suburban road and wasn’t even sure I’d come to the right place until I wandered over to find out.
Botany Bay is another sandy beach. The water is a bit choppier, but there are loads of rock pools to delight your little ones instead, plus the awesome chalk stacks and smugglers caves to wander through and up to. Apparently this is a good place to hunt for fossils too.
There’s no cafe or toilets on the doorstep, but there is a cafe and garden centre a couple of minutes drive up the road. The beach is easily accessible though you will have to come down a slope or steps.
Studland Bay, Dorset
A busy beach, but with good reason. Another National Trust gem, Studland Bay is a hop and a skip (or the chain ferry) from the very posh Sandbanks and less-posh Poole. There’s a huge car park, a cafe, ice cream van, shop plus loads of water sports activities to try. Luckily the Bay is huge – about 4 mile long so there is just enough space to cram all the families in.
The water here is super chilled and shallow, so is an excellent place to try kayaking, which we did! There’s also lots of paddleboarding, swimming, snorkelling and pedaloing (is that even a word?). On a clear day you can see the Isle of Wight. Give em’ a wave.
The Bay is backed by heathland and sand dunes, so there’s lots of sandy exploring to do too. The National Trust have also put together a little wildlife walk around the dunes.
Holkham Beach, North Norfolk
I think this beach is probably the best family beach in the UK, though Porthcurno in Cornwall may be up there too. Holkham is really stunning. It’s flanked by a dark green pine forest, which I thought was really unusual, but it’s the vastness of the place that gives it the wow factor. Holkham’s claim to fame is that goopy Gwyneth Paltrow walked along it in a scene from Shakespeare in Love.
We visited in May 2016 when we had a freak hot week, so we ended up getting there very early and leaving by 10am as it was too hot for our newborn! Crazy days. Maybe it gets super packed here – probably. But because of it’s size I’m sure you can find a peaceful spot. My son loved just splashing about in the water channels and legging it up and down shrieking. Simple pleasures hey?! There’s a few beach walk options, and one is even an accessible route if you have a pushchair.
You have to park and pay in a private car park, then walk about a mile through pine forest (fairly easy) to get the beach. It was fine for us when we had a toddler and a baby, but just be prepared to take everything you need with you, as there are no facilities once you are there. I’m told that behind the shoreline there is a semi-circular basin which fills up during high tide, so I expect you have to choose your times wisely to visit. I’m going again next week, so I’ll let you know.
If you could bottle old-fashioned England it would probably be Southwold. This picturesque seaside town has none of the problems often associated with coastal boroughs. There’s Southwold Pier to enjoy, with its curious games arcade that kids (and adults) are fascinated by. Example – pay 50p to pretend you’re an old granny on a zimmerframe trying to cross the road. Yes.
On the Pier there’s also a chance to enjoy some excellent fish and chips while watching the sea cast in and out of the shingle shoreline. Once you’re full, wander down to the sea to skim some stones and find one of the few sandy spots to build some sandcastles. There are plenty of beach huts lined up by the pier. You can hire some of them if you want.
Don’t forget to visit Southwold centre. It’s not really a town, but it’s bigger than a village – a vown? tillage? Anyway, it’s big enough to have interesting and independent shops, but not too big that it’s busy with nowhere to park. Perfect for keeping small people entertained.
Bamburgh Castle Beach, Northumberland
Right, I’ve not visited this one yet, but we’re going up to Northumberland in October so I’ll update you then. But I’ve heard great things about this beach. Of course, there’s the castle to admire and visit. I would think as it’s northeast England, it’s going to be fairly brooding and moody so I expect we’ll have to wrap up warm.
I’m expecting to see kite surfers being blown away, and a dramatic windswept vista of golden sands. Rock pools aplenty too.
Porthcurno Beach, Cornwall
My other favourite beachy spot. This beauty could be plucked out of a tropical island magazine if there is that sort of thing. It’s got all the basic ingredients right – yellow soft sand, turquoise clear water, a few rock pools here and there for interest and dramatic cliffs.
Again we struck lucky and visited Cornwall in late September when the schools had gone back, but lucked out on a week of glorious sun, so we had the whole beach to ourselves. It was quite magical actually. Sorry. I expect it gets rammed in summer months as it’s gorgeous, got the Poldark factor and is easy to get to.
There’s a car park very close by. I don’t remember there being a cafe, but there are toilets. The Telegraph Museum is also worth a visit with kids (plus there is a cafe there), and the Minnack Theatre too (though is a bit heartstopping with young uns).
Compton Bay, Isle of Wight
This special beach on this special island also sits under the National Trust. It is flanked by some of the island’s stunning heathland too high up on the clifftops, which are worth a visit. There’s plenty of parking. I can’t remember seeing a cafe, but there is definitely a refreshment truck of some sort plus toilets. It’s a steep set of steps down to the beach, so buggies probably won’t make it. It was busy when we visited, though not depressingly so. I expect it’s lovely on autumnal days and into winter.
Tons to do here from fossil hunting, paddleboarding and surfing or just good old sandcastle-building. It’s also one of the best places in the UK for spotting butterflies.
If you want to camp here, you can read about a very special campsite here too.
Woolacombe Beach, Devon
Right, I’m now venturing into the unknown, as the remaining beaches I’ve picked sound awesome for families, but I’ve not verified it. More for the bucket list. Or let me know if you’ve been and what you thought. Woolacombe Beach is a massive stretch of sand in popular family county of Devon. This beach is more what I see as a traditional family beach – you know the thing. Donkeys, ice cream, noise, deck chairs (hello Blackpool). But it’s super pretty, and Devon is lovely so it’s made the list. The water is crystal clear, and the sunsets are sublime. Plus it’s in the bustling village of Woolacombe so there’s plenty of other activities to keep the kids entertained too.
I cannot wait to get up to Scotland and explore some of the best beaches in the world, let alone the UK! Luskentyre is on Harris in the Outer Hebrides. It’s also got the pull of being the setting for BBC’s Castaway (remember that? Ben Fogle before he was famous?) so just completely stunning yet remote landscapes too. Aw, I want to go now, just thinking about it. Just imagine, a wild wind-swept walk with the family. No one else around. Green-blue sea. Unspoilt coastline.
I think the magic of a place like this is that it is so hard to get to. You either take a flight from Glasgow to Stornoway or ferry from Ullapool. From there it’s an 1 hour 15 drive (or you can get a direct bus the W10 which takes an hour and a half).