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7 of the best British beach holidays (that aren’t Cornwall)

July 15, 2021

By Joey Tyson

With a seemingly endless supply of beautiful beaches, ultra-quaint fishing villages, and dramatic cliff-top vistas, it’s no surprise Cornwall has become the darling of British beach holidays.

But if May is anything to go by, Cornwall could be set to reach tipping point this summer. During the last half term, The Independent reported that 400,000 holidaymakers visited the southwest, with some travel sites seeing bookings increase by as much as 130% compared with May 2019.

As most Brits are still unable to travel abroad (easily), demand for popular beach locations has skyrocketed – and Cornwall sits at the sharp end of that surge. Luckily, there’s more to British beach holidays than one county, and to give you some inspiration, we’ve rounded up some of the best alternatives. 

1. Best for weather: Devon

Blessed with miles of beautiful coastline and beaches for days, Cornwall’s next-door neighbour is an obvious alternative for a British beach holiday this summer. Being so close, there’s a good chance of nice weather, too.

If you’re looking for the classic holiday, any one of Woolacombe, Ilfracombe, Saunton and Westward Ho! put you within a mile of some of the best beaches in the UK. On the south coast, you’ll find pebble beaches at Sidmouth and Salcombe.

Of course, Devon will have its fair share of crowds too. But outside the major resorts, there are plenty of quiet beaches and bays hidden away. Small and quiet Croyde, for example, and the tiny town of Branscombe is few minutes’ walk from a huge, mostly quiet beach.

2. Best for choice: Yorkshire 

Lively resort towns, tucked-away fishing villages, salty surf spots – Yorkshire’s coastline packs a lot in for a relatively small stretch.

Most people will know of Scarborough and Bridlington, two classic resorts with all the trimmings. With its two golden beaches and elegant Victorian architecture, Scarborough has been welcoming tourists in one form or another since the 1600s, while “Brid” has two huge sandy beaches to flop on.

Fancy something smaller? Robin Hood’s Bay, a pretty tumble of cobbled lanes and fisherfolk’s cottages on Yorkshire’s rugged Heritage Coast, probably hasn’t changed much in a hundred years; Saltburn, up on the north coast, offers some of the best surfing in Britain; while Flamborough, with its sea cliffs and hidden bays is a dream for hikers.

3. Best for nature: North Norfolk

Wild, quiet, and beautifully underdeveloped, north Norfolk is an ideal spot for a beach holiday with a healthy dollop of nature on top.

You’re never too far away from a mini-safari in this part of the world. In and around north Norfolk’s many beaches, you’ll find nature reserves aplenty, with birdwatching at Scolt Head Island and Holme Dunes, rockpooling at West Runton and seals galore at Blakeney Point.

There are classic little resort towns, such as Wells-next-the-Sea, with its retro beach huts, and Cromer, famous for its namesake crabs and Victorian pier. Wide, sandy Holkham Beach, meanwhile, fits the bill for any type of beach holiday.

4. Best for quiet beaches: Kent

Looking for space this summer? Head to Kent. With 563km (350 miles) of coast to choose from, there’s plenty of room for everyone.

Beautiful beach Botany Bay, backed by tall chalk cliffs, is a must visit. Close to Broadstairs, it’s easy to reach by car but not by public transport, which keeps the crowds away, despite being one of the best beaches in Kent. Shingle Sandgate, near Folkstone, and Reculver, watched over by Roman ruins, are other top spots for a beach day.

Kent’s main seaside towns, such as Whitstable and Margate, are likely to be heaving this summer. So look to stay in one of Kent’s quieter bits, like Dungeness, New Romney or Sheppey, instead.

5. Best for fewer crowds: Pembrokeshire

Wild, remote and drop dead beautiful, Pembrokeshire is the perfect place for a scenic beach break with far fewer people around.

Jutting out into the Irish Sea, Pembrokeshire is 299km (186 miles) of dramatic coastline broken up by beach after stunning beach. On the far west is Marloes Sands, an arch of gold sheltered by jagged cliffs and one of the county’s best, while Barafundle Bay, with its pale golden sand and clear waters, looks as if it drifted over from the Caribbean before settling in southwest Wales.

Fishing village Tenby, with its hattrick of beaches – Castle Beach, North Beach or South Beach – is one of the most popular places to stay in Pembrokeshire, but if you’re after somewhere quieter, keep heading west to the St Bridles Bay area.

6. Best for families: Llyn Peninsula

With its craggy coastline, sandy beaches, and surf culture, North Wales’ Llyn Peninsula has more than a bit of Cornwall about it – in fact, some say it’s like the southwest was 50 years ago.

Celtic comparisons aside, aside you’re after a quiet place for a family holiday this summer, this Welsh wonder might just tick all your boxes. On the peninsula’s south coast, you’ll find a trio of charming seaside towns in Criccieth, Pwllheli and Abersoch. All three are within easy reach of a safe, pretty beach.

With calmer swells (less powerful waves), the Llyn Peninsula is a great place to give surfing a go, too. Head to Porth Neigwl, which, despite its name (Hell’s Mouth), is ideal for learners. Arrange lessons in Abersoch.

7. Best for off-the-beaten track beaches: Cumbria

Often overlooked in favour of the fells of the Lake District, Cumbria has a long stretch of quiet, rural coastline to explore.

For the pick of Cumbria’s beaches, head to St Bees. Halfway between Seascale (a small Victorian village with its own sandy beach) and Whitehaven, this wide sandy stretch has an edge of the world feel to it. Slightly further north, there’s also Fleswick Bay, a small cove surrounded by tall headlands and sea cliffs.

If you want to combine your trip with a visit to the Lakes, former fishing village Ravenglass gives you easy access to the beach and the nearby fells of Eskdale.

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