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Clean beaches in the UK: The best and worst beaches to swim in

Ever wondered what the cleanest and dirtiest beaches in the country are? We’ve rounded up some of the best UK beaches to have received the most prestigious awards for their clean water and litter-free sands. And of course, some of the not-so-good beaches, ranked the worst across England, Scotland and Wales. So get ready to dive head-first into our clean beaches in the UK guide.

The best beaches to swim in

1. Cromer Beach

Location: Norfolk

Best for: Riding the waves

One of many Blue Flag beaches across on England on our list, Cromer Beach is the perfect spot for taking a dip. Nestled on the coast of Norfolk, this charming Victorian seaside resort is ranked highly for its water quality and beautifully-clean sands. You can snorkel, surf or swim here, and even go rock pooling at low tide.

Place to stay: Book the Lighthouse View and you’ll be within walking distance of the beach.

2. Blackpool Sands

Location: Devon

Best for: A relaxing dip in the sea

Blackpool Sands is the perfect family-friendly beach to relax, swim and make unforgettable summer memories. You’ll find this stunning beach in South Devon, in an unspoilt sheltered bay that’s backed by the rolling South Hams countryside. The beach is cleaned daily throughout the summer and has a superb water quality rating – verified by government testing. 

Place to stay: Yew Tree Cottage is a charming period property just a short drive to Blackpool Sands.

3. Treyarnon Bay

Location: Cornwall

Best for: Safe swimming

Characterised by its low cliffs and natural swimming pool, Treyarnon Bay is a lovely clean beach in Cornwall that’s ideal for swimming and exploring. The tidal pool is approximately eight feet deep and is refilled with seawater, making it the perfect spot for swimming, diving and snorkelling.

Place to stay: Sandhills 9 is a gorgeous apartment in the South West, boasting sea views and a short walk to the beach. 

4. Achmelvich Beach

Location: Scottish Highlands

Best for: Finding peace and quiet

Achmelvich Beach is the cleanest beach in Scotland, and it’s not hard to see why. Its turquoise sea and white sands look like something straight out of a Mediterranean travel brochure. Sheltered by cliffs on three sides, you’ll find total tranquillity in the Scottish Highlands, and if you’re lucky, you might even spot a dolphin or two!

Place to stay: With coastal walks starting from its doorstep, Orchid Cottage is perfect for nature enthusiasts.

5. Barafundle Bay

Location: Pembrokeshire

Best for: Swimming in clear waters

Barafundle Bay might be small, but it’s become a little treasure in Pembrokeshire. Winning several awards for its superb coastal waters, this pristine shore is one of the best beaches in Britain. It’s only accessible via a half-mile walk from the car park, and is backed by dunes and pine trees that give this beach in Wales its secluded charm.

Place to stay: Be within easy reach of Barabundle Bay and the historic town of Pembroke at The Little Dairy.

The worst beaches to swim in

1. St Annes

Location: Lancashire

Best for: Family-friendly fun

St Annes Beach in Lancashire was rated the worst for water quality. But even if the sea water isn’t the best to take a dip in, this charming seaside resort has kids’ amusements, gorgeous pier walks and an impressive crazy golf course with a total count of 18 holes to explore.

Place to stay: The Mews Cottage is a one-bedroom detached cottage that’s close to all the local amenities.

2. Plymouth Hoe East Beach

Location: Devon

Best for: Seeing the sights

With a high number of E. Coli found in the seawater, we wouldn’t recommend jumping in the water at Plymouth Hoe East Beach anytime soon. If you do fancy a swim in Devon though, you can always head to Tinside Lido instead – a 1930s saltwater swimming pool that’s open during the summer months. And the city is packed full of historical sites, landmarks and restaurants to enjoy too.

Place to stay: Base yourself by the waterside of Plymouth at Durnford Street.

3. Scarborough South Bay

Location: Yorkshire

Best for: Fossil hunting and making sandcastles

Scarborough South Bay’s golden sandy beaches stretch for miles, so it’s the perfect spot for sunbathing and sandcastle-making. And it means you’ll always be able to find a quiet spot to relax. Its waters aren’t the cleanest though so we’d steer clear of swimming here. But it’s a stunning beach in Yorkshire nonetheless, with a classic seaside feel that’s brimming with family fun.

Place to stay: Nestled in the heart of Scarborough, you’ll have everything right on your doorstep at 39 West Street.

4. Blackpool Central Beach

Location: Devon

Best for: Amusements and theme park rides

Although you probably wouldn’t want to bathe in Blackpool Central’s waters, this vibrant seaside town has so much more on offer. Blackpool is one of the best British beach resorts. It’s home to three large piers, the iconic Blackpool Tower and for the thrill-seekers, the renowned Pleasure Beach. 

Place to stay: Book The Conifers and you’ll be close enough to enjoy the bustle of Blackpool’s centre, but just far enough away to find some peace and quiet too.

5. Bowleaze Cove

Location: Dorset

Best for: Impressive views

Dorset is home to some of the best beaches in the world, but Bowleaze Cove isn’t one of the best for swimming in. It does, however, offer impressive views over the Jurassic Coastline. You can see towards Weymouth and the Isle of Portland. There’s plenty else to see and do in Weymouth too, like visiting the harbour or heading off on a scenic coastal walk.

Place to stay: Look out to gorgeous sea views every morning at Sea Spray.