Escape London’s busy streets with a short trip to the UK’s superb South-East coastline. In less than two hours you could be filling your lungs with fresh salty air, massaging sun tan lotion into your skin and working up the nerve to dip your toes into the ocean. Whether you’re looking for a secluded sandy spot to relax and unwind or a quaint seaside retreat with world-class seafood, this guide will help you make the most of the best beaches near London.
Location: Kent, near Broadstairs
Best for: Glorious photo opportunities
Botany Bay is a secluded sandy beach close to the coastal town of Broadstairs in Kent. The 600ft cove is backed by the longest continuous corridor of chalk cliffs in Britain. Recognised as a Blue Flag beach, Botany Bay boasts excellent water quality and is a popular spot for rock pooling and fossil hunting. In recent years, the striking white cliff stacks have made Botany Bay one of the most photographed beaches in the UK.
Best for: Fresh oysters
Whitstable Bay’s delightful shingle beach with pastel-painted beach huts and weathered wooden groynes has a romantic quality, befitting of the town’s heritage. Indeed, fishermen have been harvesting oysters off the coast of Whitstable since the Roman times.
Stroll along the beachfront to sample freshly shucked oysters and local Kentish ale from a selection of rudimentary wooden seafood shacks. Discarded grey and porcelain white oyster shells make for brilliant souvenirs. Once you’ve got your seafood fix, scour the rockpools at Tankerton Beach or peruse the quaint and quirky independent Georgian shops of Harbour Street.
Location: East Sussex
Best for: Desert vibes
Blessed with three miles of marram grass speckled sand dunes, it’s easy to see why Camber Sands was selected to represent the Sahara Desert in the Carry On film Follow That Camel. The unspoilt stretch offers an oasis of sandy beach along a coastline that is dominated by shingle and pebble beaches.
Filled with delightful half-crooked timber homes, narrow cobbled streets and a delicious delicatessen, the nearby medieval town of Rye in East Sussex is well worth a day trip. Fill up a picnic basket with freshly baked bread, local cheese and fruit jellies then head back to the beach to lay down your blanket for a day of decadent desert vibes.
Best for: Fossil hunting
Famed for the fossils found in its Red Crag cliffs, the small coastal town of Walton-on-the-Naze is a great spot for prehistoric fossil hunting. The area’s fertile marshes, mudflats and backwaters are also home to a vast array of wildlife, such as curlew, wildfowl and seals. The 86ft tall Naze Tower, which offers panoramic views of the stunning seascape, is especially popular with birdwatchers.
When you’ve taken in enough nature for the day, head to the second-longest pier in Britain for a cheery dose of nostalgia, complete with warm doughnuts, fluffy candy floss and endless flavours of ice cream.
Best for: Island fun
When visiting Mersea Island, the fun starts before you even reach the beach. To get to this charming estuary island you need to cross an ancient Roman causeway called the Strood. When you arrive, head to West Mersea for pretty beach huts, atmospheric harbourside pubs and revered seafood restaurants. Critics rave about the no-nonsense crab and cockle platters served at The Company Shed.
East Mersea, on the other hand, is sparse and rugged. The isolated shores of Cudmore Grove Country Park are perfect for dog walkers, nature lovers and archaeology enthusiasts. There have been instances of hippopotamus bones, elephant tusks and 300,000-year-old shark teeth turning up beneath the weathered ochre cliffs.
Location: West Sussex
Best for: A bucket and spade day
Characterful weatherboard beach huts, professional lifeguard patrols and Blue Flag certification make West Wittering one of the most appealing seaside destinations on the south coast. Suntanners will find plenty of space along this vast yellow sand beach, while kids can bathe safely in shallow lagoons or under the watchful eye of the local lifeguards.
The dreamy East Head sand dune spit is home to a fascinating array of marine wildlife, such as sand lizards, skylarks and ringed plovers. While some of these elusive dune inhabitants may be difficult to spot, you can always try your luck in the rockpools. Crabs, starfish, limpets, snails and shrimp are some of the sea creatures you can expect to fill your bucket with.
Best for: Water sports
Golden sand and blue sea as far as the eye can see, Bournemouth Beach stretches for a staggering 11 miles along the Dorset coast. This accomplished beach offers something for everybody. There’s an old-fashioned pier with arcade games, plus plenty of beachside bars. There’s even a clifftop Victorian art gallery filled with fascinating paintings and a plethora of rousing water sports opportunities.
Surfing, windsurfing, jet-skiing, sailing and paddleboarding are some of the most popular activities you can enjoy on Bournemouth’s glistening seas. Don’t worry if you’ve never tried them before, there are plenty of schools with experienced pros to show you the ropes.
Location: East Sussex
Best for: Fish and chips
Brighton seafront is one of the most popular beaches near London. For decades, people have been coming here to refresh their lungs with sea air, chomp on sticks of rock and indulge in the ultimate seaside snack: fish and chips! There are dozens of excellent fish and chip restaurants dotted along the seafront in Brighton, ranging from the traditional to the gourmet. But don’t forget, fish and chips always taste better when eaten on the beach.
Spend the day tiptoeing across the iconic pebblestone beach before taking a stroll along the promenade in the evening. Marvel at the romantic lights of the Palace Pier stretching into the ocean, as the setting sun provides a visual feast of pink and orange hues in the sky.
Location: West London
Best for: Sunbathing in the city
Ruislip Lido is the only beach on this list that is actually located in London. You can even get to this lakeside strip on the tube. With palm trees, volleyball and soft yellow sand, this west London hideaway looks the part. The only thing it’s lacking is the ocean!
In addition to making sandcastles, kids love the beach’s climbing frames and wooden pirate ship play area. There’s also a miniature train that does laps around the lake. Swimming is not actually allowed but there are 726-acres of lush green countryside to explore in the surrounding nature reserve.
Location: East Sussex
Best for: Old-fashioned seaside fun
Hastings has a lovely shingle beach with weathered groynes and a traditional pier. It’s home to the biggest beach-launched fishing fleet in Europe and a double-decker promenade that is perfect for afternoon strolls. Hastings Beach retains an old-fashioned aesthetic with its Edwardian terraces and a quirky weather station kiosk.
The well-preserved Old Town has a welcoming community feel and buckets of character. A mismatch of yellow, pink and white buildings, the streets are home to a selection of artsy stores and fish huts. Visit the award-winning Jerwood Gallery to be wowed by the best of contemporary British painting.