England may not be the first place that comes to mind when you're brainstorming a beach vacation. But for travelers looking for a change of pace, the destination just might surprise you.
The beautiful coastline is a perfect palate cleanser after a few days in London or castle-hopping in the countryside. Whether you’re hoping to cool off with a dip, sample incredibly fresh seafood, or just enjoy long walks on the shore, these beaches are some of the best the country has to offer.
Porthcurno Beach, Cornwall
The clear green waters and pristine sands of Porthcurno are the next best thing to vacationing on the Mediterranean. Rocky cliffs jutting out into the surrounding sea shelter the beach itself from swells, making it a haven for swimmers and snorkelers. Keep an eye out for the dolphins and seals that occasionally frequent the area. And once you’ve reached your daily limit of sun and sand, be sure to catch a show at oceanfront Minack Theatre just up the cliffs—no set design can beat the backdrop of a full moon over the ocean.
Durdle Door Beach, Dorset
This strip of coastline offers the perfect spot for an off-season beach getaway: Even when it’s too chilly to swim, you can stroll along the cliffs and take in unmatched views of Dorset’s craggy coastline. Pause for a clifftop photo-op of Durdle Door, the limestone arch that’s appeared in Beyond the Sea, Far From the Madding Crowd, and the music video for Tears for Fears' Shout, among others, then hike down to the pebble beach for an oceanfront picnic.
Fistral Beach, Cornwall
If you’re hoping to hang ten, Fistral Beach is one of the best spots in England for catching a few waves. It’s the home of the British Surfing Association, and consistent breaks ensure the surf’s up no matter when you go. With tons of rental facilities, surf schools, and lifeguards on duty all summer round, Fistral is a first-rate location for rookies and experienced surfers alike. Not up for a swim in the bracing waters of the Atlantic? Come during one of the many surfing competitions throughout the year—wide expanses of sand offer prime real estate for blanket lounging and picnicking as you watch the pros ride the waves.
West Mersea Beach, Essex
The sleepy haunt of Mersea Island draws day trippers from across Essex for its unblemished saltwater marsh landscape and crowd-free beaches. And it’s worth a detour even if you’re not in the region: coastal charm abounds at West Mersea Beach, where rows of colorful pastel beach huts lining the shore ensure plenty of Instagram opportunities and a picture-perfect setting for long walks. After you’ve worked up an appetite with your walk, stop by the Company Shed, an unpretentious seafood shack where you can toss back all the oysters and freshly-caught fish you want and still not make a dent in your travel budget.
Great Bay, St. Martin’s, Isles of Scilly
A few miles off the coast of Cornwall, the Isles of Scilly, with their clear blue waters and white sand beaches, are reminiscent of a Caribbean getaway. And on the island of St. Martin’s, Great Bay is a particular standout for beach-goers in search of solitude. With only 120 inhabitants on the isle, you’re more likely to have a quiet strip of shore to yourself than at bustling island neighbors like St. Mary's and Tresco, and a dog ban in the summer months ensures the beaches stay pristine. Start with a pit stop at St. Martin’s Vineyard on the south side of the island to snag a bottle of wine, then spend the afternoon sipping and sunbathing on the sand at Great Bay.