5 UK beaches with serious overseas vibes

Sandy swaps! Ianthe Butt picks out British shorelines that are so beautiful you can pretend to be abroad...

While Caribbean and European beaches might have had the lion’s share of the attention in recent years, with rules around overseas travel still up in the air and subject to last-minute change, staycations are set to reign supreme this summer.* The good news for those yearning a seaside hit is that there are plenty of sublime sweeps right here in the UK – which are so scenic and special they’ll trick you into believing you’re on a far-flung getaway. Whether you’re after distinctly tropical golden sands or wild undulating dunes, it’s time to dig out your jauntiest seaside outfits, fling on those flip flops and beat a path to these sensational UK beaches…

*subject to government travel guidance and COVID-19 regulations

Swap Portofino for Portmeirion, Wales

For Italian Riviera-style glamour, hit north Wales’ Portmeirion Beach. At its most spectacular at low tide, this fine, buttermilk-hued sweep on a sheltered Snowdonian peninsula is set against the backdrop of Portmeirion Village’s whimsical sorbet-fronted houses, which spill across high-drama cliffs. An architectural folly dreamt up by architect Clough Williams-Ellis in the 1920s as a homage to Italy’s grand villages, Portmeirion’s flurry of turrets and domes, colonnaded piazza and palm-filled subtropical gardens give it serious Portofino feels. Eat at art deco-style The Dining Room restaurant for estuary views accompanied by twice-baked Welsh rarebit souffle, and dark chocolate tart with blueberry, lavender and milk chocolate ice cream. 

Swap Fuerteventura for Camber Sands, East Sussex

With rolling, vegetation-topped, powdery white wind-whipped dunes, the atmosphere at Camber Sands in East Sussex has more than a hint of Fuerteventura’s famed Corralejo Dunes. Stretching for over two miles, not only is Camber stunning, but – much like the Canary Island favourite – it’s a strong pick for kitesurfers. Favourable wind conditions and waist-deep waters make it ideal for first-timers, who can take lessons at The Kitesurf Centre. Bed down at moments-from-the-dunes hotel The Gallivant, a coastal-chic sanctuary (complete with framed retro swimsuits reimagined as quirky artwork) which has just launched on-the-sands yoga classes. Pop to nearby Rye’s secondhand shops to rummage through piles of bric-a-brac in search of vintage treasures before you leave.

Swap Dubrovnik for Bamburgh, Northumberland

Dubrovnik – known for its sand and pebble shoreline, turquoise bays and 13th-century walls – shot to a new level of fame after appearing in cult TV series Game of Thrones. For a closer-to-home alternative to the Croatian coastal hotspot, try Northumberland’s Bamburgh Castle Beach. Here, building sandcastles on its pristine, dune-backed beach is given added King’s Landing-style drama thanks to former Norman stronghold Bamburgh Castle, a 12th-century coastal fortress which cuts an imposing dash atop a bluff 150-feet above the long, Rich Tea-toned beach. Head to its impressive ramparts to enjoy Farne Island views, and admire surfers taking on the area’s consistently good waves. 

Swap Montauk for Wells-next-the-sea Beach, Norfolk

If the laid-back charm of Montauk appeals, substitute a stateside seaside trip for North Norfolk’s so-called Champagne Coast – famed for its so-fresh-it’s-practically-still-flipping seafood, soft, ribbon-like golden beaches and well-to-do seaside residences. Picturesque Wells-next-the-sea Beach, a classic bucket and spade affair bordered by pine woodland and a rainbow parade of stilted beach huts (with jovial names such as Dolly Mixture and Linger Longer), is one of the best of the bunch. After lazy strolls, go crabbing on the quayside, or enjoy award-winning fish and chips at French’s Fish & Chips. Stay ten minutes’ drive away at new boutique hotel The Harper, which has gorgeous rural-boho rooms housed in an old glassblowing factory.

Swap the Caribbean for Luskentyre Sands, South Harris, Outer Hebrides, Scotland

With pinch-yourself sugary-white rippling sand and turquoise water that shimmers like kingfishers’ wings, the scenery at Luskentyre Sands – on the West Coast of South Harris in the Outer Hebrides – could easily be mistaken for the Caribbean. Plus, there’s scope for a DIY Scottish safari (a sea-fari, if you will), as dolphins and seals sometimes gambol through the waves, and sea eagles can be spotted soaring above them. While the waves might look tropical, the water temperature remains on the crisp side, so be sure to bring a warm outfit to snuggle up in on the unspoilt sands after a peaceful, refreshing paddle.

Feeling inspired? Shop our seaside dreaming edit here