The UK’s not typically known for its beaches, especially not in the South-East of England, but you’ll be pleasantly surprised at London’s proximity to a number of gorgeous coastal areas. Gather some friends, travel just a few hours south, and you could soon be relaxing on a sandy beach enjoying the crisp cool water and fresh, salty air.
Best Beaches Near London
Despite being approximately 50 miles away from the capital city, Brighton Beach is known as London’s beach. As the general area of cosmopolitan Brighton and Hove, the beach and its stretch of seafront offers a variety of independent shops and eateries. Head to the Pier for a throwback afternoon of arcade games and a ride on the helter-skelter, or visit the electric railway museum dating back to 1883.
Brighton Beach is also the ideal destination for watersports, with the opportunity for kayaking, paddle-boarding, and windsurfing. If the thought of dipping into the chilly English Channel doesn’t appeal, try your hand at beach volleyball and ultimate Frisbee.
The cheapest way to get from London to Brighton Beach is to take the National Express coach, which departs every two hours from Victoria Coach Station. It does mean being cooped up on a bus for the best part of three hours, but it can yield huge savings – booking in advance can get you tickets for less than £7.
One of the better-known beaches in the region, Camber Sands can become quite busy on hot, sunny days. It’s home to one of the largest sand dune systems in the South of England, so it’s a popular choice with beachgoers pining for the soft sands of the Mediterranean coast. Its winding length means that although it could see half the population of Kent and beyond travelling to its shores, there’s always somewhere quieter you can escape to – it just might mean a fair walk. For this, it’s recommended to travel to the western end, where the sea is at a perfect depth for shallow paddling, and the undulating dunes form a comfy cradle for sunbathing.
The journey by train requires a few stops, but it’s relatively straightforward and you could get from St Pancras to Camber in just an hour and a half.
Isle of Grain Beach
Situated on the meeting point of the River Thames and River Medway, Isle of Grain beach is one of the closest, yet most secluded, beaches near London. There’s both sand and shingle, as well as an adjacent woodland space for a peaceful afternoon walk.
It’s less than a 1.5-hour drive from central London, or you can catch a train from Victoria and change at a place called Chatham, in Kent, getting on another train to Chapel Road Shops. From there the beach is less than a 10-minute walk, so the total journey should only take a couple of hours.
This is a really easy beach to get to from London, so is a good choice if you want the thrill of a day on the southern coast without the hassle. Take the train from London Bridge directly to Hastings, where you can alight and walk for less than 10 minutes to the seafront. It’s predominantly shingle with just a short stretch of sand, but its main appeal is as a quiet beach town with an intimate selection of cafes and shops. There are lifts available to take visitors up to Hastings Country Park, a clifftop viewing spot for impressive views over the beaches and beyond.
Running about a mile in length, Whitstable Beach is one of the best quintessentially British seaside resorts. Its delightful town of independent cafes and boutiques offers the chance for a truly charming day out full of culture, sightseeing, and excellent food. Whitstable Castle is a nice historical retreat from the beach if the weather turns sour, or you can stop at one of the local pubs for a seaside pint. Even better, the beach is west-facing – so on a clear evening, you can catch the gorgeous golden hues of the setting sun.
Margate is a certified hotspot for foodies. It has, over recent years, gained the nickname ‘Shoreditch-on-Sea’, which makes clear its social and cultural status as a trendy destination for lovers of food and art alike. There are, of course, ample seafood restaurants, as well as numerous modish coffee shops, a gelateria, and even a traditional Italian deli and cafe.
The beach itself is a well-kept stretch of sand with plenty of room for sunbathing, paddling, and consuming some of the best fish and chips you’ll ever eat.
From St Pancras, there’s a direct train to Margate which takes less than an hour and a half.
St Margaret’s Bay
This is a great beach for those interested in geography and history, or indeed any uni student keen to expand their horizons over the summer. It’s the closest point in the country to neighbouring France and can offer up tales from 18th-century smuggling operations to WWII bombardments, and is even where inventor Thomas Edison tested out the first electric lighthouse in 1859.
The beach is shingled and sloped, so not the most comfortable for sunbathing, but is great for seaside walks and rock-pool exploration. On a clear day, it’s possible to see across the channel – its 18-mile proximity to the French coast makes it a popular starting point with intrepid Channel swimmers if that’s something you’d be interested in training for.
It’s not the easiest route from London, but the cultural and historical legacy waiting to greet you at the other end will definitely make it worth the trip.
Frensham Beach, a stretch of sand situated along Frensham Pond, is a haven for swimming, sun lounging, and wildlife spotting. The lake provides perfectly calm conditions for gentle swimming, but naturally, it is pretty cold even on the sunniest days. It does get very busy in the summer, especially with families, but it is a great place to experience all the joys of the beach without travelling to the coast.
This special place offers a bit more in the way of scenery than the usual beach scenes, with its towering chalk stacks and hidden areas containing fossils and rock pools that are just begging to be explored. From St Pancras or Victoria, there are regular trains going to Broadstairs, where you should get onto the 33 bus that goes directly to the bay. It’s also less than three miles west of the aforementioned Margate, where you can take the bus – or even walk – for a delicious bite to eat.
This one is a bit further out from the cluster of South-Easterly beaches, but there is a direct National Express coach that goes from Victoria right to the Bournemouth seafront. It’s seven miles long, so although it gets very popular in the summer months, there’s ample opportunity to escape from the crowds. It has some of the best seaside temperatures in the UK, so you can comfortably enjoy a day of sunbathing or swimming. Bournemouth’s popularity amongst tourists does mean that there are dozens of accommodation options if you’d like to extend your trip, including budget hotels and campsites.
West Wittering Beach
Nestled on the coast by Chichester Harbour and the South Downs, West Wittering Beach is the place to go for spectacular views and a beautiful sunset scene – truly living up to its status as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The outgoing tide leaves warm pools of shallow water perfect for relaxing in, or you can take it up a notch and head out for a surfing session. The local area also offers some excellent cafes and pubs to feed your hunger after a tiring day at the beach. Transport is relatively easy; there’s a train from London Victoria to Chichester station, then hop on a 52 bus that takes you down to the coast.
As the name suggests, Mersea is an island situated in a group of estuaries to the southeast of Colchester. Due to the tide, a visit here takes a bit of advanced planning, but it’s worth it in the end for a magical walk along the shore. The beachfront is lined with rows of brightly painted beach huts – around 400 in total – which would form the perfect backdrop for chronicling your day out on Instagram. The island in general has been well-preserved as a quaint waterfront town, with a distinct lack of the commercial chain cafes and shops that characterise so many areas now.
Home to both an East Beach and a West Beach, Littlehampton has plenty to offer in the form of amusements, a marina, a theme park and even, oddly enough, the UK’s longest beach. It’s a whopping 1000 feet long – the perfect place to perch after a stroll along the promenade! The East Beach is generally busier and popular with families, while the West Beach has more of a nature focus. It has national protection as a site of special scientific interest and is good for spending a quiet afternoon fossil hunting. Conveniently, there’s a direct train from Victoria to Littlehampton station which comes in under two hours.
Hopefully, this has shown you all that South East England has to offer in the way of beaches and seaside delight. In only a few hours you could be lying on a beach towel surrounded by friends, ready for an afternoon of exploring, watersports, and good food.