Brighton, East Sussex, England
Yes, the pebbly beach might cause problems for your bucket and spade and, yes, this being England, you need a windbreak to go with your deckchair most days. But Brighton Beach is an icon, for Chrissakes. A hedonist’s escape since the Prince Regent built the Royal Pavilion, the pretty seaside town immortalised in candy sticks has been the setting for a Graham Greene novel, the scene of legendary mod v rocker showdowns in the 1960s and is today ‘London-by-the-Sea’ is a thriving bohemian enclave with shops, bars, clubs and restaurants that more than make up for the lack of actual sand. Brighton rocks – ’nuff said.
Getting there: Trains leave regularly from London Victoria – the journey takes 40 minutes to an hour.
(02380-625 400; www.visitsoutheastengland.com)
Whitby, North Yorkshire, England
With arcade machines, day-tripping hordes and the best fish and chip shop in the country, Whitby is a seaside resort with all the trimmings – and then some. From a headland topped with a ruined abbey, narrow medieval streets lead down to a working harbour dotted with gulls and fishing boats, while the dramatic sandstone cliffs and coves house fossils and dinosaur footprints. This is also where Captain Cook sailed forth and Bram Stoker set his classic Gothic novel Dracula. What more do you want?
Getting there: Trains run regularly from King’s Cross to York (three hours) – change here for Scarborough, where there are regular bus services to Whitby. Whitby is also linked by train from Middlesborough (1 hr 30 mins).
(01947-602 674; www.whitbytourism.com)
Whitesands, St David’s, Pembrokeshire, Wales
Vying with the fabulously named Barafundle Bay for the title of Pembrokeshire National Park’s most beautiful beach, Whitesands inhabits the farthest corner of south-west Wales. Surfing and kayaking are popular, and the isolated mountain of Carn Llidi that looms behind rewards energetic climbers with panoramic views across the county. Inland, historic St David’s is the spiritual centre of Wales and Britain’s smallest city, home to an impressive 12th century cathedral.
Getting there: Trains to Haverfordwest run regularly from Swansea (1 hr 30 mins) and Cardiff (2 hrs 40 min). St David’s is a further 16 miles by train. Shuttle buses run from the city centre to the coast hourly in summer.
(0870-830 0306; www.visitwales.com)
Llangennith, Rhossili Bay, Gower Peninsula, Wales
Situated at the northern end of the four-mile sweep of Rhossili Bay and with consistent swells pouring in from the Atlantic, Llangennith is the surfing capital of Gower – several schools provide lessons from the beach during the summer, but year-round dedicated heads can be spotted bobbing in the water like seals. Magnificent sand dunes back the beach and at the north end is the islet of Burry Holms.
Getting there: Trains to Swansea run regularly from London Paddington, taking around three hours. Daily bus services run from Swansea to Rhossili every couple of hours, taking about an hour.