Vast swathes of Scotland’s coastline are untouched, revealing underrated beaches that have retained their charm for centuries. Almost as big as England, but home to less than a tenth of the population, Scotland and its shores are a rural coastal paradise waiting for you to pay a visit.
Seaside staycation favourites, rugged rocky stretches and untouched, pristine paradises combine to form this list of beaches in Scotland. Both the east and west coast are covered, with one or two representatives that are more than worth the long journey. There is even a couple of suburban features for you to tie in with a visit to Scotland’s wonderful capital city- Edinburgh.
Ayr Beach, Ayrshire
Ayr Beach has been recognised as a recipient of a Seaside Award from Keep Scotland Beautiful. Beautiful it is, with a fantastic view out to the Isle of Arran, neatly perched in the water of the Firth of Clyde. When you head back inland, the town offers everything you need for a great day out by the sea. The beach is only about a 10-minute walk from the centre, home to a wide range of cafes, pubs and restaurants.
Ayr South Pier is one of the best in Scotland, as is the 16th-century Greenan Castle that marks the epic end of Ayr Beach. Both are worth paying a visit, making this experience more than beach in Scotland.
Coldingham Bay, Berwickshire
Coldingham Bay is nestled Scotland’s North Sea coast, not far from Hadrian’s Wall and the border with England. Less than one mile long, the beach is cute with low tide extending out to sea for a couple of hundred metres. There is a distinct lush feel to area, with the beach backed by greenery that generates a real rural feel. Beauty surrounds you on all sides, with the water’s horizon picture-perfect.
An incredible amount of history enriches the area, portrayed perfectly by the ancient ruins of Coldingham Priory that are just a short walk away in the charming village. Only an hour or so from Edinburgh, this beach in Scotland has so much to offer.
Gullane is primarily known for its fabulous links golf courses, but we think the magnificent beach is an attraction that you simply can’t miss out on. Fantastic views of the Firth of Forth await, with the estuary generating a gust or two from time to time. This makes the sand a great place to bring your kite, and windsurfers will always be seen out at sea. Walking is the best for bringing the place to life.
You’ll appreciate the fresh sea air on a leg stretch to Gullane Point. Restaurants and pubs cater for what is generally an affluent area, with much of the population commuting in and out of Edinburgh daily. It’s easy to tie in a visit to the capital city with a few hours on this beach in Scotland.
Lunan Bay Beach, Angus
Lunan Bay is a vast expanse of sand perched between Arbroath and Montrose on Scotland’s east coast. Easily accessible from both Aberdeen and Dundee, the sand is a playground for families with dogs, allowing four-legged friends all-year round. The dunes are vast in what is a relatively low-lying area. This makes access to the beach easy, but also exposes you to a bustling breeze.
Despite this, the seas stay relatively calm. Swimmers head out for exercise and water sports are also practiced here. The ruins of the 12th-century Red Castle overlook the beach, with several other historical sites dotted around the surrounding countryside.
Machrihanish Beach, Argyll
A representative of the far west’s Mull of Kintyre, Machrihanish Beach is in an area as untouched as it gets in the British Isles. Even by Scotland’s high standards, this a truly beautiful beach. The biggest signs of human habitation actually come from Ireland’s north coast, just 12 miles across the sea.
As you drive closer to Machrihanish, you’re likely to pick up Northern Irish radio stations in the car. Surrounded by wilderness, the nearby village provides a range of refreshments to stock up on. Apart from that, its crashing waves, grassy dunes and wildlife in abundance. A beach in Scotland that’s well worth the extra effort to get to.
Portobello Beach, Edinburgh
Beaches in Scotland aren’t just rural hideaways. Portobello Beach is well within the boundaries of Edinburgh, just a few miles from the centre of the capital. With most UK cities located away from the coast, it’s a unique mix of Georgian architecture inland and wild waves out at sea.
The beach serves an area that is one of the richest per head of population in the whole country. A great stopping point after a day in the city, the beach comes to live in the evening, especially on a clear day. There are several pieces of art on the sand, with Cressida the Tidal Octopus up there with our favourites.
Seacliff Beach, East Lothian
Seacliff Beach is hidden behind bushy cliffs in a quiet corner of East Lothian. The sand is partially met by rocks before it merges with the sea, with several pools forming as it arches around the eastern shores of Scotland. A narrow path affords you access to the sand, revealing a stunning view and plenty of quirky features.
The beach is home to a tiny harbour, thought to be the smallest in the UK. Created in the 19th-century, it was carved out of the sandstone rock that lines this shore. There are two castles to be discovered. The 16th-century Auldhame requires a bit of digging, literally, as it's hidden in dense woodland. Tantallon is much more visible. Its tower and ruins are just north of the beach across Oxroad Bay.
St Andrew’s Sands
St Andrews attracts tourists from across the country and internationally. Famous as the home of golf, the architecture around the famous links course is something that can’t be missed. The 18th hole is close to the heart of all golf fans, who often tie a round in with a visit to one of the city’s two great beaches. Both offer something slightly different.
The quieter west allows you to take in crashing waves in all their glory, with the Eden Estuary Nature Reserve a short distance away. The east is busier, close to the city’s charming harbour, and offers a larger range of amenities. Both stretches of sand are within walking distance of each other, making the place a doubly delightful selection of beaches in Scotland.
Tyninghame Beach, East Lothian
Tyninghame Beach marks the spot where the Firth of Forth truly becomes the North Sea. Another beach within easy reach of Edinburgh, the surrounding landscape couldn’t differ more. Remarkable scenery is a magnet for most to sit down, relax and take it all in. Bass Rock dots the horizon, and any birds you see will likely be heading for sanctuary there.
The beach’s anti-tank blocks serve as a reminder of the Tyninghame’s importance during the Second World War. The history stands in stark contrast to the present-day peace, with this beach in Scotland up there with the best. To top off the experience, head a few minutes south to St Baldred’s Cradle and let the picture do the talking.
Yellowcraig Beach, East Lothian
Yellowcraig Beach sits a short distance west of North Berwick, across the Firth of Forth from Earlsferry. It boasts a great view of Fidra Island, the coastal outpost that Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island was based on. A 19th-century lighthouse marks its spot when the weather is less than clear.
A beach that is immensely popular with families, Yellowcraig has a horse-riding tradition on the dunes. In the absence of cafes and restaurants, prepare a picnic or book one the barbecue areas in advance. Dirleton is the nearest town within walking distance and is home to a 13th-century castle that’s also popular with visitors.