Best beaches in Scotland
Scotland is home to some of the UK’s most spectacular scenery. Close to England in terms of size, the country is home to less than one-tenth of the population, making for an endless amount of untouched coastal retreats.
We’ve blended the classic beaches of Scottish seaside towns with stretches of sand that are untouched for miles to bring you the quintessential list of the best beaches in Scotland. Apart from some massive, cosmopolitan cities, Scotland is an oasis of calm and offers a rural, serene atmosphere that is rarely found in the more densely populated parts of the UK. Whether you’re in the mood for a long walk, a spot of surfing, or simply want to sample the fresh sea air, there is something magical in this list of best beaches for you.
Ayr Beach, Ayrshire
Ayr Beach offers visitors two totally different vibes depending on which direction they’re facing. Looking out at sea, towards the Firth of Clyde, there is a spectacular view of the rural Isle of Arran, a real snapshot of rural life on the west coast of Scotland. Facing inland, it exhibits everything associated with a great day out at the seaside. The beach is positioned at the heart of one of Scotland’s most vibrant seaside towns. You’ll be just steps from everything needed for a great day out, with a huge range of cafes, pubs and restaurants.
The pier is one of Scotland’s finest. It's the combination of scenery and centrality that gives Ayr Beach the edge over many others in the country, making it a shoo-in as one of Scotland’s best beaches. This sandy specimen doesn’t lack in heritage either, with the historical ruins of the 16th-Century Greenan Castle marking a sudden end to Ayr’s stretch of sand.
Tyninghame Beach, East Lothian
East Lothian’s Tyninghame Beach is another which isn’t a million miles away from Edinburgh in terms of geography. However, if we’re talking about atmosphere, it is light-years away. The views of the surrounding landscape are nothing short of remarkable here. Come wind, rain or shine, you’ll want to sit on the sand for a while and take it all in. You’ll see Bass Rock out on the horizon, an incredible island sanctuary for birds.
Another beach with a sprinkling of history to it, Tyninghame contains loads of concrete anti-tank blocks, a reminder that the beach was a strategic training base for the heroes of World War Two. In contrast, the forested entrance and hidden paths of 21st-century Tyninghame make ‘peaceful’ the first thing that springs to mind whenever we visit. The place is another gem that rightfully takes its place amongst the best beaches in Scotland.
St Andrew’s Sands
Best known as the home of golf, St Andrews also offers visitors two equally endearing beaches to visit. We were shocked to find out that they sit in what is often one of the driest places in Britain! In the west, the ambience is one of crashing waves and birds chirping. The wind can really pick up here too, making it ideal for flying your kite. A short walk takes you to Eden Estuary Nature Reserve, a home for Seals.
The east is slightly livelier, located south of the St Andrews’ traditional harbour, and served by a wider range of amenities. A great destination for families, there are lifeguards on duty at peak times and a range of cafes to refresh at. If you’re feeling energetic, you can walk between and sample both.
Overall, St Andrews offers a double chance to escape to the sand, with both its east and west appealing to different wants and needs. It’s this variety that makes its beach offering one of the best in Scotland.
Lunan Bay Beach, Angus
Lunan Bay is in the east of Scotland, perched between Arbroath and Montrose. The large cities of Aberdeen and Dundee are not a million miles away either. This mile-long sandy beach combines history with modern-day natural beauty. The crumbling ruins of the 12th-century Red Castle stand tall over the dunes, reminding visitors that the elevated ground in the era was a key line of defence against the Viking invaders of the time.
Today, the atmosphere is one of the salty sea air and bustling breeze providing peace. The particularly calm waters around the beach are a haven for swimmers, with water sports and fishing also popular pastimes in the area. In our opinion, this is the best beach in Angus, and easily one of the best in Scotland.
Machrihanish Beach, Argyll
Machrihanish Beach is the ultimate escape from it all. An oasis of peace, it’s located on the Mull of Kintyre peninsula, a truly scenic place even by the high standards Scotland sets. The beach faces west, out towards the Atlantic and tantalisingly close to Ireland’s north coast. The 12-mile distance looks even closer on a clear day, and if you’re in the car you’re sure to pick up Northern Ireland’s local radio stations.
Three miles of sand are surrounded by wilderness, with the village playing host to a range of basic amenities. This is a place to admire the wide-open surroundings and take in the sound of the crashing waves. The area around the beach is full of grassy dunes, home to many different types of wildlife. The rural serenity of this western gem means it simply had to be on our list of the best beaches in Scotland.
Coldingham Bay, Berwickshire
Coldingham Bay sits pretty on Scotland’s southeast coast. A cute one kilometre long, the beach also extends out to sea for 200 metres. The lush greenery backing onto the beach creates a scenic and rural feel to the area. The view from all angles of the sand is one of beauty, with horizon out at sea competing with the willowing hills for your affection. Homeli Knoll, an area of steep and grassy terrain at the southern end of the beach gives climbers a particularly panoramic view of the surroundings. It’s well worth the climb in our eyes!
If you fancy adding a bit of history to your beach experience, the ancient ruins of Coldingham Priory are a short stroll away. Founded in the 11th-century by Scotland’s King Edgar, it was partially destroyed by Oliver Cromwell loyalists 600 years later. Rural but only an hour or so from Edinburgh, it is undoubtedly one of the best beaches in Scotland.
Portobello Beach, Edinburgh
With the vast majority of UK cities located inland, Portobello is one of the few in Scotland and Britain that’s within the boundaries of a city. Portobello is just a few miles from the centre of Edinburgh, with a rich history of welcoming people from across the city onto its shores. Today, it serves as a leafy suburb that is amongst the most affluent in the whole country.
This is a great place to sit on the sand and look out to the Firth of Forth. As the world passes by, you’ll also notice several works of art, with Cressida the Tidal Octopus being one of our favourites. Despite its position within a city, the beach is genuinely huge with two miles of sand for swimming and sunbathing. Conveniently located, it’s a great addition to the list of best beaches in Scotland.
Gullane Beach, Gullane, East Lothian
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.
Seacliff Beach, near North Berwick, 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.
Yellowcraig Beach, near North Berwick, 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.