Everyone has their own idea of what the perfect beach looks and feels like. Some appreciate the drama of crashing waves against craggy coastlines. Others love the sand between their toes or a quiet pub that’s five minutes’ walk away -perfect after a long day of exploring. Well, we’ve just described some of Scotland’s best-loved beaches.
Scotland might be much further north than the South of France, but the gulfstream means it enjoys balmy temperatures well into autumn. Also, its northern location means that summer days are longer –you get at least two hours more summer daylight in Aberdeen than in Saint-Tropez.
So if you’re not a native and are asking yourself “does Scotland have nice beaches?”, we hope the examples below will answer your question.
Just 35 km east of Edinburgh, near the town of North Berwick, there’s a small, white-sand beach that hardly ever gets busy. Seacliff Beach is technically a private beach. You pay a small fee to drive down to it, explore its rock formations, and view the nearby Tantallon Castle. For a glimpse of history, take a look at the harbour, which was carved out of the limestone by Victorian engineers.
The sands get completely covered by the sea at high tide, so it’s not ideal for pitching up and spending the whole day sunbathing. Check your tide charts and pick the right moment to spend part of your day relaxing by the sea, with the rest of it exploring the views, the castle and the spookily abandoned manor house, Seacliff House.
Together, mainland Scotland and its islands have almost 20,000 km of coastline, shared between the Irish Sea, the North Channel, the Atlantic and the North Sea. But this next beach isn’t washed by any of their salty waves. Loch Morlich is an inland body of water, 45 km from the sea, seven km east of Aviemore at the foot of the Cairngorms.
It’s only small, about one km² in area, but remarkably, about half of its perimeter is made up of sandy beaches. That makes it a beautiful place to relax, indulge in some water sport and fishing, or playing in the water.
Aviemore is famous for its winter skiing, so you may consider taking a wetsuit in the colder months. But during the long summer days, it’s a beautiful place to enjoy the beach amid rich Scottish woodland.
Scotland’s southernmost beach, Rockcliffe, is a south-facing hidden gem on the Solway Firth. It’s in a relatively unpopulated part of south-west Scotland, the nearest large town being Dumfries, 25 km away. For those who do live around here, though, it’s a beautiful beach that’s perfect for getting your feet wet or lying in the sun and letting the warm Atlantic summer breezes drift over you.
The village that the beach is named after is just 500 metres to the east, and the neighbouring village of Kippford is less than a kilometre to the north. Either is a perfect place to take a wander and watch the boats, or grab some food and drink in a pub or cafe. It all makes for a wonderfully relaxing day, especially if you visit the bird sanctuary on Rough Island, which you can walk to at low tide.
From the southernmost beach, we go to one of the furthest north on the Scottish mainland. Whereas Rockcliffe is nestled between two cosy villages, Sandwood is a 6 km walk from the tiny hamlet of Blairmoor, next to Sandwood Loch. It’s worth the effort however, as this destination is one of the most stunning beaches you can imagine.
As you cross the sand dunes, you’ll see a mile of pink sands stretching out in front of you, facing north towards the Faroe Islands far over the horizon. The beach looks as if it’s held in place by an arc of vertical cliffs, and at the end, with waves crashing around it, is Am Buachaille, a 65 metre-high stack.
Because it’s so far from civilisation, it has become a choice location for wild camping. Pitch your tent here and watch day turn to night, and if you’re lucky you might get to experience the mystical Northern Lights, which are much more commonly spotted there.
Back in the relatively populated Western Highlands, you have the delightful Camusdarach Beach. It’s an absolute feast for the eyes, with gentle dunes, rock pools and rocky outcrops in the near range, and the Isle of Skye just across the water. Speaking of water, it can be a little cooler in these parts, even on a hot day, so do bear that in mind –all but the hardiest of beachgoers stay on the sandy stuff.
You can easily spend a few days around here exploring the area. There are B&Bs, hotels and campsites nearby to accommodate you during your stay. No matter howlovely your accommodation is though, every second spent away from this breathtaking territory is, in our humble opinion, a second wasted.
Beaches on the Scottish Islands
We’ve focused on the mainland Scottish beaches above, but connoisseurs of Caledonian coast life will tell you the best beaches in Scotland are found on the islands.
St. Ninian’s Isle in Shetland, for example, is separated from the main island by what geologists call a tombolo. It’s a narrow strip that builds up over time to join two parts of land with the sea on either side. This one happens to be of golden sand, and it can only be seen in the summer months.
Calgary Bay on the Isle of Mull is a gorgeous beach protected by a long bay, and there are outdoor art installations to enjoy, or a visit to the small cafe.
West Beach on the Outer Hebrides is another unbelievably beautiful spot on this beach isle. It’s 4 km long, with sand dunes behind it and a view of the Harris mountains to the north. Have a look at Walking Highlands to find out more about the most stunning beaches off the Scottish mainland.
Getting there by train
Avanti West Coast’s services only go as far north as Glasgow and Edinburgh, but you can buy your tickets through us and change to the local services to continue your journey to the Highlands and beyond.
Buying through our website or app also saves you on fees, and there are plenty of other ways to save such as using a Railcard, booking in advance and booking as a group. Prepare to be amazed at the unsung beauty of Scotland’s beaches.