9 best beaches in Devon and Cornwall for an idyllic escape

Make sure the best beaches in Devon and Cornwall are on your must-visit list

St Ives Harbour In Cornwall
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The best beaches in Devon and Cornwall offer rugged landscapes, incredible coastal views and, of course, some of the most delicious seafood in the UK.

In rural Scotland, it's the best lochs you won't want to miss, while the Cotswolds boasts chocolate box cottages and quaint tearooms, not to mention some of the best spa breaks in the country. But if you're travelling to the south west of England, it's a trip to the seaside that truly encapsulates its charm.

From glorious sweeping bays to picturesque sheltered coves, the south-west coast is home to some of the UK's finest beaches. Whether you're planning to take a stroll along golden sands, clamber in and out of rock pools or try your hand at surfing, you really are spoilt for choice. In order to determine the best beaches in Devon and Cornwall, we read hundreds of Trip Advisor reviews and only selected the top-rated beaches, all with thousands of glowing write-ups. If you're embarking on a UK staycation, whether it's a week-long break or UK weekend getaway, we urge you to consider one of these idyllic seaside escapes.

The best beaches in Devon and Cornwall in 2022

1. Woolacombe Bay, North Devon

Woolacombe Bay, North Devon

Woolacombe Bay in North Devon is a secluded spot with incredible views 

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Over the years, Woolacombe Bay has been consistently recognised as one of Europe's best beaches. Renowned for its water quality, Woolacombe boasts three miles of golden sands flanked by rolling sand dunes, with craggy coves that feel much more secluded than some of Devon's more touristy beach spots.

Much like the best beaches in Scotland, Devon's landscapes are dramatic, with spectacular scenery at every turn. Wildflowers adorn its hilly terrain, and visitors call it the perfect spot for a family walk. There are rock pools to the north, with acres of space for sandcastles and beach games all the way south to Putsborough. It's worth noting that parking is expensive (around £10 for the day, which put off some reviewers. But overall it's hard to find a more picturesque spot in sunny Devon. 

Don't leave without: Sampling the surf! Exposed to Atlantic swells, this is one of the best spots in Devon for surfing, so bring or rent a board to ride the waves.

2. Bigbury-on-Sea, South Devon

Bigbury-on-Sea Beach

Bigbury-on-Sea Beach has plenty of opportunity for exciting excursions 

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Located in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty overlooking Burgh Island, Bigbury on Sea beach is ideal for family holidays. This beach is very dog-friendly, so you can bring the whole gang along for a fun day out.

Lapped by shallow waters, it's also the perfect place to try something a little different - you can learn to kitesurf or windsurf here, as well as reaping the benefits of cold water swimming. And if the sea air gives you a healthy appetite, try the fantastic beach café selling organic and local produce.

Don't leave without: A trip on the sea tractor over to Burgh Island is a must. Sea tractors were at the height of popularity in the early 1930s, as a unique way to give scenic tours of waterfront hotels and resorts and hotels. Nowadays, it's a retro way to travel that will delight children and adults alike. Finish up with a pint (or homemade lemonade) in the quaint pub on the Island. 

3. Blackpool Sands, South Devon

Blackpool Sands, South Devon

Blackpool Sands has a hint of the Mediterranean about it

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No, we're not in Lancashire. This stunning Blue Flag beach west of Dartmouth, backed by fragrant pine trees, has a hint of the Mediterranean about it. While the name may lead you to believe this beach boasts a sandy bay, Blackpool Sands is fine-shingle beach with a glorious color, particularly when the sun is shining. 

Unsurprisingly, it's popular in the height of summer, with the clear blue waters a real draw for sunbathers and swimmers. You can also hire kayaks, stand-up paddle boards and wetsuits on the beach.

Don't leave without: Check out the botanical gardens just behind the Blackpool Sands car park, with a stunning range of sub tropical trees - arguably among the world's most beautiful gardens. The garden was renovated in spring 2000 by Sir Geoffrey Newton Bt. who lovingly restored the gardens that were created in1896 by his ancestor, Robert Lydston Newman, Deputy Governor of the Bank of England. The gardens are wild and sprawling, with glimpses in between the exotic flora and fauna out to the glistening sea. Heaven on earth.

4. Saunton Sands, North Devon

Saunton Sands, North Devon

Saunton Sands is backed by Braunton Burrows, a designated UNESCO nature reserve

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A few miles south of the superb Woolacombe Bay, Saunton Sands is another glorious Devon beach with a wild feel about it. It's backed by Braunton Burrows, a designated UNESCO nature reserve. This beach is very dog-friendly - team with a dog-friendly hotel and you've got the perfect escape with your pooch. Families meanwhile will love having plenty of space to play and picnic.

The beach is spacious, with great views across to Lundy and Westward Ho. Dogs will love running around off the lead, with plenty of space to roam. 

Don't leave without: Visiting the beach's surf school. If you're keen to take to the waves, surf lessons are available and the shallow-sloping beach is well-suited to beginners.

5. Sandymouth, North Cornwall

Sandymouth, North Cornwall

Sandymouth is one of the most beautiful places to watch the sunset

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Rugged and beautiful, Sandymouth is a popular destination for keen surfers. At low tide, the beach becomes a long expanse of golden sand interspersed with finger-like rock formations. It's a dramatic setting and a perfect place to explore rock pools or enjoy a long beach walk. As with any beach, always keep an eye on an incoming tide to avoid being cut off. 

Other than the incredible scenery, there's a popular café next to the car park, serving fresh, local food and it's a short walk into Bude town, which is full of cute cafes and independent shops. 

Don't leave without: Watching the sunset - this is one of the most beautiful places in Cornwall to watch the sun dip into the sea after a day at the beach.

6. Polzeath, North Cornwall

Polzeath beach in Cornwall

Polzeath beach is a laid-back place popular with surfers

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Polzeath must be one of the UK's most family-friendly beach resorts. It's a laid-back place popular with surfers and a cafe and carpark right on the beach. At low tide, the beach is huge, extending around half a mile with plenty of room for everyone. The waters around Polzeath and the nearby Camel Estuary are rich in sea life with dolphin sightings quite common - making a trip here among the best nature holidays in the UK.

It's worth noting that dogs aren't allowed on the beach between 10am and 6pm during summer months. 

Don't leave without: Walking up the north of the beach to Pentire Point for panoramic views across the coastline.

7. Sennen Cove, West Cornwall

Sennen Cove, West Cornwall

Sennen Cove is a short drive to the Minack Theatre, an impressive open air theatre

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Little more than a stone's throw from Land's End, Sennen Beach is a truly breathtaking location in the far west of Cornwall. Looking out across the vast Atlantic, the long sandy bay stretches north from the small fishing port all the way to Aire Point.

It does get crowded in the summer, but it's a spacious beach offering excellent surfing and swimming, not to mention one or two superb beachside cafés. And if you're a surfing novice, you can book lessons with the surf school right on the beach.

Don't leave without: It's just a short drive to the Minack Theatre, an impressive open air theatre, perched on the Cornish cliffs.

8. Marazion, West Cornwall

Marazion Beach, Cornwall

Marazion Beach is overlooked by the iconic St Michael's Mount

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The beach at Marazion is a real family favourite, with large areas of flat sand for beach games and plenty of rock pools to explore. Overlooked by the iconic St Michael's Mount, it's a shallow-sloping beach sheltered from the waves, making it perfect for swimming in the summer.

At low tide, you can walk across the causeway all the way to the Mount. But allow plenty of time before the tide comes in - or you'll have to catch the boat back! Remember, dogs are not allowed on this beach during July and August between the hours of 10am - 6pm.

Don't leave without: No visit to a fishing village would be complete without sampling the local seafood. Craby's Beach Bar and Terrace in The Godolphin Arms offers fresh seafood with incredible views.

8. Porthcurnick, South Cornwall

Porthcurnick Beach, Cornwall

Porthcurnick Beach has all the hallmarks of the perfect seaside break

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On the Roseland Peninsula, near the scenic fishing village of Portscatho, Porthcurnick is a beautiful sandy cove that's ideal for children. South-east facing, the sea is often calm in the summer making it popular with swimmers (take the normal precautions and watch out for rip currents). Don't forget to bring beach shoes when negotiating the rocks during lower tide. 

This beach has all the hallmarks of the perfect seaside break, including a delicious fish and chip shop and an ice cream truck right on the beach.

Don't leave without: The delightful Hidden Hut above the beach is not to be missed. The hut opens on selected summer evenings to host open-air feast nights by the sea. 

9. Carbis Bay, St Ives

Carbis Bay, St Ives

The iconic Carbis Bay makes for the perfect beach break

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The iconic Carbis Bay Beach is situated a stone's throw away from the bustling and vibrant town of St Ives. The beach itself is surrounded by sub-tropical plants, typical of the West Cornwall climate. 

As well as enjoying a swim in the azure waters, you can also book paddle boarding and kayaking on the beach and enjoy pizza and ice cream at the beachfront cafes. It's worth noting that the beach is at the bottom of a very steep hill, if anyone in your group has mobility issues. 

Don't leave without: Sip a drink on the terrace at the Carbis Bay Hotel and it's easy to feel like you're in a different country. It's quite pricey, but worth it for the views. 

Lauren Hughes

Lauren is the former Deputy Digital Editor at woman&home and became a journalist mainly because she enjoys being nosy. With a background in features journalism, Lauren worked on the woman&home brand for four years before going freelance. Before woman&home Lauren worked across a variety of women's lifestyle titles, including GoodTo, Woman's Own, and Woman magazine.