As affordable air travel took off in the 1960s, Scotland’s beach resorts and coastal holiday spots fell out of favour with the locals. Since then, even the best beaches in Scotland have remained a relatively wild place and today its wonder is endless.
Nobody comes to Scotland to get a tan, so don’t expect sun loungers on beaches and big resorts. Instead, the best Scottish beaches are swathes of soft, windswept sand, often as white as you might expect to see in the Caribbean. Wildlife just off-shore can be exciting too, with whales migrating past the coast from June to September.
If you’re hankering after some spectacular coastal scenery, Scotland is the place to come. Check into a beautiful beachfront hotel, or book into one of the top lodges with hot tubs in Scotland, and spend some time by the seaside. Here are the best beaches in Scotland that will have you spellbound.
Best beach in Scotland for traditional fish and chips: Castle Sands, St Andrews
St Andrews, a university town on the east coast famous for its acclaimed golf courses and ruined castle, has a long stretch of beach to its north and a smaller cove to its south. West Sands, the largest beach in the town, is backed by the most famous and sought-after golf course in the world, the St Andrews Links. But the seaside highlight here is Castle Sands, which sits directly beneath the ruined 13th-century castle.
Just a five-minute walk from the beach is Cromars, a classic fish and chip shop that has twice been named Scotland’s best chippy, and even closer is North Point Cafe, where Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge had their first date when they studied here. Stay at the Old Course Hotel for the best accommodation and views in town.
Best beach in Scotland for city breakers: Portobello, Edinburgh
On the fringes of Edinburgh lies Portobello Beach, a mile-long swathe of golden sand overlooking the Firth of Forth. In summer, the beach draws large crowds from the city seeking an escape from the sweaty streets, and there’s kayaking and sailing to be done from its marina.
Georgian and Victorian architecture line the seafront, cafes and bars sit side by side on the promenade and a wonderful Victorian swimming pool with Turkish baths sits right by the sands. This is an ideal hop out of town if you’re on a city break in Edinburgh.
Best beach in Scotland for swimming: Sandyhills, Dumfries and Galloway
Backed by low grassy dunes with some rocky outcrops and a forested headland to the west, Sandyhills is a lovely stretch near Dalbeattie, on the country’s west coast. The sheltered cove here is excellent for swimming, with its calm – if cold – waters.
Low tide offers views of near-endless sand, perfect for building castles or spotting crabs on the sea floor, and the cafe and small shop behind the beach are ideal for snacks and souvenirs. Kids will love spotting deer in nearby Bainloch Deer Park, too.
Best beach in Scotland for remote escapes: Seilebost Beach, Isle of Harris
Dazzling white sand and turquoise seas make Seilebost Beach a spectacular choice, and on a beautiful sunny day you’ll feel like you’re really in the Caribbean. This stretch of beach on the Isle of Harris feels a world away from everything. With no facilities, you’ll have to bring your own snacks and water, but that’s all part of the charm.
In spring and summer, the primroses on the grassy dunes are in flower, so if you’re a keen photographer come for the evening light. Avoid the temptation of walking out at low tide, as there’s a possibility of sinking in quicksand.
Best beach in Scotland for coastal walks: Sanna Bay, Ardnamurchan peninsula
If coastal walks are on your to-do list, head out to the Ardnamurchan peninsula and park up at Portuairk. From here, a spectacular coastal walk takes you along the rugged, rocky landscapes of Sanna Bay.
Lining much of the route is a selection of fine, white-sand beaches well worth stopping off at for a picnic or brief swim, and views of the coastal scenery are absolutely breathtaking. Kelp beds can be seen out on the sea floor at low tide, and keep an ear out for the skylarks that sing here.
Best beach in Scotland for wildlife watching: Troon, South Ayrshire
You don’t have to go far from the city to see whales in Scotland. While the best sightings of minke whales and dolphins tends to be on the Isle of Mull, where boat trips take visitors out to see these beautiful creatures daily, there’s a special beach not far from Glasgow where you might spot something in the water.
Troon is just a 45-minute drive from the city and has a long, sandy stretch overlooking the Firth of Clyde. Sightings of minke whales are fairly frequent during the summer months, so come here and keep an eye on the waters – bring binoculars for the best views.
Elsewhere, the royal burgh of Montrose in Angus offers frequent bottlenose dolphin sightings too.