11 of the best coastal walks in the UK

Alice Howarth
Shutterstock / Margaret Clavell

One of the great things about being British is that we like beaches come rain, wind, hail or shine.

Whether you go for a beach walk in the height of July or on a dark November day - you’re bound to see others ambling along the coastline.

From Northern Ireland to Wales, Scotland to England, we’ve found the best coastal walks (and routes) for you to enjoy all year round…

Burnham Overy to Holkham beach: Norfolk

(Shutterstock / Margaret Clavell)

1 hour 15 minutes

This is a walk of serious views on the beautiful north Norfolk coast.

Park up in Burnham Overy Staithe, a tiny harbour village perched on Overy Marsh where you’ll start your journey. Walk past the houses in the direction of the raised bank you can see, which forms part of the Norfolk Coast Path National Trail. Eventually the path winds leading you to sand dunes – pass over these and you emerge onto stunning Holkham beach, which frequently tops lists of the UK’s best beaches and has inspired many a painting.

Walk to your right along the beach until you reach a natural end where a wooded area takes over – turn right here towards the fine Holkham Hall where you’ll find a line of cars parked up (and people starting the walk in the opposite direction). Your reward will be a cosy pub meal at The Victoria, which forms part of the Holkham Estate.

Rock to Polzeath: North Cornwall

(Getty Images)

1 hour

Park your car near to the Mariners (an old haunt of the princes) in Rock Village and start your walk on the slipway by the Sailing Club.

The walk takes you along Rock Beach, with sailing boats bobbing in the estuary and a view of Padstow on your left – you can take a quick ferry across to Rick Stein’s restaurant. Keep walking in the direction of the open sea and the beach will start to open out and transform from rocky to powdery white sand.

You’ll pass around Brea Hill (at high tide, you’ll need to walk over the mound) to reach Daymer Bay, which is ideal for a picnic stop if weather permits.

After Daymer, you’ll need to follow the clifftop path along the coastline all the way to Polzeath, where you’ll find surfers at all times of the year and plenty of shops and restaurants to reward your journey.

Craster to Low Newton: Northumberland

(National Trust/Solent News)

2 hours

The walk sets off from the fishing village of Craster, home to the famous Craster smoked kipper.

The path takes you through farmland with the rocky shoreline to your right and passes the mighty ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle. Further along you’ll come to the long sweep of Embleton Sands where you can look out for Oystercatchers and other shore birds, and the Emblestones which are great for rock pooling.

Stop at the village of Low Newton by the Sea for a cosy meal or a quick drink at The Ship Inn before returning via two nearby wildlife hides. A wonderful walk all year round, with dune flowers blooming in spring, paddling (or swimming for the brave) in summer, migrating birds in the autumn, and beautiful light and empty paths in winter.

Robin Hood’s Bay towards Boggle Hole: North Yorkshire

(National Trust/Joe Cornish)

1 hour

At low tide, wander along the beach from Robin Hood’s Bay to Boggle Hole on the Yorkshire Coast.

Explore rock pools along the way and keep an eye out for fossils amongst the small pebbles. Winter’s the perfect time to look for fossils in the cliffs too, as the summer foliage has disappeared exposing fossils in the craggy rock face of the cliffs. Local folklore describes Boggles to be like mischievous goblins, who lived in caves. See if you can spot their old hiding places walking along the beach.

The Quarterdeck Café at YHA Boggle Hole offers a place to refuel before walking back along the beach or, if the tide has turned, head back over the cliff tops via the Cleveland Way National Trail.

Call into the Old Coastguard Station at Robin Hood’s Bay. Open on weekends all year round, see the exhibition that tells the story of the Yorkshire Coast, the area’s distinctive geology and the secret history of smuggling.

Murlough Nature Reserve: South End Nature Trail, Dundrum, County Down, Northern Ireland

(National Trust)

1 hour 15 minutes

Murlough National Nature Reserve is home to a wide range of habitats including heathland, species-rich grassland, lichen-rich hollows, gorse and bracken scrub and woodland making for a walk where the scenery will constantly change.

Follow the main visitor’s walkway, Sliddery Ford Path, to the beach. After a short walk along the beach, you’ll enter the central reserve via the Archaeology Path. Look out for the Exmoor ponies which graze year round and help the rangers keep the invasive scrub in check.

From here the trail loops back to the car park by way of the back track. The trail is marked with yellow-topped posts so there's no fear of getting lost.

Portstewart Strand: Portstewart, County Antrim, Northern Ireland

(National Trust/John Millar)

2 hours

Many walkers enjoy the two miles of magnificent golden sand at Portstewart Strand. Few are aware of the trail that meanders through 6,000 year-old dunes to the river edge at the Bann Estuary. It’s a contrasting landscape with colourful wildflowers, butterflies and birds.

Start your walk at the visitor centre and make your way to lifebuoy station 10. Climb the sand ladder there to leave the beach behind. Soon you will enjoy the tranquillity of the dunes. Turn right and follow the path along the fence line to the Bann Estuary. Keep right when you reach the river Bann until you're walking through an area of salt marsh where you may just see cattle grazing (yes, on salt). Follow the path through the salt marsh and you will come to a kissing gate leading into Crab Bay and around the edge of the dunes. The path brings you back to the beach at lifebuoy 14. From here it is approximately two miles back to the visitor centre but there’s a silver lining. Harry’s Shack is located on the way where you can refuel on straight-out-the-ocean seafood.

Culzean Castle and Country Park: Ayrshire, Scotland

(National Trust for Scotland/David Robertson)

Circular route 1-2 hours

This glorious 260 acre estate was once the playground of David Kennedy, 10th Earl of Cassillis – a man who was keen to impress with his wealth and status. Opulent to the extreme, the park is planted with conifers and beech, sculpted around miles of sandy coastline dotted with caves, and finished off with a Swan Pond, an ice house, flamboyant formal gardens and fruit-filled glasshouses.

The castle itself is perched on the Ayrshire cliffs and the surrounding walking trail can be access from any of Culzean’s car parks. The clearly marked walkway with take you over the cliffs with spectacular views across the sea to the Isle of Arran and the small volcanic island of Ailsa Craig as well as across the beach where you can explore inside the caves.

These are in fact the location of one of the most famous Scottish ghost stories connected to Culzean. It’s said that a piper and his dog was sent to the caves and asked to walk to a certain point to prove to locals that they weren’t haunted. Never seen again after the expedition, it was assumed he’d died en route but local legend now says every now and then pipes can be heard from inside the caves and a lone figure can occasionally be seen standing on Piper’s Brae.

Isle of Staffa, Western Isles, Scotland

(National Trust/Sue Anderson)

30 minutes

Jetty to Fingal’s Cave: 10 minutes

Jetty to main puffin colony: 20 minutes

Staffa is a beautiful, uninhabited island, home to hundreds of seabirds and set within waters teeming with marine life. The island is best known for its magnificent basalt columns, formed from molten lava which ensure a walk full of dramatic views.

The jetty and the route to the cave are narrow and slippery. A treaded surface marks the path and handrails have been installed in several sections.

The cliff–top paths are not always obvious and it's wise to take extra care near cliff edges especially if the grass is wet but if safe, it’s a hard walk to beat.

During the summer months, you’re likely to notice a variety of birds flying to and from the island. The island is the nesting place for a whole range of species, including fulmars, shags puffins and gulls.

The path to the north of the island is perhaps the best route to follow to see puffins. The sea around the island acts as a food store and below the surface there is a rich diversity of sea creatures besides fish. Think jellyfish, crustaceans, algae and a variety of marine mammals including dolphins and porpoises.

Rockcliffe: Solway Firth, Scotland

(National Trust)

Castlehill Point: 60 minutes

Sandyhills Trail: 2 and 1/2 hours

Rockcliffe is one of Scotland’s most beautiful coastlines, stretching along the Solway Firth on the southern edge of Dumfries and Galloway.

Part of a National Scenic Area, the reserve is fringed with wildflowers and dotted with sailing villages. Further inland the shells and shingle give way to patches of ancient broadleaved woodland and meadows, rich with flowers, butterflies and birds.

The important Dark Age trading post of Mote of Mark stands on a rocky outcrop. The 6th-century ramparts are still visible, and the summit has lovely views.

The walk to Castlehill Point starts on the small road around the bay but quickly narrows to a winding path which follows the shoreline. This path is a bit of an adventure with rocky bits, muddy bits, and if the sea has been stormy sometimes some seaweedy bits so opt for proper footwear.

The path beyond Castlehill Point takes you along the cliffs to Portling and then Sandyhills. The cliffs are nesting areas for seabirds during the summer months. Look out for cormorants and their large untidy nests and listen for the ‘cronk cronk’ call of the raven. You may be lucky enough to catch sight of a peregrine falcon as it hunts other birds on the mudflats and cliffs.

Marloes Peninsula circular walk, Pembrokeshire, Wales

(National Trust/John Mill)

2 hours

This walk on the Marloes Peninsula offers incredible views over the Pembrokeshire coastline.

Starting from the south end of Marloes Sands beach, meander your way past Marloes Mere where you can try your identification skills on wetland birds. From here, follow the coast path along the edge of the peninsula, enjoying sweeping views out towards the islands of Gateholm, Skokholm and Skomer just off shore. Look out for earth ramparts, which are all that remain of the Iron Age fort that once stood here to defend against attackers from the sea.

Near the white cottage, take a right fork down the valley towards Martin's Haven, where you might spot grey seals on the beaches during late summer. You might also spot Welsh Mountain ponies on the headland, who help to keep the coastal heathland vegetation in good order by grazing.

Follow the coast path on round the headland, before cutting inland across fields to reach the end of the walk.

Porthor and the Whistling Sands walk: Aberdaron, Wales

(National Trust/Joe Cornish)

2-3 hours

A walk along this rugged coastline will provide you with spectacular views across the northern side of the Llŷn Peninsula. From the car park, follow the path through a cluster of willow trees until Whistling Sands comes into view. Locals gave this crescent-shaped beach its name because of the whistling sound the sand makes underfoot.

Follow the path until you come to a bench and a kissing gate on your left. Go through the gate and walk along the coastline making sure to keep an eye out for seals, porpoises and even the occasional dolphin.

As you continue along, you’ll see two islands to your right, Dinas Bach ('small stronghold') and Dinas Fawr ('large stronghold') and then in the distance you'll see the peak of Mynydd Anelog rearing out of the Irish Sea. This is a perfect location for a group walking photograph.

To finish the round, follow the path through two more kissing gates and follow the orange markers back to the car park. Look out for the distinctive red rock, jasper, which used to be quarried at Carreg.

With help from the National Trust of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.