The best beaches in Scotland

Nine top beaches for an extraordinary day out

Scotland is known and loved for many things, from its iconic cows and kilts to tartan, whisky and royal residences. It’s revered for its expanses of wilderness, epic highlands and enchanting lowlands. And its coastline is another jewel in the crown that shouldn’t be forgotten.

  1. Northern beaches, Iona
  2. Seacliff, North Berwick
  3. Sanna Bay, Sanna
  4. Loch Morlich, the Cairngorms
  5. Nairn Beach, Nairn
  6. Achmelvich, Assynt
  7. Luskentyre Beach, Harris
  8. Sandwood Bay
  9. Strathy Bay, Strathy, Thurso

Whether you’re heading north on an epic road trip, traversing the western isles, delving into the Cairngorms, or perhaps visiting on a city break and looking for a breath of fresh air, here are the best beaches in Scotland, just waiting to be discovered.

1. Northern beaches, Iona

Just off the Isle of Mull, which itself is just off Oban, lies the pint-sized islet of Iona, home to a permanent population of just over 100 and some of the best beaches in Scotland. It’s a charming island where you won’t need a car. The sand is white, the sea is bluest-blue and the swimming here is only for the hardy. But the views, walking and wildlife – seals, puffins, dolphins and basking sharks – are phenomenal. One of the most popular spots for visitors is Traigh Ban Nam Monach (or ‘White Strand of the Monks’).

Best for: Total escapism and adventure

Facilities: Mostly in your accommodation, one Spar and a restaurant or two

2. Seacliff, North Berwick

Tucked just along the coast from Edinburgh, in Berwick, you’ll find Seacliff Beach. This hidden gem is never overcrowded and always feels peaceful – probably because it’s down a private road with a small fee to access it. Once here, you’re sure to agree that the cost is worth it. The sheltered bay is hugged by glorious headlands and backed by dense woodland speckled with ruins – you might even spot the silhouette of Tantallon Castle atop the cliffs. The pinkish-red rock and orange-tinted sand, as well as stunning Bass Rock rising from the sea, make for a fabulous sunset. You’ll find dog-walkers, riders and surfers hanging out here.

Perfect for: Escaping the Edinburgh crowds

Facilities: Toilets, parking

3. Sanna Bay, Sanna

Sanna and its glorious beach are located around two hours from Fort William, on the west coast of Scotland facing the Hebrides. When you arrive at the end of the single-track road, give yourself a pat on the back – you’ve made it to the westernmost point on the British mainland. And what a reward. This silver-sand beach has it all, from dunes to rockpools teeming with life, views of the Small Isles, and total peace and quiet. It’s also a fabulous spot for wildlife including eagles, dolphins and – very occasionally – whales. Pack your binoculars!

Best for: Bucket-list adventures

Facilities: Parking (no toilets or café)

4. Loch Morlich, the Cairngorms

While the Cairngorms are most famous for their epic hills and Balmoral, there’s also a hidden gem of a beach tucked away in this national park. Loch Morlich, by Glenmore, is a golden-sand inland bay loved for its beauty and cleanliness. A pine forest leads down to a sandy shore with a log-cabin café and a few picnic benches. In summer, you’ll want to soak in the sun with an ice cream or try your hand at paddleboarding, kayaking or canoeing. In the autumn and winter, it’s a stunning walk with a view of the snowy mountains beyond.

Best for: Watersports in the calm loch

Facilities: Beach café, watersports centre, visitor centre and campsite nearby

5. Nairn Beach, Nairn

Just a short hop from Inverness, Inverness Airport and the Cairngorms, the East Beach at Nairn is well worth a visit. This wide and seemingly endless expanse of sand is backed by dunes and an RSPB nature reserve. It’s perfect for long, bracing walks in the off-season, picnics sheltering at the base of a dune, and games and frolicking in summer. What’s more, it’s dog-friendly. Perhaps the most magical thing to do on Nairn Beach is to find rare-looking shells and marvel at the enormous pieces of sea-worn driftwood that wash ashore, lending the beach a mysterious vibe.

Best for: A family beach trip from Inverness

Facilities: Car park, toilets, close to town facilities

6. Achmelvich, Assynt

Just off the North Coast 500 route, Achmelvich Beach is a wonderful place to pause your drive, hike or bike ride and while away a day. With white sands and aquamarine seas plucked from a Caribbean holiday brochure, it’s hard to believe you’re in the far north of Scotland – although the sea temperature is sure to remind you. Clear water and picturesque headlands make it just as beautiful on a crisp autumn morning as on a sunny summer one. This coastline boasts a string of picture-perfect beaches: Clachtoll, just up the road, is another beautiful spot flanked by stunning geological features.

Best for: Pausing your NC 500 trip for a beach day

Facilities: Car park, nearby campsite and shop

7. Luskentyre Beach, Harris

Perched just off the west coast and accessible only via ferry (from Ullapool or Uig), a trip to Harris is an escape from the ordinary in itself. But once you make it to Luskentyre Beach, you’ll feel like you’ve teleported to another world. On a sunny day, the aquamarine sea and glistening white sand could convince you you’re in the Bahamas. And while you might dip no more than a toe in the chilly Atlantic, you can traverse the dunes, take a picnic and enjoy views of some truly epic and rugged hills. As you might expect, amenities are few and far between.

Best for: Escaping your everyday

Facilities: Small car park, toilet

8. Sandwood Bay

Those seeking far-flung escapes will meet their match at Sandwood Bay. Claiming to be the most remote beach in the UK, the bay has no car access. You’ll need to park at Blairmore and hike four miles across the headland to this pink-sand shore and its glorious waters. The walk is mostly flat but can be damp and a bit uneven, so decent footwear is recommended. Once there, the beach’s beauty is captivating, with tufted dunes, a smattering of pretty shells and a precarious-looking sea stack. Thanks to its location, it’s utterly unspoilt – just you and the sea birds.

Best for: Walking and picnics

Facilities: Small car park at Blairmore, no facilities on beach

9. Strathy Bay, Strathy, Thurso

There’s just something about Scotland: the further north you venture, the more vibrant the colours. This is certainly the case at Strathy Bay, with its peach-coloured sand, azure sea and many-hued rocks. Not to mention, visitors in May and June are treated to a stunning display of wildflowers leading them down to the sands. It’s particularly striking at sunset or bathed in golden, autumnal light, and it’s a great stop off on the North Coast 500. Although you’re not too far from civilisation, you feel a million miles from the hustle and bustle, and the beach is always tranquil.

Best for: Feeling like you’re at the end of the earth

Facilities: Parking, community-run toilet, pub nearby on the road

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