12 of the best beaches within 2 hours of London
Despite feeling a million miles away from the Great British seaside London is in fact within a stone's throw of some of the UK's finest beaches. OK, maybe you would have to be very good at throwing stones but the capital is less than two hours from some great beaches making a day trip very doable.
So there is no need to compromise with a day in the park or the "urban beach", you could be feeling the sea and sand between your toes real. And these are proper beaches, not the patches of mud that pass for a beach along the banks of the River Thames. We have hand picked a range of beaches from wild, sandy expanses to the ultimate classic British seaside experience.
West Wittering / East Sussex
This large unspoilt stretch of sandy beach is also a holder of the coveted Blue Flag award. This signifies not only a clean safe beach, but one with all the facilities you might need. West Wittering is popular with families but it has a bit of something for everyone. There is bundles of shabby-seaside-chic including beach huts to hire; wildlife a-plenty in the extensive grasslands and tidal pools; views across Chichester harbour and beyond the beach are the South Downs - prime walking country.
Climping / West Sussex
Not far from the buckets and spades of Bognor Regis is the quiet rural beach of Climping. Above the high water mark the beach is an expanse of shingle divided up by ageing wooden groynes. However, when the tide drops acres of firm sand are exposed; just the sort of sand for making sandcastles, or letting the dog / child / horse off for a run. The beach is very much undeveloped and backs onto low dunes and fields.
Southend on Sea / Essex
Whilst the mention of Southend might raise a smirk from many the beaches here are still immensely popular and actually quite good. There are around seven miles of sandy beach to choose from and between them these have earned three Blue Flag awards and seven Quality Coast awards.
The amusement parks, crowds and classic seaside appeal might not be to everyone's taste but that's the way it's been in Southend for the last 100 years.
Brighton / East Sussex
You didn't think we were going to write about beaches near London and not mention Brighton. Hard to say anything that hasn't already been said about this cosmopolitan seaside town which has provided Londoners with sea air for over 200 years.
Whilst you won't find much in the way of sand on any of Brighton's beaches there's never a dull moment. A random mix of old fashioned bucket and spade, bohemian living and surf couture Brighton still has the UK's most popular beaches.
Clacton on Sea / Essex
On paper Clacton might sound somewhat similar to Southend; a classic British seaside resort on the Essex coast replete with Victorian pier and seaside fun. However, Clacton-on-Sea has a very different feel to it along with a lovely stretch of clean, golden sand making it a firm family favourite.
Walton-on-the-Naze / Essex
With a good-sized sandy beach and the second longest pier in Britain, Walton-on-the-Naze has plenty to shout about. The people from the Blue Flag award seem to agree and have given the beach here their stamp of approval. What makes the beach at Walton-on-the-Naze a particularly family-friendly option is the sand - it has the perfect consistency for building sandcastles. If that's not your cup of tea then you'll find plenty of places to have a cuppa including the town's celebrated pie and mash shop.
Broadstairs / Kent
Kent is not just the "Garden of England" but home to a number of the country's best beaches many of which are concentrated in and around the charming town of Broadstairs. The most central beach is Viking Bay, a crescent of sand nestling up against the town's harbour. Whilst Viking Bay may have lost its Blue Flag nearby Joss Bay and Stone Bay haven't. Both these beaches are lovely golden sand backed by white chalk cliffs. Probably the most spectacular of the town's beaches (with yet another Blue Flag) is Botany Bay with its chalk stacks dominating the eastern end of the beach.
Dungeness Beach / Kent
Despite being only just over an hour from Central London Dungeness is a million miles away. The landscape here is flat, bleak and slightly surreal. It is also apparently very dry being technically classified as Britain's only desert.
Sat on the edge of Romney Marsh this expanse of shingle is dotted with weatherboard huts and wooden fishing boats. Along with a couple of lighthouses it is the form of Dungeness nuclear power station that is ever present. A little further exploration and you might discover the 'listening ears', strange concrete structures developed by the military in the 1930s.
Shoeburyness / Essex
Despite being within walking distance of Southend, Shoebury Common beach is a world apart and is a great escape if you fancy a somewhere a little less hectic. The sand and shingle beach here is backed by a promenade lined with beach huts and the only amusements you'll find are snacks served at Uncle Tom's Cabin.
If you fancy heading back to the bright lights of Southend, there's a seafront cycle path all the way there.
Bournemouth / Dorset
This is Dorset - proper West country seaside and Bournemouth comes in bang on the 2 hour mark from London. With miles of golden sand beach it is little wonder the Victorians actively developed this spot as a resort. A promenade runs much of the length of Bournemouth's beaches making it easy to hop over to the next stretch of sand.
The pier here is still the centrepiece but the amusements have moved with the times and now the seafront boasts an IMAX cinema, oceanarium and any number of eateries. There is even an artificial reef for the surfers, although whether this works is the topic of some debate.
Sunny Sands / Kent
With a name like Sunny Sands beach it seems you are setting yourself up for disappointment, although the sand is pretty much guaranteed! Sitting on the edge of Folkestone Harbour this beach is popular with locals and visitors alike. In fact as one of the closest sandy beaches to London it can be a little too popular in the summer holidays.
Still, it is a pleasant enough spot with lots of facilities close at hand and a promenade running along the back of the beach. Sunny Sands is also home to a yearly sandcastle building competition which is testament to the quality of its sand.
Birling Gap / East Sussex
Set beneath towering white chalk cliffs somewhere between the seaside resorts of Eastbourne and Brighton Birling Gap is one of those slightly odd places (in a good sense). Part of this probably stems from this being one of the longest stretches of undeveloped coastline on the south coast. Another reason is the ever shrinking terrace of austere looking cottages that are slowly dropping off the cliff edge.
From my experience the sun never shines at Birling Gap, but then again it was only one day. But then again that's not all this beach is about; this is a beach with soul and interest beyond buckets, spades and sunbathing. It is also quite well known amongst local naturists - if you keep walking along the beach.