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Best beaches near London: Our pick of the finest sandy spots within two hours of the capital

Escape the city and head to the coast for sea air, sandy shores and ice cream

Looking to escape the capital to gulp down fresh sea air, dip your toes in salty waters and get a fish-and-chips fix? A trip to the coast can be hugely restorative and lots of fun, especially on a sunny day. But you probably don’t want to negate those healthy benefits by spending hours in a car or schlepping from train station to train station. Luckily there are plenty of seaside spots that can be reached within two hours of London, with many accessible via a direct train service from one of the city’s major stations.

Here we highlight the best beaches within easy reach of London, from cultural coastal hotspots to family-friendly stretches of sand. All work as day trips but we’ve added hotel suggestions in case you want to extend your stay.

The best beaches within two hours of London

1. Whitstable, Kent

Sandy it is not, but this seaside retreat on the north Kent coast is pretty nonetheless with its shingle beaches and cute-and-colourful beach huts. The high street is lined with pastel-hued gift shops, cafes and pubs and leads down to a seafront promenade for breezy strolls. Stop for a pint of Whitstable Bay Pale Ale (brewed in nearby Faversham) at the Old Neptune right on the beach and snack on oysters from the Lobster Shack or Wheelers, the town’s oldest restaurant. To head further afield, rent bikes and follow the Crab & Winkle Way, a 7-mile cycle track between Whitstable and the ancient city of Canterbury, home to England’s oldest cathedral.

Where to stay in Whitstable: Stay in a converted fisherman’s hut right on the beach and wake up to stunning sea views or check in to the family-run Hotel Continental between the harbour and the high street.

How to get to Whitstable from London: Direct trains run from St Pancras Station (75 minutes) and Victoria Station (90 minutes). The beach is a 15-minute walk from the station. Whitstable is around a two-hour drive from London.

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2. Leigh-on-Sea, Essex

This charming fishing village on the Thames Estuary is officially the happiest place to live in the UK according to a survey by Rightmove and there’s plenty to keep daytrippers merry. Old Leigh is a delightful mash-up of cockle sheds, historic pubs, cafes and galleries and there are sandy coves that stretch from Leigh to neighbouring Southend. Beyond the beach, there’s a 259-hectare nature reserve to explore on Two Tree Island and it’s worth heading up to the Hadleigh Castle ruins for views out to the Essex marshes.

Where to stay in Leigh-on-Sea: Hotels are thin on the ground in Leigh-on-Sea so your best bet is to search on Airbnb for accommodation in the area. The Trinity Hotel in nearby Westcliff-on-Sea is a six-room B&B with stylish rooms and sea views or for a little bit of luxury (and a candy floss fix) consider the Seven Hotel in Southend-on-Sea.

How to get to Leigh-on-Sea from London: Direct trains run from Fenchurch Street Station (45 minutes). Leigh-on-Sea is around a 90-minute drive from London.

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3. West Wittering, West Sussex

In an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty close to Chichester Harbour, West Wittering is one of the finest sandy beaches England has to offer. Its clean sands, safe bathing waters and grassy banks have earned it a prestigious Blue Flag award and it’s popular all year round with families, picnickers, kite flyers and windsurfers. High tide attracts watersports pros into the sea while little ones will love splashing around the shallow lagoons when it’s low. There’s a small cafe for ice creams and simple seaside grub, and a rental shack offering watersports gear.

Where to stay in West Wittering: There are a number of small B&B options in the local area or it’s worth checking out Airbnb for apartments and houses. In nearby Chichester, the Harbour Hotel is a lovely boutique hotel with a seafood restaurant and a spa.

How to get to West Wittering from London: Direct trains run from Victoria Station to Chichester (90 minutes). There’s a regular bus service from Chichester station to the Old House at Home pub, a 10-minute walk from the beach. West Wittering is around a two-hour drive from London.

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4. Brighton, East Sussex

Grand Regency squares, boho streets, characterful pubs and classic seaside pursuits combine in this cool coastal city. While daytrippers tend to make a beeline for the pebble beach to munch on fish and chips, there’s lots to see beyond the shoreline including a Taj Mahal-inspired Royal Pavilion, a traditional pier packed with retro fairground rides and the Lanes, a vibrant network of streets lined with Brighton’s best indie boutiques. For a quieter alternative, stroll east to Hove to explore artisan shops and cute cafes.

Where to stay in Brighton: The Artist Residence is a townhouse boutique with each room designed by a different creative. For a budget-friendly base, try Motel Schmotel with rooms from £35 or for out-and-out luxury, consider Hotel Una on Regency Square.

How to get to Brighton from London: Direct trains run from both London Victoria and London Bridge stations and take between 55 and 65 minutes. The beach is around a 10-minute walk from the station. Brighton is around a two-hour drive from London.

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5. Walton-on-the-Naze, Essex

This soft sandy stretch near Clacton-on-Sea is ideal for families with its Blue Flag accreditation and safe swimming zones. For seaside strolls there’s a wide promenade and the traditional pier is home to fairground rides including dodgems and a ghost train. Head to the Red Crag cliffs to hunt for fossils or climb up Naze Tower‘s spiral staircase for panoramic coastal views. First built as a navigational aid in 1720, this local landmark is now home to a viewing platform, a museum, a gallery and a tea room.

Where to stay in Walton-on-the-Naze: Sea’s The Day is a light-filled two-bedroom apartment with sea views or there are cottages and houses to rent on Airbnb if you need something bigger. The Lifehouse Hotel & Spa is a contemporary spa resort less than five miles away in Thorpe-le-Soken.

How to get to Walton-on-the-Naze from London: Indirect trains run from Liverpool Street Station via Thorpe-Le-Soken and take around 90 minutes. The beach is a five-minute walk from the station. Walton-on-The-Naze is around a two-hour drive from London.

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6. Margate, Kent

Sun-seeking Londoners can reach this classic seaside resort in just 90 minutes thanks to an excellent high-speed rail link from St Pancras. Home to a charming Old Town and a thriving arts scene, Margate has inspired homegrown creatives including romantic painter JMW Turner and contemporary artist, Tracey Emin – works by both can be seen at the Turner Contemporary gallery on the seafront. The beach itself is a sweep of golden sand with a stone pier more commonly referred to as the Harbour Arm and beyond the shoreline there are retro thrills on offer at Dreamland, a 16-acre amusement park with the UK’s oldest wooden roller-coaster at its heart.

Where to stay in Margate: Go boutique at the Reading Rooms, a converted townhouse on a leafy square close to the beach or step back in time at the Walpole Bay Hotel, an Edwardian retreat with bags of character. For a cheaper option, consider BeetBeds, a vegan restaurant with rooms just off the high street.

How to get to Margate from London: Direct trains run from St Pancras Station and take around 90 minutes. The beach is about a five-minute walk from the station. Margate is around a two-hour drive from London.

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7. Camber Sands, East Sussex

If you’re looking for a guaranteed patch of soft golden sand, Camber Sands is a safe bet. Stretching for around seven miles and backed by lofty dunes, this vast beach offers plenty of space to stretch out, even on scorching summer days. The shallow waters are ideal for family paddling but the coastal conditions are also perfect for windsurfers, kitesurfers and sailors. In the winter months, you might have to make room for an A-list star or two: Camber Sands has provided a backdrop for films including The Monuments Men and The Theory of Everything. The medieval hilltop town of Rye – home to a 13th-century castle and tea shops aplenty – is just four miles away.

Where to stay in Camber Sands: Stay right on the sand at Stowaway Beach House, a collection of whitewashed cottages with sun-splashed terraces and private beach access. The Owlers Retreat is a modern three-bedroom beach hut less than a minute from the dunes or push the boat out at The Gallivant, a converted beachfront motel with boutique rooms and an award-winning restaurant.

How to get to Camber Sands from London: Indirect trains to Rye run from St Pancras Station via Ashford International. Regular buses operate from Rye to the beach and take around 10 minutes. Camber Sands is around a two-hour drive from London.

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8. Bournemouth, Dorset

Popular since the 18th century when wealthy Victorians flocked to Bournemouth to take advantage of the sea’s medicinal benefits, this south coast resort attracts fun-loving families, watersports fans and daytrippers all year round. There’s some fine Victorian architecture to see including the town centre’s grand covered shopping arcade and the clifftop Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum and the traditional pier is home to an arcade, a climbing wall and a zip line. Surfers and stand-up paddleboarders head east to Boscombe while foodies make a beeline for Sandbanks, a small peninsula dotted with multi-million-pound houses and a Rick Stein seafood restaurant.

Where to stay in Bournemouth: Go grand at the Green House, a Victorian clifftop villa set in palm tree-studded grounds or stay close to the seafront at the Art Deco-style Cumberland Hotel. The Hilton Bournemouth offers impressive views from its Sky Bar, which serves afternoon tea and cocktails.

How to get to Bournemouth from London: Direct trains run from Waterloo Station and take just under two hours. The beach is about a 20-minute walk from the station. Bournemouth is around a two-hour drive from London.

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9. Ruislip, West London

If you’re in desperate need of a beach fix but can’t face schlepping out of the city, there’s a stretch of sand in west London. Ruislip Lido is a 60-acre lake with an artificial beach complete with palm trees, a picnic area and a pirate-themed playground. And while there’s no coastal breeze to cool you down, you can paddle in the shallow waters, grab an ice cream from the cafe and take a trip on the narrow gauge railway around the lake’s edge, all without heading out of Zone 6. And it’s completely free to visit; just bear in mind that it gets incredibly busy during school holidays and over bank holiday weekends.

How to get to Ruislip: Ruislip tube station is on the Piccadilly and Metropolitan lines in Zone 6, around a 35-minute journey from King’s Cross. Both the H13 and 331 bus routes run from the station to the Lido and take around 10 minutes.

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