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If you’re a Londoner looking for a lungful of sea air and the feeling of sand between your toes, you don’t need to go as far as Spain, France or even Cornwall. The south-east coast has some real beauties that are perfect for a day, weekend or week at the seaside.
From picturesque sand dunes to traditional bucket-and-spade resorts, and fascinating rock pools to man-made lido beaches, there’s a beach to suit all tastes within easy reach of the capital. To save you time planning your family day trip or weekend escape, we’ve got Mumsnetters’ pick of the very best beaches within easy reach of London by car or train.
What are the best beaches near London?
Best sandy beach: West Wittering
Best for seaside fun: Southend
Best for sheltered swimming: Botany Bay
Best for attractions: Brighton
Best beach in London: Ruislip Lido
1. West Wittering, West sussex
"The Wittering beaches are probably the best in the area and sandy unlike Selsey. But the roads to get to them can get very very very very busy" - recommended by Mumsnet user, Lackadaisically
This beautifully maintained sandy beach is a real treat. With dunes to play on, shallow water to paddle in and a rather swish restaurant in the car park, it’s no surprise Londoners flock to it all year round. During the summer the beach gets incredibly busy, and you need to book parking ahead. If you want to avoid the crowds, look elsewhere on the amusingly named Manhood Peninsula - the shingle beaches at Pagham, Selsey and Bracklesham also make a brilliant day out and have cheaper parking.
Distance from London by car: 2 hours
Distance from London by train: 1 hour 30 minutes London Victoria to Chichester, plus a 15-minute bus ride
2. Brighton Beach, Sussex
"We had a fab day out and went to the Sealife Centre - WHICH WE LOVED, the Palace Pier and ate fish and chips in the rain, and went on the Brighton Eye. Cost a bluddy fortune but we'd come all the way from Oz and I wanted them to love the town as much as I do. A fab fab fab place" - recommended by Mumsnet user, CrystalDeCanter
Catch the fast train from London Victoria and you’ll be in Brighton in just an hour. The beach is a short downhill walk through bustling crowds from the train station, and there’s so much to do once you get there. The beach itself is shingle, so don’t forget your jelly shoes. There are buggy-friendly walkways onto the beach, and a very child-friendly promenade with a splash park, playground and lots of cafes. Older kids won’t want to miss the Palace Pier, with its theme park rides at the end.
Distance from London by car: 1 hour 20 minutes
Distance from London by train: 58 minutes from London Victoria
Related: The best beach tents for families
3. Southend-on-Sea, Essex
"If you don't mind cheap and cheerful - Southend. Has a family beach (gets crowded), mostly pebbly but some sand , lots for kids to do. About an hour from Liverpool St, less from West Ham. Super off-peak fares are cheap and trains every half an hour" - recommended by Mumsnet user, Turmerictolly
With its seven miles of award-winning sandy beaches - not to mention the longest pier in the entire world - Southend has been a haven for Londoners since Victorian times. Head to Thorpe Bay or Shoeburyness beaches for a day of sandcastle building, and be sure to catch the train to the end of the pier. Elsewhere on the seafront there’s an old funicular railway, which takes passengers up the hillside for beautiful sea views. If it rains, duck into the Sea Life Adventure aquarium to see the otters, clownfish and turtles.
Distance from London by car: 49 minutes
Distance from London by train: 54 minutes from Fenchurch Street
4. Camber Sands, East Sussex
"Camber Sands: vast sandy beach, plenty of parking, simple pleasures like ice cream and fish'n'chips, very straightforward drive" - recommended by Mumsnet user, soundevenfruity
With its wide expanses of soft sand, Camber is a firm favourite for Mumsnetters. It does get busy, so head towards the western end to avoid the worst of the crowds. Dogs are welcome on the beach all year round, but must be kept on leads in certain areas. If you’re looking to stay for longer than a day, there are a number of family-oriented holiday parks nearby, including Parkdean and Pontins sites.
Distance from London by car: 1 hour 55 minutes
Distance from London by train: 2 hours Blackfriars to Rye plus 25 minute bus ride or 1-hour walk
5. Ruislip Lido, London
"Ruislip Lido. There's a beach and reservoir, cafe & a little train through the woods back to the car park. You can paddle in the reservoir but not swim. There's also a splash park and a playground. I'd get there early though, it's likely to be packed!" - recommended by Mumsnet user, almightygirl
Not technically a beach, but the closest you’ll get to one without leaving London, Ruislip Lido is a 60-acre lake with sandy beaches and a miniature railway, on the edge of Ruislip Woods. Swimming isn’t allowed for safety reasons, but there’s a splash park so your kids will get thoroughly soaked anyway. The lido is free to visit, but there’s a charge for parking. The pirate ship playground is brilliant, and there’s a woodland centre with craft activities too.
How to get there: Ruislip Lido is a 10-minute bus ride (H13 and 331 routes) from Ruislip tube station, which is on the Piccadilly and Metropolitan lines in Zone 6.
6. Birling Gap, East Sussex
"Birling Gap is fabulous and the coastline along to Beachy Head" - recommended by Mumsnet user, akissbeforebed
Nestled within the Seven Sisters Country Park you’ll find Birling Gap. It’s run by the National Trust, and there’s a visitor centre as well as the obligatory cafe at the top of the cliff. Scale the steep steps down onto the shingle beach for a day spent rockpooling, swimming in the sea and sunbathing. Dogs are welcome and there are lots of lovely walks along the Seven Sisters cliffs and South Downs National Park nearby. The nearest village is East Dean, which has a nice little playground and an 18th-century smuggler’s pub called the Tiger Inn.
Distance from London by car: 1 hour 48 minutes
Distance from London by train: 1 hour 25 minutes Victoria to Eastbourne, plus a 40-minute bus ride
7. Botany Bay, Broadstairs
"Just between Margate and Broadstairs - Botany Bay beach is fab, soft sand loads of shells to collect and clean sea, and a 5-min drive to main Broadstairs Beach where you can go to Morellis ice cream parlour on the cliff top, lovely old fashioned town with nice restaurants little shops etc" - recommended by Mumsnet user, KvassInTheNight
Between the well-known seaside towns of Margate and Ramsgate, Botany Bay is a gem of a beach, sheltered by chalk cliffs. The flat, sandy beach is littered with shells and the sea is shallow and clean. At low tide there are rockpools to explore, and the imposing chalk stacks must be seen to be believed. Dogs are not allowed on the beach during the daytime May-September, and parking can be difficult - reviewers recommend parking at Palm Bay Avenue for free, then walking to the beach along the cliffs.
Distance from London by car: 2 hours
Distance from London by train: 1 hour 30 minutes St Pancras to Margate, plus 20 minute bus ride
8. Mersea Island, Essex
"Mersea Island - East Mersea has a country park with picnicking space, a small visitor centre, walks by the beach (sand and stones) and West Mersea is more the town, still with the seafront (more sand) but also cafes, fish restaurants and the like. Both very lovely, overlooking estuaries/sea. You have to go into the Island across the Strood which gets submerged at high tide so have to check the tide times (and don't risk it - you don't have to wait too long anyway, and every now and again the coastguard has to come and rescue someone off the roof of their car!). Is well worth visiting" - recommended by Mumsnet user, brabbinsandfyffe
The tiny island of Mersea is just off the Essex coast near Colchester, connected to the mainland by the Strood - a causeway that often floods at high tide. The beaches at East and West Mersea are wild and unspoiled, and made up of sand, shingle and shells. West Mersea is famous for its pastel-coloured beach huts, and it’s a great spot for crabbing too. Dogs are allowed all year round without restrictions, and parking can be found at the Victoria Esplanade Car Park.
Distance from London by car: 1 hour 15 minutes
Distance from London by train: 1 hour Liverpool Street to Colchester, plus 20-minute bus ride and 10-minute walk
9. Margate, Kent
"Margate has a stunning, large sandy beach and the old town has received some regeneration monies with new art gallery by pier" - recommended by Mumsnet user, Crumbs1
A mix of traditional seaside town and trendy creative hotspot, Margate makes a brilliant day trip or weekend break from London. Its Main Sands beach has a tidal pool, rides and an arcade - plus plenty of fish-and-chip shops. Seek out the shell grotto, Tudor house and Dreamland vintage theme park for more things to do. The train station is right next to the beach, making Margate one of the best beaches for visiting on public transport.
Distance from London by car: 1 hour 35 minutes
Distance from London by train: 1 hour 35 minutes from Blackfriars
10. Southsea, Hampshire
"Southsea for lots going on, good swimming, lots of independent restaurants and cafes. Easy from London and cheaper than Brighton. I’d choose Southsea for teenagers, I think. They’ve Gunwharf Quays and Historic Dockyard if it pours" - recommended by Mumsnet user, LemonRoses
Southsea is part of Portsmouth, and it’s a great alternative to Brighton if you’re looking for a beach with plenty to do on dry land. Parking is easy, and the shingle beach is clean and family-friendly. The sea is a good depth for swimming in, and there are views across the Solent of the Isle of Wight. If rain stops play you’ll find the Historic Dockyards, Blue Reef Aquarium and the Cumberland Natural History Museum nearby - as well as lots of places to grab a cup of tea and a bag of chips.
Distance from London by car: 2 hours
Distance from London by train: 2 hours from Waterloo
What’s the closest seaside town to London?
Southend-on-Sea is the closest seaside town to London, just 42 miles from central London
Which beach is better: Brighton or Southend?
Southend has the edge over Brighton thanks to its sandy beaches, but Brighton makes up for its stony shores with loads of attractions.
What’s the best beach near London for a weekend break?
Camber Sands has lots of family-friendly accommodation nearby, including holiday parks, self-catering accommodation and hotels. The beach is huge and sandy, the local area has lots of countryside to explore, and the vibrant town of Hastings is just down the coast.
Which is the best beach near London for families?
West Wittering is the best beach near London for families. One of the most beautiful beaches on the south coast, it’s perfect for a picnic and a day spent building sandcastles.
How we chose our recommendations
Because we know that there's nothing like a real recommendation from a fellow parent, we first headed to the Mumsnet forums to find out which beaches within easy reach of London were being recommended for families.
We then did some research across the wider web, looking at which beaches for family-friendly trips had won accolades or been featured in 'best choice' lists, and what customer reviews said about them. Having collated all that information, we then narrowed our list down to the best family-friendly beaches near London.
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