Walking In The UK

The Best Coastal Walks In The UK

The Best Coastal Walks In The UK
By Simon Heptinstall

With over 11,000 miles of coastline on the main island of Great Britain alone (nearly 20,000 miles when you include the entire archipelago), coastal paths feature highly on many walking holidays and long-distance ways.

Aside from fresh sea air and varied, frequently impressive, seascapes, the main advantage to a coastal walking holiday is the relative ease of navigation. Just keep the sea on the correct side and you’ll be fine!

The UK’s extremely varied shoreline means routes can be challenging sequences of cliff ascents and descents or gentle seaside saunters along beaches, dunes and marshes. The best routes offer a mix of both. Here are a handful of the UK’s most highly recommended coastal walks.

The UK's top coastal walking holidays

Minehead to Westward Ho! (South West Coast Path segment one)

Distance: 87 miles/140km

Duration: Seven days

Difficulty: Hard to moderate

The entire 630-mile South West Coastal Path traces some of the UK’s most spectacular coastline but the first stretch, west from Minehead in Somerset to Westward Ho! in Devon, follows a particularly dramatic section through Exmoor National Park. Highlights include the Valley of the Rocks in Lynton, the wide, sandy, surfing beaches of North Devon; and scaling the highest point on the path: Great Hangman Hill near Combe Martin.

Read more: The UK's best long-distance paths

South West Coast Path Valley of the Rocks Exmoor Devon UK

Walking through the Valley of the Rocks on the South West Coast Path

The Isle of Wight Coast Path

Distance: 70 miles/113km

Duration: Four-six days

Difficulty: Moderate

Start this circular coastal walk as you step from the boat at one of the island’s ferry terminals. There are no moors or mountains but this easy-to-follow and well-supported route is surprisingly varied, with rocky headlands, sandy bays, estuaries and marshes. Memorable sections include Tennyson Down and the Needles, Victorian Ventnor’s clifftop botanical gardens next to ‘hidden’ Steephill Cove, and the grand promenade path overlooking the Solent between Gurnard and Cowes.

Whale Chine Beach on the Isle of Wight UK

The view of Whale Chine Beach from the Isle of Wight coast path

Pembrokeshire Coastpath

Distance: 186 miles/300km

Duration: 11 – 14 days

Difficulty: Moderate to hard

Between Amroth and St Dogmaels, the most varied and dramatic stretch of Wales’ coastal path follows the coastline of Pembrokeshire National Park. It includes walks across high rugged cliffs, round wide sandy bays, along deep green estuaries and through pretty fishing villages. Highlights vary from the rocky wilds of Strumble Head to the pastel-painted terrace homes of Tenby. Accommodation and public transport can be limited in more remote northern sections, so book ahead.

Barafundle Bay on the Pembrokeshire coast of South Wales

Remote Barafundle Bay on the Pembrokeshire Coast

Norfolk Coastpath

Distance: 84 miles/135km

Duration: Six to eight days

Difficulty: Easy

North Norfolk’s coast proves that flat doesn’t have to mean boring. The route from Hunstanton to Hopton-on-Sea explores misty marshes, pine woods, sandy beaches, grassy dunes and atmospheric coastal villages. En-route facilities are good and the walk’s highlights may include the grey seals at Blakeney Point, Hunstanton’s red-and-white striped cliffs and Holkham’s sandy shores, sometimes voted Britain’s best beach.

Blakeney Point on the North Norfolk coast south east England UK

Dusk over Blakeney Point, on England's Norfolk coast

Northumberland Coastpath

Distance: 62 miles/100km

Duration: Three to six days

Difficulty: Easy

From Cresswell to Berwick, this way-marked coastal walk offers an inspiring and generally flat route through nature reserves, broad sandy beaches and dunes, and across low rocky headlands. Landmarks like Lindisfarne and Bamburgh Castle are highlights but walkers will also appreciate a series of unspoilt coastal villages and towns, all with friendly pubs and B&Bs to eat and stay.

OROS England Northumberland Bamburgh

Lindisfarne on the Northumberland Coast Path

Fife Coastal Path

Distance: 81 miles/130km

Duration: Five to eight days

Difficulty: Easy/moderate

This fascinating east coast route proves there is a lot more to Scotland than moors and mountains. Highlights include a close-up of the Forth Bridge, ancient St Andrews and seal-watching viewpoints. From Queensferry to Newport-on Tay the route passes through fishing villages, wildlife reserves, and sandy beaches. Resorts can be busy in summer but the compensation is that accommodation is plentiful.

Read more: Long-distance Scotland walks

UK Scotland ruins Fife Coastal path

Ruins on the Fife Coastal Path

Moray Coast Trail

Distance: 44 miles/71km

Duration: Two to four days

Difficulty: Easy

With beaches, tidal flats, rocky outcrops and thickly wooded shores, this route between Forres and Cullen is a great snapshot of different Scottish coastal landscapes. It skirts the Moray Forth to the north of the Cairngorms, facing into the North Sea and offers a little-known adventure through the homeland of Macbeth. If you’re lucky you might catch sightings of soaring ospreys or playful bottlenose dolphins, and the path is never far from the facilities of coastal villages.

Bow Fiddle Rock Portknockie Buckie Scotland UK

Bow Fiddle Rock, near Cullen on the Moray Coast Trail

Ullapool, Scottish Highlands

Distance: Various day hikes

Duration: Various

Difficulty: Moderate to hard

Ullapool on the shore of Loch Broom is the best base for walks in the far northwestern Highlands. Dozens of routes can be tackled from here, from a short trek to Rhue Lighthouse with views of the Summer Isles to bigger walks along the coast from the tiny village of Badrallach on Little Loch Broom to the alternative coastal commune at Scoraig. Beware that west coast walkers can encounter challenging swarms of midges in summer.

Causeway Coast Way

Distance: 33 miles/52km

Duration: Two to three days

Difficulty: Easy

This well-maintained route along Northern Ireland’s popular Antrim Coast links the seaside resorts of Portstewart and Ballycastle. In just 33 miles the path passes through an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, World Heritage Site and several Areas of Special Scientific Interest. For walkers that translates to views of sandy bays, dramatic cliffs and wave-battered rock formations with memorable landmarks including the Giants Causeway, Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge and Dunluce Castle.

Basalt columns of Giants Causeway in northern Ireland UK

The famous Giant's Causeway on Northern Ireland's Causeway Coast Way

The Best Coastal Walks In The UK

Simon Heptinstall

Former Top Gear writer Simon Heptinstall has slowed down a bit recently and now much prefers walking. His hikes have taken him as far as Svalbard, the Falklands and Budleigh Salterton. Find his travel writing everywhere from the Wall Street Journal to the Daily Mail.

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