Scotland’s best undiscovered beaches for families – and where to stay nearby

Whether your kids love rockpools, dinosaurs, puffins or pirates, we've found the best – and less well-known – Scottish beaches to visit, plus great family-friendly places to book near each one…

scotland's best undiscovered beaches

There’s far more to Scotland than tartan and whisky. Its uncrowded and lesser-known Scottish beaches are glorious – fringed with mossy Highlands, turquoise waters, ancient ruins and spectacular views of islands off-shore.

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Plus, there’s masses for your wee bairns to explore – from amazing dunes to fossils, dolphins, Pictish treasure and puffins. With travel abroad trickier than ever, there’s no better time to book a proper British family beach holiday on the idyllic Scottish coastline.

Here’s our pick of the best (but less known-about) family beaches in Scotland…

1. Staffin Bay, Isle of Skye

staffin bay, isle of skye
Pic: Getty Images

Best for: Fossil-hunting

Where it is: Staffin Bay is 20 miles north of Portree on the Isle of Skye, off the A855. Skye itself is 217 miles (a 5 to 6-hour drive) from Glasgow by car, crossing over on the Skye Bridge or taking the 30-minute Mallaig ferry.

What it’s like: Quiet, sandy, sheltered ­ – and dinosaur-footprint-tastic! Kids can get up close to enormous pawprints etched into the bay’s rocks by the megalosauruses, cetiosauruses and stegosauruses that once roamed across the sand some 165 million years ago. Fossil-hunting is best down at low tide when more of the rocks are exposed. Wear grippy shoes (it can get quite slippery) that you don’t mind getting wet.

Facilities: There’s free parking at An Corran Beach and a wild camping spot for campervans in the Staffin Harbour Car Park – at the end of a country lane which curves around the bay to the east. For toilets, head to the nearby Staffin EcoMuseum or the Staffin Community Hall.

What other families have said about it:

  • “It’s a wonder that in this day and age you can just drive to the beach, walk a few metres and WOW you are walking where DINOSAURS walked – mind blowing!”
  • “It’s also a very beautiful beach – with lovely views of some outer islands”

Great place to stay nearby: Staffin Bay Holiday Homes – a moment’s walk from the bay, glorious views out to sea, and a choice of 5 atmospheric cottages that sleep between 2 and 8 people. Each has simple light and airy furnishings, and communal spaces for family socialising, cooking and dining. Some have a washing machine and dishwasher. Prices per night start from £295.

2. Forvie National Nature Reserve Beach

Forvie National Nature Reserve Beach
Pic: Getty Images

Best for: Amazing dunes

Where it is: The nature reserve is 15 miles north of Aberdeen on the A975.

What it’s like: Empty, dramatic – and sandy. We’re talking 14 miles of sand and the largest sand dunes in Britain, no less. Formed by sediment carried along by rivers during the most recent Ice Age, some of the dunes are 20m high. Walk through, jump over and slide down the sandy mounds for hours of fun. And for bird lovers in summer, there are diving terns and wading oystercatchers. At the Newburgh end, you’re very likely to see (a lot of) seals basking on the sands.

Facilities: The car parks are open but the toilets and visitor centres remain closed due to COVID-19; check in advance of your visit to see if they’ve reopened. Park at the Waterside car park for the sand dunes.

What other families have said about it:

  • “A bit off the beaten track but well worth the effort to see the seals basking on the beach at the water’s edge.”
  • “Well laid out paths, spectacular dune and wildlife aplenty – totally unspoiled!”

Great play to stay nearby: Beehive Cottage – close to the Sands and set up for families, with bunk beds in 1 of the rooms. There’s underfloor heating, a washing machine and a patio, with a picnic table and chairs. Also available on request are children’s books, toys, a high chair and a travel cot. Sleeps up to 5 and can be rented from £95 per night.

3. St Ninian’s Beach, Shetland

St Ninian's Isle
Pic: VisitScotland/Paul Tomkins

Best for: The sea ‘bridge’ – and Pictish treasure

Where it is: The beach is 17 miles from Shetland’s capital of Lerwick. Find it via the A970 to Sumburgh, then follow the B9122 towards Bigton. Take the second right turning into Bigton, then take the road to the left, turning right immediately afterwards. The overnight ferry to Shetland takes just over 12 hours from Aberdeen (book ahead as there are currently restrictions on passenger numbers).

What it’s like: This is a beach with a tombolo, or ayre in Scottish – a natural sand causeway with sea on either side that connects Shetland with St Ninian’s Isle. In winter, it’s submerged but in summer you can walk along the sandy pathway with waves lapping at either side and take a ramble round the island – making sure to stop off at the ruined chapel where a hoard of ancient Pictish silver treasure was discovered.

Facilities: There’s free parking to the north-east of the beach at the end of the beach road.

What have other families said about it:

  • “Nature at its purest and finest – wind, sand, water, rocks. The spot to get away from the troubles of the world.”
  • “The beach is beautiful. There was almost no one there and we walked across the tombolo to the island. It was a lovely walk and the surrounding scenery is amazing.”

Great place to stay nearby: The Hayhoull Bed and Breakfast – suitable for family stays all year round and great value. Stay in a family room with a shared bathroom and use of a lounge with a TV, DVDs and musical instruments. From £45 per person including breakfast.

Staying safe on Scotland’s beaches

  • COVID-19: check directly with local businesses and attractions before visiting, and look out for the We’re Good to Go scheme logo, which shows which businesses and attractions have carried out a Covid-19 risk assessment.
  • Don’t light bonfires and take care when lighting barbecues as these can easily get out of control.
  • Read the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. It applies all year-round and offers some great tips and advice to help you enjoy outdoor spaces safely, and give staff the time and space they need to look after them properly.
  • ALWAYS clean up after yourself.

4.  Aberdeen Beach

Aberdeen beach
Pic: VisitScotland/Kenny Lam

Best for: Dolphin-spotting

Where it is: The beach is 2 miles long, and only a 5-minute drive, from the centre of Aberdeen. Follow Beach Boulevard and you’ll hit the Esplanade. Try the harbour wall for the best vantage point of dolphins.

What it’s like: So this bucket-and-spadey city beach isn’t the least bit remote but we had to include it – for the dolphins. It has good stretches of sand, lots of groynes, a long promenade (great for a pacey buggy push) but it’s the bottlenose dolphins that are the stars. This is one of the only places in the world you can see these magnificent creatures from a city. There are usually dolphins sightings every hour during the summer months. And you can get your kids on the lookout for porpoises, minke whales and humpbacks, too.

Facilities: Queens Links Leisure Park is based right on the seafront with parking, toilets, baby-changing facilities and lots of restaurants, plus a cinema. The RSPB runs regular dolphin-watching sessions nearby: check out the RSPB website for up-to-date info.

What other families have said about it:

  • “We were treated to excellent views of dolphins leaping out of the water at the harbour entrance and riding the bow waves of boats entering the harbour”
  • “You can walk along the beach as far as the eye can see or you can walk along the higher promenade so that your feet stay clean.”

Great play to stay nearby: The Girdleness Lighthouse Cottage is full of character and charm. This historic lighthouse keeper’s property was built in 1833 and perches right on the Aberdeen coastline. It has 2 bedroooms, large grounds, a wood burner, full kitchen and a washer/dryer and is moments from the sea (10 minutes to the centre of town). Prices for 7 nights start at £1135.

5. Coldingham Bay, Eyemouth

Beach at Coldingham Bay, Scotland
Pic: VisitScotland/Kenny Lam

Best for: Bodyboarding

Where it is: On the coast of the Scottish Borders, a 1-mile walk from Coldingham Village or a 4-minute drive along a unnamed country road off the B6438. Edinburgh is 47 miles away.

What it’s like: Surfers in the know come to this sheltered 1km-long sandy beach, edged by green pastures. Rent a bodyboard and wetsuit at the nearby St Vedas Surf Shop School and play in the waves with your children, or feel the rush of standing up on a board during a surf lesson for the whole family. Flat days are perfect for exploring the shore by kayak. The Marine Conservation Society gave this beach an award for its clean water.

Facilities: Lifeguards patrol this beach at weekends in June, and every day between July and early September. There’s a small car park near the beach, with a fairly steep access road to the beach. There’s also a Beach Cafe and toilets overlooking Coldingham Bay.

What other families have said about it:

  • “This beach is sheltered from several wind directions (north, west, south) so feels warmer than many beaches in this region… When the tide is in and it is sunny, the water looked almost turquoise!”
  • “Fantastic, beautiful – a great relaxing place to visit with family”

Great place to stay nearby: Cormorant Cottage offers a full open plan upstairs living area with a full-length glass front for sea-viewing. Amenities include a gas BBQ and full kitchen, plus board games, a travel cot, highchair, stairgate and children’s beach toys. Sleeps 6, from £140 per night.

6. Luskentyre Sands, Isle of Harris

Luskentyre beach
Pic: VisitScotland/Paul Tomkins

Best for: White, white sand

Where it is: Follow the A859, then take a minor road to the beach. It’s 10 miles away from Tarbert, Isle of Harris’ capital. It’s 271 miles from Glasgow, and includes a 2-hour ferry crossing from Uig on the Isle of Skye to Tarbert.

What it’s like: Fiji-like white sand, offset with moody rolling Highlands and clear, astonishingly aquamarine sea waters. No wonder it’s been voted one of the best beaches in the UK by TripAdvisor. After playing on the sands, you can take a short walk to see views of the nearby island of Taransay, where the BBC TV series Castaway was shot. There are other coastal strolls but do be mindful of high tide, when sand banks can disappear entirely, cutting some paths off.

Facilities: There’s a car park with a toilet at end of the country road next to the beach at Losgaintir. From there it’s a short walk to the beach.

What other families have said about it:

  • “This really is a fabulous beach with shining white sand and a view of the Harris hills.”
  • “Every time we visit this beautiful beach we are in awe of it. It is so vast and clean and we have been so lucky to almost have it to ourselves every time.”

Great place to stay nearby: The Old School at Luskentyre Lodge – a cosy wooden cabin that sleeps a family of 4, with gorgeous views over the Sound. It’s got superfast broadband, a Freesat HD TV and an outside eating area. From £80 off-peak per night and £600 per week mid-March until mid-October.

Travel and booking tips

  • Make sure to book transport and accommodation ahead of your visit. If visiting Scottish islands, be aware that capacities on ferries are currently more limited than usual.
  • Keep an eye out for the We’re Good to Go logo on accommodation, visitor attractions and restaurants and pubs – a new UK-wide ‘mark of confidence’ awarded to tourism businesses who are working hard to adhere to government guidelines.
  • Look out for family passes, such as those for the National Trust for Scotland and Historic Environment Scotland

7. Rockcliffe Beach, near Dalbeattie

child exploring a rock pool
Pic: Getty Images

Best for: Rock pools

Where it is: On the southern edge of Dumfries & Galloway, 7 miles from Dalbeattie off the A710. It’s about 2 hours by car from Glasgow.

What it’s like: A small, sandy beach surrounded by craggy rocks, perfect for clambering on, with plenty of tide pools in which to search for crabs, barnacles, small fish and other curios. From shore it’s possible to see Hestan Island (home to hundreds of nesting birds in the summer)  or you could stretch your legs on a picturesque cliff walk.

Facilities: There’s parking next to the beach and a toilet block hidden at the end of the beach.

What other families have said about it:

  • “A great secluded place to spend an afternoon. A quiet, peaceful, hidden gem.”
  • “A great place for kids to have a good run round and not very busy.”

Great place to stay nearby: Colvend Cottage is a 5-minute drive from the beach, and sleeps a family of 4 in its light and airy surrounds, with a sizeable country-style kitchen and a lovely sun house. Do note that there’s a not particularly toddler-friendly steep flight of stairs to the 2nd floor. Highchair provided on request. From £50 per night.

8. Ayr Beach, Ayr

horses on ayr beach
Pic: VisitScotland/Visit South West Scotland/Damian Shields

Best for: Sandcastles and pirate play

Where it is: This beach is less than 2 miles from central Ayr, in the south-west of Scotland, and under an hour’s drive from Glasgow.

What it’s like: This long city beach isn’t as secluded as some but it has bucket-loads of sand for kids to play and construct castles on, plus there’s a children’s play area – including a pirate’s playground. Visit during low tide for the most sand, great paddling and maybe some horse-spotting. There are gorgeous views over the Irish Sea, Ailsa Craig and the Isle of Arran.

Facilities: There’s parking available at the beach, plus a toilet block. Next to the beach is a large grassy area for a sand-free picnic and there are plenty of eating options close by in town.

What other families have said about it:

  • “Our grandsons, 6 and 3, had a ball. The pirate playground is fantastic. Plenty to keep them amused!”
  • “Lovely beach – a nice environment for the family and to have a picnic”

Great place to stay nearby: Groom’s Cottage in Kirkmichael is set in the grounds of Cloncaird Castle in the Ayrshire countryside and only 10 miles from the beach. Inside are books, games and DVDs for the kids, plus underfloor heating, use of a courtyard and a laundry service. The grounds offer walks, a pond, a fountain, a river for salmon fishing and pretty gardens. Sleeps a family of 6. From £76 per night.

 9. Calgary Bay, Isle of Mull

Calgary Bay, Mull
Pic: VisitScotland/Kenny Lam

Best for: Bird spotting

Where is it: It’s off the B8073 on the Isle of Mull, which is a 4½ hour drive from Inverness or 4 hours from Glasgow.

What it’s like: For an empty beach on the wild side, it should be Calgary Bay. Here you’ll find pristine white sand, surrounded by low dunes and striking untamed emerald hills. It’s also home to seals and a thriving communities of birds, including great northern divers, Slavonian grebe, and white-tailed eagles. Keep your eyes peeled for rare yellow browed warblers and for puffins.

Facilities: There’s a small parking area near the beach, with a grassy flank and picnic tables. However, because of its remoteness, there are no facilities here so you’ll need to bring all your own provisions.

What other families have said about it:

  • “Beautiful white sands beach with easy access from car park. Nice walks along the shore to a small pier where the seals come in oh so close, you can almost touch them.”
  • “White sands, crystal clear sea, eagles, peace and tranquility: what more could you want?”

Great place to stay nearby: The Mornish Schoolhouse – offers exceptional-value family rooms that come with a fresh organic breakfast made from produce grown on the surrounding land. Travel cots available. Rates start from £30 (£15 for under 16s) per person based on 2 sharing a room.

10. Silver Sands Beach, Aberdour

Silver Sands beach, Aberdour
Pic: Getty Images

Best for: Paddling and swimming

Where it is: Find it off the A921 road from Inverkeithing to Burntisland. It’s less than an hour’s drive from Glasgow and just over ½ hour from Edinburgh.

What it’s like: Not to be confused with the beach of the same name in the east of Scotland, this small Blue Flag bay on the Fife coast is backed by woodland, and is a charming and relaxing setting for families on a day trip from Edinburgh or Glasgow. It immediately feels as though you’re light years away from the bustle of the city. From the sandy shore (or the water if you venture in), take in the views of Inchmickery and Inchcolm in the distance.

Facilities: Lifeguards patrol the beach during the peak summer season. And there’s a beachfront café with social distancing and sanitising measures in place, plus a toilet.

What other families have said about it:

  • “A fantastic hidden wee gem! This beach is one of the best. Very clean and fantastic views.”
  • “A nice sandy beach with toilets, lifeguards and a swimming area.”
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Great place to stay nearby: Aberdour Hotel & Stable Rooms. Simple and welcoming, and only a 20-minute walk from the beach. The family room has a double bed and 2 singles, plus in-room tea/coffee making facilities and a TV. A full Scottish breakfast is included in the rate and there’s a bar with a good selection of ales, plus a wine cellar and restaurant on-site. From £85 per night.

About our author Jade Borley

Jade has lived and travelled in over 70 countries, including Scotland. She’s written more than 30 Lonely Planet books. She now has a 1½ year old son and can’t wait to show him the world.