Scotland has hundreds of miles of coastline, so it’s not surprising the country boasts some of Britain’s best beaches. They range from tiny unspoilt coves with no facilities to family-friendly beaches with parking, toilets and life-guards. Here we’ve put together a tour of the best family-orientated beaches on the east coast, that would be some fantastic stop-off points on your motorhome tour of Scotland. We’ll have another post covering the beaches along the west coast coming soon!
South of Edinburgh: Coldingham Sands
Starting almost in England, our first recommendation is near St Abb’s, at Coldingham Sands. Most of this coast is rocky, with spectacular cliffs, but Coldingham has plenty of sand with rocks only at each end. It’s in a quiet, rural area, sheltered from the wind by headlands to north and south, and lifeguards are on duty through the day during the summer months.
One attraction of Coldingham Sands is the beach huts, some of which are very old and add a touch of the picturesque to the scene. It also offers parking, toilets, a café and disabled access, and has been awarded the Blue Flag, the Marine Conservation Society’s top award for cleanliness and the Seaside Award!
Heading north from St Abb’s, it’s an easy journey (mainly on the A1) to North Berwick, at the tip of the Firth of Forth. Here you’ll find the Scottish Seabird Centre, where you can discover all about gannets, gulls and guillemots – and there’s a good beach too. The Seabird Centre has live video cameras on the Bass Rock and Isle of May, just out in the Firth, so you can watch the birds in real time.
It’s not just about birds: they have displays on underwater marine creatures like turtles, rays, starfish and anemones. There’s a café too, as well as free parking and a gift shop, making it a great rainy day destination. You can also take a catamaran ferry across the Firth of Forth to Anstruther and back and experience these waters for yourself.
Fife: Aberdour Silversands, Roome Bay (Crail), and Tentsmuir
Heading north from Edinburgh, your next stop is at the southern edge of the ancient Kingdom of Fife. Aberdour Silversands lives up to its name, with a white beach flanked by woodland and a view across the water to the islands of Inchmickery and Incolm.
This family-friendly beach has beach patrols, first aid facilities, lifeguards in the summer and award-winning toilets. It has also won a Keep Scotland Beautiful Beach Award. Managed by Fife Coast and Countryside Trust, it’s also great for wildlife spotting.
Fife Coast and Countryside Trust also run Crail’s Roome Bay, another Keep Scotland Beautiful Beach Award winner. There are both sand and rocks to explore here, with a disused swimming pool at one end of the beach that’s popular with wildlife. There’s also a children’s playground at this small beach.
You have to park in the village and walk down – and it’s worth taking the time to look round the village too. It’s one of the prettiest harbours in the East Neuk of Fife, and has starred as a location in several films and myriad paintings.
On up the coast, past St. Andrews, is Tentsmuir, the forest on the dunes. It offers miles of trails through the woods for walking or biking, and plenty of wildlife – look out for bats, red squirrels and seals. The huge sandy/muddy beach is also great to walk along but don’t be tempted to swim – the tides move fast and there’s quicksand.
Tentsmuir would be a great place to camp but sadly it’s not allowed because of the risk of fire. Lighting fires is also banned, naturally, though you can use barbeques in the designated picnic areas. Be warned: the £2 car park is locked every night (8.30pm April-September) and if your vehicle is still there at the time, you’re stuck.
Angus: Carnoustie and Arbroath
Carnoustie is known world-wide as a golfing destination. What many people, even locals, don’t know is that it also has two beaches. The first one is right near the Golf Hotel, and is a fine if small sandy beach. There’s a children’s play area and paddling pool nearby, and free parking.
If the tide’s out, though, head to the north end of town. You’ll have to park on the road and walk down to the beach past the fishermen’s cottages: the street’s too narrow for motorhomes. On this shore you’ll find some of the best rock-pools in the county.
It’s also a great place to find pieces of sea-glass, the sharp corners and glossy finish worn off by the water and sand, to make your own souvenir jewellery. No-one will mind if you build a drift-wood fire here and watch the eider ducks and sandpipers as the sun sinks behind you.
Nearby Arbroath is a well-known holiday centre. The road enters town past two static caravan parks and under a low railway bridge (14’ 3”/ 4.34 m), then you turn right into the West Links area. Here you’ll find a terrific kids’ playground, a paddling pool, crazy golf, mini go-karts, and a miniature railway, not to mention a huge expanse of sandy beach and free parking.
Angus: Lunan Bay and Montrose Seafront & Splash
Between Arbroath and Montrose sits Lunan Bay, one of the most beautiful beaches in Scotland. A tiny village nestles at the southern end, a very ruined castle sits on the hill in the middle, and an old lime-burning kiln perches on the cliff at the north. In between there’s a 2-mile curve of white sand and tall dunes, some of which are steep enough to “sledge” down if you have a tin tray handy.
There’s a free car park, and toilets are available in the Diner, which also sells locally-reared meat. The family that own the farm and stables behind the beach have just built a caravan and camping site with toilets, showers and electric hook-up. The beach wins Blue Flag status every year, and it’s popular with surfers and kite-surfers as well as sand-castle builders of all ages.
Where Lunan Bay is natural, Montrose Seafront and Splash is built for holiday-makers. There’s a play area, a paddling pool, an amusement centre and café, and a pitch-and-putt golf course, as well as picnic and car parking areas. You can reach the sandy beach ether via steps from the promenade or by the wheelchair-friendly ramp near the north end of the Seafront.
Aberdeen: Aberdeen Ballroom Beach, Balmedie, and Peterhead
The Granite City, famous for its oil and gas industry, might not be top of your list as a holiday destination but it offers two very different award-winning beaches. The rather oddly-named Aberdeen Ballroom Beach is just outside the city centre. It has protection from the harbour wall at the south; towards the north, where there is a nature reserve, it is more exposed. This can be a great place for dolphin and whale spotting, so keep your eyes peeled.
On the esplanade you’ll find toilets, cafés and restaurants and – yes – a ballroom! There’s also an ice rink, if you want to escape a rainy day. The esplanade is popular with walkers, cyclists and runners, and the water with kayakers, surfers and sailors, so there’s plenty to watch.
Eight miles north of the city lies Balmedie beach, which couldn’t be more different. Left almost entirely to nature, it runs for miles, so it’s easy to get away from any crowds. The only concession to visitors is the board walks from the paid car park through the dunes. Balmedie is part of a country park owned by Aberdeenshire Council and is a haven for wildlife as well as people.
The road from Aberdeen to Peterhead hugs the coast, with spectacular views across the dunes and the North Sea; next stop Denmark. Peterhead, Scotland’s most easterly point, has an unusual beach: it’s set within the outer harbour, next to the marina and the 23-pitch Lido caravan park. Water sports, including dinghy sailing and scuba diving, are very popular in this old fishing town.
The Moray Firth and dolphins
Around the coast at Macduff there’s a chance to swim in a historic outdoor pool. Officially closed and in the care of Historic Environment Scotland, Tarlair Outdoor Swimming Pool is an evocative, art deco ‘20s construction still fed by the waters of the Moray Firth. You take the High Shore/Tarlair road out of Macduff, past the golf club, and it’s right at the end.
The area around Nairn, west along the Moray Firth from Macduff, has a reputation as Scotland’s “banana belt” because of its mild climate, which might tempt you into the water. The beach has a small group of beach huts and miles of sand for walking, paddling and castle-building. There’s a Camping and Caravanning Club site tucked into woodland nearby, and this is another excellent place for dolphin watching.
An even better place is near the pinch-point at Fort George/Chanonry Point, where the Moray Firth narrows to about a quarter of a mile across. Dolphins and whales are often seen in the water seaward of Fort George, and you can take dolphin watching boat trips from several places in the area.
…And now for something completely different
Our final family-friendly sandy beach suggestion is unusual: it’s miles from the sea! Loch Morlich, just outside Aviemore at the foot of the Cairngorm Mountains, is a fresh-water loch big enough to have its own sailing club and water sports centre. Whether the loch water is any warmer than the sea is something you’ll just have to find out for yourself. Lying in woodland at the edge of the loch is a beautiful campsite with plenty of pitches, managed by the Forestry Commission.
The other attraction here is the Cairngorm Mountain Railway, Scotland’s only funicular. The journey offers breathtaking views across what feels like half of northern Scotland, taking you up to 3,500 feet (1067 m). There you’ll find a restaurant, viewing platform, shop and Britain’s highest post box. You can take a guided walk, too (book at the office at the foot of the railway) to learn about the flora and fauna that survive in this extreme terrain.
From paddling pools and golf to dolphins and mountains: there’s plenty of variety for a family beach themed motorhome holiday in Scotland!