Whenever the sun comes out thoughts will inevitably turn to ice creams on the beach, a paddle in the sea and perhaps some chips on a promenade before heading home.

But for those of us who live in London, we sadly don't have an array of sandy beaches on our doorstep.

It's worth the extra effort, though, of getting in the car and making a day of it to spend a gorgeous day building sandcastles or just topping up your tan.

Here, in no particular order, are 21 of the best beaches that are nearest to London - with a few secret ones thrown in among them.

1. Three Shells Beach, Essex

Southend is home to the world's longest pleasure pier (Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

One of the nearest beaches to much of London is Three Shells Beach, which is situated in the middle of Southend-on-Sea by the pier.

It is a popular family-friendly sandy beach, is in the town and is close to shops, cafés, restaurants and amusements.

Beach type: Sand

Facilities: Toilets, shower, shops, café

Dogs: Dog restrictions apply

Parking: Pay parking

2. Ramsgate Main Sands, Kent

This popular sandy beach is surrounded by high chalk cliffs and adjacent to the picturesque Royal Harbour and marina, with plenty of options for ice creams and fish and chips.

The beach is perfect for families, with rides for children and clean, safe bathing water.

Beach type: Sand

Facilities: First aid station, lifeguards, beach café, donkey rides, deck chairs and sun loungers for hire, toilets, lift, shops, children's amusements

Dogs: Allowed except between May 1 and September 30

Parking: Pay and display parking for 200 cars available (including disabled spaces)

3. *SECRET BEACH* Frensham Great Pond, Farnham

Frensham Ponds is in rural Surrey

Hidden away in the deepest depths of Surrey, miles away from the coast, is a beach resembling in every respect a seaside resort. On hot summer days, people sunbathe on the sand and swim in calm waters, while children splash around on shallow edges, play with beach balls, build sandcastles and eat ice creams.

Beach type: Sand

Facilities: Toilets on site. There is a snack bar at Great Pond selling chips, burgers, bacon sandwiches, sausages, ice creams and hot and cold drinks.

Dogs: Not allowed on the beaches at any time and inflatable boats and rings are not permitted.

Parking: Parking is free on weekdays but on Saturdays, Sundays and bank holidays it is £4 (unless you are a National Trust member or Blue Badge holder). It closes at 9pm.

4. Clacton-on-Sea, Essex

The helter skelter on Clacton's pier (Photo - CHRIS J RATCLIFFE/AFP/Getty Images)

Famous for the Clacton Pier, built in 1877. Clacton's beach now attracts families to its huge range of traditional seaside entertainments.

It is a sandy beach considered child friendly with local lifeguard patrols and first aid cover.

Beach type: Sand and shingle

Facilities: Beach huts and deck chair hire, toilets, disabled access, first aid, shops, cafés, pier, camping, arcade

Dogs: Dogs restricted

Parking: Parking available - free and pay

5. Camber Sands, East Sussex

The beach at Camber Sands (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

With its miles of sandy beaches, this resort has always been popular with day trippers from London and is close to the gorgeous town of Rye.

It's popular with paddlers, wind surfers and kite surfers while it's dunes are just as impressive as the beach itself.

It is very busy in the summer months with visitors using the caravan parks, holiday homes and campsites.

Facilities: Toilets with disabled access, children's play area, first aid, deck chair hire

Dogs: Allowed except in certain areas between May 1 and September 30

Parking: Parking is pay on entry from Easter to the end of September. During the winter months pay and display ticket machines operate.

6. West Wittering, West Sussex

West Wittering is one of the south coast's most popular beaches (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

Offering wonderful views of Chichester Harbour and the South Downs beyond, the natural and unspoilt sandy beach of West Wittering has been a favourite destination for a family day out for generations.

It is a wonderful area for a traditional bucket and spade day out or as a starting point for a winter walk around East Head.

Beach type: Sand

Facilities: Toilets, showers, disabled facilities, baby changing, café, deck chairs, sun loungers and windbreaks to hire

Dogs: Bins are provided and dog-free zones are in place from May 1 to September 30. Dog bins are available all year round

Parking: 5,000 pay spaces available including disabled

7. Littlehampton, West Sussex

Two award-winning beaches, the beautiful River Arun and a large seafront green makes Littlehampton a popular destination for individuals, families and couples.

Whether you are looking for a seaside town with plenty to do on a day out or a base for exploring the beautiful Sussex Coast, Littlehampton is the ideal place to visit.

Beach type: Shingle and sand

Facilities: Toilets, showers, disabled facilities, cafés

Dogs: Dog access is restricted to certain areas of the beach during the summer and dogs must be kept on leads on the promenade

Parking: Several pay car parks close to the beach


8. *SECRET BEACH* Botany Bay, Kent

Botany Bay is tucked away from the world

The sandy beach is hidden behind residential streets on the way to Broadstairs and the unspoiled bay is surrounded by white chalk stacks.

It is only accessible via steps or a very steep slope and there are no "official" facilities here except a quaint little café, the Botany Bay hotel, a few toilets and a couple of small kiosks in the high summer season.

Beach type: Sand

Facilities: Toilets open until September from 8am to 6.45pm. There is a kiosk which provides tea, coffee and snacks.

Dogs: Banned from May 1 to September 31 from 10am-6pm

Parking: Limited free on-street parking available in Botany Road, a small unmade road area at the bottom of Botany Road and Marine Drive.

9. Frinton-on-Sea, Essex

Flat firm sandy beaches lie between a series of timber groynes. The beach is backed by sloping cliffs and is a quiet family resort. There is a coastal path to Holland Haven Country Park.

Beach type: Sand

Facilities: Slip-way and toilets (including disabled)

Dogs: Allowed except from between May 1 and September 30

Parking: Ample free car parking (including disabled spaces)

10. Brighton Palace Pier Beach, East Sussex

People sunbathe on Brighton Beach (Photo - GLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images)

Stroll along the Brighton promenade and soak up the cosmopolitan atmosphere at one of the cafés and bars, relax on the pebble beach or try your hand at one of the water sports or sailing activities.

There is also the pretty pier with its amusement arcade and rides.

Beach type: Shingle

Facilities: Town shops, restaurants and cafés, toilets, pier, arcades, fun fair

Dogs: Dogs restricted

Parking: Plentiful parking. Charges generally apply

11. *SECRET BEACH*, Ruislip Lido, Hillingdon

Children enjoy the play park in the sun at Ruislip Lido

Within the M25 and about a 10-minute taxi ride from Ruislip Underground station, this is a beach scene which looks every bit like a holiday resort.

It has a 60-acre lake with a sandy beach and a woodland backdrop.

You can’t swim in the lake these days, unlike in the 1930s when there were changing rooms at the site, but in the summer the beach can get packed with people who have flocked there to lie and play on the sand, take their children to the playgrounds, explore Ruislip Woods and take a ride on the mini gauge railway.

Ruislip Lido, which is owned and managed by Hillingdon London Borough Council, is free to visit.

Beach type: Sand

Facilities: Children's play area, railway around the lake, outdoor gym, café

Dogs: Dogs must be kept on a lead in the area around the Lido and are not allowed on the beach used by the general public. If you walk past the woodland centre you will find, as a partly separate area, the dog beach

Parking: In the summer holidays and on bank holidays the lido gets very busy and the car park fills up quickly

12. Hastings, East Sussex

Hastings pictured from the town's pier (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

Hastings is an established seaside resort with long sand and shingle beaches and plenty of facilities and entertainment.

Beach type: Sand/shingle

Facilities: Café, restaurants, shops, toilets, promenade, pier, deck chair hire

Dogs: The beach is cleaned daily during the summer and there are dog-free zones

Parking: There are several car parks situated adjacent to the beach

13. Bexhill, East Sussex

A south-coast seaside resort with good facilities and a mainly shingle beach where low tides expose some sand.

Beach type: Shingle

Facilities: Beach huts and deck chair hire, toilets, disabled access, first aid, shops, cafés, promenade

Dogs: Dogs are banned although there is a canine exercise area

Parking: Pay parking including disabled spaces can be found adjacent to the beach and on the roads nearby

14. Eastbourne, East Sussex

A man sits on the beach next to Eastbourne Pier (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

The beach is popular with visitors and residents alike. It is a shingle beach with sandy stretches at mid to low tide.

Features include the pier, promenade and famed Floral Carpet Gardens which all form part of its resort heritage.

Beach type: Sand and shingle

Facilities: Café, restaurants, shops, showers and toilets (including toilets for the disabled)

Dogs: Dogs allowed except between May 1 and September 30 between the pier and the Wish Tower

Parking: Car parking (including disabled spaces) is available free of charge

15. Bournemouth, Dorset

Bournemouth's beach is very popular but long enough for you to always be able to find somewhere to lay your towel (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

With seven miles of golden sands and sparkling sea, the vibrant cosmopolitan town of Bournemouth has it all – a vast variety of shops, restaurants and holiday accommodation, seafront hotels and quality B&Bs.

It also boasts a buzzing nightlife with beautiful award winning gardens and water sports galore.

Beach type: Sand

Facilities: Restaurants, shops, beach huts, disabled facilities and access, pedalos, KidZone beach areas, deck chairs, IMAX cinema and Oceanarium

Dogs: Dogs restricted, dog exercise area

Parking: Pay parking, disabled parking

16. Harbour Sandbanks Beach, Dorset

Sandbanks is home to lots of multi-million pound homes (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

This is a beautiful sandy beach with a wide variety of facilities. Sandbanks is very popular with families in the summer.

Activities include children's games, crazy golf, wind surfing, sailing and paddle boats.

There is a swimmers only zone and lifeguards on duty during the summer season.

Beach type: Sandy

Facilities: Local shops, cafés and restaurants, toilets, first aid, beach huts for hire, disabled facilities, deck chair hire, pedalo hire, crazy golf, amusements

Dogs: Dogs restricted

Parking: A large car park is available with easy access to this beach. Charges apply

17. Christchurch Mudeford Sandbank, Dorset

An isolated spit adjoining the ancient headland of Hengistbury Head, Mudeford Sandbank offers a sandy beach against a backdrop of picturesque beach huts and views of Christchurch Harbour and the open sea.

Beach type: Sand

Facilities: Toilets are available including disabled and there is also a beach café and shop

Dogs: Dogs are allowed but they must be kept under control. No dog bins are available

Parking: No local parking but there is pay and display parking at Hengistbury Head and Mudeford Quay with disabled spaces

18. Swanage, Dorset

The town of Swanage (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

The safe sheltered bay is flanked by magnificent chalk headlands on either side.

The sloping sands form a good 2km family beach with a promenade, providing all the facilities of a small seaside resort.

Beach type: Sandy

Facilities: Toilets with disabled facilities and several cafés and restaurants. There is a first aid point and a lost child centre

Dogs: Dogs are banned from the beach from May 1 to September 30

Parking: Several car parks in the area

19. Chesil Beach, Dorset

Sometimes called Chesil Bank, it is effectively a large pebble bank which extends for 18 miles.

Described as one of Britain’s natural wonders, for much of its length it is separated from the mainland by an area of saline water called the Fleet Lagoon.

Beach type: Pebble

Facilities: There are pubs and cafés nearby

Dogs: Allowed

Parking: At access points

20. Charmouth East Beach, Dorset

A beautiful area of the Dorset coast with spectacular seascapes. Part of what is now dubbed the Jurassic Coast because of the number of fossil remains discovered. Attracts fossil hunters, families and day trippers.

Beach type: Sand and shingle

Facilities: Local shops, cafés and restaurants, toilets, first aid, beach huts for hire, disabled facilities, promenade, campsite

Dogs: Dogs restricted

Parking: Available, charges apply

21. *SECRET BEACH* Kingsgate Bay, Broadstairs

A beautiful sky over Kingsgate Bay (Photo by Dean Spinks)

This sheltered sandy cove is backed by high white chalk cliffs and is a lot quieter than neighbouring Joss Bay.

There are lots of sea caves to explore and overlooking the southern end of the beach is Kingsgate Castle, built in the 1760s for Lord Holland.

Beach type: Sandy bay

Facilities: Beach chalet hire available and café/restaurant nearby

Dogs: Dog friendly all year round

Parking: Short walk from Joss Bay with its large car park