A beach remains the quintessential holiday destination. To lie on warm sand, or even better, on a comfortable sun lounger, cooling off with a dip in clear seawater, is a perfect way to spend any day in one of the best beach destinations in Europe.
Every continent has its beaches, but Europe has the oldest beach resorts. The very idea of going into the ocean for health was pioneered in the chilly waters of England.
From there, the concept spread to France and the Mediterranean, and then on across the world. Along the way, sunshine and (Italian) ice cream were added as essential ingredients.
Discover ten of the best beach destinations in Europe, the continent that gave us the seaside holidays we enjoy today.
With some of the best food and drink in the world, it seems unfair that Sicily also has some of the best beaches in Europe as well. Still, where else are you going to sleep off those leisurely lunches?
With more than 900 miles of coastline, the island has hundreds of beaches. Most of Sicily’s beaches are small and pebbly, but there are also long expanses of golden Mediterranean sand.
Sunbathers will enjoy resort beaches, with their loungers for hire and wonderful restaurants. The more adventurous will head off for a rocky cove, where snorkeling in clear water is a delight.
The season is from June to October, when the sea becomes warm enough to swim in. However, scenic beaches such as Isola Bella or Cefalù are still amazing places to walk at any time of the year.
In August, temperatures peak but, fortunately, Italy has perfected the art of ice cream. Make sure you’re never too far from a granita, the Sicilian concoction of crushed ice with lemon, served with a brioche.
Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain
The volcanic island of Tenerife in Spain’s Canary Islands is famed for its black sand beaches and year-round good climate. Annual temperatures average about 70ºF, rising to 90ºF in summer.
From mile-long stretches of sand, full of sunbathers, to hidden wild coves or rock pools you might have to yourself, there is an experience for everyone. Efficient bus and boat tour networks also make it easy to get around.
The native volcanic black sand has been supplemented in places with imported Saharan sand to create some golden stretches. The most famous Tenerife beach may be Playa de las Teresitas, partly because it’s so close to the island’s capital, Santa Cruz.
Las Teresitas beach has calm, clear water protected by a breakwater. Hire a deckchair and enjoy the sunshine and palm trees, taking a break in one of its many cafés.
To experience the volcanic black sand, visit beaches such as El Bollullo, just east of Puerto de la Cruz. Towering cliffs, a “secret” cove and hammocks for rent make it a perfect piece of paradise.
For something a bit wilder, there’s the biosphere reserve of Anaga Park. As well as the native flora and fauna, you’ll discover some wonderful natural beaches.
Santorini is not known for its beaches, partly because they are overshadowed by its other attractions. Being mostly of coarse black, and even red, volcanic sand doesn’t help either, given Greece’s reputation for gorgeous white sands.
Those black sand beaches soak up the heat, making them difficult to walk on in the middle of the day, so bring your beach shoes.
However, the coarse sand does leave the water amazingly clear, and the turquoise Mediterranean water seems even deeper blue in contrast to the black. Swimming in the sea off Santorini is a very special experience.
The best beach is Perivolos, which has finer sand than most others and fine dining as well. Santorini also has one of the world’s best hot springs to enjoy amid the islands in the middle of the caldera.
Most of the best beaches in Santorini for wining and dining are on the east of the island, where the caldera slopes into the sea, as opposed to the sheer cliffs of the west.
Read: 7-Day Greece Itinerary
Dubrovnik is so famous for its walled old city that’s easy to forget it also has some of the best beaches in Croatia. That’s no mean feat either, given how good the country’s Adriatic beaches are.
The beaches are not the white sand beaches of the Mediterranean, however. Most tend to be pebbly, if not downright rocky, so beach shoes are worth packing.
In compensation, the waters are calm and beautifully clear as there is no sandy sediment to hang in the water.
There are two lovely beaches within walking distance of Dubrovnik’s Old Town. Banje Beach is only ten minutes from the Ploce Gate and you can lie in the water and admire the view of the walls.
Another 20 minutes away is Sveti Jakov but that does involve a long climb down (and back up) a set of stairs. That effort makes it a bit more exclusive than Banje, however.
To go further afield, one of the best things to do in Dubrovnik is to take the ten-minute ferry ride to Lokrum Island. Here you’ll find walking paths and historic sites as well as secluded swimming spots.
Sheltered by the Alps, on the shore of the Mediterranean, the Côte d’Azur enjoys a year-round mild climate. From St. Tropez to Nice, its reputation among the ultimate beach destinations in Europe is assured.
That reputation peaks around Nice itself, with resorts such as Villefranche sur Mer and Antibes within easy distance. Nice itself has its famed Promenade des Anglais, backing miles of beach—albeit a pebbly one.
Indeed, many of the French Riviera beaches on this coast are pebbly, but you can find plenty of sand at Villefranche sur Mer. It’s a classic resort, with all the sunbathing, warm water, cafés and ice cream you could wish for.
The continued pull of the pebbles elsewhere, however, reminds you that most visitors are not here for the sunbathing. These are the best beaches in Europe on which to see and be seen, enjoy a massage, eat in gourmet restaurants, and drink in stylish lounge bars.
How many other beach destinations can also offer historic sites and spectacular European museums dedicated to artists such as Picasso, Matisse and Chagall? All wrapped up in the chicest of French chic?
Read: Best Beaches in Nice
Amalfi Coast, Italy
Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Amalfi Coast is one of the world’s magnificent coastlines. Add in exquisite Italian cuisine, beautiful weather, and stylish shopping, and you have a destination every visitor recognizes as special.
The Italian beaches along the Amalfi coast tend to be small and rocky, although the sandy beaches of Capri are a notable exception. Every inch of beach, whether sand or pebble, seems covered in colorful sun umbrellas and beach chairs to rent.
The adventurous can still find relatively hidden coves, but the true experience is found on beaches near or in the heart of every small town. Positano and Amalfi, for example, have warm turquoise water only a pebble’s throw from their centers, and visiting them is one of the best things to do on the Amalfi Coast.
The island of Rhodes has some 40 beaches awarded a Blue Flag rating for their cleanliness. One suspects there are dozens more equally as good that the inspectors just couldn’t make it to—beach inspection must be a tiring job.
With its unspoiled nature, crystal-clear water and variety of terrain, Rhodes is home to some of the best beaches in Greece. You can relax in an exclusive resort on the eastern coastline, or windsurf on the wilder west side of the island.
The medieval European city of Rhodes is on the extreme northwestern tip of the island, with beaches such as Faliraki within easy reach, with sheltered warm water, cafés and restaurants, and watersports.
Only a few miles further south is another tiny delight, notable for its calm water and scenic beauty. The so-called “Anthony Quinn” beach of Vagies was named for the actor who fell in love with Rhodes while filming here.
At Kallithea Beach, you can find hot springs, famous in the 1960s and now recently restored. Only five miles from Rhodes, it feels much further with its palm trees and Moorish architecture.
The Grand Harbor, fortifications, cathedral and other attractions of Valletta, Malta are enough to keep anyone enthralled. However, the island’s beaches are among the very best in the Mediterranean and allow it to also hold its own among the best beach destinations in Europe.
A key attraction is the remarkably clear water, perfect for snorkeling. Strong currents in some places are a downside, but there are lifeguards and warning signs.
Most of the best beaches in Malta are on the north of the island, partly sheltered by the sister island of Comino. Comino itself has the famous Blue Lagoon, with the clearest water you will find anywhere in the Med and far beyond.
More typical of the main island of Malta itself are wonderful beaches such as Għajn Tuffieħa. A deep cove, nearly surrounded by rolling natural hillsides, it has warm, clear water and just enough facilities to remain enjoyable but unspoiled.
You’ll need a rental car to find some of the equally beautiful but more remote beaches. It’s a small adventure that will amply repay the effort—and Malta is a small island.
Read: Best Islands in Europe
Many great cities are built on the ocean but few are famous for their beaches, with the obvious exception of cities such as Rio, Sydney, and Miami. To that short list, you have to add Barcelona, with its three miles of golden sand within a few minutes of the city center.
Having all the attractions of a city, from historic buildings to distinctive culture, as well as a sunny beach life, is a heady combination. Barcelona also adds Spain’s amazing cuisine and its unique architecture to effortlessly become one of the best beach destinations in Europe.
Marking one end of Barceloneta, the closest beach to the city, is the sail-like W Hotel Barcelona, designed by Ricardo Bofill. Stroll further along and you’ll find sights such as Frank Gehry’s “Peix”, a massive abstract fish.
Once a fishing village, La Barceloneta is actually now an area combining four main beaches in Barcelona. Much of the sand was imported for the 1992 Olympic Games, when two miles of coast were cleaned up to showcase the city.
An easy walk from the city center, this is where Barcelona comes to play. It’s also where it carries on the normal activities of eating delicious Barcelona food and drinking the Spanish fine wines late into the night.
Read: Best Beaches in Spain
It’s hard to go wrong with a Mediterranean island for a beach holiday and Corsica is no exception to that rule. With almost 200 beaches, the only difficulty is picking the perfect one.
The choice runs from pure white sand to colorful pebbles, and from long sandy bays to rocky inlets. Winds will delight windsurfers, while the clearest of water will beguile snorkelers and divers.
Much of the coastline is preserved, so you will find plenty of bays and coves to discover, particularly on the western coast. Watch out for currents, however, and keep to Corsican beaches with lifeguards to be safe.
However, you don’t have to go that far from the island’s capital, Ajaccio, to discover a lovely beach. This birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte mixes French and Italian influences as another taster of the variety the island has to offer.
One of the best things to do in Corsica is to stroll Ajaccio’s seafront promenade, Route des Sanguinaires, which takes you on a pretty beach. The further you go, the better the find.
Slightly further afield are gems such as Marinella and Isolella, both rightly notable for their beauty. Parata Point, facing the Sanguinaires Islands, is recognized as a “Grand Site de France” for its natural beauty.
Are you yearning for a European beach holiday? Dip your toes in the water by browsing our European cruise itineraries to find your perfect combination of sea, sun, and sand.