The whole of the Mediterranean is fringed with dazzlingly beautiful beaches, and the greatest appeal is that they’re all different. You’ll find high octane glamor on some of the most celebrity-studded stretches of sand in the world, and wild dunes, craggy cliffs, rocky coves, and aquamarine shallows on others.
So start planning your European escape now with this list of the best beaches in the Mediterranean.
Kokkini Beach, Santorini
Santorini’s beaches are novel in that most of them are a sparkling jet black, the water a glittering sapphire blue. More exotic still is Kokkini Beach, aka Red Beach, near Akrotiri in the south, a strip of dark sand protected by high, vermillion cliffs from which it takes its name.
Umbrellas provide shade—there aren’t many trees on volcanic Santorini—and there’s great snorkeling off the tumbled red rocks at one end. There are no tavernas here, but you can stock up for a picnic in Fira, the clifftop capital, or do some beach time and then make your way to nearby Akrotiri for lunch and a visit to the magnificent archaeological site there.
Pampelonne Beach, St Tropez
A three-mile sweep of white sand and azure sea backed by scrub-covered dunes, Pampelonne Beach along the French Riviera oozes glamor. Just 15 minutes by bus from St. Tropez, this is where A-listers come to tan.
There’s plenty of public space on Pampelonne, and the beach is kept immaculate by the workers from the nearby bars and restaurants. The rustic-chic Plage L’orangerie restaurant is right on the sand, family-friendly and delightfully unpretentious.
Playa el Bajondillo, Málaga
West of Malaga, the Costa del Sol stretches some 83 miles to Gibraltar, fringed by a series of gold sand beaches. Behind the coast, ochre mountains are peppered with pueblos blancos, or white towns, and on a clear day, you can see the hazy mountains of Morocco across the Straits of Gibraltar.
The beaches near Malaga are urban beaches, rather than quiet little coves, with loungers, abundant watersports, warm, clear water late into the season, and a gently sloping seabed. One of the most popular is the wide sweep of Playa Bajondillo at Torremolinos, the perfect spot for a lazy day of sunbathing and snacking. Chiringuitas, or beach taverns, line the promenade. Look out for espetas de sardinas, a Torremolinos specialty of fresh sardines grilling on skewers over hot coals.
Myrtos Beach, Kefalonia
Constantly voted one of the best beaches in the Mediterranean or indeed, the world, Myrtos, in the northwest of Kefalonia, is a strip of bleached white pebbles between the feet of two chalky mountains, the water a Caribbean shade of vivid aqua, the scent of wild herbs in the air.
A zig-zag track leads down the mountain from the village of Divarata, with parking at the bottom. Once you’re on the beach, there are umbrellas and loungers to hire, but for food, you’ll have to eat in the village or pack a picnic. While you’re at Myrtos, check out the dark hollows of the sea caves at the end of the beach—but watch out for falling stones dislodged by mountain goats foraging in the scrub on top of the cliffs.
Pissouri Bay, Limassol
A long arc of sand, pebbles, and crystal clear water, the hills behind studded with silvery olive trees, the local-favorite Pissouri Beach is one of the best beaches in Cyprus. Head to the western end, where you might spot sea turtles on a snorkel trip, and see falcons wheeling in the sky above the white cliffs.
This beach near Limassol has the usual facilities—sunbeds, umbrellas, and a few tavernas—but for a treat, try one of the restaurants in sleepy Pissouri village. The Two Friends Taverna, just off the square, is superb, while the Bunch of Grapes is a local legend, should you be in the mood for a long and filling lunch. You’ll need to reserve a table on weekends.
If you’ve rented a car, drive a little further west from Pissouri to admire Petra tou Romiou, a vast sea stack where, according to mythology, Aphrodite was born from the sea foam.
Ses Salines, Ibiza
Ibiza, one of the most beautiful Mediterranean islands, is ringed by a necklace of rocky coves with aquamarine water that rivals Tahiti in color.
Ses Salines, a 10-minute drive from Ibiza Town, is one of the longest beaches in Ibiza, a mile or so of pale golden sand at the island’s southernmost tip, fringed by pine trees and named after the nearby salt pans.
Like much of Ibiza, Salines is both very beautiful and very cool. Superyachts drop anchor at lunchtime, their glamorous occupants stopping by the hipster beach bars by tender. By late afternoon, Balearic chill-out music drifts out of all the beach bars. The Jockey Club is the place for serious people-watching, while Sa Trinxa has more of a laid-back, hippie vibe.
Kalafatis Beach, Mykonos
You’re spoiled for choice for gorgeous beaches in Mykonos, the hippest and most cosmopolitan of the Greek Islands. The best spots are away from Mykonos Town, so you’ll need to take a bus or a taxi.
Absolutely anything goes here. Super Paradise is the gay party hotspot, while Panormos, also very gay-friendly, is the place to bare all. On the island’s east coast, Kalafatis Beach is quieter and more remote, a half-moon of pale gold sand with a backdrop of scrub-covered hills dotted with white villages making it one of the best beaches in Mykonos.
Mykonos is almost always windy, so this is a great spot for windsurfing or simply swimming over a band of rocks and out into the clear, blue water. You can rent equipment from a hut on the beach, including snorkel gear. A few beach tavernas offer typical fare; you can’t beat Greek salad, fried squid, and souvlaki for a toes-in-the-sand lunch.
Without a doubt, you’re going to want to spend your time in Barcelona taking in the quirky architecture, the cool shopping, and the fabulous art scene. But on a hot day, there’s no harm in fitting in some beach time as well.
Stroll through the tiny alleys of the regenerated fishermen’s district, Barceloneta, northeast of the Gothic Quarter, and you’ll emerge on a long stretch of golden sand lined with enticing chiringuitas. On weekends, locals flock to the beach and to stroll along the palm-lined promenade, a great opportunity for people-watching. Take a break at Agua, right on the waterfront, for refreshing cocktails and magnificent Barcelona food like tapas and paellas.
Isola Bella, Taormina
You’ve admired the magnificent Greco-Roman amphitheater, browsed the designer stores, and no doubt sampled ricotta-stuffed cannoli with your morning cappuccino. So what next in Taormina?
Take the cable car from via Pirandello to Mazzarò and from here, it’s a short stroll to the exquisite little pebble beach overlooking Isola Bella—one of the reasons why Sicily is regarded as one of the best beach destinations in Europe. This rocky islet, connected to the main beach by a white sandbar, was the home of Englishwoman Florence Trevelyan, who populated it with various exotic plants. Now, it’s a nature reserve, and although tiny, is regarded as one of the best beaches in the Mediterranean.
You can walk across the sandbar at low tide and snorkel around the rocks and sea caves in astonishingly clear water, or just stretch out on the beach and soak up the sun on the island of Sicily.
Read: Best Beaches in Sicily
Playa de la Malvarrosa, Valencia
Like Rio or Los Angeles, Valencia is one of those cities in the enviable position of having magnificent beaches right on its doorstep. La Malvarrosa is one of the best beaches in the Mediterranean, a seemingly endless stretch of sand where you’ll find every sport imaginable, from beach volleyball to SUP, kayaking, snorkeling, and cross-fit.
A promenade runs the length of the beach, lined with tapas bars, cafés, and ice cream stalls, and is always busy with joggers, walkers, and cyclists. There’s a section of the beach where wheelchair users can enter the water, too. Malvarrosa is a great spot to end your day of sightseeing with a refreshing dip and a plate of seafood paella, the local specialty.
Plage du Midi, Cannes
A favorite of the locals in glossy, glamorous Cannes, Plage du Midi, to the west of the Vieux Port, is a wide stretch of sand in front of a palm-lined promenade.
The beach restaurants are less chichi on this public beach in Cannes than those belonging to the private clubs that line the very fashionable La Croisette. You can rent umbrellas and loungers at reasonable rates. Stay around for sunset, when the rocks of the distant Esterel Massif turn a deep red in the golden light.
Sakarun Beach, Zadar
Possibly the most ravishingly beautiful beach in Croatia, Sakarun is on Dugi Otok, one of the hundreds of bleached limestone islands scattered along this stretch of coast. Reachable via boat from Zadar, dazzlingly white pebbles and sand create a vivid contrast with the shimmering aquamarine of the sea and the bottle green of the pines that surround the bay.
The water is warm and shallow, making this a great beach to visit with children. There’s little in the way of facilities, but you’re really here to be immersed in nature.
Larvotto Beach, Monte Carlo
As you’d expect from glitzy Monaco, the town beach attracts its fair share of beautiful people who come here to tan, play volleyball, and generally strut their stuff. Even royals have been spotted here.
Larvotto is actually an artificial beach, two arcs of grainy sand dotted with palm trees and gazing out across the gleaming yachts anchored in the sparkling Mediterranean. It’s situated at the eastern end of the Principality, in front of Avenue Princesse Grace, close to a couple of decent restaurants.
Read: Things to Do in Monaco
Monterosso Beach, Cinque Terre
You couldn’t ask for a more beautiful backdrop to this wide, sandy beach, right in front of Monterosso, the largest of the exquisite string of coastal villages that make up Italy’s Cinque Terre on the Ligurian Riviera.
Terraced houses in ice-cream colors perch at the foot of a cliff draped in lemons, vines, and olives, while the beach slopes gently into a cerulean sea. You’ll find gelaterias and cafes all along the waterfront and umbrellas for rent on the beach. A word of warning, though; Italians adore their beach time, and you could find strong competition for a prime spot in August, the busiest season.
Banje Beach, Dubrovnik
Banje Beach is a stone’s throw from Dubrovnik’s Old Town, with magnificent views of the walled citadel and the pine-scented island of Lokrum across the water. Like most of the beaches in Croatia, it’s stony, which means the water is crystal clear.
You can stroll here from the Old Town’s Ploče Gate and either rent a lounger or stake out your spot on a towel. Along with watersports concessions on the beach, you can also take a guided kayak trip and admire the ramparts of Dubrovnik from the water.
And if the beach is too busy, do as the locals do and hop on the ferry from the Old Town port to Lokrum, one of the best places to visit in the Mediterranean. It’s only a 15-minute ride, and you can swim off the smooth rocks or snooze in the shade of a pine tree.
Poetto Beach, Cagliari
One of the longest beaches in Italy, Poetto Beach in Cagliari is five miles of white sand, tufted with grass and backed by two shimmering salt pans where you’ll often spot pink flamingos. The wooded rock faces of Sella del Diavolo frame one end of the beach. A brisk wind makes this a top spot for kite surfing, while more sedate activities include pedalos, kayaking or simply lazing on a lounger.
The whole Sardinian beach is lined with cafés, bars, gelato stalls, and nightclubs; sunset is a perfect time to be here as music drifts out of the bars and locals emerge on their nightly stroll, the passeggiata.
Read: Why Visit Sardinia
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