If you are planning a beach holiday this summer, Europe is a good place to look. There are plenty of fabulous beaches just waiting for you to enjoy, sometimes in unexpected places. What might spring to mind first when thinking about European beaches are probably warm countries such as Spain, Italy or Portugal.
You might be surprised what fabulous beaches you find in colder countries such as Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and even Iceland.
Our list is as comprehensive as possible, with destinations for all tastes and budgets. What they all
have in common is that they are “simply the best,” to quote Tina Turner. You will never get bored, as there are many activities on the beaches themselves and, of course, the attractions of the countries in which they are located.
Pack your swimwear but also hiking shoes, a hat and sunscreen … and maybe that blazer and little black dress for dinner.
Germany has a long coastline with both the North Sea and the Baltic Sea plus several popular islands in both. The No. 1 North Sea summer place to be is the island of Sylt. There are mile-long sandy beaches, impressive dunes, and the ever present blue and white striped beach chairs, known as Strandkoerbe.
The western side of the island is rather rough and a surfers paradise, the eastern side borders the much calmer Waddensea which invites to incredible nature adventures with long, preferably guided, hikes. There are also sections for naturists such as Kampen), one of the chicest areas on the island, as well as the eye catching Red Cliff.
Germany’s Baltic Sea coast has equally stunning beaches such as Timmendorfer Strand, Warnemuende and on the island of Ruegen.
If you are lucky, you might even find lumps of amber on the beach.
After you have explored the canals, museums and architecture of Amsterdam, a sunny beach day is called for. These are the eight best in the Netherlands, which has way more beaches than you can visit in one lifetime.
Wander through small beach towns, do some window-shopping at the touristy stores, go swimming or kitesurfing at the beach and watch the sun set below the waves at the end of a long summer day
Sounds like a perfect break? It’s how you spend your time during your vacation in Zeeuws-Vlaanderen.
This area in Zeeland in the south of the Netherlands is one of the country’s most popular holiday destinations. Small beach towns such as Cadzand, Breskens and Nieuwvliet line the coast.
If you want to spend a few nights in the area, you can sleep right on the beach. In recent years, a series of cottages were built on the beach, at just a short walk from the sea. Wake up with a view of the North Sea and watch the sunset from your own little house on the beach.
Beach huts at Vlissingen
Vlissingen is one of the biggest cities in the province of Zeeland, a vibrant, lively town next to
the beach. Go for a long walk on the beach or along the boardwalk which is always filled with people on a
good summer night. You can eat and drink the night away at the many restaurants and bars on the boardwalk, many of which offer a sea-side view.
Vlissingen is also home to lots of festivals and events in spring and summer. Vlissingen is one of the 12 Dutch cities to host Bevrijdingsdag, or Liberation Day, the national festivities with a fun line-up of the country’s best-known artists. Another fun-filled event is the yearly Color Run, which is held on a Friday night in June. The Color Run turns the city centre and beach into a colorful festival.
Scheveningen is just on the northern edge of Den Haag (The Hague) and the most commercial beach in the Netherlands, with hotels, casinos and, well, you name it. But the wide, sandy beach in Scheveningen is the perfect place to relax and unwind after sightseeing in Den Haag. Go for a stroll on the boardwalk and the pier, take a ride on the Ferris wheel and make sure to pay a visit to the Grand Hotel Amrath Kurhaus.
Eleven million people-plus visit Scheveningen each year, but if it is up to the city council this number
will rise to new heights in the years to come. City officials have spent millions of euros to improve the boardwalk and upgrade access to the beach.
Scheveningen is totally commercial, with shops and restaurants. Keep walking toward the expat center of Wassenaar, and you’re in the unspoiled dunes of Meijendel. Which is in every way the opposite of Scheveningen.
Meijendel is the largest interconnected dune area in South Holland and is primarily open dunes,
lakes, forests and kilometers of long, sandy beaches. In the centre of the nature reserve is a visitor center owned by drinking water company Dunea,
Meyendel pancake house and Monkeybos playground. Biking, hiking and riding paths make the dunes at Meijendel the perfect place to escape, and you’ll forget major cities are just a few kilometers away.
Dispatches’ co-CEOs just got back from Westkapelle on the westernmost tip of Zeeland. This is the coastline between Antwerp and Rotterdam which includes a miles-long sea dike and lighthouses. They report that it’s pretty much perfect – long, long expanses of beaches in this, the Netherlands’ sunniest region.
Compared to Scheveningen or Zandvoort, there’s not much to do here but enjoy the miles of white sand, with only two beach cafés. The town of Westkapelle has restaurants and shops, or you can drive a few kilometers to Middleburg and experience a picturesque small city with a uni vibe and all the restaurants and boutiques you could ever want.
We’ll have a full post in the works.
Do you love the island life? Head to Terschelling, one of the small West Frisian islands in the Waddenzee in far northern Netherlands, almost to the German border. The white, clean and spacious beaches on Terschelling cover a length of 30 kilometres across the island.
Terschelling lives off tourism; there are three times as many people living on the island in summer compared to other months of the year. To get to the Island, catch one of the ferries from Harlingen. In just under two hours you will reach the unspoiled island.
If you like, you can bring your own bike or car, or hire one when you get to Terschelling. Cycling is a great way to explore all the island has to offer. There are bike lanes all across the island.
If you like being active, you can even bike more than 70 kilometres across Terschelling.
The beaches on this small island, which is also situated in the Waddenzee, are some of the cleanest and whitest in the Netherlands, and are among the widest sand beaches in all of Europe. Thanks to the shallow waters, it is a perfect and safe area for swimming.
Other fun activities on the island include yoga lessons on the beach, horse riding through the dunes and the sea and kitesurfing. On top of that, the entire island has since 1989 been listed as a National Park because of the endless beaches, green forests, sand dunes filled with colourful flowers, and the more than 300 species of birds living on and around the island.
This is a super-popular destination with locals near Haarlem more akin to Scheveningen, with lots and lots of activities, shops, cafes and restaurants. And you can camp next to the sea. There’s always something going on, from go-kart racing to pop-up American-style drive-in movies. The actual village is really quite charming and the famous Zandvoort Race Track is a short drive away, as are dunes in a preservation area.
Zandvoort and the entire Dutch coast is the place to go kitesurfing, and there are plenty of places to get lessons and equipment.
(Dispatches visited in 2021 and found it to be waaaaay better than expected.)
Stay tuned for lots more beaches from Iceland to Italy in upcoming installments. The good news … Europe is a big place, and there’s a beach somewhere here that’s exactly what you’re looking for.
(Editor’s note: Willeke van Doorn and Terry Boyd also contributed to this post.)
See all our posts about Europe’s beaches here in Dispatches’ archives.
Inka Piegsa-Quischotte is an international attorney-turned-travel and lifestyle writer based in Spain. She has contributed to BBC/Travel, several in-flight magazines, TripSavvy (Spain) and TravelAwaits among many other publications.