(Editor’s note: Cameron Aubernon,Terry Boyd, Marjorie Risbergs, Willeke van Doorn, Nancy Wellendorff Church and Jackie Harding contributed to this post on Europe’s best beaches.)
Mountains or the beach? Mountains or the beach? Come on … it’s summer. Time to plan our sun, sea and sand excursions as we live the expat dream.
But you’re wondering, “Which beach? Which country?”
Our annual guide to Europe’s best beaches should be your first stop before grabbing the suntan lotion (or sunblock, if tanning is not your thing). Some of these beaches are what everyone dreams of, while others break the mold. So just keep an open mind ….
What try to avoid is recommending the crazy-crowded beaches such as Benidorm in Spain or the over-developed La Grande-Motte-style resorts of France.
For 2019, we have a longer list with more Europe destinations. There are plenty of options out there, however, whether you’re looking for the endless party, the mystical experience or the perfect getaway; all you need to do is seek them out.
We always welcome reader input and try to add your suggestions as quickly as possible.
A word to the wise: As we said last year, Europe is not the Caribbean or Bali, but it has plenty of beaches where you can find ultra-clear waters and white sand. The trouble is, on the Mediterranean, Aegean and Adriatic, there’s not much in the way of vegetation and sun protection, and temperatures can easily reach above 36 degrees. Way above 36 degrees in Crete and Cypress. Also, some of the beaches on our list can only be reached via a challenging walk.
Because of the BBC series “The Durrells of Corfu,” Corfu is no longer the forgotten Greek island, obscured by tourist-choked Santorini and Mykonos. By coincidence (or fate), our eternal traveler Marjorie Risbergs spends a big part of the year on Corfu when she’s not in Hong Kong, Vietnam or India. She points out choosing a beach is a subjective process (and she’s not a sun-seeker.)
But if you want your choice of sand/pebbly beaches with views, Corfu is the place.
Marge recommends Nissaki Beach (also spelled “Nisaki”), which is actually a village on the northeast edge of Corfu with white sand/pebble beach and great views of a national park on the Albanian coast. The village has a lot of amenities including luxury hotels. And it’s sort of the entrance to the chi-chi north-east peninsula and Agni, Kassiopi and San Stefano bays.
This is not an isolated area no one knows about. This is a destination for those who seeking low-key days of lounging, dining and shopping. And it’s expensive, with top-end villas running tens of thousands of euros per week at peak summer rates. But everyone gets what they want. – Terry Boyd
(Editor’s note: There are no TripAdvisor ratings for the beach, itself just the many, many hotels and villas, which generally are highly ranked … and pricy.)
Nissaki Beach has a wide range of accommodations from super-affordable to super-lux.The Saints, a cluster of luxury villas, owned by Simpson Travel get high ratings. But get ready to pay for the privilege.
Palombaggia: Directly south of France is the island of Corsica, the homeland of Napolean Bonaparte, Alizée and Laetitia Casta. The island was held by the Republic of Genoa from 1284 AD to 1768, when it became part of France as part of a debt payment to King Louis XV; thus, there’s a lot of Italian influence in the island culture, an influence that exists to this very day.
If you’re looking for a French beach (mostly) free of crowds, then you’ve come to the right place: Corsica’s own Palombaggia. The beach is the most famous of all the beaches in Corsica, its two kilometers of golden sand flanked by pink granite headlands and pine trees.
The paradise has shallow waters for swimmers finding their sea legs, while more experienced swimmers can go snorkeling among the many schools of fish traveling through the crystal-clear environment. – Cameron Aubernon
Les Bergeries de Palombaggia is rated the best hotel on the best beach, so there you go.
Elafoníssi: Some beaches are gold, like the sun on a clear day. Some beaches are black, like the darkest depths of the sea. And some beaches are white, like the fluffy clouds coasting along the blue summer sky.
And then, there’s Elafoníssi, located on the southwestern tip of Crete. The peninsula’s white sand beaches become pink in many places, all thanks to the many seashells crushed by the turquoise waters of the Mediterranean. And speaking of those waters, the shallow depth near the breaking point of Elafoníssi is perfect for your little ones to play in and for you to cross to the other side of the peninsula.
Elafoníssi is also a protected nature reserve, home to the loggerhead sea turtle among other rare animals and plants. While the main beach draws crowds during the summer months, other areas along the peninsula are less so, perfect for leaving your clothes behind. – Cameron Aubernon
TripAdvisor’s crowd-sourced rating: 4.5 out of 5 (12,170 reviews.)
Domes Noruz Chania hotelgets great reviews.
Regularly rated among the top beaches in the world, Zlatni Rat is at the top of my list. The vee-shaped beach on Brač is referred to as the Golden Cape or the Golden Horn and has a resort-like feel.
A tourist train runs every 30 minutes from the harbor town of Bol and drops passengers off at the top of the hill overlooking the beach. At the bottom of the hill, you’ll find a smattering of cafés, bars, and restaurants as well as (paid) bathrooms, showers, and places to rent sunbeds and umbrellas.
Windsurfing, paddle boarding, and jet skiing, kayaking, parasailing, and wake boarding are popular activities and nearby vendors rent equipment out to beginners and experts. If you tire of swimming and sunbathing, you can explore the Roman ruins hidden in the midst of the pine grove that borders the beach. – Beth Hoke, American digital nomad based in Europe
TripAdvisor’s crowd-sources rating: 4 out of 5 (2,736 reviews.)
Zlatni Bol Apartments are a solid affordable option.
Nissi Beach: Looking for the beach party paradise (that isn’t Ibiza) of your dreams? Cyprus has what you seek, in the form of Nissi Beach.
The beach is located in the resort town of Ayia Napa, and it’s small: only 500 meters across. Plus, the quality of Nissi’s pale blue waters is high enough to put the beach on the Foundation for Environmental Education’s Blue Flag certification list. Windsurfing, pedal boats and bungee jumping are some of the activities available at Nissi.
Nissi also draws clubbers from all over Europe, specifically to Nissi Bay Beach Bar, where music plays all day long, all day strong. Foam parties, guest DJs, and parties on the beach into the sunrise unite locals and tourists alike during the high summer months. – Cameron Aubernon
TripAdvisor’s crowd-sourced rating: 4.5 out of 5 (6,773 reviews)
Nissi Beach Resort is huge, but it has lots of amenities and it’s right on the beach.
Durdle Door: Most of the time, the words “English” and “beach” are in a sentence describing the former’s predilection for visiting the latter anywhere but England. This English beach, however, is for those who aren’t so interested in following the herd down to Greece on holiday.
Durdle Door in Dorset, England is a natural limestone arch along the Jurassic Coast, and is England’s first natural UNESCO World Heritage Site, recorded on the list in 2001. The arch is joined by a pebble and shingle beach, easily accessed via the staircases from Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door Holiday Park.
Durdle Door is the result of the waters of the English Channel eroding away the centre section of the formation, a process that continues to this day along the Jurassic Coast; UNESCO monitors both the condition of the arch and beach, where the nearby cliffs experience rockfalls and landslides on occasion.
And if Durdle Door looks familiar, it’s because you’ve likely seen the arch before: Tears For Fears, Billy Ocean and Cliff Richard have made videos here, and a number of films—including Wilde, Nanny McPhee and Far From The Maddening Crowd—have included the arch in a few scenes. – Cameron Aubernon
TripAdvisor’s crowd-sourced rating: 4.5 out of 5 (3,575 reviews)
Gwithian Beach, Hayle: On the Atlantic coast of Cornwall is my sister Claire’s favorite five-kilometre stretch of sand. As she says it’s a, “Long sandy beach. Big skies. Great sunsets. Good for body boarding. A location of wonderful family holidays.”
TripAdvisor’s crowd-sourced rating: 5 out of 5 (422 reviews)
West by Five has 5-star guesthouses.
Lyme Regis: My youngest sister, Lesley, favors Lyme Regis, Dorset, on the “Jurassic Coast,” for its sentimental connection to our family. It’s a small sandy beach with a longer pebble beach, famous for the fossils embedded in the rocks, “but holds a special place in my heart for so many happy memories of childhood holidays … rock pooling, fossil hunting with Dad, bouncing on the trampolines and lying in the sand with my sun-worshipping mum.”
The lovely old town, overlooks the “Cobb,” a breakwater sheltering the tiny fishing harbor.
TripAdvisor’s crowd-sourced rating: 4.5 out of 5 (180 reviews)
Westwood Guest House is the only B&B on our list.
Rhossili Bay: My sister Rachel recommends Rhossili Bay, Wales on the Gower peninsula. “It’s almost 5km of yellow sand with shells, flat slate pebbles and an abundance of sea potatoes (a type of sea urchin). There’s also a ship wreck from the 1880’s, a real treat at low tide. I love it because of its wild, raw seascape and lack of humans.” Rhossili won Wale’s Best beach award in 2018 and has been described as “the super model of British beaches,” by The Independent. The Atlantic provides the opportunity for surfing and other water sports.
TripAdvisor’s crowd-sourced rating: 5 out of 5 (1,753 reviews)
The Worm’s Head claims “the best views in Wales.”
It’s been awhile since I have dug my toes into British sand so my suggestions are further afield. – Jackie Harding, British expat in the Netherlands.
Plage de la Côte des Basques: France has beaches for days, from the famed battleground of Normandy, to the glitz and glamour of the French Riviera. Whatever your beach pleasure, you’re sure to find it in France.
One place in particular is Plage de la Côte des Basques, located on France’s southwestern coast in Biarritz, 25 kilometers from the French-Spanish border. Des Basques is where celebs, royalty and other elites come together when they’re not in Saint-Tropez, Nice or Monaco; the beach was also mentioned in Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises.”
Aside from the potential celeb-spotting, novice surfers can work on their skills in the gentle waves; the European surfing scene was born in des Basques in 1957. Swimming is also a popular activity, so long as the tide is low; the Atlantic Ocean shows no mercy to swimmers during high tide. And of course, the sand is endless, with views of the Spanish coast and magnificent cliffs creating the perfect backdrop. – Cameron Aubernon
TripAdvisor’s crowd-sourced rating: 4.5 out of 5 (1,700 reviews)
There are a massive number of hotels in the area, but during high season, it’s difficult to find a room, according to French magazines and newspapers.
Sa Caleta: Electronic music fans need no introduction to this hot spot. For everyone else, 150 kilometers to the southeast of Valenica, Spain is the island of Ibiza (Eivissa en català). Ibiza is the place where spring break, summer holiday, nightlife and electronic music come together in a sudsy, wubby, bacchanalian celebration of life lasting year-round.
If you’re looking for serenity, however, Ibiza has you covered as well. On the southern coast of the island is Sa Caleta, a cove located 11 kilometers west of Ibiza Town. The cozy horseshoe-shaped bay was originally a natural harbor for Phoenician settlers from 654 BC to 594 BC, and serves local fishing boats today.
Sa Caleta’s crystal-clear, shallow waters are excellent for snorkeling and swimming, while the sandy beach and surrounding red cliffs provide the perfect backdrop for relaxing under the golden sun. The beach is also popular with locals, and thus – because of its small size – can be crowded on the weekends.
Should you be hungry and/or thirsty, though, a short walk to the Sa Caleta restaurant has what you need, especially if you love seafood. And if you need more relaxation, a masseur sets up shop at the entrance of the beach during the high summer months to help massage the stress of life away. – Cameron Aubernon
TripAdvisor’s crowd-sourced rating: 4.5 out of 5 (220 reviews)
Like other popular destinations, Ibiza has a ton of hotel options. Fantasy: Villa Crista Cala Jondal is the place to go when your ship comes in.
Reynisfjara: Most beach-goers seek out palm trees, sun, surf, sand and piña coladas. This entry is for those who want their beaches to provide a mystical experience over a party atmosphere.
On the southern coast of Iceland is the village of Vík í Mýrdal, home to one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, Reynisfjara. Black basalt sand disappears into the dark waters of the North Atlantic, enhanced by basalt columns and – during the summer solstice – the midnight sun.
Reynisfjara can also be dangerous, as the Atlantic mercilessly rushes across the beach further than one would expect, in the form of sneaker waves. There’s also the strong offshore currents which will drag those unaware to their frozen demise.
And, of course, Reynisfjara and Vík í Mýrdal are directly south of the Mýrdalsjökull glacier, which covers a sleeping giant known as Katla. The volcano last erupted in 1918, and is overdue to erupt in a manner that would melt the glacier, drowning both the village and beach below. Just sayin’. – Cameron Aubernon
TripAdvisor’s crowd-sourced rating: 4.5 out of 5 (1,590 reviews)
Hotels/hostels in the area are limited and – how do we say this – can be pretty rustic. Oh, and expensive because it’s Iceland. The Icelandair Hotel Vik is a happy median – nice yet almost affordable. And it gets good ratings.
Venice: Venice typically evokes images of water ― canals, a lagoon. But where there is water, there are beaches. And one of the most iconic is on the island of Lido.
The Lido di Venezia is a long, narrow sandbar that stretches 11 kilometers north to south, and forms a barrier island between the Adriatic Sea and the Venice Lagoon. The most popular beaches ― sandy expanses with picturesque rows of iconic lounge chairs, umbrellas and cabanas ― are primarily on the northern third of the island on the Adriatic side. The Lido beach can brag of inclusion in Italy’s 368 Blue Flag beaches, international recognition of its commitment to the environment, water quality and safety. In fact, Italy ranks fifth out of 45 countries in number of Blue Flag awards, hosting 10 percent of the clean, green Blue Flag beaches worldwide.
The Lido is home to architecturally renown hotels, including Grand Hotel des Bains (think Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice), and Hotel Excelsior. In fact, beach access from the main boulevards is typically operated by the hotels.
However, all sand along the water is public, and there are several large public beach complexes such as Blue Moon, which was recently rated the No. 1 attraction on the Lido by Trip Advisor, and the Lungomare d’Annunzio, and San Nicolò.
Beach club Venezia Spiagge serves each “spiaggia comunale” (public beach) with daily, weekly, monthly or seasonal rentals of chairs, cabanas, umbrellas, and access to a changing room and restroom, starting at about €18 a day. There are also decently priced restaurants just off the beach or overlooking it, and during the Venice Biennale, art installations dot the area.
We visited in early September during the annual Venice International Film Festival, and found time to stroll the uncrowded beaches nearby during breaks from our marathon movie sessions. Of course, the city of Venice is only a vaporetto ride away, but we chose to remain on the Lido, away from the throngs of tourists and oversized cruise ships and enjoy the movie-like setting of the beaches and cabanas. – Nancy Wellendorf Church, an American who splits her time between the United States and Italy
TripAdvisor’s crowd-sourced rating: 4 out of 5 (1,320 reviews.)
Rabbit Beach: Lampedusa is a tiny dot out in the Mediterranean, closer to Tunisia than Sicily – 70 miles from Africa and 127 miles from Europe. This Italian island is celebrated as one of Italy’s best beach destinations. And the best beach on Lampedusa is Rabbit Beach, also referred to as “Rabbit Island.” First, there are no rabbits on Rabbit Island. The name come from a mistranslation of some ancient text, according to the sources we saw.
Second, this trip requires that you bring along a bit of political baggage. Because it’s so close to Tunisia, Lampedusa has been the first stop for a lot of migrants trying to get to mainland Europe. Which has pretty much killed tourism here. The wave of asylum seekers has abated to some extent, so the crowds are returning because Rabbit Beach consistently is rated the best beach in Europe.
Rabbit Island is in Lampedusa’s nature preserve, and there are turtles and porpoises. It’s as close to unspoiled as you can get in Italy. But Lampedusa is still dead-center of the biggest geopolitical controversy of the 21st century. So don’t forget to bring your conscience along with your sunblock. – Terry Boyd
TripAdvisor’s crowd-sourced rating: A perfect 5 out of 5 (5,511 reviews.)
There are quite a few hotel choices in the area. Hotel Cupola Bianca resort gets good ratings but their website is only in Italian.
Den Haag: You’re snickering, but the Netherlands has miles and miles of sandy beaches. The most popular is Scheveningen on the northern edge of Den Haag (The Hague), the de juris capital.
Okay, this is the North Sea, so you’re not going to be spending that much time in the water even on the hottest days. BUT, Scheveningen has two distinct personalities … completely commercial, and completely natural.
On the edge of the city is the famous Scheveningen boardwalk and the pier, and there are dozens of beach restaurants (many of them hilariously Caribbean-themed) running about two kilometers north toward the expat center of Wassenaar. By the way, the beach is really wide here, so there’s lots of space on even the most crowded July days.
(Eleven million people visit Scheveningen each year, but if it is up to the city council this number will rise in the years to come. City officials are spending 25 million euros to improve the boardwalk and the access to the beach during the next three years.)
Take a ride on the Ferris wheel and make sure to pay a visit to the Grand Hotel Amrath Kurhaus. This grand, impressive hotel was built early on in the 19th century and has since hosted several famous guests. Winston Churchill, Audrey Hepburn and Bon Jovi are among the people who have stayed at the hotel.
Now, the other Scheveningen is as quiet as the main strand is commercial. This is the Meijendel Dunes, a protected area that’s a strategic water source for the region. 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. – Terry Boyd
(Editor’s note: Tripadvisor doesn’t rate Scheveningen but Meijendel Dunes gets 4.5 out of 5, 44 reviews.)
As far as hotels, on of our favorite’s is in Den Haag – the B-Aparthotel in the diplomatic quarter is close to both the center city and to the beach.
Zeeland: My go-to beach here in the Netherlands is Nieuw Haamsteede, Zeeland. Bear in mind that most of the Dutch coastline is sandy beaches with dunes as coastal flood barriers so it’s not difficult to find some sandy place to sit and relax!
The beaches stretch for kilometres with the occasional beach bar perched on stilts to provide you with a cold beer and some kibbling (fried fish pieces). The beaches are all clean and the dunes provide you with a good walk before you set up your chair and umbrella for the day.
Downside – The ocean is murky looking (it is clean, just churned up sand) and can sometimes supply small jellyfish to make life interesting! Also unless you enter the beach at a popular spot there is a good chance it is a long walk to the toilets. – Jackie Harding
There are 40-plus hotels and a zillion holiday rentals in the area. Hof van Alexander is kind of cool because it’s a converted barn.
Praia do Carvalho: Portugal’s southernmost region, Algarve, is home to numerous beaches, including Praia do Carvalho near the town of Carvoeiro.
The small beach – once owned by a captain named Carvalho, according to the locals – is accessible via a man-made tunnel containing several fossils. Once through the tunnel, the golden beach and sapphire Atlantic waters welcome you with open arms during low tide; at high tide, the Atlantic rushes through the tunnel and nearby caves, spraying out through blowholes.
Praia do Carvalho’s sandstone formations include one called “the window,” formed from erosion over the years. The formations are also perfect for cliff diving into the deeper waters near the beach. – Jackie Harding
TripAdvisor’s crowd-sourced rating: 4.5 out of 5 (977 reviews)
The Algarve is an area with a lot of mass-tourism resorts … not our thing. Farmhouse of the Palms is small and intimate.
Ilha de Tavira, Tavira, Algarve. Tavira is located on the Gilão River and to get to the beach, which is located on a barrier island at the mouth of the river, you must take a ferry, which shuttles back and forth all day.
Such a great way to go to the beach!
The beach is 11km long and at one end has a selection of fresh fish restaurants, which you must pass by to get to and from the ferry. On the beach you can also find sunbeds and umbrellas or if you wish for a more peaceful spot just keep walking…you have 11km to choose from! Toilets can be found in the restaurant area.
Downside ~ the ferries are busy at the end of the day so there is some waiting in line.
TripAdvisor’s crowd-sourced rating: 4.5 out of 5 (2,254 reviews)
Of the new hotels in Tavira, La Casa Estrelita gets a lot of love on Instagram.
Ali del Mare, Chia: Obviously, the least touristy beaches are going to be those tourists can’t reach, or don’t know about. The Italians and French know Sardinia, but it’s no Mallorca in terms of popularity. Though it does have Costa Smeralda (see below) a magnet for the wildly wealthy, chock-a-bloc with mansions on the fabulous northern beaches.
But Sardinia, the largest Italian island after Sicily, has 2,000 kilometers of coast and a lot of nice beaches.
The best is near Chia – peach-colored Caribbean-quality powdery sand and clear water. Ali de Mare always gets the top rating. Also, this is a place you can come early in the season or late in the season. The climate is that mild on the southern tip of the island. – Terry Boyd
TripAdvisor’s crowd-sourced rating: 5 out of 5 (69 reviews)
At about 99 euros per person, Hotel Aquadulci is a nice compromise between low-end and lux hotels.
Spiaggia di Talmone, Costa Smeralda: This is NOT off the beaten path (well, it is a little), but most expats have never heard of it. Billionaires, though, have, and they fly in on their Gulfstreams because this is the Monaco of Sardinia. (We’re not the first to say that, by the way.)
Spiaggia di Talmone is about as private as you’re going to get in this tourist destination. But it’s worth the hike down the trail that leads you to the boulders in the sea à la Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands and small beaches. Lovely. – Terry Boyd
TripAdvisor’s crowd-sourced rating: 5 out of 5 (124 reviews)
There’s a great variety of places to stay. Hotel Pitrizza – a Marriott hotel flag –has a complex of villas and suites for the well-heeled traveler, which is pretty much who comes here.
More suggestions from our expat readers:
• Ewelina Szewc – Parque Natural Cabo De Gata, my fav in the south. Formentera has nicer beaches than Ibiza for sure.
• Bihotza Turienzo Bilbao – Try the beaches in the Basque country. They are completely different to others in Spain.
• Hércules Melkart – In Andalusia: Playa de los Muertos in Almeria. Playa de Bolonia and Playa de Valdevaqueros in Cádiz.
• Alex Leontaridis – Leukada, Kefalonia. Zakynthos. Leukada and Kefalonia have two of the Top 10 beaches on the planet. (Myrtos, Porto Katsiki). And Navagio Beach is Zakynthos which is probably the most famous instagram beach. Corfu is considered one of the worst islands in Greece except for the Italian-ish architecture. But definitely not famed for the beaches. At least for us Greeks as far as Corfu is concerned.
• Adrian Yankov – Check out Silistar in Bulgaria and Paradise Bay in Malta.
• Emma Wooldridge – Scapa Beach, Orkney, has a distillery at one end of it.