It’s not summer until you’ve hit the beach – and there’s a staggering range of sandy stretches where you can get your fix. I’ve sought out twelve of the best beaches in Europe, so you can find the perfect one for your summer holidays – whether you’re after adventure and nightlife or just want to sink your toes into a white sandy beach.
Best beaches in Italy and Sicily
Cala Luna, Sardinia
This secluded beach is further south than Sardinia’s main glitzy beaches and is well worth the journey for adventure-seekers. Forested cliffs plunge dramatically into the sea, leaving a series of beach caves along the shoreline. The grottos are great for picnics and photo ops, but the clear blue sea of the bay also makes it one of the best beaches in Europe for snorkelling and rock climbing. You can reach Cala Luna by a 4km hike, or you can do as the Italian jet set do and hire a private speedboat from Cala Gonone.
San Vito Lo Capo, Sicily
Somehow off the radar to all but local Italian holidaymakers, San Vito Lo Capo is arguably one of the best white sand beaches in Europe. There’s something positively tropical about its ivory squeaky sands and shimmering turquoise seas. The town itself is a laid-back but lively beach resort with a distinct African influence that’s reflected in its food: every year San Vito plays host to a couscous festival to celebrate its local dish.
Rabbit Beach, Lampedusa
It may be a bit out of the way, but Rabbit Beach on the remote Italian island of Lampedusa is one of the most memorable and unique beaches in Italy. Despite the name, you won’t find any rabbits here but t the rocky craggy coast is otherwise teeming with wildlife. It’s closer to Africa than mainland Italy. The main attraction on Lampedusa is the tiny Rabbit Island, where scuba divers and snorkellers come for the excellent visibility of its warm translucent waters.
Best beaches in France
If you had to draw a perfect beach it would probably look like Rondinara. Between the popular tourist haunts of Bonifacio and Porto Vecchio, you’ll find this shell-like curve of white sandy beach and red-tinged rocks, perfectly framing the shallow turquoise lagoon. During the winter you might even share the beach with cows. There’s one bar and a campsite if you fancy staying a while to enjoy the nature.
Biarritz is known as the surf capital of Europe and is not only blessed with one of the best city beaches in Europe but the best surf beach too. The city was once popular with nobility who left behind its elegant Belle Epoque architecture; these days it’s a prime spot for surf chic and authentic Basque culture. Le Grande Plage is the main attraction with its big rolling waves and buzzing waterfront, but with five further beaches to explore and bags of style and fun, Biarritz is an excellent choice for the easily bored.
Best beach in Spain
Rodas Beach, Cíes Island
This beach may look like something from the tropics, but the sparkling swathe of sand known as Rodas Beach is actually on a small archipelago of three islands off the north-west coast of Spain. The spectacular Cíes Islands sit in the Vigo estuary and have nine beautiful beaches, but the sandbar and lagoon at Rodas Beach is the most striking. So much so, it’s frequently voted one of the most beautiful beaches in Spain. Brace yourself if you’re getting in the water though – the beaches might look like something from the Caribbean, but the water temperature definitely isn’t!
Best beach in Greece
Navagio Beach, Zakynthos
More commonly known as Shipwreck Beach, Navagio Beach on the Greek island of Zakynthos is surely the most Instagrammed beach in Europe and appears on postcards across the country. The shipwreck in question – which photogenically graces a small sandy beach hemmed in by impassable cliffs – was (according to local lore) a 1980s smuggler’s ship chased down by the Greek navy. This photogenic big-hitter is a perfect selfie backdrop but to reach the cliffs with the famous view – rather than just visiting the beach itself – you’re best to rent a car.
Best beach in Portugal
Galapinhos Beach, Setubal
Portugal is not short on stunning beaches, but they do get busy in the summer. Leave the Algarve to the package holiday crowds and head instead to the gorgeous Praia de Galapinhos in Setúbal. Galapinhos has no facilities and can only be accessed by a steep track, which means it still has the air of a well-kept secret despite being a short journey from Lisbon. It’s one of the best European beaches for nature-lovers. The sea is clean and calm and an intense shade of blue, and the beach is backed by the beautiful green mountains and trails of the Arrábida Natural Park. Just down the coast is the equally stunning Troia Peninsula with its long finger-like curve of golden sands.
Best beach in Croatia
Stiniva Cove, Vis
Stiniva Cove is a contender for the most beautiful secret beach in Europe. Sailing past you might not even notice it exists thanks to the two tall cliffs either side which obscure it. If your boat is small enough you might be able to sail through the gap between them – which is only a few metres wide – to find the pretty white pebble beach, translucent waters and a small beach bar. This Croatian hidden gem is most easily visited on a boat trip, although it is possible to hike there if you’re feeling intrepid.
More beautiful beaches in Europe
Latvia may not be the first destination that springs to mind when you think of beach breaks in Europe, but this Baltic beach boasts pale sands, fragrant pine forests and magical summer light stretching for miles. 21 miles to be precise. There’s a string of beach resorts along this length of the ‘Baltic Riviera’ which is just 30 minutes from the capital city of Riga. As well as fine beaches you’ll also find intriguing architecture – Art Nouveau wooden houses, Prussian villas, and Soviet-era sanatoriums.
Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach, Iceland
If you find white sand beaches a bit of a yawn then get yourself on a flight to Iceland, stat. This country, known for its geological wonders, will always be able to provide something a bit different. Iceland has a wide variety of volcanic beaches but for sheer romance and drama, you can’t beat the black sand beach of Reynisfjara with its otherworldly basalt columns and black pebbles.
Only those who have been to Cornwall will appreciate the beauty of the area’s beaches. Many of them have been nominated for various best British beach awards, but Porthcurno gets a special mention as not only is it one of the filming locations for the TV series Poldark but its looked down on by the unique cliffside Minack Theatre.
About the author
Steph is a beach bum, wine lover and sailing nerd hailing from rainy England (which explains her obsession with all things sunny and Mediterranean). On her blog The Mediterranean Traveller she shares the best travel secrets of the region. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.