Europe’s cultural capitals have long been a bucket list item for every traveler—there’s a reason seven of the world’s 10 most-visited countries are in Europe. But when it comes to beach vacations, European seaside towns tend to take a backseat to the old stalwarts of the Caribbean and the South Pacific. Despite the range of oceanfront options—from the rugged beauty of Iceland to the white-hot nightlife of the Côte d’Azur to the peaceful resort haunts of Greece and Croatia—too many tourists overlook the charms of the coast in favor of inland mainstays.
Here, we’ve assembled a collection of the fifteen finest beaches across Europe, tailored to travelers of every stripe. They’ve all got stunning scenery and ocean views, but beyond that, these places are as richly varied as Europe itself. We’ve got off-season hikes along the coast, family-friendly beaches with plenty of activities, secluded spots for private lounging, and party-heavy places thrumming with energy—in other words, no matter who you are or what you’re after, there’s a seaside destination for you.
And the best part? Choosing a European destination for your next beach vacation means you don’t have to compromise. Want to travel in your favorite Impressionists’ footsteps? Head to Provence for a few days, then tack on a day trip 45 minutes south to see the white sand beaches of Cassis. Craving authentic Italian food? Spend a few days on the isle of Sicily, where you can spend the morning on the famed Turkish Steps overlooking the ocean, then venture to a local joint for arancini and cannoli. Hoping for an educational excursion? Tour the ancient Croatian city of Lubenice, then hike down the hill to unwind with a swim in the bright blue waters of the bay. With such an incredible selection of spots to choose from, you just might find yourself returning to the European continent time and again—at least until you’ve tackled all the places on our list. Read on, and let the travel planning begin.