The Best Beaches in Europe
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.
Navagio, Zakynthos Island, Greece
The focal point of this famous spot is the hulking, weathered hull of a freighter that ran aground in the early ’80s. The ship now sits in the middle of a crescent beach, a few yards away from the tideline where bone-white sand meets the bright blue Ionian Sea. The sheer cliffs surrounding the beach mean that the cove is only accessible by boat, but an abundance of providers in the area ensures there’s a steady stream of tourists all summer long. Even so, it’s worth a trip: The rusted shell set against the spectacular natural beauty of Zakynthos Island is a striking sight you need to see in person to truly appreciate.
Calanque d’en Vau, Cassis, France
Adventurous types won’t want to miss this secluded spot on France’s southern coast: It’s only accessible via boat or two-hour hike, and the effort it takes to get there makes the end result all the more appealing. Tucked at the end of a long inlet, this beach is surrounded by massive, craggy cliffs, and the visual contrast of bright blue Mediterranean against the white limestone makes the whole spot feel like something from a dream.
Rabbit Beach, Lampedusa, Italy
This is one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, but its remote location—100 miles off the Italian coast—tends to dissuade all but the most intrepid of travelers. But for those who make the journey, there’s ample reward: the water is shallow enough to wade far out into the bay, and it’s reliably calm and clear, making it a haven for swimmers and snorkelers. Keep an eye out for sea turtles: This is one of the few regular nesting sites of the endangered Loggerhead.
Elafoníssi Beach, Crete, Greece
Laid-back beachgoers and adrenaline junkies alike will love Elafoníssi for its array of activities and spectacular scenery. The pink sand and mountainous backdrop will keep shutterbugs happy, while active types can partake in surfing, kiteboarding, or wind surfing. And once you’ve worked up an appetite, head to one of the local tavernas for a plate of dakos—a local specialty of crisp bread topped with a mix of fresh tomatoes, mitzithra cheese, olive oil, and herbs.
Playa de Migjorn, Formentera, Spain
On top of the incredible scenery Formentera’s beaches are known for, you’ll find something for everyone at this lengthy strip of Spanish shore. Rent a beach chair and umbrella for the day and take advantage of oceanfront beverage service, enjoy the view on a long walk, or join a game of beach volleyball. And since the beach goes on for miles, even travelers hoping for a secluded spot won’t have to wander far.
Scala dei Turchi, Sicily, Italy
Even in the off-season, the famed Turkish Steps are well worth a detour. Millions of years of erosion have carved the stark white marlstone into a series of stairs climbing up from the water, and they’re stunning to see even when it’s too chilly to go for a swim. The place is popular with crowds, so if you’re hoping for a solo trip, set your alarm to go just before sunrise: You’ll be rewarded with a stellar photo op, a magical experience, and not a single fellow tourist in sight.
Durdle Door Beach, Dorset, England
The U.K. isn’t a typical stop for beachgoers, but the striking scenery at this Dorset coastline makes it a must-see. In the summertime, swimming in the shadow of Durdle Door—a massive rock arch that plunges into the sea—is an otherworldly experience. And when temperatures start to dip, a hike along the cliffs with Dorset’s rolling green hills on one side and the sweeping ocean views across the rugged Jurassic Coast on the other is something you won’t soon forget.
Zlatni Rat, Brač, Croatia
A steep triangle jutting out into the sea, Zlatni Rat’s unique shape means even more sandy surface area for sunbathers. The natural beauty here is plentiful—turquoise sea, dark green spit of forest, bright white beach—and it’s a haven for active types, since water sports abound. Take a windsurfing class, rent a paddleboard, or just snorkel in the bright, pristine waters. And with playgrounds, snack kiosks, and lifeguards on duty across the beach, it’s the place to go if you’re looking for a family-friendly Croatian getaway.
You won’t want to take a dip at this beach—the rough, frigid waters of the Atlantic are particularly dangerous here—but nonetheless, it’s a must-see spot on your Icelandic journey thanks to the one-of-a-kind scenery of the area. Basalt formations have eroded over time to form Vik’s eerie black sand beaches, and the combination of dark sand and strange geologic features, like clusters of hexagonal rock columns and sharp sea stacks jutting out of the waves, make this a hauntingly beautiful and unforgettable place to visit.
Playa Sa Caleta, Ibiza, Spain
It’s easy to burn out after a few days in Ibiza’s party-heavy atmosphere. When you do, head to this beach—it’s not on the typical tourist itinerary, so you’ll find a bit more calm here than at more popular places on the northern side of the isle. And the setting alone is enough to leave you feeling recharged: nestled in a break between two red rock cliffs, the beach itself is protected from the elements, and the ocean here is as blue and clear as they come. Once you’ve maxed out on sunbathing, stop by the nearby Phoenician ruins for an archaeological history of the area.
Lubenice Beach, Cres Island, Croatia
If historical reputation is any indication, this place is not to be missed. The area has been settled for roughly 4,000 years, and continues to be a popular spot for locals and tourists alike. The beach itself is secluded, and sturdy shoes are a must: To get there, you’ll have to brave a steep 45-minute hike each way. Don’t miss the Blue Cave, a grotto carved into the cliff a few yards down. You’ll need to swim to get there, but once you’re in, the experience is unlike any other—sunlight reflecting through the water makes the place appear lit from within. Once you’ve had your fill of the seaside, hike back up into town for a taste of Lubenice’s ultra-fresh seafood in a medieval setting.
Nissi Bay Beach, Ayia Napa, Cyprus
For travelers who hope for a mix of beautiful scenery and a party-ready atmosphere, Nissi Bay Beach is the place to be. A tiny strip of soft, pale sand divides two sections of pale blue shallows, ensuring picturesque views no matter where you set up camp. And Nissi Bay Beach Bar is ground zero for the region’s nightlife: The hotspot hosts a rotating list of foam parties, DJs, and summertime bacchanals, making it a major draw for tourists hoping to spend all day in the sun and all night partying on the oceanfront.
Palombaggia, Corsica, France
If not for the evergreens lining the shore, this spot could be easily mistaken for a Tahitian resort destination. Palombaggia is widely considered the most beautiful stretch of coastline in Corsica, and though it’s caught on amongst beachgoers, it’s still free of the shoulder-to-shoulder hordes you’ll find on some of France’s more well-known beaches. And it’s perfect for families: The gently sloping shelf is great for new swimmers content to splash in the shallows, while yards of visibility and abundant schools of fish will keep older kids snorkeling for hours.
Ölüdeniz Beach, Turkey
The name translates to “Blue Lagoon” and the moniker is apt—the bay is so richly colored it almost doesn’t look real. The bay and the surrounding forest are nature preserves, so it’s unsullied and free of the overdevelopment that plagues many Turkish resort towns. Thankfully, it still has the necessary amenities (bathrooms, showers, cafés) to make your visit more comfortable. The place is a top spot for paragliders thanks to the nearby peak of Mount Babadag, and the lagoon’s excellent visibility is ideal for snorkelers and scuba divers. Don’t miss the local market: Stop by to pick up the catch of the day, then bring your haul to a local restaurant, where a chef can cook your fresh fish however you like.
Porthcurno Beach, Cornwall, England
Who needs a trip to the tropics when you can find white sands and turquoise waters within half a day’s drive of London? The famous Cornwall beach is flanked by cliffs, so the cove remains calm even during the windy season. Bring your mask and snorkel—the visibility here makes spotting sea life a guarantee—and pack a change of clothes. Once the sun sets, you’ll want to make a beeline up the cliffs to catch an outdoor show at Minack Theatre, complete with an ocean soundtrack and a view of the Atlantic.