The Best Beaches in France
Too often, travelers heading to France overlook some of the best the country has to offer. Beachgoers don’t look beyond Cannes and St. Tropez, oenophiles don’t venture beyond Bordeaux, and too many tourists check Paris off their lists and think they’ve gotten a taste of the whole nation. But France has many distinct regions with a diverse array of microcultures; the energies and local flavors can vary enormously over the span of just a few miles. And while you may immediately think of the French Riviera, which has plenty of postcard-ready coastline, it’s not the only place to find beaches worthy of a spot on your travel to-do list.
Ahead, we’ve put a spotlight on the best places to visit on the French coast. From Brittany to Biarritz, the calanques of Marseille and Cassis to the cliffs of Normandy (ideas for a dream trip to these shores, this way), the country has landscapes and attractions to suit the preferences of even the pickiest tourist. Hoping to get back to nature with a heart-pumping day hike? Head to the Provençal seaside. More inclined toward buzzy beaches with plenty for the kids? Calvados will keep the whole family happy. Need to find a compromise between Burgundy and Bora Bora? The Riviera’s islands have the turquoise waters and pristine sands of the South Pacific, but with a better selection of French wine and cheeses.
The one problem with having so many coastal hotspots: Choosing which one to check out first. Ideally, you’d conquer the whole lot in one wonderful, leisurely road trip, traversing the coasts, crossing the French countryside, and soaking it all in over the course of a summer. Unfortunately wealthy benefactors and multiple months of vacation days are hard to come by these days, but there’s always a bright side, and in this case it’s looking forward to years of terrific beach trips as we check these spots off our bucket lists one by one.
La Pointe des Poulains, Belle-Île-en-Mer
This coastal overlook is at the northernmost tip of Belle-Île-en-Mer, and though you won’t find much swimming, the cinematic views of the rugged coastline punctuated by the little red and white lighthouse are reason enough to go. The coastal path won’t take you long to hike, so once you’ve made a loop, drive twenty minutes south to snap a sunset photo at Les Aiguilles de Port-Coton, the jagged outcrops immortalized by Claude Monet.
Calanque d’en Vau, Cassis
A trip to this inlet takes more work than most—there’s no road access, so you’ll have to hike at least two hours or paddle in on a kayak—but the payoff is worth it. Steep limestone cliffs on either side make the beach itself feel like a secret hideaway, and the cove is a snorkeler’s paradise thanks to crystal-clear water and endless schools of fish. Pack a lunch and plenty of water (you won’t find any snack stands here), then spend your afternoon lolling on the pebble beach or jumping off the 10-foot ledge into the cool waters of the Mediterranean.
Juan-les-Pins Beach, Antibes
This narrow beach is a perfect home base for travelers hoping for sun, sand, and a host of activities to choose from. Juan-les-Pins sees a flood of Parisian tourists come summertime, so skip the beach blanket and fork over a few Euros at one of the seaside restaurants or hotels to enjoy the classic Côte d’Azur vibe—and champagne service—on a sun bed sans crowding. Even the swimming-averse will love strolling and shopping the promenade, and if you’re up for an adventure, the town has a variety of scuba, snorkel, and parasailing outfitters to get your adrenaline pumping.
Omaha Beach, Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer
History buffs should make a beeline to the site of the Normandy landings on D-Day. Start with a trip to the Memorial Museum in town for context, then head to the beach itself. Walk down to the waterline and turn around for a first-person view of the Allied soldiers’ perspective upon coming ashore. The experience is a sobering one, but not to be missed.
Venture off the mainland to the island of Corsica and you’ll find turquoise waters to rival any tropical beach destination. Palombaggia Beach is known as Corsica’s most beautiful: The bone-white stretch of sand is dotted with boulders and bordered by evergreen forest, and the curving arc of the shoreline protects the area from swells.
Photo ops abound in this tiny seaside town, which has some of the prettiest coastline in the country. Walk along the Chemin des Douaniers for the best views of the limestone cliffs and the Falaises d’Étretat, the famous arches that inspired painters like Monet and Courbet. The English Channel makes for a chilly swim even in summer, but the panoramic clifftop views at sunset give Étretat year-round appeal.
Plage de Collioure, Collioure
This hamlet just a few miles from the Spanish border may not have the white-hot nightlife of its more famous neighbor, Banyuls-sur-Mer. But with brightly-colored wooden boats in the harbor, rows of pastel buildings overlooking the ocean, and the 17th-century Eglise Notre Dame des Anges jutting right up to the waterfront, Collioure takes the cake for Instagram-readiness.
Le Bois Plage en Ré, Île de Ré
The whole of Île de Re is renowned for its laid-back, unpretentious vibe. But if you have to settle on one spot, the salt air, endless stretches of sand, and minimal crowds make this the perfect all-purpose beach. Start with a stop at the morning market in town to pick up snacks and a bottle of wine from a local vineyard. Then head to the coast for a seaside picnic. The beach goes on for miles, but you won’t have to walk far to find a secluded spot where you can while away an afternoon. If long walks don’t appeal, rent a bike and ride along the boardwalk overlooking the dunes.
Côte des Basques, Biarritz
Biarritz has it all—beautiful scenery, fantastic architecture, and all the seaside activities you could want—and this beach is a go-to for sun worshippers looking to hit all the highlights in one place. Kick back on your towel and enjoy the view of Villa Belza, a 19th-century chateau perched on a cliff at the edge of the Atlantic, or head to the dedicated surfing area to try your hand at hanging ten. Don’t miss grabbing a bite at an oceanfront bistro—Basque cuisine is best enjoyed with a glass of Irouléguy rosé and a view of the Atlantic.
Plage de Tahiti, Frioul Islands
Just a short boat ride off the coast of Marseille you’ll find a rocky archipelago with a scattering of secluded cove beaches—and of these, the Plage de Tahiti is the belle of the ball. You’ll have to hike an hour in from the main port, but the remote location means you’re likely to have the place to yourself, especially if you skip the August high season. The shallow, calm waters ensure safe swimming, and kids will love venturing out to the rocky outcrop fifteen feet off the shore.
Plage de l’Ecluse, Dinard
You’ll find Brittany at its best at this broad swath of of golden sand. The Gulf Stream brings warm waters and temperate weather well into fall, so the Plage de l’Ecluse is swimmable long after the August crowds have dissipated. Once a favorite haunt of the Belle Epoque rich and famous, remnants of past glamour remain in the form of 19th-century mansions edging up to the cliffs at the beach’s northern tip. Between the chateau views and the neat rows of blue-and-white-striped cabana tents lining the sand, this is the closest you’ll come to time-traveling back to the Belle Époque.
Dune du Pilat, Arcachon
If sand makes the shore, then this is the best beach on the continent. The Dune du Pilat is the largest sand dune in the whole of Europe, and the views from the crest are worth the steep climb to the top. Descend on the ocean side to cool off with a dip in the Atlantic, then drive into town to toast your hard day’s work with a bottle of Bordeaux and a dozen of the Arcachon’s famous oysters.
Plage de Notre Dame, Porquerolles
Venture 10 minutes by boat from the Côte d’Azur and you’ll find the Île de Porquerolles, which might be mistaken for a Caribbean outpost but for the pine and eucalyptus trees standing in for coconut palms. The water is clear, the sand is soft and white, and thanks to its national park status, the flora remains as it’s been here for centuries, with none of the megahotels or shopping thoroughfares that proliferate in most Riviera towns. If you tire of the swimming-sunning rotation, rent a paddleboard and venture into the bay—the views are even better from the water than they are from shore.
Plage de Trouville, Trouville-sur-Mer
If you’re traveling with kids, skip the more famous Deauville in favor of this family-friendly beach. Signage will point you toward the parts of the shore where lifeguards are posted, and there are plenty of facilities along the boardwalk for changing and bathroom runs. Break up your beach days with mini-golf or a stop at the playground, and when you need to recharge, hit one of the cafés or bistros on the beachfront promenade—they’re largely kid-friendly, so you can grab moules frites and a glass of wine while the under-10s stick to French fries and croques monsieur.
Plage des Marinières, Villefranche-sur-Mer
Along most of the French Riviera, a day at the beach means either wasting ages hunting for an unclaimed spot on the public beaches or shelling out for access to a private resort. Not so at Villefranche’s Plage des Marinières—in spite of free access, plenty of parking, and Nice being just a three-minute train ride away, this beach doesn't see the elbow-to-elbow crowding of neighboring spots. The gently sloping shallows are perfect for kids just getting the hang of the water, and more confident swimmers will love snorkeling the fish-filled rock hollows further offshore.