15 Best Secret Beaches in Europe You Need to Discover

From Italy to Greece, France to Croatia, these secluded beaches in Europe offer all the beautiful views and none of the crowds.

There’s a reason we’ve written so much about beaches. They provide pretty much all you could ever ask of a vacation (sun, parties, adventure), and European beaches stand out among other sandy shores. 

Many of them curve around bright, Mediterranean waters backdropped by dramatic cliffs. There’s a trove of soft sand, sea caves, and beach bars to explore all over the continent. And though they’re known for attracting jet-setting party crowds, not all of them are teeming with people. There are certain hidden corners of popular destinations where you’ll find quiet coastlines that you can make your own. 

Here, 15 of Europe’s most beautiful, best secluded beaches for the next time you really need to get away.  

San Giovanni di Sinis, Sardinia, Italy

Sunset beach of San Giovanni di Sinis (Sardinia, Italy) and in the background the old tower.
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The north coast of Sardinia is famous for its sugar-sanded, Maldives-style beaches, which is why everyone flocks there. But all of Sardinia's coastline is spectacular — you just have to work a little harder to reach the less obvious beaches. The east coast offers one spectacular cove after the next, but they can be steep and inaccessible, and you don't want to go rock climbing on vacation.

So, my vote goes to the west coast, where the long, dune-humped Sinis peninsula dangles into the Mediterranean, about half an hour from Oristano. Ending in a natural reserve, one beach melts into the next — my favorite, just after the village of San Giovanni di Sinis, is a quick stumble across the dunes from some bar shacks, and it sits dramatically in the shadow of the ruined Roman citadel of Tharros.

Praia da Ilha de Tavira, Algarve, Portugal

Tavira beach, Algarve, Portugal.
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The Algarve is one of Europe's most-loved coastal regions, but while everyone flocks to the high-rise hotels in the west, the far east coast, wedged up against the Spanish border, is much less trammeled. As the name suggests, Ilha de Tavira is an island — or rather, it's a dune-like sandbar floating just off the coast at pretty Tavira. The sand is thick, deep, and the color of clotted cream; the gently shelving sea is as calm as a lagoon; and the beach stretches as far as the eye can see. There's not much shade, but you can rent a lounger and rattan parasol.

Sa Riera, Costa Brava, Spain

Sa Riera Beach on Costa Brava, Spain
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A croissant of sand snatched from the rocky coastline, Sa Riera doubles as a tiny fishing village and a delectable beach. Sunbathe on either side of the plinth where the fishing boats were dragged up earlier in the morning, go scrambling over the rocks, or enjoy a snorkeling or diving session. The coastline around here is known for shipwrecks, caves, and ancient remains, and at Aiguablava, you'll swim along a seabed littered with Roman amphorae. This is Spain's cultural stretch of coast — both medieval Girona and the Dali Triangle (sites linked to the surrealist painter) are within an hour or so's drive.

Psili Ammos, Patmos, Greece

Psili Amos beach on Patmos Island, Greece
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You'll need to follow the hoofprints to Psili Ammos — the donkey that delivers supplies to the beachside cafe each morning can lead you on the half-hour trek across the rumpled dunes. This is the southwestern tip of Patmos, the holy island in the Dodecanese where St. John is said to have holed up in a cave to write the Book of Revelation. These days, it's equally quiet, though unlike the saint, you won't be expected to do any work on this semicircle of cookie-colored sand with steep cliffs rearing up behind. The far end is a nudist beach, but worry not — you'll get no strange looks for being clothed on the rest of it. Take a dip in the shallow waters, sunbathe under the tamarisk trees, and don't forget to buy a beer from the cafe — that donkey didn't come here for nothing.

Argèles-sur-Mer, Languedoc, France

Argelès-sur-Mer Beach in France
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Wedged between the Mediterranean and Pyrenees mountains on the border with Spain, Argèles-sur-Mer is a gorgeous gumbo of French and Catalan architecture, complete with an imposing, square-blocked castle dating back to the seventh century, a couple of miles south. But it's the beach that you're here for — almost four whole miles of soft sand that you'll want to get ankle-deep in. There are sun loungers for hire, but this is the kind of place to buy your own chair at the supermarket and haul it across the sand.

Latchi, Polis, Cyprus

Beach near Aphrodite bath in Polis, Cyprus
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Beaches don't get much bigger than this enormous swirl of sand framing the gigantic Polis Bay in Cyprus' unspoiled northwestern tip. And the Mediterranean doesn't get much warmer, either — down here, it feels like stepping into a tepid bath, even in the low-season months like October or April. Outside peak season, you'll pretty much have the entire bay to yourself, with just joggers for company. Bring your own gear and jump right in. For lunch, walk west along the beach, past the marina, to Yialos Beach Grill for some halloumi, souvlaki, lamb chops, and sheftalia sausages flamed over the sand-side, coal-fired grill.

Cala Saladeta, Ibiza, Spain

Cala Saladeta beach, west of Ibiza island in Spain.
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On the west coast of the White Isle lies Cala Salada, a little cove backed by thick shrubbery, with a sickle of sand and rock slabs cantilevered over the water to moor boats against or sunbathe on. That's not your goal, though; instead, follow the footpath across the headland and you'll reach Cala Saladeta, the next cove along, cocooned by low rocks and bushy tree-peppered headland. It's quieter, with a sliver of sand and the odd dinky boat bobbing in the jade water. It's also small, though, so if there are already too many people for your liking, take to the flat rocks shelving into the water. Didn't bring snacks? Pop back to Cala Salada's great little beachside restaurant.

Sveti Jakov, Dubrovnik, Croatia

Sveti Jakov facing Dubrovnik.
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Swollen streets, crowded waterfronts, and the view overrun with selfie sticks — that's the Dubrovnik we all know and (try to) love. But just a mile south of town, it's a different world at Sveti Jakov, a calm, pebble-sand beach overlooking peaceful Lokrum island, with views of the Old Town's packed harbor in the distance. What's the catch? You'll face a bit of a hike to get there — either a walk or bus ride to the church at the top, then a 100-plus staircase down the cliff face to reach the beach. On the plus side, there's a little restaurant to refresh you once you're there — plus the Adriatic to wade in.

Aretes, Halkidiki, Greece

Aretes beach on a clear, sunny day with golden sand and foamy waves
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Halkidiki's three long, sandy "fingers" splayed out into the Aegean Sea are home to some of Greece's best beaches — and that's saying something. Aretes is one of its most laid-back options, though. The wave-like coastline wiggles itself into three distinct bays — the biggest, a wide sandy stretch that's calm but popular; beyond it, a rocky stretch; and lastly, a small sandy cove that not many bother walking to. In fact, on a quiet day, it might be all yours. It's perfectly sized for two, with gray-green rocks shearing up behind the tiny inlet. Head back to the restaurant on the main beach when you get peckish.

Fomm ir-Riħ, Mgarr, Malta

Calm seas on the rocky shore beneath Fomm ir Rih Mgarr Malta

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There’s a pebble beach in the Western part of Malta where the deep blue Mediterranean waters cover one of the county’s best snorkeling sites. Even better, you’ll mostly have the bay to yourself as this wild spit of land is only accessible by rough, steep footpath which you’ll traverse for a good 20 minutes before you reach its secluded scenery. For those who are able, the trek is well worth it once you see this unspoiled respite.      

Butterfly Valley, Fethiye, Turkey 

Butterfly Valley (Turkish: Kelebekler Vadisi) in Oludeniz

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No, that isn’t a trick of the light but the 105 different butterfly species this beach is known for. Turkey’s Turquoise Coast is a popular resort destination popular for its historical sites and soft, sandy beaches, but this nature reserve is off the beaten path of the Turkish Riviera. Butterfly Valley (known locally as Kelebekler Vadisi) cuts through rugged cliffs and into the clear blue waters where you’ll arrive by boat, either from an ecotour or the shuttle from Belceğiz Beach in the village of Ölüdeniz, where you’ll find a charming blue lagoon.   

Pasjaca, Popovići, Croatia

Croatia beautiful cliffs near Dubrovnik - Pasjaca beach

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Croatia's Southern Dalmatia lays out in a maze of limestone streets, storybook buildings, and local wineries, and when you’ve walked (and sipped) it all, you can head 18 miles south of Dubrovnik to the hidden beach of Pasjača. Something of a local secret, the classically Mediterranean landscape is tucked into a range of bronze cliffs that have been carved out to create the paths and tunnels you’ll travel down to the white sand. Swim the aquamarine waters or just enjoy the awe-inspiring views from the pebbled shore.     

Prainha do Caniçal, Madeira, Portugal 

Black sand beach Prainha. Madeira island

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Europe’s nicest beaches are hidden in the untapped treasure trove of Portugal’s Madeira Islands. Yes, Madeira, like the wine, and you can enjoy a glass at the pastel cliffside beach bar that oversees the black-striped sand of Prainha do Caniçal. Get there early to scope out the perfect place for repose on the soft sand (a rarity among the country’s rocky beaches). The brisk, blue-green water washes over the entire arc of sand at high tide, but you can relax in a beach chair or at the restaurant’s cafe tables on the rock formations hugging this sweet little shoreline.     

Rauðasandur, Látrabjarg, Iceland 

Rauðasandur, West Fjords, Iceland

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This swirl of red and blue will seem like a myth but I promise it’s a real spot hidden in Iceland’s West Fjords. This wild card trades Mediterranean blues for a fiery red. Rauðasandur — or, "Red Beach”— is known for its titular hue which stands out among the country’s volcanic black sands, but this marvel is also known to change color with the right conditions. On sunny days, the sand may appear more golden — when it rains it could be red or white or even that classic Icelandic black. As if that magic trick wasn’t enough, Rauðasandur has a permanent place in the Icelandic storytelling tradition as the site of one of the country’s most famous murder cases. Don't worry, though, the only red you're sure to see is the crushed shells in the sand not blood on the shore. In fact, you might not see anything on the shore aside from the local fauna. Most tourists stick to the southern coast but this less-tread coastline, on Breiðafjörður bay, is perfect for a quiet day away from the crowds where you can watch for seabirds, puffins, and harbor seals.

Limeuil, Dordogne, France

The Dordogne River at Limeuil, Dordogne, Aquitaine, France
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Let's end with something that isn't your average beach. Deep in inland, two and a half hours east of Bordeaux, the Dordogne and Vézère rivers converge at Limeuil, a pretty medieval town. But far more luscious than its honey-hued buildings is the shoreline, on the other side of the river. Here are pebbly shores and wide, grassy banks shaded by ancient trees that can stave off the intense summer heat. Wade into the river, look up at the limestone cliffs where early man used to live (this area is the cave-painting capital of Europe), swim in the slow-flowing water, and you'll feel totally at one with nature. Then, toast your fortune with wine and frites from the food truck at the side.

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