When you think about the best beaches, the Seychelles or the Maldives are the kind of names most likely to spring to mind. But what about in Europe? Yes, the Mediterranean, Adriatic and Atlantic also offer white sands, clear waters, and some pretty fierce waves.
Whether you’re looking for a chilled honeymoon break, a surfing safari, or a chance to get naked and back to nature, Europe has a cove, beach or bay for everyone. From England to Italy, we’ve inspected every inch of the coast to find out where the very best ones are…
Take a Walk on the Wild Side
1. Playa de S’alga on isla de Espalmador, near Formentera, the Balearics
Separated from the also-beautiful island of Formentera by 150 metres, this natural park is technically private property. But respectful, nature-loving tourists are more than welcome. The lack of restaurants and bars make this beach extra special – get there by boat or swim.
2. The beaches of the Cíes Islands, Galicia, Spain
For a stunning mountain and sea combination, this archipelago is located in the Vigo range. Keen fishermen should steer clear of this one since it’s part of the Atlantic Islands of Galicia National Park.
3. Fetovaia, Elba Island, Italy
Napoleon struck gold when he was exiled to this beautiful Tuscan island. It must have been very hard for him to return to Paris after 300 days of being surrounded by lush green forests and azure waters. Fortunately, Fetovia is yet to be revolutionised by the modern world since then.
4. Balos beach, Crète
Jump on a boat from Kissamos Port and head north-west to Gramvousa, where you’ll find this pretty piece of nature. Then go beach-combing along the white strip of sand that separates the beach from the lagoons.
5. Beach of the Cathedrals, Lugo, Spain
This piously named beach is so-called because of it’s arch-shaped cliffs over 30 metres high. At low-tide, the unusual shapes of the caves are worth seeing for an other-worldy experience.
6. Oludeniz beach, Turkey
7. Taormina beaches, Sicily
Favourite of the jetset, this resort has something for everyone with two sets of different beaches. If you want to feel the sand between your toes, the beaches of Mazzarò are not for you – but they are pretty as a postcard, offering a mountain backdrop and views of the tiny Isola Bella. Beyond this, are the smoother sands of the second set of beaches, where you can make sandcastles to your heart’s content.
8. Stara Baska beach, Krk Island, Croatia
9. Costa Smerelda, Sardinia
Playground of the rich and famous, the Costa Smerelda is also well-loved for its stunning stretches of beach and isolated little coves.
10. Blue Lagoon, Comino, Malta
This is an absolute must if you’re in Malta. Hidden in a cove only accessible by boat, explore the turquoise waters of this taste of the Caribbean in the Mediterranean.
A Family Affair
11. Teresitas beach, Tenerife
Here you have a little piece of the African desert on the European coast. While the rest of the island has black, volcanic sand, here the white variety is imported from the Sahara.
12. Rena di Ponente, Capo Testa, Sardinia
Capo Testa is a narrow strip of land extending from the north of Sardinia, like a finger trying to tap Corsica on the shoulder! Waves crash against the rocks, and mum, dad and the kids can all dive off them into the turquoise waters below.
13. Marinha beach, the Algarve, Portugal
14. Torquay’s beaches, England
Otherwise known as the English Riviera, this stretch of coastline has every kind of beach or cove you can think of: wide, sandy or secluded. Known for their cleanliness, they’re ideal for kids. There are also a huge variety of activities from beach to beach – from water sports to fishing.
15. Hayle Towan Beach, North Cornish Coast, England
Known as the ‘three miles of golden sand’, it’s so vast that it’s hard for it to ever get crowded – even on the May bank holiday. At low-tide, all the Hayle beaches come together to create a wide expanse of sand popular for sand-yachting and kite buggying.
16. Biarritz, France
Although it has a glitzy image, thanks to the Palace Hotel and Casino, Biarritz is also a well known surfer destination.
17. Bolonia beach, Tarifa
Considered to be Europe’s surfing paradise, this Andalusian resort has 4km of fine white sand.
18. Sligo beach, Ireland
Yes, Ireland, really! Up in the far north, the waves are perfect for novices and experts alike.
19. St Peter-Ording, Germany
Stretching for 12km this North Sea beach has some impressive dunes. It’s probably best known though, as the place where competitive kite surfers come to battle it out. Part of Wattenmeer National Park, the shape of the landscape changes depending on the tide.
20. Mundaka beach, Basque Country, Spain
Home to the best waves in Europe, this is up in the north of Spain.
21. Patín, Ferrol, Spain
The definitive surfer’s destination – the world championships of the sport will be held here in September.
22. Montalivet beach, France
This is the grandmother of all nudists beaches, as well as the nudist movement. People started getting naked here back in the 1950s.
23. Plakias, Crète
One of Europe’s most famous nudist beaches, there’s more to Plakias than naked. Surrounded by mountains and hills, the scenery is something else to look at. And nude diving enthusiasts will be please to hear that there’s plenty of that activity too.
24. Sylt island, Germany
The largest German island in the North, the spectacular scenery and fine sand make a great setting for nudism.
25. Pissouri, Cyprus
Although nudism is technically illegal in Cyprus, there are plenty of beaches where people do it, like in the coves around the town of Pissouri.
Well that’s all we have for now. Which are your favourite beaches in Europe?