For a relatively small continent, Europe has some extraordinary coastlines. Their variety is dizzying, from sheltered rocky coves fringed with olive trees to vast stretches of soft sandy beaches. Whittling down the list of possible beach holidays in Europe can be tough, so here are a few places that will get you in the mood for lazy days in the sun.
The information in this article is inspired by The Rough Guides guidebooks — your essential guides for visiting the world.
Sandy beaches are a rarity in Croatia, but on this small island in the Kvarner Gulf, you’ve got 22 to choose from. Rab’s aptly named Paradise Beach on the Lopar peninsula is a good place to start for relaxing beach holidays in Europe. It's got a 1.5km sweep of sand and clear shallow waters. Or take a half-hour hike through woods to reach Sahara Beach in a sheltered inlet – a popular spot for naturists.
If you want to experience the Dalmatian coast from a whole different perspective, then this tailor-made Sailing Croatia trip is for you! Hop aboard a beautiful cruiser and sail along some of Croatia's most stunning islands.
It’s hard to find beach holidays in Europe with a more dramatic backdrop than Tropea’s steep cliffs, where brightly coloured houses cling on, seemingly in defiance of gravity. Down in Italy’s toe, Calabria’s prettiest town hovers over several sandy beaches as well as a rocky promontory topped by the church of Santa Maria dell’Isola.
Calabria is one of Italy’s least developed regions, and its warmth comes not just from the southern sun and the famously spicy cuisine, but from the people too.
Experience the picturesque lakes of Northern Italy, including Lake Garda, Como, Lugano and Maggiore; explore the charming Borromean Islands – former favourites of Ernest Hemingway – and stroll the romantic streets of Verona and Milan. All of this, and much more, with this self-drive tailor-made trip!
Just north of Bulgaria’s border with Turkey are some of the country’s least developed beaches. Start in the small village of Sinemorets and work your way down the indented coast, where quiet golden-sand beaches are surrounded by protected nature reserves and pine forests. Bring your own picnic to the secluded sands of Lipite Beach and Silistar Beach, as you won’t find the bars and clubs that dominate the resorts further north.
Everyone’s on a bike on this chilled-out French Atlantic island, where 100km of cycle trails wind past sandy beaches, vineyards, salt pans and pine forests. Head inland where oyster beds hint at the gorgeous seafood on offer at the food market in the village of La Flotte. After a day on the dunes at Sainte-Marie-de-Ré’s beach, try one of the quayside cafés in St-Martin-de-Ré.
Southern France is a paradise for foodies, history lovers, sun admirers and many more. It combines endless beaches with easy access to hot spots like Antibes, Monaco and Cannes. On this Essential French Riviera tailor-made trip, you will explore the coast with a private, bilingual guide to make the most of your time in France.
Unusually verdant and still largely unspoilt, Paxí (Paxos) has established a firm niche in Greece’s tourist hierarchy, despite being the smallest of the main Ionian islands at barely 12km by 4km, with only mediocre beaches and no historical sites. Yet it has become one of the most popular beach holidays in Europe as it is best avoided in the high season.
It’s a particular favourite of yachting flotillas, whose spending habits have brought the island an upmarket reputation and made it just about the most expensive place to visit in the Ionian islands. The capital, Gáïos, is quite cosmopolitan, with delis and boutiques, but northerly Lákka and tiny Longós are where hard-core Paxophiles head, while by far the best swimming is at Paxí’s little sister island, Andípaxi.
Hop between the islands of Milos, Naxos, and Amorgos on this romantic Greek Island-Hopping Honeymoon tailor-made trip. Drive around stunning coastlines, explore mountain villages, visit ancient sites, and luxuriate on golden beaches as you are transfixed by the allure of the Aegean’s turquoise waters.
Norfolk’s North Sea coast might not have the balmy climate of its Continental counterparts, but the 6km of Holkham Beach’s soft and often empty sands are very tempting all the same. Rent a bike and check out the Norfolk Coast Cycleway along the coast to Wells-next-the-Sea, where rustic beach huts give the area an old-fashioned charm.
With many of the country’s safest and loveliest beaches and a year-round balmy climate, it is not surprising that the Algarve is one of the most popular regions for beach holidays in Europe. Inevitably, this also means that stretches of the coast – in particular from Faro west to Albufeira – are heavily developed, though even here the beaches are first-rate, as are the facilities.
Elsewhere in the Algarve, especially around Sagres and Tavira, the surroundings are more attractive, with laidback resorts and low-key development.
Experience and discover the real Algarve – taste local produce, drinks and traditional dishes, visit heritage sites and participate in culinary activities. If you are passionate about people’s culture and gastronomy and want to learn more, this tailor-made Real Algarvian Experience is for you.
Although the Canary island’s unique attraction is its golden sandy beaches, it also has natural volcanic rock pools and hidden coves, only accessible by boat or on foot. It may be a cliché, but it is nonetheless true, that there is something for everyone. The diversity of landscapes on the islands is quite amazing.
Snow-capped mountains, beautiful, verdant valleys, deserts, towering cliffs and wonderful beaches of golden or black sand can all be found in the Canaries and some islands have intriguing combinations of these characteristics. Remember, the Canaries are volcanic, and volcanic islands are never dull.
The windswept coast of France’s Languedoc region seems to go on forever as it stretches from the Camargue to the Spanish coast (when it technically becomes Roussillon). Even in the height of summer, there are plenty of sandy beaches to go around.
On the western fringe of the Camargue is Plage de l’Espiguette, nearly 10km of untamed dunes and, refreshingly, not much else. If it’s beach bars you’re after, head to nearby Le Grau du Roi or La Grande Motte.
The Costa da Morte in Spain’s northwestern tip might be known as the Coast of Death – thanks to a few too many nineteenth-century shipwrecks – but its beaches are heavenly. Carnota is the longest beach in Galicia, a wild 7km stretch of white sand backed by marshland, dunes and mountains. Stroll along the wooden walkways that cross the marshes and catch glimpses of herons and other wildlife.
Find more accommodation options to stay in Galicia, if you are planning to travel further in Spain, also read our guide to the best hotels in Spain: pick of the Paradores.
Ayia Napa is not to everybody’s taste. If you want peace and quiet, to commune with nature, or to get to grips with traditional Cypriot life, go somewhere else. But if you’re young – or feel young - and want the company of people of your own age and lots of stuff to do, this is one of the best beach holidays in Europe.
Though much of the resort’s appeal is down to its nightlife, there’s now a lot more to it than that. Its remarkably compact centre sits behind a surprisingly charming small harbour (Limanaki) with some fine stretches of sand, notably Nissi beach, running west from here.
Stretching from Blanes, 60km north of Barcelona, to the French border, the Costa Brava (Rugged Coast) is often maligned for its droves of visitors – and attendant mass-tourism infrastructure. But beyond the crowds, the Costa Brava still reveals the “rugged” in its name: wooded coves, high cliffs, gorgeous beaches and deep-blue water.
Though it continues to struggle under its image as the first developed package-tour coast in Spain, the Costa Brava is very determinedly moving on to new horizons. Today, in most of the Costa Brava, there is a greater focus on the area’s natural beauty and fascinating cultural heritage.
Southern Spain has been a busy tourist destination for many years. This self-drive tailor-made trip avoids the touristy area along the southern Spanish coast, instead opting to take in the culture of the north and its natural beauty and the rugged beaches and coast.
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