Narrowing down the best beaches in Europe is quite the task, which we’re sure you’ll agree. On one hand, you’ve got the long, golden beaches of Northern Europe, exposed to the mighty Atlantic Ocean, making them great for water sports. Then there are the beautiful beaches of the Mediterranean, with their often calmer waters and sheltered bays.

    Some provide non-stop action and entertainment, while others boast Blue Flag status and a safe, family-friendly environment. Pebbly, sandy, bustling or remote, we’ve given ourselves some serious wanderlust by pulling together this list of Europe’s spectacular beach offering.


    Blue Lagoon – Ölü Deniz, Turkey

    The most photographed beach in Turkey

    A teardrop-shaped beach in a sparkling turquoise lagoon, set to the backdrop of lush, green mountains – it’s easy to see why Ölü Deniz’s Blue Lagoon is the most photographed beach in Turkey. Smooth white pebbles gently shelve into calm waters, where no boats are allowed, but you’ll find plenty of water sports to try. You can watch all the paragliders leaping off Babadag Mountain above you, too.

    It’s easy to walk from the resort centre along to the lagoon, where the sand bar separates it from the main beach. You need to pay to get on to this part of the beach. Its location means there’s a great selection of restaurants and bars nearby, plus toilets, showers and a snack kiosk on the beach itself.


    Nissi Beach – Ayia Napa, Cyprus

    A Blue Flag-awarded party paradise

    Located just a short distance from Cyprus’ party capital, Ayia Napa, Nissi Beach is equal parts vibrant and beautiful. Named after the tiny islet that you can see from the shore, the beach’s 500 metres of soft, white sand is often dotted with partygoers either recuperating from the night before or gearing up for the night ahead. The shallow waters make it a popular hotspot for families, too.

    There are toilets and changing rooms on the beach, as well as restaurants close by and bars hosting regular beach parties and DJ sets. It’s just a short drive or bus ride from the centre of Ayia Napa, or you can reach it by foot at the far west of the strip.


    Zlatni Rat – Brač, Croatia

    A beach that moves with the tides

    Easily one of the most beautiful beaches in Croatia, Zlatni Rat is a unique beach on the island of Brač. What makes it so distinctive is its fine pebble landform, which stretches out to sea. The shape of the beach changes depending on the waves, currents and winds, with the tip of the spit curving either to the east or west.

    The beach is a 20-minute walk along the picturesque promenade from Bol. In the summer, regular tourist trains or water taxis run from the harbour, too. There’s a toilet which you must pay to use, plus beds and umbrellas to rent and a couple of snack kiosks. Bear in mind that the western side of the beach is an approved nudist area.


    photo by Nikolaj Potanin (CC BY-SA 2.0) modified


    Praia de Benagil – Portugal

    Home of the Algar de Benagril cave

    One of the top beaches in the Algarve, it’s not just the pristine golden sand and staggering backdrop of rugged limestone cliffs that make Praia de Benagil so great. The biggest draw is the magnificent cave, Algar de Benagril, with its unique circular opening on its roof, allowing the piercing sunlight to flood in.

    Located in the small fishing village of Benagil, 6.5 km from Lagoa, it’s best to drive to the beach and park at the free car park at the top of the cliffs. There are limited facilities nearby, but there is a snack bar on the beach and restaurants nearby. It’s advised to join a boat trip around to the cave or hire a kayak or SUP.


    Fistral Beach – Cornwall, UK

    One of the world’s best surfing beaches

    One of the top surfing destinations in the world is Fistral Beach, on the UK’s north Cornish coast. Located in Newquay, it takes just a short walk from the town centre to reach this long, sandy beach. It’s hugely popular, especially with surf enthusiasts, with multiple big surf competitions taking place here each year.

    There are no loungers to hire, but there are toilets, showers, shops and restaurants right on the beachfront and lifeguards on duty throughout the summer. It’s also overlooked by the striking Headland Hotel, made famous in the film adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The Witches.


    photo by Thomas Tolkien (CC BY 2.0) modified


    Elafonissi Beach – Crete, Greece

    Crete’s remote pink-sand beach

    A tiny islet off the southwest coast of Crete, Elafonissi is a protected nature reserve, famous for its pink sand. It’s attached to the mainland by a narrow sandbank, meaning you can walk or wade across at low tide. Its remote location left it relatively undiscovered for years until it was voted one of the top beaches in the world.

    The beach on the mainland gets crowded with tourists and loungers in the summer, but there are no loungers permitted on the islet and plenty of hidden spots to relax. You can only reach the beach by car or coach, as it’s a 90-minute drive from Chania. There are toilets and a couple of snack bars close by.


    Playa de Ses Illetes – Formentera, Spain

    An island paradise off Ibiza’s coast

    Hop on a boat over to Formentera and bask in the warm Mediterranean sun on Playa de Ses Illetes. A stunning white-sand beach, often likened to the Caribbean, it’s surrounded by sand dunes and transparent water shimmering shades of electric blue. This narrow strip of sand is an idyllic spot to watch the sunset, but it can get busy in the summer months.

    There are 2 watersports providers on the beach, plus loungers and umbrellas to hire and toilets and restaurants nearby. Getting to Formentera from Ibiza is simple – just catch one of the 35-minute ferries that depart from Ibiza Town every day.


    photo by Roberto Faccenda (CC BY-SA 2.0) modified


    The Big Beach – Biarritz, France

    A huge, sandy beach in the heart of the city

    As the name suggests, the Big Beach in Biarritz is one of the largest in the area, with shops, restaurants and bars all close by. It’s often ranked as being one of the most popular beaches in Europe, with sun worshippers loving the soft golden sand and the iconic stripy beach tents.

    There’s a kids’ club on the beach, but the sometimes-large Atlantic waves make the sea more appealing to water sports enthusiasts. It’s a popular surfing hotspot, with a surf school on site. The beach is easily accessible on foot from the city centre or there are plenty of car parks nearby.


    The Blue Lagoon – Comino, Malta

    One of Malta’s must-see attractions

    The Blue Lagoon is a beautiful bay situated on the tiny island of Comino, between Malta and Gozo. It’s less about the beach itself, here, and more about the breathtaking azure waters that people come from far and wide to bathe in. Like a giant swimming pool, the sea here is calm, warm and shallow, making it a great spot to swim and snorkel.

    The beach itself is rocky, with small patches of sand where you can hire chairs and umbrellas to shelter from the sun. There are toilets and several food vendors serving snacks, too. Catch a ferry to Comino from Cirkewwa in Malta or Marfa in Gozo.


    photo by Frank Vincentz (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified


    Tropea – Calabria, Italy

    Overlooked by an ancient Roman town

    Tropea Beach is home to a fine pebble shoreline and the clearest blue waters, but it’s not just the views out to the Tyrrhenian that make it so magnificent. Look above and you’ll be blown away by the dramatic clifftops and spectacular views of the town’s charming ancient buildings watching over you. It’s no wonder Tropea Beach is considered one of the best beaches in Italy.

    There are bars and restaurants nearby, plus water sports facilities on the beach – snorkelling being particularly popular here. There’s free parking near the beach, which is also easily reached on foot from the town.

    Sadie Geoghegan-Dann | Contributing Writer

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