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Beach Island Outdoors

The 9 Most Beautiful Beaches in Europe

Europe has more than 100,000 miles of coastline, and much of it is truly stunning. So narrowing down that part of Planet Earth to a list of the nine most beautiful beaches in Europe is no simple task. Beaches are Europe’s most popular travel destinations, and nearly half of the continent’s population lives within 30 miles of the sea. If you’re traveling across the pond for some sun and sand, here’s a list of the best beaches in Europe to consider.

Editor’s note: Due to COVID-19 concerns, the U.S. State Department is encouraging potential visitors to reconsider all travel. Read more here for updates on the situation and information on when it might be safe to travel again to destinations like the ones below.

Costa Rei, Italy

cala sinzias beach sardinia costa rei italy.

Italy’s island of Sardinia boasts some of the most stunning beach destinations in Europe, not to mention the Mediterranean’s best scuba diving, thanks to its multitude of fascinating shipwrecks and protected marine parks. Claudia Tavani, a travel blogger at My Adventures Across The World, grew up on the island. She recommends Costa Rei near Muravera, about an hour’s drive east of the Sardinian capital of Cagliari. Though it doesn’t always appear on lists that round up the best beaches in Europe, Costa Rei is a local favorite for good reason—lucid waters, fine sand, bountiful sunshine, excellent resorts, and easy access to watersports like kayaking and windsurfing. 

Another gorgeous beach in Sardinia is Cala Goloritze, further north on the Tyrrhenian coast, while other beautiful beaches in Italy include San Fruttuoso in Liguria (check out the nearby 10th-century San Fruttuoso Benedictine abbey), volcanic Regina Isabella in Ischia (for hot springs, gardens, and castles), romantic Maiori Beach on the Amalfi Coast, nature-rich Cala Mariolu in Baunei, and almost anyplace on the shorelines of Capri. 

Where to stay: La Villa del Re is an elegant, adults-only boutique hotel that provides magnificent ocean views, gardens bursting with Mediterranean flora, traditional Sardinian architecture, an infinity pool, and luxury loungers on which to enjoy a pristine private beach.

Balos Lagoon, Greece

balos lagoon panorama greece.

Balos Lagoon in Kissamos, on the island of Crete, is a secluded, wildlife-filled paradise that’s not exactly a breeze to get to (you’ll need to take a boat or drive and then hike)—but so worth it. Satwinder Singh, the CEO of Citrus Holidays, describes it thus: “Balos is home to turquoise waters and exotic white sand, which in some places turns a light-pinkish hue. The lagoon boasts wild natural beauty, mountainous scenery, and pools of azure water that are shallow and warm, ideal for swimming and snorkeling.”

In addition to its vivid colors and unrivaled scenery, Balos is also a protected shelter for monk seals and loggerhead sea turtles; show up early in the morning if you want to glimpse them. The surrounding area is full of delicious food and inviting beach resorts.

Runners-up for Greece’s most beautiful beach include Elafonissi Beach in Elafonissi and Kleftiko Beach in Milos—both of which earned their rightful spot on Tripadvisor’s Travelers’ Choice list of the world’s top 25 beaches (Tripadvisor is SmarterTravel’s parent company). Also worth considering are azure Navagio Beach in Zakynthos; stunning Kolymbithres Beach on the island of Paros; Crete’s uncrowded Potamos Beach and its nearby ancient palaces; and the Halkidiki beaches, including Lagomandra, lining the North Aegean Sea.

Where to stay: Galini Beach Hotel is an affordable, family-friendly property just steps from the waves in nearby Kissamos. Its many amenities include excellent breakfasts, a sun terrace, and beach chairs for guest use. Plus, it’s close not only to Balos Lagoon, but also to Elafonissi Beach and the ancient ruins of Polyrinia.

Porto Santo Beach, Portugal

praia do guincho portugal.

In a nation packed with many of the most beautiful beaches in Europe, those on Porto Santo manage to stand out. The tiny Portuguese island in the Atlantic, west of Morocco and northeast of its larger sister island Madeira, has a main shore that’s six miles long, laid out with soft golden sand—many believe that it has healing properties—and transparent water.

There are no high-rises here, and not much of a crowd, but there is plenty of opportunity for snorkeling, diving, dolphin spotting, or just relaxing. Bits of china wash up on shore from long-ago shipwrecks, and the dry climate, warm water, lack of undertow, and near-constant sun all add to the appeal. The scenery includes dunes, beach grass, and cactus flowers.

Christopher Columbus lived on Porto Santo for a time, so a nearby museum is dedicated to the explorer. The island also has golf courses, tennis courts, hiking trails, new hotels, and a historic downtown whose central square dates back to the 16th century.

Portugal’s mainland is also home to some of the best beaches in Europe. Among them: promenade-lined Praia do Molhe in Porto; dramatic Praia do Guincho in Cascais; Praia Foz do Lizandro in Ericeira (a World Surfing Reserve); and peaceful Praia da Ursa near Lisbon on the Sintra coast (worth a visit for the gigantic rock formations alone). And don’t miss thesouth’s iconic Algarve beaches including Praia dos Tres Irmaos, Praia do Martinhal, and family-friendly Praia do Canavial, which is surrounded by sheer cliffs.

Where to stay: Pestana Porto Santo, an all-inclusive beachfront resort, affords sweeping views of Porto Santo’s ocean scenery. Amenities include a full-service spa, two expansive outdoor swimming pools, a palm tree garden, six eateries, a kids’ club, and more. It’s also just a 10-minute stroll to the charming town of Vila Baleira.

La Concha, Spain

beach nerja andalusia spain.

If it’s tough to narrow down the most beautiful beaches in Europe, then it’s even tougher to narrow them down in Spain. That’s because it’s home to spectacular places like Malaga’s Nerja, Ibiza’s Formentera, Menorca’s Cala Macarella, Catalonia’s Sitges, Cadiz’s La Caleta, and dozens of other memorable places where land touches sea.

But San Sebastian’s La Concha in Donostia tops many lists of the best beaches in Europe for good reason: It’s got clean water, soft sand, warm weather, a great boardwalk (with people-watching to match), as well as some of the world’s best swimming, strolling, and sunbathing opportunities. This is northern Spain, so there’s also distinctive food and a panoply of rich cultural offerings in the surrounding city of San Sebastian.

Where to stay: Book a sea-view room at the beachfront Lasala Plaza Hotel, where there’s a rooftop pool, heated bathroom floors, excellent service, and a Michelin-starred restaurant.

Sandwood Bay, United Kingdom

durness beach sutherland scotland.

In Northwest Scotland’s Sutherland, Sandwood Bay is a magnificent expanse of sand and water in the highlands. “Sandwood Bay has escaped the attention of the crowds on the NC500 tourist route because reaching it involves a two-hour hike from the nearest road,” says Mike Peddie, who owns a tour company called Secret Scotland. “Don’t let the hike put you off this gem of unspoilt wilderness, however, as the path to the beach is well-made, the gradients are gentle, and the effort of getting here ensures that only true nature lovers and adventurers make the trip.”

Not many people visit, so the beach is clean and clear, save for the occasional whale bone and, some say, a ghost that’s dressed as a sailor. Presiding over Sandwood Bay’s mile-long stretch of sand is 213-foot-high vertical rock formation called Am Buachaille, which translates from Gaelic as “the herdsman.”

Elsewhere in the U.K., three-mile Woolacombe Beach in North Devon is worth a visit for its cleanliness, family- and dog-friendliness, rock pools, bodyboarding, and great surf.

Where to stay: The Old School in nearby Kinlochbervie is a casual, welcoming B&B situated in—you guessed it—a historic schoolhouse. The food and well-stocked bar are locally loved, the rooms are basic but comfortable, and the food is fantastic.

Reynisfjara, Iceland

black beach reynisdranger vik iceland.

In south Iceland, about 115 miles from Reykjavík, is a locally famous volcanic black sand beach called Reynisfjara. Its scenery—otherworldly, wild, and powerful—is said to have inspired the memorable beach scene in Frozen II, and is made all the more dramatic because of its cubic basalt walls, columns, and sea stacks. There’s a cavern to explore, dangerous waves, and sweeping Atlantic beauty so epic that it’s been chosen as a filming location for Game of Thrones and Star Wars.

There are other Nordic seascapes that qualify as some of the most beautiful beaches in Europe, including the limestone beaches of Sweden’s Faro Island; Denmark’s Grenen Beach, where you can walk out into the water to stand in two seas simultaneously; and family-friendly Amager Beach, also in Denmark, with its wide view of the Oresund Bridge.

Where to stay: Hotel Kria in Vik offers modern decor, impressive mountain views, and an Icelandic breakfast included in the overnight rate.

Santa Giulia Beach, France

palombaggia beac france.

Most roundups of the best beaches in Europe include Palombaggia, on France’s island of Corsica. And yes, Palombaggia is gorgeous—but everyone knows that, which means that it’s overcrowded. For a lesser-known alternative in southern Corsica, head to Santa Giulia Beach.

“Nested in a mature pine forest and surrounded by wild mountains, this incredible shallow, turquoise lagoon could be mistaken for a Caribbean destination,” says Julien Mordret, a French travel blogger who runs ExplorationJunkie.com. “Located near the city of Porto-Vecchio, this sunny stretch of fine white sand has all the facilities you need—a restaurant, restrooms, large parking areas—to make your visit totally hassle-free.”

Headed to the French Riviera instead? Try the white-sand shores of Bouillabaisse; Cheval Blanc St. Tropez’s private beach has 60 loungers on the soft sand, a Guerlain Spa, an infinity pool, staffers who come onto the beach to massage sunscreen onto guests’ faces, and watersports including paddleboarding and kayaking. History buffs, meantime, might head to Omaha Beach in Normandy.

Where to stay: Hotel Alivi di Santa Giulia, surrounded by greenery and overlooking the bay, is a five- to 10-minute walk from Santa Giulia Beach.

Zlatni Rat, Croatia

Zlatni Rat, on Croatia’s southern coast, is famous for having shiny pebbles in place of sand, and a slice of land that extends out into the shallow water so that if you stand at the end of it, you’re surrounded by sea. Encircled by mountains and affected by dramatic tides, it’s easily one of the most beautiful beaches in Europe, with a golden shoreline, smooth and clean.

It draws lots of tourists, so there are plenty of services to accommodate the beach-loving masses: restaurants, hotels, a snack bar, speedboats, and even a nudist section. Zlatni Rat is also great for windsurfing, sunbathing, and swimming.

Croatia has some of the most enviable beach destinations in Europe—the Dalmation Coast is dotted with more than 1,000 islands, after all, and Croatians enjoy 2,715 hours of sunshine a year—so we’d be remiss not to mention the country’s other seaside wonders: Nugal Beach in Makarska, Pasjaca Beach in Popovici, and the rocky coves on the remote island of Vis in the Adriatic Sea.

Where to stay: Hotel Bol is a modern new boutique hotel with excellent breakfasts, great service, and shuttle service to and from Zlatni Rat.

Ada Bojana, Montenegro

Ada Bojana in Montenegro is set on a beautiful segment of the Mediterranean Sea on a pearly white beach. “One of Europe’s hidden gems, it’s secluded and far from the city crowds right next to the River Bojana,” says Torben Lonne, the editor of DiveIn.com, an online magazine about scuba-related travel. “Unlike other beaches in Montenegro, the one in Ada is completely covered in sand which makes it attractive for campers as well.”

Ada Bojana’s water is a transparent blue, its sunsets supremely romantic, its location on the Montenegrin coast right below the rocky mountains that help form the contour of this land, and the local prices quite affordable.

Where to stay: Ada Bojana Cottage & Spa is an attractive family-friendly chalet right in front of the Bojana River—you can dive off the porch or use the ladder to drop down for a swim. Comfortable and secluded, it’s also fully equipped and luxurious.

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By Avital Andrews

Avital Andrews, SmarterTravel's editor-at-large, is a travel and lifestyle journalist who is also a contributing editor for AAA's Via magazine. Her stories have been among the 10 most emailed or viewed on the Los Angeles Times, Outside, Sierra, and SmarterTravel websites, and have also appeared in USA Today, HuffPost, Apple News, Business Insider, and many other nationwide outlets. Her travel book, sold at bookstores and on Amazon, is in its fourth edition, and her journalism gets national media attention, including from The New York Times, The Atlantic, Time, NPR, and MTV. She's currently working on her first children's book. Follow her on Twitter @avitalb.

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Ultimate Bucket List Experience: A round-the-world cruise that makes stops to experience Aurora Borealis, the Olympics opening ceremony, Borneo, Madagascar, the Jerusalem Festival of Light, the Bolivian salt flats, Kenya's Giraffe Manor, the Galapagos, the Maldives, Bora Bora, the Seychelles, and every Disney park. (That itinerary definitely exists, right?)

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