Destinations To Skip When Booking A European Beach Vacation, According To Research

When travelers dream of an iconic European beach vacation, they're often starry-eyed over thoughts of azure seas caressing golden shores, a cool drink in hand while they relax to the sounds of people nearby whispering in a foreign language. What they aren't expecting is garbage-strewn sand, a deep base thumping their lawn chair at all hours, or restaurants that are so expensive one meal can cost as much as two nights in a hotel. While Europe is known for its beautiful beaches (olá, Portugal's Algarve Coast, and ola, Costa del Sol), it is also home to a few strands you'd be better off skipping when booking a holiday.


Whether it's the overcrowded and party-centric beaches in Mykonos or the sewage-infested beaches in Devon, tourists should avoid visiting the coastal regions on this list. We read through travelers' reviews, consulted surveys about the best and worst European beaches, and looked at crime and safety statistics to determine which beach destinations are best to skip on your next vacation. Feel free to visit them if you wish, but know that there are many better beaches spread across the continent that are more than worthy of your time and money. 

Mykonos, Greece

A party-hard destination, Mykonos is a place for young people looking to get boozed up and sun-bronzed while dipping a toe into the azure Aegean Sea. Yes, its beaches are pretty if you can see the sand through the revelers, but they (and the town) are often overcrowded, overhyped, and noisy, especially during summer (aka high season). Mykonos is a hotspot for cruise ship passengers, adding to the deluge of tourists. Expect music pumping from dance clubs and beach parties until the wee hours of the morning (or even till dawn). If you're hoping for access to facilities like bars, restaurants, and watersports during your beach vacation, you'll find them all here, but they're most prominent on the south coast, which is also the busiest area. 


While you will find good restaurants in town, reviewers have slammed a beachfront restaurant called DK Oyster for its deceptive practices and insane overcharging – we're talking $898 for lunch for two. According to reviewers, the restaurant says using their beach chairs and umbrellas is free as long as you buy a drink, but neglects to tell tourists that those drinks are exorbitantly priced. Tripadvisor has put a warning on its site to conduct further research before visiting this restaurant. Speaking of overpriced, reviewers bemoan the high cost of vacationing in Mykonos. One Reddit user said, "You picked the wrong's 10 x any other island in price."

Mallorca, Spain

Mallorca's noise pollution was enough to earn two black flags from Ecologistas en Acción, and much of this comes from boats anchored offshore in Colònia Sant Jordi. According to the organization's report, these boat parties often last until dawn. As if the cacophony of screaming, laughing, and loud music weren't enough to turn tourists away, these cruising revelries create other forms of pollution that can impact wildlife as well as nearby swimmers and beachgoers. Some boats have emptied their sewage into the water while others dump garbage overboard.


The other black flag was given because of the area's large number of noisy jet skis. In addition to creating an annoying racket that prevents tourists from enjoying a quiet day by the shore, these high-pitched machines are dangerous to both humans (if driven unsafely) and marine creatures. If visiting during summer, expect to bump into a slew of beachgoing tourists. Also, this is when rates for things like hotels become a third pricier than they were in the shoulder season. 

Marseille, France

In 2023, 49 people were murdered in drug-related incidents in Marseille, as reported by Euronews. This Southern French city has suffered from a lengthy and serious issue with drug trafficking spanning decades. Recently, violence between rival gangs has ramped up, with more murders in 2023 than in previous years, and many of those involved are just teenagers. In other words, Marseille is not the safest place to visit in France or any other European country, for that matter. It's been deemed one of the "most dangerous" cities on the continent. 


Yes, this French city boasts pretty beaches, some of which are entwined with the French Riviera, but the region has many problems, which is not something you should look for when planning a beach holiday. While you'll hopefully never witness a gang-related incident, pickpocketers are also an annoyance you'll likely encounter on a visit to Marseille, especially in busy places like the city center. TravelSafe explains that they often work in groups, with one person sent to distract tourists while the other nabs their bag or wallet. Scammers are also ready to steal your information from ATMs positioned in crowded locales.

Catania, Italy

While most picture Italy as a scenic respite filled with captivating architecture, sprawling vineyards, glistening lakes, and the most delectable food and wine, a few places are best avoided when booking a beach vacation. Catania is one of them. Set on the east coast of the Italian island of Sicily, this historic city ranks high on the crime index. According to Italian Statistics keeper I.Stat, there were 3,785 crimes reported for every 100,000 residents in 2022. Add that to a prevalence of Sicilian mafia gangs, carjackings, and muggings, and you're better off visiting another beautiful and safe Italian beach town like Orbetello in Tuscany. 


Drugs are another significant problem in Catania, which has been dubbed "Black City" due to its soot-covered buildings(it lies close to the active volcano, Mount Etna). The city boasts numerous public beaches, which a reviewer on Tripadvisor claimed are "filthy, with litter, rubber [tyres], and even an old fridge dumped on them." The best way to visit the beach is by paying to use a private lido (aka beach club), which tends to be cleaner but pricey.

Nerja, Spain

Nerja lies 35 miles east of Malaga, on Spain's southern coast. Part of the Costa del Sol, this Spanish spot is home to 12 beaches that span close to 10 miles of shoreline. Sounds divine, right? It is if you can overlook the pollution. In 2022, Nerja was presented with a black flag by the Ecologistas en Acción for pollution and poor management. While it boasts many gorgeous sandy spots, this coastal region is often crammed with tourists, resulting in a form of pollution that hasn't been measured by this group before now – sunscreen. 


According to the ecologists who created the rankings, the chemicals contained in sunscreen (endocrine disruptors) can have negative effects on both humans and the surrounding ecosystem. Combined with sheltered coves in Maro-Cerro Gordo Cliffs Natural Park, sunscreen pollution has become a big problem. The beaches here are partially enclosed, which means the water doesn't have enough opportunity to move around, leaving the chemicals to sit. Nerja's two flags join 46 others given to Spanish beaches in the same year. 

Bognor Regis, England

In 2019, the U.K.'s Bognor Regis gained a title no village wants – "worst seaside town in Britain." It shared this unfortunate nickname with Clacton-on-Sea. According to a 2023 survey conducted by Which?, Bognor Regis has improved slightly since then. It is now the sixth worst seaside town, with Skegness in Lincolnshire taking the number one spot. 


According to the 2023 study of reviews from over 3,000 beach-goers, Bognor Regis rates only one star (out of five) for its seafront and pier and two stars for its tourist attractions, scenery, shopping, and "peace and quiet." Think you'll get a good deal by visiting this poorly rated strand? You likely won't. The town received only two stars for value, with an average hotel room costing about $136 per night. The good news? Bognor Regis's beaches scored three stars out of five in the survey. That said, you might not want to sprawl out on Aldwick's shingled base. This town beach houses eight areas where sewers can overflow into the water, deemed "poor" quality in 2022.

Sunny Beach, Bulgaria

According to travelers who've visited its sandy shore, Bulgaria's Sunny Beach doesn't earn its perky moniker. One Tripadvisor reviewer claimed this was "the worst place [I] have ever been on holidays." Another titled their critique, "Don't go there." Their reasons had much to do with feeling unsafe due to muggings. The U.K. government warns its citizens about pickpockets and thieves who target tourists in this area. Poor attractions, inflated prices for food and beverages, and a garbage-strewn beach are other reasons to skip this less-than-stellar beach town.


Speaking of the gross beach, travelers claim the sand is so packed with chairs that there's little space for a towel. They also mentioned that the water was green with algae. Party Hard Travel claims Sunny Beach is the "number 1 destination for clubbers from the U.K." That pretty much tells you all you need to know about the party scene — it's loud and vast, with enough bars and clubs to keep boozed-up revelers dancing for hours. If you're looking for a quiet vacay, head elsewhere.

Cilicia, Turkey

If you don't enjoy stepping on something questionable in your bare feet, you'll want to avoid visiting Cilicia in Turkey. Located on the southeast coast of the country, Cilicia was deemed to have the "highest coastline pollution in the Mediterranean" by the World Wildlife Fund. In a study conducted in 2016, the area was found to leak a whopping 69 pounds of plastic per 0.6 miles into its natural surroundings. While a potential hazard for humans, this is a serious problem for marine creatures and other wildlife.


Bordered by the Taurus Mountains and the Mediterranean Sea, this seems like an ideal spot to enjoy a relaxing beach vacation, with plenty of sand stretching along its 430-mile-long coast. And it could be if you can ignore the pieces of plastic and other garbage that have made their way to the sand and water. The area is spotted with relics and ruins from its storied past, the area's history dating to the 16th century BC. 

Devon, England

If it's a sun-soaked strand you're looking for, you should probably avoid most U.K. beaches. All of 2023 only saw about 1,435 hours of sunshine, per Statistica, which means you're more likely to experience a shower or an all-out downpour while lounging on an English beach. No wonder so many Brits head to sunnier destinations like Spain and Greece for their holidays. If you add pollution into the mix, you'll want to nix Devon's beaches from your must-visit list. 


Data collected by East Devon Watch revealed that four of the five worst English beaches for pollution are found on this region's southwestern shore. A popular holiday destination for Brits who don't want to travel overseas, there are several beaches you'll want to skip. Instow (which lies in the north) is unswimmable due to water quality that is so low it's not expected to improve anytime soon. You won't want to wade in the water at Wildersmouth Beach, either. It received 42 pollution-based warnings in 2017. As reported in East Devon Watch, Meadfood Beach suffered 79 sewage spills in 2022, Blackpool Sands Beach saw 63 spills, and Sidmouth Town Beach had 59 sewage spills within its borders. Yuck!


Vama Veche, Romania

If you're hoping to party hard, run naked on the beach, and elbow your way through crowds at a live concert, Vama Veche is the beach town for you. If you're dreaming of a clean and quiet beach experience that is more "ahh" than "AAHHH!," stay far, far away. Located on the Black Sea in southeastern Romania, the beach is critiqued by visitors as dirty, loud, rocky, and busy. Summer makes things even worse by adding outdoor festivals and concerts to the area. 


These thumping affairs often last until super early the next morning. As if that wasn't enough to plunk this place at the top of your do-not-visit list, this speck of a village on the sea has been critiqued for being overpriced and dirty. According to one Reddit user, "it's more of a hippie location. You go there to party and that's it. Nothing to visit really." Time to move on.

Portimão, Portugal

There's a lot to love about the Algarve region in Portugal. A southern beauty lined by beaches protected by towering cliffs, this is one of the country's most captivating and popular places to enjoy a holiday. Well, most of it is. Portimão, the Algarve's largest western city, is one spot to skip when booking a European beach vacation. A former industrial center that was once a historic shipbuilding hub, this city has been described as "shabby." A survey conducted by Which? gave the area two stars for attractiveness and three stars for "tranquility."


Portimão's main beaches lie close by (about a seven-minute drive). Praia da Rocha and Praia do Tres Castelos feature golden sand and striking cliff backdrops. The latter beach boasts secret caves, while Praia da Rocha has an array of watersports. Sounds nice, right? Not really, say multiple reviewers on Tripadvisor. When writing comments about visiting Praia da Rocha, many noted that they were hassled by drug dealers. One reviewer wrote, "Very uncomfortable and disturbing. Brings the area down massively."

Playa del Médano, Spain

If walking barefoot through human excrement doesn't top your list of things to do on a Spanish beach, steer clear of Playa del Médano. Also known as El Médano, this Canary Island strand received a black flag from the Ecologistas en Acción in 2023 due to pollution and poor management. According to their findings, town sewers overflow when it rains (even just a small amount of precipitation is enough), spilling their filthy contents onto the beaches and streets. That means if you walk through the area at this time, your feet aren't getting wet from mere rain. As one of the most popular beaches in Tenerife, this is a major problem. 


The ecologists claim this consistent overflow of wastewater can lead to serious health issues not only for humans but also for the ecosystem. According to the report, a 3-year-old child developed a bacterial infection after swimming in the water at this beach in 2020. As a result, the child suffered brain damage and loss of movement in his right hand. Other El Médano beachgoers have reported E. coli infections that have caused perforated eardrums, skin rashes, gastroenteritis, and conjunctivitis. Don't go!

Benalmádena, Spain

While located on the coveted Costa del Sol in southern Spain, Benalmádena is one of its least beautiful places for those searching for a peaceful, relaxing beach vacation. According to a survey conducted by Which?, the beach in this seaside town earned a mere two stars for its attractiveness. To give you an idea of what this means, one Tripadvisor reviewer mentioned the "awful coarse sand" and said that "anything natural has been concreted over." Others bemoaned the prevalence of pickpockets in busy places. Tourists should be wary when they're near a bustling bus stop or market, for instance.


While deemed a fun place to visit for families due to the area's many tourist attractions like Sea Life Benalmádena, Selwo Marina Delfinarium, and an amusement park, this Spanish town also has a nudist beach, aptly named Benalnátura, where tourists can shed well, everything. Speaking of town, this is where you'll find the 24-hour main square, known as a "party plaza." It has many bars and clubs that are open until the wee hours. 

Amalfi Coast, Italy

Putting the Amalfi Coast on this list might seem crazy. This is where you'll find those famous postcard views of colorful homes climbing the sides of mountains and sea the turquoise of your most vivid dreams. Once you factor in the negatives, you'll understand why this beautiful place isn't an ideal destination for a European beach vacation.


Winding your way to the Amalfi Coast is a beautiful, stressful, and sometimes terrifying experience, especially if you've never driven on these narrow, cliff-top roads before. Getting to this dramatic spot is, well, dramatic. "It is an intense drive demanding driver pay very close attention and be ready to respond quickly to when buses need to back up and maneuver to allow cars to pass, etc — it is a narrow two lane road and clogged up with giant buses and hordes of cars," one Tripadvisor user noted.

This is one of the most captivating parts of the country, so the drive is worth it, but that doesn't make it any less frightening. The Amalfi Coast is also where you'll find some pretty expensive hotels and restaurants, especially if you visit during high season. Plus, if you plan to travel here during summer, you'll come across hordes of people rushing to the same small beaches that aren't the most comfortable to begin with — they're made up of more big pebbles than soft sand.


Our methodology

No one wants to travel to Europe to be stuck on a dirty, unsafe, or overcrowded beach. That's why we dedicated so much time and effort to finding the worst places to visit when you're on a beach vacation in Europe. Since we haven't been to all these beach locales ourselves (which seems like a blessing considering our findings), we spent hours reading through travelers' reviews before turning to the experts to examine the results of environmental reports and surveys conducted on European beach destinations. 


While researching, we also considered the area's accommodation ratings, nearby tourist attractions, and the accessibility of restaurants. Then, we dug through official crime and safety statistics. If a destination was deemed dangerous, it made our list. If the beach was leached into by excrement, it ended up here. So did destinations that were polluted (by noise or garbage), crowded, and overpriced.