Europe is home to some of the world’s most-celebrated seas – the Mediterranean, the Adriatic, the Aegean – and its cultural mosaic makes it a top choice for beach-lovers looking to mix sun, fun, art, history and nightlife.
Windsurf in the morning, visit ancient ruins in the afternoon, and shop for the season’s hottest beachwear before enjoying sunset cocktails and partying until dawn. All this sound ideal? Read on for our list of the 9 best beach vacations in Europe.
Few places do charm and decadence better than Mykonos. This sunny Greek island’s calling cards are almost-anything-goes beaches (expect plenty of skin), Instagram-worthy Cycladic architecture (whitewashed buildings with brightly hued shutters and cascading flower boxes), 16th-century windmills (a must-see at sunset) and legendary discos and dance clubs in Mykonos Town.
As for the beaches, check out Ornos Bay for pretty views and excellent windsurfing, chic Psarou for celebrity spotting and Paradise and Super Paradise for hedonistic sun-worshipping and dancing until sunrise or one of the best beach vacations in Europe.
This beautiful Mediterranean oasis, the largest of the Balearic Islands located off the east coast of Spain, is a hot spot for northern Europeans who flock here in summer to enjoy long days of sunshine and fresh air. Once you get beyond the urban sprawl of the capital, Palma, mountainous, bay-fringed Mallorca delivers some of the region’s most amazing azure water and soft-sand beaches (there are more than 250) for one of the best European beach vacations.
The view from the water is pretty incredible, too: centuries-old hilltop villages constructed of golden stone backed by peaceful olive groves and vineyards.
In between swimming, sunning and windsurfing, visitors to this summer-resort island, located in the Adriatic off of Croatia’s coast near Split, can tour a 13th-century fortress and cathedral, go wine-tasting (if you haven’t tried Croatian wine, this is a must) and, in June and July, inhale the heavenly aroma of lavender, which grows in abundance here.
Hvar’s beaches are known for their intense, scenic beauty, as many are set in serene bays surrounded by cliffs and pine forests. Tempting options include Dubovica, Zavala and Ivan Dolac.
It helps to be young to enjoy the 24/7 frenzy that is Ibiza, the wildest isle in the Mediterranean, thanks to its world-famous clubs blasting dance music. Should you be awake when the sun’s shining, top activities on Ibiza, which is also one of Spain’s Balearic Islands, include music festivals, beach-going (Cala D’Hort has a view of the distinctive Es Vedra rock formation) and scuba-diving, since visibility here is superb at one of the best European beach destinations.
If you’re a fan of old-school destinations – scenic, slow-paced and filled with tradition – you can’t go wrong with Sicily. This Italian island, the largest in the Mediterranean, is home to stunning beaches, yummy treats (such as ricotta-filled cannoli and meat-filled rice balls called arancini (both invented here)) and ancient Greek and Roman ruins dating back several millennia.
Sicily also boasts Europe’s most active volcano: Mount Etna. Book a beach resort for maximum access to sun and sand, or stay in charming hilltop Taormina, and day-trip to beaches, such as Isola Bella or Giardini Naxos.
The Algarve, Portugal
The hot Iberian sun shines along the southern coast of Portugal 300 days a year. In summer, the region receives very little rain, so it’s no surprise that the Algarve ranks among the top beach destinations in Europe.
It’s also incredibly pretty and quite affordable, with a variety of hotels, rental apartments and homes located in cities and villages stretching from Sagres in the east to Villa Real in the west. In between are more than 150 beaches, with Praia da Falésia near Albufeira, Praia da Camilo near Lagos and Praia da Marinha near Lagoa, featuring photogenic limestone cliffs.
As Greek Isles beaches go, Crete has some of the best. But Greece’s largest island is also its most geologically diverse, so beaches here range from sweeping and tranquil to compact and crowded.
For the former, head to Balos Lagoon near Kissamos on the west coast or Elafonisi Beach, also in Western Crete, with its pink sand. For the latter, there’s Vai Beach near Sitia in the northeast, which is backed by Europe’s largest natural palm grove, and Matala Beach on the south coast, where you can follow your swim with a seafood lunch at a local taverna.
There are hundreds of beaches along this rugged peninsula on the Atlantic in Southwest England, some ideal for surfing, others for beachcombing and others for seaside shopping and dining. It’s all incredibly wild and moody, the kind of setting that’s equally inspiring artists and adventure-lovers.
For pure visual delight, it’s hard to beat the beaches around St. Ives, especially Porthmeor, while Kynance Cove seduces at first sight with its unblemished natural beauty. Add in fishing villages, like Mevagissey and Polperro, and you’ll discover how Cornwall charms visitors with a raw authenticity that’s becoming ever harder to find these days.
On this vast Italian island, the second-largest in the Mediterranean, it’s possible to be a jetsetter or a backpacker: Step back in time while strolling tiny villages or channel the 21st century while sunning on a modern mega-yacht; visit ancient temples, or enjoy the latest youth-enhancing spa treatment.
Long celebrated for its talcum-soft beaches and clear aquamarine water, Sardinia’s alluring Costa Smeralda has been a summer hot spot since the mid-1960s. Yet the island also has a harsh interior landscape that has shaped the local mindset and cuisine (fava beans, sheep’s milk cheese and lamb with artichokes compete with seafood and pasta on many menus). But it’s Sardinia’s coastal beauty that has made it envied the world over.