Most Beautiful Beaches in Europe

by All Europe

So what do you think the most beautiful beaches in Europe are? Everyone has their favourites – and we’d love to hear them. I’ve been on a lifelong quest to seek out the best beaches in Europe, ever since discovering one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, Rhossili, at the age of nine. It’s a quest that has taken me around many countries in Europe, and nearly all of its numerous seas.

This list of beautiful beaches in Europe has just one criterion: beauty. Some of them can be found in some of the best beach holiday destinations in Europe, with all the facilities you could want right there on the beach. We have found that the best beach holidays in Europe often involve seeking out the best locations, travelling out of the way to find the best places to visit in Europe. The most popular beaches in Europe aren’t necessarily the best.

We’ve sought out places to stir the soul on a journey that has taken us from the Atlantic Ocean to the Baltic to the Mediterranean and much more besides.  We’ll flag up the best beaches in Europe for families, suggesting some of the best beach resorts in Europe along the way.

Image of one of the beaches on Llanddwyn Island Wales UK
Llanddwyn Island, a hidden gem on the North Wales coast

THE MOST BEAUTIFUL BEACHES IN EUROPE TO VISIT – WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Where are the most beautiful beaches in Europe?

They can be found all over the continent, as you’ll see from the geographical spread of our selection. For me, three areas stand out for the concentration of amazing beaches – the Algarve in Portugal, the beaches of Chania province in western and southern Crete, and the Gower Peninsula in Wales, UK.

What are the best beaches in Europe for photographers?

Image of the Helvetia shipwreck at Rhossili beach at sunset Gower Peninsula Wales UK
The Helvetia shipwreck on Rhossili Beach, Wales

There are many outstanding beaches in Europe for photographers, far more than in this list. However, of these, a few stand out for me. Praia do Amado looks amazing from several different angles, as does Praia Dona Ana in Lagos, Algarve. Durdle Door beach is spectacular for photographers because of the rock arch, and you can have a lot of fun at different times of the year and times of day there.

Rhossili is also a great beach for photographers, as a great many will testify. It’s such an uplifting place, and looks amazing whether on a blue-sky summer day or during a pink and purple sunset in mid- February.

What are the most beautiful beaches in Europe?

Image of Falassarna beach Crete Greece
And this is just one of five superb beaches at Falassarna

Falassarna, Crete.

Rhossili, Wales.

Praia Dona Ana, Lagos, Portugal.

I might change my mind about #3, but it would take something beyond extraordinary to shift either of the top two.

What country has the most beautiful beaches?

Image of Gramvousa Beach, Crete, Greece
Gramvousa Beach on Crete, which you can visit on your trip to nearby Balos Beach

Greece has the most on our list, but as for which has the highest number of beautiful beaches, it’s very difficult to say.  Spain has always been one of the top beach destinations in Europe, with a huge number of great beaches to back it up. Likewise Italy. There are also a great many France beach destinations, including some of the best coastal cities in Europe, from Nice to Biarritz to St Malo.

What are the best beaches in Europe that aren’t touristy or overcrowded?

Image of one of the coves on Kedrodasos beach Crete Greece
One of the coves at Kedrodasos

Rhossili beach at low tide can absorb thousands of visitors, but very rarely does. Even in summer it’s very spacious, and never crowded, though the same can’t be said of the car park in the village sometimes. Nearby, Three Cliffs Bay can only be reached by a 1-2 km walk, and at low tide it’s never too busy.

Of the other beaches on our list, Agios Pavlos is blissfully quiet, with just a single taverna and none of the usual tourism trappings you get elsewhere in Greece.  The same goes for Kedrodasos beach in Crete – this has no facilities at all, and is all the better for it.

PRAIA DO AMADO, COSTA VICENTINA, PORTUGAL

Image of Praia do Amado beach on the Costa Vicentina, Algarve, Portugal
One of the wooden walkways down to Praia do Amado

Praia do Amado has everything you could want from a beach, that is if you don’t mind a relative lack of crowds, overpriced bars, beach umbrellas and everything that comes with an ‘organised’ beach. It’s one of the best beaches on Portugal’s Costa Vicentina, in the south-west corner of the Algarve. This is Portugal’s wild west, its long, wide sandy beaches buffeted by the roaring Atlantic Ocean among the best surf beaches in Portugal.

Image of Praia do Amado beach Algarve Portugal
A distant view of Praia do Amado

We also love Praia do Amado for its cliff and mountain scenery, which is entirely free of the tourism development that has blighted some parts of the Algarve including Albufeira. The area is part of the Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina, so the environment is protected from much of this. It’s largely frequented by a surfing crowd, as well as day trippers and long-distance hikers tackling the Rota Vicentina trail.

Best for: Scenery lovers, hiking, surfing

DURDLE DOOR BEACH, DORSET, ENGLAND

Image of Durdle Door sea arch and beach Dorset England UK
Magnificent: Durdle Door rock arch and beach on the Dorset Jurassic Coast

The natural rock arch Durdle Door is one of the most famous landmarks of England. It’s a magnificent sight, an archway on a headland separating two great beaches on the Jurassic Coast in Dorset. Durdle Door beach is a lovely sand and shingle beach with jaw-dropping views east to the arch.

It’s quicker to reach Durdle Door from the nearby village of West Lulworth, but if you can, try to visit west Lulworth, a 2-mile (3 km) walk to the east of Durdle Door. You need to arrive early if you’re driving, as the car park fills up quickly. Lulworth Cove is a beautiful near-circle of pebbles and sand with turquoise waters and rockpools at low tide.  

Best for: scenery, coastal walking

KEEM BAY, ACHILL ISLAND, IRELAND

Image of Keem Bay, Achill Island, Ireland
The Faroe Islands meet the Tropics: the flabbergastingly beautiful Keem Bay

When we reached Achill Island on the west coast of Ireland, we were greeted by horizontal rain, outlines of mountains briefly emerging from the murk, and a dramatic bleak landscape of moorland and peat bogs. Crete, the Algarve or the Spanish Costas it is not. This is the wild, windswept Atlantic coast of Ireland, one that cops the worst of the wet south westerlies but which is one of the most beautiful landscapes in Europe.

And yet, if you continue as far west as Achill’s roads allow, you’ll reach one of the best beaches in Ireland and one of the most exquisite beaches in all of Europe. The conditions I described above didn’t give the slightest hint of what we were about to see at Keem Bay. The mountains and moors suddenly give way to a gorgeous small beach (also known as Keem Strand) with tropical turquoise water. It’s a sheltered spot, unlike much of the rest of the Achill coast. The sun briefly came out for us, a few minutes of fleeting but breathtaking beauty.

Best for: Dramatic scenery, romantics

LLANDDWYN ISLAND, WALES, UK

Image of one of the beaches on Llanddwyn Island Anglesey North Wales UK
One of the two beaches at the end of Llanddwyn Island, with the lLlyn Peninsula in the background

Tiny Llanddwyn Island, off the coast of the larger island of Anglesey, is one of the most beautiful islands in Europe. It’s a small tidal island in North Wales, UK,with two stunning beaches and lighthouses at its end. The only way to get there is on foot, around half an hour’s walk along glorious Newborough Beach.

Llanddwyn is one of several Welsh islands to have links to a Celtic saint – in this case it’s St Dwynwen, the Welsh patron saint of love. Llanddwyn is a remote spot, and one of the best coastal locations I’ve encountered working as a photographer over more than twenty years. There are no facilities on the island, just a few wild ponies grazing and views of the peaks of Snowdonia and the Llyn Peninsula to inspire your awe.

Best for: Scenery, romantics, beach walks

RHOSSILI BEACH, WALES, UK

Image of Rhossili Bay beach on the Gower peninsula Wales UK
Rhossili Bay on a blissful summer day

The Gower Peninsula in Wales is one of the best beach destinations in. Europe. It was the first part of the UK to be designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty,and has three of the best beaches in the UK (the others are Three Cliffs Bay and Oxwich Bay) along just 50 km of coastline.

The best-known of these is Rhossili Bay, a sublime curve of 5 km (3 miles) of perfect golden sand. The village of Rhossili is 80 metres above on the clifftop, so there’s a 10-minute descent to the beach. Even in the peak summer season, you don’t have to walk far to find acres of sand to yourself. Surfers tend to head to the northern end of the beach, near the village of Llangennith, which is more exposed to waves coming in from the west. Also look out for Worm’s Head, a tidal island that resembles a dragon basking in the sea.

Rhossili is more than a bit special – it has been voted the best beach in Europe, and made the top ten for the same accolade many times. It has also been voted the third best beach in the world, and been rated among the top ten places to watch a sunset in the world.

Best for: Scenery, coastal walking, families

AGIOS PAVLOS BEACH, AGIA ROUMELI, CRETE

Image of the beach and ancient chapel at Agios Pavlos Crete
Agios Pavlos beach and its 1,000-year-old Byzantine chapel

A sign above Agios Pavlos beach reads, “Do not follow me, I am lost too… Welcome to Agios Pavlos.” The name means ‘St Paul’, and it is believed that he once stopped at this remote beach en route to Rome, and a tiny Byzantine church was built above the beach almost a thousand years later to commemorate this. This is a gorgeous little church, and the beach is amazing too.

It’s a 4 km hike from the village of Agia Roumeli to Agios Pavlos, or a boat ride from the harbour there. It’s an incredibly uplifting place, surrounded by the soaring peaks of Lefka Ora, the White Mountains of Crete. The beach is part pebble, part grey sand, and the seawater aquamarine, clean and pristine. A taverna is open during the season (until late October) – I had one of the most satisfying cold beers of my life there, gazing across to the mountains.

Best for: coastal walkers, scenery, history, solitude

BALOS BEACH, CRETE, GREECE

Image of Balos beach and lagoon, Crete, Greece
Balos Beach

A trip to Balos Beach is one of the top three or four things to do in Crete, and one of the most popular Crete tours you’ll find. It’s in the remote north-western corner of Crete, and the vast majority of visitors opt to get to Balos beach by ferry (included on all Balos tours) rather than the dirt road from the port of Kissamos.

The ferry to Balos beach takes you to Gramvousa island first, stopping for up to two hours where you can relax at gorgeous Gramvousa Beach for a while. You then continue to Balos, which is one of the very best Mediterranean beaches, and one that regularly appears in best beaches in the world polls. The beach is in a lagoon, with high mountains on one side and a steep cape on the other. Part of the beach faces the lagoon, and is ideal for kids paddling. The other part faces the clear azure waters of the Mediterranean. If you want to cross from the cape side to mainland Crete and the snack bars, you’ll have to paddle a few metres, sometimes a little more.

Image of Balos beach and lagoon, Crete, Greece
A close-up view of Balos beach from above

As with the other Crete beaches we’ve written about here, Octob er is by far the best time to visit Balos beach, when it won’t be anything like as crowded during summer peak season.

Best for: Families, scenery, landscape, walking

FALASSARNA BEACH, CRETE, GREECE

Image of child at one of the natural rockpools at Falassarna Beach Crete
Our Little Man at his favourite Falassarna rockpool

Falassarna beach in Crete is a strong contender for our most beautiful beach in Europe. It’s certainly one of the best beaches in Crete, hidden away on the west coast of this incredible island, and backed by a curve of rugged mountains. It feels like a wilderness at the end of the world, and we fell spectacularly in love with it.

Image of an old fishing boat at sunset at Falassarna beach Greece
An old Falassarna fishing boat silhouetted at sunset

Falassarna (also spelt Falasarna or Phalasarna) isn’t one beach but five, roughly 5 km (3 miles) end to end). The main beach is a long stretch of golden sand with crystal-clear water up there with the best we’ve ever seen. There are also some smaller beaches and coves along the way, and there are a couple of fantastic natural sheltered rock pools for kids to swim in safety. You’re never far from a taverna or beach bar, whichever beach you’re on.

There are also dunes and boulders galore to explore – we all thought we were in paradise.

Best for: Incredible scenery, watersports, swimming, families

PRAIA DONA ANA, ALGARVE, PORTUGAL

Image of Praia Dona Ana beach, Lagos Algarve, Portugal
Praia Dona Ana on a gorgeous spring day, just after sunrise

The beaches in Lagos Portugal are known the world over. The first time I visited Portugal I travelled down from Lisbon especially to see them, and was blown away. They are widely acknowledged to be among the best Algarve beaches, and they deserve to be on any Portugal itinerary, especially if it’s your first time in Portugal.

Praia Dona Ana – Lady Ana Beach – is the pick of the beaches in the area. It’s a stunning sandy beach backed by golden and ochre cliffs, the turquoise sea dotted with honeycomb rock stacks. It sounds like something out of a fairytale, and it’s an astounding sight. Try to visit in springtime, before the crowds pack it to the rafters. After visiting you may not be surprised that this has been voted the most beautiful beach in the world.

Best for: Scenery, families, sheltered swimming, coastal walks

TENBY, WALES

Image of Tenby Harbour Beach Pembrokeshire Wales UK
Stunning Tenby Harbour Beach

Tenby, Pembrokeshire is one of the most beautiful coastal towns in Europe. It has four beaches and a gorgeous harbour surrounded by pastel-coloured 18th century houses, one of the most picturesque places in Europe. It’s also the departure point for Caldey Island, home to a Cistercian monastery and yet more stunning coastline.

Image of North Beach Tenby Wales UK
Tenby North Beach at first light

The four Tenby beaches are all quite different in character. North Beach and Harbour beach (the latter is submerged at high tide) are on one side of Castle Hill, with stunning views of the Harbour.  On the other side of the headland, Castle Beach looks out over St Catherine’s Island, a 19th century fort on n outcrop of rock, and South Beach is its continuation to the right. The partly medieval town above is wonderful too, especially on quieter summer weekdays. Far and away one of the best British seaside towns, and best beach towns in Europe.

Best for: Setting, harbour, families, boat trips

RED BEACH, SANTORINI

Image of Santorini Red Beach Greece
Santorini Red Beach from one of the safe viewing areas

Santorini Red Beach is one of the most popular Santorini beaches, even though there are signs everywhere telling everyone not to go there. Most of the volcanic Santorini beaches have ‘black’ or pencil-grey sand, whereas Red Beach stands out because its sand is, well, red.

The beach’s sand and cliffs are a deep red hue, and together with the clear turquoise water, it’s visually perhaps the most striking Mediterranean beach you may ever see. The reason signs warn people away is that there have been land slips there in recent years, with sections of cliff falling down onto the beach. It’s safe to see Santorini Red Beach from a distance, as in the shot above, but I decided not to venture down onto the beach itself.

Best for: Dramatic scenery

KEDRODASOS BEACH, CRETE, GREECE

Image of Kedrodasos Beach Crete Greece
Blissful: Kedrodasos Beach

The south-west corner of Crete has two of the best sandy beaches in. Greece. One of them attracts thousands of visitors a day in summer, while the other, a mere 2 km away, would be lucky to attract twenty.

Elafonissi beach is one of the most enticing beaches in Greece, a series of wide sandy beaches and smaller coves all with an alluring frosting of pink sand along the shoreline. If you visit Elafonissi in the summer season (June to September) you’ll be jostling for space, especially on the mainland part of the beach. October is the best time to visit, with the temperature in the mid 20s Centigrade.

Image of Elafonissi beach Crete Greece
The famous pink sands of Elafonissi, a short walk fro Kedrodasos beach

No such problems at Kedrodasos, whose name means ‘cedar grove’. There is one main beach and a series of small coves, with a mixture of dunes and juniper trees separating them. The crystal-clear water is exceptional, among the best we’ve seen anywhere in the world. You’ll see the occasional naturist or hiker, but will have a whole section of this sublime beach to yourself if you want it.  I preferred the ambience of Kedrodasos to that of Elafonissi, but both are among the best beach destinations Europe has, so do all you can to make time to see both.

Best for: Setting, scenery, serenity, solitude

SKAGEN BEACH, DENMARK

The northernmost place in Denmark is also its sunniest. It’s also home to some of the best white sand beaches in Europe. The long, flat Skagen peninsula, north of the city of Aalborg in North Jutland, has an endless long beach on each side, with the largest sand dune in Denmark on the northern side. The lighthouses are the only feature on the skyline.

The Skagen beaches are so long that they always have plenty of space, even in summer, though accommodation is harder to come by. If you continue to Grenen, at the tip of the peninsula, you’ll be at the point where two seas meet. Skagerrak (and Norway) is to the left, and Kattegat (and Sweden) is to the right. It’s an awe-inspiring place, whose unique light inspired the Skagen art movement in the late 19th century. You can still stay at the Brøndums Hotel where the artists regularly met.

Best for: families, beach walks, beach train ride

PODRACE BEACH, BRELA, CROATIA

Brela is a small resort town on the mainland Dalmatian coast between Split and Dubrovnik, looking out towards the island of Brač.  It’s on a particularly enchanting part of the Croatian coast, with fine pebbly peaches, wondrous clear Adriatic water and rocky islets.

Brela has three beaches – Punta Rata, Filipinska and the smallest, idyllic Plaža Podrace. It’s barely a hundred metres long, but what beauty. There’s a small rocky promontory partly covered with trees, and small fishing boats bobbing in the crystalline azure water, with the mountains of central Dalmatia in the distance.  A stunning place indeed.

Best for: Families, scenery

PALOMBAGGIA BEACH, CORSICA, FRANCE

Corsica is right at the top of my personal Europe bucket list, an island of extraordinary beauty of which I yearn to see much, much more. It has some of the best sandy beaches in Europe, and our pick of these is the Plage de Palombaggia, on the south-east coast of Corsica between Porto-Vecchio and Bonifacio.

It’s a long white sand beach with exceptionally clear water which is shallow for quite a distance from the shore, making it a good option if you have kids with you. There are restaurants and bars along the beach which run the sun beds and umbrellas – expect a minimum of 10 euros for the day. At one end of the beach there’s an idyllic scene with rock formations, beautiful shallow water and a lone pine tree. A stunning and very underrated part of the world.

Best for: families, scenery

XI BEACH, KEFALONIA

As our contents list shows, Greece is one of the countries with the best beaches around Europe. One of the most striking Greece beaches is Xi beach, on the Paliki peninsula in Kefalonia, one of the Ionian islands off the country’s west coast.

Xi beach is most memorable for the contrast between its reddish orange sand and greyish white cliffs.  It’s a largely ‘organised’ beach, with some sections with beach bars, sun beds  and umbrellas. You may see some visitors covering themselves in clay from the bottom of the cliffs – it is believed to have curative properties, and to cleanse the skin.

Best for: Families, swimming, scenery lovers

CEFALU, SICILY, ITALY

If you’re looking for one of the best European cities with beaches, look no further. Cefalu, on the north coast of Sicily, is a small city with an impossibly beautiful sandy beach and an implausibly photogenic backdrop of medieval houses along the seafront.

Cefalu is a great place to visit as it’s one of the best Italy beach destinations, and has so much else to see, including the enormous imposing Romanesque cathedral and the Temple of Diana, the latter perched high above the city and beach on Cefalu’s steep Rocca.

Best for: Scenery lovers, history, families, gelato!

PLAYA GRAN, TOSSA DE MAR, CATALUNYA, SPAIN

Tossa de Mar is one of the best places to stay on the Costa Brava, around 100 km up the coast from Barcelona. We’ve chosen Playa Gran, the main Tossa de Mar beach, because of its delightful setting beneath the fortified walls and towers of the Castle in the Vila Vella (Old Town).

The beach is around 400 metres long, and fills up quickly when the party crowd are in town during the summer months. Spring is the best time to visit when Catalonia temperatures are usually into the mid-20s Centigrade by late April. Tossa is one of the best beach holiday destinations in Spain, with plenty more beaches along the coast around the town. Be sure not to miss Playa de Codolar, a picturesque narrow sandy cove the other side of the Castle headland.

Best for: Scenery, families, nightlife

SELLIN, RUGEN, GERMANY

Our selection of top beaches in Europe wouldn’t be complete without a beach with a pier. They’re a northern European phenomenon, with the UK having by far the most, but there are also examples in Belgium, Netherlands, Germany and Poland. I’ve always considered the elegant Clevedon pier in Somerset, England the most beautiful pier I’ve seen, but as this article is about beaches, I’ve gone with Sellin, a spa resort on the spectacular Rügen Island on Germany’s Baltic coast.

Sellin has a fantastic long, wide sandy beach and the outstanding Seebrücke, its handsome pier stretching out into the Baltic (Ostsee in German). The pier is a superb example of German resort architecture (from the late 19th and early 20th centuries), and there are several villas in similar contemporary style on Wilhelmstrasse, the grand street leading down to the pier and beach. The island of Rügen is also worth visiting for the white chalk cliffs of the Jasmund National Park.

Best for: families, swimming, architecture

More Europe Beach Guides

DAVID ANGEL

DAVID ANGEL

AUTHOR

David Angel is a British writer, historian and photographer. He has been travelling and photographing Europe for over 20 years and his work is regularly featured in worldwide media including the Guardian, BBC, Times and Sunday Times.

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