Europe’s Best Beach Cities
Planning a trip to Europe but can't decide between a beach or urban getaway? Get the best of both worlds with a trip to a coastal city, where you can tap into the cultural scene AND top up your tan.
San Sebastian, Spain
Sun-seeking foodies, surfers, and city breakers all flock to San Sebastian on Spain's north coast. Originally a summer retreat for the Spanish royal family, it regularly tops the charts when it comes to the world's best places to eat. The city has the highest concentration of Michelin-starred restaurants in Europe and the old town is lined with traditional Basque pintxo (tapas) bars. The bronzed and beautiful catch rays on San Sebastian's crescent-shaped Playa de la Concha, but if you're looking to ride the waves, hit the surf-friendly Playa de Gros.
The Greek capital's beaches are often overlooked in favor of neighboring islands, but the city is home to a string of sandy stretches just a few miles south of the Acropolis. The Athenian Riviera can be accessed by a scenic coastal tram which means you can spend the morning exploring ancient sites and the afternoon cooling off in the Aegean. Top spots include Glyfada, with its palm-fringed sands and lively nightlife scene, and Voula, home to the riviera's biggest beach clubs.
While it might not have the glamour of its ritzy Riviera neighbors (bonjour Cannes, St. Tropez, and Monte Carlo), Nice is a city of substance. Its gorgeous old town (Vieux Nice) is home to bustling food and flower markets and there are plenty of cultural attractions to explore, including a museum dedicated to former long-time resident, Henri Matisse. Shoot the (sea) breeze on the Promenade des Anglais, a two-mile boardwalk with a dedicated lane for cyclists and skaters, or kick back on one of the iconic beach chairs, which are as blue as the sparkling Med.
An hour's train ride south of London, Brighton is England's coolest coastal city. It's an eclectic jumble of grand Regency squares, narrow alleyways lined with indie boutiques, traditional fish and chip shops, and a thriving club scene. The city is bookended by a Taj Mahal-inspired royal palace (built as a seaside party pad for George IV in 1787) and a landmark pier packed with retro fairground rides. Warning: The pebbly beach gets packed in the summer months. For a quieter stretch, head west to Hove, with its multicolored beach huts and cute cafés.
With its lively seafront bars and megayacht-studded marina, Budva is Montenegro's party town. Just two hours down the coast from Dubrovnik, this coastal gem has an old town on a small peninsula from which you can walk down to the town beach. For a more secluded spot, take a water taxi out to Sveti Nikola, an island referred to by locals as Hawaii thanks to its sandy beaches and isolated coves.
Ibiza Town, Ibiza
Ibiza Town may attract superstar DJs and all-night ravers but it also has a quiet, cultural side, where you'll find cobblestone streets flanked by museums, churches, and historic landmarks. The old town is surrounded by a Renaissance defensive wall whose main entrance is accessed by a dramatic drawbridge. The town's main beach is Talamanca, an easy 15-minute stroll along the seafront. The curved bay, soft sand shelves, and clear water make it a top pick for laid-back lounging and safe bathing.
The Algarve region on Portugal's south coast is one of Europe's sunniest spots and, with a string of beautiful beaches, it's easy to find a secluded patch here. While most of the area's coastal towns have a sun-and-sand resort feel, Lagos offers a little more to see beyond the beach. Explore the old town with its ancient Moorish walls, cobblestone streets, and picturesque piazzas before strolling to Batata Beach, which sits in the shadow of the 17th-century Bandeira Fort.
With its dazzling architecture, cutting edge cuisine, and golden beaches, Barcelona is hard to beat. After checking out Gaudi's masterpieces, grab a bocadillo (sandwich) and head down to one of the city's seven beaches. Barceloneta is the city's best known and easiest to access. For a quieter stretch, head to Bogatell Beach, where you'll find a laid-back local crowd cooling off in the Med or shooting hoops on the basketball court.
On the island of the same name, Capri town is a glamorous getaway that has attracted Roman emperors, Russian authors, and Hollywood stars to its pretty shores. The center is a maze of narrow streets lined with posh boutiques, swish cafés, and bougainvillea-cloaked grand villas. Stroll down the Via Krupp, a steep path that leads to a couple of small but perfectly formed public beaches, or take the funicular to Marina Grande's shingle beach.