Europe's Best Beaches for Backpackers
Though Europe is famous for its food, its museums, and its sights (mostly historic, ex. the Colosseum), the region has some of the most spectacular beaches you'll ever see. Check out the list below to find a great beach that offers what you're looking for.
Best Urban Beach
Without a doubt, the Europe’s greatest beach city is the Mediterranean metropolis of Barcelona. The city has so much to see and do in its own right, from its architecture and cultural attractions to its shopping and nightlife, and this makes it the perfect place to combine a city break with some serious sunbathing. Barcelona’s beaches stretch for miles north-eastwards from Barceloneta in the heart of the city. Some of it may be artificial, but you can’t argue with acres of soft sand. The most popular stretch is around the Port Olimpic, near the Ciutadella metro station. Here you’ll find street sellers and performers, as well as a range of cafés, restaurants, bars and clubs, and it’s also one of the best places in the city to people-watch.
Other urban options:
--Nice – the beautiful sweep of the Baie des Anges may be home to a pebble beach, but there’s nowhere quite as elegant to star-spot.
--Brighton – The combination of Victorian kitsch and liberal attitudes that make Brighton cool are on display on its famous beach. Nothing beats the novelty of bad weather by the seaside, either.
Best Beach for Watersports
Tarifa, at the southern tip of Spain, is renowned as a watersports paradise. Its long, beautiful white-sand beaches are buffeted by winds that both cool the sometimes intense heat and make conditions perfect for windsurfing. In the mild winters, the waves make it a surfing mecca too, so Tarifa is a perfect year-round destination, with the added benefit of a Moorish-flavoured old town and a varied restaurant and nightlife scene.
Other watersports destinations:
--Lacanau-Océan – this small resort on France’s west coast is home to one of Europe’s most prestigious surfing championships, and as you’d expect its gorgeous stretches of sand are complimented by killer waves.
--Newquay – In beautiful Cornwall, Newquay is Britain’s number one watersports destination, ever popular with surfers and anyone else more at home in the water than on dry land.
Best ‘Paradise’ Beach
On the far south-western tip of Crete, Elafonisi is so isolated that a boat is the easiest way to reach it. Straight out of a Robinson Crusoe fantasy, its long white sands and warm, sheltered waters are backed by rugged hills and only a tiny scattering of buildings here and there. A picturesque sandy islet lies just offshore, only a few strokes or a brief paddle away. In high season, you probably won’t be alone, but the situation is so beautiful that sharing the beach is not something to let bother you.
Other slices of paradise:
--Calanque d’En Vau – Several calanques (limestone fjords) cut into the coastline between Marseille and Cassis. Each has its own beauty, but En Vau is the most spectacular, with pine-studded cliffs either side of a pint-sized, yet perfect, beach.
--Praia da Marinha – the sandstone cliffs, golden beaches and clear waters of the Algarve are home to many stunning beaches, and Praia da Marinha’s are some of the finest, and least developed.
Best Beach to Escape To
The Hebrides, off the north-west coast of Scotland, may not be your first choice for a beach holiday, but in summer the Gulf Stream can make the weather surprisingly balmy, and their isolation means many a beach can be enjoyed all by yourself. Tolsta, near the northern tip of Britain on the island of Lewis, is one of the most beautiful, though many others give it a run for its money, such as Vatersay, Kiloran and Skye’s Coral beach.
Other places to escape the crush:
--North-Eastern Corfu – Despite the island being one of Greece’s most popular destinations, the verdant coast of North East Corfu offers many secluded, hard to get to little bays and coves where you might be lucky enough to find yourself alone.
--Fuerteventura – Off the coast of Africa, the desert island of Fuerteventura is large enough that despite some resort development in recent years, there are miles and miles of untouched sand to discover, including dramatic stretches like Cofete.
Best Unspoilt Resort Town
Despite its proximity to the glitzy Italian Riviera resorts of Portofino and Rapallo, the peaceful fishing town of Camogli has retained all its charm. It is breathtakingly beautiful, with pastel-coloured houses lining narrow streets that tumble down the lush foothills of the Apennines to the azure waters of the Mediterranean. Its only drawback is that its beach is made of pebbles, not sand, but with so little pretention and so much beauty, we’re not complaining.
Other beach towns with character:
--Collioure – Just before the Spanish border, the colourful little historic town of Collioure is one of France’s hidden gems, so beautiful it inspired a whole artistic movement, Fauvism.
--Cefalu – On Sicily’s northern coast, the picturesque town of Cefalu still looks much as it did centuries ago, preserved perfectly between towering hills and a long, sandy beach.
Best Party Beach
The south coast of Spain is famed for its numerous nightlife-orientated resorts popular with British and German tourists. The Spanish themselves could teach northern Europeans a thing or two about partying though, so for a more authentic experience head to the beautiful Basque city of San Sebastian, with its seemingly endless tapas bars and drinking spots. The beach of La Concha is a gorgeous sweep of sand that is always animated and the city itself is full of delights, nocturnal and otherwise.
Other resorts to dance the night away in:
--Laganas – If, at the end of the day, you do just want to party hard, and don’t care who with, Laganas in Zakynthos, Greece is currently one of the most popular destinations in Europe to do so.
--Ibiza – Famed worldwide for hedonism and top-notch clubbing, the white isle has had something of a renaissance of late and between San Antonio and Ibiza Town there is something for any nightlife aficionado.
Best Beach with a Unique Attraction
The Dune du Pyla, on the Atlantic Coast of France, is Europe’s highest sand dune, a spectacular mountain of sand that rises high above the pine forests of the Landes region, dividing them from the crashing Atlantic breakers. Though it can get scorchingly hot, the ocean is always refreshingly cool, and the views from the top, of infinite green forest and infinite blue sea separated by a ribbon of sand, will take your breath away.
Other beaches that offer something more:
--Porto Cristo – On the eastern coast of Mallorca, the pretty little resort of Porto Cristo is home to one of Europe’s largest and most beautiful cave complexes, the Cuevas del Drach.
--Taormina – The Sicilian town of Taormina is a popular resort, but lying in the shadow of the spectacular active Volcano, Mount Etna, and home to a huge Greco-Roman amphitheatre with stunning views, it isn’t hard to see why.