Europe’s cultural capitals have long been a bucket list item for every traveler—there’s a reason seven of the world’s 10 most-visited countries are in Europe. But when it comes to beach vacations, European seaside towns tend to take a backseat to the old stalwarts of the Caribbean and the South Pacific. Despite the range of oceanfront options—from the rugged beauty of Iceland to the white-hot nightlife of the Côte d’Azur to the peaceful resort haunts of Greece and Croatia—too many tourists overlook the charms of the coast in favor of inland mainstays.
Here, we’ve assembled a collection of the fifteen finest beaches across Europe, tailored to travelers of every stripe. They’ve all got stunning scenery and ocean views, but beyond that, these places are as richly varied as Europe itself. We’ve got off-season hikes along the coast, family-friendly beaches with plenty of activities, secluded spots for private lounging, and party-heavy places thrumming with energy—in other words, no matter who you are or what you’re after, there’s a seaside destination for you.
And the best part? Choosing a European destination for your next beach vacation means you don’t have to compromise. Want to travel in your favorite Impressionists’ footsteps? Head to Provence for a few days, then tack on a day trip 45 minutes south to see the white sand beaches of Cassis. Craving authentic Italian food? Spend a few days on the isle of Sicily, where you can spend the morning on the famed Turkish Steps overlooking the ocean, then venture to a local joint for arancini and cannoli. Hoping for an educational excursion? Tour the ancient Croatian city of Lubenice, then hike down the hill to unwind with a swim in the bright blue waters of the bay. With such an incredible selection of spots to choose from, you just might find yourself returning to the European continent time and again—at least until you’ve tackled all the places on our list. Read on, and let the travel planning begin.
The focal point of this famous spot is the hulking, weathered hull of a freighter that ranaground in the early ’80s. The ship now sits in the middle of a crescent beach, a few yards away from the tideline where bone-white sand meets the bright blue Ionian Sea. The sheer cliffs surrounding the beach mean that the cove is only accessible by boat, but an abundance of providers in the area ensures there’s a steady stream of tourists all summer long. Even so, it’s worth a trip: The rusted shell set against the spectacular natural beauty of Zakynthos Island is a striking sight you need to see in person to truly appreciate.
Adventurous types won’t want to miss this secluded spot on France’s southern coast: It’s only accessible via boat or two-hour hike, and the effort it takes to get there makes the end result all the more appealing. Tucked at the end of a long inlet, this beach is surrounded by massive, craggy cliffs, and the visual contrast of bright blue Mediterranean against the white limestone makes the whole spot feel like something from a dream.
Rabbit Beach, Lampedusa, Italy
This is one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, but its remote location—100 miles off the Italian coast—tends to dissuade all but the most intrepid of travelers. But for those who make the journey, there’s ample reward: the water is shallow enough to wade far out into the bay, and it’s reliably calm and clear, making it a haven for swimmers and snorkelers. Keep an eye out for sea turtles: This is one of the few regular nesting sites of the endangered Loggerhead.
Elafoníssi Beach, Crete, Greece
Laid-back beachgoers and adrenaline junkies alike will love Elafoníssi for its array of activities and spectacular scenery. The pink sand and mountainous backdrop will keep shutterbugs happy, while active types can partake in surfing, kiteboarding, or wind surfing. And once you’ve worked up an appetite, head to one of the local tavernas for a plate of dakos—a local specialty of crisp bread topped with a mix of fresh tomatoes, mitzithra cheese, olive oil, and herbs.
Playa de Migjorn, Formentera, Spain
On top of the incredible scenery Formentera’s beaches are known for, you’ll find something for everyone at this lengthy strip of Spanish shore. Rent a beach chair and umbrella for the day and take advantage of oceanfront beverage service, enjoy the view on a long walk, or join a game of beach volleyball. And since the beach goes on for miles, even travelers hoping for a secluded spot won’t have to wander far.