Best Beaches in Europe: Plages, Playas, Sand & Surf

Thinking about that summer vacation? Enjoy our list of beaches (which includes family friendly beaches as well as nude beaches) in Europe that you’ll want to sink your feet into. Some of these beaches are a little off-the-beaten-path and take some planning to reach – using a mix of transportation modes, trains, buses, ferries…


Rabbit Beach located in Lampedusa - Sicily, Italy
Rabbit Beach located in Lampedusa – Sicily, Italy

Hop to It: Rabbit Beach – Sicily, Italy

According to a popular travel review website, this is the best beach in the world. And that says a lot, considering how much effort it takes to get there. Blinding white sand. Blues not found in a Crayola box. No one selling paper-thin t-shirts with offensive rabbit sayings. THIS is getting away from it all.

Rabbit Beach is located on the island of Lampedusa, off the south coast of Sicily. Accessible only by boat, this is one of the few places in the Mediterranean where loggerhead sea turtles lay their eggs.

Getting There: Take train from Rome to Palermo, which is an experience in itself. The journey is roughly 12 hours, and ticket prices start at $96.

From there, take a train to Porto Empedocle. This route passes through the center of Sicily, complete with dry fields and abandoned towns. Once you arrive, a boat is waiting to take you to Rabbit Beach. Tickets should be purchased locally for this portion of the trip.

Beach of Golden Sands, Varna Bulgaria
Beach of Golden Sands, Varna Bulgaria

Raising the Bar: Golden Sands, Bulgaria

Um, BULGARIA? Sure, why not? The Golden Sands are Bulgaria’s best seaside resort, with pure sands and crystalline waters. This isn’t a quiet resort for contemplation. No sir – here’s where you’ll try your luck at a casino, cool down at a water park and scream with delight on fairground rides. This resort is an extremely popular summer spot for Bulgarians and those looking for a detour from the standard seaside town.

Getting There: From Sofia to Varna is roughly 7.5 hours by train and is covered by the Eurail Bulgaria Pass. From Varna, buses run about every 20 minutes or so from the Railway Station and can also be picked up across the street from the Dormition Cathedral.

The system for using the buses is simply to get on and the conductor will sell you a ticket which costs about $3, just ask to go to “Golden Sands.” Trying to say it in Bulgarian will likely prove difficult.

Sylt, Germany photo Copyright © ys-fotografie
Sylt, Germany photo Copyright © ys-fotografie

The German Hamptons: Sylt, Germany

The largest German island in the North Sea, with an area of nearly 40 square miles, Sylt is connected to the mainland via the Hindenburgdamm, a rail causeway opened back in 1927. With 750 hours of sunshine per year, you’re sure to find the time to chillax.

Sylt’s nickname is the “German Hamptons” for good reason. Genteel, sophisticated, fabulous and posh, the island beckons the beautiful people with its miles of immaculate beaches, haute restaurants and high-end boutiques.

Getting There: If you prefer leaving your car at home, you can reach Sylt comfortably by train. There are several direct connections from Hamburg as well as inter-city connections from other big cities every day. The train from Hamburg to Westerland (Sylt) takes roughly three ½ hours. Ticket price starts at $70.

Brela, Croatia photo Copyright © generale
Brela, Croatia photo Copyright © generale

Leave the Umbrella at Home: Brela, Croatia

Croatia has miles of coastline and plentiful islands scented with lavender, olive oil and suntan lotion. But let’s forget Dubrovnik and Hvar and Brac and head to tiny Brela. Less touristy and more relaxed, you’ll find private coves fringed with pine trees. On the Makarska Riviera, Brela also features old Dalmatian architecture a midst the beautiful blue sea.

Getting There: You can reach Brela by bus, which departs from the Split bus terminal (next to the main rail station) every 30 minutes. The journey takes one hour. Tickets must be purchased locally. Use a Eurail Croatia Pass to travel by train throughout the country after your beach visit.

Butterfly Valley, Turkey
Butterfly Valley, Turkey

Monarchs Welcome: Butterfly Valley, Turkey

Butterflies are free – and so are you – to make this difficult journey to Butterfly Valley. With a walk down steep cliffs or by boat, you will find yourself on an undeveloped gem deep in a canyon and framed by dreamlike blue. Between June and September, you will have fluttering company, when butterflies wisp through sultry air. If you want to stay overnight, there are basic wooden huts to fulfill your “get away from it all” dreams.

Getting There: From Istanbul to Izmir, you can use a fast ferry to cross the Sea of Marmara to Bandirma, then connect to Izmir by train and then onward to Denizli.

Train portions are covered using a Balkan FlexiassEurail Select including Turkey or Eurail Global Pass. Rail Europe does not sell train tickets for Turkish trains, so if you’re not buying a pass, train tickets can be purchased locally at the station. The ferry portion is NOT covered by any rail pass and tickets would need to be purchased locally at the terminal.

Rhossili Bay, Swansea Wales photo Copyright © Nigel's Europe
Rhossili Bay, Swansea Wales photo Copyright © Nigel’s Europe

#1 in the UK: Rhossili Bay – Swansea, UK

This beach is all about timing. At high tide, you may just stare out at the beautiful sea. But wait. The tide falls, and there it is. A huge expanse of beach. Where it is possible to walk across the bay to Llangennith or even cross onto the Worms head. Watch for the many different birds that nest on the cliffs.

Getting There: Arrive at Swansea High Street Station. Look out for the distinctive two- tone green Gower buses. Take the 118 Gower Explorer from Swansea City Center. Direct Journey time from Swansea to Rhossili is 50-65 minutes.

There are direct rains to Swansea from London, Manchester, Bristol and Cardiff with good connections from the West Midlands, North East, South & South West England. Use the frequent local bus services between the Rail & Bus stations in Swansea for connections to Gower Explorer services.

Playa de La Concha – San Sebastian Spain photo Copyright © Mario Antonio Pena Zapatería
Playa de La Concha – San Sebastian Spain photo Copyright © Mario Antonio Pena Zapatería

Sand and the City: Playa de La Concha, San Sebastian Spain

Spain has bountiful beaches and coastline. But La Concha (“shell” in English) is smack-dab in a city – and may be the nicest beach near a metropolitan area in all of Europe. And a bonus is the prime Basque location for some of Spain’s tastiest tapas – although here they are called pinxtos.

From the main train station, cross the Maria Cristina Bridge and the magnificent Cathedral will be in front of you. The beach is on your left, with family-friendly Playa de Ondarreta beyond that and the Monte Igueldo a little further. At the near end of Playa de la Concha is a nice promenade with a carousel that’s fun for all ages.

Getting There: Take the train from Madrid to San Sebastian – 5h 20m, fares from $80, train from Barcelona to San Sebastian –5h 30m, fares from $94, train from Burgos to San Sebastian – 3h, fares from $35.

Dune du Pilat, France photo Copyright © Mark Waters
Dune du Pilat, France photo Copyright © Mark Waters

The Tallest Beach: Dune du Pilat – France

Welcome to the tallest sand dune in Europe. The Great Dune of Pyla or Pilat is located in La Teste-de-Buch in the Arcachon Bay, about 40 miles from Bordeaux. Pyla is the name of the closest town, Pyla-sur-Mer. You’ll have to work to get here. The beach is hidden by a 108-meter high wall of sand so you have to climb up and roll down to get there.

Getting There: Take the TGV or TER to Arcachon, then take the bus for 25 minutes. The train from Paris to Arcachon is roughly four hours, and fares start at $95. Bus tickets should be purchased locally – cost is approximately $3.

Skagen, Denmark photo Copyright © Ben_from_Dk
Skagen, Denmark photo Copyright © Ben_from_Dk

An A+ For Two Seas: Skagen, Denmark

Skagen headland is the tip of one of the world’s largest spits – a 10,000 year-old stretch of sand that keeps on growing. Right at the end of the spit, you can stand with your feet in two seas – the Skagarak Sea and the Kattagat Sea, which is unusual. On the Skagerrak coast, the waves are bigger, the water deeper. It’s exhilarating – but bathers take caution and respect nature. The Kattegat coast is the gentle side, with shallow water perfect for families. There’s also a wealth of shells and conches to collect – and you may even uncover some amber, too.

Getting There: Take private railway from Frederikshavn to Skagen – buy tickets locally. Enjoy a 50% discount with Eurail Denmark Pass or Eurail Scandinavia Pass.

Paradise Beach, Mykonos Greece photo Copyright © iriskh
Paradise Beach, Mykonos Greece photo Copyright © iriskh

BUFF BEACH: Paradise Beach (nude beach), Mykonos, Greece

Are you uninhibited? Do you love a party? Are you trying to recapture the free love vibe of the 60s? Well come on down to Paradise. Where according to sources, “you can give in to the true pleasures of life.” Here, the sunshine sparkles across a swath of cerulean blue, and the sand massages your soles and soul. Roughly half the ladies are topless, and 30% of beachgoers shed the full monty. There are two bars on the beach, and once a month during summer, a full-moon party (no pun intended) lights up the night.

Getting There: Mykonos is the most popular island destination in Greece. In the summer it’s crowded and expensive. You reach it by plane or ferry from Athens (Pireaus). Paradise Beach can be reached from Mykonos town by bus, taxi, water taxi or rented car. Buses run every half hour until 4:30 in the morning, water taxis every hour.

Plage de Tahiti - Tahiti Beach in Saint Tropez, France  photo copyright © Shruti Muralidhar
Plage de Tahiti – Tahiti Beach in Saint Tropez, France photo copyright © Shruti Muralidhar

Gaughin Would Go: Plage de Tahiti, Saint Tropez, France

While Mykonos is a more hedonistic, non-stop party, St. Tropez is its more elegant – but still nude – counterpart. Just a stretch of this Cote d’Azur is reserved for the birthday suited, so the modest as well as families are welcomed to lie in the sugary sand. If you plan on sipping Champagne with the glitterati along these sophisticated shores, hotel reservations should be made well in advance.

Getting There: Take the four hour, 40 minute train ride from Paris to St. Raphael; fares from $110. Hop on the bus (Varlib line 7601) to St. Tropez. The bus is less than 90 minutes and departs roughly every 2 hours from St. Raphael.

We think you’ll agree, that these are some of the best beaches in Europe and destinations that you’ll want to include in your itinerary. Whichever beach you decide to visit, don’t forget the sunblock!

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