Europe’s 15 Greatest Beach Cities

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Can’t decide between a beach break or the buzz of a big city? Why choose between the two? There are plenty of coastal cities in Europe where you get the best of both worlds. Ideal for a beachy weekend break or even a long term base.

San Sebastian

La Concha beach, San Sebastian

Along the Spanish Atlantic Coast is a contender for Europe’s best city beach: the stunning shell-shaped Concha Bay in San Sebastián (also known by Donostia, its Basque name).

La Concha boasts 1400km of beautiful sand that arcs around  Santa Clara island. 

This classy city is a famed foodie haven with its Belle Epoque waterfront and is backed by green mountains which protect it from the worst of the winds.

Alicante

Palm trees on Alicante city beach

Many tourists heading to Spain bypass the city of Alicante and head straight for one of the beach resorts of the Costa Blanca.

But it’s an excellent city break destination in its own right, something local tourists have known for years.

Its star attractions are the Santa Barbara castle and surrounding old town, and the wide palm-lined sands of Playa del Postiguet.

Nice

View of Nice beach

The French city of Nice was one of the Mediterranean’s original tourist resorts.

Its colourful streets and well-served international airport make a popular city break destination today.

Nice is known as the gateway to the French Riviera – but with its large pebble beach, old town, tasty food, and excellent art galleries, there’s little reason to leave the city.

Barcelona

The Catalan capital is the destination that has it all: plenty of fine sandy beach – the most famous being Barceloneta – as well as world-class food, art, architecture, and nightlife.

Little wonder this Spanish beach city is one of the most popular destinations in Europe.

Malaga

Malaga's sandy city beach

Another underrated Spanish city is Malaga, the capital of the Costa del Sol.

Andalucian culture is alive and well in the narrow streets of Malaga’s old town, where you’ll find the Alcazaba – an 11th-century Moorish citadel, Roman ruins and the new Picasso Museum.

Also named after the city’s most famous son is the promenade that runs alongside its many kilometres of sandy beach.

Dubrovnik

Banje Beach in Dubrovnik

DUBROVNIK, CROATIA

The popular Croatian city of Dubrovnik attracts crowds of tourists for its immaculate medieval old town (and Game of Thrones filming locations).

But it also makes a great beach break. The most famous beach is Banje, which located just outside the city walls so you can easily combine your sightseeing with a spot of sunbathing.

But you can also turn your trip into a beach break by staying in the Lapad area of Dubrovnik which is home to many resort hotels. The coastline and islands immediately surrounding the city is full of charming smaller resorts such as Cavtat which are linked to the city by boat in high season.

Valencia

Waves lap Valencia's city beach

Spain’s third largest city – gorgeous Valencia – rivals Barcelona for beach and culture.

It’s often overlooked by tourists in favour of the big two, but it has unrivalled modern architecture as well as a medieval old town, superb beaches, and paella of course.

Biarritz

Rolling waves on the beach at Biarritz

The French Basque city of Biarritz is a surfer favourite thanks to its big rollers and sandy Grand Plage.

But Biarritz was also once a spa resort town favoured by the rich and royal, who flocked here for its cooling Atlantic winds and glitzy vibes. Come here for the waves, the pleasure-seeker vibes and the delectable pintxos.

Lagos

Lagos city meets the sea

The beach is within easy reach of most of Portugal’s big cities – in Porto and Lisbon it’s a short ride on the train or bus.

But likeable Lagos, in the popular Algarve coastal region, not only has sandy city beaches but is close to some of the Algarve’s truly spectacular cliff beaches including the famous stairs of Praia do Camilo.

The historic city centre is a maze of whitewashed buildings and patterned cobbled streets.

Athens

Not many people think of Athens for a beach break, but hitting the beach is the number one summer activity for those living in the Greek capital.

Athens is located right by the sea, and you can hop on the coastal tram from Syntagma Square and alight at any beach which takes your fancy. During the summer the city’s nightlife decamps to its many beach clubs.

If you’re looking for accommodation by the beach rather than in the city have a look at suburban seaside towns such as Glyfada, Vouliagmeni, Voula and Varkiza.

Palma de Mallorca

City beach at Palma, Mallorca

Palma de Mallorca is the premier city of Spain’s Balearic islands is also one of the best destinations for a beach and city break that you can find in Europe.

The 13th century Le Seu cathedral and Serre de Tramuntana mountains provide a spectacular backdrop to the golden sands of C’an Pere Antoni beach.

The Palma area is a popular beach resort destination so you’ll find plenty of beach hotels and apartments along the coast.

Benidorm

Tall builings line Benidorm's waterfront

Much-maligned Spanish coastal city Benidorm is often associated with boorish drunken Brits. But the lager louts have moved on and Benidorm is full of surprises: it’s now a popular beach destination for Spaniards has an excellent tapas scene.

Once a tiny fishing village, its three Blue Flag beaches are now lined with skyscraper apartment blocks – but it’s also home to some of the continent’s most forward-thinking sustainable tourism policies.

For fun in the sun at an affordable price, Benidorm is hard to beat.

Las Palmas de Gran Canaria

Surfers on the beach at Las Palmas

Las Palmas is a city on the up. Located in Spain’s Canary Islands, the climate on Gran Canaria is pleasant year-round.

Surfers and digital nomads come for the pleasant year-round climate and big city beach Playa de las Canteras and end up staying for the unique Canarian culture, colonial architecture, excellent hiking, sub-tropical flora and crazy Carnival celebrations.

Sarande

Saranda beach and waterfront

Albania is a whole country on the up, particularly when it comes to beach destinations.

And one of the most popular is the seaside city of Sarandë (or Saranda), which is easily accessed by ferry from the Greek island of Corfu and shares the same beautiful blue Ionian sea and fabulous beaches. It’s a lively modern city in the summer – with plenty of beach bars – and the area is also known for its historic sites.

Santander

Aerial view of Santander and its beaches

One beach city which might not spring to mind immediately is Santander on Spain’s northern coast.

The Cantabrian capital has a lively nightlife thanks to its student population and also scores highly in the food and architecture stakes.

El Sardinero is the end of town where you’ll find the beaches.

A FEW MORE IDEAS

  • Alghero and Cagliari in Sardinia both have big town beaches with fine white sands
  • Ok so it’s not technically Europe, but Turkey has lots of great beach cities – Izmir, Kusadasi, Bodrum, Antalya, Alanya
  • Durrës and Vlorë serve up similar charms to Sarandë but further north in Albania
  • Montpellier and Sete in France are close to some vast dune beaches
  • Rimini is Italy’s most popular resort city thanks to its huge sandy beach, and don’t forget Venice also has beaches
  • Split is a worthy contender to Dubrovnik, and so are smaller coastal cities like Zadar and Sibenik
  • In Montenegro, you’ll find the large resort towns of Budva, Bar, and Ulcinj along the coast

Read more:

10 Best Beach Cities in Spain

10 Best Coastal Cities in Italy

10 Most Beautiful Cities in Greece

10 Most Beautiful Mediterranean Cities

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Aerial view of Santander beaches with text overlay '15 Greatest Beach Cities in Europe'

Image credits:

Santander: © saiko3p / Shutterstock

San Sebastian © robcartorres / Adobe Stock

Alicante: © william87 / Adobe Stock

Nice: © saiko3p / Adobe Stock

Barcelona: By Boule / Shutterstock

Malaga: By KikoStock/ Shutterstock

Dubrovnik: By Dreamer4787/ Shutterstock

Valencia: By lunamarina/ Shutterstock

Biarritz: By Dutourdumonde Photography/ Shutterstock

Lagos: By Steve Photography/ Shutterstock

Athens: By Sven Hansche/ Shutterstock

Palma de Mallorca: By vulcano / Shutterstock

Benidorm: By lunamarina/ Shutterstock

Las Palmas de Gran Canaria: By lvalin / Shutterstock

Sarande: By John_Walker/ Shutterstock