The beaches of Europe come in every permutation of sandy, rocky, remote and urban that a traveler could wish for. Choose from beaches along the Atlantic Ocean or the North, Baltic, Adriatic, and Mediterranean Seas, or from a rainbow of freshwater lakes and rivers.
Blue Flag Beaches
As you’re looking for beaches to visit on your trip to Europe, you’ll notice that some proudly fly the “Blue Flag”. This designation is earned by conforming to specific criteria on water quality, environmental education and information, environmental management, and safety and other services. In other words, for the cleanest, most sustainably maintained salt and freshwater beaches, look for the “Blue Flag”. Akin to a Michelin star, this accreditation is reviewed annually; no beach rests on its laurels but must qualify for the Blue Flag every year. The program, administered by The Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE), has been in place since 1987 and now extends across Europe and beyond to countries all over the world.
Among Europe’s Blue Flag beaches are over 200 beaches in Denmark where you can revel in unsullied seascapes; six white sand beaches in Lithuania on the Curonian Spit, a UNESCO World Heritage Site itself; Blue Flag marinas and beaches in every county in Ireland; dozens of beautiful beaches in Cyprus, and the successfully reclaimed St. George’s Bay in Malta, a collection of marinas, a Blue Flag beach, and important marine habitats.
Europe’s extensive coastline includes widely differing geography and climate, and even within the same country the character of ocean beaches varies widely. The choice of beaches in Europe is almost endless; how to find the European beach of your dreams? Visit the websites of the National Tourist Offices for complete information about beaches in Europe, and take a few ideas from this summary to get started.
The Mediterranean has been a highway of sorts for many cultures over thousands of years, so the European countries on its northern shores are teeming with historical sites and utterly irresistible food. The combination of scenery and sun makes people feel deliriously good, which may account for the vibrant nightlife on Spain’s Balearic Islands and on the French Riviera. No worries, you can also find tranquil and stunningly beautiful corners by the water. Turkey, Cyprus and Greece are washed by mesmerizing azure sea and have miles of beaches where you can enjoy it. If you like the Ocean, a must-see is the Portugal Coast with more than 850km of beach.
The Adriatic beaches on Italian side are perfect for families, with their gentle surf and sandy shores, whereas the coastlines of Croatia and Slovenia are gorgeous but rocky – so buy sturdy beach sandals.
Beaches on the Atlantic, North Sea and Baltic coasts are entirely different and just as lovely. Nature lovers will thrill at walking the tidal flats of the Waddensee in Germany or perhaps finding amber wash ashore on Poland’s Baltic beaches. Beaches in the British Isles are wild and wonderful in the north, along dramatic, empty coastlines, while on the southern coast a holiday atmosphere prevails at the many attractions you’ll find seaside.
Scandinavian beaches are packed with sun-seekers, both native and imported, during the long days of the short summers. Beach comb to your heart’s content on the shores of Sweden, enjoy the nature reserve at the Jæren beaches in Norway, and loll happily on the sandy strands of Finland. In Iceland the beach might be next to a hot mineral spring!
The Black Sea coast in Romania is well known for its salty mud baths and special cures for aching bodies, which you can enjoy at one of many resorts along its 45 miles of developed coastline.
Beach escapes are equally enjoyable unsalted; many European countries have great bathing beaches on the shores of lakes and rivers. Poland alone has over 10,000 lakes, many featuring sandy swimming beaches. Lake Balaton in Hungary, Central Europe’s biggest lake, draws enormous numbers of visitors to enjoy its natural and manmade beaches. The “sees” of Austria are freshwater lakes, often ringed with soft, grassy stretches. Lake Neusiedlersee - mostly in Austria with a bit in Hungary- is a “step” lake with a huge surface area but a maximum depth of only 1.5 meters, perfect for swimming. Lake Constance (the Bodensee), is Europe’s third largest lake is a big magnet for inland beach bunnies and laps the shores of Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. It may be landlocked, but Switzerland is nonetheless a a land of water with numerous beaches to offer. The famous Italian lakes evoke the most romantic images, whether it’s the fairytale town of Sirmione on Lake Garda or the prospect of running into George Clooney at Lake Como.
Keep your eyes open for urban beaches as you travel through Europe in the summer. Major cities have joined the trend to create a temporary “beach”, with sand, deck chairs, volleyball courts and other beach-y attributes to amuse residents and visitors during the height of summer. Enjoy a salsa night on the shore in Rotterdam or water games along Brussels’ canals.