No matter your taste in beach, Europe obliges.

With wild, wind-lashed shores along the Atlantic coast, mountain-fringed Arctic bays where whales raise their tails, and sunlit, snuggled-away coves of Italy and Greece, we bring you the cream of the European coast with these top 20 beaches.

A person stands on a shore as greens and blues of the northern lights swirl in the sky above
See the northern lights from Haukland beach in the Lofoten Islands, Norway © Getty Images

1. Haukland Beach, Norway

Rearing up out of the Norwegian Sea like a dragon’s backbone, the Lofoten Islands off Norway’s northwest coast is the Arctic dream – whether seen in the never-dying light of the midnight sun or under dancing northern lights in winter snows. Haukland Beach is out of this world, with spiky granite peaks thrusting above creamy sands and sapphire sea. The water is chilly (never hitting more than 15°C/59°F), but you’ll be itching to jump in all the same.

 A cliff-backed beach with turquoise waters
Limestone cliffs frame the sublime Cala Goloritzè in Sardinia © iStockphoto / Getty Images

2. Cala Goloritzè, Sardinia, Italy

Sardinia’s east coast Golfo di Orosei punches high for coastal beauty, but few beaches make you gasp out loud like sublime Cala Goloritzè, with its snow-white pebbles giving way to a sea of purest aquamarine blue. Limestone cliffs jut dramatically above the bay, as does Monte Caroddi, a 148m-high (486ft) needle of rock beloved of climbers. Reach it by boat or on the Cala Goloritzè Trail.

Be inspired by more stunning coves, bays and strands with Lonely Planet's book Best Beaches: 100 of the World's Most Incredible Beaches.

A woman is the sole person on a vast beach backed by grassy dunes
Beaches don't get more remote than West Beach on the Outer Hebrides, Scotland © Cody Duncan/ Getty Images

3. West Beach, Scotland

Out on a limb in the wild North Atlantic, Scotland's Outer Hebrides stash away some of Europe’s remotest beaches. Singling one out is tough, but West Beach on the wee isle of Berneray is divine. Through dunes and wind-bent machair grasses, you reach this ravishing 5km (3-mile) expanse of white sand, sliding gently into a turquoise sea. It’s often empty but for seabirds trilling overhead and the occasional porpoise or otter.

Horses stand on the shore of a beautiful sandy cove
Plage de Palombaggia in Corsica on the Mediterranean is like a dream © pkazmierczak / Getty Images

4.  Plage de Palombaggia, Corsica

Plage de Palombaggia, in Corsica’s southeast, is one of the best beaches in France. It bewitches with its long curve of pale, powder-soft sand shelving into cerulean blue waters as clear as glass. Backed by fragrant umbrella pines, hemmed in by wooded hills that strum with cicadas come sundown, and overlooking the Îles Cerbicale, this could well be the beach of your wildest Mediterranean dreams. Bring a snorkel and picnic.

People relax on the beach and swim in the clear waters of a wide bay with two islets
Bring your towel and sunscreen for a day at the picturesque Playa de ses Illetes in Formentera © Naeblys / Shutterstock

5. Platja Illetes, Formentera, Spain

With its long sweep of bleach-blonde sand and translucent azure waters, Formentera’s Platja Illetes fits the barefoot paradise bill neatly. Comparisons are swiftly made with the Caribbean but, frankly, why would you want to imagine yourself anywhere else? The beach forms the western section of the slender Trucador Peninsula and just offshore are the two illetes (islets), Pouet and Rodona, which give the beach its name.

Swimmers at the beach
Take a short walk over the headland to get to South Wales' Barafundle Bay © Emma Farrer / Getty Images

6. Barafundle Bay, Wales

A breezy walk over gorse-cloaked clifftops on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path ramps up the anticipation for Barafundle Bay: an arc of butterscotch sand, rimmed by dunes that ease their way gently to clear turquoise water. This bay often tops the polls of the UK’s finest beaches and if you avoid busy weekends in summer, you’ll feel the magic.

A golden sand beach backed by cliffs
It's easy to find yourself an uncrowded spot on the Algarve's ​​​​Arrifana beach © Murchundra / Getty Images

7. Praia da Arrifana, Portugal

On the Algarve’s wild, wind-whipped west coast, crowds are few and the Atlantic waves are tremendous. Cliff-wrapped Praia da Arrifana is a gorgeous golden crescent, with a ruined fortress, beachside restaurant and plenty of serious surf. For more of the same, hop south to lagoonside Praia da Bordeira, where dunes fizz away into the brilliant blue sea.

Small cove with several boats at anchor
Come to Cala Macarella bay on the Balearic island of Menorca and you'll never want to leave © S.Gruene / Shutte

8. Cala Macarella, Menorca, Spain

Making just a tiny indentation on Menorca’s southwest coast, Cala Macarella is fantasy stuff, with flour-white sand and startlingly turquoise waters. Nuzzling among cliffs stippled with pines and holm oaks, the horseshoe-shaped bay can only be reached on foot or by boat. It gets incredibly busy in summer, so time it right by arriving early or late in the day, or visiting in the low season.

Navagio beach with shipwreck and flowers against sunset on Zakynthos island in Greece
Navagio beach on Zakynthos island in Greece © extravagantni/Getty Images

9. Navagio Beach, Greece

The Greek beach of a million postcards, Navagio in Zakynthos is better known by its nickname, Shipwreck Beach, due to the stranded cargo ship on its shores. With mighty cliffs flinging up above a perfect arc of sand and sea so blue it looks Photoshopped, this heaven-on-earth beach is no secret. But if you dodge the high season, it’s still worth boating it out here to be momentarily floored by its beauty.

Turquoise waters lap at a small secluded bay
Coll Baix beach is on Mallorca's Cap des Pinar peninsula © ABBPhoto / iStockphoto / Getty Images

10. Platja de Coll Baix, Mallorca

Half the fun is managing to find this remote, thrillingly wild beauty of a beach on Mallorca’s off-the-beaten-track Cap des Pinar peninsula. A walking trail descends through pines and scrambles down the coast to Platja de Coll Baix. A lovely scoop of pale pebbles and crystal-clear sea, rimmed by crumbling cliffs, the bay is at its peaceful best early or late in the day.

Rocky shore of the island of Porquerolles and blue water of  Mediterranean Sea.
Pine and eucalyptus border the beach of Île de Porquerolles in France © Monika Lewandowska / Getty Images

11. Île de Porquerolles, France

Too petite to name just one beach, the car-free islet of Île de Porquerolles, dangling just off the coast of Hyères, is a delicious amuse-bouche of the French Riviera – providing you sidestep the sun-worshipping day-trippers in the height of summer, that is. Come in the low season to truly feel the love for this crescent-shaped beach of pearl-white sand, skirted by pine and eucalyptus woods.

Rauðasandur, West Fjords, Iceland
It's worth the winding journey along mountain roads to reach windswept Rauðasandur in Iceland © Gareth Codd / Getty Images

12. Rauðasandur, Iceland

On the Látrabjarg Peninsula in the remote Westfjords and reached by a winding mountain road, Rauðasandur – one of of Iceland's best beaches – is vast, empty and staggeringly beautiful. Formed by crushed scallop shells, its bronze sands are buttressed by dark cliffs, backed by an azure lagoon and tormented by a wild, wild sea. If you hike on Látrabjarg's seabird cliffs, keep an eye out for puffins and seals lounging on the rocks below. On clear days, views reach to the Snæfellsjökull glacier volcano.

View of Playa de las Catedrales beach in Spain
Admire the rock formations at Galicia's beautiful Playa as Catedrais © iStockphoto / Getty Images

13. Praia as Catedrais, Spain

If you want to worship at the altar of the beach gods, Praia as Catedrais in Galicia is heaven. Taking its name – Cathedral Beach – from the way wind and water have gnawed this stretch of coastline into spectacular rock arches, towers and chambers, it’s best visited at low tide when its long golden sands are properly exposed. In the height of summer, a free permit is needed to visit.

A small sandbank stretches out to an islet covered in houses
Linger on the beach by the postcard-perfect fortified island village of Sveti Stefan in Montenegro © Sloneg / Getty Images

14. Sveti Stefan, Montenegro

The Adriatic doesn't get much more ludicrously photogenic than the fortified island village of Sveti Stefan (Свети Стефан) with one of the loveliest beaches in Montenegro. Here pines, olive trees and oleanders peek above 15th-century stone villas, which quietly survey pink sands and limpid waters from their rocky perch. You can laze on the beach, but unless you’re staying at the Aman Resort you can only visit the actual island by tour.

Waves lap at an empty beach backed by rocks
Hire a 4WD vehicle to reach secluded Lara Beach, Cyprus, home to turtles and seals © Tupungato / Getty Images

15. Lara Beach, Cyprus

A taste of Cyprus before the dawn of tourism, delightfully secluded Lara Beach makes a little notch on the island’s west coast. It’s a bumpy drive (a 4WD is advisable), but efforts are rewarded when you reach the tremendously unspoilt sands and pristine waters of this conservation area – an important hatchery and nesting ground for loggerhead and green turtles. Monk seals also inhabit sea caves around the peninsula.

Aerial shot of a beach peninsula, lined with sunshades and umbrellas
Zlatni Rat is one of Croatia's most well-known beaches © DeFodi Images / Getty Images

16. Zlatni Rat, Croatia

The poster-child of Croatia’s coast, Zlatni Rat on Brač Island is no secret, but don’t let that stop you. Get a wriggle on in the low season instead to find a more peaceful vibe at this phenomenal sand-and-pebble beach, which dips its pale, slender toes into the inky Adriatic and gazes wistfully up to the rugged cliffs and forested mountains of Dalmatia. Pine trees offer welcome shade.

A vast white-sand beach curves around a headland and appears to stretch forever
Wander on the fine white sands of Dueodde at the southern tip of Bornholm in Denmark © Visit Denmark

17. Dueodde, Denmark

Appearing like a remembered dream in the painterly pastel light of sunset, Dueodde reclines at the southernmost tip of the island of Bornholm in Denmark’s Baltic Sea. Backed by expansive dunes and pines, its sand is as white and soft as talcum powder – so fine-grained, in fact, that it was once used in hourglasses. You can walk for miles, finding space and solitude, and wade out to sea forever with water only reaching your knees. By night, the only light comes from the stars and blinking lighthouse.

Landscape with mountains and ocean at Keem beach. Achill, Ireland
Mountains meet the ocean at Keem Bay on Achill Island off the west coast of Ireland © Rihardzz / Shutterstock

18. Keem Bay, Ireland

Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way hides a crock of gold when it comes to dramatic coastlines – and nowhere more so than at gloriously remote Keem Bay at the far west of Achill Island. A precipitous coastal drive fires the appetite for proper wilderness – and here you have it. Bearing the brunt of stormy seas and the fickle whims of the Irish weather, this half-moon bay of golden sand spreads out at the foot of steep cliffs and grassy slopes. Basking sharks can sometimes be sighted offshore.

Aerial view showing a white beach contrasting with the bright blue ocean
Myrtos in Kefallonia is one of Greece's most popular beaches © Panos Karas / Shutterstock

19. Myrtos Beach, Kefallonia, Greece

The road that helter-skelters down the steep hillside to Myrtos on the Greek Island of Kefallonia quickens pulses as much as the bay itself. From above, it looks as though mighty Poseidon has emerged from the deep and cleaved the coast in two, leaving behind this fiercely beautiful white-pebble bay, framed by sheer cliffs and lapped by the sea that ticks almost every blue on the color chart. It’s justifiably popular so avoid peak times and seasons.

Tourists crowd a small beach, with colorful sun shades
Spiaggia dei Conigli on Lampedusa is part of a marine reserve © Natursports / Shutterstock

20. Spiaggia dei Conigli, Sicily, Italy

Sicily has some fantastic beaches up its volcanic sleeves, but a more wondrous spiaggia yet lies off the coast on far-flung, still-kind-of-a-secret Lampedusa – Italy’s southernmost island, which is technically closer to Tunisia. Here you’ll be blown away by the Spiaggia dei Conigli (Rabbit Beach), with its bleached sands and shallow aquamarine water. Accessible only by boat or on foot, the beach forms part of a marine reserve where loggerhead turtles nest – it’s, therefore, off-limits at night from roughly May to August.

This article was first published Feb 25, 2021 and updated Feb 26, 2024.

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