Can't choose between a city break and a beach vacation? Thanks to some stellar European cities with stunning stretches of sand, you need not pick a side. The following six cities are perfect for travelers who are looking to bask in the sun as well as explore urban streets full of cultural delights and delicious cuisines.
With crystal-clear waters, there is no doubt that Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast is spectacular, but most of its beaches are pebbly or rocky outcrops in small coves. However, the ancient city of Split boasts a sandy beach within minutes of its old town. In addition to being a great place for swimming and lounging, Bacvice Beach has many bars and restaurants along the promenade — perfect for people-watching. If you somehow grow tired of the picturesque old town, Diocletian’s Palace, and the seemingly endless historic wonders, you can also grab a boat and find smaller, quieter beaches on one of the nearby islands.
Famous for its food scene, the Spanish city of San Sebastian is not only home to an astounding amount of Michelin-starred restaurants, but also one of Europe’s best beaches. Playa de la Concha is spectacular, and one of two beaches in the sweeping bay that the city overlooks. This beach, and its smaller neighbor, Playa de Ondarreta, are both relaxed and friendly, with calm waters, views of Santa Clara Island, and lush green mountains as a backdrop. For something a little livelier, the nearby Playa de la Zurriola has a more youthful, surf vibe, with numerous beach bars. Visitors to the city can combine beach time with tasty food and culture. Wander the streets of the old town, browsing the high-end boutiques, sampling pintxos(bite-size local snacks) and local wines at bars, and indulging in some seriously innovative cuisine in top-of-the-line restaurants.
Lisbon, Portugal’s hilly capital city, is becoming increasingly popular for a short city break. Its historic tram system makes it easy to explore the different neighborhoods, but what many people don’t know is that there are also many long sandy beaches that can be easily reached via public transport. To the west, large beaches such as Praia de Carcavelos are relaxed and family-friendly, while the more rugged coastline farther north is better for surfing. Days in the city can be spent marveling at the architecture and colorful azulejo tiles, sipping port and tonics, and gorging on delicious natas(Portuguese custard tarts). Be sure to also check out one of the city’s many independent bookshops, and snag that Instagram-worthy shot of tinned seafood cans in quaint, old-fashioned grocery stores.
When thinking of European cities with beaches, Barcelona is likely to come to mind first. The city has it all: stunning architecture, a thriving nightlife and dining scene, numerous museums and galleries, and beautiful beaches. Barceloneta, the city’s main (and busiest) beach, is bookmarked by Frank Gehry’s famous El Peixsculpture at one end, and the towering sail-like structure of the W Hotel at the other. Lively and bustling, with a youthful crowd and tons of vendors, it is one of seven impressive beaches within easy reach. If you prefer a sandy stretch where you don’t have to share towel space, head to quieter spots like Nova Icària and Bogatell. A short train ride can give you access to many other beaches and small coves as well.
Though it has less French Riviera glamour than St. Tropez, Nice, with its miles of beaches and old-fashioned promenade, is no less worthy of a visit. The beaches here are a mix of public and private, and are all pebbly (though some more than others). That said, the first decision to make is whether you want to go private and pay for a comfortable sun lounger, or keep it free and easy. The public beaches tend to be busy, and the best spots are often on the rocks, away from others — La Reserve and Coco are both popular with locals (Coco is more of a rocky cove than an actual beach). There are lifeguards in the summer, but due to the depth and currents, it’s not a good spot for kids or weak swimmers. The private Ruhl Beach is fantastic for families, as there is also a seafront pool with lifeguards and all of the usual extras that you get for money (toilets, waiter service, and more).
Forget the booze-fueled holiday stereotypes — Mallorca has really upped its game in recent years, and its capital, Palma de Mallorca, makes for a perfect city break. It combines city perks (including a beautiful old town, historic cathedral, great restaurants and bars, and decent shopping) with a long stretch of sandy beach. You can lay your towel in the sand, or rent a sun lounger and umbrella. In the high season, there are lifeguards, toilets, and showers. It may not be as pretty as many of Mallorca’s small coves, but as far as city beaches go, it ticks all the boxes. For those who prefer amenities beyond just the sea and sand, there is a beach club at each end. Assaona is the newer and more high-end of the two, with a chi-chi restaurant and comfy loungers. A short walk away is the picturesque former fishing village of Portixol, home to a collection of eateries and a small shingle and sand beach.
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