Cities like Miami, San Diego, and Honolulu are beloved for their combination of urban pleasures and oceanside beauty. There, upscale dining and lively bars lie a short distance from a soft blanket of sand and beautiful waters. Well, while you may not realize it, cities like Paris and Berlin have beaches, too. Though they’re not necessarily known as sunbathing paradises, these urban destinations are home to sandy stretches that serve as escapes from the noise and stress of city life. So, kick off your shoes and saunter through some of the most unexpected city beaches in the world.
Plenty of vacationers head to Reykjavik to soak in one of the geothermal pools and trudge along the black volcanic beaches, but the city is also home to a lesser-known respite: Nautholsvik Geothermal Beach. This patch of sand is located about a mile from downtown Reykjavik and has a heated pool carved into the middle of it. It’s open year-round, but you’ll probably want to check the weather forecast before putting on a swimsuit and flip-flops. Temperatures fall between the 30s and 40s Fahrenheit in the fall, winter, and spring, making the beach a nice place for a stroll, but perhaps not ideal for swimming. However, if you’re visiting the land of fire and ice during the summer, when the thermometer climbs up to the high 50s, you’ll likely want to check out Nautholsvik with a bottle of tanning lotion.
Few travelers probably fly to Berlin to dance the tango under an umbrella of palm trees. But Strandbar Mitte makes that unlikely cultural happening a regular occurrence. Located on the water across from the Bode Museum and near Monbijou Park, this beach bar has sand, 200 reclining chairs, and summery cocktails and beer. The refreshments serve as liquid inspiration for dancing, too. Almost every night, there’s a program to get customers twirling. In the early evening, tango, salsa, and swing dancing lessons are usually offered. Later on, DJs spin Latin and jazz records. Where’s the beach, you ask? You’ll be twinkling your toes on a thin layer of sand. And don’t think too hard about why you’re dancing the cha-cha at a tiki bar in Berlin. After a few Eisbocks, it will all make sense.
During the summer, Parisians traditionally flee from the city streets and head to the beaches in the south France. But in 2002, Paris’ mayor made a bold and competitive move: He brought the beach to the banks of the Seine. Millions of dollars of sand were trucked in. At first, the locals thought it was a waste of money, but kicking back in a chaise lounge chair with the Eiffel Tower poking up in the distance has a certain je ne sais quoi. What originally started as one Paris Plage — as it’s known — has now grown into three. And in addition to lounge chairs and umbrellas, the city also sets up foosball tables and organizes concerts. However, no swimming is allowed in the Seine. Look for the beaches between Pont Neuf and Pont de Sully, and at Bassin de la Villette and Voie Georges-Pompidou.
If you’re in Cardiff with little ones, you’ll likely be running to Cardiff Bay Beach to give them something fun to do. The pop-up beach at Cardiff Bay has become such a popular attraction that the city built an amusement park around the patch of sand. Catering to young kids, the beach is steps away from carousels, a Ferris wheel, and several carnival games. Last summer, over a quarter million people visited the urban oasis, inspiring this year’s expansion. However, some parents complain that the prices for food and games are a bit high.
Beach is likely not the first word that comes to mind when you think of Vancouver. However, the city has nine beaches — eight by the ocean and one by Trout Lake. English Bay Beach is one of the most popular stretches of sand in the downtown area. Here, you can expect volleyball nets, kayak rentals, and umbrellas, plus a couple of distinctive attractions like a swimming raft with a slide and the Cactus Club Cafe. In addition to tasty appetizers, like hot wings and fried calamari, the sustainability-minded eatery also offers health-conscious dishes such as Alberta Angus beef steaks, Thai curry lingcod, and quinoa salad. English Bay Beach also has a reputation for being well-kept and clean, but since it’s Canada, that comes with the territory.
Sandlot may be the ultimate beach party cookout. The “urban island concept” restaurant was launched by James Beard Award-winning chef Spike Gjerde on the border of Harbor East and Fells Point in Baltimore. Food is served out of a 1968 Safari Airstream trailer and upcycled metal shipping containers, and the menu includes dishes like burgers, blue catfish fillets, and nachos covered in crab. Want a playful drink? How about a sand-gria or a rose vermouth slushy? While you can’t swim in the adjoining water, Sandlot has plenty of events on dry land: volleyball tournaments, live music, exercise classes, and lawn games. This year, Splash City Golf is setting up a driving range, so the club-swinging crowd can hit biodegradable balls into the harbor.
Visitors to Dubrovnik’s Old Town usually want to spend time surveying the medieval forts and Byzantine cathedral, but walk past the Lazareti, which was once a quarantine station, and you’ll find Banje Beach, a favorite spot for locals. Like many Mediterranean beaches, Banje looks out onto beautiful blue water. If you get tired of swimming, there are many other activities, including paddle boating, parasailing, and jet-skiing. The Banje Beach restaurant serves Dalmatian and Mediterranean dishes, like octopus salad and buffalo mozzarella with prosciutto. And if you decide to stay by the beach after the sun goes down, the restaurant turns into a nightclub with DJs. One note: Anyone who’s physically impaired should know that walking down stairs is the only way to reach the beach.
Most visitors to London probably don’t put the Docklands at the top of their must-see list. But that would be a mistake, as the riverfront and former docks are transformed into a beach each summer. Not only is the water open for swimming, but folks can also go paddleboarding and wakeboarding. Time it right and you might even catch a paddleboard or swimming tournament. Landlubbers can opt for a yoga class instead. The beach is free, and you can also rent wetsuits and boards.
The urban tundra known for its vanquishing Vikings also has beaches. Minneapolis’ Lake Calhoun (a.k.a Bde Maka Ska — its native American name) has three beaches around it: North Beach, Thomas Beach, and 32nd Street Beach. Which one you go to depends on if you have a family and if you want to be seen. Thomas Beach is for devoted sunbathers, while North Beach and 32nd Street Beach are a little more family-friendly and have nearby playgrounds. Activities are plentiful on and around the lake — fishing, canoeing, running, and cycling are all options. There’s even an archery range, though patrons need to bring their own arrows and targets. One minor limitation: There aren’t many restaurants on Lake Calhoun. If you’re looking for more options, Uptown, Minneapolis is a short walk away.
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