Whenever someone asks me what my favorite beach is, I ask back “For what?”
There are beaches for swimming, beaches for frolicking in the waves, beaches simply made for endless walks. In Europe we have extensive and varied coastlines, from steep and rocky coves to endless stretches of white sand. We also have a varied climate, so an endless white sand beach in the north may not be perfect for summer sun and sea bathing – it’s only warm enough for a few days a year for that. But looking at the big picture, Europe has something to offer for all occasions, all seasons and almost all places.
I am devoted wasserratte, a German term that translates to “water rat”. I am attracted to all kinds of water, be it rivers, lakes, seas or preferably oceans. I love to swim, snorkel, sail, walk the dog along the coast or just sit and stare at an endless stretch of water for hours. I’ve been lucky enough to frequent different types of beaches across Europe, and I’ve listed a few of my favorites here, along with why those beaches are special to me. Enjoy your beach vacation in Europe.
1. Seaham Beach, England
Not only is Seaham Beach on the beautiful Durham coast in the North East of England beautiful, but it also holds a special place in my heart for one main reason: sea glass.
Seaham sea glass is multi-toned, making the beach one of the best sea glass beaches in the world. But even if you’re not interested in collecting its pretty nuggets of smooth glass, Seaham Beach is a spectacular beach to visit for an almost endless walk, preferably with a dog. Not only is this beach dog-friendly, but in the small town of Seaham there is a phenomenal dog-friendly cafe, Coffee & Co, in the pedestrian area. It serves cheap and good food for humans and their canine friends.
Pro tip: When you go to Seaham, you should not only try to walk a little along the Durham Heritage Coastal Walk, but also, as a treat for all this activity, stay at the luxurious Seaham Hall with its superb spa.
2. Bamburgh Castle Beach, England
This is probably my favorite beach of all, at least in England. Bamburgh Castle Beach is in Northumberland, a few miles south of the Scottish border. If you’re tough you can swim in it, but if you’re sensitive to cold it’s not really a swimming beach unless it’s a hot summer day on the North Sea . It is, however, one of the most picturesque beaches around.
Bordered by huge sand dunes, this wide white sand beach is also dominated by the imposing Bamburgh Castle, making for an impressive backdrop. Another dog friendly beach, I’ve spent hours walking it, standing still, watching the waves crashing or taking pictures of the beach with the castle behind. Sitting close to the sheltering dunes, it is also an ideal picnic spot to spend a few hours.
Pro tip: Also spend some time in Bamburgh itself. It’s a small village, but quintessentially British, with its village green, red telephone box and column box, and small pubs and cafes serving cream tea. If you’re a fan of fresh seafood, book a table at The Potted Lobster – it doesn’t get better than that.
3. Noordwijk Aan Zee, Netherlands
I’ve lost count of how many summers I spent in Noordwijk aan Zee (“Noordwijk by the Sea”) as a child.
This long, completely straight white sand beach stretches from the estuary of the North Sea Canal and leads to Amsterdam, The Hague and beyond. I remember tumbling in the waves when the tide was rising, then walking for hours with my mother to nearby towns – Katwijk aan Zee on one side and Zandvoort on the other – having a snack, then coming back watching the tide rise.
Noordwijk is one of many seaside resorts along the Dutch coast, bordering the southern North Sea. The town has changed a lot over the years, with many buildings and hotels lining the coastal promenade now, but the beach is hard to beat.
Pro tip: For a truly authentic Dutch beach snack, head to one of the many little food trucks and grab a matjes (a young fresh pickled herring) with onion; or one frikandel (similar to an elongated meat patty) served with fries and mayonnaise. So delicious, and they sum up my Dutch childhood breaks in one snack.
4. Le Petit Travers Beach, France
I like a city that is near water. Having grown up in Hamburg, with the North Sea and the Baltic Sea an hour’s drive from the city, I appreciate when you can enjoy the comforts of the city and the joys of the beach at your fingertips. Montpellier in the south of France ticks this box superbly – even more so than Hamburg – as you can reach the Mediterranean coast and several beaches by public transport directly from the city centre.
Taking the tram and then a shuttle from Montpellier to Le Petit Travers beach takes you through the inland brackish lagoons to a sand spit which is connected to the mainland in a few places. You exit the bus near an ice cream van and follow a sandy path through the dunes – all the while waiting for the anticipation to build. When you go to the beach, it’s just beautiful. The white sand is hemmed by grassy sand dunes on one side and the turquoise waters of the Mediterranean on the other. A few beach cafes are in sight, all with lounge chairs and serving cocktails.
In the distance is the more built-up seaside town of La Grande Motte, but you don’t have to approach it. Stay at Petit Travers and enjoy.
Pro tip: On the way back, get off the tram at Lez Market, where you can eat, drink and do some great shopping.
5. Old Boucau-Les-Bains, France
When I was not in the Netherlands, my family probably took me to the seaside in France – to the Atlantic coast rather than the Mediterranean coast. Driving from Germany, we tended to spend the night in Paris and then again in La Rochelle before catching the ferry across the Gironde estuary to Bordeaux. We drove the straight line which is the famous seaside of the Atlantic coast of France. The final destination was often Vieux-Boucau-les-Bains and its campsite under the pines.
Barely bothering to unload the car, we grabbed the inflatable boat and boogie board and headed straight for the ocean waves. And you know what? I went back several years later with my husband, and the magic has not gone away at all. The beaches along this stretch of coast are simply endless, so wide they never get crowded, and the waves are so much fun.
Pro tip: Because of these waves, it’s a great place to learn to surf. The beach is dotted with surf schools, such as the Vieux Boucau Surf Club.
6. The beaches of Moraira, Spain
My parents lived for a few years in Moraira, about halfway between Alicante and Valencia on the Costa Blanca. When my daughter was still young, it was a great opportunity to combine a family visit with a beach vacation. Moraira has a large popular beach just behind its old castle, but it was the smaller beach to the east of Portet Marina which was perfect for a family dip and a good snorkeling session. Its small bay was full of fish, octopus and beautiful shellfish.
What makes Moraira such a beautiful destination in Spain is that it is so different from popular resorts, such as Benidorm or Torremolinos. In addition, the Costa Blanca is on the whole much quieter than the Costa del Sol. In Moraira you can relax away from the crowds while the small town offers everything you need.
Pro tip: Book ahead and enjoy a superb paella at Club Nautico Moraira in the marina. It has beautiful views.
7. Platja De Ses Illetes, Formentera, Spain
This beach gave me one of the biggest surprises in the Mediterranean. Sailing opposite Palma de Mallorca on a stormy day, we finally reached the marina of Formentera, the smallest of the Balearic Islands, feeling quite tired after the long sea voyage. weather and clouds dissipated, and the next day offered beautiful blue skies, sunshine and perfect temperatures – in short, beach weather.
Not far from the marina, to the north of Formentera, is Platja de ses Illetes, a veritable strip of sand coming out of the island. The sand on this beach is snow white, the water turquoise, and if you had told me that I had landed in the Maldives, I would have believed it. Picture perfect and just beautiful.
Pro tip: You can get there by bike, rented at the marina, by bus L3, or by taxi. Bring a picnic and a chilled bottle of rosé for maximum enjoyment.
For more beach inspiration, take a walk in the sand: