Culling down the list of the best white sand beaches in Europe to just ten was hard. And when I say “hard,” I mean extremely difficult.
First, there are so many gorgeous beaches on the continent; second, it’s extremely subjective. One thing that I took into consideration is that I’m not a fan of black or red sand beaches. So that ruled out crowd-pleasers like Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach in Iceland and Red Beach in Santorini. Sorry-not-sorry.
I’m also an unapologetic fan of crystal clear, turquoise or light aqua water. So I eliminated the deep, dark blues of some beaches in the Mediterranean and the mysterious craggy coasts of northern Europe.
Another way I was able to come up with just ten beauties was not to include multiple beaches in one area. As just one example, I could come up with ten gorgeous beaches just within the Greek Islands, but I chose just the one I thought was the best, so I could include beaches in other countries. I thought this approach would be more interesting to you.
Like many of you, I frequently travel to Europe for cultural reasons, but because I’m first and foremost a beach-lover, if I can build in a visit to a beach (my happy place), and feel the sand between my toes, the sun kiss my face, and the ocean sweep back my hair, well, it just doesn’t get any better than that.
So, without further ado, here’s your European dose of Vitamin Sea!
10 Blue Lagoon, Malta
The tiny 3-island nation of Malta is an often-overlooked destination. On the smallest Malta island of Comino, the Blue Lagoon is one of the most remote, beautiful, and peaceful spots in the Mediterranean. You can reach the picturesque turquoise lagoon from either the main island or Gozo Island by boat and then by following a narrow, rocky path down to the beach.
A visit and swim in the warm, shallow waters of the Blue Lagoon is a must-do when visiting Malta. Note: unlike most of the other beaches on this list, this beach is mostly rocky with just small patches of sand, but it’s so beautiful that it deserved a place.
9 Ölüdeniz, Turkey
Turkey’s Turquoise Coast boasts over 450 beautiful beaches, but the best is Ölüdeniz (pronounced eu-leu-den-eez), also known as the Blue Lagoon. This is where the Aegean Sea meets the Mediterranean, forming a spit of sandbar forming a small peninsula surrounded by a calm lagoon of shallow azure water and protected forests on the other end.
A little less than seven miles from the southwest city of Fethiye, Ölüdeniz is the most photographed beach in Turkey. Be forewarned, though, it is not a secret and the beach can get quite crowded during the summer high season.
The best view of the natural beauty of the sea and the green mountains is best viewed from overhead – which you can easily see by tandem paragliding above the bay after you leap off Babadag Mountain.
8 Zlatni rat, Croatia
Located on the island of Brač off Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast, Zlatni rat beach, also known as the Golden Horn, is a little slice of paradise, literally. It was created by deposits of fine pebbles as sediment around the underwater reef, forming a tongue of sandbar into the Adriatic Sea. The shape of the beach changes depending on the waves, currents, and winds. The immediate beach surrounding the land projection is light aqua-green and crystal clear, giving way to deep dark blue water. There are pine trees at the other end of the beach to seek shelter during the hot summer months.
We visited Zlatni rat as part of our cruise around four of Croatia’s Dalmatian Islands that originated in Dubrovnik. Brač was definitely one of the highlights of the islands (although I loved Hvar about as much) and one of my favorite Balkans Holidays. Apparently, there’s a nudist section on the western part of the beach, but there were no people au natural when I was there.
Zlatni rat beach is just a little more than a mile from the picturesque harbor village of Bol with stone houses boasting red-tile roofs, narrow streets. We got to the beach by taking the trolley from Bol and then returned to Bol by a 20-minute scenic walk on a seaside promenade. Brač is also just a one-hour ferry ride from the Croatian city of Split.
7 Ksamil, Albania
Just south of the city of Sarandë on the coastal region known as the Albanian Riviera, Ksamil’s stunning turquoise beaches are still somewhat of a hidden gem. The small village has a few small sea view restaurants that serve up the freshest seafood and tastiest mussels you’ll find anywhere.
The pristine water at the beach is so shallow you can almost walk to one of the three small rocky little islands offshore (but we suggest you kayak!). Ksamil is truly magnificent and I’d go back in a heartbeat!
What makes Ksamil even more convenient is that it’s just a 30-minute ferry ride from the Greek island of Corfu, close to the ancient ruins of Butrint National Park, and the natural phenomena of Syri i Kalter (Blue Hole). See why Albania is one of my favorite European countries!
6 Balos, Crete
Crete’s exotic-looking Balos lagoon is a secluded, wildlife-filled paradise of the Eastern Mediterranean. Shimmering teal water laps onto brilliant white sand that sometimes takes on a light pink hue from the light cast onto the tiny particles of crushed coral. The lagoon offers a plethora of natural beauty, from vivid teal and sapphire of the shallow water to the surrounding mountains. Balos is also a protected shelter for monk seals and loggerhead sea turtles.
Note: it’s not easy to reach Balos – you’ll need to take a boat or drive along a steep hill and then hike down to the beach, but it’s worth the effort.
5 Praia Dona Ana, Portugal
There are so many iconic Algarve beaches on the south coast of Portugal, it can be a challenge to choose just one. Praia Dona Ana is surrounded by rugged orange limestone cliffs for which the area is often nicknamed the Costa d’Ouro (“Golden Coast”). The towering cliffs protect the beach from the winds while still allowing it to get sun all day. It’s also a Blue Flag beach, which means it meets strict standards of quality in terms of water purity and facilities.
Algarve runners up: Praia Da Marinha and Praia de Benagil.
4 San Vito Lo Capo, Sicily
Located in the Trapani area of northwest Sicily, the small seaside town of San Vito Lo Capo is one of the most popular beach resorts on the island. Until a few years ago, it was a quiet and peaceful fishing village. Now, the stunning beach on a sheltered bay with Mount Monaco as a backdrop make it one of the most popular tourist spots in Sicily. White sand and dazzling emerald green and turquoise waters perched below an ancient town make this beach one of the most scenic in Europe. And fabulous seafood doesn’t hurt either.
When you’ve had your fill of the beach, in the center of town is the 15th-century Arab-Norman architecture structures of Santuario di San Vito is a fortress-like structure, Santa Crescenzia chapel, and the circular Torrazzo watchtower.
3 Plage de Palombaggia, Corsica
If you’re looking for a unique paradise, look no further than Corsica, a French island floating in the Mediterranean Sea. It is a place of extreme natural beauty, including the perfect juxtaposition of red boulders on white sand, the turquoise water, and stone pines on Palombaggia beach. It’s been dubbed as one of the best beaches not only in Corsica but in all of Europe.
On a clear day, you can get views of the Îles Cerbicale on the horizon. You can also climb on the boulders to view the colored striations of pink granite. Underwater, discovery of marine life and sea creatures awaits.
For all of these reasons, exotic Palombaggia is the stuff dreams are made of.
2 Tropea, Italy
Tropea is not only one of the most beautiful and recognized beaches in Europe, but I love the ancient feel of this beach as well. Located in the “toe” of the Italian boot, the town of Tropea sits atop a dramatic seaside cliff standing sentry over the shimmering turquoise water of the Tyrrhenian Sea. At the top of the precipice, you’ll find charming narrow streets lined with old stone buildings, including the majestic church of Santa Maria dell’Isola.
On clear days visitors can catch a glimpse of the striking Stromboli and Lipari Islands in the distance.
1 Nissi Beach, Cyprus
Consistently ranked as one of the best white sand beaches in Europe, idyllic, vibrant, and tropical, Nissi Beach is just a short distance from Cyprus’ party capital, Ayia Napa. The beach, which runs the length of its own cove, takes its name from the small islet of Nissi located close to the coast. It’s pretty easy to reach by swimming and a great place for snorkeling.
About 1/3 mile of soft, white sand and shallow water that will never go past your waist and clean enough for the beach to have been awarded the blue flag designation for cleanliness make Nissi a popular hotspot for… well, just about everyone.
In addition to the mesmerizing iridescent aqua-green color of the water and blindingly white-sand, the beach is also known for its lively atmosphere and abundance of water activities. There are toilets and changing rooms on the beach, as well as restaurants and bars that host beach parties.
As you can imagine, Nissi is one of the most popular beaches in Cyprus, but despite heavy crowds in the summer high season, it’s still worth to visit. If you prefer to explore the beach without the crowds, then off-season would be better.
If you were under the impression that the beaches of Europe are inferior to those of the South Pacific, the Caribbean, or the Indian Ocean, then after reading this article, I hope that the unique, sun-drenched landscapes and picturesque water views of these European beauties have purged you of that opinion. The white-sand beaches of Europe are some of the most beautiful in the world!
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About the Author
Patti Morrow is a freelance travel writer and founder of the award-winning international blog Luggage and Lipstick and southern travel blog Gone to Carolinas. TripAdvisor called her one of “20 Baby Boomer Travel Bloggers Having More Fun Than Millennials.” Patti is the author of the book “Girls Go Solo: Tips for Women Traveling Alone,” and has over 150 bylines in 40 print and online publications, including The Huffington Post, International Living Magazine, Washington Post Sunday Travel, Travel Girl, Travel Play Live Magazine, and Ladies Home Journal. She has traveled six continents looking for fabulous places and adventure activities for her Baby Boomer (and Gen X!) tribe.