Leave Europe’s crowded beaches behind with our guide to the continent’s most amazing coastal destinations. From idyllic stretches of sand and colorful towns to amazing cliffs and secret islands, Europe’s coastline is full of surprises — and we’re here to show you the best of them.
1. Head to the North Sea in Sylt
An endless beach, beautiful blue skies, and impressive dunes are not things that come to mind when you think of Germany. Yet this is precisely what awaits you in Westerland, a little town in Sylt, Germany’s northernmost island. Walk through the town center, past quirky stores and cute cafes, until you reach the sandy beach that stretches for miles. Explore the island by bike and try to keep count of the red and white striped lighthouses that are scattered across the landscape.
2. Enjoy sweeping views in Étretat
Just a few hour’s drive from Paris, Étretat is a dream. Morning person or not, watching the sun rise over the famous white cliffs of Étretat is something you simply have to witness. To make the most of your early start, head to the Chapelle Notre-Dame de la Garde for the perfect view of the sun rising over the cliffs. Afterward, take a stroll along the clifftop and enjoy sweeping views of the coastline. Recharge in the small town of Étretat, which like most towns in Normandy, is a great place to enjoy fresh seafood and a refreshing glass of wine at the end of the day.
3. Admire Durdle Door’s limestone arches
The UK is more than just rain, cloudy skies, and fish and chips. Just a three-hour drive from London is Durdle Door, an impressive limestone arch on the Jurassic Coast. Yes, you heard us right. And no, this doesn’t mean dinosaurs are roaming around or that Jeff Goldblum will guide you along the coast (unless he’s also there on vacation and feels like it). If you’re lucky, you may find a fossil or two. After you’ve searched for remnants of the past, take a walk along the South West Coastal Path for incredible views of dramatic cliffs and hidden coves.
4. Enjoy Atrani’s quaint and colorful vibe
Travelers visiting the Amalfi Coast usually stop by the likes of Positano, Sorrento, and Capri. These destinations are well worth the trip — but there’s one place this lineup’s missing: Atrani. This charming, medieval town is one of the most relaxing spots in the region. The entire town is ringed by a large viaduct behind the beach. As one of the oldest settlements in Italy, much of the structures remain intact, so be sure to wander around the historic center. As you take a stroll, you’ll see street vendors selling enormous lemons. Pro tip: pick up a glass of fresh lemon juice before departing. You’re unlikely to find a more refreshing drink in all of Europe.
5. Soak up Rovinj’s unique atmosphere
If you can’t decide whether to visit Italy or France for your next vacation, fear not! We’ve got a place that combines the most beautiful aspects of both countries. With French Riviera charm and Italian atmosphere, the little town of Rovinj in Croatia is something right out of a magazine. If you head here, make sure to hop on a boat for a day at sea. After you’re back on land, check out the destination’s crowning jewel, the Church of Euphemia. Built in 1725, this place of worship overlooks the town, beaches, and neighboring islands. Visit the local market by the harbor to buy homemade liquor, jewelry, fresh vegetables, and much more.
6. Get remote in Hirtshals
A cute village with its own giant lighthouse is not something you want to miss, so pack a tent (and some wanderlust) and set out for Hirtshals in northern Denmark. Unwind on the beach below Hirtshals Fyr, a 187 foot (57 meter) tall lighthouse, and watch boats and ferries go by. You can sail to Iceland, the Faroe Islands, and even Greenland from here — the locals don’t call it “the Gateway to Europe” for nothing. Before you leave, make sure you try Guf, a type of Danish soft ice.
7. Row over to Sveti Stefan
Those of you who’ve already heard of Sveti Stefan were probably disappointed to learn this stunning island is home to a private hotel — and a pretty pricey one at that. But don’t worry, you don’t need to be on the island to enjoy the beauty of Sveti Stefan, which has been dazzling locals and travelers alike for centuries. Just a 15-minute journey away from Budva, a beautiful Montenegrin coastal town, so snap some pics from the mainland before treating yourself to an unforgettable dinner on Sveti Stefan.
8. Take a hike in San Juan de Gaztelugatxe
The prospect of climbing 231 steps doesn’t sound a lot of fun. What if we told you that this island would change your mind? Nestled in the waters north of Spain, you’ll find yourself wanting to lace up your hiking boots and explore the dramatic islet. After crossing the bridge that connects the mainland to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, legend says you have to ring the little bell at the entrance three times and then make a wish. And don’t just take it from us — the landscape is so spectacular it’s even gotten some screen time on Game of Thrones.