Although there are some beautiful coastal spots here in the UK, our changeable weather can make a British beach holiday a risky choice.
As a nation, we like to head to sunnier climes and make the most of our break, to the point UK tourism spending accounted for half of all direct tourism sector jobs in EU27 destinations in 2017.
Passenger numbers naturally dipped considerably during the pandemic and may have also been affected by Brexit, but are expected to rise again now travel restrictions have been lifted.
Europe, right on our doorstep, makes for easy and inexpensive travel, but also has so much to offer for any holidaymaker.
From Spain’s popular family resorts to Albania’s undiscovered beauty, every traveller is catered for – whether you’re travelling in a group or looking for some solo sunshine.
We’ve rounded up our favourite beach holiday destinations across the continent, so you can regain your wanderlust after years of it being curtailed.
Donostia-San Sebastián, Spain
Donostia-San Sebastián is located in the Basque Region of Spain that offers something completely different to the usual resorts on the mainland.
Foodies will love the bite-sized pintxos – delicious morsels of food offered free with drinks. It’s a tradition in the region, and each bar has its own specialty that pairs perfectly with the local txakoli wine.
Its beaches are beautiful, with Playa de la Concha and Playa de la Zurriola serving as the two busiest stretches. At either you can book surf lessons, or just relax on the sand if you’re after a more chilled break.
Must-see: For panoramic views of the coastline, head up one of the four routes to the summit of Monte Urgull. There, you can walk around the ruins of a 12th century fortress and take in the huge Sagrado Corazón statue up-close.
How to get there: The easiest way to get there from the UK is to fly to Bilbao, with flights available from budget providers like EasyJet and Ryanair. From there, the bus to San Sebastian takes around an hour and a half.
Where to stay: Ironically given you’re looking to escape the UK, the four-star Hotel de Londres y de Inglaterra is one of the best places to stay in Donostia to experience the place, parked right beside La Concha beach and with a romantic feel to the decor.
Varna is the largest seaside resort on the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast, with city slickers and beach bums alike finding something to love.
It’s an area packed with history, from the thousand-year-old artefacts kept in the Archaeological Museum to the awe-inspiring Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin built in 1886.
If you’re more inclined to take in some rays than a bit of culture, never fear. As well as the picturesque Varna Beach, you’re also a short walk from the sandy and tourist-friendly resorts of Sveti Konstantin and Golden Sands.
Must-see: Visit the old Roman Baths in the city centre. They date all the way back to the 2nd century, and you can clamber between chambers to get a closer look.
How to get there: Tui, WizzAir, and EasyJet all fly direct from the UK to Varna, with return flights starting at around £50.
Where to stay: For easy access to the city centre and the beaches, the Rosslyn Dimyat Hotel Varna has great reviews. Amenities include a heated indoor pool, a spa with sauna, and a lobby bar with a beautiful sea view.
Prices per room per night start at around £65.
When many people think of the Greek island of Zakynthos, they think of the party resort of Zante and decide to give it a miss.
If you dismiss the place as only this, however, you’re really missing out. The Ionian sea here really looks like its own special shade of blue, and the island is dotted with traditional monasteries and sights.
Visit Saint Mark Square, the Venetian Castle, and Solomos Square to marvel at the architecture, and even spot Caretta-Caretta sea turtles, who lay eggs on the white sand at certain times of year.
Must-see: Navagio Bay is only accessible boat, but it definitely worth the journey. The exposed cove was thought to have been used by smugglers in years gone by, but now makes the perfect spot for a day trip.
How to get there: Return flights to Zakynthos from the UK start at around £30, with Ryanair and EasyJet both offering direct journeys.
Where to stay: Book a traditional Greek-style villa at the family-run Porta del Mar Beach Hotel for authentic food and breathtaking vistas of the coast.
Prices start at around £225 per room per night.
Finikoudes Beach sits on the south coast of Cyprus in Larnaca, the third-largest city in the country, boasting clear waters and plenty to eat and drink at nearby cafes and restaurants.
Larnaca does have a reputation as a destination famed for its nightlife, but there are also cultural pursuits available too, like the Byzantine Medieval Castle that houses a museum explaining its history.
Overall, this place is perfect for a laid-back holiday that doesn’t require too much of those on it, with relaxation a priority.
Must-see: Visit Larnaca Salt Lake, and potentially see pink flamingoes gathering on the moon-like terrain.
How to get there: Various airlines fly direct to Larnaca, with prices from London airports starting at around £40 return.
Where to stay: In a tourist-focused spot like this, it can make sense to go all-inclusive and save hassle. Sentido Sandy Beach has everything you need on that front (four swimming pools, four on-site bars and restaurants, a spa, and watersports on its adjoining beach) so you don’t need to lift a finger.
Prices per room per night start at around £110.
As the Balearic Island best known for its club scene, Ibiza’s natural beauty is often overlooked.
While of course you’re welcome to head to renowned spots like Amnesia and Pacha, by day make sure to head to Eivissa, the island’s capital, for a more rounded view of the locale.
Beach-wise you’re spoilt for choice, but if you head to the Cala D’Hort Marine Nature Reserve you have the chance to see dolphins swimming in the wild.
Must-see: Dalt Vila, Ibiza’s fortified old town, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and well worth a visit if you want a break from sunbathing and/or raving.
How to get there: There are flights from all major UK airports to Ibiza, with prices starting from just £15 return.
Where to stay: To embrace a slower and more tranquil Ibiza, try the Atzaro Agrotourism Hotel. This prestigious estate is luxurious, but also has a wellness focus that tempts you to switch off from the pressures of life. Sign us up.
Prices per room per night start from around £191.
The Algarve region is one of Brits’ favourite holiday destinations, thanks to its low rainfall and secluded sandy beaches.
Families will enjoy the safe yet lively resorts, while those who prefer more of a quiet getaway can head to fishing towns steeped in local history.
Albufeira is best suited for partiers and Vilamoura offers a luxurious and upmarket stay, while Lagos showcases Portugal’s finest foods and has lots of cultural activities for you to enjoy. Best of all, all of these places boast stretches of coastline just waiting for you to bask in.
Must-see: Head to Loule on Saturday mornings for a bustling farmers’ market where traders sell everything from fresh fish to handmade crafts.
How to get there: Flights from the UK to Faro cost from £15 return. From there, buses and taxis to Lagos take around an hour, or you can organise a transfer with your holiday provider.
Where to stay: This all depends on your tastes, but you can’t go far wrong with the Tivoli. The 4* hotel has its own beach club (a free shuttle away) and is close by to the many bars and restaurants of Lagos.
Rooms start at £46 per night.
Antalya is home to some of Turkey’s best beaches – which is saying something given it’s a country packed with them.
Its sleepy harbour is quaint and ideally situated for people-watching, but sun seekers will want to head to Lara Beach for lazy days by the beach.
In terms of things to do, you can visit Turkish baths or tour the sites of Kaleiçi, the area’s tourist centre featuring museums and architecture that tell the story of Antalya.
Must-see: Book a tour to the many of the nearby waterfalls, where you can take a dip in the crystal-clear lagoons at the bottom – or white water raft down falls if you’re feeling brave.
How to get there: Multiple airlines offer daily flights to Antalya, with prices for a return fare starting at around £48.
Where to stay: Liberty Hotels Lara is family-friendly with three pools (some even have water slides) and daily entertainment for all ages. It’s 30 minutes from Antalya centre, but right on the beach.
All-inclusive rooms here start at £50 per person per night.
From the shaded cafes and shops of Split’s old town to its prime spot off the Adriatic sea, there’s a lot to love about Split.
As a coastal city, you’ll get some of the freshest seafood around here. The Riva Promenade also plays host to various events and tourist attractions.
You’ll have to walk about 20 minutes to visit the best beaches on Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast, as the central ones can get a little crowded. Try Kastelet for a quieter experience.
Must-see: Diocletian’s Palace isn’t just one building, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and living neighbourhood. Go for a walking tour among its ancient Roman pillars and history-packed buildings.
How to get there: Direct flights to Split from the UK operate on a seasonal timetable, and cost from £38 return.
Where to stay: Split’s only 5* resort, Le Meridien Lav, overlooks the city but allows you to get away from it all too. Sports, spas, and six restaurants and bars make it an ideal bolthole.
Prices start at £88 per room per night.,
You may not have considered Albania for a holiday, but its beach resorts have everything the more popular tourist traps do (without the usual influx of tourists making everything busier).
Saranda is close to the Greek border but is still something of a hidden gem, with paradise beaches in Ksamil and unique historical sites in Gjirokastra.
The food here is mostly traditional Albanian, with favourites including spit-roasted lamb (mish në hell) and filled pastries called byrek.
Must-see: The Blue Eye is definitely worth a visit if you’re in Saranda. This natural spring is over 50 metres deep (divers have never been able to go deeper) and is shrouded in mystery.
How to get there: There are no nearby airports to Saranda, but you can fly to Corfu (from £27 return) and take one of the many daily ferry crossings to Saranda (around £35 return). Fast routes take around 30 minutes from Corfu, while others can take up to two hours.
Where to stay: The Santa Quaranta Premium Resort is right beside the ocean for easy switching from pool to beach. Slightly away from the noisy city, you can see Corfu from your sun lounger.
Rooms start at £71 per night.
Positano is a sight to behold. Colourful Meditteranean houses seem to be built vertically upwards, stretching from the Amalfi Coast’s blue waters to the green of the Monti Lattari.
Spiaggia Grande is the beach to be seen at in Italy, or you can head to Fornillo Beach for a more secluded sunbathe.
Try gelato and Milanese pizza, or explore the fashion culture of the region, known as moda Positano.
Must-see: The shopping here is unrivalled, with boutiques lining the streets and selling everything from designer clothing to artisanal limoncello.
How to get there: The closest airport to the Amalfi Coast is Naples, with flights from the UK priced from around £40 return. Positano’s cliffside roads make it a treacherous drive for a first-timer, so the Tourism Board recommend booking a private car from the airport.
Where to stay: The family-run Hotel Reginella is small but perfectly-formed, with balconies that overlook the stunning town and coastline. Have your breakfast delivered to your room for the most stress-free al fresco meal.
Prices start at £255 per room per night.
Another favourite of British holidaymakers, Corfu has a mixture of nightlife, coastal scenery, and cultural pursuits.
Corfu Town is a beautiful location for a sunset wander, while the island’s two million olive trees can be visited (and the fragrant oils sampled, of course).
Don’t let Kavos’s buzzing strip put you off – unless that’s what you’re after obviously. Locations like Agios Georgios and Palaiokastritsa are better suited to families or couples, with traditional tavernas and a more laid-back vibe.
Must-see: There are over 250 churches and monasteries on Corfu island, each with their own story. Vlacherna Monastery is among the biggest, and has dogs and cats roaming around – it was even a filming location in the James Bond movie For Your Eyes Only.
How to get there: Multiple tour operators offer direct flights from the UK to Corfu, with prices starting from £27 return.
Where to stay: See a different side to Corfu at the Hotel Penelope in the fishing village of Boukari. Expect Greek nights filled with dancing and plenty of fresh seafood, with a warm welcome from the staff (it’s a family-run business known for friendly hospitality).
Rooms are priced from £54 per night.
Remember to check travel restrictions
As coronavirus-related travel rules are regularly changing, check ahead of time whether there are any specific restrictions or travel regulations that may affect your trip.
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