There’s no need to jump on a long-haul flight to sink your toes into pearlescent white sand or splash around in a silky turquoise lagoon. Europe’s thousands of miles of coastline are a feast of postcard-perfect beaches, off-radar bays and wild sweeps of soul-stirring scenery – and they’re all just a few hours from the UK. We’ve rounded up the prettiest beaches in Europe, from Scandinavia to Sardinia, to help you start plotting your first post-pandemic escape.

  • Santa Giulia, CorsicaSANTA GIULIA, CORSICAThere’s a glut of beautiful beaches in Corsica, but the dreamy white-sand, horseshoe bay of Santa Giulia tops our list. Just a few miles south of glamorous Porto Vecchio, the beach’s shallow glossy lagoon means it’s perfectly pitched at families with small children in tow – and popular with kayakers and paddle-boarders taking advantage of the low winds. Sprawl out under the shade of an ancient umbrella pine or join the hordes of smart Parisian holidaymakers bronzing themselves on the sand: in the high summer months, it gets busy – so arrive early to snap up your spot.ALAMY
  • Porto Katsiki, Lefkada, GreecePORTO KATSIKI, LEFKADA, GREECEIt wasn’t until the mid-1990s that modern infrastructure arrived on this corner of Lefkada’s rugged west coast, finally opening Porto Katsiki up to people, instead of just goats. Now, it’s one of the most popular beaches on the island, framed by dramatic white cliffs carpeted in pines. The deep-blue sea is a sublime spot for swimming; and while the cliffs keep the pebbly sand under shade until midday, there are plenty of multicoloured umbrellas on standby for the steamy afternoons. Best of all, boats are barred from entering the bay, treating sunbathers to blissfully unbroken Ionian views.The best Greek islands to visit in 2021BEACHESThe best Greek islands to visit in 2021ALAMY
  • Calanque d’en Vau, Cassis, FranceCALANQUE D’EN VAU, CASSIS, FRANCEThe wild and wonderful stretch of coastline between Marseille and Cassis is often lauded as Provence’s sleepier, more low-key alternative to the ritzy Côte d’Azur. It’s also home to a string of secret inlets – or calanques – punctuating the shore: finger-shaped slits of iridescent blue water flanked by fat shards of limestone cliff. By far the prettiest is Calanque d’en Vau; it’s a real adventure arriving here by kayak, but if you haven’t got sea legs, the other option is a steep and badly signposted climb from Cassis. It’s hard work, but you’ll be rewarded with magnificent views of the Mediterranean on the way.The 10 most beautiful beaches in the South of FranceDESTINATIONSThe 10 most beautiful beaches in the South of FranceALAMY
  • Luskentyre, Isle of Harris, ScotlandLUSKENTYRE, ISLE OF HARRIS, SCOTLANDRight on the cusp of the bracing Atlantic, the Isle of Harris sits at the heart of Scotland’s mercifully unspoilt and underpopulated Outer Hebrides. It’s the last place on earth you’d expect to find a scene as ethereal as Luskentyre, where the chalk-white sand and dazzling teal water could easily masquerade as the tropics. Visit at low tide to glimpse the beach at its most beautiful; acres of sand are backed by storybook Scottish views of vibrant purple heather poking through wind-thrashed dunes – and you might even spot the odd pony taking itself for a walk along the shore.13 secret beaches in ScotlandDESTINATIONS13 secret beaches in ScotlandGETTY IMAGES
  • Kvalvika beach, Lofoten Islands, NorwayKVALVIKA BEACH, LOFOTEN ISLANDS, NORWAYNorway is well known for its epic mountains and fjords; less so for its beaches. But up in the rugged and unfathomably handsome Lofoten archipelago – deep inside the Arctic Circle – the sea is as clear as you would find in the Med. Hemmed in by precipitous rocks rising directly out of the sand, Kvalvika’s slip of golden sand is almost always deserted: visitors must trek through birch forests and wildflower meadows to get here, some stopping along the way to set up camp for the night. To see the beach at its most magical, come late in the evening for a dip in the light of the midnight sun.GETTY IMAGES
  • Praia do Carvalho, PortugalPRAIA DO CARVALHO, PORTUGALPicture the Algarve and you’ll probably think of big, wide beaches awash with tourists seeking short-haul sun – but time your visit to Praia do Carvalho right and you’ll likely be sharing it with just a handful of in-the-know locals. If it wasn’t for the steep sandstone staircase and fossil-lined tunnel whittled into the rock, the only way to get here would be by abseiling down the cliff face, lending this scenic sheltered bay a proper desert-island feel. Thrill-seekers head up rocky promontories to launch themselves into the clear waters below – the sea is teaming with aquatic life, so it’s well worth packing a snorkel. Be sure to bring plenty of supplies – there’s nothing nearby.17 of the best beaches in PortugalDESTINATIONS17 of the best beaches in PortugalGETTY IMAGES
  • Zlatni Rat, Brač, CroatiaZLATNI RAT, BRAČ, CROATIAA pilgrimage to Zlatni Rat makes it onto almost every Croatian island-hopping itinerary. This is the country’s poster child of beaches – and an extraordinary showcase of mother nature’s beauty to boot. Located on Brač island’s sunny south coast, the tongue-shaped peninsula stretches all the way from the harbour village of Bol to about 1,640ft into the Adriatic Sea, its tip subtly changing shape according to the current or the wind. The best views are from above: climb up nearby Vidova Gora mountain or strap into a harness and parasail along the smooth, pebbly shore (this is a hotspot for windsurfers). It’s a great spot for families too, with shallow waters to splash about in and a pretty pine grove in the centre providing respite from the heat.The 20 best beaches in CroatiaDESTINATIONSThe 20 best beaches in CroatiaGETTY IMAGES
  • Cala Macarella, Menorca, SpainCALA MACARELLA, MENORCA, SPAINThis paradisiacal bay – located on the most authentic and understated Balearic island – is lapped by some of the most breathtakingly blue waters we’ve clapped eyes on. The lucky ones swing by on their yachts, stopping to grab an ice-cold beer from the laid-back restaurant on the arc of virgin white sand, but if you’re arriving by land, there’s a car park conveniently located nearby. When the crowds pick up, sling on your trainers and head along the coastal path to reach Cala Macarella’s more secluded little sister, Cala Macarelleta. It’s a popular nudist spot, so if you’re keen to blend in, leave your bathing suit behind.The 18 best beaches in MenorcaBALEARIC ISLANDSThe 18 best beaches in MenorcaGETTY IMAGES
  • Sveti Stefan beach, MontenegroSVETI STEFAN BEACH, MONTENEGROTethered to the mainland via a narrow sweep of pink-tinged sand, the tiny terracotta-roofed islet of Sveti Stefan found fame in the 1960s as a playground for the rich and famous. Now entirely taken over by Aman, it’s still the country’s smartest retreat – and the owner of one half of Montenegro’s pin-up beach. Surrounded by thick pine forest, the left side of the narrow isthmus is reserved exclusively for hotel guests (or those prepared to splash out on a sun lounger), while the right side is open to all. There are plenty of deckchairs to rent, and the inky-blue waters are a lovely spot to wallow in.GETTY IMAGES
  • Kleftiko beach, Milos, GreeceKLEFTIKO BEACH, MILOS, GREECEMilos has the most diverse and dramatic coastline of all the Greek islands. Savvy travellers skip famous Sarakiniko beach, where the crowds can be intense, and head south-west to Kleftiko: as there’s very little development nearby, it’s this stretch’s seclusion that makes it so special. Most visitors arrive by boat, but for those on foot there’s a dusty hiking trail winding down to the sea. Come for epic cliff-jumping; snorkel through alabaster-white rock chambers, and bathe in the sizzling Greek sun. There’s no beach as such, but plenty of large, flat rocks to sprawl out on. On the way back up, have a nose around Agios Ioannis Siderianos monastery – locals used to hide out here from pirate attacks.Milos, Greece: secret Greek island of the summerISLANDSMilos, Greece: secret Greek island of the summerALAMY
  • Playa de Ses Illetes, FormenteraPLAYA DE SES ILLETES, FORMENTERAWith its slither of sugar-soft sand and glassy cerulean sea so clear that boats often appear suspended in mid-air, Formentera’s Playa de Ses Illetes is about as close to a vision of the Caribbean as a European beach gets. In the summer, salty haired day-trippers hop over from Ibiza, spilling off their yachts for barefoot lunches at the jumble of shacks strung along the shore. As you’d expect, it’s rarely crowd-free, but wander up past the tussocky dunes and you’ll find much more space to spread out. On a calm day, it’s even possible to wade across to the wilder, uninhabited islet of s’Espalmador, which is tantalisingly close.GETTY IMAGES
  • Butterfly Valley Beach, TurkeyBUTTERFLY VALLEY BEACH, TURKEYThe Blue Lagoon of Ölüdeniz hooks most people into this corner of Turkey’s Turquoise Coast, but as the area around the celebrated sandbar gets more built up, so too do the crowds. Instead, head a few kilometres down the coast to this hidden gem – so called because of the 100 species of butterfly that flutter around the government-protected valley. It’s carved out of the scrubby mountains behind, so the only way to get here is by boat, leaving the bay’s ribbon of golden sand gloriously footprint-free. There’s nothing here apart from a lo-fi beach bar beloved by hippies and ecotourists: this is a full back-to-nature beach, ringed by some of the country’s most extraordinary flora and fauna.GETTY IMAGES
  • Cala Coticcio, Maddalena Archipelago, SardiniaCALA COTICCIO, MADDALENA ARCHIPELAGO, SARDINIAWith its seven large isles and 55 tiny isolotti strewn across the crystalline waters between Corsica and north-eastern Sardinia, the Maddalena archipelago has true Robinson Crusoe romance. The best way to get to this dreamy beach is by swooshing in on a boat and snorkelling through the gin-clear lagoon to reach the shore. If you’re on foot, come prepared for a hot and sticky hike: it’s a schlep, meaning only the most determined make it here – but peek at the milky-white sand and you’ll quickly realise why the locals call it Italian Tahiti. A barefoot beach at its best.GETTY IMAGES
  • Spiaggia Grande, Positano, ItalySPIAGGIA GRANDE, POSITANO, ITALYJust for a moment, forget the crowds, the serried ranks of overpriced sun loungers and the gravely black sand underfoot: there’s something utterly beguiling about the main stretch of beach in Italy’s most picturesque seaside resort. Stacks of pastel-painted houses tumble down the cliff face to kiss the sand; the heady scent of bougainvillaea and lemon trees lingers in the air and the splendid Tyrrhenian Sea shimmers in the sun. Everything you could possibly need – from a designer bikini to a supersized Aperol Spritz – is right here along the seafront, but when hunger strikes, skip the restaurants by the shore and hop in a boat to whoosh over to Da Adolfo, a shabby-chic trattoria on tiny Laurito beach next door.The best beaches in Italy to visit this summerDESTINATIONSThe best beaches in Italy to visit this summerALAMY
  • Seitan Limania beach, Crete, GreeceSEITAN LIMANIA BEACH, CRETE, GREECEThere’s a reason why Seitan Limania is more popular with brave locals than gaggles of tourists: you need nerves of steel to tackle the dirt roads and hairpin bends that lead here. Bring proper shoes for the final scramble along the cliff face and watch out for the cheeky pack of resident goats patrolling the route – eventually, it gives way to a well-hidden, itsy-bitsy zigzag cove of white pebbles and eye-poppingly blue sea. It’s worth visiting in the morning; the tall rocks protect the beach from Crete’s infamous winds, but it’s completely covered in shade by mid-afternoon.Like this? Now read:The 30 best beaches in the worldThe 30 best beaches in the worldDESTINATIONSThe 30 best beaches in the worldThe best beach holidays in EuropeThe best beaches in Europe for 2021BEACHESThe best beaches in Europe for 2021The best beaches near LondonThe 25 best beaches near London to visit this weekendBEACHESThe 25 best beaches near London to visit this weekendALAMY

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Explore beyond the city by car with these five ultimate road trips


Toby is an award-winning editor and writer based in London, with a passion for adventure and people-driven storytelling.Sunday 21 February 2021

You’re not supposed to tire of London, but you are definitely supposed to leave it from time to time – to escape the seemingly infinite little rows of shops with barbershops and fried chicken joints; to feel the sand between your toes, to see the comforting line of a horizon. This year, whenever we can, that escape might feel more glorious than ever. We’ve picked five of our favourite road trips from London – here’s to getting out: to waking up to sea-crash or hedgerow-birdsong, and to coming back to the city renewed.

  • Feed-me-quick Kent and East Sussex
    • FEED-ME-QUICK KENT AND EAST SUSSEXWhitstable-Margate-Dungeness-Camber-RyeTHREE NIGHTS, ABOUT 7 HOURS DRIVING.London-Seasalter: 1 hour 40minutes drivingYour first stop might be The Sportsman at Seasalter, the once-grotty seaside boozer where chef-patron Stephen Harris has long created unfussy locavore wonders such as slip sole in seaweed butter. If not, make for Whitstable and oysters out the back of the Whitstable Oyster Company, which has traded here since the 1400s (its three-cheese crab gratin on toast is sublime too).Arcady Coffee House at The Albion RoomsSeasalter-Margate: 30 minutesFor a night in Margate, the Libertines-owned Albion Rooms is a smarter-than-expected take on punk Victoriana, while the three-room Reading Rooms has a certain frayed elegance in a Georgian townhouse created by DFLs former DJ and graphic designers Liam Nabb and Louise Oldfield. Book ahead for exquisite sustainable seafood at Angela’s or the Sunday roast at the buzzy George & Heart. Round the coast in Broadstairs, The Table is the coolest deli in Kent, and chef Ben Crittenden’s tiny Stark is well worth its Michelin star.The Shingle House, Dungeness, KentThe Shingle House, Dungeness, KentMargate-Deal-Folkestone-Dungeness: 1 hour 50 minutesHead round the coast via coffee on the pier in Deal and food trucks at the Folkestone Harbour Arm, and spend a night in the windswept Bergmanesque beauty of Dungeness. The airy timber Shingle House, like a design-school monopoly house, and the low-slung concrete Pump Station both offer ample space to ponder the shingled nothingness, soundtracked by the steamy toots of the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway.Dungeness-Rye/Camber: 30 minutesFrom there, leave Kent for a mooch around medieval-cool Rye, marvelling at the château doors and massive Murano chandeliers at Alex MacArthur Interiors, and filling up on the halloumi hash at Whitehouse – possibly Britain’s only bakery with rooms (whitewashed loveliness, with modern four-poster beds). Or head back to Camber Sands and stay the night at The Gallivant, a failing motel given a California-style driftwood makeover by P & J Smoothie entrepreneur Henry Cragoe. It’s only a few hours back to London, but the dunes and marram grasses here feel so much further.Camber-London: 2 hours 15 minutesGETTY IMAGES
  • Bridgerton-chic SomersetBRIDGERTON-CHIC SOMERSETBath-Bruton-Hinton St GeorgeTHREE NIGHTS, ABOUT 7 DRIVING.London-Bath: 2 hours 45 minutesOK, the M25 to M4 Slough-bound isn’t the most romantic start to a road trip, but simply head straight for Bath, which is so romantic it was the only acceptable thing to lust after in Bridgerton. Stay in Georgian surroundings at the Royal Crescent Hotel, but explore a fresher side of the city too: there’s Magalleria indie magazine shop; greyscale-minimal Francis Gallery from furniture maker Fred Rigby and Cereal magazine co-founder Rosa Park; and Clayton’s Kitchen, a playful passion project from Robert Clayton, who earned Michelin stars for Hunstrete House Hotel (now The Pig near Bath) and the Bath Priory.The main house, The NewtJENNY ZARINSBath-Bruton: 45 minutesDrive south through pastoral Somerset to Bruton – best known these days for the gallery opened by Iwan and Manuela Wirth and Number One Bruton townhouse hotel, but also full of buzzy spots such as the almost Warholian Bruton Art Factory and Selfish Mother, a converted chapel where former journalist Molly Gunn designs ethical T-shirts for the cool local mums (Pearl Lowe and Melissa Hemsley have had pop-ups here). Just out of town, The Newt has upped things further. A grand Georgian country pile with a maze-like garden, bottle plant, cider press, Victorian glasshouse and much more, the bucolic vision of South Africans Koos Bekker and Karen Roos defies meaningful categorisation.Bruton-Hinton St George: 40 minutesDriving south, the signs are as glorious as the countryside: to Mudford Sock, Norton-sub-Hamdon, Evercreech and Ditcheat. Few villages are lovelier, though, than the rose-strewn Hinton St George, where the 1680-built Lord Poulett Arms serves Somerset rarebit and local rump steaks, with a boules court and Basque pelota wall out back and cosy rooms upstairs.Hinton St George-London: 3 hours