Leave Europe’s crowded beaches behind with our guide to the continent’s most amazing coastal destinations. From idyllic beaches 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 seaside escapes on offer.
1- Sylt, Germany
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 kilometers. Explore the island by bike and try to keep count of the red and white striped lighthouses that are scattered across the island.
2- Étretat, France
It doesn’t matter if you’re not a morning person, 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- Durdle Door, UK
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 awesomely named Jurassic Coast. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean dinosaurs are roaming around or that Jeff Goldblum will guide you along the coast, but if you’re lucky you will find a fossil or two! As well as fossil hunting, walking the South West Coastal Path provides you with incredible views of the dramatic cliffs and hidden coves.
4- Atrani, Italy
Tourists traveling to the Amalfi Coast usually just visit the likes of Positano, Sorrento and Capri. They make a huge mistake by missing the charming, medieval town of Atrani, one of the most relaxing spots in the region. Atrani stuns with a large viaduct behind the beach that hugs the whole town. Being one of the oldest settlements in Italy, much of the medieval structures remain intact so be sure to wander around the historic center. As you take a stroll, you’ll see street vendors selling huuuuge lemons. Pick up a glass of fresh lemon juice before departing. You’re unlikely to find a more refreshing drink in Europe.
5- Rovinj, Croatia
If you can’t decide whether to visit Italy or France for your next vacation, fear not as there is a place that combines the most beautiful aspects of both countries. With it’s French Riviera charm and Italian atmosphere, the little town of Rovinj in Croatia is something right out of a magazine. The church of Euphemia is the pride of locals. It was built in 1725 and overlooks the town, beaches, ocean and neighboring islands. Visit the local market in the harbor to buy self-made liquor, jewelry, fresh vegetables and much more.
6- Hirtshals, Denmark
A cute village with a giant lighthouse is not something you want to miss, so pack a tent and your wanderlust and set out for Hirtshals in northern Denmark. Unwind on the beach below the 57-meter high lighthouse (Hirtshals Fyr) 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, you have to try Guf, a type of Danish soft ice.
7- Sveti Stefan, Montenegro
Those of you who’ve already heard of Sveti Stefan were probably disappointed to learn this stunning island is 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, tourists and celebrities alike for centuries. It’s just 15 minutes 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- Bodrum, Turkey
Combine your perfect Mediterranean getaway with one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus in Bodrum. Unfortunately, it was largely destroyed at the beginning of the 14th century, but the rubble was later used to build the imposing Bodrum Castle. The resort city has a whole lot more to offer than just the Mausoleum. Soak up the sun on the amazing beaches that line the peninsula or unwind in a Turkish bathhouse, including Tarihi Bardakçı Hamamı, the oldest in the city. If you want to explore Bodrum, head to the farmers market in the old town for an authentic taste of Turkey.
Like cities frozen in time, old towns bring us back to another era, when life was slower and mystery waited around every cobbled corner. Europe offers some of the world’s best-preserved towns and neighborhoods, letting us stroll through history, taste tradition, and feel the past.
Here are 7 of Europe’s most picturesque old towns that will have you forgetting what year it is until you see a church you just have to put on Instagram.
1. Bruges, Belgium Few places bring a medieval fantasy to life as well as the old town of Bruges. Seemingly every market square is overseen by a lofty cathedral while the town’s cobbled lanes are interrupted by a sleepy network of canals. By day, it’s a hive of activity as day-trippers flock to the city to feel its medieval glow. But Bruges tells its best secrets after dark. Be sure to lean on stone bridges and watch white swans float down the canals and lose track of what century you’re in as you meander along moonlit lanes, stumbling on glowing garden pubs that serve Belgium’s finest beers.
2. Edinburgh, Scotland No city does eerie, ghost-like ambiance as well as Edinburgh, Scotland’s brassy and culture-rich capital. The buildings breathe history here, telling stories of siege, progress, and revolution. Cute boutiques usher you in from Scotland’s famous drizzle, which only adds to the city’s charm. Edinburgh Castle lets you step back in time for an afternoon while the city’s nightlife is a chorus of good times in cozy pubs and age-old restaurants.
3. Ronda, Spain Perched atop the soaring El Tajo Gorge, Ronda overlooks miles of green pastures and vineyards. The town crosses the canyon it’s built on with the gorgeous Puente Nuevo bridge, which rises quite spectacularly from the valley floor. It’s the highlight of the city, especially at night when it’s romantically lit for the town to admire. It’s also where witches were reportedly tossed into the gorge during the Spanish Inquisition. Fortunately, they stopped that practice a few centuries ago. Now it’s safe for evening strolls and morning jogs with epic views.
4. Tallinn, Estonia It’s easy to see why Tallinn’s old town is protected as a UNESCO heritage site. Sitting on the Gulf of Finland, the old town is packed with the kind of atmospheric streets and ancient architecture that make it one of Europe’s best-kept secrets. Snorkel your way around an underwater prison (yes, you read that right), or gorge yourself on food truck fare before climbing the tower of St. Olav’s church for sweeping views of the city. With some of the best scenery and lowest prices in Europe, Tallinn is worth seeing before the word gets outs.
5. Riga, Latvia Across the river from the city’s sleek glass office towers, Riga’s old town pops with pastel blues and pinks almost too perfect for real life. Seeing it from a distance, the dreamily painted buildings look like toy houses with neat white windows peeking out from candy-colored facades. But there really are people here, and this town of exquisite art-nouveau architecture and delicious food is waiting for you to discover it.
6. Dubrovnik, Croatia Nestled on the coast of the glittering Adriatic Sea, the walled city of Dubrovnik holds its charm no matter how many times you visit. The city’s terracotta rooftop, sun-soaked stone houses, and shimmering blue sea can be admired from atop Srđ mountain, which you can easily reach by cable car. By sunset, tour the walls that once protected a cultured city and early democracy that grew rich off maritime trade. If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, plan for an extended stay as King’s Landing is filmed here.
7. Krakow, Poland
Stumble upon Krakow’s old town and you might never want to leave. Perfectly sculpted archways call to you from across stone streets, while towering cathedrals keep a proud watch over the largest market square in Europe. Legend goes that Krakow was founded after a local cobbler saved the people from a bad-tempered dragon, and the feeling of legends still echoes through these narrow alleys. Conveniently, the old town is also where most of the good pubs are.