7 surprising beach cities in Europe

Looking for a destination where you can experience a city break and beach escape in the same trip? These beach cities in Europe are the perfect places to go when you want both the buzz of the city and the chill of the beach.

Amsterdam, Netherlands

The capital of the Netherlands might be significantly more famous for its canals than its seaside, but a trip to the beach makes a great and super-easy day trip from the city centre.

The stunning city of Amsterdam – one of the most surprising beach cities in Europe
You can take a train from Amsterdam Centraal station and be on the beach in Zandvoort in just over 30 minutes

Amsterdam’s beach is just 30 minutes away by train from Amsterdam Centraal Station. The lovely seaside town of Zandvoort has a beautifully wide, sandy beach and not one, but two nature reserves, plus an F1 Grand Prix circuit. Just up the coast in IJmuiden, there’s a range of exciting water and beach sports, plus a UNESCO World Heritage-listed sea fort.

Read more about visiting Amsterdam beach.

Hamburg, Germany

Hamburg might be the most surprising entry on this list of beach cities in Europe, since it’s nearly 70 miles from the sea. Yet Germany’s largest port is also a great – if very unusual beach destination.

Hamburg city centre includes attractions like the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Speicherstadt warehouses and the astonishing modern Elbphilharmonie concert hall
But Hamburg is also a great beach city! Sip cocktails at one of the beach bars or watch container ships float by at one of the free city beaches.

Just like you get different types of beaches at the seaside, Hamburg has different types of beaches along the Elbe river. There are beach bars like Dock 3 and StrandPauli with cocktail menus and palm trees, then there are long sandy public beaches, where you can relax as huge container ships glide by. My favourite beach in Hamburg was the river beach in the Övelgönne area, where you have a great view of the ships on the Elbe and you can also see Der Alte Schwede, a huge glacial boulder that was dragged out of the river onto the beach. Övelgönne is really easy to get to from the centre of Hamburg using the Hamburg ferries.

Read more about the best things to do in Hamburg and where to stay in Hamburg.

Stockholm, Sweden

Beautiful Stockholm has a magical old town, world-class museums, great food and culture in spades, but did you know you can also go to the beach on your trip to Stockholm?

A boat trip from the Strandvägen wharf will take you out into the beautiful archipelago of small islands that separate Stockholm from the Baltic sea; some large, some tiny and rocky, some sandy. At the eastern edge of the archipelago is my favourite island, Sandhamn – and as the name suggests, Sandhamn is a lovely place to go to the beach in Stockholm.

Stortorget square, in the heart of Gamla Stan, Stockholm’s old town
Heading out to Sandhamn in the Stockholm archipelago. The archipelago is dotted with small coves, some with sandy beaches.

Take a short walk from the ferry dock past some of the most adorable cottages you’ve ever seen and you’ll arrive at Fläskberget, a lovely sandy cove where you can swim or just watch the boats going by.

Read more about how to spend four nights in Stockholm, including my trip to the Stockholm archipelago.

Porto, Portugal

Porto is one of my favourite cities, but despite being so close to the Atlantic coast, it’s far more well-known for its bridges than its beaches. Getting to the beach in Porto from the city centre is incredibly easy; just take a vintage tram from Infante in the central Ribeira district to Passeio Alegre in the Foz district, the last stop on line 1. From here it’s a short walk to the Praia do Carneiro beach.

Porto is famous for its beautiful bridges and its historic Port wine cellars
But Porto is a true beach city, with stunning Atlantic coast beaches just a short tram ride from the city centre

Praia do Carneiro is particularly worth visiting on windy days, when the waves crash onto the beach and against the harbour walls. You can walk along the walls to see the lighthouses at the end – beware of splashes! Behind the seafront promenade, there’s a 16th century fort to explore and lovely gardens. A little further north along the coast you’ll find Praia dos Ingleses, which has better sand for sunbathing and a wider choice of bars and cafes.

Read more about things to do on a weekend break in Porto and how to get to Porto from Lisbon.

Dublin, Ireland

There are a few famous must-dos in Dublin – a visit to the Guinness Storehouse, walking over the Ha’penny Bridge, marvelling at the Book of Kells in Trinity College Library – but heading to the beach isn’t usually one of them. That would be a real mistake though, as if the weather’s nice, going to one of Dublin’s many gorgeous beaches could be the best part of your trip.

The famous Temple Bar in Dublin city centre. Photo by Matheus Câmara da Silva.
Burrow Beach, one of the most popular beaches in Dublin

There are lots of beaches to choose from in and around Dublin. A local favourite is Burrow Beach, a mile-long sandy beach on the edge of the Howth peninsula, just a 20 minute train journey from Dublin city centre. To the south of Dublin city centre but still only around 20 minutes away by train, Seapoint Beach is part-sandy, part-rocky and a popular spot for going swimming in the Irish Sea. There’s a historic Martello Tower from the early 1800s at one end, and a fantastic view of ships entering and leaving nearby Dún Laoghaire harbour.

Venice, Italy

Venice is one of the dreamiest cities in Europe – but one of the best beach cities in Europe? Surely not!

As well as the islands where you’ll find Venice’s historic centre, plus the famous Murano glass island and colourful Burano, there’s another island in the Venetian archipelago that’s of particular interest to visitors. Lido di Venezia is a long, thin island that separates the Venetian lagoon from the open waters of the Aegean Sea.

Beautiful Venice is also one of the best beach cities in Europe
Lido di Venezia is home to the Venice film festival, lots of hotels and beautiful beaches.

With easy waterbus connections to the old city, more affordable hotels and a long, sandy beach, Lido is a great place to stay when visiting Venice, or a relaxing day trip when the crowds of the city get too much. A little further away, Lido di Jesolo is another outstanding beach near Venice.

Valencia, Spain

Despite being on the coast, Valencia is curiously inward-looking compared to cities like Lisbon or Barcelona that really embrace their position. If you spend a weekend in Valencia, it would be really easy to forget that you’re by the sea at all. Valencia’s old town is nearly 5km from the Mediterranean, and the long Túria Gardens, which follow the course of an old river, end abruptly at the City of Arts and Sciences rather than at the former river mouth.

The City of Arts and Sciences is Valencia’s top attraction
Valencia’s long sandy beach makes it a great beach city

The closest beach to Valencia city centre and the City of Arts and Sciences is Playa de Las Arenas, just to the north of the city’s marina. A wide, palm tree-lined promenade follows the beach for 2.5km, backed for most of the way with hotels, bars and restaurants. While you’re at the beach, make sure you explore the El Cabanyal neighbourhood; this residential area where Valencia’s fishermen used to live is full of beautifully tiled houses.

Read more about things to do in Valencia.

I hope you’ve found this list of surprising beach cities in Europe interesting. What’s the most surprising beach city you’ve been to?

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