Europe has some of the best beaches in the world, but also some of the most crowded. You have to work hard to find a stretch of sand that others don’t know about, but when you do, it’s the best feeling in the world. Here are ten of the best secret beaches in Europe — just keep them to yourself, won’t you?
Praia da Comporta, Portugal
Undiscovered Comporta is the gem of Portugal’s Alentejo coast. Despite the fact that it’s enticingly close to Lisbon, it remains off most people’s radar. Day visitors opt for the more easily reached resorts north of the Tagus and fly-and-flop holidaymakers can’t drag themselves away from the Algarve. Opt for Praia da Comporta and you’ll have your pick of empty tranches of sand, even in the height of season.
Cíes Islands, Spain
While half of Europe flocks to the Spain’s south coast beaches during the summer months, savvy travelers head north to Galicia. Lying offshore are the Cíes Islands, part of the Atlantic Islands of Galicia National Park. Here, a broad crescent of sand lapped by turquoise waters creates a sheltered, dune fringed lagoon. You could be forgiven for thinking that Rodas Beach was in the Caribbean, when in fact it’s as Spanish as Benidorm.
Plage de l’Acciolu, Corsica
Corsica’s scrubland is an unlikely access point to the Mediterranean, but cross the Desert des Agriates and you’ll find one of the most serene spots in the region. Plage de Ostriconi is a delightful sandy beach fringed with dunes, but for seclusion you need to follow the scent of the maquis to Plage de l’Acciolu. Its fine white sand and crystal clear waters somehow manage to remain a secret.
Despite its location around an hour from central London, it’s not uncommon to have Dovercourt’s Blue Flag beach to yourself, particularly on a weekday. This wide strip of sand is buffeted by North Sea gales but also enjoys some of the driest weather in the UK. Check out the two historic iron lighthouses, built in 1863 to guide ships into the Orwell and the ports of Harwich and Felixstowe. Time your visit for low tide when a causeway leading to the seaward Low Lighthouse emerges from the waves.
Île de Sein, France
The setting for Henri Queffélec’s classic novel, Un Recteur de l'île de Sein, this island sits off the Pointe du Raz in Brittany. There’s a saying, “qui voit Sein, voit sa fin” (he who sees Sein, sees his end) on account of the dangerous currents in the sea around the island. It’s an hour-long boat trip from the mainland. Make it in one piece, and there are unspoiled beaches waiting for you to explore, along with a lighthouse and a monument to the Free French inaugurated by General de Gaulle himself.
Whitesands Bay, Wales
The Pembrokeshire Coast is one of the UK’s protected stretches of shoreline, its National Park status restricting development and preserving character and natural beauty in equal measure. Hike the Pembrokeshire Coast Path and enjoy the view over Whitesands Bay from above before descending to the beach. Despite it being popular with local surfers, you’ll be unlucky to find it crowded except in July and August.
Sweden’s Höga Kusten, or High Coast, was formed when land freed from the weight of glaciers rose 286 meters into the air. To set foot on the area’s original beaches, you’ll have to jump on a chair lift, but the good news is that those presently at sea level are even more beautiful. Rotsidan is arguably the best, attracting domestic visitors for an impossibly short summer season. Head there in early June, however, and consider it your own private beach.
Iceland’s popularity has spiked over the last few years but nevertheless, the majority of visitors concentrate their attention on south coast beaches such as Jökulsárlón’s famous iceberg strewn beach. The West Fjords by comparison are a well-kept secret and the wide swathe of sand at Rauðasandur relatively empty of people, yet its proximity to Europe’s largest bird watching cliffs at Látrabjarg makes it worth a detour.
Seychelles Beach, Greece
Ikaria, surrounded by the glittering waters of the Aegean Sea, is one of the more rugged of the Greek islands. It is blessed with a number of stunning beaches, including the bleached blonde sands of Seychelles Beach. It gets busy in August but feels like a well kept secret for the rest of the year. In search of wilderness? Prioni Beach is worth the trek; this pebble cove is reachable on foot only.
Germany’s not the first country that springs to mind if you’re planning a beach holiday in Europe, yet its north coast has a wealth of hidden gems that reward the adventurous traveller. Sylt’s the swankiest of its offshore islands, but despite its popularity with the A-list you don’t have to try hard to bag yourself a spot no one else has found. The loneliest strip of sand can be found in the far north of this barrier island.