10 best beach holiday destinations
Here’s a personal selection of some of the best beach holidays in the world with recommendations on where to stay and how to book. Check out our sister sites if you’re looking for family holidays or honeymoons.
Note: all the travel companies featured are personally recommended by our editors.
Aside from Alaska, Florida has more coastline – 1,200 miles – than any other state in the USA. The most popular beaches, with acres of white sand, are those on the Gulf Coast in resorts which are widely packaged as an add-on to Orlando, a two hour drive away. They offer every watersport under the sun, a wide range of hotels and, biggest surprise of all, a brilliant museum devoted to Salvador Dali, St Petersburg – St Pete Beach – and Naples are among the most popular choices. But head further south and you’ll find the charming, laid back, far less commercial island of Sanibel, tied to the mainland by a three mile causeway yet a world apart. We recommend Hayes and Jarvis and North America Travel Service.
From the eight mile strand at La Baule – the longest in Europe – to the surf at Biarritz and on to the Spanish border, the Atlantic coast of France is almost entirely hemmed by dandy beaches. South of the Gironde estuary, along the pine-backed, dune-heaped Cote d’ Argent, it’s virtually one long run of sand, straight as a blade. There are some attractive towns (La Rochelle, Biarritz, St Jean de Luz) as well as the trendy Ile de Re. Also try siblu villages.
Croatia‘s seasides are mostly pebbly but with incredibly clear blue water. The most famous exception is found on the south side of Brac, home to the Zlatni Rat or Golden Cape. It’s the beach that looks like a sharks fin and stars on all ‘Come to Croatia’ posters (although the grainy texture under your toes is a tad disappointing). We also like Cavtat, an elegant little seaside of whitewashed houses with terracotta roofs, palm trees, waterfront cafes and access to both beaches and, linked by regular excursion boats and buses, Dubrovnik. We also love the island of Hvar which has some great hotels including The Riva for boutique chic, the beachfront Amfora for families and the luxurious Adriana.
At the last count nearly 400 beaches, on the mainland and Balearics, were entitled to hoist those coveted EU Blue Flags of purity. The bad news, of course, is that many of the 1400 miles of Spanish shoreline on which they sit have become casebook studies in how not to develop tourist facilities. So where can you go to enjoy Espana del Mar without the dross? Our answer might surprise you: the Costa Brava – also known as Catalunya. But we are referring to the northern part, where the geography gets too torturous for big hotels and the roads too cork-screwy for coaches. Instead of heaving resorts, you’ll find intimate Catalan fishing villages and beaches tucked into small coves. Personal favourites include Calella and Llafranc, Tamariu, Sa Tuna and Aigua Blava. See a full range of villas in Catalunya, plus the latest offers.
Halkidiki, one of three peninsulas in the north of the country that reach down into the Aegean like Neptune’s trident, has arguably the best beaches in Greece. It used to be monopolised by Austrian and German campers but now boasts the Sani Resort which incorporates the upmarket Asterias Suites. The resort offers watersports, kids clubs, a choice of restaurants, tennis and the like. Sani’s also opened a new open air Garden Theatre, with a different show every night, so beach loafers can inject a little culture into their chill out days. See our pick of the best Greece holiday destinations.
Italy’s mainland beaches can be disappointing, unless you like endless rows of sunloungers and parasols. But Sardinia, second largest island (after Sicily), has a quarter of the entire Italian coastline and will definitely please those looking for magnificent beaches. For posing among the glitterati, stick to the sculpted granite coves of the Costa Smeralda in the north east. For Sahara-like sand backed by stunning sunsets, make your way to the Costa Verde in the south west. But don’t neglect Sardinia’s interior, a wilderness of mountains, oak, pine and chestnut forests and matted, knee-high macchia vegetation. The island also has many family-friendly hotels. We recommend Sardatur Holidays.
If all you are looking for is a week or so or gorgeous winter weather, on a beach as gorgeous as a dream, all white sand, swaying palms and clear, warm waters, you will love Thailand. Choose between an island, from the well known Phuket or Koh Samui to tiny ‘kohs’ that can only be reached by boat, or the magnificent mainland beach near Krabi. But what also makes Thailand such a wonderful destination for a holiday is its rich a mix of pleasures, including city sights, lush green and well contoured rural scenery, culture from exotic temples to hill tribes, terrific food, fascinating markets friendly locals.
Even Columbus was confused. When he sailed there in 1492 he recorded in his ship’s log that there were so many islands he didn’t know which one to visit first. British first timers to the Caribbean often face the same dilemma. You could opt for Barbados, the Cayman Islands, Tobago, Grenada or Jamaica. But if beaches are top of your priorities you could do a lot worse than Antigua which has 365 of them, one for every day of the year (with the pink sands on its sister island of Barbuda taking care of leap years). See our selection of the best Caribbean holidays.
Most of the population of Australia lives within a 20-minute drive of the coast, so it’s hardly surprising that the beach is deeply embedded in Aussie culture. There are 7,000 beaches, according to the official count, and they are among the sandiest, silkiest and whites on the planet. There are even beaches where you can drive a car (Fraser Island), ride a camel (Broome), feed dolphins (Monkey Mia), see kangaroos (Pebbly Beach) and, of course, surf your socks off (most famously at Bondi). Find more holidays in Australia.
The Scilly Isles are England’s very own South Sea islands, so different and exotic compared with the rest of the country that you feel you might just need a visa and an armful of jabs. You could stay put on one island and visit the others on boat excursions. Every day from the quayside of St Mary’s, the main island, an armada of open topped launches travels to a choice of other islands including the other four inhabited ones – St Agnes, Bryher, St Martin and Tresco famous for its subtropical gardens. To stay, we recommend the The Flying Boat Club.