While a beach holiday is a great go-to choice, and an ideal way for creating life-long memories with the kids in tow, if you add a city stay into the mix - you’ve got everything.
Staying in a beach city, particularly in Europe, ensures that every member of the family is satisfied as you combine activities like lounging on the beach one day, with walking through a shopping district during the next.
Since Europe’s often a popular destination choice amongst Mumsnetters, we’ve gathered a list of the best beach cities and towns in Europe for your consideration.
In our Mumsnetter-approved roundup, you’ll find beaches that are great for lounging about, water activities, shallow beaches that are suitable for young holidaymakers, and long stretches of sand for the sun worshippers amongst you. Europe’s expansive coastline serves up an abundance of beach options for a holiday - from glitzy to laid-back, and secluded to urban sites - there’s plenty of choice…
All these beaches are situated in or close to European cities and towns that offer accommodation to fit any family’s holiday budget. We scoured our Talk boards to find the best family friendly beaches near a town or city to bring you this extensive list of the best beach cities in Europe.
Top beach cities in Europe: quick look
Best overall beach city: Barcelona, Spain
Best beach activities: San Sebastian, Spain
Best for young children: Bodrum, Turkey
Best older children: Nice, France
Best for snorkelling: Dubrovnik, Croatia
1. Barcelona, Spain
We're going to kickstart this list with an obvious choice, but it's easy to understand why. Barcelona is a city that offers a wide range of original leisure options for all ages, that lure you to visit time and time again.
Overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, this Spanish cosmopolitan city is famous for Gaudi and other Art Nouveau architecture and is considered one of Europe's trendiest cities.
A visit here allows you to dive head-first into a world of culture, fashion and cuisine... All the while close to incredible beaches. Whether you want to enjoy the Med, or simply lounge in the sunshine between days of exploring, the city is home to some of Spain's best beaches.
Summers here are hot and humid, and winter is considerably more comfortable than those we experience in the UK. With almost three miles of coastline, Barcelona's beaches offer gorgeous sands for lounging, game and relaxation that we're sure the whole family will love. Head to the city's most famous (and traditional) beach, Barceloneta Beach, which is named after the seafaring neighbourhood built in the 18th Century. For the city's youngest beach, visit Llevant Beach, and for an insight into how fishermen lived back in the day, head to Bogatell Beach.
2. Montpellier, France
The city of Montpellier, France, boasts many attractions. Families that holiday here will be spoilt for things to do. You can wander around the old town, take a walk on the Esplanade, explore Musée Fabre, or visit the city’s Zoo.
Then hire a bike and head for the coast! You can hop onto a bus, but it is much more fun to ride through the countryside to the sandy beaches. Montpellier has a cheap, extensive and efficient public bike hire scheme that’s worth taking advantage of.
The proximity of lovely sand beaches makes Montpellier one of the best beach city holidays in Europe. Palavas, about two and a half miles away, is Montpellier’s best known sandy beach. It has lots to offer for both kids and adults. You can hire a lounger or spread your own towel, and here you will also find water sports equipment for rental, as well as restaurants.
Approximate flight time: Montpellier is less than two hours from London by plane.
What Mumsnet users say
“Montpellier is great for a day out. Also Palavas les Flottes and the Port at Carnon. Lots of sandy beaches nearby. Luna Park, the aquarium at le grau du roi. Aigues Mortes. A boat trip on the canal du midi. Dinopark near Meze. Cap D'Agde. To be honest, there was so much going on with the kid's club and the pool we never made it out that much. The staff were all lovely.” Portofino
Read next: The best beach toys to take on holiday
3. Palma de Mallorca, Spain
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As the capital of Mallorca, Palma de Mallorca offers up everything a family needs during a holiday here. Nicknamed the 'pearl of the Mediterranean', it's unsurprising that this destination is a popular choice amongst Brits.
Attracting millions of visitors each year, Palma combines romance, culture, urban attractions and relaxing beaches all in one destination. With stunning sea views, you can enjoy the hustle of city life during an escape here one day, and find yourself relaxing on one of Palma's beautiful beaches the next.
Despite being the capital city of the Spanish Balearic Islands - and home to more than half of Mallorca's population - Palma's beaches serve up fantastic opportunities to relax and explore, without straying too far away from the city itself.
Just 15 minutes away by car from Palma, you'll find Illetas and Cala Comtessa. These beautiful coves are a great place to spend a day. Don't miss the chance to visit Cala Pi, another cove located in Llucmajor where you have to descend stairs that feel like 'the stairways to heaven'. If that's not enough, there's also Cala Blava, a white-sanded cove that's located just 20 minutes away from Palma by car.
4. Paphos, Cyprus
You probably know that the Greek goddess of love and beauty Aphrodite was born on the island of Cyprus. But did you know that the exact spot of her birth has been (allegedly) pinpointed? It is Petra tou Romiou, an imposing formation of huge rocks about 17 miles southwest of Paphos.
Myths aside, Paphos is a spot rich with historical sites. Here you will find the ancient Tombs of the Kings, a dramatic Byzantine castle and fine Roman mosaics.
You will also find the charming old town, as well as a lovely coastline dotted with beaches. All that makes Paphos one of the best cities for beach lovers in Europe. Close to the town are two sandy beaches, Faros and Alykes, great for families with children in tow. About seven miles north of the city is the popular Coral Bay with soft sand, calm, shallow water and beautiful scenery.
Approximate flight time: Direct flight from London to Paphos takes about 4 hours and 30 minutes.
What Mumsnet users say
“Cyprus is a lovely temperature in June and there’s some fabulous historical sights and sites around Paphos, which is a world heritage site.” Catmummyof2
5. Almería, Spain
Cabo de Gata is a natural park with a long coastline that stretches between Almería and Carboneras. Both of these towns in Spain’s Andalusia offer superb beach city breaks in Europe. Almeria has a not-very-touristy feel and a nice city beach. Carboneras is a popular tourist resort with superb sand beaches.
Along the coast between the two towns lies the protected area with long, beautiful beaches, hidden coves, stunning landscapes and cute little white fishing villages.
You will find “urban” beaches with the usual amenities only close to the villages. Elsewhere are the virgin beaches, which means that you must bring everything you need for your stay.
Among the most popular virgin beaches are Genoveses, Monsul, and Playazo de Rodalquilar. All three are sandy beaches with smooth and gradual entry into the water. The more dramatic Los Muertos beach is not suitable for children.
Approximate flight time: Direct flight from London to Almeira takes a little less than 3 hours.
What Mumsnet users say
“Have a look at the Parque Natural Cabo de Gata in Almeria, Spain. It's been a while since I've been there but there were plenty of beautiful beaches, not a sunbed in sight...some you could only access by boat. We stayed in a villa (no pool but plenty will have them) and hired a car visiting different beaches every day. Was lovely and so relaxed!
Almeria itself is lovely for a day trip and you can also visit the places where Spaghetti Westerns were filmed if you fancy something different!” givememarmite
6. Dubrovnik, Croatia
Dubrovnik, Croatia, is famous for its impressive mediaeval walls and the beautiful Old Town, but it also has a lot to offer under the water. Most of the beaches around Dubrovnik are pebbly and rocky, which is ideal for snorkelling. So, if your family’s thing is to put on a mask and dive into the crystal-clear waters, choose Dubrovnik as your next beach city destination.
The rocky Buža beach, close to the Old Town, offers good visibility in its clear water. Learner snorkels and families will have a great time on the Lapad Beach, about 2mi from the Old Town. Another attractive spot for the snorkelers is the massive cliff face on the popular Sveti Jakov beach, about 8mi from the Old Town. This spot is suitable for confident swimmers.
With its dramatic scenery, historic and cultural heritage, as well as lovely beaches and crystal-clear waters, Dubrovnik is doubtlessly one of the best beach cities in Europe.
Approximate flight time: Direct flights from London to Dubrovnik take a little less than 3 hours.
What Mumsnet users say
“I loved Croatia. Stayed just outside Dubrovnik. The water is the perfect temperature and wonderful for snorkelling. Food is really similar to Italy IMO.” jeaux90
7. Bodrum, Turkey
The beach resorts and towns on the Bodrum peninsula are famously child-friendly. Many hotels offer babysitting services, and restaurants are as a rule ready to produce high chairs for their youngest patrons.
The largest city on the peninsula, Bodrum, is known for luxury hotels, beach clubs, and superyachts. But this is also a family-friendly city to suit every pocket, with plenty of attractions for young kids, from shallow beaches to exciting water and theme parks.
Gumusluk, Turkbuku, Gumbet, Yalikavak, Bitez and many other coastal towns also have stunning beaches and all the family holiday amenities and facilities you can desire.
You may also want to check out La Blanche Island resort on the north of the Peninsula. It has a private beach area, an outdoor pool, and a water park. It is a great place for families with young children.
Approximate flight time: Direct flight from London to Bodrum takes a little over 4 hours.
What Mumsnet users say
“We have [been to La Blanche Island] and are going back this summer. I think it is great value for money. The rooms are nothing special, but clean, spacious and comfortable. the grounds are beautiful. We have some pictures that look like Ibiza. The beaches are artificial, with white sand on top, but lovely. The sea is shallow. There is a huge small kids pool and a couple of good slides for bigger children. Food is ok, not amazing, but good. We really liked it, it is a bit remote, but the grounds are big enough for an evening stroll.” kingat
8. San Sebastian, Spain
San Sebastian in Spain’s mountainous Basque region is renowned for beautiful churches and buildings, Basque cuisine, and, of course, the beaches. Thanks to the natural protection of the bay, beaches here are a safe place for swimming and water sports such as surfing, bodyboarding, windsurfing, jet skiing, paddle boarding, or canoeing.
La Concha Beach is the biggest and most famous of San Sebastian’s three beaches. This crescent-shaped 1-mile long sandy stretch is one of the most beautiful city beaches in Europe.
The smaller Ondarreta beach is a favourite spot for families with children. On stormy days, the waves of Ondaretta attract surfers and bodyboarders.
Zurriola beach is all about waves, surfing and young crowds. Go there to have a lively beach experience filled with sand and sports. You can take a surfing course, or join in a game of beach football or volleyball.
Approximate flight time: Connecting flight from London to San Sebastian takes about 5 hours.
What Mumsnet users say
“San Sebastián in Spain - beach, most amazing food.” Bluemamma
9. Crete, Greece
Wherever you go in Crete, you will be close to history and culture that stretches over thousands of years. That is also true of the three towns situated on the north coast of Crete: Heraklion, Chania, and Rethymno.
Heraklion is famous for the Minoan Palace of Knossos; Chania is home to the Byzantine Wall; and Rethymno has the Venetian Harbour and the star-shaped Fortezza.
When you’ve had your fill of history and culture, do what every other visitor does when in Crete: head for the nearest beach.
The lovely Ammoudara Beach of golden sand is only five minutes from downtown Heraklion. Within walking distance from the centre of Chania is the bustling sandy family beach of Nea Chora. Rethymno has a popular family beach right in the town.
Some beaches charge an entrance fee, but there are many little coves and bays to enjoy for free.
Approximate flight time: Direct flight from London to Heraklion or Chania takes about 4 hours.
What Mumsnet users say
“Rethymno is also lovely (like a small version of Chania) and is centrally located, so you can visit both Chania and Knossos Palace from there. Crete is full of archaeological sites and great beaches. The Crete tripadvisor forum is really good for information too.” CeeJay81
10. Zeeland, Netherlands
Zeeland, western province of the Netherlands, has beautiful sandy beaches that are great for children. You will also find numerous indoor and outdoor kids’ playgrounds, amusement parks and aquariums, zoos and play farms.
Whichever coastal town you choose, you cannot go wrong. Middelburg is a historical town with more than a thousand listed buildings. Vlissingen has a long seafront promenade from which you can almost touch the passing ships. Goes is a real shopping Mecca.
Wherever you cast your anchor, you will delight in the peace and quiet of the unique nature, lovely to explore on foot or on a bicycle. This landscape of immense waters, marshlands, woods and dunes is home to a variety of birds, deer, porpoises and seals. It is a pleasure to watch the seals as they soak up the sun. Better still, book a “seal safari” boat trip!
Approximate flight time: It takes less than 6 hours to travel to Zeeland from London by car or train.
What Mumsnet users say
“Zeeland in the Netherlands is lovely. Big sandy beaches. Lots of nice little towns. Boat trips. Seal watching. Or the north sea coast around Scheveningen - lots of sun loungers and beach bars.” MissAmbrosia
11. Nice, France
Situated on the French Riviera, Nice has everything you need for a great time: stunning beaches, sensational bars and restaurants, amazing views, and wonderful culture.
Let’s start with the things to see. On the top of the list are visits to the Roman amphitheatre and thermal baths, to the Old Port and the Old Town, as well as to the museums of two famous painters, Matisse and Chagall.
Of course, strolling on the iconic Promenade des Anglais is obligatory. Here you will find bars and restaurants, beach clubs and ice-cream stalls. All along the 4.3-mile long Promenade are beaches, some public, some private, and all of them wonderfully inviting. With the blue waters of the Mediterranean sea right on its doorstep, Nice is without a doubt one of the best cities in Europe with a beach.
Nice beaches are as a rule pebbly (a few private beaches have sand laid over the pebbles). They are great for swimming, as the ground drops quickly at many spots.
Approximate flight time: Direct flight from London to Nice takes about 2 hours.
What Mumsnet users say
“We spent a week in Nice earlier in the year. It's any easy location to explore from. Canne and Monaco are quick train journeys away.” sillyswimmer
12. Lisbon, Portugal
Often chosen as a city break, Lisbon actually offers some of Portugal's finest beaches that are worth a visit, especially during the summer. Lisbon's beaches extend along four very different coastlines, and range from wild surfing beaches, through to calm, family-oriented beaches and charming resort towns.
Since Lisbon is typically labelled as a city getaway, the beaches here are not often well publicised, and few visitors actually realise that Lisbon offers both a city experience and a relaxing, beach holiday.
In fact, many of the beaches close to the city can be easily reached via public transport, making them an ideal day trip if you're staying within the city center.
Praia de Carcavelos, Costa da Caparica, Praia do Tamariz, Praia de Tortre, and Santa Amaro de Oeiras are all family-friendly beaches in Lisbon that are worth considering during a trip here. These as well as others can all be reached either by bus, train or by car and are within an hour of the city itself.
When to visit best city beaches in Europe
Tourists searching for the sea and the sun flock to European cities with beaches in July and August. If you’d rather avoid the crowds and higher prices, plan to visit in June or September, when the weather is still fine and the sea warm. May and October can also be awesome for sunseekers in all of the best beach cities in Europe from our list, although the sea can be a bit chilly and you may get a few rainy days.
Which European country has the best sandy beaches?
Europe definitely has some interesting beaches for families to enjoy. Amongst the best countries for a beach holiday are Portugal, Spain, Greece and Turkey. However, you will find incredible beaches in other European countries as well, or you can ask for the opinions and experiences of the users on our Mumsnet forum.
How we chose our recommendations
Recommendations by real parents
We always start our research at the Mumsnet forums. With over 10 million users a month, we know we’re going to get a host of suggestions for great destinations and hotels that will cater for a range of needs and budgets. And, best of all, they’ve already been there and done it.
Expert guidance and traveller reviews
We then consult the experts to make sure we’re recommending a destination that is suitable for families. This means cross-checking hotels with travel sites like Hotels.com, TripAdvisor and Booking.com to ensure they cater for a family’s needs.
We also check what consumers say, including the negative comments so that we can give a balanced review.
Finally, to make sure we were finding the best beach cities in Europe we looked out for destinations and hotels that won awards and came highly recommended, until we were left with a list of ten European beach cities to suit every budget and interest.
Why should you trust us?
We based our selection of the best beach cities in Europe on extensive independent research, taking into account both the positive and negative reviews and opinions. We do sometimes earn revenue through affiliate (click to-buy) links in our articles. This helps us fund more helpful articles like this one.