For a great many people, just the idea of a holiday is unthinkable without the chance to relax on the beach
Whether it’s just lying there reading and sleeping, or being a bit more adventurous and having a crack at surfing or kiteboarding, there’s just something about a beach that means you’re able to forget your everyday worries
So take a few minutes to scroll through our selection of amazing beaches and imagine the sun on your face, the smell of the surf and the sand between your toes…
Ipanema and Copacabana, Brazil
Possibly two of the most famous stretches of sand on the planet.The classic Rio de Janeiro beach experience, from the boardwalk along the back where rollerbladers zoom in and out of dawdling families, to the hundreds of people swimming or playing in the sea.
There are quieter beaches to be found – Leme and Vermelha are but two examples – but to come to Rio and not join the crowds? Unthinkable.
Dune du Pyla, France
Roughly an hour from Bordeaux on the Atlantic coast, here you’ll find Europe’s largest sand dune, rising over 100 metres above the sea. With the sun shimmering off the water and a stretch of pine forest behind, there’s a lot to see and some fabulous walks to go on.
After having exhausted yourself exploring, what better way to finish it off than with a bite to eat from one of the stalls selling delicious local produce. Oysters, cheese, bread, pate and wine are all available for a delightfully decadent picnic.
Surfers Paradise, Australia
One of Australia’s most recognisable urban images is the stretch of high-rise blocks along the beachfront in this part of Queensland.
Hotelier Jim Cavill pushed to have the settlement of Elston change its name to that of his hotel, and on December 1st, 1933, Surfers Paradise was officially born.
It has a warm climate throughout the year, and when you’re done messing about in the sea and lying on the seemingly endless beach, you can head to the Gold Coast Nightlife Precinct, considered Australia’s nightlife capital, attracting around 20,000 visitors daily.
Ses Salines, Ibiza, Spain
Oddly, despite its location within a nature reserve, this beach has a license to play music and party until after sundown. Ibiza is, as I’m sure you’re aware, famous as a party island, and this beach, with its almost unbelievably soft sand, combines the pleasures of relaxing and still feeling like you’re in the middle of something happening.
Seven Mile Beach, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
If you were to imagine a classic beach, this is probably what you’d come up with. White sand, blue sea, palm trees and beautiful people lounging around.
On the western side of the island, this entire beach is accessible to the public, so you can wander from bar to restaurant along the beach, while watching jet-skiers ripping through the gently rolling waves, or you can get involved yourself by going snorkelling or joining in a game of volleyball. But why be so energetic? You’re here to relax, after all…
Limestone cave beaches, Algarve, Portugal
After millennia of being beaten by the remorseless Atlantic, the limestone cliffs of this part of the Portuguese coast have been formed into huge, almost church-like caverns into which the sea flows.
It seems odd to be almost inside, and the feeling is increased by the tranquillity and the colours, which make you feel like you’re in your own world, far removed from the thousands of miles of sea beyond.
Papakolea Beach, Hawaii
Just getting to this one is tough. You have to reach Ka Lae, the southernmost point in Hawaii, which also means it’s the southernmost point in the whole of the USA. After a three mile hike along the cliffs, you end up on the beach… and it’s green.
It’s made of olivine, a green mineral, which comes from Puu Mahana, a volcanic cone located up above the beach.
North Cornwall, England
Along the wild and beautiful coast of northern Cornwall – the ‘leg’ of England, if you like – there are 42 beaches between the tourist draws of Padstow and St. Ives. Those two towns are well-known, pretty and both are worth a visit, but it’s also tremendously rewarding to trek along the coast discovering the miles of sand that are basically untouched, give or take the odd dog walker or surfer.
Boulders Beach, Cape Town, South Africa
Having been worn away at a different rate to the surrounding rock, it’s the enormous granite boulders that surround the cove that give this beach its name.
The rocks mean that the beach is well sheltered from the wind and waves, meaning it’s a great, safe swimming spot and offers something that nowhere else on this list does – penguins!
Boulders Beach is home to a colony of African penguins, and this is the only place in the world you can get up close to them in all their waddly glory. Hooray!
The Beach of the Cathedrals, Ribadeo, Spain
This spectacular beach is a national monument of Spain, and this means that if you’d like to visit it, you’re going to need a ticket. A curiously specific 4,812 are given admittance to the beach every day, but it’s free, and you just need to make a reservation online.
Go at low tide so you can fully explore the 1.4km of beach with the silent rocks towering over you. If you don’t make a reservation, you can still visit the grassy cliff tops, but if you’ve come all this way, you’d really want to get down there, right?
Hidden bombhole beach, Marieta, MexicoAlso known as the Playa del Amor, this weird looking place can be found on one of the Marieta Islands, an archipelago of Mexico’s west coast. There are a lot of caves and beaches on the islands that were formed as a result of volcanic activity, but this one may have a more sinister backstory.
The islands are uninhabited and were apparently used by the Mexican government as a weapons testing ground in the 1900s, leading to the creation of this massive bomb hole. It’s only accessible through a tunnel of water connecting the beach to the Pacific ocean, so it’s going to be either swimming or kayaking for any prospective visitors!
Glass Beach, Fort Bragg, California, USA
Not a miracle of nature, but nature doing her best to correct the mistakes of humans. In the 1940s, this part of the California coastline was home to a municipal rubbish dump.
Metal, appliances and glassware were basically just lobbed over the cliffs into a landfill, and when it got too full, the local authorities would light fires to burn the junk away.
This continued until the area was closed in 1967, and in the intervening years the ocean has worn all the glassware down to the size of pebbles, creating this utterly unique phenomenon.
One of the natural wonders of Iceland (and that’s up against some pretty stiff competition!), this is a large, glacial lake that’s home to seals and seabirds.
The most striking feature, however, are the icebergs which come from Vatnajökull, the nearby glacier. Some remain frozen in the lake in winter as the temperatures plummet, and some find themselves on the shores of the lake, dotting the black sand beaches like giant, mislaid diamonds.
Prora resort, Rügen island, Germany
The most unsavoury place on this list, Prora was commissioned by the KdF (Kraft durch Freude, or Strength Through Joy), the leisure organisation in 1930s Germany.
The plan was to build a huge holiday complex where good, wholesome German families could arrive in their KdF-wagen (the original name for the VW Beetle) to partake of the sea air and any number of healthsome activities. It never happened.
As the Third Reich geared up for war, it was used as a military training base, then a barracks. Today, it’s met a macabre fate, inasmuch as it’s finally fulfilled its use. Yes, that’s right. You can now buy one of the holiday apartments, and get access to three miles of prime, Baltic beach. I hope it haunts you.
Traigh Mhòr Bay, Barra, Scotland
You can only use this Hebridean beach at certain times. At others, it’s an airport. Yep, it’s the only airport in the world where scheduled flights take off and land on the beach.
It actually has three designated runways, due to tidal and wind activity making landing tricky from different directions and at different times. A small, red sign warns you to “keep off the beach when the windsock is flying and the airport is active.” So don’t say you weren’t warned.