By Lucy Richardson, Editor

The two most popular holidays in Europe are city breaks and beach escapes. So, why not combine the two? These 10 cosmopolitan cities are all flanked by sweeping curves of golden sand. Better still, they’re all easy to reach from the UK, and you won’t need to worry about hiring a car abroad.

 San Sebastian, Spain

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This fabulous city is the cultural heart of The Basque CountryIt’s famed for a legendary jazz festival in July, a film festival in September, and a slew of Michelin-starred restaurants and pinxtos bars. The city horseshoes around La Concha, a glorious beach backed by a promenade for leisurely strolls.

Stay: Base yourself at the quirky Zinema7, a former cinema; or the elegant Hotel Villa Soro, where you can borrow bikes to explore.


2  Dubrovnik, Croatia

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Dubbed ‘the pearl of the Adriatic’ by Byron, Unesco-listed Dubrovnik oozes charm. Stroll the gleaming limestone Stradun, wonder at the 6m-thick town ramparts and admire medieval frescoes in the Rector’s Palace, then kick back on beautiful Banje beach or swim off the rocks at Buza Bar.

Stay: The Byron is an elegant, owner-run guesthouse in a gorgeous 17th-century building, located in the centre of Dubrovnik’s Old Town.


3  Barcelona, Spain

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Barcelona is hugely popular for its modernist marvels, chic boutiques and medieval architecture. It’s also home to a string of super city beaches. Most popular is La Barceloneta, with its carnival atmosphere and bustling seafood cafes. For something more peaceful, try the pristine Ocata beach – just hop on a tram from central Barcelona (25 mins).

Stay: Neri Hotel, in the Gothic Quarter, is classy and cool; Boutique Apartments Barcelona are very reasonably priced and are close to the waterfront.


Brighton, UK

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Its beach may be pebbled but on a sunny day Brighton’s seafront is infectiously jolly. The Palace Pier backdrop and the twinkling music of seaside carousels are quintessential Brighton. Ride the horses, visit the aquarium and eat fish & chips from The Melrose. Then wander The Lanes for quirky boutiques and great pubs.

Stay: Try the eclectic and well-priced Artist Residence Brighton.


Venice, Italy

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Didn’t expect Venice, did you? Lido is an unsung hero of city beaches. It’s also a perfect escape from the crowds, especially in high summer. This adjacent island to the beautiful city has a long sandy beach, little fishing villages (hire bikes to explore) and one of Italy’s finest golf courses. Best of all, it’s just 15 minutes by water taxi from St Mark’s Square.

Stay: Base yourself at the chic, family-friendly Hotel Villa Pannonia, a poppy-red building located just off the island’s main drag.


6  Lisbon, Portugal

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One of the best summer playgrounds in Portugal, Cascais is an upscale coastal town close to central Lisbon. You can learn to paddleboard in the bay, or visit the gorgeous nearby Praia de Conceição beach. When you’re ready for an urban fix, Lisbon‘s famous seven hills are magnificent, with designer boutiques and tatty fado cafes alongside crumbling mansions, street art and rickety yellow trams.

Stay: Try the beautifully blue Villa Cascais, a 19th-century seafront mansion turned boutique hotel.


7  Cannes, France

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Cannes and the Cote d’Azur are synonymous with Hollywood stars. Visit in the shoulder seasons and you’ll find atmospheric narrow streets, designer boutiques and a marina bobbing with millionaires’ yachts. The famous seafront boulevard, La Croisette, is abuzz with brilliant restaurants. Better yet, you have 2km of golden sand curving around the bay.

Stay: For pure 1950s flamboyance, stay at the Hotel Le Canberra.


8  Palma, Mallorca

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Palma’s year-round sunshine makes it a perfect long weekend break. Admire the magnificent Gothic cathedral and the adjacent Almudaina palace. Then wander the Old Town’s atmospheric streets, stopping for coffee and creamy ensaïmada (a popular pastry).

Stay: Let the sea views restore you at Portixol. Borrow the hotel bikes and spin along the coastal promenade into central Palma, then cycle back for sunset cocktails by the pool.


9 Chania, Crete

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OK, so it’s not quite a European megacity, but Crete‘s capital packs a fine punch when it comes to urban seaside fun. Once a major seaport for the Venetians, this historic city boasts a beautifully preserved habour, an atmospheric old town brimming with handicraft shops, and a fab sunbathing beach.

Stay: Soak it all up from Casa Delfino, a 17th-century mansion located close to the waterfront.

10  Porto, Portugal

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Wake up to the scent of sea air in Porto. Set at the mouth of the Douro, this picturesque city has the perfect blend of urban sophistication and gorgeous sandy beaches. Stroll the cobblestone streets of the World Heritage Ribeira district and admire traditional azulejos-tiled buildings, then head to trendy Foz do Douro to top up your tan on the golden beach.

Stay: Boutique Apartments Porto is a 10-minute tram ride from the city centre. Watch the waves break from your terrace, or wander along to Casa Vasco for delicious seafood petiscos. 

Fancy somewhere smaller? Check out our favourite beach towns in Europe, or click to see our full collection of European city hotels by the sea