Why choose city OR beach for your European holidays? Here are 10 places you can visit museums, boutiques and historical sights in the morning, catch some rays in the afternoon, then stroll to amazing restaurants for sundowners and dinner. The best of both worlds.
1 San Sebastian
This fabulous city is the cultural and gastronomic heart of The Basque Country, with a legendary jazz festival in July, film festival in September, and more Michelin-starred restaurants and pinxtos bars than you can shake an empanada at. The city horseshoes around La Concha, a glorious swathe of golden sand, backed by a promenade for leisurely strolls. If you want to ride some waves, head over to Zurriola and surf in the heart of the city (you can hire kit locally). Base yourself at the quirky Astoria7, a former cinema, or the elegant Hotel Villa Soro, where you can borrow bikes to explore.
Dubbed ‘the pearl of the Adriatic’ by Byron, Unesco-listed Dubrovnikoozes 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. Here are our favourite places to stay.
Ostend is where the Bruges locals spend sunny days. A cosmopolitan beach town just 15 mins from the city by tram, it has a wide golden-sand stretch backed by the beautiful Belle Epoque district, and a wealth of cool shops and eateries. We’re not going to lie; the sea’s apparently freezing, but for a day of rays it looks perfect. Back in Bruges, Sint Niklaas is our favourite place to stay: a characterful 3-room B&B, with a great central location by the Markt Square.
Its beach may be pebbled but on a sunny day Brighton’s seafront is infectiously jolly, with the Palace Pier as a backdrop and the twinkling music of seaside carousels. Ride the horses, visit the aquarium and eat fish & chips from The Melrose, then wander The Lanes for quirky boutiques and great independents. As the sun sets, the legendary nightlife begins… Check in to Artist Residence Brighton: eclectic, good value and great cocktails.
Didn’t expect that, did you? Venice’s Lido is an unsung hero of city beaches and a perfect escape from the crowds, especially in high summer. An adjacent island to the beautiful city, it 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, meaning you can zip over to explore the busy streets and lavish galleries in the morning, then return to flop in the sun. Base yourself at Hotel Villa Pannonia; a modern, family friendly hotel.
Western Europe’s most-popular city break, Barcelona’s an energy-filled blend of modernist marvels, chic boutiques and medieval architecture, as well as home to a string of golden beaches. Most popular is La Barceloneta, with its carnival atmosphere and bustling seafood cafes. For something more peaceful, we love Ocata beach – pristine and peaceful with golden-white sand. Just hop on a tram from central Barcelona (25 mins). The 5 Rooms is a hip base for it all.
Nowhere’s cooler than Cannes, a city whose name is synonymous with Hollywood stars and the glamorous film festival. Visit at less crazy times and you’ll find atmospheric narrow streets, designer boutiques, a castle with panoramic views and a marina bobbing with millionaires’ yachts. The famous seafront boulevard, La Croisette, is abuzz with brilliant restaurants, and there’s 2km of golden sand curving around the bay. For a flamboyant, 1950s hotel that feels fittingly Cannes, stay at the Hotel Le Canberra.
Summer playground to Lisboans, Cascais is an upscale coastal town an easy tram ride from central Lisbon. Day trip there if you’re staying in town, or base yourself at the beautifully blue Villa Cascais so you can breakfast overlooking the golden sands. You can learn to paddleboard in the bay, or visit other gorgeous beaches nearby, including golden Praia de Conceição. And when you’re ready for urban exploration, Lisbon‘s famous 7 hills are magnificent, with designer boutiques and tatty fado cafes alongside crumbling mansions, street art and rickety yellow trams.
Palma’s year-round sunshine is a balm to frazzled souls, and frequent, cheap flights from the UK make it perfect for a long weekend. Stay right on the beach at Portixoland let the sea views restore you. When you’ve mustered enough energy, borrow the hotel bikes and spin along the coastal promenade into central Palma for a few hours. Admire the magnificent Gothic cathedral and adjacent Almudaina palace then wander the Old Town’s atmospheric streets, stopping for coffee and creamy ensaïmada. Cycle back for sunset and cocktails by the pool. Just what the doctor ordered.
Wake up to the scent of sea air, watch the waves break as you breakfast, then rattle into central Porto on a 1920s tram; it only takes 10 minutes. There you can stroll the cobblestone streets of the World Heritage Ribeira district, admire traditional azulejos-tiled buildings and taste ports at the Vila Nova de Gaia’s historic lodges. Return to your boutique apartmentin trendy Foz do Douro to top up your tan on the golden beach below, before wandering along to Casa Vasco for seafood petiscos.