The two most popular holidays in Europe are city breaks and beach escapes. These 10 places offer the best of both worlds.
1 San Sebastian, Spain
This fabulous city is the cultural heart of The Basque Country. It’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. Base yourself at the quirky Astoria7, a former cinema; or the elegant Hotel Villa Soro, where you can borrow bikes to explore.
2 Dubrovnik, Croatia
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.
3 Bruges, Belgium
Ostend is where the Bruges locals spend sunny weekends. It’s a cosmopolitan beach town just 15 mins from the city by tram, and is backed by the beautiful Belle Epoque district. We’re not going to lie: the sea is pretty chilly. But for a day of rays it looks perfect. Back in Bruges, Sint Niklaas is our favourite place to stay, with a great central location by the Market Square.
4 Brighton, UK
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 at the eclectic and well-priced Artist Residence Brighton.
5 Venice, Italy
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. Base yourself at the chic, family-friendly Hotel Villa Pannonia.
6 Barcelona, Spain
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). The 5 Rooms is a hip place to stay.
7 Cannes, France
Cannes is 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. For pure 1950s flamboyance, stay at the Hotel Le Canberra.
8 Lisbon, Portugal
One of the best summer playgrounds in Portugal, Cascais is an upscale coastal town close to central Lisbon. Day trip there if you’re staying in town, or base yourself at the beautifully blue Villa Cascais. 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.
9 Palma, Mallorca
Palma’s year-round sunshine make it a perfect long weekend break. Stay right on the beach at Portixoland let the sea views restore you. Borrow the hotel bikes and spin along the coastal promenade into central Palma. Admire the magnificent Gothic cathedral and the adjacent Almudaina palace. Then wander the Old Town’s atmospheric streets, stopping for coffee and creamy ensaïmada. Cycle back for sunset cocktails by the pool.
10 Porto, Portugal
Wake up to the scent of sea air. Watch the waves break from your terrace. Then head 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 and admire traditional azulejos-tiled buildings. Return to your boutique apartmentin trendy Foz do Douro to top up your tan on the golden beach. Or wander along to Casa Vasco for delicious seafood petiscos.