The Caribbean has nothing on the Mediterranean, and these 11 places prove it.
Too often, when travelers think of Europe, they think about its history, cities, and visiting the places they’ve read about in books or seen splashed across silver screens. But beyond the historic cathedrals and towering castles, Europe also has beaches—beautiful, sunny, picturesque beaches along its Mediterranean coast. There, you’ll find landscapes and views that promise to rival anything you’ll see in the Caribbean. It can be hard to know where to find these beaches, though, especially if you’re looking to get a bit off the beaten track. Here’s our guide to 11 of the most gorgeous places to take a dip in the Mediterranean Sea.
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Located on the southern side of a Spanish island called Menorca, Cala Mitjaneta has everything you’d want in a secluded swimming spot. The beach’s sandy white shore is framed by high, tree-covered cliffs, making for a truly spectacular view. The water there is a clear, crystal blue and there’s another beach—Cala Mitjana—just a quick swim away that has underground caves perfect for some snorkeling. Get to Mitjaneta early, because the beach is tiny and can only really hold about 20 people. That’s a good thing: You’ll get to have a secluded, private experience, all while feeling you and your partner are the last two people on earth.
There are no restaurants or tourist amenities at Cala Mitjaneta, but who cares? Pack a lunch, fill your water bottles, bring a towel, and let the day take over. After all, you’re on vacation, and you don’t have anywhere else to be.
Navagio, on Greece’s Zakynthos, has earned the nickname “Shipwreck Beach” for good reason: There’s a literal shipwreck sitting on the beach, slowly succumbing to the passage of time. The Panagiotis was chased ashore in 1980 by the Greek Navy after being caught smuggling cigarettes and booze, and the crew’s loss is your gain: The ship makes for a stunning swim backdrop, and looks great in photos. There are 650-foot high white, sandy cliffs, and deep blue waters, all of which make Navagio one of the most romantic-looking beaches in Greece.
Navagio is so secluded that it can only be accessed by yacht or powerboat. While that might seem like a bit of a hassle, it’s worth the effort, especially if you can time your trip out so that you can catch a nice sunset on the way back to your hotel or rental.
The Turkish Steps
Scala dei Turchi (a.k.a. the Turkish Steps) is quickly becoming one of the most popular beaches in Sicily—and for good reason. Over thousands of years, wind and water—both rain and sea—have beaten the beach’s marl cliffs into a set of gigantic natural steps that you can climb. It’s like being on the moon, or maybe a movie set, and it’s a one-of-a-kind experience. And if you’re into skincare, it’s even better, because the beach’s eroded stone creates a clay mud that’s supposedly great for your skin, so slather some on, dry off on the rocks, and then take a dip to get clean again.
According to legend, the Steps get their Turkish moniker because long, long ago, sneaky pirates from nearby Turkey would use the steps to creep into nearby villages at night, raiding them and robbing them of the supplies they needed to survive. It’s a little easier for travelers to get to the steps today. There’s a sandy stretch of beach leading to the cliff, and there are even two bars on the way from parking to the steps, meaning you can always stop and catch a drink along the way if you need a break.
Sometimes, it’s easy to see why a beach gets its name. In Turkish, Ölüdeniz literally means “blue lagoon,” and this beach certainly counts as one. A standout beach on Turkey’s Turquoise Coast, Ölüdeniz sits right at the conjunction of the Mediterranean and Aegean seas and has become increasingly popular with visitors to the area over the years. That could be because of its beautiful blue waters, which are so clean that they’ve become part of a national nature reserve, or because of the beach’s proximity to some great paragliding. If you’re looking for an adventure (or just some great photos), you can hire a guide to help you paraglide onto Ölüdeniz from nearby Mount Babadağ, an experience that certainly only comes around once in a lifetime.
Corsica has some of the best beaches and coastal views in all of France, which makes sense considering it’s an island. That being said, Palombaggia stands above the rest of the isle’s beaches in its excellence, in part because it’s just so darn beautiful. The beach is framed by pine trees along its shore, and large granite boulders sit scattered throughout its shallow waters. (Bring your kids!) While it’s fine, sandy beaches can get a bit crowded during tourist season, it’s still worth it, especially if you spend some time having a nice, chill lunch at one of the nearby bars or restaurants. What could be more relaxing?
Spain’s got some stunning islands of its own, including the Balearic islands in the western Mediterranean. You’ll find numerous stunning islands there, including Formentera. That’s where you’ll find Ses Illettes, nestled between Ses Salines de Eivissa and Formentera Natural Park. Ses Illettes is 450 meters of white sand beach, with just a little rocky break somewhere in the middle. In fact, while Ses Illettes may get a little crowded during tourist season, it’s so long that there are ample places for visitors to stretch out and relax.
Crystal clear waters give Ses Illettes a Caribbean vibe, but there are islets just offshore that make the view singularly spectacular. Because Ses Illettes is part of a natural park, that means it’s also well taken care of and pristine. There are walkways and nearby restaurants, as well as ample parking. (Again, bring the kids!)
Located on the shores of Spargi, near Sardinia, Cala Soraja is widely considered one of the Mediterranean’s best beaches. Because it’s only reachable by boat, Cala Soraja is somewhat of a hidden gem, meaning it’s never wildly overrun with tourists. While there are no facilities like bathrooms or restaurants, you won’t really care once you see the beach’s fine, golden sand and stunning vistas. The water is incredibly clear, too, so skittish ocean swimmers need not worry about what lies beneath here: You’ll be able to see everything around you the whole time.
Monterrosso’s Spiaggia di Fegina
Located in Italy’s Cinque Terre region, Monterrosso’s Spiaggia di Fegina is beautiful, like all these other beaches, but in a different way. Instead of being set against scrubs and pristine natural landscape, Monterrosso’s beach sits up against one of Cinque Terre’s beautiful, stacked villages. There are no white sands here—instead, you’ll find tiny pebbles worn down by the water—and it’s not nearly as secluded as some of the other beaches on this list. That being said, none of that matters because the views are just so spectacular. Rent a chair for the afternoon, kick back, and let the Spiaggia di Fegina and the serenity of the Cinque Terre wash all your worries away.
If you’ve planned a vacation to the south of France but have found that you don’t exactly have time to spend an entire day trekking to some remote island getaway, consider the beaches and jetties of Cannes. There are several excellent public beaches in the film festival town, including Plage du Midi, and some hotels, like Hotel Barriere Le Majestic, even offer access to exclusive, chair-filled jetties that jut out into the Mediterranean, perfect for a nice afternoon nap. Take a stroll along La Croisette, and you’ll undoubtedly find the ideal spot to stop and sit for a spell.
The Red Beach in Santorini
Though Santorini is perhaps best known for its elegant blue and white cliffside dwellings, the island does also have some truly stunning beaches, including one that defies convention. The Red Beach, situated on the southern part of the island, is named for the rich, rusty color of its sand and surrounding cliffs. That color comes from a nearby dormant volcano, which long ago helped create the red, black, and white rock that sits in the area.
The visual of the red beach gently sloping into the clear blue water is pretty singular, especially in the Mediterranean, and makes a great contrast to the rest of Santorini’s pristine white vistas. Don’t worry about going unprepared, either. The beach is lined with parasols and sunbeds that can be rented, as well as small restaurants and food stands for snacks and beverages. You can rent snorkeling equipment, too, which is great because the calm water is great for peering at volcanic rock formations and the little marine animals that call them home.
Barceloneta Beach in Barcelona
Located in Barcelona, Barceloneta is unique not just because it has two miles of picture-perfect sand set alongside the Mediterranean, but because it’s also set alongside some of the city’s most stunning buildings and public art. You can grab a chair or take a windsurfing lesson while spending time on Barceloneta, or you can pop into one of the nearby beachside restaurants for a nice long lunch. If you’re feeling antsy, take a walk down the shore to gaze at Frank Gehry’s El Peix sculpture, which is meant to look like a glossy metal fish.
Don’t think Barceloneta is just for sunny days, either: Because the beach is so close to some of the city’s hottest nightclubs, it also makes a great place to sit with some buddies and catch up after a long night (or early morning) on the dance floor.