Coastal city breaks are the best kind of breaks. You can spend one day wandering past beautiful architecture and museums, and the next swimming in the bluest of oceans without a care in the world. These 10 beautiful European coastal cities do not speak a lot of English, which seems scary. But revel in your ignorance and enjoy floundering through your translation book for the Portuguese translation of “I don’t speak Portuguese!”. Politeness can surpass languages, and a smile is universal. Flash your pearly whites confidently and you’ll be fine.
1. Dubrovnik, Croatia
This ancient city is sheathed between towering walls, and hugged by outstanding crystal waters. Dubrovnik’s recent history of civil unrest seems fictitious as you slalom in and out of thousands of tourists in the sparkly clean Stradun. The Old Town centre is busy 24/7, so if large crowds aren’t your thing we recommend heading to Lokrum Island for a day of sea-swimming and hikes.
2. Vigo, Spain
Vigo is notorious for its rich seafood, generous free tapas, and pure white sandy beaches.
The paradisiacal Rodas Beach – named Best Beach In The World by The Guardian in 2007 – sits amidst lapping waves in the Cies Islands. This ‘must visit’ archipelago is perched off the coast of Pontevedra in Galicia, only a 45 minute boat trip from Port of Vigo.
Alternatively, stick to the mainland and enjoy a classy drink (or 5) in the Old Town Square before settling atop O Castro Mountain to catch the sunset.
3. Preveza, Greece
Preveza is as rich in history as it is contemporary. The tourism board take great pride in the tales of their coastal city, pitching it as Greece’s “capital of prefecture, intellect, and art“. The city is often referred to as a ‘stopover spot’ on the way to the Ionian Islands, but it has more to offer than what meets the eye. Follow the coastline on your way to the quaint old quarter, revelling in the hubbub of restaurants along the port, whilst admiring Preveza’s finest views as you go.
4. Brighton, England
The UK isn’t known for its wonderful weather, but you don’t need blazing sunshine to appreciate the summery charm of Brighton. Head to the pier and wander along pebbled beaches with fish & chips in hand, and you’ll soon develop a chronic case of The Holiday Feels.
5. La Rochelle, France
La Rochelle prides itself on having the largest, and most beautiful yachting harbours on the French Atlantic coast. The towers of La Rochelle – Tour Saint-Nicolas (14th century), the Tour de la Chaîne (14th century) and the Tour de la Lanterne (12th and 15th century) – form the majestic gateway to the Old Port and for ten centuries formed the key defensive bastions to the city. Pay just €8,50 to explore all three and you’ll be charmed by the medieval stories of this fortified city.
6. Algarve, Portugal
Algarve’s sandy beaches stretch as far as the eye can see. The area is framed by golden cliffs, where almost-deserted islands mark the boundary between Ria Formosa and the sea. Algarve’s dozens of sheltered coves are lined with multicoloured stone, set perpendicular to an ocean of every shade of blue. Enjoy snorkelling in the Praia do Burgau coves as the slightly warmed waves of the Atlantic Ocean lap between you and the shore.
7. Cinque Terre, Italy
This unique National Park, carved into the northwestern cliffs of the Liguria region, boasts a collection of five vibrant Italian villages – Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso – linked by the Sentiero Azzurro (Blue Path) cliffside hiking trail. Vernazza is the most famous of the villages, so if you want to escape tourist madness, head to the more secluded village of Manarola. Here you’ll find quieter streets, a more serene harbour, and fantastic wine tasting.
8. Bonifacio, France
Located at Corsica’s southernmost tip, Bonifacio is a bustling harbour town protected by vast medieval walls, with lively marinas and an impressive clifftop citadel hidden within. The town itself stretches along a top-heavy promontory, connected by steep trails and one winding road.
Take a boat trip across the Mediterranean Sea, between Corsica and Sardinia, to the Cavallo Island. This private island has a golf course and sailing harbour, with the Hotel des Pecheurs Spa making for the perfect excuse to treat yourself to a holiday pamper. This is one of the European coastal cities we love!
9. St Ives, Cornwall, England
St Ives is a higgledy-piggledy town of narrow cobbled streets and fishermen’s houses. It has a vibrant local art scene – see Porthminster Gallery for modern/contemporary art, or The New Craftsman Gallery for local painted pieces – with unexpectedly white sandy beaches and seascapes.
10. The Outer Hebrides, Scotland
The Outer Hebrides is an untouched collection of islands found to the west of Scotland. To experience the remote beauty of Scotland, but remain close to civilisation, we recommend touring the Isles of Tiree, Coll, Islay, Mull or Barra. Each island has its own culture and community, but the friendliness of islanders surpasses borders. The crystalline beaches, pure white cottages, and rolling green landscapes will cleanse your soul to its core.
Top tip: Don’t be fooled by the white and blue beaches. The waters may look inviting, but the temperature will have you shivering in your boots long after you’ve left. This is one of the best European coastal cities!