Europe’s beaches are legendary, from the celeb-studded French Riviera to the wilds of the Baltic coastline. There are hundreds of family-oriented choices, from shingle coves to vast sandy strips, but each family comes with its own rulebook and own set of demands. Different age groups have different criteria and so what suits one family won’t suit another; here are some suggestions of family beaches in Europe that match the needs of all ages.
1. Best for All Ages
Hungary’s freshwater Lake Balaton is the largest lake in Central Europe. Its waters are clean, shallow, and safe for toddlers, and most beaches are grassy, although some have imported sand. Many charge a small fee for entrance, and their amenities include showers, umbrellas, and sun loungers. Sports from sailing to water skiing to cycling and riding should appeal to families, while teenagers can be safely let loose at night in the party resort of Siófok.
2. Best for Toddlers
Es Grau beach is tucked into a bay about six miles (nine kilometers) north of Mahon, the photogenic main town of Menorca. It is perfect for toddlers, as the Mediterranean waters remain stubbornly at shin level for many meters out to sea and are calm thanks to the protection of the embracing cliffs. The beach also adjoins the S’Albufera des Grau Nature Reserve, in which older kids can scrabble up sand dunes and spot butterflies. There are paddleboards and kayaks available for teens. A sprinkling of restaurants and facilities in the whitewashed village of Es Grau make this an ideal spot for families traveling with young children.
3. Best for Lazy Vacations
At Ksamil beach on Albania’s burgeoning Riviera, there’s little else to do except lie back, pick up a good book, and reapply the sun lotion hourly. With crystal-clear aqua sea, manicured sand, and parasols in clusters on boardwalks over the sea, this is pretty close to the paradise beaches of the Caribbean right in Europe, but with sensible prices and fabulous beach bars serving up steaming mussels as well as child-friendly plates of pasta.
4. Best City Beach
All self-respecting European cities have their own beaches these days, but Amsterdam has several. Best among these is the exclusive, man-made Strandzuid, found near Beatrixpark in the city’s Oud Zuid. A popular weekend hangout with Amsterdam’s affluent classes, it has a smart restaurant that is packed with families at Sunday brunch, a wooden boardwalk, and a laid-back outdoor bar with hammocks and chill-out music. To make a real impact, some beachgoers moor up their boats right outside the restaurant.
5. Best for Views
Located on the Gower Peninsula on the south coast of Wales, Rhossili Bay is repeatedly voted Britain’s best beach, backed by grassy cliffs and overlooked by one solitary windblown cottage. At its eastern end, it is possible to walk to the bizarre Worm’s Head at low tide (tide times are displayed at the Coastguard Center). The beach stretches for three miles (five kilometers) and has few facilities, but it offers a raw, dramatic beauty encompassing endless tide pools plus the undulating waves of the Atlantic Ocean. The beach is just the spot for family picnics, horse riding in the shallows, surfing, and dolphin spotting.
6. Best for Educating Kids
Wild, wonderful Patara beach in Gelemi on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast is backed by endless sand dunes that roll into the horizon. At the ruins of a once-mighty Lycean ancient city, kids can learn about the ancient world as they walk to the beach. If families are at Patara between May and October, they may be lucky enough to see loggerhead turtles laying their eggs in the sand.
7. Best for Urban Families
Barcelona’s beachfront was given a facelift for the 1992 Olympics, and today, Barceloneta beach is the meeting point of the city, backed by a magical mixture of cool bars and tapas restaurants, a stream of contemporary architecture and Frank Gehry’s glittering copper fish sculpture. The sand is raked over daily and stretches for miles along a boardwalk crowded with families jogging, skateboarding, and cycling.
8. Best for Late Teens
Croatia’s beaches first started opening up in the late 1990s and very quickly have become the party destinations of Balkan Europe. The best parties are found around the Pakleni Islands off Hvar, where family-friendly beach clubs such as Carpe Diem Beach Stipanska and Hula Hula are the summer playgrounds of a gilded youth born after the Balkan Wars. The best way to arrive is by dinghy from a super-yacht moored offshore. Prices are inexpensive, the water is clear and warm, the music laid-back, and visitors are virtually guaranteed hot, sunny weather.
9. Best for Watersports
Sitting at the point where the Atlantic and the Mediterranean crash together, Tarifa is the hippest resort along Andalucia’s wild Costa de la Luz. Thanks to the almost constant winds, it is one of Europe’s coolest hot spots for kiters, surfers, parasailors, and windsurfers. With 6.25 miles (10 kilometers) of unspoiled but windblown sand, the coastline shimmers with color in summer as kites zoom overhead against a backdrop of Morocco’s Atlas Mountains. Tarifa itself is a cute little town with plenty of low-key bars and beach shacks for visitors 18 and over to enjoy.
10. Best for Schmoozing
Celebrity-struck youngsters adore star spotting on the sandy strand along La Croisette esplanade in Cannes on the French Riviera, especially when the film festival is in town in May. Boulevard de la Croisette is wrapped around the Baie des Anges and is lined with immaculate sandy beaches owned by ritzy hotels such as the Carlton and Majestic. Most beaches charge a small fee for admission, but there is a strip of public sand tucked behind the Palais des Festivals.