Home to more than 5,000 miles of coastline, Spain is blessed with a seemingly endless array of magnificent beaches.
From the exquisite virgin dunes of Tarifa to the breathtaking wilderness of Cabo de Gata and fabulous, celebrity-packed beach clubs of Ibiza, Spain has something for every variety of beach bum. Apart from being beautiful, the beaches are also clean and safe in Spain, home to the highest number of beaches globally to have been awarded the coveted Blue Flag status for their outstanding environmental and quality standards.
With so many strips of sand to choose from, you may feel spoiled for choice, so we have rounded up the 15 most essential Spanish beaches for your bucket (and spade) list.
La Kontxa (or La Concha), San Sebastián
Popular with locals and visitors alike, San Sebastián’s emblematic seashell-shaped La Kontxa ranks as one of the most famous urban beaches in the world, rivaling the likes of Copacabana in Rio de Janeiro and Barceloneta in Barcelona. Named for the characteristic crescent, or seashell, shape of beautiful Kontxa Bay (the Basque word kontxa, or concha in Spanish, translates as seashell), La Kontxa is centrally located in the Spanish Basque Country’s food lovers’ capital of San Sebastián. The beach, which boasts just under a mile of white sand, is incredibly spacious, and, although it attracts everyone from residents and tourists to families with small children, elderly couples, and groups of friends, it very rarely gets packed–even in high season. Sheltered from the elements by Urgull hill on one side and Igueldo hill on the other, and facing Santa Clara island across a short stretch of water, La Kontxa’s water is nearly always calm, making this an ideal spot for swimming, paddling, and sunbathing.
Even though Barceloneta is the best known of Barcelona’s city beaches, Bogatell is the beach of choice among locals in the know. Why? Not only is it less crowded than tourist-heavy Barceloneta, but it is also cleaner and less popular with local pickpockets. The downside, meanwhile, is that it requires a slightly longer trek from the city center. Whereas Barceloneta is an easy 20-minute stroll from La Rambla and the Old Port of Barcelona, Bogatell will take you an extra 15 minutes on foot (or five in a cab). But once you get there it is well worth the hassle, with cleaner water, considerably more space, and far better facilities (read shorter lines for the public toilets).
Playa de la Victoria, Cádiz
Situated on Spain’s so-called Costa de la Luz (Coast of Light), a region on the western side of the country’s southern tip, facing the Atlantic Ocean, Playa de la Victoria is the most famous urban beach in the Andalusian city of Cádiz. It is conveniently located in the modern part of the city, about a 15-minute walk from the historic center. In the scorching summer months, Playa de la Victoria’s bright blue, cool Atlantic water offers a welcome respite from the blistering heat that smothers the south of Spain. The spacious, golden sand beach is immensely popular with families, even though the breakers have been known to get quite rough in these parts. Meanwhile, the generous boardwalk that runs alongside it is almost two miles long and home to a seemingly infinite number of beach bars, or chiringuitos, serving fishy specialties, such as grilled sardines and locally caught tuna and shrimp, as well as countless wine bars and cocktail bars that stay busy until the early hours.
Playa Las Arenas, Valencia
Given that Las Arenas literally translates as “the sands,” it goes without saying that Valencia’s most famous beach has been blessed with some pristine golden powder. Originally named Playa de Levante or Playa del Cabañal, it later became known as Las Arenas because it was home to the ultra-exclusive Balneario Las Arenas spa, which opened in 1898 as a healing center for wealthy Spanish families who came here to take wave baths. The water is calm and shallow, making it suitable for swimmers of all ages and abilities, as well as windsurfers and sailors. Meanwhile, the wide, busy promenade that runs alongside the grand beach is packed with bars and restaurants. Don’t miss an opportunity to try one of Spain’s national dishes of seafood rice, or paella, originally conceived here in Valencia, even though purists will argue that a true paella Valenciana should actually contain chicken or rabbit and green beans, rather than shellfish. Try both versions and make your own mind up at La Pepica.
Playa de la Ribera, Sitges
The dreamy seaside town of Sitges is located some 25 miles down the coast from Barcelona, making it a popular day-trip and weekend destination from the Catalan capital. Whereas Barcelona’s man-made city beaches are somewhat gray and gravelly, the pristine, white powder sand of Sitges is in parts more reminiscent of Southeast Asia than the Med. Situated right off the main drag in the city center, Playa de la Ribera is most popular with gay holidaymakers. Families are also drawn to its soft sand and shallow waters.
INSIDER TIPWhen visiting Sitges in summer, bear in mind that both the tiny town and its comparatively small beaches tend to get extremely busy in high season, especially during Gay Pride and other major LGBTQ events.
El Playazo, Cabo de Gata Nature Reserve, Costa de Almeria
Few places in Europe remain as wild and unspoiled as Cabo de Gata, the natural park situated in the southeastern corner of the Iberian Peninsula that has been a designated UNESCO Biosphere Reserve since 1997. Its wild, arid landscape is a mix of secluded rocky coves, jagged cliffs, and idyllic white, sandy beaches. Cabo de Gata literally translates as “cove, or cape, of the cat,” but the name is more likely to be derived from the agate rock that used to be mined in the area. Cabo de Gata is particularly popular with eco-minded travelers, as it offers a wide range of sustainable outdoor pursuits, from bird-watching to wildlife photography, as well as diving and boat excursions. Of all the beaches in Cabo de Gata, the most beautiful is El Playazo. Situated near the small village of Rodalquilar, this 400-meter long stretch of white sand offers a gentle slope and excellent swimming conditions. Playazo is a superlative version of the word playa, or beach—a well-deserved alias for these immaculate virgin sands.
Platja de Ses Illetes, Formentera
Every summer, the beautiful people of Europe flock to the tiny Balearic island of Formentera to luxuriate in its crystalline waters and frolic on its uninterrupted white powder-sand beaches backed by dunes and pine trees. Only accessible by ferry or private boat from its significantly more crowded island neighbor, Ibiza, Formentera is a popular destination for a day-trip—or longer, if you can afford it. While every corner of Formentera screams exclusivity, the chicest spot of all is Platja de Ses Illetes, which forms part of the Ses Salines National Park and offers some of the most exquisite virgin sand on the island, despite its proximity to the main port at La Savina. The beach attracts its fair share of glitterati, as celebrities tend to stop off here for lunch and a swim, while their luxury yachts casually bob up and down on the horizon. And with water so brilliantly turquoise and sand so luminously white it is bound to make your jaw drop, Platja de Ses Illetes easily qualifies as one of the most show-stoppingly stunning beaches not only in Spain but in the world.
Ses Salines, Ibiza
Achingly trendy Ibiza is by far the most happening island in Spain during the summer months. Combining some of the best nightlife there is with some of the most exclusive rural getaways and wellness retreats money can buy, the island attracts a unique mix of top DJs and die-hard partygoers on the one hand, and well-heeled travelers and strung-out fashionistas on the other. What they can all agree on is that Ibiza is also home to some of the best beaches in Europe. One of the most iconic is Ses Salines, known for its crystal-clear water, fine sand, and fashionable beach bars, including the emblematic Malibu Beach Club and the more laid-back, chiringuito-style Jockey Club Salinas. A cool hangout for those in the know, Ses Salines is both easy to reach and surprisingly not too developed, making it one of the top places to see and be seen in Ibiza.
Es Trenc, Mallorca
If you think Mallorca is all about overcrowded beaches, run-down resorts, and drunk, sunburned tourists, think again. The largest of the Balearic Islands has another, lesser-known and far more tasteful side that few travelers get to see. You can catch a glimpse at Es Trenc, one of the few long beaches on the island that has been spared from resort development. The water here is clear, while the soft white sand remains pristine and unspoiled. Despite being located less than an hour south of Palma de Mallorca, and around 30 minutes from the tourist horror show at Playa de Palma and S’Arenal, Es Trenc harks back to a quieter, simpler time. The beach is not attached to a hotel, but it has excellent facilities, including loungers and umbrellas for hire, lifeguards, toilets, wheelchair ramps, and a variety of restaurants and beach bars. Popular with nudists and day-trippers, Es Trenc has a wild and natural feel and is an ideal spot to let it all hang out—if that’s what you’re into.
Cala Macarella and Cala Macarelleta, Menorca
Less developed than the likes of Mallorca and Ibiza, Menorca seems to attract a different breed of traveler. While it also has its fair share of rambunctious resorts, the island is less known for its hedonistic nightlife and more for its secret coves, shimmering waters and excellent hiking, giving it a more laid-back vibe than that of its neighbors. Of all the lovely, tiny beaches on this island—and there are plenty of them—two of the best are Cala Macarella and Cala Macarelleta. These picture-perfect coves, situated alongside each other on the southwest coast of the island, are like an Instagrammer’s dream, with their impeccably clear waters that shift in various exquisite shades of aquamarine and azure blue, their white beaches, and shallow, glimmering rock pools. The beaches can only be reached on foot (it’s a 15–20-minute walk from the closest car park), by moped, or by private boat, and although they get busy during the summer months, their comparative remoteness tends to limit overcrowding.
One of many Blue Flag beaches in southern Spain, Fuengirola’s renowned Carvajal is an urban beach that is particularly popular with both local and visiting families. This is due in part to its calm waters and excellent water quality, as well as the fact that Carvajal is significantly quieter than some if its rowdier neighbors in the region. Measuring just over a quarter of a mile long and characterized by its coarse, dark sand and pebbles, Carvajal beach tends to get extremely busy in high season. This is true especially of the western part, which is closest to the center of Fuengirola—one of the main tourist centers on the Spanish Sun Coast, or Costa del Sol. The beach is easily accessible by train or car or on foot and has a broad, sunny boardwalk and a wide array of food and drink outlets, including the colorful, lively La Cubana beach bar and the more upscale Los Marinos José, which specializes in seafood.
East Side Beaches, Marbella
Saint Tropez, Capri, Marbella… the most famous Mediterranean playgrounds of the rich and famous get overrun every summer with celebrities, billionaires, and people who want you to think they are one of the above. Situated southwest of Málaga, in the heart of the Spanish Costa del Sol, Marbella’s reputation for glamour was established in 1954 with the opening of Marbella Club—originally the private residence of Prince Alfonso of Hohenlohe-Langenburg and now an ultra-exclusive five-star hotel. Marbella gradually grew into an upscale resort town, packed with lavish hotels and glitzy nightclubs. It also boasts some particularly stunning beaches, such as Costa Bella and El Alicate, two popular, family-friendly stretches of golden sand that sit alongside each other to the east of the center. Lined with residential complexes, these two long beaches are also home to some of the Costa del Sol’s remaining sand dunes. Both beaches offer a full array of facilities, including toilets, bars, restaurants, and a beach club, as well as loungers and parasols for rent. For lunch, check out Los Sardinales, which serves generous portions of fishy treats at reasonable prices.
Playa Los Lances, Tarifa
The Spanish surfers’ paradise of Tarifa is situated on the southernmost coast of mainland Spain, just across the Strait of Gibraltar from Morocco. Tarifa’s location at the point where the Mediterranean and the Atlantic meet gives it a unique microclimate and also makes it ideal for spotting all kinds of marine life, from dolphins to orcas and even whales. It also tends to be rather windy, which is why kitesurfers from around the world pilgrimage here to catch a breeze. However, the vast white sand beaches here are well worth a visit even if you don’t surf—in particular Playa Los Lances, the six-mile-long white powder-sand paradise for which Tarifa is most renowned. Both the beach and the pine trees that surround it are officially protected as a nature reserve. The beach can be reached by bus from Tarifa or by car (although the parking spots fill up fast on sunny summer weekends) and has all the amenities you could ask for, including bars, restaurants, showers, restrooms and changing rooms, lifeguards, and first-aid facilities.
Islas Cies, Vigo
One of the last unspoiled refuges of the Spanish coastline, the Cíes Islands (or Islas Cies), off the coast of Galicia in northernmost Spain, is designated a nature conservation and wildlife site. The only way to reach this pristine natural park, which is commonly referred to by the Portuguese as the “Galician Seychelles,” is by ferry. The islands have seven main beaches, the most famous of which is Rodas, arguably one of the most stunning wild beaches in the world, with mesmerizing aquamarine waters and freezing cold water (this is the Atlantic after all), while Playa de los Alemanes, or Figueiras, is a popular nudist beach. Facilities are limited on the islands, so when visiting them, it is a good idea to bring solid walking shoes, as well as your own food, water, and sunscreen. The closest town, Vigo, is 21 miles away, or approximately 45 minutes on the ferry, which runs regularly throughout the day.
Playa del Moro, Corralejo Natural Park, Fuerteventura, Canary Islands
The Canary Islands are best known for their year-round outstanding weather, which makes them an unrivaled sun-and-sea destination, particularly for Europeans seeking a little warmth in the depths of winter. Fuerteventura is the most easterly of the Canaries, situated only 100 miles off the coast of Morocco, and also enjoys the driest climate. For many thousands of years, sand from the Sahara Desert has gradually been building up on the Fuerteventuran coastlines, resulting in some of the most breathtaking sand dunes and superb beaches in the world. The windy, dune-backed beach of Playa del Moro is one of the so-called Grandes Playas (or big beaches) of the Corralejo Natural Park. Incredibly popular with kitesurfers, all the Grandes Playas offer pristine white powder sand and crystal-clear turquoise water. And even though there are plenty of hotels and snack bars right by the beach, the golden dunes are so expansive that it is nearly always possible to find a private spot, even on busy days.