The impossibly beautiful Greek islands, the laid-back bare-foot vibes of the Balearics, the white sands of Sardinia that justify its frequent comparisons with the Caribbean: all of these endlessly lovely destinations are, of course, exquisite. But for those who wish to try a path that’s a little less well-trod – perhaps one that’s a trifle quirkier or one frequented chiefly by locals – plenty of those are ripe for discovery too. Here we round up a few of the beach destination that may not be on your radar for consideration, from beautiful white sands to moody volcanic black sands.

Gjipe Beach, Albania

Best for: Caribbean-style white sands


While backpackers have long since headed to Albania to explore the beauty of this eastern Balkan country, it is only now filtering onto the radar of holiday makers who also want a slice of its white sand beaches – minus millions of other Brits abroad. The country’s 44-year dictatorship, which ended in 1985, accounts for the slower uptake in tourism, but those who do make the journey are invariably well rewarded. Gjipe Beach in the Gjipe Canyon, is just one example of its many natural beauties; replete with white sands and azure waters, visitors will need to be able to manage a 25-minute trek down the path from the car park (do take sensible shoes). But if you can handle it, it’s wholly worth the effort. There is a plethora of Airbnbs to book in nearby Dhermi, all at notably less expensive prices than just over the water in Corfu.

Bellevue Strand, Copenhagen

Best for: Design enthusiasts

Copenhagen Beach Mads-eneqvist-5OJ-6KCcdgk-unsplash

There is a myriad of enticing reasons to jet off to Copenhagen. Famous for its onus on exceptional design, you can see the considered form-follows-function touches everywhere, from the street furniture to the interiors. Many, too, go for the food, from the smørrebrød to the restaurant scene. After all, Noma – which is widely thought to have set a new standard in the world of fine dining – is here, along with a host of other Michelin-starred establishments. Fewer people, though, come for the beach. And yet, the area around Bellevue, on the northern outskirts of the city, boasts a long sandy stretch which locals flock to in the summer months. And the good news is you’ll find plenty of wonderful design here too; it is, after all, an area associated with Arne Jacobsen, so it follows it should be easy on the eye as well as on the senses. Jacobsen’s beach complex opened in 1932, and we are particularly enamoured with the delightful blue striped lifeguard towers at the end of the pier. Sublime.

Varna Beach, Bulgaria

Best for: Low-cost beach hols

VARNA BEACH Radoslav-raynov-Gt4nOhue3lo-unsplash

Varna, Bulgaria’s third city and the country’s maritime capital, is the world’s biggest Black Sea resort, boasting not only an excellent beach but also an interesting historical city to explore (do check out the Roman baths), along with a thriving and lively restaurant scene. So far, so good.

VARNA BEACH Ivo-yordanov-NJXP7Kn1Zb8-unsplash

But the even better news for those who want to jet away without the attendant price tags associated with the better travelled tourist destinations is that Bulgaria offers the lowest prices in the EU. What’s not to love?

Sopot Beach, Poland

Best for: Pottering along the unspoiled coastline


What Poland’s Baltic coast lacks in balmy temperatures, it makes up for in space, soft white sands, and pocket-friendly prices. The Polish riviera, which is found close to Gdansk, is the country’s go-to spot for domestic holidays and its origins as a spa town are still keenly felt in the notably clean air. It boasts the longest wooden pier in Europe which is, revelatory as this sounds, not studded with shops selling tourist tat, but with cafes one would actually want to frequent. You can also hop on a ferry across the Bay of Puck to Hel peninsula where yet more white sands await, along with pine woods and another wooden pier.

Reynisfjara, Iceland

Best for: An atmospheric mood for non-beach people

Black Sands Iceland

Iceland’s landscape is like nothing else on earth, by turns lunar, then glacial, then arid. It stands to reason then that its beaches should be just as strikingly different and wholly atmospheric as the rest of the country. Reynisfjara, on the south coast of Iceland, is marked out by its black volcanic sands and the craggy rock formations you’ll spot rising from the sea. Located just over 100 miles from Reykjavik, visitors making the journey should stop at the nearby fishing village of Vik for a picturesque potter, while Game of Thrones fans will recognise the basalt columns and black sand as standing in for Eastwatch By The Sea in the show. It is, in short, like no other beach we can think of. As you may be able to gather, this is strictly one to look at from a safe distance; the fast-changing tide means that swimming is, alas, not possible (indeed, people have been swept away simply by standing too close to the shore). But if it’s a dramatic and moody seascape you long for, this could be just the spot.

By Nancy Alsop
July 2023