Towel? Check. Sunscreen? Check. Eurail Pass? Check. Surprise: you can easily reach incredible beaches in Europe by train! From refuges outside of Barcelona and Amsterdam to hidden coves on the Dalmatian Coast, here are 5 coastal areas to seek out seaside bliss – without dealing with traffic.
The South of France
You might think of the Côte d’Azur as a summertime playground where celebrities preen on yachts while paparazzi lurk under palm trees. Yet, don’t forget that this part of France is lovely all year round. Well into autumn, cafes serve up champagne and fresh lobster on the beach. In winter, festive holiday decorations light up the grand Promenade des Anglais. Just remember to bring a sweater.
My perfect beach day in Nice goes something like this. After café au lait on the beach, head to the Cours Saleya, an open-air market dating from the Middle Ages. It’s an extravaganza of flowers, fresh produce, and local gifts. For lunch, try an authentic Salade Niçoise at one of the sidewalk bistros that offer front row seats on the bustling market. After an afternoon of sunbathing and strolling the beach, sip a glass of locally produced rosé in a colorful deck chair before seeking out dinner on the winding streets of the Vieille Ville (old city).
Day trips from Nice
From Nice, explore the Côte d’Azur by hopping a local train to nearby Cannes and Antibes, both offering incredible beaches. In the evening, embrace your inner James Bond by rolling the dice at the lavish Casino de Monte-Carlo in Monaco. From Nice Ville station, it’s just 20 minutes along the coast to the Monaco–Monte-Carlo station.
Sometimes called “Little Venice of the Languedoc,” this low-key port town offers a more affordable and less crowded alternative to the Cote D’Azur. Expect an eclectic landscape of bridges, canals, working docks and public beaches. It’s a refreshingly change from the over-the-top glitz of the coast’s more ritzy stretches.
Sunset here is dramatic, so don’t miss it! Feast on moules farcies (stuffed mussels) at one of the waterfront restaurants on the harbor, where fishing boats with exotic names and ports of registry may inspire you to hop a ferry to Africa.
Costa Brava, Spain
In the Catalan language, Costa Brava means rugged coast. To locals, this region is synonymous with city beach breaks. It’s close enough to Barcelona for a day trip, yet remote enough that the beaches remain relatively serene.
Immerse yourself in Picasso’s Blue Period in the morning, and hit the beach all afternoon. While few cities offer the ability to museum hop and body surf in the same day, a weekend in Barcelona practically demands it. You can be back in the city for dinner long before the legendary nightlife kicks off. (Seriously, don’t even think about hitting the club before midnight.)
Travel tip: Take Cercanías line 1 from Barcelona Sants or Plaça de Catalunya in the direction of Maçenet-Massanes. In about 20 minutes you’ll arrive in Montgat and slightly quieter Montgat Nord. If lazing in a hammock and grazing on tapas at chiringuitos (beach bars) sounds like heaven, go two stops farther until you hit lovely Ocata beach
North Sea Beaches, The Netherlands
Scheveningen, The Hague
Like many of the North Sea beaches marred by lackluster midcentury development, Scheveningen occasionally gets a bad rap for its concrete and its crowds. But stroll north beyond the casino and kitschy stands plying souvenirs and frites met mayo (fries with the ubiquitous mayonnaise) and you’ll find a laid-back mix of windsurfers, families and beachcombers. Lining the beach, the coastal dunes, a favorite subject of many Dutch painters, are nearly as picturesque as the sea itself.
Travel tip: The beauty of Scheveningen isn’t just its lively stream of beachside cafes that turn into clubs by night. It’s that trams deliver you practically to the sand itself. From Den Hague Centraal, take Tram 1 or 9 to the Zwarte Pad stop, this is the less crowded, but still lively, side of the beach.
Zandvoort Aan Zee
Just south of Haarlem, this chilled-out beach wins points for its proximity to Amsterdam: at about 30 minutes by train, there’s no excuse not to head to the beach when the infamously temperamental sun comes out. In warmer months, the terraced beach cafes that turn out al fresco lunches turn into massive parties.
For a bigger selection of nightlife, walk about 20 minutes to adjacent beach Bloemendaal Aan Zee. Expect well-known Dutch DJs spinning techno, trance, and house music for mojito swilling crowds who come out to dance even in gloomy Dutch weather.
Travel tip: During summer months, the direct train from Amsterdam Centraal leaves platform 1, passing through Haarlem to the Zandvoort Aan Zee station. From here, it’s a five-minute walk to the beach.
Dalmatian Coast, Croatia
The old fishing ports, crumbling ruins, vineyards and nightlife of Croatia’s sunny coastal towns are so enchanting that many visitors forget to explore what lies just beyond. Split is an excellent base for enjoying city sunbathing at local favorite Bačvice beach, as well as seeking out more remote stretches of sand.
While nearby Hvar Island may be better known for its posh dining and nightlife, its pretty bays and coves lure day-trippers to their shallow waters. Rent a motorbike from Hvar Town and head to Grebišće or Uvala Dubovica, two gorgeous spots for swimming and picnicking.
Travel tip: From Zagreb, Croatia’s capital city, trains run to Split in six and a half hours. Near Split’s central train station you’ll find the ferry pier to Hvar Island. On the car ferry, it’s two hours to Stari Grad on Hvar Island. To go directly to Hvar Town, hop on the faster catamaran (1 hour).
The Ligurian Coast, Italy
Save the Amalfi Coast for your honeymoon and head to the Ligurian Coast, otherwise known as the Italian Riviera. While it’s slightly less pricey and a bit more laid back, the views are equally cinematic. Picture plunging cliffs and dramatic scenery straight out of a Alfa Romeo commercial.
While the Cinque Terre maintains its starring role as one of Europe’s most picturesque coastal hikes, I like the historic fishing village of Sestri Levante. Don’t miss dining on fresh seafood at one of the festive outdoor cafes.
Travel tip: Sestri Levante trumps more exclusive, better-known Portofino for its easy train access. The station’s less than a 10-minute walk to the beach and the old town, ringed by the remains of 12th century city walls.
Visit the best beaches in Europe with a Eurail Pass!
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