Source d’Argent, Seychelles
Dune du Pyla, France
Shoal Bay, Antigua
Icing-sugar sand, 3km of it, crystal-clear Caribbean water, off-shore coral reef with spectacular snorkelling or diving, a smattering of bars and open-air restaurants ... job done! This stretch on the east of the fun yachtie island, near Dickenson Bay town, is quieter than nearby Jabberwock beach.
Cala Saona, Formentera
There is no shortage of beautiful beaches on the smallest of the Balearics but everybody seems to want to cram on to Illetes and Espalmador. Much better to hire a bike or moped in the main port, La Savina, and head a few kilometres across the island to Cala Saona. It has perfectly clear water, white sand and dramatic red cliffs on both sides. It faces west, so is the ideal spot for a sundowner at, say, the charmingly simple Cala Saona chiringuito.
Glass Beach, California
A beach made from years of dumped litter sounds like a hellhole but, at Glass beach, on the Mendocino coast in California, the result is quite beautiful. From 1906 to 1967, glass, appliances and even vehicles were chucked into the sea. A clean-up programme removed all the metal and non-biodegradable waste, and the waves broke down the glass and pottery, which washed up as jewel-like, translucent stones. Nowadays, the beach is part of MacKerricher state park, and visitors are forbidden for removing the sea-glass baubles.
Starfish Beach, Panama
Panama has three archipelagos: San Blas is pricey to get to, the Pearl Islands are pricey to stay on, but Bocas del Toro, just south of Costa Rica on the Caribbean side, puts virgin beach utopia within a backpacker budget. From the funky town hub of Bocas on Isla Colón, boat taxis cross between the 10 inhabited islands and some 300 islands and islets, although this protected beach, gloriously decorated with a liberal smattering of starfish, is on Colón itself.
More of a cove than a beach, backed by cliffs and dense woods, with white sands and pebbles and clear blue waters – is Fakistra on the Pelion peninsula (mainland Greece), below Tsagarada village. It’s a steep walk down but it’s the sort of place that, apart from in July and August, you may well have to yourself.
Flamenco Beach, Puerto Rico
If asked to design the perfect tropical beach, Playa Flamenco on Culebra island, off the east coast of Puerto Rico, is probably what you would come up with. It’s a U-shaped cove with white sand, warm turquoise water, palm trees, lush vegetation and a peaceful lagoon. The island’s undeveloped state is partly thanks to the US military, which used to use it as a gunnery range – a rusting Sherman tank remains in the middle of the sand. It makes a day trip by ferry from Fajardo on the Puerto Rico mainland ($4.50 return): a shuttle bus runs from the ferry port. Culebra has an excellent government-run campsite right on the sand at the western side of the bay. It’s quite basic, with showers open only three hours a day, but pitch your tent under mangroves ($20 for up to six people), stock up on water, pina coladas and local snacks ( comida criolla ) and you may never want to leave. If you do, though, there are bikes to hire.
Koh Kradan, Thailand
Choosing the best beach in Thailand is a near impossible task. But one Thai island that’s still relatively peaceful is Koh Kradan, near busier Koh Lipe, in the Andaman Sea. With powdery sand, excellent snorkelling on a reef just off the beach, hammocks and crystal-clear water, it would suit those who don’t want to drink buckets of spirits under a full moon. You can kayak round the whole island – 90% of which is part of Hat Chao Mai national park – in three hours to more isolated spots, and take longtail boat trips to Ko Waen, Ko Chueak and Ko Muk’s Emerald Cave.
Playa del Amor (Hidden Beach), Mexico
An underground beach sounds like the stuff of legend, but the Marietas Islands, where Hidden Beach lies, were used as a military testing ground by the Mexican government in the early 1900s, and it’s suspected that a bomb may have created the crater in which it sits. Access to this crescent within a gaping circular hole in the landscape, is by swimming or kayaking through a long tunnel. Many operators run boat trips here from Puerto Vallarta ($76 with ecotoursvallarta.com ), but the sea is rough and you have to swim in beside treacherous rocks. But it’s stunning – Jacques Cousteau was a fan – with the bonus of possibly spotting a humpback whale on the way.
Greenfield Beach, Australia
A three-hour drive from Sydney, Greenfield beach sits next to Jervis Bay’s calm waters and blindingly white sand. It is about 500m north of the more famous Hyams beach, so crowds tend to gravitate away from it and framed by a dense forest of gum trees and a small sandstone cliff. It’s a walk from Vincentia town, from where you can easily drive into the to meet a kangaroos or visit other spectacular beaches.
Bora Bora, French Polynesia
Sugar sand, palms, breeze, sea that’s 26-29C year round and the colour of peppermint mouthwash... Bora Bora is a cliched vision of the heavenly beach. Even if you never get to go, this is one for the mental image bank at least – use it when meditating. Matira has to win as the only public beach on the island, and somewhere you could mingle with locals. The (bungalows from £1,852 a week half-board including transfers, boraborahotel.com), built on its own coral isle, has its own private beach that may be a grain prettier, for its view of beautiful rock peak Otemanu.
St George Beach, Naxos, Greece
Greece has no shortage of gorgeous beaches, but when it comes to accessible and child-friendly options, the Cyclades island of Naxos is hard to beat. One of the best bets for families can be found within a five-minute walk of Naxos Town (Chora). The warm, shallow waters of St George beach are perfect for paddling and snorkelling but there’s plenty to keep older children happy, too. At the Flisvos Sport Club , you can sign up for windsurfing, wakeboarding or waterskiing, hire a mountain bike, or play a game of beach tennis or volleyball. The beach is lined with laid-back tavernas and beach clubs which hire out sun loungers.
Morgat, Crozon, Brittany
Even in summer, the beaches of the rugged Crozon peninsula remain relatively quiet. In a sheltered bay, where the peninsula meets the mainland, is the seaside town of Morgat, with its crescent of pine-fringed sand. At low-tide, it’s a great spot for rock-pooling and, at high tide, the peninsula’s sea caves can be explored on a boat trip from the harbour ( ). There are surf and dive schools, bikes and kayaks to hire, and sailboats to rent. Refuel at one of the many creperies on the harbour – Atao Aman (34 Boulevard de la Plage) serves savoury and sweet versions.
Praia da Salema, Algarve
In the far west of the Algarve, the fishing village of Salema has somehow escaped the large-scale development that blights much of Portugal’s southern coast. Fishermen tend their nets on the sandy Blue Flag-certified beach, and dinosaur footprints can be found preserved in the limestone rocks. The gentle waves are perfect for a spot of boogie boarding under the watchful eye of the lifeguards on duty in the summer. There are sun loungers and umbrellas for hire, toilets and showers, and a good choice of restaurants and cafes.
Yyteri, Pori, Finland
Picture a beach holiday and Finland is not the first country that springs to mind, yet this Nordic country is home to one of the finest stretches of sand in northern Europe. Yyteri beach, near the city of Pori, is a 5km stretch of powder-soft sand backed by dunes and pine forests. In late summer, the shallow waters of the Baltic are surprisingly warm and the offshore breezes attract surfers from across Scandinavia. There are wetsuits, surf- and stand-up paddle boards for hire from the Yyteri Surf Centre ( purjelautaliitto.fi ). Facilities are low-key: a couple of coffee and ice-cream stalls, picnic tables, a children’s play area, toilets and not much else.
Cala Gonone, Sardinia
It’s not difficult to find a stunning beach on , but finding one that caters for families on a modest budget is more of a challenge. Cala Gonone ticks all of the right boxes. White pebble-and-sand beaches, with sun loungers and parasols for rent, calm, turquoise waters for swimming and snorkelling, a long seafront promenade lined with low-key trattorias – and none of the bling that accompanies the glitzier Costa Smeralda to the north. When the charms of Cala Gonone’s two small but perfectly formed beaches pall, there are daily boat trips to the Bue Marino caves and more remote beaches, such as Cala Luna and Cala Fuili , further south.
Comillas, Cantabria, Spain
Just a short hop from the ferry port at Santander on Spain’s north coast, the genteel seaside town of Comillas is popular with Spanish families but largely overlooked by foreign tourists. The town has two fine beaches: Playa de Comillas, which has a sprinkling of cafes and a small fishing harbour, showers, ice-cream stalls and rock pools to explore; and the wilder Playa de Oyambre, backed by a beautiful nature reserve and the snow-capped Picos de Europa mountains.
Sunj, Lopud, Croatia
Sandy beaches are outnumbered by pebbly ones in Croatia, but the car-free island of Lopud, a 40-minute ferry ride from Dubrovnik, is the exception. Locals ferry visitors in golf buggies from the port to Sunj beach, a 1km strip of sand sloping gently into limpid, shallow waters on the island’s south coast. There are two restaurants, both of which rent deck chairs and beach umbrellas, and a choice of activities from beach volleyball to tennis.
Pinarello , Corsica
An arc of soft white sand, backed by a pram-friendly boardwalk and a pine forest make this beach on Corsica’s south-eastern coast a guaranteed hit with families. Overlooked by a Genoese watchtower, it’s a lovely spot with just a smattering of restaurants: La Pizzeria du Rouf is right on the beachfront and beach bars. From the port, there are boat trips to the nearby town of Porto-Vecchio.
Ramla l-Hamra Gozo, Malta
With its ochre sand and deep blue sea, Ramla Bay on Gozo is one of Malta’s most enticing spots. Facilities are minimal – toilets, showers, a couple of cafes, an ice-cream van, umbrellas and deck chairs, a statue of the Virgin Mary – but that’s all part of the charm. Don’t forget to bring your snorkelling gear; the sea life and water clarity are up there with the best in the Med.
Es Grau , Menorca
Menorca has some of the most family-friendly beaches in the Med but they are often busy in July and August. To escape the crowds, head to Es Grau on the island’s quieter north-east coast. This horseshoe-shaped beach is a popular day trip for residents of the capital Mahon but the absence of any hotels has kept things pleasantly low-key. The tranquil bay with a natural, undeveloped backdrop, is like a vast, shallow paddling pool and you can hire kayaks and paddleboards from local operator Menorca en Kayak . From the beach it’s a short stroll into the village which has a handful of family-run restaurants and gift shops.
Marloes Sands, Pembrokeshire
It seems invidious to choose only one Pembrokeshire beach – Barafundle and Whitesands are both hard to resist – but Marloes is very special. The half-mile cliff walk puts the crowds off, and there are no facilities at all. Yet you have a mile of broad sweeping sand dotted with towering rocks that stand in large low-tide pools flickering with tiny fish and shrimps. The firm, flat sand is perfect for beach games or galloping horses (Snow White and the Huntsman was filmed there in 2011). There’s plenty here to keep the whole family amused, assuming they don’t regard amusement as something that comes in arcades. The south-facing aspect bodes well in summer, but check the tides and wind.
Runswick Bay, North Yorkshire