Trying to come up with a list of our top ten beaches in Spain has been quite task. After so many years travelling around the peninsula and some of the Balearic and Canary islands it’s no mean feat to come up with a definitive list of top beaches. Of course some make it into our list based on having had a great time there whilst others don’t make it for some other personal reason for why a particular beach didn’t make our list such as it raining the day we arrived. Having stated my disclaimer let me get down to listing our favourites. At the end of the article I’d encourage you to add any of your own favourites which fellow readers might be interested to know about.
With 5,000km of coastline to choose from there’s no shortage of beaches to choose from, so here goes:
El Palmar – Cadiz
I’m a big fan of the Cadiz coast which offers miles and miles of golden sand with hardly a highrise eyesore in sight and just the occasional beach restaurant scattered along the adjacent beach roads. I was swimming off Conil de la Frontera one summer and wondering what was ‘wrong’ as I looked back towards the town. Then it struck me that nothing was wrong, in fact everything was very ‘right’ as I marvelled at this beautiful white town without a high rise monstrosity in sight. There are many great beaches along this stretch including Bolonia, Barbate, Zahara de los Atunes, Los Caños de Meca and Sancti Petri but I’ve selected El Palmar having spent some great afternoons on this mainly deserted beach with fine sand, beautiful water and access to a few local bars with simple tapas dishes and cold beers. What more could I ask for?
Playa de Oyambre – Cantabria
Next I’m heading north to the beautiful coastline of Cantabria to the west of Santander where around 60 beaches remain relatively unspoilt thanks to the unpredictable weather of the north. The quaint fishing village of San Vicente de la Barquera is now a fair sized town which retains its quaint atmosphere. Just east of the town centre the coast road heads down to Playa de Oyambre where we’ve stayed on a campsite numerous times. Walking down to the beach you wander alongside green fields occupied by cows which are oblivious to the passing tourists heading down to this popular surf spot. On a windy day the waves are fabulous to play in. The biggest attraction for me is again the view looking inland from the sea as you get a stunning view of the Picos de Europa mountains in the distance.
Playa de la Franca – Asturias
I’m continuing west from here as there are just so many fabulous beaches along this coastline. The beauty continues as you cross into Asturias where there are more than 200 beaches to discover many of which enjoy scenic views of the Picos when looking inland from the water. I haven’t seen all of this coast’s beaches although it’s on my ‘bucket list’ so I’m going to recommend Playa de la Franca which is one of the better known ones. The last time I visited it was so hot that we spent more time in the friendly restauarnt at the back of the beach than we spent on the sand. For more ideas about what this coastline has to offer take a look at this article about the top 10 beaches in Asturias.
From my ravings about this stretch of the Spanish coast a theme is clearly developing … I love northern Spain. If you’re in the UK and fancy discovering what some refer to as ‘the real Spain’ and aren’t too worried about guaranteed sunshine then get yourselves on a ferry to Santander and discover this fabulous coastline. Beyond Asturias you’ll enter Galicia where there are more amazing beaches such as the famous Playa de Las Catedrales in Ribadeo which is known for its amazing rock formations. Before moving away from northern Spain let me recommend a city beach which is hard to omit from any such list.
Playa de la Concha – San Sebastian
There’s always something special about a city with a beach. San Sebastian is a fabulous city irrespective of its beach thanks largely to its charming ‘Parte Vieja’ and its location amidst the countryside of the Basque Country. But the addition of its beaches makes it one of the most attractive cities in Spain. Playa de la Concha lies right in the heart of the city centre with great sand, lovely water and first class facilities. Fancy a stroll? Just wander north and you’ll come to another attractive beach called Playa de Ondarreta which is San Sebastian’s second city beach. Need a break from the beach all together? Then lose yourself in the ‘Parte Vieja’ which is just a couple of minutes from La Concha where you’ll find some of the best tapas bars (and cider) in the country.
Cala Mondrago – Mallorca
If you’re a regular reader of my ramblings about Spain you’ll be well aware that I’m a huge fan of Mallorca. I decided that my next recommendation had to be from my favourite island but after more than an hour trying to pick my favourite I came up empty as I have so many great memories of small coves scattered around the whole length of Mallorca’s coastline that picking one is almost impossible.
In the end I’ve chosen Cala Mondrago in the south-east of the island as it’s one of several within easy reach of Cala d’Or which is typical of this stretch of the Mallorcan coastline. Unfortunately, these small beaches become packed during the summer months making the long, sandy beaches further north around Cala Millor preferable for holidaymakers. Es Trenc is another worth seeking out along this south west coast. There are great touristy beaches around Alcudia with a special mention going to nearby Cala San Vicente which manages to retain its charm in the era of mass tourism. At the south western tip of Mallorca is San Telmo which is (yet) another spot I’d like to give a special mention to. Another charming former fishing village accessed on a winding road from Andratx this small beach is well worth a visit. Time it right so you can have lunch at one of the seafood restauarnts overlooking the isalnd of Dragonera at the far end of town. Obviously ‘Best Mallorca Beaches’ will have to be another post for another time 🙂
Denia – Valencia
Earlier I mentioned the Cadiz coast as being exceptional for the number of beaches with golden sand stretching along its coastline. For the same reason I must include this section of the Valencia coast whilst picking Denia as my favourite of the many beaches. Denia has a long, sandy beach with lovely calm water which is ideal for families. Its sheer size means that it is rarely overcrowded and the resort’s many bars and cafés are never far away. Most tourists here are Spanish which is why we had such a great time there in the summer of 2010 after Spain beat Germany in the semi final of the world cup. After a long day on the beach we watched the match over a paella at one of the packed open-air restaurants. As soon as the final whistle sounded it seemed that the whole town headed for their cars to drive around sounding their horn in celebration. Javea beach just along the coast to the south is very laid back unlike my next recommendation which might surprise a few readers.
Playa de Poniente – Benidorm
Shock, horror … “how can he recommend Benidorm beach?” I hear you ask. I’d have felt the same until I went there and was amazed at the size and quality of this beach. With golden sand, constant lifeguard vigilence, a vast amount of watersport activities and impressive cleanliness Poniente Beach is one of the best beaches in Europe. Of course it doesn’t have the isolation, charm or natural beauty of some of my other choices but if I was looking for a package holiday with a great beach, Benidorm would be on my shortlist. The beach promenade stretches the whole 2km of Playa de Poniente with countless bars and restaurants within easy access. Unfortunately, the resort earned a bad reputation many years ago due largely to the ‘culture’ of tacky British bars and the behaviour of some of the people in them but that’s only one side of Benidorm. Look a little closer and you’ll find many good quality restaurants and great tapas bars which makes Benidorm a very popular destination for Spanish tourists.
Playa de los Genoveses – Almeria
For a unique experience of the Mediterranean coast of Spain I’d highly recommend a visit to the volcanic national park of Cabo de Gata in Almeria. This is a land that time forgot with little in the way of major tourism yet a place with a wild beauty which has nothing in common with the typical ‘costas’. Head for the national park’s main town of San José to get to Los Genoveses where you’ll find nothing but fine sand and clear water without a bar or restaurant in sight. This is a great spot to get away from it all and a popular excursion for visitors to the Costa de Almería.
Playa de la Barceloneta – Barcelona
I’m a sucker for city beaches … for Aussie readers, I love Brisbane’s city beach!. The beach at Barceloneta is certainly not as great a beach as La Concha in San Sebastian, El Sardinero in Santander or El Saler in Valencia but in terms of location it takes some beating. You can walk there from the touristy Ramblas area of the city or arrive at its very own metro stop (Metro Barceloneta). What better way to relax after a busy day’s sightseeing in the Catalan city than head over to one of the ‘chiringuito’ beach bars at Barceloneta and watch the world go by. For better beaches in the area you can take a local train out to Castelldefels to the south or further along the same line to the popular resort of Sitges.
Maspalomas – Gran Canaria
Finally, in terms of sheer uniqueness it’s impossible to leave out Maspalomas in Gran Canaria from my list in spite of the hideous tourist developments nearby. Whilst a 12km beach runs along the coast serving the resort of Playa del Inglés it’s the amazing sand dunes which stretch between the resorts of Maspalomas and Playa del Inglés that I find quite incredible. Whilst the area in general is one of overdeveloped mass tourism the landscape of the dunes is something worth travelling some distance to see. Puerto Mogan is a pleasant little resort to the south which is ideal for a winter escape. Frequent buses run to the dunes from there.
So there we have it … in conclusion, I realised that as I was writing it’s the north coast of Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia together with the coast of Cadiz that really inspire me in terms of my favourite beaches. Mallorca has many fabulous spots but these are often overcrowded during the holiday season as is the case on the other Balearic islands. I didn’t get a lot of inspiration from my thoughts of which Canary Island to include but am open to suggestions.