Even after 18 years designing itineraries, it’s really hard to select the best beaches in Spain (and that’s not just because there are so many to choose from!) It’s because we know one person’s concept of a great beach can be somebody else’s nightmare. And we also know that within each travelling party, some people love sunbathing and swimming but others prefer to skip the beach to visit a museum, take a hike or visit a winery. Forearmed with this knowledge, here are eight of the best beach destinations in Spain for families and groups who need lots to see & do nearby.
Best Beaches in Spain
1 Galicia’s Islas Cies – Be Blown away by the Beauty and the Birdlife
The Cies Islands off Galicia are protected islands (with full national park status) making it perfect for groups that like to hike and explore nature. You won’t find hotels here – just a sustainable resort with camping only – but if you don’t want to camp, you can stay on the mainland and hop on the passenger ferry from, for example, Vigo.
Numbers are restricted on the islands so you need to reserve a place on the catamaran from Vigo or Cangas – which is a really enjoyable experience in itself. When you get to the main island, we recommend the hike up to the lighthouse to see the seagull colony and the views from the top – which are pretty amazing. When you get back down, you’ll need a dip in the sea to cool down. Read all about our adventures in Galicia here including our visits to the Rias Baixas wineries and learn about some of Spain’s other amazing national parks here.
2 Santander – Urban Beach Bliss in the Middle of the Bay
Santander city boasts a whopping 12 beaches that are perfect for swimming and other activities such as surfing, Stand Up Paddle, kayaking and rowing. Locals are adept as choosing which beach to go for each activity and depending on the temperature, the wind direction and whether they want to take a picnic or eat out on the beach. The Sardinero beaches are the best known but we often recommend Los Peligros which is nearest to the city and offers great views of the Magdalena Palace and Pena Cabarga mountain. For families we often suggest El Puntal, especially to avoid the crowds in July and August. To access it from Santander, you need to arrive by boat. Local ferry company Los Reginas Santander provide a regular service. Bring a picnic or join the others who moor by the two chiringuito beach bars for a glass of vermouth and a platter of ‘rabas’ which is squid in a tempura-like batter. On your way back, you can hop on the boat again and enjoy a drink as the sun sets by the Centro Botin. Whichever beach you choose, you’ll enjoy the white sand, clean water and amazing views – plus lots more to see and do in the city. Read about the city of Santander here and Cantabria’s wonderful museums here. Cantabria’s caves are another must-see!
3 La Concha – San Sebastian Michelin-Star Delight with Wineries and Architecture Nearby
With four great beaches to choose from: La Concha, Ondarreta, Zurriola and the Island Beach – everybody in Donostia (the city’s name in Basque) has their own favourite. La Concha is the best-known and features in the International Film Festival and the Bandera de la Concha – Northern Spain’s biggest rowing event. INSIDER TIP: Before you travel, make sure to pre-book a meal in one of the many Michelin star restaurants – for which this city is so famous. And you might arrange a gastronomy tour to really enjoy the wonderful pintxos in the old city also. We recommend you check out Hotel Inglaterra in our guide to the best hotels with views and Akelare in our guide to Michelin Star Hotel Dining. For more info on San Sebastian’s must-sees you can read our guide to the city here. And wine-lovers will want to read about the nearby world-famous wineries in La Rioja and Rioja Alavesa here. City slickers and fans of architecture will want to plan a trip to the city of Bilbao – home of the Guggenheim and lots more. We recommend hiring the services of a private driver when taking a few winery tours to allow you to enjoy the tastings and help you carry your purchases home!
4 Surreal Cadaques & Port Lligat – Immerse Yourself into Dali’s Wonderful World
This is the perfect beach destination for fans of the artist Salvador Dalí. Although the beaches are a mix of stone, shingle and sand, if you splurge a little and hire a boat – you can avoid any discomfort and take a swim from deck; looking back at the land that inspired Dali and his fellow surrealists. Cadaques is now an upmarket white-washed village but came from humble fishing origins. Located within walking distance of Salvador Dalí’s home at Port Lligat, it’s a perfect base to learn about the Surrealist artist and his muse, Gala. Pre-booking is essential to access the house where they lived until 1982 which is full of personality, charm and wit. We enjoy spending time in the studio where Dalí worked and the sculptures in the garden are also well worth seeing. You should also drive to the birthplace of the painter in Figueres (40 km away) where you’ll find the Dalí museum housing many of his most iconic works and explore the space that was designed by the artist himself. In fact, it was so close to his heart that he chose to be buried here in the crypt. From Cadaques, you should also visit Gala’s castle in Púbol and the Cap de Creus park – read about them in our Guide to Dali’s Catalonia. It’s not advisable to try to see more than two of the Dalí sights in one day but if you want to pack a lot into one day, we recommend hiring a private guide and driver to ensure you get the maximum from your time in this area.
5 Calella de Palafrugell – Costa Brava Coves, Gardens & Festivals
There are so many tempting coves and beaches along the Costa Brava including Tamariu, Llafranc and Begur but if you want a bustling beach and fishing port with lots of choice when it comes to accommodation, restaurants, bars and cafes, this is your sandy ‘platja’ of choice. Foodies will want to coincide with La Garoinade, the town’s sea urchin festival that takes place in early Spring. If gardens are more your thing, then wait a few months to check out the 17 hectares of the Cap Roig Botanic Gardens created on the estate purchased in 1927 by the Russian Colonel Nicolai Woevodsky and his English wife, the aristocrat Dorothy Webster. Every Summer, these very gardens welcome the Cap Roig Festival with its open-air stage playing host to the world’s best musical artists in this spectacular natural setting overlooking the Mediterranean. Read more about the Costa Brava here. To read more about Spain’s other great gardens in Catalonia and elsewhere, click here.
6 Peñíscola – Game of Thrones location near Valencia City
Want to experience a beach that has featured in the Games of Thrones? In Season Six, Spain’s Mediterranean coastline featured in the HBO hit series. You can fly into Valencia and spend a few days enjoying the 16 beaches of Peñíscola as well as the old town. When you get restless, head inland for a daytrip to the charming towns of Vilafamés and Morella or move back down the coastline to Valencia city where you’ll also find some great beaches. Remember this is the home of Valencia’s famous paella and it’s the painter Sorolla’s home territory also. Read our detailed guide to Valencia for lots more ideas on where to visit and what to eat and drink and check out or other recommended short road trips here. Read about other interesting Spanish locations in films and TV series here.
7 Nerja – Experience the Parador on the Coast
Rather like Cadaques, Nerja was once a humble fishing village but today it’s a charming and upmarket refuge from the heaving Costa del Sol. We recommend overnighting at the Parador in Nerja – although it’s not one of the historic hotels for which this chain is famous, you’ll love the cliff-edge location complete with infinity pool with stunning sea-views. Most rooms have sea-facing balconies and the outdoor restaurant is wonderful at sunset. Guests use the hotel’s handy private elevator to take them down to and up from the Burriana beach below. Must-sees here in Nerja include the cobble-stoned old quarter, the pre-historic caves (which are a series of huge caverns stretching for almost 5km and home to the world’s largest stalagmite), the sandy Burriana, Calahonda & Carabeillo Beaches – and the Balcon de Europa viewing point. To learn more about Spain’s Paradors read our post on the 12 Most Impressive Paradores in Spain (which features Nerja) and check out our guide to Andalusia’s Amazing White-Washed Villages (also featuring Nerja).
8 Cadiz & the Sherry Wineries on the Coast
We are huge fans of visiting Spain’s wineries and have written about Jerez in detail – but Sanlucar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa Maria (both on the coast) are also excellent sherry strongholds and great for seafood also! We recommend staying at Cadiz which is a stunning city – and a popular stop for many of the exclusive cruise-liners. BTW Did you know James Bond’s Die Another Day featuring Pierce Brosnan and Halle Berry was filmed here? (It was made to look like La Havana in Cuba.)
From Cadiz, you can drive to a few different sherry wineries and tastings in the morning and relax at the pool or one of the many beaches in the afternoon! We can arrange a private driver if you book your trip through us to ensure you really relax and enjoy the trip without having to worry about driving or parking. Check out why Spain’s sherry is so revered here in our guide to Jerez. If you are interested in visiting wineries in Spain, read about the best bodegas to visit here and our favourite wineries with art here.
We hope you’ve enjoyed these eight very different beach destinations. You might not have realised but we’ve written them up so you can plan a clockwise coastal driving holiday if you have 2 weeks+ to spare and want to explore Spain’s coastline. The entire trip is about 2,800 kms which is about 26 hours driving – not that we suggest you do it all-in-one-go. [NB Read our 50 Facts about Driving in Spain and Portugal before embarking on any drive.] If you do like the idea of this beach itinerary, this is just the starting point for a custom trip designed just for you and your group that could also take in Portugal’s wonderful coastline. To learn more about how we work, read Why To Book a Spain & Portugal Trip with Totally Spain.