Top 30 Beaches in the World
There’s something about a good beach that enlivens the senses: the briny scent of salt in the air, the calming murmur of waves, the gentle nip of sand whipped up by the soft breeze. A favourite beach is like a favourite poem – individual, important and something that makes our hearts sing, and now more than ever we are dreaming of days spent wriggling our toes in the sand and wallowing in salty water.
Instead of the typical sandy spots dotted with sun umbrellas and gaggles of tourists, we've sought out spaces that you may have to venture a little further for, but that remain incredibly beautiful and very often crowd-free. From the most exquisite beaches in Europe to far-flung stretches in Asia, Africa and more, these are the best beaches in the world.
1. Benguerra Island, Bazaruto Archipelago, Mozambique
Cast away in the protected Bazaruto Archipelago off the coast of southern Mozambique, Benguerra is a place where sandbars shimmer like nacre and leggy flamingoes pick their way delicately through the channels. A short sail by dhow east of the town of Vilanculos, the fine sand here is fringed by a two-mile-long coral reef, while migrating humpbacks and huge whale sharks pass majestically further offshore. The shot-silk waters are also home to the largest dugong population in the western Indian Ocean, and inland you’ll find congregations of crocodiles and all manner of bird species. But best of all, its marine-reserve status means there’s only a handful of lodges on the island, so once the day-trippers depart, you’ll have the beach all to yourself.
2. Playa Paraiso, Cayo Largo del Sur, Cuba
It’s likely that Playa Paraiso – stretching across a small island just off Cuba’s southern coast – still looks much like it did in 1494, when Christopher Columbus sailed to Cayo Largo on his second expedition to the New World. Its sieved-flour sand and crystalline waters remain pristine, while the nearby reefs offer some of the finest diving in the Caribbean. Warm, calm waters make the beach ideal for paddlers and swimmers, while wildlife-lovers should keep their eyes peeled for iguanas and giant sea turtles. Shade can be hard to come by though, and naturists head to the east end of the beach – so stay west if you prefer to keep things covered up.
3. Hiriketiya, Sri Lanka
The jungle meets the sea at this blink-and-you’ll-miss-it horseshoe bay, some 110 miles from Colombo on the southern coast of Sri Lanka. Popular with locals, salty-haired nomads and yogis, ‘Hiri’ is not the widest nor the sandiest beach in Sri Lanka, but its laid-back surfer sentiment and shacks selling fresh roti and coconuts make it one of the most understatedly vibrant. Fringed by lanky palms, the beach has plenty of shady spots for lazing. In the shallows, you’ll find turtles raising their heads like periscopes, while a hike around the headland will take you to often-deserted Kudawella bay (look out for the blowhole on the way; it’s the only one of its kind in Sri Lanka).
4. Uig Sands, Isle of Lewis, Scotland
A busy day at Uig is when two people show up at once. Lying some 20 miles west of Stornoway on Lewis’s surf-battered Atlantic coast, this is a big, dramatic beach watched over by tussocky dunes and grizzled mountains. The beach itself is famous for being the place where a set of Viking chess pieces – dating back to the 12th century and made from the husks of walrus teeth – were unearthed,, but it has a lot more going for it than just its history. The surrounding machair flower meadows erupt into bloom in June and its enormous uninterrupted stretches of sand are a playground for kite-buggy enthusiasts.
5. Al Mughsail, Salalah, Oman
There’s something Mad Max-esque about Al Mughsail, with its unflinchingly white sand, parched frankincense trees and cinematic blow holes (especially impressive during monsoon season) which erupt every couple of minutes, shaking the earth and spewing out seawater with a deafening sound. Stretching for four unbroken miles and fringed with sheer limestone cliffs, the beach is lapped by gleaming turquoise water which can get a little choppy at times. That said, it’s a wonderful spot from which to watch fishermen pilot traditional dhows just offshore; catch them at dusk for the most dramatic photographs, when they are silhouetted against the treacly Omani sunset.
6. Luskentyre, Outer Hebrides
At the end of a winding road on the wind-battered west coast of the Isle of Harris, you’ll find something to make your eyes pop. Luskentyre Beach is a paint splash of brilliant white, surrounded by almost impossibly azure water. On a sunny day, it’s so unerringly blue you may find it hard to believe you are at a beach in Scotland at all. But regardless of its paradoxically tropical feel, it’s at its most beautiful when eel-coloured storm clouds roll in and seas turn flinty, turning this dramatic landscape an eerie monochrome.
7. Dune du Pilat, France
In the warmer months, Europe’s tallest sand dune, just an hour’s drive from Bordeaux, is cloaked in a constant, shimmering heat haze, giving the illusion that this sprawling French beach is scattered with gleaming treasure. The sand here, which forms peaks as high as 300 feet, is as finely milled as fresh flour, perfect for sausage-rolling your way down to the tussocky Atlantic shoreline and standing to gaze back at the pine forests behind the beach. The surrounding Arcachon Bay holds miles of beaches ripe for exploring, and you’ll find a jumble of huts nearby where fishermen set up tables to sell oysters, pâté and prawns.
8. Ora Beach, Indonesia
With a higgledy-piggledy 37,000-mile coastline (the world’s second longest), Indonesia has a glut of beautiful beaches. One of its finest is Ora, snuggled away on the north coast of sparsely populated Seram island. The area is known as Indonesia’s Little Maldives due to its agate seas and white-sugar beaches, but the island still retains something of a wild feel. Seram sits amid several tectonic plates, meaning that the surrounding landscape varies cinematically, from lush, bird-speckled tropical rainforest to ogre-like mountains.
9. Awaroa, South Island, New Zealand
Set deep in the heart of New Zealand’s glorious Abel Tasman National Park, Awaroa is hemmed in by clover-green native bush and seas that sparkle like freshly blown glass. Most visitors come here either by water – swooshing in on kayaks or small boats – or on foot, to ramble around the park’s lush forests. It has an important place in the hearts of the locals, who banded together to crowdfund the purchase of the privately held beachfront when it came up for sale in 2016, thus giving this pretty part of the planet the nickname the ‘People’s Beach’.
10. Die Plaat, Walker Bay Nature Reserve, South Africa
Don’t be surprised to spot the occasional southern right whale wallowing offshore at Die Plaat, a ruggedly beautiful swath of sand fringed by rocky limestone outcrops near Hermanus, South Africa’s whale capital. Chubby seals slouch on the rocky shoreline here, and you’ll find the ground littered with huge, pearlescent abalone shells. There’s history to be courted in these wind-whipped sands as well; the beach is home to Klipgat Cave, a bat-filled cavern where late Middle Stone Age people lived up to 85,000 years ago (keep your eyes peeled – you may even spot ancient tools on the ground).
11. Grand Anse, Grenada
You’ll find no shortage of beautiful beaches in Grenada, but tranquil, sheltered Grand Anse is one of the best. Two miles of milky-white sand on the western, leeward side of the island, it’s a short water-taxi ride from the capital of St George’s, and is overlooked by some of Grenada’s finest hotels. You won’t want for anything here, whether it’s goblet-sized G&Ts, market stalls or seahorses that swoosh around snorkellers.
12. Honopu Beach, Kauai, Hawaii
The only (legal) way to reach remote Honopu is by water, meaning you have to swim from an offshore boat, or from neighboring Kalalau Beach, a quarter of a mile away (fins are a must). But given that the cayenne-coloured cliffs and smooth sands of this isolated spot provided the backdrop for Raiders of the Lost Ark and King Kong, the schlep is cinematically worth it. Since the valley is so isolated, it is also believed to be spiritual, and served as an ancient burial ground for local chiefs.
13. Keem Bay, Achill Island, Ireland
It’s a windy road to Keem Bay, but the staggering cliff-top views are worth it. This sheltered inlet, on Achill Island in County Mayo, is almost unknown to visitors, but its clear malachite waters and soft biscuit sand make it a family-friendly spot – that’s also wonderfully crowd-free. Bring binoculars for spotting basking sharks; in warmer months you’ll find herds of ice-cream vans in the car park.
14. Fakarava, French Polynesia
With its collection of easily accessible white and pink sand beaches, Fakarava – one of the largest atolls in French Polynesia – is one of the best snorkelling locations in the world, with consistently warm waters. While the sea is a safe haven for rare fish, fluorescent corals and ‘walls’ of sharks that pass close by the shore, the unblemished beaches have a claim to fame as the inspiration for Matisse’s bleu period. The artist spent three months in nearby Tahiti in 1930, and was enthralled by the lagoons’ infinite blues.
15. Marathonisi, Zakynthos, Greece
Better known as Turtle Island, the spotless white-sand islet of Marathonisi is a vital nesting spot for endangered loggerhead sea turtles, meaning visitors must stay within five metres of the water to avoid disturbing them. Fill your lungs with the pine-scented air before exploring the surrounding sea caves by snorkel or boat but be sure to bring supplies: you’ll find nothing on this Greek Island beach but seals, turtles and forests.
16. Praia do Sancho, Brazil
Found on Fernando de Noronha,an archipelago of volcanic islands between Brazil and Africa, Praia do Sancho is consistently voted one of the world’s best beaches. It’s also one of the hardest to access. Flights from mainland Brazil take about an hour, then you must hike, scooch down narrow rock tunnels and descend steep ladder steps to reach the golden palm-fringed sands. You have to pay an environment tax to get in, as the area is a National Park (head to the park’s offices, a 15-minute drive away), but once you’re there, its deserted shoreline, giant lumbering iguanas and fish-flecked shallows are worth the sweat.
17. Chesterman Beach, Vancouver Island, Canada
Another wild beauty, Chesterman’s wide stretch of smooth sand – dotted with huge driftwood logs and fringed by wolf-filled forest – is popular with die-hard surfers and windswept strollers when the tide recedes. It’s overlooked by the fantastic Wickaninnish Inn, an atmospheric place to shelter and keep an eye out for passing sea otters when bloated storm clouds roll in.
18. Anse Source d’Argent, Seychelles
Possibly one of the most photogenic places in the world, Anse Source d’Argent on La Digue is the original Bounty advert beach, cloaked in pure white sand and strewn with hefty granite boulders. It is not, by any stretch, deserted, but visit in the early morning] and you’ll get there before the daytrippers from Mahé and Praslin. For your own pocket of paradise, walk southwards through the shallows past the first set of boulders. The bay opens up for added breathing space.
19. Seagrass Bay, Laucala Island, Fiji
Covered in sultry tropical jungle and accessible only via guided walking tours or horseback safaris, the private-island hideaway of Laucala is an unfathomably beautiful spot, home to some of Fiji’s rarest birds, hordes of marine life and spellbinding beaches. Seagrass Bay is the quietest and prettiest, but if its real adventure you’re after, head slightly further off-shore to get up close to the magnificent sea-life in a submersible.
20. Hidden Beach, Palawan, Philippines
It’s not quite so hidden any more, but this beach still makes its mark as one of the world’s best. Palawan is filled with pristinely beautiful spots but Hidden Beach – surrounded by imposing limestone cliffs and with startlingly bone-white sand – is separated from the turquoise ocean by a small keyhole-like opening, through which visitors must climb in order to access the lagoon.
21. Ile aux Cerfs, Mauritius
Named for the cerfs, the stags imported from Java for hunting, Ile aux Cerfs has become something of a victim of its own famous beauty, much of it overrun with obtrusive crowds and pesky beach touts. But you need only hike half a mile down the beach and you’ll be rewarded with some incredible island sands that you can keep all to yourself. This place is popular for a reason.
22. Tortuga Bay, Santa Cruz Island, Galápagos
With ghost-white sand, black lava rock and gaggles of marine iguanas, Tortuga Bay is an almost surreal place. It’s two miles out of the main town of Puerto Ayora, and the hike can be hot and sticky, but once there allow yourself to be distracted by sharks patrolling the shallows, apple-red crabs scuttling across the sands and the swoop of blue-footed boobies coming into land, then cool off with a spot of breaststroke among the mangroves.
23. Turquoise Bay, Exmouth, Australia
Launch yourself into the crystalline waters of Turquoise Bay and you’ll be swimming within a few feet of the pristine Ningaloo Reef, a World Heritage-listed site that’s home to the largest congregation of whale sharks on the planet. A 40-mile drive from Exmouth on Australia’s Western coast, it’s a beach of blindingly white sands and impeccable snorkelling – you’ll descend to see rainbow corals, peaceful turtles and more than 500 fish species.
24. Pink Sand Beach, Barbuda
This endlessly photogenic, often empty beach is made from crushed corals that have been ground into fine silk-like sand. Barbuda, Antigua’s sister island, is less crowded than most of the Caribbean, meaning you may find you have this eight-mile swathe of sand – which glows candy-floss-pink in the sun – entirely to yourself. There are no public facilities per se, but you’ll find a few beachy cafes scattered alongside the surf for a cooling cocktail.
25. Playa Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica
This popular family beach borders the wildlife-filled Manuel Antonio National Park, where three-toed sloths and white-faced capuchin monkeys emerge from the coastal rainforest to the delight of tiny beachgoers. It’s a 30-minute hike from the entrance to the park (keep your eyes peeled for howler monkeys crashing through the canopy), but once there you’ll find soft sands, excellent swimming and honey-hued sunsets.
With a backdrop of saffron-coloured cliffs and lapped by the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, this rugged beach is one of the southern hemisphere’s most photogenic. Cast your eye across the robin-egg-blue waters and you might spot the snouts of rare snubfin dolphins breaking the surface, then turn back to the old lighthouse tower to see ospreys nesting in the framework. When the tide is at its lowest, a smattering of 125-million-year-old dinosaur footprints are unveiled, preserved impeccably in the amber-coloured reef rock.
27. Dolfynstrand, Namibia
Set on the edge of the Namib-Naukluft National Park – the oldest desert on the planet – and a 15-minute drive from seaside hub Walvis Bay. The primeval Dolfynstrand is not a soft-waves-and-sand-between-your-toes sort of place – instead there are eerie shipwrecks strewn on the sand and a stinking, snoozing seal colony up the coast. But given its remote location in one of the world’s most sparsely populated countries, any beachcombers are unlikely to have to jostle for space.
28. Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach, North Carolina
More of an unpolished gem than a screensaver beach, the wind-pummelled Ocracoke on the Outer Banks of North Carolina has been described as one of the USA’s wildest. Once the temporary home of Blackbeard the pirate and his fellow buccaneers, it rocks some seriously big surfing waves in the late summer, while more tranquil waters earlier in the year (plus changing facilities and ample parking) are ideal for salt-water-seeking families.
29. Rauðasandur Beach, Iceland
Glowering below the rocks of Iceland’s western fjords is the moody Rauðasandur Beach, distinguished by its copper-red sands, a result of billions of pulverised scallop shells. Reached by winding gravel road, this is edged by formidable mountains and dramatic cliffs. But you’re unlikely to see another human here – only a tenth of Iceland’s visitors ever make it as far as the Westfjords.
30. Jibei Island beach, Taiwan
Found in Penghu County, among the remote western islands of Taiwan, Jibei is an almost untouched spot, out of reach of most city-going travellers. Getting here involves taking a boat from the North Sea Tourist Centre to the main part of the island, where there are plenty of watersports, sun umbrellas and wooden cabins for an overnight stay. But it’s the secluded, often deserted sandspit, a 15-minute walk away, that’s truly special. There are no man-made intrustions here – just the murmur of the ocean and a mile of untrodden sand.