The beach is very often the first image that comes to mind when many people dream of going on vacation. There simply aren't many things more relaxing than stretching out in the sun on a towel or chair or feeling the soothing effects of the salty sea air and gently rocking waves. Whether it's for a fun family vacation or a romantic getaway, these beaches are some of the best escapes in the world.
The best beaches aren't all necessarily just great places to swim. When curating this list, we considered which beaches stood out in terms of how pristine or distinctive their sand is, how clear the waters are, what kind of food and activities are available or even the kind of party scene they provide. Some of these beaches have been featured in movies, television shows and even hit songs. Others have won awards and recognition from travel publications and websites such as Travel + Leisure, National Geographic, Condé Nast Traveler and TripAdvisor. While some of these beaches are often crowded in the summer, filled with tourists thanks to their notoriety, others are relatively undiscovered but renowned among travelers in the know.
Grace Bay Beach (Providenciales, Turks and Caicos)
Located in the most romantic destination in the Caribbean, Grace Bay Beach is as pristine as it gets, with a barrier reef about a mile out keeping its stark, turquoise blue waters and white sands free of any seaweed, rocks or pollution. Many of Providenciales' resorts are situated along this stretch of gorgeous coastline, which is just 3 miles long.
Whitehaven Beach (Whitsunday Island, Australia)
The sand of Whitehaven Beach is made up of 98% silica, which means it's both very soft and cool, making it perfect for walking through barefoot. A popular spot for yachts, ferries and motorboats, the beach stretches a little over 4 miles. While it doesn't have a reef and therefore much in the way of snorkeling or scuba-diving opportunities, its water is so clear that you can still see fish swimming by without your gear.
Cala Jondal (Ibiza, Balearic Islands)
Private boats, beach clubs and oceanfront dining are all quite popular at Cala Jondal, located in Ibiza, one of Spain's Balearic Islands, known for its life-changing nightlife.
Boulders Beach (Cape Town, South Africa)
There's only one place in the world where you can get up close and personal with African penguins, and that's Boulders Beach. Picturesque granite boulders frame this stunning seaside spot, which has three wheelchair-friendly boardwalks, serene rock pools and a relatively smaller crowd thanks to an entrance fee.
Lanikai Beach (Kailua, Hawaii)
In Hawaiian, Lanikai means "heavenly sea," an extremely apt name for this beach located in southeastern Oahu's Kailua Bay. The calm, fluorescent blue waves stand out against the white sandy beach, from which one can get a great view of the nearby Mokulua Islands, one of many breathtaking Hawaiian spots.
Elafonissi Beach (Crete, Greece)
Situated on the southwestern coast of the Greek island of Crete, Elafonissi Beach has pink-tinged sand that makes for a mesmerizing contrast against the greenish waters and clear, bright blue sky.
Anakena Beach (Rapa Nui, Chile)
Visiting Rapa Nui (popularly known as Easter Island) feels like taking a trip back in time. It's most famous for its moai, the iconic large-headed stone figures with mysterious origins, but it's also home to spectacular beaches. One of two beaches on the island, Anakena Beach has a dark, rocky coastline characterized by coconut palm trees, white sand and six of the moai, ready for their close-up.
El Nido (Palawan, Philippines)
Located on the Filipino province of Palawan, El Nido is known for its gorgeous beaches, present against a backdrop of impressive limestone cliffs and green forests. The coral reefs in its waters have a diverse array of marine creatures, making it as picturesque underwater as it is at shore.
Playa Delfines (Cancún, Mexico)
Cancún is the perfect tropical escape for the winter, and the perfect place to book a resort stay in Cancún is along Playa Delfines. With clear water that stays warm even at night and white sand that's very comfortable to walk on, the waves can get quite rough at times, which is perfect for surfing but also requires extra caution.
Flamenco Beach (Culebra, Puerto Rico)
The super-calm waters of Flamenco Beach make it an ideal spot for swimming, snorkeling and sandcastle-building with the entire family. Enjoy authentic Puerto Rican cuisine from the seaside kiosks and take photos with "The Tank," a relic of the United States Navy's presence in Culebra in the form of a rusting tank that's been colorfully graffitied in the years since.
La Côte des Basques (Biarritz, France)
People have been surfing at La Côte des Basques since 1957, and today the southwestern French beach remains a premier destination for surfers from around the world. Take in the gorgeous views of the Spanish coast and the surrounding mountains, but note that bathing in the waters of La Côte des Basques is prohibited at high tide, as the sand disappears with it.
Trunk Bay Beach (St. John's, U.S. Virgin Islands)
Trunk Bay Beach is a snorkeler's paradise, with an underwater snorkeling trail that stretches 225 yards. On land, there is about a third of a mile to stroll along, past bars, snack shacks, rental and beach shops and other beach facilities. Not far from Trunk Bay Beach lies Jumbie Beach, a supposedly haunted spot.
Fig Tree Bay (Protaras, Cyprus)
More than 2 million people visit the Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus every year, enticed by its mountains and beaches, the most striking of which is Fig Tree Bay. Named for a fig tree that has allegedly been growing since the 17th century, this popular beach's golden brown sands are surrounded by seaside resorts and feature plenty of sunbeds, umbrellas and food and activity kiosks.
Anse Lazio (Praslin Island, Seychelles)
Just a little under a third of a mile long, Anse Lazio is situated in a bay characterized by a pair of huge mountain peaks on either side and is known for its powdery white sand, tidal pools and unbelievably clear water. A top destination for swimming and snorkeling enthusiasts, the Seychelles are located about 1,200 miles off the coast of Kenya and got a boost in fame back in 2011, when Prince William and Kate Middleton spent their honeymoon there.
Varadero Beach (Varadero, Cuba)
A 13-mile beach, Varadero is just 24 yards wide on average but has plenty of beauty in its aquamarine waters and fine, white sands. There are plenty of opportunities for watersports here, as well as golfing and nightlife.
Driftwood Beach (Jekyll Island, Georgia)
A highly underrated American beach destination, Jekyll Island has 10 miles of eerily beautiful shoreline, most notably the iconic Driftwood Beach. The perfect spot for a romantic stroll or a nice bike ride, Driftwood Beach is characterized by ancient driftwood that makes it even more camera-ready at sunset.
Natadola Beach (Viti Levu, Fiji)
A family-friendly destination for snorkeling and other beach activities, Natadola Beach generally has gentle waves, although it's best to visit during mid-high tide for safety. Clean sand and clear waters make this the perfect spot for exploring the wonders of the bay's reef.
Ka'anapali Beach (Lahaina, Hawaii)
Taking up 3 miles of Maui's western shore, Ka'anapali Beach was the first planned resort area in Hawaii and is today marked by five hotels and six condominium villages facing the shore. Every evening at sunset, a cliff-diving ceremony is held at the Puu Kekaa (Black Rock) cliffs, where a diver lights torches alongside the cliffs before diving off of them in a reenactment of a dive by a Hawaiian king.
Seven Mile Beach (Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands)
The Cayman Islands can get surprisingly affordable in the winter, which is the best time to escape to its lovely and sunny beaches. One of the islands' most renowned, Seven Mile Beach is home to plenty of resorts, restaurants and beach bars, as well as snorkeling, scuba diving, parasailing and plenty of sunbathing.
Baía do Sancho (Fernando de Noronha, Brazil)
Located on Fernando de Noronha, a Brazilian archipelago that limits visitors for the sake of preservation, Baía do Sancho (Sancho Bay) can only be reached via boat or by climbing 230 feet down three sets of stairs. The climb may get a bit dizzying - but so are the views once you're onshore or under the water, where you can see the colorful marine life around you for as far as 55 yards.
Eagle Beach (Oranjestad, Aruba)
Aruba isn't as popular a destination as it once was, which is surprising considering the renown of its widest beach. At Eagle Beach, visitors can relax in a beach hut, catch some shade from a majestic divi tree, go jet skiing or sailing over the intensely clear turquoise waters and marvel at the island's famously pristine white sand.
Jumeirah Open Beach (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
Under the hot Middle Eastern sun, locals and visitors alike enjoy cooling off at Jumeirah Open Beach, a public beach complete with lifeguards and bathroom facilities with showers. Beachgoers can try sports such as parasailing and wakeboarding, while those seeking drier recreation can check out the nearby running track, beach volleyball court and outdoor gym, as well as camel rides along the shore.
Playa Bávaro (Punta Cana, Dominican Republic)
Punta Cana's most popular and developed beach, Playa Bávaro still manages to maintain its pristine white sand and private nooks along the resort-dotted stretch of coastline. An offshore reef protects the beach from pollution and provides divers and snorkelers with plenty to explore.
Fakarava (Tuamotu, French Polynesia)
The second-largest atoll in French Polynesia, Fakarava looks like something out of a postcard. Its waters are even more blue than the sky, making for a gorgeous picture next to the pink and white sands - all of which are quite untouched, earning the atoll a designation as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Underneath the water, snorkelers will find bright coral reefs and large, colorful schools of fish passing by.
Woolacombe Beach (Woolacombe, England)
Located in the southwestern English region known as the West Country, Woolacombe Beach is a 3-mile-long getaway that welcomes families, surfers and even dogs to its shores. Thousands of people visit to play in its golden sand and enjoy the surrounding countryside and village pubs every summer.
Cable Beach (Nassau, Bahamas)
One of the most famous beaches in the Bahamas, Cable Beach has world-class resorts all along its 2.5-mile stretch, as well as a golf course and the island's largest casino.
Fulhadhoo (Baa Atoll, Maldives)
One of the smaller islands of the Maldives with a population of just a few hundred people, Fulhadhoo is a simply stunning sight. Turquoise blue waters nearly indistinguishable from the sky cause the icy white sands to pop even more, and shade can be found in the bright green palm trees.
Clearwater Beach (Clearwater, Florida)
The best beach in America, Clearwater Beach is located in Tampa Bay, against the backdrop of the wonderful Beach Walk Promenade, where beachgoers can take in the shore on foot, bike or skates with access to plenty of great bars, shopping, live music and lovely beachside restaurants.
Radhanagar Beach (Havelock Island, Andaman and Nicobar Islands)
Stretching just over a mile and measuring 30 to 40 meters in width, Radhanagar Beach has fine, white sand that sits against a striking backdrop of lush, bright green rainforest.
West Bay Beach (Roatan, Honduras)
Like many other beaches on this list, West Bay Beach has fine, white sand and palm trees accented by a bright, blue-green ocean, but one of its most distinctive features is the coral reef that lies just a short swim from shore.
Doctor's Cave Beach (Montego Bay, Jamaica)
Warm waters and well-kept facilities continue to make Doctor's Cave Beach a tourist favorite. Part of the Montego Bay Marine Park, marine life lovers will also find quite a bit to discover among the beach's coral reef.
Copacabana Beach (Rio de Janeiro)
One of the most famous beaches in the world, Copacabana Beach is roughly 2.5 miles long and is characterized by kiosks, concerts and restaurants on a bustling boardwalk. Its annual New Year's Eve party, when more than 2 million people descend on the iconic spot for the largest outdoor party in the world, is one of those travel clichés that's totally worth experiencing.
Hyams Beach (Shoalhaven, Australia)
Found on the southern shores of southwestern Australia's Jarvis Bay, Hyams Beach is surrounded by national parks and white sand and lies at the end of the 90-minute White Sands Walk, a scenic route that winds through the bay. Try some surfing, windsurfing, kayaking or sailing and catch a glimpse of dolphins near shore.
Waimea Bay Beach Park (Haleiwa, Hawaii)
While Hawaii is fantastic for a winter getaway, Oahu's Waimea Bay Beach Park should only be visited by surfing experts that time of year, on account of its 30-foot waves. Come in the summer, however, and the waves are much calmer and appropriate for swimmers, snorkelers and divers of all levels.
Anse Source d'Argent (La Digue, Seychelles)
Said to be the most photographed beach in the world, Anse Source d'Argent is the pride of the Seychelles. Large granite boulders softened by time, water and wind make the landscape of this beach look otherworldly, especially when juxtaposed with tropical greenery behind it and the aquamarine waters and pristine white sand that stretches out before it.
Pink Sand Beach (Harbour Island, Bahamas)
A colorful beach you have to see to believe, Pink Sand Beach gets its pretty pale color from foraminifera, microscopic insects with bright pink or red shells whose bodies are crushed and washed ashore by the ocean's waves after they die, mixing them in with sand and bits of coral. The sand is smooth and cool here, making it a popular place to explore barefoot and on horseback.
Agiba Beach (Mersa Matruh, Egypt)
Against a backdrop of sand-colored cliffs, beachgoers can enjoy the Mediterranean weather and aqua waves that turn a deeper blue as they go farther out. The light, clean shores of Agiba Beach stretch about 44 yards, and there's also a café at the top of the cliffs for visitors to take a break.
Tortuga Bay (Santa Cruz Island, Ecuador)
Named for the black sea turtles that are known to lay their eggs there, Tortuga Bay is an excellent place to experience the biodiversity of the Galápagos Islands. Relax in the light blue waters and wait to come across species such as marine iguanas, white-tip sharks and, of course, Galápagos green turtles. Tortuga Bay is also known to be a bird-watching destination, home to pelicans, ground finches and flamingos.
Keem Bay (Achill Island, Ireland)
The largest of the Irish isles, Achill Island is located off the west coast of the mainland and is known for being a serene, mountainous island getaway. On its western coast lies Keem Bay, a remote beach surrounded by sweeping cliffs and mountains, one of many magical spots in Ireland.
Playa Rincón (Las Galeras, Dominican Republic)
The 3 miles of undeveloped beach at Playa Rincón is lined with leaning coconut trees and has water calm enough for swimming and snorkeling on one side, and enough waves for bodysurfing and more activity on the other. Casual restaurants along the beach serve up fresh catches every day.
Diani Beach (Diani Beach, Kenya)
Soft, bright white sand is sandwiched between bright green trees and clear, turquoise-tinted waters at Diani Beach, a popular Kenyan spot for honeymooners, backpackers and families alike. In addition to water sports such as boating and kitesurfing, beachgoers can swim with dolphins and sea turtles, as well as take to the land with guided forest hikes or a trip to a monkey sanctuary or the nearby coastal national park.
Pinney's Beach (Nevis, Saint Kitts and Nevis)
Nevis has appeal to American history buffs as the birthplace of founding father Alexander Hamilton, but it's also a wonderful Caribbean destination with unspoiled landscapes and relaxing resorts. One of the most famous beaches on the island, Pinney's Beach is located just outside the capital, stretching for 3 miles and featuring vivid, lush greenery alongside clean shores that meet bright blue seas.
Ipanema Beach (Rio de Janeiro)
A favorite hangout of the young and stylish, Ipanema Beach is another famous Rio spot for surfing, partying and playing in the sun. The sunsets are particularly well-known here, with a 236-square-foot viewpoint specifically designated for beachgoers to marvel from every evening.
Seminyak Beach (Bali, Indonesia)
Colorful bean bags and parasols provided by beach clubs line the shore at Seminyak Beach, a spot popular with locals and tourists that's made even more beautiful by lights in the evening. It's a wonderful place to relax, with many cafés, restaurants and live music to enjoy when not hitting the teal green waves.
Champagne Beach (Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu)
A trip to Champagne Beach is as relaxing as a sip of the drink with which it shares its name. The beauty and seclusion of the South Pacific is on full display here, although there is still plenty to do, such as swimming and snorkeling or perusing arts, crafts, fresh fruit and local cuisine at the nearby markets.
Praia do Camilo (Lagos, Portugal)
Situated on the western end of Portugal's Algarve coast, Praia do Camilo (Camilo Beach) lies at the bottom of a set of beautiful cliffs that beachgoers can reach by climbing down about 200 steps. The impressive rock formations along the shore divide it up into smaller beaches and have some lovely small caves hidden in them as well.
Horseshoe Bay Beach (Southampton, Bermuda)
Another beach where the red foraminifera shells, along with crushed coral, turn the sand pink, Bermuda's Horseshoe Bay Beach has a blush-like color that makes the turquoise waters really pop. Located on Bermuda's South Shore, this photogenic beach is very kid-friendly, with an enclosed bay called Port Royal Cove available as a safe spot to splash around. Hidden caves and coves also surround the bay among picturesque rock formations where beachgoers can go climbing and exploring for more photo-ops.
Perissa Beach (Santorini, Greece)
An extremely popular destination thanks to its breathtaking sunsets and bright white cliffside buildings topped with blue domes, Santorini isn't typically associated with black sand beaches. That's exactly what one of its best beaches is, however. Popular with younger beachgoers, Parissa Beach is striking due to the dark, volcanic sand that lays beneath its colorful tanning beds and beach umbrellas facing the Aegean Sea.
Siesta Beach (Siesta Key, Florida)
Comprised of 99% quartz, the fine sand of Siesta Beach makes for a stunning sight next to the blue-green waters and brightly colored lifeguard huts.
Grand Anse Beach (St. George, Grenada)
Stretching for about 2 miles along the southwestern coast of Grenada, Grand Anse Beach's soft white sand juts out of a lush green landscape dotted with brightly roofed homes and some of the best resorts in the Caribbean.
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