Life’s a beach: Europe’s best urban beaches

Summer is here, the sun is out and cities are turning urban riverfronts into makeshift paradises. We guide you to some of the best city beaches in Europe

Splashing about at Zurich's Mythenquai lakeside lido © Zürich Tourism – Photographer: Siggi Bucher

Splashing about at Zurich's Mythenquai lakeside lido © Zürich Tourism – Photographer: Siggi Bucher

Category Beach & nature Cities

Date 31st May 2017

Summer in the city doesn’t necessarily exclude beach fun. Put on your swimwear and lots of sun screen as we guide you to our favorite city beaches in Europe. Enjoy the pleasures of big city life, as well as a lazy day at the shore – right in the city center!

Bruxelles les Bains – Brussels, Belgium

Fancy a match of beach volleyball?
Fancy a match of beach volleyball? © Bruxelles les Bains – Photographer: Eric Danhier

Where do members of the European Parliament, diplomats, and EU interns go to cool off after a long and hot day at the office? The answer is Bruxelles les Bains.

During the warm season, the cobbled quays along the Canal of Brussels are turned into a beach with the help of imported sand, palm trees, and sundeck chairs. It’s the place to go for a game of beach volleyball, followed by a chilled fruit cocktail under an umbrella.

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Islands Brygge Harbour Bath – Copenhagen, Denmark

A day in the sun at Islands Brygge Harbour Bath
A day in the sun at Islands Brygge Harbour Bath

Beach life in inner city Copenhagen – this probably doesn’t sound possible to many. However, the beach scene in the Danish capital is actually alive and vibrant – at least on those few days during the summer when the sun is shining.

The most popular dipping spot is Islands Brygge Harbour Bath, which used to be an industrial and run-down harbor area before it was cleaned up by the local municipality. Today it’s a hotspot, where locals come for a refreshing dip after work, to hang out with friends and enjoy a cool beverage.

Swimming is only allowed inside the pool areas of which there are five, two specifically for kids.

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Paris Plages – Paris, France

Take a break from the big city life at Paris Plages
Take a break from the big city life at Paris Plages © Paris Tourist Office – Photographer: Marc Bertrand

Take a thousand tons of sand, a smattering of palm trees, deckchairs and ubiquitous ice cream sellers – and you have the Paris Plages.

The Paris Plages is a highly popular, free ‘event’ taking place yearly between July and August. Originally, it was thought of as a getaway for the thousands of Parisians who couldn’t afford to go on holiday, but the project was immediately adopted by the whole city and now hosts three locations.

Beware, topless or nudist sunbathing is not permitted.

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Lake Zurich – Zurich, Switzerland

The circular boardwalk at Tiefenbrunnen makes urban swimming a delight
The circular boardwalk at Tiefenbrunnen makes urban swimming a delight © Zürich Tourism – Photographer: Siggi Bucher

Lake Zurich spreads across the south-east part of the city, and, due to the water’s cleanliness, urban swimming is very popular during the summer months. Sandy Mythenquai beach comes with a spacious sunbathing lawn, water games facility, diving boards in three different sizes, and even yoga sessions.

Tiefenbrunnen is the right spot if you like to splash about while gazing at mountains. The highlight here is the circular boardwalk built over the water, with a pool in the middle. Alternatively, the historical wooden lido Utoquai is an institution when it comes to urban swimming. Built in 1890 beside the lakeside promenade, you can soak up the sun on the sunbathing terraces or swim out to floating decks.

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South Bank Beach – London, UK

South Bank Beach
South Bank Beach © ChodHound

In London, life’s a beach … with a little bit of imagination. If real sand is what you’re after, then you might want to consider heading down to Gabriel’s Wharf on the south bank of the Thames. The Thames is a tidal river, which means that the water ebbs back at certain times of day to display a little bit of sandy beach.

More often than not there are a few people picking their way over the sand and pebbles and you can even observe sand artists creating beautiful installations.

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Blijburg aan Zee – Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Welcome to Blijburg!
Welcome to Blijburg!

Even city dwellers have the urge to feel sand between their toes on sweltering summer days. This is when locals appreciate Blijburg aan Zee – a city beach, not actually by the ocean, but overlooking the former sea-arm, the IJ.

Located on man-made island IJburg, Blijburg attracts beachgoers with bonfires, festivals, live music, theme parties, summer drinks, vegetarian, and organic dishes from around the world. And of course plenty of swimming.

Since it’s opening, it has been a hit with the locals. It simply makes everybody happy, or “blij” (Dutch for happy).

Read more: What to do in Amsterdam for free

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Yaam – Berlin, Germany

Chilling at Yaam Beach
Chilling at Yaam Beach © Yaam Beach

Once summer arrives in Berlin, several beaches pop up along the river Spree. Artificial palm trees are set up and sand from the city’s construction sites or the Baltic coast is brought in turning the German capital into a (kind of) tropical paradise on a hot summer’s day.

One of the city’s most popular and definitely most chill beach bars is Yaam in Friedrichshain. The place is one of Berlin’s finest ambassadors of reggae and other Caribbean tunes and the bar offers a selection of Caribbean foods and drinks as well. The place also hosts concerts, different sports activities, and a kids’ area.

Read more: Explore Berlin’s neighborhoods via the food

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Žluté lázně – Prague, Czech Republic

Praguers know how to make the best of a sunny day
Praguers know how to make the best of a sunny day © Žluté lázně

Located on the eastern bank of the Vltava river, under beautiful wooded cliffs, a few tram stops south of Vysehrad castle, Žluté lázně provides something cool for anyone who’s hot, whether it’s recreational areas for table tennis, football, volleyball, petanque, climbing, or leisurely naps in a hammock.

There’s also a children’s pool and gelateria to keep kids happy and entertained, as well as a restaurant, beach bar, and beer garden.

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Långholmen Beach – Stockholm, Sweden

Sunset at Långholmen Beach
Sunset at Långholmen Beach © Jess Pac

Swedish summers are relatively cool and pleasant. Just like the ambience of its capital city, where people take advantage of the extremely long Nordic sunshine days by dipping into the clean waters of Stockholm’s stunning archipelago.

One of Stockholm’s most popular and best-known inner-city beaches is Långholmen Beach on the island of Långholmen. It gets pretty crowded on warm weekends, with families setting up picnics on the grass and teens taking over the swimming platform. It’s the perfect place to relax and bask in the sun – and you can cool down easily enough at the nearby ice cream vendor.

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Danube Island & Danube Canal – Vienna, Austria

Take a dip in a floating swimming pool at Badeschiff
Take a dip in a floating swimming pool at Badeschiff

In summertime locals roam around the recreational areas around the Danube – whether it’s picnicking on a boat, taking walks along the river banks, or enjoying a day at the beach.

The 13-mile long Danube Island is home to sand and gravel shores, as well as restaurants and bars. The island provides lots of fun for the little ones as well – there’s a family beach offering safe and child-friendly bathing, an expansive water playground where kids can splash about, and an ice cream stand to keep everybody happy.

Looking for a more grown-up scene? The Danube Canal is home to Strandbar Hermann, where refreshing cocktails and deckchairs on a golden beach prove to be a winning combo. Alternatively, a mere 5-minute walk away you’ll find Badeschiff, a big boat with a floating pool and big sun deck attached to it.

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Vistula River – Warsaw, Poland

Picture-perfect sunset from the beach
Picture-perfect sunset from the beach

Throughout the last couple of years, the Polish capital has gone through an expansive project of revitalization that transformed the areas around the Vistula River into a vibrant public space. There are bike trails, opportunities for sailing and rowing, and no less than five beaches.

Poniatówka, just by the Poniatowski Bridge, attracts a mixed crowd, perhaps due to the diverse offerings. From sunbathing, beach volleyball, and movie screenings to cozy bonfires and cocktail-infused nightly parties courtesy of beach bar Temat Rzeka, this is where locals hang out during the hot summer days.

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Hydropark – Kiev, Ukraine

Hydropark – Kiev's summer hub
Hydropark – Kiev’s summer hub

The Dnieper River runs through Kiev and splits it in two. In-between the two parts, the expansive recreational area Hydropark becomes the place to be during the summer months. Easily accessible via metro, Hydropark is spread across two islands – the Venetian and the Dolobetsk – and boasts beaches, watersports, beach bars, and the world’s largest outdoor gym.

While some of the bars and restaurants are new, the park itself has Soviet era written all over it: elderly locals still meet to socialize at the tennis tables, people of all ages train at the open-air gym (originally made of car parts and scrap metal) and many of the facilities remind of bygone times.

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Looking for more summer delights? Why not go island hopping in Greece or recharge your batteries at a peaceful yoga retreat?

Originally published

31st May 2017