Looking for somewhere a little bit different to stay for your next beach holiday? You’ve clicked the right Google result! Whether it’s a spring/summer European destination you’re after, or a bit of longer-haul winter sun, this hidden gem collection has it covered. Having travelled quite a bit, the following are beach and seaside destinations I’d come back to in a heartbeat.

I’ve split the destinations based on European summer and a few of my favourite exotic options to take a break from the gloomy winters. I hope you find inspiration in this collection!

Hidden Gem European Beach Destinations

Praia da Adraga, Portugal

Best for: Stunning scenery and outstanding seafood

Praia da Adraga, Portugal

Praia da Adraga is easily my favourite beach in Portugal (yep, better than everything on Algarve coast for me), and combines perfectly with a stay in wonderful Lisbon – just an hour away. Vast, sandy and not particularly busy, surrounded by cliffs, offering wonderful sunset views and beefy Atlantic waves. When you feel like a break from the sun & sea, there is a fantastic seafood restaurant right by the shore. 

The beach makes for a perfect day trip from Lisbon or Cascais, or you could base yourself in the village 10-15 minutes walk up (Almocageme) for the most peaceful stay. A few sets of cliffs away you’ll find Praia Grande – a vast beach loved by surfers. While the touristy but pretty town of Sintra is around 20 mins away by car.


Getting to Praia da Adraga

Car is definitely the way to go – the area isn’t renowned for ample public transport options. It’s under an hour from Lisbon and just 30 mins away from Cascais. Buses are more complicated and involve changing in Sintra.

Best time to visit Praia da Adraga

May to June and September avoid the peak tourist season. If you come in July or August, aim for weekdays to avoid local weekend crowds. Locals know where the good beaches are!

 

Ischia, Italy

Best for: Hot springs, ample sandy beaches, quaint villages and a one-of-a-kind castle

Castello Aragonese, Ischia, Italy

It’s hard not to enjoy a holiday on Ischia – the island has it all for a dream destination. There are the many gorgeous beaches scattered all over the island, and on top of that you can spend a day or two relaxing in one of its many hot spring resorts (it’s a volcanic island). The one we chose, Poseidon Thermal Gardens, is essentially a theme park of hot springs, with 20 to choose from of every temperature and size.

And there’s much more! Ischia features one of the most dramatic fortresses Castello Aragonese – the sort of structure you’d expect to see featured in Game of Thrones (in fact it was rather a filming location for “Talented Mr Ripley”, among many other films). It’s a pleasure to explore the vast island fortress, and the views from the very top are equally impressive.

The many picturesque towns of Ischia make it difficult to choose which ones to miss out on. Forio and Sant’Angello particularly stood out for me. Let’s also not forget about the food. Campania has some of the best cuisine Italy has to offer and Ischia is no exception. Coupled with fresh seafood, it’s hard to go wrong with any restaurant you choose.

And yet for some reason Ischia’s sister island Capri enjoys more popularity (and double the prices!). All the better. Finally, Ischia is just short of a 1-hour boat ride from Naples and can be combined with the characterful city, or indeed Amalfi Coast, Capri or the nearby Procida (another hidden gem).

Read more: Best Hidden Gems of Italy
Best time to visit Ischia

May-June and especially September-October enjoy warm temperatures, avoid the worst heat and most of the crowds. I’d avoid August at all costs as it’s the month just about every Italian goes to the beach. Most thermal spas don’t open til around April-May so best check before you book.

Getting to Ischia

Ischia is about an hour boat or ferry ride from one of Naples’ ports, conveniently connected to Napoli International Airport. Once on Ischia, you can quite easily get around by bus. I’d also recommend hiring a moped for a quintessential Italian experience.

 

Albanian Riviera, Albania

Best for: Sandy beaches and azure waters at less than half the price of Greece

Albanian Beach Himare Seas The Day

If you’re into beaches, the Albanian Riviera in the country’s South is the caviar of Albania that, coupled with the prices, makes it a true hidden gem of Europe. 

Curiously, much of this particular enclave feels pretty much exactly like Greece, but far cheaper and seeing fewer tourists than say Corfu across the sea. The towns of Himarë and Dhërmi , and pretty much everything in-between, are majority Greek. Greek place names, Greek churches, Greek tavernas, and every other guy is called Nikos. Thanks to the surrounding terrain, this is the only strip of Albania not conquered by the Ottoman Empire and so managing to preserve its Greek identity.

The cute seaside town of Himarë is my personal favourite, and an ideal base to explore the hills or the countless beautiful beaches. If I had just one recommendation, it would be that you rent a private (captained) boat from Himara Seas the Day. It’s affordable and you get to spend a few hours swimming in the crystal clear waters, enjoying secluded beaches, pirate caves and an abandoned submarine bunker.

Besides the boat trip, you’re spoiled for choice as far as beaches go. The most famous are at Drymades, Jale and Dhërmi – the latter requires a sweaty hike, but this does filter out the crowds. For easy access you also have the very long beach at the appetisingly-named Borsh

Read more: Albania Road Trip – The Perfect Itinerary
Best time to visit Albania

May to July or September would be the best months to visit Albania. These months give you a very good chance of mostly sunny, warm days. August is also game especially if you’re focusing on hiking in the higher terrain, but keep in mind the heat can otherwise get intense and the crowds build up on the coastal towns, as is the norm across most of Europe.

Getting to Albanian Riviera

You could fly into the capital Tirana and drive (most flexible) or take public transport down to the coast. Or, you could fly into the Greek island of Corfu and take a ferry across to Sarande then explore the riviera from there.

Kefalonia, Greece

Best for: Some of the most scenic beaches in Europe, relaxing island village vibes

Myrtos Beach, Kefalonia

Greece has oh so many islands to choose from for a perfect seaside holiday, but I find it’s the Ionian Islands that offer the most impressive beaches and nature. While Lefkada and Corfu are also great options, Kefalonia impressed like no other. It doesn’t tend to get as busy, and offers that perfect combination of beautiful beaches, history, relaxing vibes and plenty of little nooks and villages to explore around the island.

Kefalonia’s piece-de-resistance is undoubtedly the cliff-hugged Myrtos Beach (pictured) and its unreal turquoise waters. Even when it’s busy, the beach is vast and thus doesn’t feel overcrowded bar the very peak August weekends. On the other side of the island is the very different Sami Beach, once a filming location for Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. The earthquake-scarred island is home to some very pretty villages, most notably Fiskardo (that largely avoided the damage) and the extremely pretty Assos.

Read more: Where to Visit in Kefalonia
Getting to Kefalonia

Kefalonia International Airport has plenty of flights from across Europe. From there, it’s easiest with a car or moped if you want the flexibility. Roads are mostly quiet but often twisty. You can get around the pricey taxis or the non-so-developed public transport.

Best time to visit Kefalonia

May, June and September are the prime months to visit Kefalonia. May seems close to the sweet spot – the seasonal restaurants usually open up start of the month, the weather’s already great and there are few tourists around. September may be the best month as the sea is also warmest. Again I’d avoid August for the usual influx of tourists you tend to get elsewhere.

Asturias, Northern Spain

Best for: Unspoilt white-sand beaches, stunning nature and regional cuisine

Asturias, Northern Spain

The North of Spain might as well be a different country to the Spain that most people know. In contrast to the dry, almost semi-arid climate of Southern Spain, Asturias often reminds more of the Atlantic coasts of Ireland or Portugal with its rugged green coastlines and more capricious weather. Scattered along the cliffy coast are gorgeous, unspoilt white sand beaches and traditional fishing towns that preserved their local identity.

The backdrop to Asturian beaches are the stunning Picos de Europa, an impressive mountain range of sharp peaks that rise high above the horizon and offer ample hiking opportunities.

For a perfect base to explore the coast, you should consider the town of Llanes. Besides the pleasant old town, it’s also known for its impressive colonial mansions built by returning emigres who made their fortunes trading in Central America. The traditional Asturian cuisine is excellent with a heavy focus on seafood, bean stews and flat ciders. No paella here!

Getting to Asturias Coast

Fly to Asturias Airport or into Santander, both around 1 hour away, then ideally drive. You could even fly into Bilbao too. Trains are possible but fairly slow compared to the rest of Spain.

Best time to visit Asturias

Unlike with the rest of Europe, I actually recommend July-August as the best months, maybe September too. Crowds tend to avoid this part of Spain and the domestic tourists spread out along the coast such that it doesn’t feel too busy. Weather is best at this time and can be more unpredictable at other times of the year.

Gozo, Malta

Best for: Slow pace of life, ample beaches surrounded by cliffs and ancient sites

Gozo Island Cliffs, Malta

Malta’s little sister island enjoys a more laid back atmosphere and the type of holiday where you can take things slow. That’s not to say it’s short of things to do. A day on Gozo can be anything from relaxing on a sandy beach like Ramla Bay to taking a cliff boat tour or meandering up ancient streets to an impressive citadel in the island’s main town, Victoria. Gozo is an island steeped in history – the Ggantija temple complex is said to be over 5,500 years old.

It’s not a big island, so within a few days on Gozo you’ll feel at home. And you can always combine a few days on Gozo with visiting everything the bigger Malta has on offer, like the impressive Valletta Old Town and the fortified town of Mdina.

Best time to visit Gozo

Gozo and Malta enjoy a Southern Mediterranean climate, meaning spring and autumn are the best seasons to enjoy the islands without suffering from heatwaves (and too many tourists). Climate stays mild all year round so while it can get windy, you can even enjoy Gozo in winter.

Getting to Gozo

Fly into Malta’s only international airport, a bus (or a taxi) and a 45-minute ferry from Cirkwenna ferry port. On Gozo you can get around by buses, cars, mopeds or even bicycles – it’s a relatively compact island.

Sozopol, Bulgaria

Best for: Beautiful old town, great food & affordable European travel

hidden gem travel destinations

Bulgaria is one of Europe’s most affordable destinations and is probably best known for its infamous party resort – Sunny Beach. Yet just across the Burgas Bay is a small and romantic town of Sozopol. A big contrast to the ghastly Sunny Beach, Sozopol is one of Bulgaria’s oldest settlements. Ancient Greeks settled here way back in 610BC calling it Apollonia Pontica after the God Apollo, eventually being renamed Sozopolis. 

Sozopol’s biggest draw is undoubtedly its historic Old Town. Traditional wooden houses with bay windows line the narrow cobbled streets, and a real artistic vibe creates a charming atmosphere especially in the warm evenings accompanied by live music. Then there’s an impressive selection of very affordable waterside seafood restaurants.

There are plenty of sandy beach options both in town and along the coast nearby. I’d recommend getting out to the long sandy Kavatsite Beach just South of town. Or if you feel like driving further, there are a plethora of beautiful, quaint beaches near Sinemorets.

Read more: Sozopol combines perfectly into a Bulgaria road-trip itinerary of 1-2 weeks – it’s a real hidden gem of a country to explore by car! Here is a nice Bulgaria itinerary
Best time to visit Sozopol

May-June or September. Resort establishments tend to open in May but the water is still warming up. September is the ideal month. August tends to get busier especially on the weekends, and can be particularly hot although you’re not safe from extreme heat at any time in the summer.

Getting to Sozopol

The town is just 30 mins by car from the city of Burgas (and its international airport). There are regular hourly buses from the city. Driving from Plovdiv it’s 3 hours, add another hour for Sofia, the capital and main arrival hub into Bulgaria.

 

Curonian Spit, Lithuania

Best for: Miles of pristine, soft white sand beaches, pine forests and Baltic culture

Smiltyne Beach, Curonian Spit

Lithuania is by no means a classic seaside destination and Baltic Sea is in no way Mediterranean. But if you like the sound of pristine, often entirely empty soft white sand beaches, Curonian Spit is a fantastic off-the-beaten-track seaside holiday option. 

With the entire sea-facing coastline a stretch of wide sandy beaches, even during the peak summer months they hardly look overrun. The beaches are as clean as you get and infrastructure is excellent. Along the coast, you can explore moving sand dunes and cute fishing villages like Nida with their colourful wooden houses.

On the warm summer days (yep, July-August can often get into high 20’s! or even 30’s), swimming is certainly doable in the same way that swimming in the English Channel is refreshingly pleasant during heatwaves.

Read more: Lithuania can be explored in a week or even less – click here for a full Lithuania itinerary
Best time to Visit Lithuania

If you want to enjoy Curonian Sea at its finest, plan for late May to September. Great weather isn’t guaranteed even in August, but on the Spit some hotels and restaurants will shut between October and May. Winters can get cold, windy and grim.

Getting to Curonian Spit

The Curonian Spit is accessible via a frequent & cheap 20-minute ferries from Klaipeda to Smiltyne. Public transport is also an option here, although renting bicycles would be my recommendation if you have time and aren’t driving.

Klaipeda itself is 300km from Vilnius, which makes for a (rather boring) 3-hour drive on the country’s main motorway. Otherwise buses and trains will get you there in 4 hours. 

 

Gower Peninsula, Wales

Best for: Vast, stunning beaches and a beautiful escape to connect with nature

Rhossilli Bay, Gower, Wales

UK isn’t on most people’s radars when they think of beach holidays. However, Gower Peninsula in South Wales is packed with a selection of UK’s finest beaches of every kind, all in a relatively small area.

There are small secluded coves hugged by cliffs like Pwll Du and the Blue Pool, or the extremely panoramic long sandy stretches of Rhossili Bay, once voted the 9th best best in the world. At one end is the majestic Worm’s Head, a vaguely worm-shaped island that you can walk to in low tide (and hopefully not get stuck on the way back). Some of the best beaches involve some hiking to reach them, but these paths are often as stunning as the destination, like with the 30-minute walk to Three Cliffs Bay. Most of the Gower beaches are connected by a coastal walk, offering as much walking as your legs will take (or just do bits of it like

Getting to Gower Peninsula

You can take the train to nearby Swansea (a little under 3 hours from London) then use the local buses to reach near most beach destinations. But having a car will certainly make things a lot easier for exploring Gower and hopping its beaches. The drive from London is 4-5 hours.

And if the weather plays along, you can actually enjoy a swim or two, especially as the sea warms up towards late summer / September.

Best time to visit Gower Peninsula

It’s best to visit during the summer, from late May to mid-September. Avoid UK bank holidays (in May and August) for less traffic / crowds.

Hidden Gem Winter Sun Getaways

Lombok, Indonesia

Best for: Paradise beach scenery & surfing at very affordable prices

Tanjung Aan Beach, Lombok, Indonesia

Bali’s lesser-known neighbour, Lombok can confidently claim to have the better beaches – the kind of paradise scenery you might remember from Bounty ads. In fact Lombok pretty much has everything that Bali does for even lower prices and with Islam replacing Hinduism. Don’t worry, you can still readily find beer and cocktails.

Lombok is the sort of island perfectly explored by moped. You can meander from one stunning beach to another via verdant hilly scenery and rice paddies, visit stunning waterfalls or climb the island’s menacing volcano – Mount Rinjani. The southern coast beaches (the likes of Selong Belanak and Tanjung Aan) are especially impressive, the gentle turquoise waves offering a perfect opportunity to learn surfing for a very attractive price.


Best time to visit Lombok

Any time of the year is tropical warm on the island, however if you want to enjoy the most sunshine then aim for April to September. That said, I visited in January and enjoyed sun every single day bar the occasional tropical downpour.

Getting to Lombok

Lombok has an airport mostly serving Jakarta, so your best bet is to connect via the Indonesian capital or hop across from Bali. This can be done with a short flight or a fast boat (~3 hours) or ferry (6 hours) from various ports on Bali. The boats do occasionally get cancelled in bad weather, as happened to us.

So go visit Lombok before it catches up with Bali!

Bohol, Philippines

Best for: Snorkelling, diving & exploring the island’s nature, affordability

Dumaluan Beach, Bohol

Bohol has something for every traveller. You get all the natural beauty combined with relative ease of reaching and exploring the island. It has stunning beaches like Dumaluan (pictured above), most without the crowds you’ll find on the more famous Boracay. It has fantastic snorkelling and scuba diving, if you know where to look. Plus, it’s super affordable and locals are extremely friendly. And if you have more time, Bohol also makes for a good connection for exploring the nearby islands.

There is much to see, from the unique Chocolate Hills in the heart of the island to rice paddies, waterfalls and very cute sleepy little creatures called tarsiers. It’s the sort of island that’s ideal to cruise around on moped and just find scenery and things you like along the way.

Read more: Where to Visit on Bohol – the Perfect Itinerary
Best time to visit Bohol

December to April are the months I recommend as the driest months, however the sea is swimmable all year round.

Getting to Bohol

Option 1 (easiest): Fly into Manila, then get a domestic flight straight to the new Bohol-Panglao Airport. In this case you should consider to spend a night in Manila.

Option 2 (longer): Fly to Cebu Airport (well-connected to key hubs like Singapore, Hong Kong & Dubai), then a quick taxi and a 2-hour ferry to Tagbilaran Pier. There are plenty of operators so you shouldn’t have problems acquiring a ticket. This options is best if you also want to explore the bigger island of Cebu.

Oaxaca Coast, Mexico

Best for: Laidback atmosphere, stunning Pacific beaches & food
Mazunte Beach, Oaxaca Mexico

While Mexico’s Caribbean coast boasts one of the world’s swimming-friendly and warmest seas, the Pacific Coast of Oaxaca offers a more rugged and unspoilt environment. The coast offers countless soft-sand beaches and features a few of the more established resorts to choose from – Zipolite, Mazunte and Huatulco. As in, they’re still low-key and an entirely different world from Cancun, Tulum or even Holbox.

If you can handle the hippies, Mazunte is a real gem of a beach paradise and is good as it gets for pure relaxation. Powerful waves crashing on its picture-perfect sandy shores are the backbeat of this laidback town, and there’s hardly a better place to relax. Otherwise head to Huatulco or Zipolite (the latter is famous for a nudist beach).

There isn’t a whole lot to do other than rest, surf, swim (take care with the currents), watch the sunsets, rest some more and maybe do a tour or two to see the aquatic life or the bioluminescent beach at night. And there’s plenty of excellent seafood available for lower prices than Cancun.

Getting to Oaxaca Coast

From the foodie-famous Oaxaca city, the most common way is to arrive by bus or a collectivo also known as “vomit van”. The latter is about 6 hours but so named for its twisty roads through the sierras. Bus takes longer but is also smoother and can be done overnight. 

Otherwise you can fly into Huatulco (a stunning small airport) from Oaxaca – a very scenic flight on a small aircraft. Or a bigger airport Puerto Escondido that offers flights from a few other destinations like Mexico City. Taxis will take you the rest of the way.

Best time to visit Huatulco

There is no really bad month to visit the region – it’s warm all-year-round – but I’d say October-November take the win.

Tayrona National Park, Colombia

Best for: Beautiful scenery where beach meets the jungle

Tayrona National Park Beaches

Tayrona National park is all about hiking through the humid jungle, spotting a crazy variety of wildlife and finally making it through to one of its beautiful beaches for a well-earned swim. Then perhaps climbing into a hammock at Cabo San Juan Beach to spend a relaxing night or two feeling like you’re in paradise. It’s only the mosquitoes that remind you that it isn’t quite paradise.

There is much to explore here, and beyond a few days in Tayrona the trip combines with a guaranteed-unforgettable trip of Colombia, or at least another, jungle-free seaside option in Cartagena or Rosario Islands.

You could of course go for a day trip from Santa Marta or the backpacker-swarmed Taganaga, but it’s a bit of a rush as the park closes at 5pm. And you’ll be kicking yourself for not falling asleep to the sound of crashing waves at least 1 night.

Read more: The Best of Colombia – a Perfect Itinerary
Getting to Tayrona National Park

The closest city with an airport is Santa Marta, widely connected to the international hubs of Bogota, Medellin and Cartagena. Local buses leave regularly from central Santa Marta & Taganaga. My top tip is to bus it one way and take a speedboat back to Taganaga for a thrilling ride along the lush green coastline. Worth the price over the fairly boring bus ride.

Best time to Visit Tayrona National Park

It’s fine to visit all year round, but for the quieter beaches and more accommodation options aim for September to November.

 

Namhae Island, South Korea

Best for: Gorgeous beaches, rice paddies and a German village

Sangju Silver Sand Beach, Namhae Island, South Korea

This is really is the most off-the-beaten-track beach destination in the collection. South Korea is better known for its modern cities, food and cultural heritage. Few are aware that the country boasts some fantastic coastline, of which the island of Namhae off its southern shores is an absolute gem for a relaxing beach / island stay.

Entering the island, you’re greeted by an impressive Golden-Gate-style bridge, and the rest of the island is a beautiful mix of sleepy traditional villages, hills, Amalfi-like coasts, rice paddies and scenic sandy beaches like Sangju Beach. As with the rest of Korea, the food is exquisite – especially the fresh seafood bibimbaps.

Curiously, on Namhae’s eastern coast you’ll come across a German Village. The village was built for Korean miners and nurses who moved to Germany in the 1950’s and wanted to retire in style back in their homeland. Besides the traditional German architecture, you’ll easily find bratwurst, classic steins of German pilsner – the village even hosts its own Oktoberfest. On a different part of the island you’ll also find a small American village.

For now the island is only really known to domestic tourists, who mostly visit the island in the warm summer months. But the general vibe is very tranquil, and most roads quiet enough to explore the island by bike, if you’re feeling adventurous.

Getting to Namhae Island

Admittedly getting to Namhae isn’t straight forward, but easily worth it as part of a trip to South Korea. There are no trains, so you could either rent a car or get an Intercity bus from Busan (2.5 hours) or Seoul (4.5 hours) – both have international airports. Getting around Namhae can also be done by bus, car, taxi or bicycle if you have the fitness for tackling the hills.

Best time to Visit Namhae

Unlike the other far-away destinations in this list, Namhae isn’t a winter sun destination. Korea enjoys a climate with distinct seasons, so the best time to visit would be between April-May and September-October. Summers are busier and hotter / wetter while winters get fairly cold.


There’s my lovingly-curated alternative beach destination list. I hope it gave you some ideas and if you want to recommend other hidden gem beach destinations you’ve been to that I could add to my bucketlist – let me know in the comments below!

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