From Albania to the Algarve, these 12 beaches are exceptional in the autumn.
Europe’s vast and varied coastline offers beaches for all, whether you’re into all-out resorts or quiet little coves. But summer can be an oppressive time to visit this continent, with crowds flocking to the sparkling waters of the Med to get their sun fix and temperatures edging into almost triple digits.
Thankfully, September through October brings cooler days and quieter coasts, and it’s all still as gorgeous. If you’re booking a coast trip, these are Europe’s best beaches in the fall.
El Charco Verde, La Palma, Canary Islands (Spain)
Off the coast of Africa but part of Spain, the most striking thing about La Palma is the black-sand beaches peppering its coastline. El Charco Verde is a calm little cove with just a small bar selling snacks and a wooden boardwalk connecting the footpath at either side of the beach. It’s a blissful place to spend a sunny day, and there’s ample opportunity for exceptional hiking nearby.
A long crescent-shaped stretch of golden sand makes this one of Corsica’s best beaches. The azure Tyrrhenian Sea—averaging around 70ºF in October—makes for a pleasant swim, but if you’re after something more thrilling, rent a small catamaran or kayak to take to the water. San Ciprianu faces southeast, meaning early risers will be rewarded with stunning sunrises over the sea.
Few Europeans know that Albania is a spectacular beach destination, and those that do arrive in high summer, so fall is pleasingly quiet. Rather than just one beach, Ksamil has a collection of pretty coves and bays, all with white sand and crystalline waters. For maximum seclusion, swim out to one of the tiny, uninhabited islands between Ksamil and the Greek island of Corfu directly opposite. Don’t miss the well-preserved Roman ruins of Butrint nearby.
Caneiros—just 30 minutes from Faro Airport—is a brilliant stretch of fine, yellow sand backed by high cliffs and one of the Algarve’s quieter beaches. Rent a kayak or paddle boat to get out onto the ocean, or explore the caves that delve into the surrounding cliffs. Splash out on oysters, sardines, and lobster at the high-end Rei das Praias restaurant that sits on the sand, then sprawl on one of its plush four-poster daybeds.
Nauthólsvík, Reykjavík (Iceland)
For a beach break with a difference, head to the Icelandic capital. A yellow, sandy beach curves its way around a shallow pool of warm, geothermally heated seawater at Nauthólsvík, just a 10-minute drive from the city center. While the air temperature is unlikely to reach double figures in the height of fall, these warm waters make stripping off at this time of year all the more palatable.
With the longest summers in all of Greece, Crete is an ideal destination for a fall beach break in Europe. On its south side, Elafonissi regularly tops best beaches lists and rightly so: It’s world-famous for the pink-tinged sand that meets the transparent waters of the Mediterranean. When the tide is out, the beach becomes a sandbar leading to a small island with a chapel, and there are plenty of sunbeds for rent on the sand.
Playa de Santibañez, Cadiz (Spain)
Combine your fall adventure with a city break and head to Cadiz in southern Spain. This Andalusian coastal city has a long stretch of sand running south from its center. There are plenty of beachfront hotels in the city itself, but for the best head down to Playa de Santibañez for a wilder and quieter expanse. In the fall you’re likely to spot local artists performing satirical songs on the city streets, practicing for the February carnival.
On the southern coast of Cyprus, Limassol enjoys Europe’s longest summer season, making it the ideal escape for sun seekers in the fall. There’s an average of eight hours of sunshine a day in October, and temperatures average a toasty 73°F. Governor’s Beach—between Larnaca and Limassol, is family friendly, thanks to its shallow waters. The sand here is brown, backed by striking white cliffs, and there are water sports, hotels, restaurants, and shops nearby.
Cannero Riviera, Lake Maggiore (Italy)
Beaches don’t have to be lapped by ocean or sea waves to be worth a trip. Lake Maggiore in Italy’s far north has a number of brilliant stretches of sand, but none matches the one at Cannero Riviera. South facing, it enjoys the sun for much of the day and is backed by snow-capped mountains. Nearby, hike to the Trarego Waterfall for an active day out.
Few Brits make it to the Isles of Scilly, so a beach break here really is off the beaten path. In fall, an average temperature of 57°F is perfect for coastal hiking between the many bays of St. Martin’s, the northernmost island in the archipelago. With its own microclimate thanks to the warm winds of the Gulf Stream, there’s an array of unusual flora here, so the fall foliage colors bring this gorgeous landscape to life.
Castiglione della Pescaia, Tuscany (Italy)
Fall in Italy means one thing: food. Truffles, chocolate, and chestnuts are all in season at this time of year, making it a delicious beach break destination. Head to Castiglione della Pescaia, a medieval town with its 15th-century fortifications still intact and a wide sandy beach. Come in September for the wine festival, or November for an olive oil festival. It’s an ideal base for exploring the historic town of Vetulonia, with its 5th-century walls, and the village of Tirli, where time seems to stand still.
One for wildlife watchers, Norfolk’s Blakeney Point is famous for the colony of gray seals that laze on its sands. Arrive in late fall and you might be lucky enough to see some white, fluffy pups being born. The area is a scenic wildlife reserve with sand dunes, tall grasses, and marshes, home to flocks of European golden plover and terns. Have your binoculars handy.