Photo by Silvan Bachmann/Shutterstock
Photo by Ann K. Mueller/Shutterstock
You may be surprised to learn that this dreamy beach is in Germany.
You may know and love these destinations for their bustling urban centers or lush outdoor spaces, but they probably wouldn’t top your list for a top-notch seaside getaway. That is, until now.
Germany might be well known for its castles and South Korea for its shopping, but these places are also home to some of the world’s best beaches. In fact, in unexpected destinations like East Asia and East Africa, incredible beach getaways are hiding in countries you might not expect.
Like their popular counterparts, these sandy stretches of coast have all the snorkeling, wildlife-spotting, and beach-bumming you could hope for, minus the crowds and higher prices of more popular seaside retreats. Enjoy a quiet Greek-style island getaway in Bulgaria, relax post-safari on Tanzania’s white-sand beaches, or take in the views while paragliding over Turkey’s blue lagoon. You might just find your new favorite beach in one of these eight countries that others often overlook when it comes to sun-, surf-, and sand-seeking.
When they aren’t flying south (to spots like Mallorca) for the winter, Germans are known to spend their summer vacation days closer to home on the beaches of Sylt, Germany’s northernmost island. The isle’s Westerland Beach anchors the scene with its grassy, sandy landscapes and views of the North Sea; it also hosts the annual Windsurf World Cup in September. Check out Keitumer Landstrasse, a street along the beach where you can book a strandkorb—a cabana-style seat designed to protect you from the sun, wind, and occasional rainstorm. Or if you’re up for it, drive across the 38-square-mile island to get a view of the Morsum Cliffs, a conservation area set on Sylt’s east side.
Perched on the coast of the Black Sea, Sozopol is a popular vacation destination for Bulgarians because of its ancient ruins, locally caught fish, and great beaches. The town, which was settled by Greek colonists over 7,000 years ago, is one of the oldest in Bulgaria, and with a population of roughly 5,000 people, it’s perfect for crowd-averse travelers who still want a Greek-ish experience. When you’re not sleeping on the sand, explore the streets of the Old Town for a view of the wooden buildings and painted facades characteristic of the national revival architectural style, or head to the Southern Fortress Wall, which dates back to the 5th century C.E. There’s also an archeological museum and a number of art galleries worth checking out.
Akhziv Beach, on Israel’s northern Mediterranean coast, is both a historical treasure and a fine place to swim. It’s surrounded by the Akhziv National Park, where you can visit the remains of an ancient biblical town, while the family-friendly beach is connected to two huge lagoons—one deep, one shallow—and is a haven for sea turtles, which lay eggs there during the summer months. Tip: If you head a bit north, you’ll reach Akhziv Land, an unofficial “micronation” founded by Eli Avivi—an Iranian-born sailor turned self-proclaimed president—in the 1970s. (Before Avivi passed away in May 2018, he’d personally stamp the passports of anyone who visited.)
For clear water, white sand, and “disco ponies” (yes, really), head east to South Korea’s Naksan Beach. Located at the base of the Seoraksan Mountains on the nation’s northeastern coast and surrounded by pine forests, this serene beach is primed for relaxation by day. After dark, take a ride around town with a disco pony: a horse-drawn carriage covered in twinkling lights. Or check out Muchangpo Beach on South Korea’s west side. While not especially known for its beauty, the beach features a natural phenomenon called the “Moses Miracle.” A few times a year in late spring or early summer, the ocean recedes, revealing much of the seafloor. At the Muchangpo Mystic Sea Road Festival here in August, you can also participate in fishing and shellfish-catching events, and catch a torch parade and other cultural performances.
Nida Beach sits on the border of Russia and Lithuania on the curving Curonian Spit—a 61-mile-long, narrow sand dune that separates the Baltic Sea from the Curonian Lagoon. A UNESCO World Heritage site and a Lithuanian national park, the beach is home to some of Europe’s highest sand dunes, which are so fragile you’re not allowed to walk on them. The landscape here has inspired many painters; a local inn called Hermann Blode (now a museum) housed an expressionist colony during the 19th century.
Go for a two-for-one vacation and end your safari at Nungwi Beach, on the northern tip of the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar. Palm trees, white-sand beaches, and crystal-clear blue waters aren’t all this destination has to offer. There’s also the Mnarani Marine Turtle Conservation Lagoon, where you can observe sea turtles in a natural coral pool, and a nearby fish market, where you can enjoy local delicacies. A little farther south is the equally charming Matemwe Beach. There, swim or snorkel to nearby Changuu Island. The spot is also known as Prison Island, named after a prison built in 1893 that was only used as a quarantine center for yellow fever. Now it’s just a great place to watch giant tortoises roam in their natural habitat.
The French Riviera may get all the attention, but the Turkish Riviera, which borders the Mediterranean Sea, is equally worthy of notice. The can’t-miss Ölüdeniz Beach (which translates to “blue lagoon”) is named for its sparkling turquoise and aquamarine waters. Go paragliding for the best views, scuba dive to explore the bay, or simply hang out by the lagoon. If you feel like making a trek, the amber-colored walls of the Saklikent Gorge—the second-largest gorge in Europe—and the emerald-green river that runs through it are well worth the 40-minute drive from the beach.
Plage les Aiguades, or Aiguades Beach, sits on a forest-lined, turquoise bay just outside of Béjaïa, a port city on Algeria’s Mediterranean coast. It is protected by the Yemma Gouraya Mountain, which locals claim looks like the sleeping figure of the spirit of the mountain, Mother Gouraya. For a change from relaxing on the beach, hike through the neighboring Gouraya Biosphere Reserve, or climb to the top of Pic des Singes, a habitat for the endangered Barbary macaque, with a great view of the bay below.
This article originally appeared online in July 2018; it was updated on November 13, 2019, to include current information.
Sign up for the Daily Wander newsletter for expert travel inspiration and tips
Please enter a valid email address.