We’ve brushed the sand off and smoothed on the aloe to present the 20 most breathtaking beaches in the world. Sure, we’ve factored in the requisite picks on the most superlative stretches of dreamy Caribbean, Mediterranean, Hawaiian, and South Pacific shores, but we’ve turned up finds along some more unexpected coasts, too, from Africa to Australia—and beyond. So pack that sunscreen and swimsuit, and set off to explore these 20 incredible beaches around the world.
1. Whitehaven Beach
- Location: Whitsunday Island, Australia
- Come for: access to the Great Barrier Reef and silica sand that’s as white as snow
Beaches simply don’t come more photogenic than this. Head to Whitsunday Island, the largest (in size) of Australia’s Whitsundays, where Whitehaven Beach has some of the brightest and whitest sands on the planet. The silica in the sand is credited for its striking color, but it does double duty to ensure that it doesn’t retain heat from the sweltering Aussie sun, making it a glorious place for a barefoot stroll. The glassy, clear water—reaching out into the Great Barrier Reef—makes for a refreshing dip, and tidal currents sculpt the sand to varying depths, creating gorgeous ocean swirls of greens and blues.
The government is working to preserve its the beach’s pristine reputation through initiatives like the Whitsunday Climate Change Innovation Hub, run by the Whitsunday Regional Council, whose “Healthy Heart” project works with marine tourism operators, marinas, and island resorts to lower their carbon footprint.
How to get to Whitehaven Beach
From mainland Australia, take a one-hour boat ride from Airlie Beach or an hour-long ride from Shute Harbour port to Hamilton Island, where a 10-minute boat ride will takes visitors to Whitsunday Island. Alternatively, travelers can fly directly to Hamilton Island from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Cairns.
2. Ipanema Beach
- Location: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
- Come for: lively energy that brings plenty of fun-in-the-sun opportunities
For generations, iconic Ipanema has been pictured in travel brochures and on billboards around the world, tempting tourists to its golden sands on the edge of Rio de Janeiro. And for good reason—Ipanema is a quintessential Rio experience. This isn’t a spot for seclusion and serenity: Residents descend in droves during any spare moment to sun themselves, play volleyball, or surf. But the views of the Dois Irmãos mountains and tangible party vibes here are simply unmissable.
How to get to Ipanema Beach
Airports in Houston, Atlanta, Miami, and New York City (JFK) all have direct flights to Rio de Janeiro. From there, take a 10-minute taxi ride or 20-minute subway ride on the Metrô Rio to Ipanema.
3. Waimea Bay Beach Park
- Location: O‘ahu, Hawai‘i
- Come for: the chance to see top surfers ride mind-boggling waves
Waimea Bay is famous as the home of “The Eddie,” a big-wave winter surfing tournament that sees the world’s top surfers compete on waves reaching heights of up to 30 feet. Get a spot on the wide, yellow-sand beach to watch the spectacle of surfers tackling huge waves. As the waves subside in the summer, conditions are perfect for beginner surfers or for snorkelers to dive into the underwater world beyond the sand (where they might encounter a pod of dolphins or a solitary sea turtle). Adrenaline junkies should beeline for the huge black rock at the southern end of the beach, from which they can plunge into the cobalt blue ocean, some 25 feet below.
After getting a fill of the waves, consider spending some time volunteering with organizations like Sustainable Coastlines Hawai‘i or the Surfrider Foundation to help the vacation destination reach its sustainability goals.
How to get to Waimea Bay
More than 20 U.S. cities have direct flights to Honolulu’s airport on O‘ahu. From there, drive 30 miles north to reach Waimea Bay.
For more help planning your trip to the Hawai’i: 13 of the Most Beautiful Beaches in Hawai‘i
4. Lister Ellenbogen
- Location: Sylt, Germany
- Come for: white sands, grassy dunes, and Nordic views
At the far north of Germany, the island of Sylt proposes an intoxicating mix of glamour, luxury, and scenic nature. While it’s tempting to make way for the more popular 18-mile-long stretch of sand at Weststrand, the beaches fronting the main town of List are equally appealing, with their white sands and grassy dunes, and are far more sheltered, too, lapped by the calm waters of the Wadden Sea. Pick up a fresh fish sandwich from the Gosch Lister Fischhaus in the harbor, and head to the sands to enjoy views that stretch across to Denmark.
How to get to Lister Ellenbogen
The fastest way to get to Sylt is by plane, and several airports in Germany (in addition to Zurich and Luxembourg) fly directly to the island’s airport. Another alternative would be to take the car ferry from the nearby Danish island of Rømo, which will take travelers to Sylt in about 40 minutes.
You can also reach this island by train, thanks to the Hindenburgdamm causeway connecting mainland Germany to Sylt. Buy tickets via the Deutsche Bahn booking system.
5. Matira Beach
- Location: Bora Bora, French Polynesia
- Come for: picturesque sunsets away from the busy resort scene
On the western side of a long, thin peninsula at the southern tip of Bora Bora, Matira Beach is the island’s best publicly accessible stretch of sand. It’s popular among the locals for a sunset stroll and feels a world away from the glitzy resorts that monopolize many beaches on the island. The white grains are silky soft underfoot, and the calm, glittering ocean is astonishingly clear. When the sun sets, dip into one of the low-key beachfront restaurants, order a cocktail, and toast the day’s end with the fiery display on the horizon.
How to get to Matira Beach
There are no direct flights to Bora Bora outside of French Polynesia. Fly to Tahiti’s Faa’a International Airport—there are direct flights from Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles—and then take a 45-minute flight to Bora Bora’s airport from there.
6. Grand Anse Beach
- Location: Grenada
- Come for: a diving experience boasting underwater treasures
Grenada’s very best beach (yes, we said it!) has almost two miles of dazzling white sand, lapped by calm, warm Caribbean tides. In between the ocean and a leafy resort area (with a good selection of hotels and beach bars), Grand Anse is a tough spot to leave. But there’s so much to see under the ocean’s surface: Get a dive certificate with Dive Grenada, or snorkel to see the stingrays, seahorses, and sea turtles. (For more advanced divers, shipwrecks on the seabed provide much exploration, too.)
How to get to Grand Anse Beach
Fly directly to Grenada’s airport from New York (JFK), Charlotte, or Miami. From the airport, the beach is a five-minute taxi ride away.
7. Natadola Beach
- Location: Viti Levu, Fiji
- Come for: surfing conditions beloved by beginners and pros
Beautiful beaches are bountiful in the Fijian archipelago, but with yellow sand sloping into a sublime turquoise ocean, Natadola Beach is one of the finest. The fact that there’s no need to stay at one of the five-star resorts (located at the strand’s southern end) for access is a huge plus, too. There’s good swimming here, but there are also decent waves inside the bay for beginner surfers looking for practice; the outer area has bigger waves for the more experienced. Locals hawking seashells and coconuts wander up and down the beach, and for around $30, travelers can opt to amble along the shoreline on horseback.
How to get to Natadola Beach
The easiest way to get to Viti Levu is to fly directly from San Francisco or Los Angeles to Nadi, on island’s the western side. Natadola Beach is a 45-minute taxi ride south.
8. Praia de Augas Santas
- Location: Galicia, Spain
- Come for: spectacular landforms that disappear with the tide
Arrive at high tide and Spain’s Praia de Augas Santas is nowhere to be seen. Wait until the tide recedes, though, as it reveals a seascape marked by spectacular natural sculptures atop the wet golden sands. The ocean currents and brisk coastal winds here have been carving the rocky shoreline for centuries, resulting in a series of impressive natural archways and buttresses that have given this beach its other name: Cathedrals Beach. At low tide, walk among the sculptures (access is via a set of steps from the cliffs above); some of them are nearly 90 feet tall. Note: While swimming is permitted here, it’s essential to be aware of potentially dangerous tidal times.
How to get to Praia de Augas Santas
Praia de Augas Santas is in the northeast corner of Galicia, which makes Asturias’s airport actually closer than Galicia’s. Get there by flying into any one of Spain’s major airport hubs, like Madrid or Barcelona, and then flying to Asturias. After landing in Asturias, drive an hour west of the airport to reach the beach.
9. Seven Mile Beach
- Location: Grand Cayman
- Come for: a beach getaway that’s all about relaxing
Awards come easy to this Grand Cayman gem—Seven Mile Beach has been lauded as one of the best in the Caribbean on numerous occasions— although it’s actually about five miles long. It offers a striking stretch of bright, white, soft sand that’s well served by restaurants, bars, and swank resorts, with plenty of activities on hand, like parasailing or snorkeling excursions just off the coast, at the Cemetery Reef.
How to get to Seven Mile Beach
There are around 20 departure cities that fly directly to Grand Cayman—it might be best to go through Miami, where multiple carriers fly numerous times a day between the two destinations. Grand Cayman’s airport is a 20-minute bus ride or 10-minute drive to Seven Mile Beach.
For more help planning your trip to the Carribean: Which Caribbean Island Should You Visit?
10. Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint
- Where: Bandon, Oregon
- Come for: dramatic landscapes that provide some much-needed quiet and solitude
The rugged rocks strung out along the Pacific at Oregon’s Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint are certainly striking, but it’s not simply about the views here. Miles of soft golden sand stretch in either direction, affording plenty of space to set down a towel in relative solitude. Bird-watchers will enjoy scouting nesting seabirds atop those iconic sea stacks, while fishers/foragers can harvest the shellfish that cling to their crevices. (Be sure to purchase a license first).
Tip: Don’t miss one of the numerous Circles in the Sand events scheduled throughout the year, when visitors can walk along the labyrinthine patterns in the sand, designed by local sand artist Denny Dyke.
How to get to Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint
Those landing in Portland will need to rent a car and drive about 250 miles southeast to get to the beach. But travelers who live in San Francisco or Denver are in luck—United offers once-a-day flights on most days to the Southwest Oregon Regional Airport from those cities. From the regional airport, Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint is only a 45-minute drive or hour-long bus ride away.
11. Long Beach
- Location: Koh Rong, Cambodia
- Come for: a postcard-worthy island experience
Often compared to the unspoiled beaches of Thailand some 30 years ago by nostalgic backpackers, Cambodia’s islands have some spectacular stretches of serene and secluded sand indeed. On the island of Koh Rong, Long Beach is the star, with more than four miles of white, powdery grains. It’s a 40-minute boat ride from mainland Cambodia (at Sihanoukville), or stay on the shores at a beachfront hotel (try the bungalows at Sok San Beach Resort) to step out of bed and right onto the sand.
How to get to Long Beach
There are no direct flights from the United States to Cambodia. The best option is to fly to Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, or Ho Chi Minh City, and then fly to the Cambodian provincial airport of Sihanoukville. Koh Rong is a 40-minute ferry ride away.
12. Hidden Beach
- Location: Marietas Islands, Mexico
- Come for: a beach within a crater—need we say more?
This remote yellow-sand beach, tucked away in Mexico’s Marietas Islands National Park, is accessible solely by swimming or kayaking through a tunnel in the rock at low tide. The aptly named Hidden Beach—also called Playa del Amor—is a truly surreal spot. It’s essentially a gaping, nearly 100-foot-wide hole in the earth, rumored to have been created when the Mexican government tested weapons on the island.
Facilities are nonexistent here, but outside of peak season, so are the crowds. Come via a small group speedboat excursion (it’s about an hour from nearby Puerto Vallarta), and travelers might find the whole hole
How to get to Hidden Beach
Plenty of large U.S. cities offer direct flights to Puerto Vallarta (PVR). Unfortunately, the hour-long boat ride to Marietas Islands is only possible for those chartering a boat or with a tour operator.
For more help planning your trip to Mexico: The 9 Most Beautiful Beaches in Mexico
- Location: St. Bart’s
- Come for: sunbathing and celebrity spotting
In the Saint-Jean quarter of ritzy St. Bart’s, there’s not one beach, but two, separated by the luxurious Hollywood-star hangout Eden Rock Hotel. The white-sand stretches sit within a clamshell-shaped Caribbean bay with gentle waves, backed by a smattering of hotels for all budgets. The far western end of the beach is cordoned off, as the tiny St. Bart’s airport landing strip starts almost on the sand, but there’s plenty of room for sunbathing farther east, and the tranquil seas make for excellent swimming and sailing territory.
How to get to Saint-Jean
There aren’t any direct flights from the U.S. mainland to St. Bart’s, so the best way to get to the island is to fly to Princess Juliana Airport on St. Maarten, where more than a dozen airports in the eastern half of the United States offer direct flights. From St. Maarten, travelers can either fly or take a ferry to St. Bart’s. Alternatively, visitors can fly to San Juan, Puerto Rico, and reach Saint-Jean via Tradewind.
14. Machir Bay
- Location: Islay, Scotland
- Come for: a diverse bird scene that will delight your inner bird-watcher
Backed by grassy dunes, Machir Bay offers the best stretch of sand on the Scottish island of Islay and some spectacular coastal walks, too. Bird-watchers may glimpse geese, guillemots, gannets, golden eagles, and even puffins here. Given its northern reaches, however, sunshine is never a guarantee, and temperatures are far from balmy (rarely topping 60 degrees, even in the summer). But dramatic Scottish skies only add to the beauty when the weather’s not sunny. A tour of and tasting at the nearby Kilchoman Distillery is one way to warm up: Buy a bottle of scotch and enjoy a beachfront sundowner.
How to get to Machir Bay
Take a flight from New York (JFK or EWR), Orlando, Washington, D.C. (IAD), Chicago, or Boston to Edinburgh. After landing, drive 3.5 hours to the Kennacraig ferry terminal, where a 3-hour ferry ride takes travelers to Islay.
- Location: Naxos, Greece
- Come for: those Mamma Mia! landscapes
Naxos has brilliant beaches, so it’s hard for sunseekers to go wrong on this Cycladic Greek island. Plaka is the best of the bunch, with its shimmering yellow sand and tempting turquoise water. The 2.5-mile stretch has a wide variety of beach bars and restaurants serving fresh grilled fish and Mediterranean salads, and there’s plenty of seafront accommodation on hand. It’s a prime sunbathing beach; for those wanting to get out on the water, it’s possible to rent a paddleboat or stand-up paddleboard or learn to windsurf or wakeboard with Plaka Watersports. (Tip: For those seeking a little extra freedom, the northern end of the beach tends to be where the nudists congregate.)
How to get to Plaka
Reach Athens by flying directly from a big city hub like Chicago, Atlanta, or New York (JFK or EWR). Take a regional flight to Naxos from there for the faster route, or take a ferry from the nearby port of Piraeus for the scenic route. From the Naxos ferry port, Plaka beach is a 30-minute bus ride south.
For more help planning your trip to the Greek islands: Which Greek Islands Should You Visit?
16. Praia da Adraga
- Location: Sintra-Cascais Natural Park, Portugal
- Come for: a local-approved beach getaway on the Iberian Peninsula
If sun-kissed, gold-hued sand and reliable surfing waves are what you’re after, look no further than Portugal’s Praia da Adraga, which is protected within the country’s Sintra-Cascais Natural Park. Idyllic scenery abounds with rocky outcrops in the ocean, sea-carved archways on the beach, and mossy cliffs. Only an hour’s drive from Lisbon, it’s a popular weekend spot for locals, but midweek, it’s a relatively quiet little cove. Try the excellent Restaurante da Adraga, serving seafood stews, grilled fish, and fresh crab to hungry sunbathers.
How to get to Praia da Adraga
A handful of U.S. airports—including San Francisco, Chicago, and New York City—have direct flights to Lisbon. Take the train or bus and go 20 miles west to reach Sintra-Cascais Natural Park. From its entrance, there are buses that drop visitors at points around the park, including Praia da Adraga.
- Location: Sicily, Italy
- Come for: coastal city charm and delightful mosaics
The roughly 1.25-mile-long curve of fine yellow sand that fronts the coastal city of Cefalù is among Sicily’s best beaches. Backed by an enormous sandstone rock formation, with a medieval cathedral presiding over its northern end, it’s a picturesque place to while away the day.
Spend a morning discovering Old Town, then follow its winding lanes as they spill down to the waterfront and settle in the sun for an afternoon on the beach. The water is clear and pleasantly warm, and you can rent umbrellas and lounge chairs. When the day is done, retire to one of the traditional Italian restaurants overlooking the ocean at the strip’s northern end—ideal spots to pair fare with good Italian wine.
How to get to Cefalù
There aren’t any direct flights from the United States to Sicily, so hop on over to Europe, where there are plenty of direct flights interspersed throughout the continent. The best bet is to fly into Palermo and then take the one-hour train to the beach.
- Location: Çeşme, Turkey
- Come for: ideal windsurfing conditions
This mile-long stretch of Blue Flag beach is a preferred vacation spot for locals, offering a less touristy alternative to busy Bodrum further south. Backed by the town of Çeşme and facing the Aegean Sea, the beach has plenty of facilities—lounge chairs, beach bars, and seafront hotels—and is a top spot for windsurfing, too.
How to get to Ilıca
- Location: Dolfynstrand, Namibia
- Come for: a desert and sea combo that’s hard to find anywhere else
It’s impossible to see where the beach ends and the desert begins here because the sands at Namibia’s seaside resort at Dolfynstrand sit right on the edges of Namib-Naukluft National Park—the oldest desert on the planet. Unsurprisingly with all that vastness, the beach feels enormous, and thanks to its remote location in the world’s most sparsely populated country, it’s unlikely travelers will need to jostle for space. A morning fog often lingers here through lunchtime—hence the numerous shipwrecks strewn on the sand further along the coastline—making it a destination for late morning snoozes and long afternoons at the beach. Get your wildlife fix at nearby Walvis Bay, a 30-minute drive, where thousands of stinking seals slump about on the sand.
How to get to Dolfynstrand
No U.S. flights travel straight to Namibia. Fly from New York (EWR) or Atlanta to Johannesburg (JNB). Airlink offers flights to Walvis Bay (WVB) from there.
20. Varkala Beach
- Location: Kerala, India
- Come for: relaxed vibes and holy waters
The Indian state of Kerala has a distinctly laid-back vibe compared to much of the country, and its beach culture is no exception. Varkala Beach, in the town of Varkala, at Kerala’s southern end, is a popular hangout for travelers and locals alike—little wonder, given that it’s believed bathing in the ocean here can wash away sins. The wide, yellow stretch of sand is backed by orange cliffs with tufts of dark green grass. This busy little tourist town has accommodations for all budgets and a superb selection of restaurants serving South Indian dishes like dosas and piquant fish curries.
How to get to Varkala Beach
Varkala beach’s closest airport is Thiruvananthapuram, about 30 miles away. Travelers can get there by taking a flight from Chicago, San Francisco, New York (JFK or EWR), or Washington, D.C. (IAD) to New Delhi, and then fly to Thiruvananthapuram from there. Visitors can reach Varkala via a 30-minute train ride with Indian Railways.
This article was originally published in December 2018. It was updated in May 2023 with new information.
Chloe Arrojado contributed reporting.