Spain’s sunshine coast, or Costa del Sol, which stretches from Malaga in the east to Estepona in the west, gets most of the attention from vacationers looking for a sun-soaked getaway, and justifiably so; the beaches are wide and golden, the water is warm, and sunshine is guaranteed.
The only trouble is, you’ll be enjoying the beach with several thousand other people (and several hundred beachfront hotels). If your style is a little more wild and rugged, or peaceful and secluded, you’d do well to venture further afield to explore some of Spain’s other 3,000 miles of beautiful coastline. We’ve picked out some of the best sandy beaches in Spain for you to enjoy.
Tamariu, Costa Brava
Running between Lloret de Mar and the French border, the Costa Brava (or wild coast) is rugged and beautiful and has inspired numerous artists over the years, including Salvador Dali, who made the area his home. The twisting corners of the coast road offer indelible views of pine-covered cliffs and sparkling blue ocean, revealing glimpses of sandy coves far below.
One such cove is Tamariu, a fishing village turned holiday spot that still has plenty of local charm. The water is calm, warm and ideal for swimming or for kids to play. The beach is also popular with divers, as there are several underwater caves to explore nearby. On a coast that can often be windy, Tamariu is sheltered by its high cliffs, and it gets the sun all day long—so make sure you bring plenty of sunscreen and an umbrella, as shade can be limited. The local way to avoid the midday sun is to head inside for lunch; our favorite spot is El Clot dels Mussols at Hotel Tamariu.
Altafulla, Costa Dorada
A short drive south of Barcelona (close enough for an easy day trip), is the sweet fishing town Altafulla. What you’ll notice as soon as you arrive at the beach is the minimal amount of development along the sand—a real rarity in a country famous for building big along the shoreline.
What you have here is golden sand, gentle waves, and some excellent beachfront restaurants offering local dishes such as Arros Negre, rice cooked in squid ink and loaded with crab, shrimp, and other mouthwatering seafood. The best way to enjoy Altafulla? Plan a long lunch overlooking the water. Remember to make a reservation, especially at weekends, when local families head down to the beach for their weekly get-together.
After lunch, you can take a walk up to the Roman ruins of Els Munts (a Unesco Heritage site) that overlook the beach to the north, or Tamarit castle which presides over the south end of the beach. Whichever you choose, you’ll have earned a nap in the golden sand and a swim in the Mediterranean before you head for home.
El Palmar, Costa de la Luz
Wide, golden and windswept, backed by picturesque sand dunes and overlooked by a stone tower El Palmar beach has long been a favorite with local surfers. Part of the Costa de la Luz, Andalucia’s coastal region, it’s huge—over 3 miles long—and there’s not a high rise hotel to be found.
Local surf shops like On the Sea offer equipment rental and lessons, so a trip to El Palmar is the perfect opportunity to try your hand at the sport. There’s little protection from the elements, and if the wind picks up it’s not the best sunbathing beach, but the focus at El Palmar is on getting out on the water. If that sounds like too much work, there are several beach bars along the road where you can grab a cold beer and simply enjoy watching the surfers at work.
From sunset onwards, the bars and restaurants attract locals, surfers, and vacationers alike, and there’s a fun nightlife scene here during the summer months.
Praia das Rodas, Galicia
Wedged between Portugal in the south and Asturias to the east, Galicia is often forgotten by vacationers, but it offers some of the most beautiful coastline in all of Spain. The beaches here range from rugged and windswept to sheltered bays, and the seafood on offer is among the best in the world.
Make the journey to Praia das Rodas, and you might even forget you’re in Spain at all. The water here is Caribbean-esque—clear, turquoise and luminous—and the sand is white and powdery. It’s still the Atlantic though, which means water temperatures cool enough to give you a shock.
Despite its beauty Praia de Rodas is not overrun with tourists—partly because it’s a little hard to reach. The beach is on Las Islas Cies, a 45-minute boat trip from the town of Baiona, but trust us when we say it’s worth the trip. There’s little to no development beyond a wooden boardwalk and a restaurant serving up excellent seafood.
La Concha, San Sebastián
The Basque region of northwest Spain is world famous for its dining scene, with more Michelin stars per capita than any other place in the world. Visitors crowd into San Sebastian’s bars night after night to partake in imaginative pintxos (bite-size snacks usually served atop a slice of bread).
When daytime rolls around, however, the Basque Country still has a lot to offer. The forested hills that surround San Sebastian hide a wealth of hiking trails—the area is home to a section of the legendary Camino de Santiago—and there are several excellent beaches too. One of our favorites is La Concha, or Shell Beach, which hugs San Sebastian’s downtown. It might be right in the heart of the city, but its a beautiful sandy crescent with expansive views over the Atlantic, bookended by green hills at either side.
On summer days, locals and tourists share the sand while boats zip along the bay, and as the sun fades the scene moves to the beachfront promenade, where you’ll find outdoor cafes with friends enjoying a drink before dinner, musicians performing, and couples strolling hand in hand. What’s more, you’re only a few minute’s walk from those fabulous pintxos. What could be better?