As a cruise destination chock full of incredible sights, Europe is hard to beat. From the shores of the Baltic right down to the Black Sea, a dizzying array of fabulous temples, spires, churches, castles and cathedrals vie for your attention at every turn. The entire continent is a stunning exercise in time travel, and one trip is never enough.
But sometimes all of this can amount to a kind of cultural overload; something akin to 'cathedral fatigue', for want of a better phrase. The need for a pause, just long enough to draw breath, can be pretty compelling.
So why not give yourself a little breathing space, and take a day out at the beach? Europe's grandest vistas often play surprise host to some beautiful little beach resorts that are ideal for a spot of relaxation, strolling, or platinum chip people watching. And many of these are surprisingly close to where your ship happens to dock as well.
Here's our guide to 10 of the best, most accessible beaches across both northern and Mediterranean Europe.
Blankenberge Beach, Belgium
Around ten minutes by bus from the port of Zeebrugge, this vast, biscuit coloured swathe of sand is drummed by steel grey rollers. It features avant-garde beach clubs set along the sand, and a long, shop and cafe strewn promenade that leads to a fabulous old pier, built in 1933. The pier complex showcases an expansive boardwalk, and has many bars, cafes and restaurants, all sheltered from the elements by Perspex screens. The vibe is loud and raucous rather than serene and relaxing. Subtlety is in short supply, but the overall atmosphere is fun.
Chora Beach, Mykonos
This quite recent, artificial beach links the new cruise berth at Tourlos with the main town. It's a relatively small splay of honey coloured sand that offers fantastic views of the old town, while at the same time remaining just a little detached from the crowds that largely bypass it. Expect tavernas right on the sand, with tables and rickety chairs in electric blue, with checked table cloths overlooking the sparkling briny. The local fare is mainly simple Greek dishes, the overall mood one of small-scale hedonistic.
Skagen Beach, Denmark
Located on a peninsula where the North Sea meets the Baltic, a vast spit of deep, dusky sand looms against what is a fantastic play of light on water at any time of year. It's both surreal and serene, and the bascule lighthouse at one end of it is an outstanding focal point. It's more the sort of beach for strolling and savouring than for actually lounging on, but the sand dunes give it a gently rolling stance, and the nearby town of Skagen has bars, cafes and bistros aplenty.
Villefranch Sur Mer, Cot D'Azur
As small and perfect as a charm bracelet, this graceful seam of slightly gravelly sand yawns beneath an oleander swathed railway viaduct. The warm summertime Mediterranean laps at the edges, making it an ideal, albeit busy, bathing spot. Previously quite spartan, it is now developing a beach and upscale cafe culture of its own, making it as appealing to lounge lizards as sun worshippers. The views of the old town just off to the right are among the finest in the Mediterranean. A true gem.
Downtown Beach, Kusadasi
This beach sprawls between the cruise port of Skala and the downtown marina, in the area where the vast, date lined promenade flanks the waterfront with its fish restaurants, speciality shops, and famous bazaar. The sand itself is heavy underfoot but remarkably clean; there are cafes looking out to diminutive, nearby Pigeon Island, and places to hire deck chairs. Food and drink from the nearby stalls and cafes are remarkably cheap. As most visitors to Kusadasi head to Ephesus for the day, this beautiful beach resort is an ideal, stress free alternative.
Barceloneta Beach, Barcelona
Barceloneta is as cool, brash, swaggering and expansive as the great city it complements so well. Think Segways rolling along a long, winding boardwalk, a vast expanse of sand washed by foaming Mediterranean waves, and swanky cafe bars strung out along the entire, sweeping sprawl of the place. There are quirky, lop sided works of art, and the breeze makes it a nirvana for kite fliers, too. Expensive boutiques and tapas eateries ensure that Barceloneta has a brisk, freewheeling vibe perhaps unmatched anywhere else in Europe. And, if cava tasting and people watching is your thing, this is first class stuff.
Warnemunde Beach, Germany
This beach combines a huge sweep of gently rolling, blinding white sand with a plethora of for hire beach huts, with multi coloured wind breaks. The pleasant, winding paved promenade walk leads to a squat, teapot-shaped glass restaurant that offers fantastic views out over the bay. It's always busy in the summertime with locals and tourists alike who enjoy the long, often surprisingly warm summer nights here. And, as most cruise ships linger in port until late evening, you also have the option of an early dinner at any one of the nearby restaurants.
Las Canteras Beach, Gran Canaria
The dramatic sweep of black volcanic sand, where surfers ride the often furious Atlantic rollers that flay the edges of the bay, is exciting, dramatic people watching territory, with a swathe of palm shaded bars, restaurants and cafes flanking the promenade. Great at any time of the day, this bustling, typically Spanish styled seafront really comes alive at sunset, with street artists and portrait painters vying for your attention. As always in these places, some of the numerous shops along the waterfront are monumentally tacky, and best avoided.
Giardini Naxo, Taormina, Sicily
Broad, flat Giardini Naxos embraces the subtle, indolent dolce vita lifestyle of Italy with some of the more eclectic, edgy side of Sicilian culture. The expanse of sand, sprinkled with thatched beach shades and sun loungers, seems to crouch down into the gently sparkling Mediterranean. This being Italy, you can expect plenty of preening local show ponies displaying themselves sometimes less than conspicuously, and it is perhaps not the best place for anyone remotely prudish. That said, it's also very popular with local families of all age groups, and is near the harbour.
Cannes Plage, Cote D'Azur
Directly adjacent to the cruise ship tender jetty, this beach adjoins the famous Croisette Boulevard to almost cosmetic perfection. Long and slowly unwinding, the vast, honey coloured run of sand is home to many private areas belonging to adjacent luxury hotels, but there are still plenty of upscale eateries, ice cream parlours and beach bars looking out across the sea to satisfy any taste. While Cannes is not a cheap date, the beach area is smart, cultured and classy; a true people watcher's paradise that is easy on the eye and heavy on the fun.