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10 of the Best Alternative Beach Holidays

John Mengel

There’s nothing wrong with following the well-trodden path and heading on a package holiday to the Algarve or to the Canary Islands but sometimes you want to incorporate an element of adventure into your seaside getaway. From secluded tropical strands to unexpected European beaches right on our doorstep, you’ll find your new dream destination here. Be prepared for your travel bucket list to grow as you discover these alternative beach holidays.

1. Gromitz, Ostholstein, Germany

Germany is well known for football, history and its extremely reliable public transport, among other reasons. It’s safe to say that the majority of tourists visiting Germany do not come for its beaches. Probably because the only part of the country with a coastline is the north coast. Grömitz, on the Baltic Sea Coast, is a popular holiday destination for Germans but they have kept it relatively secret from the rest of the world. It is located on the Bay of Lübeck. The town is mostly centred around the 8km beach which is lined by a promenade. On the beach, you can rent a Strandkorb (beach chair) or just lay your towel on the white sand. There are plenty of bars, restaurants and cafes to choose from along the promenade and further into the little town. Boat trips go from Grömitz to other towns on the Baltic Sea Coast or you can do a 1hr round trip and admire the German coastline from the water. Hansa-Park theme park is worth a visit if you have a day to spare and it is only 20 km from Grömitz. The city of Lübeck is less than an hour away. It is famous for its Christmas market but has a lot to offer during the summer too. The closest international airport to Grömitz is Hamburg Airport, just less than two hours away. Of course, there is reliable public transport available to get you from Hamburg to Grömitz.

2. Inis Mor, Aran Islands, Galway

You couldn’t have a list of alternative beach holiday destinations without paying homage to our very own idyllic coastline. The Aran Islands are three Islands off the west coast of Ireland in Galway Bay. Inis Mór is the biggest of the three (Inis Mór literally means “The Big Island”). The island is dotted with white sandy beaches. Surfers flock to some of the more exposed beaches while some more sheltered beaches like Kilmurvey beach are perfect to set up camp for the day. If you want to incorporate some culture into your beach holiday Dún Aonghasa is a prehistoric hillfort on the southwest of the island. The best way to reach it is by bike to take in the breath-taking scenery along the way. Bike rentals are available on the island. There are plenty of cosy pubs on Inis Mór as well, for a well-earned pint after that cycle. There are B&Bs, hostels, a camping and glamping site and a hotel on the island so there is accommodation to suit all tastes and budgets. Ferries to Inis Mór operate from Doolin in Co. Clare or Rossaveal in Co. Galway.

3. Tarifa, Spain

If an action-packed kitesurfing holiday appeals to you Tarifa on Spain’s Costa de la Luz is just the place for you. The Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea meet at Tarifa. You can walk out into the sea along a walkway and see the calm, blue Mediterranean Sea to one side, and the rough, windy Atlantic Ocean on the other. The contrast is striking. High winds all year around make Tarifa a perfect kitesurfing and windsurfing location. The World Kite Surf Championships actually take place on Tarifa’s Playa de los Lances. Playa Chica is a beach sheltered from the high winds that is perfect for a day of sunbathing. Tarifa is a great area to see some interesting wildlife too. There is a bird reserve there or you can observe the variety of sea life living in the two oceans. Whales, dolphins and orcas are regular visitors to the town. The British territory of Gibraltar is just an hour east of Tarifa and there are regular daily boats across the Strait of Gibraltar to Tangier in Morocco if you decide to do a bit of travelling on your holiday. Just don’t forget your passport as you will be leaving the EU! There is no airport in Tarifa. Seville or Malaga airports are the closest.

4. Asilah, Morocco

Places in Morocco like Marrakesh have been gaining popularity as a tourist destination in recent years. The friendly people, the amazing food and the great value definitely play a part in its growing popularity. One beautiful place that remains off the beaten track is the seaside town of Asilah. Asilah lies on the west coast of Morocco, just south of the port city of Tangier. Given its proximity to Spain Asilah more popular among Spanish tourists. The town is built along a huge sandy beach and is always bustling with activity with food markets at night and markets during the day selling jewellery, clothes and trinkets. While the beach by the town is nice, just outside the town is Paradise Beach. The name doesn’t lie. This beach is paradise. To get there you can get a taxi some of the way and walk or get a local to give you a lift on the back of a donkey cart or in a trailer on the back of a motorbike. The journey takes less than 30 minutes. Usually, you will organise a price with the driver beforehand and he will take you back to the town at an arranged time. As Morocco is a Muslim country is not readily available (except for in big cities). Instead try some Moroccan mint tea, a popular beverage among locals. While most of the women from the area wear hijabs there is no obligation for tourists to do so. The closest airport to Asilah is in Tangier. From Tangier, you can also get the boat to Tarifa in Spain.

5. Bishopston, Swansea, Wales

The Gower Peninsula is in south Wales in the Bristol Channel. Bishopston is a small village on the south of the peninsula, 10 kilometres south west of Swansea. There are three beaches there: Caswell, Brandy Cove and Pwlldu Bay. Each beach has its own unique offering. Caswell is a surfing beach but is safe for swimming and there is a lifeguard on duty during the summer. Brandy Cove is a tiny cove that leads up to a forest. There are many stories about smuggling that used to go on through this cove. Pwlldu Bay is a very remote beach with just three small paths leading down to it. There used to be a limestone quarry there and a tiny village. Two buildings (previously the two pubs) from this past village remain and are now private residences. There are holiday cottages and a guesthouse in Bishopston. Swansea Airport is only 5 kilometres from Bishopston.

6. Parga, Greece

This secluded town on the west of mainland Greece proves that you don’t need a Greek island to experience serene peaceful beaches. Parga is surrounded by mountains on three sides and sea on the other. You can look out at the small islands dotted around the bay. There are several activities available on Lichnos beach, Parga’s longest beach. There are water sports including jet skiing and canoeing, cafes, restaurants and some accommodation options near the beach. If windsurfing interest you Valtos beach is where you’re looking for. If you are looking for an adventure Limanki Valtos beach is only accessible by boat or canoe. This little cove will let you admire Parga from a different angle. There is no airport in Parga. Corfu and Preveza are the closest airports and Thessaloniki and Athens airports are a bit further away.

7. Yvonand, Switzerland

Landlocked Switzerland might not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of beach holidays but Yvonand, on the southwestern shore of Lake Neuchâtel, has a lot to offer. The white sandy beaches are all surrounded by lush greenery. Again, there are several water activities on like peddle boating and windsurfing. The surrounding woodlands are perfect for hikes or cycles. It is possible to hike or cycle to Grande Cariçaie nature conservation area or else take a train there. Grandson Castle is a 30 minute train ride away and Vallorbe, where you will find the magnificent Vallorbe Waterfall, is an hour away by train. There are two campsites in Yvonand, both by beaches, as well as a number of hotels. The closest airport is Bern airport which is just over two hours from Yvonand.

8. Ribersborg, Malmö, Sweden

Right in Sweden’s third largest city is Ribersborg beach. The sandy beach stretches about two kilometres and has restaurants, showers, green areas and barbecues. From the sand, you can admire the Malmö coastline or look across the water at Copenhagen. There is a lot more than just a beach in Malmö, though. If you like history and culture visit Malmö Castle where you will find not one but three museums, and an aquarium too. When Malmö was part of Denmark this castle was the seat of Danish kings. Stortorget square is Malmö’s oldest and largest square. The city’s administrative buildings are here. Slottsträdgården borders the moat of Malmö Castle. Organic vegetables are grown and sold here. There are several events on in the Slottsträdgården including the Malmö Flower Show, which happens in June. There is an airport in Malmö but if you want a direct flight from Dublin, Copenhagen airport is less than 30 minutes away by train.

9. Ryde, Isle of Wight, England

Off the southern coast of England is the Isle of Wight. The islands southerly position means the weather is usually pretty good. The biggest town on the island is Ryde and it is nicknamed the ‘Gateway to the Island’ because the ferry port is here. Sandy beaches stretch right along the town. As well as fabulous beaches Ryde has a selection of shops, galleries and museums. There is a funfair, an ice rink a bowling alley all along the esplanade and a lake where you can do canoeing just before you reach the beaches. To see more of the Isle of Wight a vintage steam train goes from Ryde through the surrounding countryside. If you like interesting modes of transport the worlds oldest hovercraft operator runs a hovercraft between the mainland and the Isle of Wight. This is the last hovercraft being operated in the UK. There are also regular ferries going to and from the mainland as well. There are plenty of accommodation options including hotels, B&Bs and a campsite. If flying to the Isle of Wight Southampton, London and Bristol airports are the closest.

10. Varna, Bulgaria

If good weather, long sandy beaches, a rich culture, and good value appeal to you Varna in Bulgaria might be just the place for your beach holiday. Awarded the European Youth Capital 2017 you won’t be short of things to do in Varna. As well as the gorgeous beaches Varna also has the largest park in the Balkans called the Sea Garden. The park is a mix of landscaped gardening and forest. There is an amusement park within the Sea Garden. This amusement park has rides best suited to smaller children like a carousel, a mini roller coaster and bumper cars. There city of Varna is rich in history and culture. Aladzha Monastery is a cave complex that was man-made in a karst cliff. It is now open to the public but be warned, the terrain is quite rough. Museums of note in Varna include the Retro Museum, the Battle of Varna Park Museum and the Museum of the History of Medicine. While in Varna a visit to the natural phenomenon the Stone Forest is a must. It is the only desert in Bulgaria. It is a field of naturally made stone columns covering about 13 square kilometres. It’s hard to believe that they aren’t man-made. Similarly, Varna’s second natural phenomenon the Wonderful Rocks will leave you in awe of nature’s ability to create such breath-taking formations. Hotels are the most common accommodation in the area but there are also some campsites just outside the city, including an eco-campsite. Unfortunately, since Bulgarian airline Balkan Air ceased operation in 2002 there are no direct flights to Varna Airport but it is still accessible via Turkey and takes just over seven hours from Dublin.

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