Thanks to its ample coastline there are hundreds of incredible beaches in Spain, so choosing where to go can often be a troublesome decision. To save you the pain of searching for your perfect stretch of sand, here’s our round-up of the best beaches in Spain, taken from the Rough Guide to Spain.
Conil beach, the village’s raison d’être, is a wide bay of brilliant yellow sand stretching for many kilometres to either side of the town and lapped by an amazingly, not to say disarmingly, gentle Atlantic – you have to walk a long way before it reaches waist height. The area immediately in front of the town is the family beach; up to the northwest you can walk to some more sheltered coves, while across the river to the southeast is a topless and nudist area.
There are over 30 small, fine, sandy calas (coves) in the vicinity of Águilas – those to the north are often rocky and backed by cliffs, while the best are the wonderful cuatro calas (four bays) south of the town. The first two, Calarreona and La Higuérica, have fine sands and are backed by dunes and the odd villa, but 6km south of Águilas where the coast is completely wild, the ravishing back to back sandy coves of Cala Carolina and Cala Cocedores are simply superb.
Cala D’Hort, Ibiza
Undoubtedly one of the best beaches in Spain and the most beguiling beach in the Balearics, Cala D’Hort, is in the extreme southwest of the island, with a lovely quiet sand-and-pebble shoreline plus three good, moderately priced seafood restaurants.
Tarifa Beach, Andalucía
Heading northwest from the town of Tarifa, you find some of the most spectacular beaches in the whole of the Costa de la Luz – wide stretches of yellow or silvery-white sand, washed by some magical rollers. Tarifa Beach, a little bay 9km from the town, has restaurants, a windsurfing school, campsites and a string of pricey hotels.
Lekeitio, Basque Country
As one of the nicest seafront towns in the Basque Country, the fine old port of Lekeitio is worth visiting. It is blessed with two fine beaches – one beside the harbour, and the other, better, across the river to the east. The little wooded island that stands in the middle of the bay can be reached on foot when the tide drops low enough.
Playa de la Magdalena, Santander
This is the first of Santander’s beaches, lying on the southern side of Magdalena headland. A beautiful yellow strand, sheltered by cliffs and flanked by a summer windsurfing school, it is deservedly popular. Around the headland are two smaller and often quieter beaches, Camello and La Concha.
If you find all the city beaches too crowded, catch a water taxi across the bay to the long stretches of dunes at Somo – a major surfing destination where you’ll find boards to rent and a summer campsite – and the village of Pedreña.
Playa Ostende, Castro Urdiales, Cantabria
The crowds of the more popular Playa del Brazomar can be left behind by heading west to Playa Ostende, with its rough, dark sand. When you’re done sunning yourself, from here, there’s an unusual walk back to town along the cliffs with the sea pounding the rocks beneath you. In a tiny bay en route, the sea comes in under a spectacular overhang.
Praia de Niñons, Costa da Morte
This is the best beach near Malpica de Bergantiños, the first of a succession of tiny seaside ports. This marvellous, though exposed, beach is a crescent of thick sand that stretches out to either side of a little stream and has a granite church with a fuente (fountain) standing just above it. Young Spaniards set up fireside campsites here in the summer, but the solitary bar isn’t open at night.
El Sardinero, Santander
This is Santander’s main event when it comes to beaches. El Sardinero stretched for two magnificent kilometres, and is itself divided at high tide into two separate sections, Primera to the south and Segunda to the north.
Playa Arenales, Alicante
Backed by shrub-carpeted sand dunes this beach, 12km south of Alicante, is far quieter, and much more pleasant than those closer to the city.
Platja de Ses Illetes, Formentera
Northwest of Es Pujols are the absolutely spectacular sands of Platja de Ses Illetes, and across a narrow channel, the uninhabited island of Espalmador, where there’s another great beach, and water turquoise enough to trump any Caribbean brochure. It’s possible to wade across most of the year, or you can get there on one of the regular boats from La Savina (May-Oct only, €10 return).
Playa de los Genoveses, Almería
This clam-shaped bay is one of the most glorious in the Mediterranean. It has completely unspoilt golden sands and, accessible only by a dirt track, there is no development whatsoever. Cars are not allowed in peak season, but there is a bus.
The Illas Cíes, Riá de Vigo
The most irresistible sands of the Ría de Vigo adorn the three islands of the Illas Cíes, which can be reached by boat from Vigo, Baiona, Cangas. Sprawling across the entrance to the ría, battered by the open Atlantic on one side but sheltering the delightful sandy beaches where they face the mainland, the islands were long used by raiders as hideouts but are now a nature reserve. The Illa de San Martiño, is an off-limits bird sanctuary; the other two, Illa do Monte Ayudo and Illa do Faro, are joined by a narrow causeway of sand, which cradles a placid lagoon on its inland side.
Praia As Catedrais, Rías Altas
While the waves are usually too strong for swimming, this beach, 6km along the coast from Ribadeo, is well worth visiting as low tide reveals a procession of extraordinary natural arches, towering from a stark landscape. This is an unforgettable spot for coastal hiking along the network of boardwalks.
A Coruña, Galicia
If you’re looking for city-side beaches, this is the place to come as the sweeping golden arc of A Coruña’s main beaches, Praia do Orzán and the contiguous Praia de Riazor, line the opposite side of the peninsula from the Dársena. Considering how close these are to the city, they are surprisingly clean and unpolluted – although do get very busy in the summer, so arrive early to reserve a spot.
This rural town with its pretty cobbled streets and squares boasts a pair of superb beaches: Playa de Comillas, the closest, has a little anchorage for pleasure boats and a few beach cafés, while the longer and less developed Playa de Oyambre is 4km west out of town towards the cape.
Isla Canela, Huelva
Sand dunes and salt marshes give way to this wide 7km beach of fine, golden sand, sitting in the southwest of Spain, right near the Portuguese border. There is waterskiing and canoeing, as well as a couple of beach bars.
Playa del Silencio, Oviedo
Near the fishing village of Cudillero, this tranquil beach – aptly named the “beach of silence” – is surprisingly quiet, even in peak season. Backed by imposing cliffs, its shores tickled by calm waters – great for snorkelling.
Cala D’en Serra, Ibiza
This secluded and idyllic cove is situated on the north coast of the island, is both one of the best Spanish beaches and the perfect escape from the island’s clubbing culture. Rocky cliffs overlook the beach and while it’s popular with locals, it’s relatively quiet – even in peak season.
Explore more of Spain with the Rough Guide to Spain. This feature updated January 2016.