With almost 5,000 km of coastline, Spain has at least 3,000 catalogued beaches including consistently more Blue Flag beaches than anywhere else in Europe. That's nearly double the numbers of France's beaches and more than double Italy's, which are, incidentally, mostly pay-to-use.
Prices are low, jet-lag is zero from north Europe, sunshine just about guaranteed in season and most locals speak some English - and if not Spanish is the world's easiest major language.
Beach resorts on the Mediterranean side tend to be over-developed and under-cultured but not on the Atlantic coast where they are spacious and neither over-heated nor over-crowded, with plentiful facilities in urban areas.
Sands are wide and warm on the Med coasts even if the colour can be a bit dark (or occasionally black), the waters are warm during summer months (though not so much on the Atlantic coast), sunshine and watersports plentiful and costs low, particularly for all-inclusive packages.
For lengths of pristine, uncrowded sand from June to August sun-seekers will have to look long and hard, perhaps finding something resembling like the dream on Spain's spectacular Atlantic coast up north (particularly on the Costa de Cantabria), as well as the Costa de la Luz in the distant south west, or on the islands, the Balearics or Canaries.
Beach Seasons: From May to late September are the most popular months for beach-lovers of course, but the sea is still comfortable for swimming in October. Naturally beaches along the southern Spanish coast and Balearic islands have a longer season, even if the Mediterranean does get chilly and sunshine is less guaranteed, so it is not bad idea to go in the off-season for space, tranquility and even lower prices.
Spain's Canary islands offer the best beaches in wintertime, November - March.
Jellyfish: there is occasional jelly activity during late summer, with swimmers stung off Denia on the Costa Blanca by purple Pelagia noctiluca as well as a less potent version of Australia's infamous Box Jellyfish species, Carybdea Marsupialis, while Atlantic north coast beaches are being visited by the Portuguese Man O'War. None of these are normally deadly though all unpleasant. Jellyfish stings information.
Spain's authorities are patrolling waters and warning swimmers when jellies appear. The Ministry of Environment said "The exact reasons to explain jellyfish blooms are currently under research. They seem to be increasing in recent years and the most likely causes suggested are the decline of natural predators such as turtle and tuna; changes in climatic factors such as rainfall or global temperature; hydrographic peculiarities of the area, as well as pollution from land based sources".
Islands, Costas and Beaches
Not in any special order
Playa de las Teresitas, Tenerife, Canary Islands
The sun-soaked, sub-tropical Canaries has a superb, year-round climate thanks to their hot, dry, southerly location off the coast of Africa that is moderated by the Gulf Stream and Trade Winds, a no-jet-lag four hour flight from the UK, fine beaches, warm seas (20C) and extraordinary volcanic landscapes and parks.
However, due to the volcanic nature of the islands many beaches are of coarse black sand which is both hot for the feet and less attractive to the eye. Tenerife got around the black sand issue by importing the white stuff, as seen on Teresitas beach, photo above.
Great golden sand, not ridiculously packed beaches are Papagayo and Famara on Lanzarote island, El Cotillo, Corralejo and Sotovento on Fuerteventura and the massive golden dunes of Maspalomas on Gran Canaria. That being said there is a huge selection that includes some stunning black sand stretches, so be prepared to wear flip-flops and experience getting lightly toasted.
Calla Romantica, Mallorca, Balearic Islands
Located in just off the coast of Catalonia and a 45-minute flight from Barcelona, the Balearic island group - especially Majorca (aka Mallorca) and Minorca - have been one of Europe's most popular sun 'n' sand holiday destinations for years. They are cheap to get to via package deals, enjoy a superb Mediterranean climate with plenty of sun and host some of the Mediterranean's best beaches.
However, the Balearic Islands have more to offer than just price-friendly beach life. From spectacular landscapes for nature lovers and hikers (Majorca), historic Spanish towns, museums and archeological sights for culture vultures (Minorca) to wild nightlife for wild things (Ibiza), the Balearics cover most holiday bases in more style than the mainland.
Playa Primera, one of the four Sardinero beaches in Santander, Costa de Cantabria.
The rocky shores of the Spanish Atlantic coast in the north present spectacular views of natural beaches framed by lush and dramatic landscapes yet to be overpowered by mass tourism (partly because the sea is bloody cold!).
There are well-established beach resorts with excellent facilities to be found on the Costa Vasca (the Basque Coast), Costa de Cantabria and Costa Verde (Green Coast), with more unspoilt beaches lurking further west in the Galicia region, north of Portugal.
San Sebastian is the largest town in this region and is home to the spectacular, curving La Concha beach, one of the best urban strands in Spain.
San Sebastian's La Concha beach, a huge space when the tide is out, backed by a calm, wide promenade and useful facilities. The Atlantic waters warm up quite quickly due to the shalowness of the bay.
Here are our choice of best beaches selected from the 90 along 220 kms Costa de Cantabria though if you want full services and facilities nearby then head for Santander's half dozen urban beaches which are uniformly clean and well serviced with soft sand, plenty of facilities, free parking nearby and good bus services. They spread mainly along two shores, the Atlantic and just inside the large harbour. Santander is a mid-size, pleasant, relaxing city.
San Sebastian's La Concha Beach, big, nice colour and very convenient.
North-east Mediterranean coast, Costa Brava
Platja de la Barceloneta, Barcelona, Costa Brava. Photo by Sergi Larripa.
Extending north from Barcelona to the French/Spanish border, the rocky Costa Brava comprises a number of small towns with delightful sandy coves and diminuitive beaches but with few traditionally huge stretches of sand except for Barcelona's sizeable stretch of beaches. Although there are few untouched beaches here the Costa Brava still has a wilderness ambience in places.
Our choice of best beaches on Costa Brava: Platja de Castell, a small, unspoilt, white sand beach surrounded mainly by nature with just the right number of services; Barceloneta for a decent beach with fantastic aprés-swim environment.
Central-east Mediterranean coast, Costa Dorada
Cala Fonda, a clothing-optional nudist beach just east of Tarragona, Costa Daurada. Photo by Irene Aliaga
Stretching south from the border of Barcelona (which is not included) to Tarragona (included), Catalonia, the Costa Dorada (aka Daurada) enjoys 150 miles of golden sand beaches, hence its name the 'Gold Coast'.
This Costa's most popular beaches are found in Sitges (just south of Barcelona), La Pineda, Salou, Cambrils and Tarragona. Tarragona also offers the culturally interested sun-seeker a crop of Roman ruins and UNESCO World Heritage Site while kids may be more interested in PortAventura theme park that encompasses a 'Costa Caribe Aqua Park' and is the most popular theme park in Spain.
Central-east Mediterranean coast, Costa Blanca
Benidorm's Playa de Levante, Costa Blanca. Photo by Rodelar
The 'White Coast' extends for 200 km along Spain's central-east shore and includes the attractive old city of Valencia as well as monstrous, package beach resorts such as Benidorm and Alicante which are dominated by British, German and Russian tourists.
You won't get a real taste of Spanish culture on the Costa Blanca as the area has been leached of indigenous interest in favour of a bland and efficient sun and sangria-seeker support system. Nevertheless, although the landscape hereabouts isn't spectacular or special in any way, the water is turquoise in the summertime, the sand while not actually white is still an attractive pale gold, and the coast soaks in more than 300 days of sunshine a year.
South-east Mediterranean coast, Costa del Sol
Playa de la Venus, Marbella, Costa del Sol in April during an admittedly bad springtime!
Along 160 km of Spain's south east coast the Costa del Sol is the country's primo sun and sand destination and embraces the popular beach resorts of Torremolinos, Malaga, Estepona, Nerja, Casares and Fuengirola, as well as Marbella. The beaches of the Costa del Sol, protected from northerly winds by the Sierra Blanca mountains, offer extensive, soft, but frequently muddy-brown (aka golden by marketing fluff) sands rinsed by warm Mediterranean waters.
In addition, visitors to this particular Costa have easy access to Andalusia's stunning inland tourist attractions such as Seville, Granada and Cordoba, and traditional white-washed, hill-top villages. This combination of glorious sand and glittering sights is a winner, enticing huge numbers of travellers throughout the year.
Our choice of best beaches on Costa del Sol: Nerja's two beaches Calahonda and Burriana; Marbella's convenient cluster by the town centre such as Playa de la Venus; Malaga for large, well-managed beaches and low-cost living in a real Spanish city.
Far south-west Mediterranean coast, Costa de la Luz
La Barrosa beach, Chiclana de la Frontera, Costa de la Luz. Photo by El Pantera
200 km along the coastline west of Gibraltar towards Portugal, the 'Coast of Light' is home to some of Spain's finest, least crowded beaches. The shores are spacious and liberally spread with champagne-coloured sand - as opposed to the depressingly greyish stuff found on the Costa del Sol, the beach season is long due to its southerly location and the waters generally clean, making Costa de la Luz a winner for Spanish beach holidays.
Popular towns in this stretch are Cadiz (for old town culture and beaches); Tarifa (charming little town, a big wind/kite surfing centre and the most southerly point in Europe); Ayamonte; Chiclana de la Frontera.
However, beaches can be uncomfortably exposed and windy, facilities are limited and the warmth of the sea is lowered by its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean.
This costa encompasses some of Europe's best board surfing destinations but also the protected nature reserves of Doñana National Park, Barbate marshes, La Breña cliffs and the estuaries of the Rios Tinto and Odiel for birdlife
Our choice of best beaches on Costa de la Luz: Tarifa's Playa de los Lances; Cadiz' La Caleta for family-friendly protected waters, good facilities and more.
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