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TravelThe best beaches in the world

The best beaches in the world

Beaches have a very simple sort of a appeal. Picture-perfect definitions of paradise, these stunning spots of land demand one thing and one thing only: to lie down and chill out (whilst, obvs, slathered in a healthy dose of sunscreen). But while many beaches are unified by sun, sea and sand, no two beaches are truly alike. Nature just doesn’t work that way. Stretches of volcanic black sand couldn’t be further from tropical coves or vibe-heavy city beaches. But they’re all magnificent – and the ones below are the absolute best that this planet has to offer.

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Best beaches in the world

Railay Beach | Krabi, Thailand

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1. Railay Beach | Krabi, Thailand

A few spa hotels have tucked themselves among the palm forests of Krabi, but they haven’t spoiled the charm of Railay Beach – flashier crowds prefer Phuket anyway. The stalactite-dripping limestone cliffs that bookend Railay’s wisp of a beach make it inaccessible by road, and the shallow bay precludes anything larger than a longtail boat from coming in. Hire one from nearby Ao Nang for next to nothing, then get thee to a hammock.

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Hyams Beach | New South Wales, Australia

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2. Hyams Beach | New South Wales, Australia

Three hours south of Sydney, the pine forest parts to reveal the quintessential Australian white-sand beach. Snorkelers won’t be pummelled by waves as they paddle up to the Hyams Point looking for stingrays. But they may feel the ripple from a pod of romping dolphins. Pack a picnic and take the shady, half-hour White Sands Walk to the picnic tables at Greenfield Gully.

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Shipwreck Beach | Zakynthos, Greece

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3. Shipwreck Beach | Zakynthos, Greece

Known as Zante to those in the party scene, the Greek island of Zakynthos draws crowds every year to its notorious Laganas strip. But you’d be remiss not to wander off the strip and onto some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, including Shipwreck Beach. Only accessible via boat, Shipwreck boasts white cliffs, turquoise waters and Zakynthos Marine Park – home to slippery seals and savvy turtles. 

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Anse Source d’Argent | La Digue, Seychelles

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4. Anse Source d’Argent | La Digue, Seychelles

If La Digue, Seychelles’ smallest inhabited island, had a penny for every screensaver of Anse Source d’Argent… The prototypical bucket-list beach is the ultimate point of Seychelles travel, with private niches among the boulders and the clearest water on earth. From here, you can hike over the hills (and through shallow surf) to Anse Marron, where handy buoy-like boulders embrace the cove, creating a pool.

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Arco Magna | Calabria, Italy

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5. Arco Magna | Calabria, Italy

A blink and you’ll miss it slice of paradise in Calabria, Arco Magno is pretty much as idyllic as it gets. It looks for all the world like it was painted by a maestro, an incredibly inviting stretch that will make the stresses of the modern world fade away in warm water and intimate seclusion. That stone arch is something else entirely.

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Barafundle Bay | Pembrokeshire, Wales

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6. Barafundle Bay | Pembrokeshire, Wales

Wales has some beautiful beaches, arguably the best in the UK, and those in the know will point you in the direction of Pembrokeshire for the best of the best. Barafundle takes the proverbial biscuit, accessible only by a gorgeous half-mile walk and worth every drop of sweat expelled along the way. The calm water is safe for bathing, and the tranquillity of it all makes for a truly lovely experience. 

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North Bay Beach | Providenciales, Turks and Caicos

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7. North Bay Beach | Providenciales, Turks and Caicos

Grace Bay Beach on Providenciales (Provo for short) is one of those incredible Caribbean beaches that gets plastered on billboards and screensavers alike (and even gets named the best in the world, depending on the year). You’ll find crystal-clear water, powdery sand and a colourful coral reef just begging to be explored. Paddleboarding, windsurfing, kayaking, parasailing, jet-skiing, and water skiing are all popular pastimes, but we recommend just relaxing on a towel and soaking in the sun. 

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Cala Llombards | Majorca, Spain

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8. Cala Llombards | Majorca, Spain

Majorca’s rugged coast is a gift to cliff-jumpers, and this skinny southern cove has a rocky plateau at every height. If the secret is out, it hasn’t been translated from Spanish. Mostly locals head here, having a blast, whether they’re doing the leaping or simply watching from the beach. With all the golden sand, golden stone and golden skin, every #nofilter photo looks awash in sepia.

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El Matador State Beach | Malibu, California

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9. El Matador State Beach | Malibu, California

Small and dominated by rocky outcrops, El Matador may not fit your typical idea of a beach day in Los Angeles—but it is far and away SoCal’s most beautiful beach. Wear shoes and don’t bring too much gear; the western Malibu spot is only accessible via a steep gravelly path. And should you arrive early or late, you’ll be rewarded with a memorable dawn or sunset.

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Stokksnes | Stokksnes Peninsula, Iceland

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10. Stokksnes | Stokksnes Peninsula, Iceland

Stokksnes is a little bit different to the rest of the beaches on this list, but then that’s par for the course for Iceland. After all, beaches don’t need to be swathed in sunshine to be gloriously photogenic. The jet-black volcanic sand of this beach is a sight to behold, an initially jarring aesthetic that soon becomes bizarrely soothing. A beach from another world? Stokksnes is just that. 

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Llandudno Beach | Cape Town, South Africa

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11. Llandudno Beach | Cape Town, South Africa

If you can’t find a decent beach in the fantasy landscape of the Western Cape, shame on you. But you’d be forgiven for missing Llandudno. Scooped out of the Twelve Apostles mountain range, the dollop of sand slips surreptitiously between two nature reserves south of Cape Town. When the sunset chasers arrive, pack your tote and follow the scrubby footpath 30-minutes south to even more secluded Sandy Bay.

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Pink Beach | Komodo Island, Indonesia

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12. Pink Beach | Komodo Island, Indonesia

Your eyes are not deceiving you, that beach is indeed pink. That’ll be why it is called Pink Beach, right? The hue comes from thousands of broken coral pieces, shells and other materials, giving off a vibrant light that practically drags your camera out of your pocket and demands a bazillion photos be taken. There are only 10 pink sand beaches on the planet and Indonesia has two of them.

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Hanalei Bay | Kauai, Hawaii

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13. Hanalei Bay | Kauai, Hawaii

One of Hawaii’s lesser-visited islands, Kauai is home to stunning beaches. Located on the island’s north shore, Hanalei Bay is the largest bay in Kauai and offers more than two miles of soft white sand, a calm bay, and a mountainous backdrop. The beach is rarely crowded, and in the summer, the bay offers excellent mooring for sailboats, stand up paddleboarding and swimming.

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Marimegmeg Beach | Palawan, Philippines

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14. Marimegmeg Beach | Palawan, Philippines

What’s there to do at this pristine beach? Dive and, er, dive. It is the Philippines, after all. And more than 100 species of fish flicker about sunset-coloured coral – along with swaying nudibranch and the odd lumbering dugong (native molluscs and mammals, to the uninitiated). Hook up with one of the 20 diving outfits stationed along the El Nido coast for your daily fix. 

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Kynance Cove | Cornwall, England

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15. Kynance Cove | Cornwall, England

Looking for mermaids? Get yourself to Kynance Cove, pronto. Tucked away on the Lizard peninsula at the very southern tip of the UK, this Cornwall charmer is much-loved and much-loved for a reason, with its sweeping sands, tall rocks and hidden coves. Oh, and the mermaids mentioned above, of course. Get your cream teas at the eco cafe next to the beach, and remember your Cornish etiquette; jam first on those scones. 

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Ipanema | Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

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16. Ipanema | Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Cariocas are hardcore, and they’re what make this golden coastline such a trip. They divide the beach into territories: jocks here, surfers there, hippies, gays and exhibitionists in between. Choose your tribe. Just keep in mind the limited amenities. If you can’t take the heat without a shower and cold drink, book a hotel behind the Portuguese-tiled boardwalk.

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Elafonisi | Crete, Greece

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17. Elafonisi | Crete, Greece

Yes, that sand is pink. The rosy hue of this gorgeous beach in southwest Crete has become something of a social media superstar, but don’t even think about being cynical about that. Elafonisi is so much better in person that it doesn’t really deserve the discussion, so go ahead and book your flight to Crete already. Keep an eye out for the white sea daffodils when you arrive too. 

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Siesta Beach | Siesta Key, Florida

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18. Siesta Beach | Siesta Key, Florida

As its name implies, Siesta Key is the place to relax. The expansive beachfront rarely feels overcrowded, and the fine quartz-crystal white sand stays cool to the touch, so be sure to dig your feet in whilst reading your favourite magazine. Pack your cooler with your adult beverages (no glasses allowed), and should you feel the need to exert yourself, kayaks and paddleboards are available for rental.

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Praia da Rocha | Algarve, Portugal

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19. Praia da Rocha | Algarve, Portugal

The Algarve deserves more respect from hardened travellers, and spots like the gorgeously golden Praia da Rocha are a case in point. This is where nature and nurture combine with magnificent results, a stunning stretch of land that turns into nightlife central once the sun goes down, partying hard from late at night until shepherd’s delight. Once the party stops, the beach becomes an idyllic paradise all over again.

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Kendwa Beach | Zanzibar, Tanzania

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20. Kendwa Beach | Zanzibar, Tanzania

If you close your eyes tight and try to imagine the most idyllic of beaches, there’s a good chance that you’re going to conjure up an image of Kendwa. White sand, shimmering turquoise water, views for days. What more could anyone want from a beach? Swimming is possible (nay, encouraged) here all day long, and there’s something about a sunrise swim that really sings to the soul.

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Plage Sainte-Barbe | Brittany, France

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21. Plage Sainte-Barbe | Brittany, France

Did somebody yell ‘fire’? Because this caramel stretch of Breton beach shouldn’t be this deserted. Well, what the people clogging the motorway toward Quiberon don’t know won’t hurt them. More space for you to practise your surfing skills on the cranking waves, then flake out against the dunes until the spectacular sunset. Just make sure you pack your own gear, water and a snack – there are no amenities for a mile.

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Essaouira Beach | Essaouira, Morocco

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22. Essaouira Beach | Essaouira, Morocco

Marrakech’s sister city has a sun-bleached Moorish marketplace and a 500-year-old fort, but the two-mile beach eclipses them both. Pick up a fresh orange juice at one of the painted wood kiosks by the old ramparts, then pay for a lounger and umbrella. The cool factor climbs in the late afternoon, thanks to the Alizé winds – and the shirtless students from the university who come to play football by Bar Miramar.

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Hidden Beach | Marieta Islands, Mexico

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23. Hidden Beach | Marieta Islands, Mexico

Is it possible for something to be hidden and famous all at the same time? Ask Marieta Beach in Mexico. Okay, you can’t ask a beach, but still, this curious cavern is one of the most unusual beaches in the world. It isn’t the easiest to get to (the Marieta Islands themselves are an hour away from anywhere), but the beauty of the so-called Love Beach makes it very much worth it. Make sure to get the correct permits before visiting this eco-paradise. 

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Long Beach | Vancouver Island, Canada

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24. Long Beach | Vancouver Island, Canada

For the record, it’s 10 wind-swept miles. But size doesn’t matter here on the edge of Canada, where you’ve already got more wild, whale-inhabited, pine-studded coastline than you’ll know what to do with. It’s a five-hour trek over land and sea from Vancouver city, so take full advantage with a rainforest hike along Combers Beach Trailhead before pitching your tent at Green Point.

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Metsitsim Beach | Tel Aviv, Israel

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25. Metsitsim Beach | Tel Aviv, Israel

Past Tel Aviv’s famous party beaches and the gender-segregated areas, you’ll find a clean, clubby strand delightfully short on beefcake and boobs – and that’s despite a busy beach volleyball court. Day-drinkers rejoice at obliging staff bringing frothy cocktails to shaded loungers. Neat freaks delight at the brand-new shower complex. After your rinse, follow the boardwalk to the farmer’s market by the port.

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Tortuga Bay | Santa Cruz, Galápagos Islands

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26. Tortuga Bay | Santa Cruz, Galápagos Islands

The beach at Tortuga Bay has been perfectly preserved, so don’t even think about swimming here and making a mess of that. You can’t, such actions are forbidden, but any selection of the world’s best beaches must mention the wildlife extravaganza that is the Galapagos. Tortuga Bay is on Santa Cruz Island and is home to iguanas, crabs, pelicans and the rest. If you absolutely must swim, there’s a small cove nearby where such things are allowed, although keep your eyes open for tiger sharks. 

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Zlatni Rat | Brač, Croatia

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27. Zlatni Rat | Brač, Croatia

Croatia’s most famous beach? Zlatni Rat might just take the crown. Found on the gorgeous island of Brač (a 50-minute ferry from Split), this shapeshifter changes size and length depending on the tide. That is amazing enough in itself, but all thoughts of natural curiosity tend to subside when faced with the sheer beauty of it. Get in the shade of the pine trees and enjoy a lazy afternoon of watching the kite-surfers do their thing. 

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Weligama Beach | Weligama, Sri Lanka

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28. Weligama Beach | Weligama, Sri Lanka

Make your trip to Sri Lanka count at this under-visited splash of brown-sugar sand 20 miles from Galle. Swimming is safe here – calmer and shallower than other south coast beaches. Or curl up in a hanging chair under a bough until noon, when the fish shack fires up its barbecue to serve mackerel and prawns that arrived on longboats at dawn.

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Moshup Beach | Aquinnah, USA

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29. Moshup Beach | Aquinnah, USA

Those in the know here head to Moshup Beach, tucked away in the small community of Aquinnah. Formerly known as Gay Head, the white sands here provide something of a sanctuary away from the crowds at Martha’s Vineyard, although more and more people are finding this little nook of wonder with every passing year. Clothing is optional. 

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Punta del Este | Punta del Este, Uruguay

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30. Punta del Este | Punta del Este, Uruguay

When is the rest of the world going to catch onto the majesty of Uruguay? Actually, scratch that, we’ll keep it to ourselves a little longer, although the increasing popularity of coastal cities like Punta del Este suggest those days aren’t long for this world. Choose between Playa Mansa (calm) and Playa Brava (turbulent) while here, and the two names should give you a good idea of what to expect. Keep an eye out for the hand sculpture.

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Ocracoke Island | North Carolina, USA

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31. Ocracoke Island | North Carolina, USA

The days of Ocracoke being run by pirates are long over (or are they?), and the southern tip of the Outer Banks has become one of the premier beaches in North Carolina. Ocracoke has a reputation for being one of the best shelling destinations on the planet, although we’re more likely to be found lazing the day away on the stress-free beaches, shooting the breeze with the equally stress-free locals. 

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