Top 10 beach cities

August 01, 2012 , Travel like a local, Cape Town, Dubai, Sydney, Barcelona, Nice, Havana, Honolulu, Los Angeles, Miami

Torn between a beach or city break? Some of the world’s greatest metropolises have been graced with pristine strips of sand, where you can effortlessly combine historical riches, architectural wonders, cutting-edge cuisine and buzzing nightlife with a spot of seaside relaxation. So slap on the shades and sun block, here’s our pick of the best beach cities.

Rio – Photo: Martin Lazarev | All Rights Reserved
1. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Cities don’t come more beach-centric than Rio, so don your thong and join the bronzed Cariocas on iconic Copacabana and upmarket Ipanema. Framed by the towering skyline and flanked by granite peaks, you can join in a friendly game of footvolley or just admire the view over a caipirinha. The famous sands also play host to some of the world’s best New Year’s Eve celebrations.

Miami – Photo: EAG | All Rights Reserved
2. Miami, USA.
Once-seedy SoBe (South Beach) is now the stomping ground for Miami’s beautiful people, its palm-studded strip filled with chic bars and restaurants and hedonistic clubs. When you’ve had enough of flopping, explore the historic Art Deco neighbourhood and locations from Scarface and Miami Vice, while the annual Art Basel Miami Beach in December ups the culture quota considerably. Discover more about Miami in the GuidePal city guide.

Barcelona – Photo: EAG | All Rights Reserved
3. Barcelona, Spain.
Eight lively beaches stretch northeast from Port Olimpic and Barceloneta is one of the most popular. Its shabby waterfront was revitalised in the massive makeover for the 1992 Olympics and now chill-out tunes blast from al fresco lounge bars in this former fisherman’s quarter. Join the throng over a cold beer and the Catalan take on paella at one of the chiringuitos that line the beach. Discover more about Barcelona in the GuidePal city guide.

Sydney – Photo: EAG | All Rights Reserved
4. Sydney, Australia.
Most visitors flock to join the burnt backpackers and territorial surfers on world-famous Bondi, but the surrounding Eastern Suburbs beaches of Bronte, Tamarama, Clovelly and Coogee exude a more relaxed, local vibe – on weekdays, at least. On the north side of Harbour Bridge, Manly is the party hub, while keen surfers should check out Freshwater, Curl Curl, Dee Why, Narrabeen and Warriewood. Discover more about Sydney in the GuidePal city guide.

Dubai / Honolulu – Photo: EAG | All Rights Reserved
5. Dubai, UAE.
It may be known for its soaring skyscrapers, mega-malls and manicured golf courses but the Middle East’s most flamboyant city has miles of pristine white-sand beaches – some of them shipped in from the desert. The prime spot for designer-clad sun-worshippers is Jumeirah Beach, where you can bask in the bath-warm waters of the Gulf or get active, wakeboarding, windsurfing and water skiing. Discover more about Dubai in the GuidePal city guide.

6. Honolulu, Hawaii.\
Once a retreat for 19th-century Hawaiian royalty, Waikiki Beach is now chock-full of high-rise resorts, tourists and surfers. But nothing can detract from the killer views of Diamond Head volcano, which you can hike to the top of. For water-based action, the long, rolling breaks are perfect for novice surfers, or ride an outrigger canoe, before watching the sublime sunset from an oceanfront bar. Discover more about Honolulu in the GuidePal city guide.

LA – Photo: EAG | All Rights Reserved
7. Los Angeles, USA.
West LA’s Venice Beach is people-watching paradise. Ocean Front Walk is lined with gaudily painted galleries, ice-cream parlours and surf shops, and a never-ending circus of stilt-walkers, jugglers and fortune-tellers play to the eclectic crowd of power walkers, rollerbladers and skateboarders – although you might find a quiet spot under the boardwalk. Further afield, you can live out your Baywatch fantasies on Santa Monica’s golden sands. Discover more about LA in the GuidePal city guide.

8. Nice, France.
More than 35 beaches – both public and private – stretch uninterrupted along Nice’s Promenade des Anglais, from the airport to the Old Port. Each beach has its own personality and it can be worth splashing out a few Euros to sunbathe at a private plage which comes with all the trimmings. Don’t forget your flip-flops, all the beaches are covered with small pebbles. Discover more about Nice in the GuidePal city guide.

Cape Town – Photo: Warren Rohner | All Rights Reserved
9. Cape Town, South Africa.
In glamorous Clifton, massive boulders divide the beach into four small, interlinked coves, each with a different vibe. 4th beach is the liveliest, 3rd is gay-friendly, 2nd is the sunning spot of choice for students and 1st is the one for surfers. While they’re sheltered from the bitter trade winds in summer (November to March), be warned, the water is always icy.

10. Havana, Cuba.
On summer weekends the whole of Havana decamps to Playas del Este, a seemingly endless sweep of palm-fringed sand just 18km from the city. Santa Maria del Mar has an all-day piña colada-party vibe, while Boca Ciega is a popular gay hangout. Walk a few metres from the main resorts and the crowds will disperse allowing you to find your own private Caribbean paradise. Discover more about Havana in the GuidePal city guide.

What's hot in travel - August →