20 great summer city breaks

From scenic beaches by Dubrovnik’s Old Town to hidden coves in Marseilles, Richard Mellor picks the best mini-breaks near the sea.

Eastern Europe

1 Split, Croatia

Dramatic mountains are an impressive backdrop to the Adriatic in Croatia’s second city. Bacvice beach is a social hub, especially its three-storey pavilion, packed with bars and swanky restaurants. It is also the home of picigin, a madcap sport in which players dive to stop a tiny ball going into the sea. Marjan is a wooded parkland peninsula with tennis courts and more beaches (visitsplit.com).

Where to stay The Hotel Peristil has bright rooms and views of the Diocletian city palace — Split’s main tourist temptation with dozens of bars, restaurants and shops.. Doubles cost from £117 room-only (hotelperistil.com). EasyJet flies from Stansted to Split (easyjet.com)

2 Dubrovnik, Croatia

Strolling atop Dubrovnik’s 22m-high city walls and taking in the Franciscan monastery’s secret garden are musts, but don’t neglect the warm Adriatic. Crowds are the norm at the city’s sand-and-shingle beaches; dodge the latter by taking the 5 bus to Viktorija, east of town. You’ll still have to negotiate 160 steps, but Sveti Jacob’s cove repays the favour with great views, grilled octopus for lunch and two sunbeds and a parasol for £10 (tzdubrovnik.hr). The Dubrovnik festival is on from July 10 to August 25, with open-air concerts and historic buildings (dubrovnik-festival.hr).

Where to stay Many hotels in the Old Town are overpriced. Five minutes away, the Hotel Bellevue has a private pebble beach — and the 5 bus departs outside. Doubles are from £135 B&B (adriaticluxuryhotels.com). Monarch flies from Gatwick to Dubrovnik (monarch.co.uk)

3 Kiev, Ukraine

Ukraine’s capital has almost 50 miles of sandy beach along its Dnipro riverside, most of them hugging two islands: Hydropark and the huge Trukhanov Ostrov. Both of these have casinos, watersports, riverboat trips and — trivia alert — the world’s largest outdoor gym. Hydropark’s Dytyachy is the cleanest cove, while the Trukhanov Ostrov complex triumphs on the facilities front with its two pools and a 30m waterslide (gidropark.org.ua; trukhanov-ostrov.com.ua). Make sure that you leave time to gasp at Kiev’s Orthodox cathedrals, particularly the gold-domed St Sophia’s, and to pedal off for picnics in the Holosiivskyi Nature Park.

Where to stay Close to both islands, the 57-room Podol Plaza has Italian-style double rooms from £73 B&B (podolplazahotel.com.ua). BA flies from Heathrow to Kiev (ba.com)

4 Istanbul, Turkey

If the two rooftop pools are not enough, guests at Istanbul’s new Soho House also have 20 sandy city shores to enjoy. You’ll have to travel to get to them: either northwards to Kilyos and slick resorts such as Solar, or southeast to the car-free Princes Islands, served by regular ferries from Kabatas. On the main isle of Buyukada, cycle two hilly miles to Yoruk Ali cove, £5 for day-entry. Back in the city, rise early to tour the Blue Mosque before it gets too hot, then cool off aboard a breezy Bosphorus cruise (goturkey.com). Visit before July 15 and you’ll be in time for the city’s jazz festival, with Jools Holland among others (caz.iksv.org).

Where to stay Soho House is in the cosmopolitan Beyoglu district, just 15 minutes’ walk from Kabatas. Doubles cost from £140 room-only for non-members (sohohouseistanbul.com)


5 San Sebastian

This handsome city in the Spanish Basque country has provoked such a clamour over its foodie scene — especially all those Michelin-starred pintxos (Basque tapas) — that its sandy credentials have been almost forgotten. Yet it has one of the fairest city beaches of them all. And Playa de la Concha looks especially fair from the 123m-high Monte Urgull peninsula, with its towering statue of Jesus. The oh-so-instagrammable views amply reward any mortals making the short ascent (sansebastianturismo.com).

Where to stay Between Urgull and the beaches is parte vieja, the old town, which is home to all the best pintxos bars. Stay a stagger away, beside la Concha, at the Hotel Londres y de Inglaterra, a seafront institution with balconied double rooms that cost from £171 room-only (hlondres.com). Vueling flies from Heathrow to Bilbao, and in 75 minutes buses run direct to San Sebastian (vueling.com)

6 Gijón

Asturias is a leafy, little-visited northern Spanish principality renowned — among Spaniards, at least — for its Bay of Biscay beaches. Two playas are inside the port city of Gijón: the buzzy, gentle-waved Poniente and the sprawling main crescent of San Lorenzo, both with showers, hammocks that you can hire, and golden sand. Gijón also has botanic gardens and cider; the Fiesta de la Sidra Natural in late August has free tastings across town (visitgijon.com).

Where to stay The four-star Parador de Gijón occupies one end of Isabel la Católica park: the San Lorenzo begins at the other. Doubles cost from £76 room-only (parador.es). EasyJet flies from Stansted to Asturias airport, 25 miles from Gijón (easyjet.com)

7 Valencia

Valencia is best known for gothic architecture and modernist design, but its beaches are equally impressive. Malvarrosa, Las Arenas and El Cabañal are three broad Blue Flag beaches, each with pedal boats for hire, volleyball and boisterous evenings. Once the sun starts sinking, most locals make a beeline for the palm tree-lined corniche in search of a vino blanco (www.visitvalencia.com). Avoid August 26 unless you want to be pelted with tomatoes during Tomatina, but if you’re there on July 26, the less messy Battle of the Flowers is a parade of elaborate floral floats.

Where to stay The Hospes Palau de la Mar is a tram-ride from Malvarrosa, and within walking distance of the vast Plaza del Mercado, a 13th-century cathedral, and the futuristic Oceanogràfic, Europe’s biggest aquarium. Doubles cost from £128 room-only (hospes.com). Ryanair flies to Valencia from Stansted, Bristol, Manchester and East Midlands (ryanair.com)


8 Lisbon

After a morning in Lisbon’s Alfama quarter, a medieval maze of whitewashed houses and cafés, take it easy at Cascais, a 40-minute, £1 train-ride away. The prettiest beach is surf HQ Guincho, just north of town. Between basking and bathing, wolf down garlicky amêijoas (clams), Portugal’s classic seaside snack, and snap Cabo da Roca, continental Europe’s western tip. Back in hilly Lisbon, use the trams to get to Jazz em Agosto’s nightly concerts (August 2-11, musica.gulbenkian.pt/jazz, visitlisboa.com).

Where to stay The trains to Cascais go from Cais do Sodré, so stay near by at the LX Boutique Hotel. It has river views and is near to Bairro Alto’s cool bars. Doubles cost from £116 room-only (lxboutiquehotel.com)

9 Porto

It may be renowned for plonk and its historic centre, a Unesco world heritage site, but Porto does beaches too, with sandy shores where the Douro River meets the Atlantic. Go to Vila Nova de Gaia to enjoy Portugal’s largest concentration of Blue Flag bays, or to Foz for cocktail on its trendy esplanade. Porto can be sultry in summer, but what better time to sip pink port tonics on its chic terraces, or to tour wine cellars?

Where to stay The Yeatman (with a Michelin-starred restaurant) arranges beach trips, but be warned, you might get no further than its port-bottle shaped infinity pool. B&B doubles cost from £112 B&B (the-yeatman-hotel.com). EasyJet flies to Porto from Gatwick (easyjet.com)


10 St Malo

Built with wealth that its pirates once plundered from passing English ships, St Malo is much more than a ferry port — it’s a summer destination in its own right, with a warren-like old town, walkable city walls, cruises around the bay and tours of the dungeons at Fort National, which is built on a rock outside the harbour. It also has great beaches: successive sandy sweeps that stretch for miles northwards (saint-malo-tourisme.com).

Where to stay Guests at the seafront Grand Hôtel des Thermes (le-grand-hotel-des-thermes.fr) enjoy fine fish dishes, access to a neighbouring spa and doubles that cost from £129, room-only. Brittany Ferries (brittanyferries.com) sails from Portsmouth to St Malo, or Ryanair flies from Stansted and East Midlands to nearby Dinard (ryanair.com)

11 Marseilles

Its spruced-up Vieux Port has glassy Norman Foster sunshades, but few tourists make it out to Marseilles’ 8th arrondissement. There’s one good reason why they should: the well-run beach clubs around the Parc Borély, where international petanque tournaments are held in July. West of Marseilles is the pine-forested Blue Coast and a sequence of magical coves; secluded Sainte Croix, overlooked by a dinky 17th-century chapel, is the best (marseille-tourisme.com).

Where to stay Back in town, Mama Shelter has a bar that serves kir royal. This boutique hotel also keeps 40 beach chairs, especially for Mama guests, at the La Plage beach club in the 8th arrondissement. Doubles cost from £93, which includes a day’s hire of a sun-lounger and parasol (mamashelter.com). Eurostar has direct services from London to Marseilles (eurostar.com)

12 Cannes

City beaches don’t come more glamorous than La Croisette in Cannes. Nor do they come much costlier, with most sections charging five-star entry fees. Opt instead for the Boulevard du Midi, the other side of Cannes’ ritzy marina, where loungers cost £13 per day at clubs such as Midi Plage (midiplage.com). Or spend £8 on a day-trip to Île Sainte Marguerite, where you can enjoy crowd-free snorkelling. Further up the Riviera, Nice’s shores are pebbly, but even the pebbles have an exotic name: les galets. Public beaches along the Promenade des Anglais have showers, but most bathers pay about £11 to slumber on private strips. To escape the heat, gaze at the art in the Musée des Beaux Arts (cannes-destination.com, nicetourisme.com).

Where to stay The 1950s-style Hôtel Le Canberra, two blocks from Cannes’s La Croisette, has a 24/7 bar-terrace that’s perfect for sundowners. Doubles cost from £96 room-only (hotel-cannes-canberra.com)

13 Biarritz

A century on from the days when aristocrats routinely summered at its grand hotels, Biarritz is a scruffy but seductive surf town. As such, its beaches have surfing-only areas, although you can swim safely on the Grand Plage, framed by caramel-coloured buildings, or at the locally loved Port-Vieux cove. Sizzled by the sun? No matter: try the whizzy, wave-shaped Cité de l’Océan et du Surf, which tells the story of the seas, then join bronzed Biarrots at the Les Halles market for marinated anchovies and glasses of Irouléguy (tourisme.biarritz.fr). Or book some of the excellent thalassotherapy spa treatments in the Sofitel Le Miramar hotel, a seawater spa hotel on the beach.

Where to stay Hotel du Palais (hotel-du-palais.com) is the grande dame of Biarritz hotels, pictured right, with doubles from €370. The Miramar hotel (sofitel.com) has doubles from €154 a night. EasyJet flies from Gatwick to Biarritz (easyjet.com)


14 Venice

Venice? You mean canals, Canaletto, gondolas, bellinis Venice? Yes indeed. Away from the Rialto and Piazza San Marco is a secret unknown to most visitors: the 11km-long Venice Lido isle, with two free beaches bookending a succession of hotel-owned strips. It’s a soporific world away from the standard Venetian hurly-burly — other than during the Venice Film Festival (September 2-12), when the Lido spends two weeks pretending to be Hollywood (venice-tourism.com).

Where to stay The small four-star Hotel Panorama is steps away from the Lido’s ferry port, making jaunts elsewhere easy. It also has balcony rooms overlooking the lagoon and its own beach. Doubles cost from £130 B&B (panorama.hotelinvenice.com)

15 Cagliari

You’d think Italy’s longest beach would be on the Amalfi Coast. Or maybe in Sicily. But it’s actually in Sardinia’s capital. Fifteen minutes by bus from Via Roma, Cagliari’s four-mile-long Poetto is a summer staple for locals, with all-night bars, a funfair, chi-chi beach clubs and an outdoor cinema. Explore hilltop Il Castello in the morning: the citadel, boutiques and pastel-coloured piazzas will be quieter and cooler first thing (www.cagliariturismo.it).

Where to stay Poetto thrums at night, so guarantee shut-eye by staying at Maison Miramare, whose ayurvedic spa treatments and orchid greenhouse soothe frazzled guests. B&B doubles cost from £141 (hotelmiramarecagliari.it). BA flies from Gatwick to Cagliari (ba.com)

Northern Europe

16 Amsterdam

A beach in Amsterdam? Blink and you’ll miss it. Nomadic club Blijburg tends to pop up in a different sandy location on the eastern IJburg island every few years. Its newest pavilion opens this August, promising the same boho blend of beer, bonfires, live music, veggie dishes and DJ nights as before. Swimming is allowed here, too, so don’t forget your Speedos (blijburg.nl). Get to IJburg aboard Tramlijn 26; it departs from Central Station, as do canal tours, another Amsterdam summer rite (iamsterdam.com).

Where to stay Aside from beaches and cobbled canalside, sultry Amsterdam days are best relished at the sprawling Artis Royal Zoo and its beautiful gardens. The artsy Volkshotel is close by, with rooftop restaurant/club Canvas. Doubles cost from £57 room-only (www.volkshotel.nl)

17 Riga, Latvia

OK, so Jurmala is 15 miles from the Latvian capital of Riga, but it’s worth the journey on regular trains (jurmala.lv) for the 21 miles of white sand, all of it free of cigarette butts (thanks to a no-smoking rule). It was a popular retreat for high-profile communists such as Nikita Khrushchev during Latvia’s Soviet Union days, but today is mostly frequented by families and Scandi tourists. Northern Europe’s largest waterpark is near by.

Where to stay Near the lovely River Daugava, the Grand Palace Hotel also occupies a prime spot inside a mostly pedestrianised historical centre, where gothic St Peter’s Church awaits. Central Station is a cheap taxi-ride away. Doubles cost from £135 B&B (grandpalaceriga.com). AirBaltic flies from Gatwick to Riga (airbaltic.com)

18 Tallinn, Estonia

Is this the Baltic or the Balearics? Beachbums on the two-mile-long sandy front of Pirita, a bus-ride from the Old Town in Estonia’s capital, might begin to wonder. Sure, the Gulf of Finland water can be nippy, but the unstinting sun, sand, volleyball and swaying palms could convince any daydreamer they are frolicking in the Med. A beautiful forest behind the beach is perfect for strolls, while you can charter yachts to explore nearby islands. The Old Town has half-hidden cobble courtyards, cathedrals — listen out for the Organ Festival (July 30-August 9, www.concert.ee) — and a marzipan museum to cool down in (tourism.tallinn.ee).

Where to stay The ornate restaurant in the Old Town’s St Petersbourg Hotel specialises in Russian delicacies. Doubles cost from £60 B&B (hotelstpetersbourg.com). Ryanair flies from Stansted to Tallinn (ryanair.com)


19 Stockholm

After the months of darkness, Stockholmers gleefully leap into the fresh waters of Lake Malaren, come summer. The main beach on central Langholmen island can get overcrowded so go one island over to the sandy Smedsuddsbadet, surrounded by the grassy Ralambshov Park. Buoys show where the water becomes dangerously deep, there are showers and changing rooms, and nearby Kafé Kajak sells ice creams and traditional cinnamon buns (visitstockholm.com).

Where to stay Just a few metro stops from Ralambshov Park’s nearest station, Thorildsplan, the Berns hotel is also ideally placed for another Stockholm essential: cruises to idyllic, royal-owned Djurgarden and its extensive parkland, rose gardens, open-air museums and zoo. Doubles cost from £156 room-only, with a minimum two-night stay (berns.se). If you want more of a party this summer, the hotel gives guests who stay Wednesday to Saturday a VIP wristband, allowing you to jump the queues of the city’s best nightclubs

20 Copenhagen

Two attractive swim spots help locals to capitalise on Copenhagen’s 16 daily hours of summer sunlight. Out east, artificial Amager Beach Park offers three miles of dunes beside a lagoon, with the shallower side reserved for children. More central is the tidied-up harbour area of Islands Brygge where, despite five designated pools (free entry), bathers break the rules to dive in along the waterfront. As evening falls and barbecues begin, wander along the water to the Nyhavn, where cruise boats chug off towards the Little Mermaid statue (visitcopenhagen.com).

Where to stay A saunter from Islands Brygge, the retro/futuristic Alexandra is also handy for the Tivoli Gardens’ funfair and greenery. Doubles cost from £100 room-only (hotelalexandra.dk)