The Best of Both: City & Beach

When you’re starting to plan your next getaway the question inevitably arises: should we take a city break or beach vacation? People tend to have strong opinions one way or the other, and it can seem difficult to come up with a compromise. Especially when traveling to Europe.

best of both City & Beach graphic explaining 5 different european cities with both great city breaks and beaches to visit
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Fortunately, you don’t have to choose! There are plenty of beautiful, historic cities in Europe that also have relaxing, sun-soaked beaches. You can spend your European vacation exploring museums and wandering the cobblestone streets one day, and splashing in the stunning sea the next. We’ve created a quick guide to our top city/beach destinations with just a taste of what each has to offer. Read on below for even more detailed descriptions of what you’ll discover in these amazing places.

Vielle Ville -Nice’s old town features rustic narrow streets, colorful markets, and a vibrant atmosphere. You can enjoy beautiful architecture like the Cathédrale Sainte-Réparate or the 17th-century mansion Palais Lascaris. The old town includes the most popular dining destinations, charming buildings, markets, and monuments. It’s worth spending the day soaking up the history and atmosphere.

Musee d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain (MAMAC)– This modern art museum has over 1300 pieces of art on display. The collection includes avant-garde works from the late 50s to the present day. And you can always head to the rooftop terrace for beautiful panoramic views of the city.

six bouquets of beautiful flowers at the flower market in Nice France

Marche Aux Fleurs Cours Saleya – Pretty striped awnings, hundreds of multicolored, intense, vivid bouquets, and exotic plants. This vibrant market has been in existence for over 120 years and is a must-see when in Nice. While the market is mainly flowers you can also find fruits, veggies, and stalls selling local delicacies. We recommend going early, bringing small bills, and enjoying this colorful, aromatic experience.

[Photo Credit: Kylie Paz via Unsplash]

aerial view of a beach with the light blue water on top and the grey pebbles covered with people on towels and pastel colored umbrellas in Page Beau Rivage inNice France

Castel Plage -The best views of the Bay of Angels with a chic and sophisticated atmosphere. There are several luxury hotels, bars, restaurants, and historic sites nearby. This smaller beach provides private decking down to the water’s edge, pebbles, and calm waters for the perfect break from the city.

Plage Beau Rivage– A longtime hotspot, this private beach is right at the foot of the old town. It’s the largest beach in the French Riviera and is packed with 5-star amenities. Dine in gourmet restaurants on the shore, sip on a cocktail from the luxe lounge bar or rent a classic blue striped sunbed. Head to the Beau Rivage for an iconic, glamorous French Riviera experience.

Coco Beach – Locals love this small public rocky outcrop. Here you won’t find rentals or beach clubs but just the chance to soak up the sun on the warm rocks and dive into the water. Located in a residential area about 5 minutes from the other beaches, this is the perfect spot if you want a quick dip.

[Photo Credit: Alex D’Alessio via Unsplash]

Las Ramblas– This famous promenade stretches 1.2km from the oldest port in the city to the new shopping center. Las Ramblas is full of shops, outdoor cafes, markets, theatre, and art. It is a completely pedestrian zone allowing you to take your time and soak in the atmosphere.

a curves wall covered in mosaics on a terrace overlooking the city of Barcelona at Gaudi's Park Guell

Gaudi’s Park Güell -This UNESCO World Heritage Site sits on a hill above the city. It offers stunning panoramic views, intriguing ceramics, Roman temples, and a forest of enchantment, all designed by the famous Catalan artist Antoni Gaudí in his signature style. Surrounding Gaudi’s beautiful work is a maze of carefully landscaped trails, soft green hills, intricate walls, and bridges, making this one of Barcelona’s most impressive parks.

La Boqueria Market The best and most famous food market near Las Ramblas. Originally dating back to a 1217 meat market, La Boqueria now serves a huge variety of meat, fish, fruit, veggies, spices, and local dishes. This is a foodie’s paradise from seafood tapas to fruit smoothies. When visiting Barcelona it’s a must to spend time soaking up the atmosphere and the explosion of colors.

[Photo Credit: Denise Jones via Unsplash]

golden sand and waves kissing the shore with the famous sail-shaped building in the background on Barcelonetta beach in Barcelona Spain

Barceloneta Beach – The oldest and best-loved beach, Barceloneta is linked with the fishing quarter of the same name. The most famous Barcelona beach and the one closest to the city. Its soft golden sands will get crowded in the peak summer season so arrive early to enjoy the classic neighborhood-by-the-sea atmosphere and many amenities.

Bogatell Beach – Classic Barcelona golden sands, a huge variety of recreational facilities, and easy mobility access — this beach has it all. There are smaller crowds here, and they tend to be a little older averaging around 35-38 years. Beautiful water, seafood, and sun lounger rentals make this the perfect place to spend a sun-soaked day.

Nova Icaria– A wide stretch of golden sand on this peaceful beach makes it perfect for families and big groups. Nova Icaria, right next to Bogatell, has the widest range of leisure amenities, including restaurants, bars, playgrounds, ping-pong, and beach volleyball. This was a beach made with large families in mind.

[Photo Credit: Alessio Rinella via Unsplash]

Pompeii & Vesuvius -An easy day-trip from Naples this famous archeological wonder is a must-see. You can book a tour with transportation included, or get a guided tour when you arrive. After marveling at the living museum of Pompeii, head up to Mt Vesuvius itself. The hike to the top is suitable for all ages with many rest areas along the way to admire the panoramic city views.

Historic City Center– This UNESCO World Heritage Site has existed through twenty-seven centuries of history! The largest historic center in Europe, you can admire the many museums, monasteries, catacombs, and over 200 churches. It’s impossible to see it all so we highly recommend taking a local tour to help you appreciate the highlights.

Sansevero Chapel Museum– Mystery and beauty blend to create one of the most enigmatic chapels in Europe. Sansevero Chapel is located in the historic city center and holds some of the greatest marble sculptures in the world. We recommend reading up on the history of the artists and the chapel before visiting.

[Photo Credit:David Mark via Pixabay]

top photo a wide bay with mountains in the distance and the sky at sunset in the bay of Naples, bottom photo people in a bay sitting on rocks with a yacht in the background

Gaiola Beach – This almost hidden beach is in the Posilipo district. The beach is divided into two sections — the public area, which is a local favorite swimming spot, and the marine protected area in Parco Sommerso Della Gaiola, with its untouched beauty and beautiful views. The blue-green water is perfect for swimming, kayaking, snorkeling, or scuba. Or just settle in on the rocks or small sandy strips to soak in the sun.

Miseno & Miliscola – Located in the Bacoli area at the extreme point of the Capo Miseno peninsula, these two beaches feature a long seaboard with several lidos, bars, cafes, restaurants, and facilities. This is the perfect spot for a picnic with friends or family, with soft sand, clear shallow waters, and a long coast.

Scoglione di Marachiaro – Marechiaro is a seaside town famous for its beauty. This beach can only be reached by boat from the Calata Ponticello, creating a unique experience. Crystal clear water is perfect for a swim, or you can lay your towel on the long rocks or rent a sunbed. This is the perfect beach for classic Italian charm and taking a dip in the Med.

[Photo Credit Top: Jan Gottweiss, Bottom: Ferran Feixas via Unsplash ]

Alfama Neighborhood– The oldest, most traditional, and charming neighborhood in Lisbon. There’s plenty to see as you wander the steep cobblestone lanes. Visit the Castelo de Sao Jorge, hop on the iconic tram, or head to Miradouro de Santa Luzia for breath-taking views on a romantic terrace. Enjoy the cafes, music, and festivals and soak up the atmosphere in this vibrant, lively neighborhood.

a view of red tiled roofs and white buildings including a small tower with the sea in the background looking from a height in Lisbon Portugal

Jerónimos Monastery – This UNESCO World Heritage Site was built in the 1500s and is a must-see site for history and culture. The church features tree-trunk size columns and exhibits a mastery of architecture. Mixing naturalistic elements and religious symbols in its magnificent cloisters and gardens it’s one of the most interesting monuments in Lisbon.

Museu Nacional do AzulejoA one-of-a-kind museum all about the famous Portuguese azulejos, or tiles. Housed in an old convent from 1509, the collection features pieces as far back as the 1400s. Exhibiting masterpieces of tile art, the azulejos tell a story, and the museum takes you through their history. This unique collection will let you see Lisbon with new appreciation.

[Photo Credit: Tom Byrom via Unsplash]

top photo: Carcavelos beach with golden sand and surfers catching waves with a historic castle walls in the background, bottom photo: Adraga golden sand beach with jagged rock formations at sunset in Lisbon Portugal

Carcavelos Beach – Located halfway between Lisbon and Cascais, this wide beach is one of the largest on the Lisbon coast. Strong waves make it perfect for surfing or bodyboarding, but there’s plenty to do here besides hitting the waves — including a scenic promenade for skaters and joggers, restaurants and bars with seating on the beach and parasols to rent. This is a lively beach, big and convenient to get to, only a 20 min train ride from the city center.

Adraga – Less than 45min from Lisbon, this beautiful beach features a rock arch, strong waves and is a favorite among locals. Perfect for walking, fishing, and families who want to play in the warm sand. Explore the beach caves or just admire the dramatic coastline from the restaurant terrace.

Arrabida Beaches – The coastline to the south of Lisbon is full of beautiful beaches. A 30 minute train ride from the city center, this area is a natural paradise and protected park. With calm crystal-clear waters, laid-back restaurants, and even some Roman ruins, stretches of golden sand, lush green hills, and vibrant colors make these beaches the perfect getaway.

[Photo Credit Top: Zachary Pearson, Bottom: Natalia Alves via Unsplash]

graphic wavy circle with Split Croatia written in the middle

Marjan Forest Park One of the most beautiful places to visit in Split. This park offers nature, peacefulness, and mystery. Formerly the residence of monks, it has been transformed into a top place for recreation. Perfect for cycling, hiking, walking, and enjoying the stunning views with a coffee from the cafe.

an aerial view of downtown Split Croatia with the harbor and red tiled roofs and mountains in the background

Historic Old Town – There’s a lot to see in Split’s historic old town, and much of it is well-marked with signs in English! Wander the pedestrian-only medieval historic streets, enjoy the cafes, bars, restaurants, and shops. Soak in the history all around you as you navigate the maze of cobblestone alleyways. Be sure to visit the Diocletian’s Palace, the 13th century Bell Tower and the statue of Nin!

Klis Fortress– This ancient stronghold is just outside of Split. You can admire ancient ruins and the 2000-year-old history that seeps from the stones. Sprawling over the hilltop, this fortress is full of lookouts and nooks and you can explore it all with complete freedom.

[Photo Credit:Spencer Davis via Unsplash]

a white stony path to the right of a bright blue sea with green tress overhanging the path in Split Croatia

Bačvice – This sandy beach is only a 10-minute walk from this historic old town. A very popular local beach in the heart of the city, the shallow waters are perfect for little ones. You can rent chairs and umbrellas, play water sports, rent jet skis and swim in the clear calm waters.

Ovčice – Just a 5-minute walk from Bacvice Beach, Ovcice is lined with cafes and restaurants with beautiful ocean views. This small pebble beach features many amenities, especially for children, such as rentals, playgrounds, and trampolines! It’s right next to the city and will give you a typical Croatian beach experience.

Ježinac To avoid the crowds of the main city beaches head to Jezinac at the base of Marjan Hill. This quieter and more peaceful beach is only 2 miles from the city center. It has an upscale atmosphere with luxury accommodations, dining, and amenities. It’s one of the most scenic pebble beaches, offering plenty of places to relax in the sun in style.

[Photo Credit: Tom Bradley via Unsplash]

These are just a small sample of what these fascinating cities and beautiful beaches have to offer, if your interest is piqued- let us know! We’re excited to help plan an adventure that combines the best of both worlds!

Tapas and terrorism

Lisa and Sean are two of my favorite clients, and I was very concerned about them when they were in Barcelona during the recent tourist attack on Las Ramblas. Fortunately, she emailed me right away to let me know that they were safe and sound in their hotel, and ready to continue on with the rest of their travel plans. I’m glad they did! Mostly because their final destination — the Costa Brava — turned out to be the highlight of the trip.  But also because if we live in fear and start to curtail our travels, the terrorists win.  Read on for their fabulous trip report 🙂

Hi Ann!

We were so lucky that our hotel in Madrid had our room ready when we arrived at about 9:30 am on Saturday morning. The Iberostar Las Letras Gran Via was a perfect hotel. The location was very central, our balcony was so spacious it had a table and chairs as well as two lounge chairs, and a beautiful rooftop bar, which we utilized often. I would definitely use this hotel again for Madrid vacationers.

We spent our first day walking the Plaza de Serrano for shopping, they have lots of designer stores there. Then we headed to Retiro Park, which was a hidden gem! It was beautiful, great for people watching, and had a cool crystal palace. We got lucky with weather the whole vacation – it was hot and sunny, but not oppressively humid like we’ve experienced before in other cities in the summer. We found this really cool place called La Platea for lunch, which had live music and tons of tapas options. They aren’t kidding about the sangria – it’s like the wine in Italy, the same price as getting bottled water! I have to say, the food the whole trip was also delicious. That night, we walked through the “big areas” of Madrid – Puerta del Sol, Plaza Mayor, and Mercado de San Miguel. All areas were lively and fun, but the market was definitely a bit crowded. We ended up going back later in the evening another night and got luckier with the crowds. We had dinner at Museo de Jamon, which is everywhere in the country, but actually really good. We also found a place called Chocolateria San Gines, for the most amazing churros and chocolate. I would be lying if I said that was the only night we visited there!

We woke up early the next day to go to the Palacio Royal. We did have tickets in advance, but not a specific timed entry. They open at 10 am and I would highly suggest getting there right around opening time. We walked right in and got to enjoy the place without feeling crowded. By the time we exited almost 2 hours later, the lines were pretty long to get in, even if you already had tickets. It was a beautiful palace, and easy to navigate. The audio guide was very helpful. On our way to lunch at a wonderful place called Inclan, we stopped at Primark department store, which is probably the biggest department store I’ve ever been in.

Our last day was spent at the museums. We did the Prado Museum in the morning (we had advance tickets for a specific time so it was easy to get in) and then the Reina Sophia in the afternoon. We did not have tickets for the Reina Sophia because we’re not huge museum people, and weren’t sure if we were even going to do it. First of all, I’m glad we did, because it’s much smaller than the Prado so it wasn’t overwhelming. But, it was also easy just to show up and buy tickets, so there’s no need to do that ahead of time. We had lunch at a place called La Taperia. We spent that night, like many other nights, getting drinks and tapas at our hotel rooftop bar.

outside of the Museo del Prado in Madrid Spain

The train ride to Barcelona the next morning was easy, as are all European train rides I’ve realized! Our hotel, Condes de Barcelona, was also fabulous! It was in a great location, nicely appointed rooms, and another even more gorgeous rooftop bar, with views of La Sagrada Familia. The only thing I would mention to future clients is that they advertise a rooftop infinity pool. It might possibly be the smallest pool I’ve ever seen, with only about 6-8 lounge chairs around the pool. It was always filled, which was fine, because we had the coast ahead of us and weren’t looking for sun time. But, they definitely advertise it differently, so for people looking to be able to lay by the pool, it’s definitely not what it seems like.

exterior of La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain

We took a cooking class that night from a company called Cook and Taste! It was about a 4 and a half hour class, and I would highly, highly recommend it to anyone! It was definitely a highlight of our trip. The chef was so nice and knowledgeable, and the group was about 15-18 people, so everyone got to be involved. It could have been the best meal we ate all trip as well, and we got to take the recipes home with us. We made traditional Spanish dishes – vegetables with romesco sauce, gazpacho, paella, and a dessert called Crema de Catalana.

Our next day we called the “Day of Gaudi”. We went to La Sagrada Familia (advanced, timed tickets which are definitely necessary, the place is a madhouse!) The church is definitely one of the most unique things we’ve seen in our travels in the past few years. We then checked out Parc Guell, which is the park Gaudi designed. We did not have tickets to this, and didn’t realize that it gets sold out. However, the majority of the park is free to walk through, there are only a few attractions that need a ticket. As it turns out, we didn’t feel cheated without having a ticket. Then we went to La Pedrera, one of Gaudi’s houses right near our hotel. It was very cool, but I wouldn’t suggest anyone going to more than one. They all start to look the same after awhile, and La Pedrera is the biggest. Again, you can buy tickets to that ahead of time, but it wasn’t necessary. We had lunch at an italian place called Ristorante Margherita. As an alternative to tapas, there was a lot of good Italian food in both Barcelona and at the coast. We spent the evening strolling Las Ramblas, which really is as crowded and chaotic as they say (foreshadowing obviously). We had dinner at a plaza near Las Ramblas called Les Quinte Nits, which had amazing paella.

exterior of one of Gaudi's buildings in Barcelona, Spain

We spent the next morning doing a little more exploring. The one thing about Barcelona that’s different than Madrid is that it’s much more spread out. We could walk almost anywhere in Madrid, but you definitely have to utilize the public transportation in Barcelona more often. That being said, the metro is easy to navigate and efficient. We went to the Picasso Museum (had advance tickets, but not necessary), and Citadel Park, which is huge and really cool. We had lunch at a place called Vinitus, which was busy but very authentic. We had planned to take a ride up to Montjuic (heard it was beautiful views) in the afternoon, but after a short rest break in our hotel, obviously the terrorist attack put a damper on those plans.

Obviously, we don’t want that horrific incident to define our trip but a few things I will say about it. Like I just mentioned, Las Ramblas is most definitely one of those areas you say to yourself (unfortunately at these times) that is asking for something bad to happen. It’s insanely crowded. We did see a good amount of security up and down the street however, so I was not surprised the next day during the incident when I heard multiple accounts that police and security had the area contained in 30 seconds to 1 minute. The city definitely shut down that night, we were lucky that we had a restaurant in our hotel for dinner, or we may have been very hungry, because nothing was open! I will also say that the security when we flew back out of Barcelona 4 days later was insane. I am certainly not complaining, because better safe than sorry, but they definitely had things on top notch control. Thankfully we were in the hotel throughout the duration of the incident but it was obviously still unsettling. And, we were lucky that it happened right before we were planning to leave, because I know there were some restrictions on the public transportation and hop on/hop off tours for the next few days.

the spanish coast of Tossa de Mar the spanish coastal town of Tossa de mar

We left the next morning to rent a car (an inefficient process no matter what country you’re in!) and head to Tossa de Mar, which was a very straightforward drive to the coast. Our hotel, Gran Hotel Reymar Resort and Spa, was perfect!! It was steps from the beach, and we had a gorgeous view of the water from our room. The town itself was adorable, all shops, restaurants, beaches were within short walking distance. It was vibrant and lively at night. We ended up not actually heading to the beach at all, although it was reasonably priced and easy to rent chairs. The sand was slightly rocky and it was crowded so we decided to stay at the hotel pool for its convenience, especially because the pool was surrounded with glass for its railings and if you turned your chair you were facing the ocean anyways! The pool had a bar and tapas available for lunch each day, so it couldn’t have been more relaxing. The other cool thing about Tossa de Mar was the “Old Town” portion, which was original from like the 15th century. It was an old castle, lighthouse, and fortress. We even ate dinner one night outside at the base of the castle. It was an amazing mix of old and new in one small area. It may be our favorite coastal town yet, to be honest! We had lots of delicious meals, both traditional Spanish and Italian options. We didn’t use the spa, but the spa brochure looked very high quality. Honestly, of course we didn’t want to leave!

the coastal town of Tossa de Mar

Our return flights through Barcelona with Air France were easy. Overall, we had quite an amazing trip, and Spain has definitely taken over the second spot in our “favorite countries” after Italy. Both Madrid and Barcelona were clean and welcoming, and I’m hard pressed to say which one I liked better.

As always, you planned a trip for us that we couldn’t have imagined being any more perfect, so thanks again!

Lisa & Sean

You provided excellent guidance for us. I appreciated that you really had us think about what was most important to us when we were selecting the right cruise – and not to totally focus on what other people had to say. THANK YOU for helping to make this a memorable trip for our family! It really was a trip of a lifetime!

Clare and Mark (family cruise to Alaska)

The level of service we experienced was out of this world (and we did NOT make it easy on Ann). We weren’t quite sure where we wanted to go, when we would be able to go, or what “vibe” we were going for. After asking us some key questions (what we liked, didn’t like, why, etc.) Ann helped us narrow down our trip details and planned the honeymoon of our dreams. She helped book some of our excursions, answered some emergency questions while abroad and was always available/willing to help. I think it’s safe to say we won’t be using anyone else for future travel planning – Ann is a rockstar!

Carli (Italy and Spain)