The best car-free beach holidays in Europe

Whisper it: it’s getting easier to visit Europe without renting a car. Rental prices have fortunately fallen, but thanks to the huge increase in the number of international train networks and operators offering alternative transport options, holidaymakers can often leave the car keys at home.

Of course, the consummate city buster already knows this. Those visiting the continent’s capitals can generally rely on public transport to get around, from gallery to attraction to restaurant, without even touching a steering wheel. Yet there is a feeling that a more remote holiday – or a holiday at the beach – may be more difficult. But even that doesn’t have to be the case. Across Europe there are a number of beautiful coastal destinations that are easy to reach on foot or by bike, and are easily accessible via public transport from the airport.

And going car-free doesn’t mean you have to resort to high-rise packages along with the hordes. The key is to look through the obvious honeypots and overtouristed hotspots and find an under-the-radar spot that has everything you need for a beach holiday: namely a fantastic seaside spot, a handful of restaurants and bars where the locals drink and a charming place to stay. So here are 20 attractive destinations suitable for unusual beach holidays in Europe – no car required.

Ile de Groix

In this most British corner of France, the beaches are reminiscent of Cornwall: deep bays surrounded by rock pools and green and heathland headlands. Except here, more than 300 kilometers south, the weather is a bit better – the Ile de Groix even has its own microclimate. It is a relaxed, timeless island, perfect for cycling with children. Grands-Sables is Groix’s poster girl, a convex arc of fine, white sand – but there are countless others, including the pinot-blush Sables-Rouges and, a scramble up the rocks, the hidden corner of Poulziorec.

How to do that: Train from London St Pancras to Lorient and then ferry to Groix.

Stay: The three-star Hôtel Ty Mad Groix has 24 rooms, three apartments, a secluded swimming pool and a restaurant terrace with a nautical atmosphere. Doubles from £80.

Ile de Groix, Brittany

No cars needed to explore the Ile de Groix coastline – BESTJOBERS_MAX COQUARD


The glitz of the French Riviera hasn’t made it to Porquerolles, twenty minutes from the Côte d’Azur. This car-free crescent of land is the old-fashioned Riviera, unspoilt and no-nonsense: a sleepy village square with the sound of pétanque, herb-scented maquis wilderness, pine-clad coves lined with pristine white sand flowing into emerald green water and small sailboats who are all looking in the same direction.

How to do that: Easyjet flies to Toulon-Hyères, with fares from around £40. Then take a shuttle boat from Toulon/Giens port to Porquerolles.

Stay: Le Mas du Langoustier with blue shutters is the smartest place; it has a Michelin star restaurant and its gardens lead straight to two beaches. Doubled from €350.

Coastline of Porquerolles island, Mediterranean Sea, FranceCoastline of Porquerolles island, Mediterranean Sea, France

The unspoilt French island of Porquerolle is best reached by boat – Getty


With its coves of pale sand flowing into safe, iridescent turquoise shallow waters and ready-made villa resorts, Menorca is ideal for family beach holidays. Unassuming Binibeca, 20 minutes from Mahon, has everything you need to happily stay all week: a few heavenly beaches with fine white sand, some simple restaurants and decent beach bars.

How to do that: Fly to Mahon; Flybus shuttle/taxi.

Stay: Vintage Travel offers three villas in Binibeca, including Alba Dorat, for six people. Prices start at £2,698 per week.


The great sandy beaches of southern Italy are not easy to reach without a car, with evidence of a local and persistent persistence – so a great Italian beach with its own train station is a precious thing indeed. Tropea, the pearl of Calabria, is located at the foot of Italy. The plaster-pink town, teetering on a cliff, is breathtaking Cinque Terre, but hardly anyone knows about it – at least, hardly anyone outside Italy – and 100 meters below lies the most beautiful curve of creamy sand, standing out brightly against the crystalline Tyrrhenian plain.

How to do that: Fly to Lamezia with Ryanair and then train to Tropea station.

Stay: Villa Paola must be one of Italy’s most romantic retreats: a 15th-century strawberry-and-cream monastery, terraced gardens high above the sea. Doubles from £230.

Woman taking a photo of the Shrine of Santa Marie dell'Isola in Tropea, Italy.Woman taking a photo of the Shrine of Santa Marie dell'Isola in Tropea, Italy.

Tropea in Italy, is a coastal town in Europe with beautiful scenery, where you can go car-free – Francesco Vaninetti Photo/Moment RF


You couldn’t drive on Lopud even if you wanted to – this part of an island in Elaphiti is car-free. In Sunj it also has one of the most beautiful sandy beaches on the Dalmatian coast, reachable after a hill walk through the pine forest, with a towel under your arm. You don’t need much else: relaxed beach bars serve grilled fish and cocktails to refresh after a dip in the sea-green Adriatic Sea.

How to do that: Fly to Dubrovnik; ferry to Lopud (55 minutes).

Stay: The sun-drenched Lafodia Sea Resort has rooms from £215 per night.

The bay of LopudThe bay of Lopud

The car-free island of Lopud is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in Croatia: Dario Odak


Two wheels are all you need on this barefoot beauty from the Balearic Islands. Cycle paths connect the beaches with white sand and clear turquoise water – Ses Illetas is more Caribbean than Mediterranean – along wooden boardwalks through the wildflowers.

How to do that: Fly to Ibiza; ferry to Formentera; rent a bike.

Stay: You’re spoiled for choice here: Gecko Hotel & Beach Club offers yoga in the morning and DJ sets in the afternoon in the hot-ticket beach club. Doubles from £512. Or stay at Hotel Casbah, a five-minute walk from Playa Migjorn. Doubles from £197 per night.

Casa Pacha, FormenteraCasa Pacha, Formentera

Enjoy barefoot luxury at Formentera hotel Casa Pacha


Between the resorts, most of the turquoise coast remains unspoilt, sleepy and serene as it was a century ago, when only fishing boats and traditional gulets plied the coast. The rugged coastline has countless coves, forested peninsulas and places to swim that are virtually inaccessible except by boat. Gocek – where Icarus is said to have fallen into the sea – has been spared the development of mass tourism. Along the waterfront you’ll find tavernas, where you can eat octopus while cooling your feet in the sea, and the marina is a playground for wealthy Istanbulites and superyachts.

How to do that: Fly to Dalaman; taxi to Gocek.

Stay: D Resort Gocek is super stylish enough to lure international stars from their usual Euro holiday circuit, with its fantastic restaurants, bars, spa and divine sandy beach. Doubles from £143 B&B.


This unsung island in the Cyclades is where famous Athenians go for beaches without the crowds. They surpass anything on Santorini or Mykonos, and even in summer you can find an empty stretch of sand. There are no glittering resorts, but several discreetly stylish places to stay.

How to do that: Fly to Athens; Seajet from Athens port, Piraeus, to Serifos.

Stay: The contemporary Cycladic aesthetic of Nostos Hotel is characterized by soothing neutral tones. Rooms start at £135.

View over Ganema beach on the Greek island of Serifos, in the CycladesView over Ganema beach on the Greek island of Serifos, in the Cyclades

The Greek island of Serifos has beautiful beaches and is easy to explore without a car – Robert Harding Video/Shutterstock


The island of Ischia, which once attracted as glamorous a crowd as neighboring Capri, has become more of a multi-generational holiday destination in recent decades, with its coves of golden sand, thermal healing springs for sick old people and seaside trattorias buzzing with extended families. A ferry takes you across the Bay of Naples, the wind in your hair, your shoulders down a nautical mile.

How to do that: Fly to Naples; ferry to Ischia. Circolare buses run around the island.

Stay: Mezzatorre, one of the illustrious Pellicano trios, was created from an Aragonese watchtower and is top class. Doubles from £314 per night.


Mezzatorre was created on the basis of an Aragonese watchtower – Giada Mariani


First and foremost a playground for the gods – Zeus grew up here, Dionysus fell in love with Ariadne – and now the Cyclades island of Naxos is blessed for mortals on holiday with some of the most beautiful and easily accessible beaches in Greece. Agios Prokopios is just a stone’s throw from the town, while a few kilometers south lies the wilder Plaka Beach – a long, pale stretch of sand on the edge of clear turquoise waters and surrounded by dunes and whitewashed houses, from where you can easily you can walk out of the room and further to the sand.

How to do that: Fly to Athens; then to Naxos with Olympic Air; or fly to Mykonos and then take the ferry to Naxos.

Stay: There are many quiet casitas on Plaka; try Medusa Beach Resort, with a fantastic beach/pool bar and dazzling white suites in palm-shaded gardens. Doubles from £154 per night.

A sandy beach at Plage du Peu des Hommes on the south coast of Ile de Re, FranceA sandy beach at Plage du Peu des Hommes on the south coast of Ile de Re, France

The French island of Il de Ré is ideal for a car-free holiday – robertharding / Alamy Stock Photo/Alamy

Ile de Re

Charente-Maritime, France

Popular with Parisian families, the Ile de Ré stretches from La Rochelle into the Atlantic Ocean, surrounded by golden sands and aquamarine shallow waters. Holidays are experienced on the edges: cycling along the coastal paths, horse riding on the beaches, messing around in boats off the coast and eating and drinking in the evenings in the restaurants and oyster huts on the water.

How to do that: Fly to La Rochelle; then take a bus or taxi over the bridge and rent a bicycle.

Stay: An understatedly stylish option, Hotel Senechal offers charming, artistic rooms. Double from €125.


Before Europcar was invented in 1949, the Rosbifs were forced to choose holiday destinations where everything was within walking distance. Biarritz, the pearl of the Basque coast, had it all: grand hotels and cocktail bars, illustrious visitors from Charlie Chaplin to Winston Churchill, a columned ball and beaches where you could roll your pants up to the ankle. Now it’s been reborn as the cool surfing capital of France, with buzzing new bars and Basque restaurants.

How to do that: Train to Biarritz, change in Paris – et voila!

Stay: The beachfront Sofitel Biarritz le Miramar Thalassa Sea & Spa is a suitably glamorous spot. Doubles from £221 per night.

This story was first published in June 2022 and has been revised and updated.

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