8 Urban Beaches That Genuinely Aren't Terrible
A city break AND a beach? Yes please
7 July 2019
City beaches may be associated with cigarette butts and sewage, but these serene, sandy exceptions will make you rebook your city break.
Picture the archetypal urban beach.
The broken bottles protruding menacingly from the sand; the concrete bulwarks ready to repel high tide; the honking car horns drowning out the lapping waves…
Is that a gentle sea breeze brushing my cheek – or an exhaust fume?
Some city beaches are pretty awful, but even in some of the world’s most crowded capitals, there are beaches going against the grain. Here are a few urban gems showing that, under the right conditions, sun, sea and skyscrapers really can go successfully hand in hand…
Banje Beach, Dubrovnik
A stone’s throw from historic Dubrovnik, Banje isn’t the biggest or best-known beach on our list, but it offers up a range of charming diversions on both sides of the shoreline.
A postcard-perfect stretch of Adriatic coast, the water is warm and blissfully see-through, with sand underfoot and snorkelling aplenty. On land, the orange roofs of Old Town stack atop the brown-beige brickwork that blends into the rocks beneath.
Weekdays show this beach at its best: Space is limited, and the Saturday surge can almost obscure the sand. You can rent sunbeds from the local beach club – albeit at an inflated price.
Ipanema Beach, Rio de Janeiro
Safer, cleaner, and quieter than the neighbouring Copacabana Beach – and arguably just as iconic – Ipanema fronts a more affluent area of Rio, with elegant architecture and a tanned, athletic clientele.
Featured in more songs and films than the Allen siblings, Ipanema is absolutely scorching in the summertime, and you’ll be grateful for the iced caipirinhas you can order direct to your towel.
On the flip-side, it’s a lot more expensive than Copacabana, but no-one pays to use the sea. Not yet, anyway…
Barceloneta Beach, Barcelona
With nearly four times as many annual tourists as the whole of India, Barcelona’s flagship beach has no right to be anything other than completely ruined.
Instead, Barceloneta is a sandy, seaside miracle. A palm-lined promenade with waterfront bars backs a beach which more than makes up for its busyness with fresh seafood, daily cleaning, and a wide choice of water sports.
Right next to the city centre, this urban beach is as accessible as they come.
Manly Beach, Sydney
We know, we know, we’ve committed the cardinal sin of not picking Bondi, but Sydney’s most famous beach gets absolutely rammed in the summer months, and Manly deserves some love too.
At the end of a glorious ferry ride through Sydney Harbour, this beach in the northern suburbs is far more relaxed than its inner-city counterparts, lining two kilometres of sand with pine trees on one side and the ocean on the other.
Sydney has an embarrassment of riches along its coast, but we reckon Manly might just come out on top down under.
Palawan Beach, Singapore
It’s quite hard to believe that the palms, pavilions and rope bridges of Palawan do in fact overlook real sea, and not an extremely realistic water park.
An oceanic playground on the Singaporean resort island of Sentosa, this two-sided sandbank has been carefully refined into a beach bum’s paradise, and almost marks the Southernmost point of continental Asia.
With sizzling sunshine all year round, it’s low on authenticity, but high on almost everything else.
Clifton Beach, Cape Town
Pure white sand, a catwalk of designer swimwear, and water so clear you could see a shark coming from miles away, it is no surprise that Clifton Beach is backed by some of the priciest real estate on the whole African continent.
Divided into four distinct parts (numbered one through four), each area of sand has its own devoted following. 1st Beach is the quietest, preferred by older people and dog-walkers; 2nd Beach is trendy, unpretentious and popular with teenagers; while 3rd Beach is a hub for the Cape Town gay community.
4th Beach is the most famous by far. The place to see and be seen, it’s popular with models, socialites and the insta-famous, who can often be spotted posing in the shallows.
Waikiki Beach, Honolulu
It’s quite a feat being the most famous beach in Hawaii, and Waikiki Beach deserves every ounce of its acclaim. Two miles of velvety sand splitting the sea from the skyscrapers of Honolulu, Waikiki is a Mecca for swimming, sunbathing and surfing, mere metres from the shoppers and office workers patrolling the city streets.
Facing an existential threat from rising sea levels, the Hawaiian government recently allocated $13 million to help keep the strip of sand afloat.
Brighton Beach, Brighton
OK, we admit we reached a bit to include one of our own here, but the pebbles of Brighton Beach are 100% worth the mention and your time.
As much about the land as the water, Brighton boasts one of Britain’s only remaining Punch & Judy shows, arguably the nation’s finest Victorian pleasure pier, and a sea life centre that claims to be the oldest aquarium in the world.
At the end lies the i360 – a 162m observation deck offering panoramic views across city and sea. We’re not going to pretend that the English Channel measures up against the Med, but on warm days, the water provides welcome relief.