The best beaches in European cities

Story highlights

European city beach locations may surprise you -- Vienna for a swim, anyone?

Original Lido in Venice, and much-imitated Paris Plages Seine-side beaches, are highlights

Amsterdam's urban beach is predictably laid back, with a summer-long party

CNN  — 

Sand and cities don’t naturally go together, but they’re matched to perfection at lidos, pop-up beaches and metro lakesides from Paris to Prague, via sandy Vienna.

Unless otherwise indicated, these urban beaches are free and open year round:

Strandbad Wannsee, Berlin

Best for: Sun-worshippers

A 20-minute train ride from central Berlin, on the banks of the Wannsee Lake, gets you to the largest inland lido (urban public swimming spot) in Europe – the swimming and sunbathing areas together cover around 35 hectares.

Berliners have been heading here with their beach towels since 1907 to kick back on the 1,275-meter stretch of sand, shipped in from the Baltic Sea.

There’s beach volleyball and giant chess games, a water slide into the lake and a nudist area.

Strandbad Wannsee

Lido di Venezia, Venice, Italy

Best for: Celeb spotting

Venice has its own version of Palm Beach in the form of the Lido (after which many, generally less impressive European swimming areas are named), an 11-kilometer-long sandbar, reached by ferry, that separates the Venetian Lagoon from the Adriatic Sea.

One of the loveliest areas is the WWF-protected sandy dunes at Alberoni. Rare bee-eater birds are often seen here.

Visit the Lido during August and you may spot George Clooney or Helen Mirren – big Hollywood names come for the Venice Film Festival, held at the grand Palazzo del Cinema.

For more about Venice and the Lido de Venezia, visit Turismo Venezia.

World’s 100 best beaches

Barceloneta, Barcelona, Spain

Best for: Beach architecture

At Barceloneta, the city’s former fisherman’s quarter, you’ll find Barcelona’s largest, most centrally located and most popular beach.

At a mere hint of sunshine, locals beeline for the three-kilometer-long ribbon of sand.

Arrive early if you want a decent spot.

The beach is lined with strange architectural wonders, including a giant golden fish sculpture by celebrated American architect Frank Gehry, and a three-story-tall leaning tower of steel boxes, the work of German sculptor Rebecca Horn.

For more about Barcelona and Barceloneta beach visit Barcelona Turisme.

Blijburg aan Zee, Amsterdam

Best for: Night owls

Amsterdammers come to this wide stretch of sand when they want to feel the sand beneath their feet, but don’t want to schlep all the way to the coast.

The beach is on IJburg, a collection of artificial islands east of the city center.

It has a laid-back bohemian vibe and a beach shack serving ice cream.

After dark the beach comes alive with campfires, DJs and a beach-party atmosphere that continues into the morning hours.

Find more on Amsterdam and Blijburg aan Zee at the official Amsterdam tourism website. Details of evening and other events on the beach here (Dutch-language site only).

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Sand in the City, Vienna

Best for: Almost any kind of beach activity you can imagine

The Danube River has a number of beaches along its length, but the coolest one is located in the grounds of the Vienna Ice Skating Club: the Sand in the City beach club.

One sandy theme succeeds another at the club.

The Sport Beach has beach volleyball, the games lit up at night with floodlights. At Gastro Beach, stands serve strawberry punch, Italian ice cream and other refreshments. Every Sunday the beach is transformed into an open-air salsa party with international DJs.

Sand in the City

Bruxelles les Bains, Brussels

Best for: Pretending you’re at a resort when you’re in the city

Every summer, 3,000 tons of sand from the North Sea are poured along the banks of the Brussels Canal.

The result is more like a resort than a beach, with a children’s park and activities galore, from boules to Ultimate Frisbee.

Weekly events include beach rugby tournaments, a huge video games tent, dance lessons and free concerts held on the “sand stage.”

Cocktail bars pepper the beach – sundowners are hard to avoid.

Bruxelles les Bains

Amager Beach Park, Copenhagen, Denmark

Best for: Swimming laps

Since 1934, whenever locals have needed beach time, they’ve crossed one of two bridges to this island just off the city’s coastline.

There are almost three miles of beaches here; the northern end is wild, with winding paths and sand dunes – people come for picnics and play.

At the southern end is the new “city beach,” with a broad promenade and boat marina. You can launch yourself off the jetty for a swim, or get your heart rate up in the kilometer-long swimming lane.

Amager Beach Park (Danish-language site only)

Paris Plages, Paris

Best for: Parisian chic

What began in 2002 as a single, short beach on the Right Bank of the Seine has turned into one of the biggest pop-up beaches in Europe.

More than 2,000 tons of sand are loaded onto various Paris waterside locations: this year it’s across from the Georges Pompidou exhibition center and at the Bassin de la Villette artificial lake.

Visitors can sit on a deck chair under a palm tree, borrow books free of charge, join in tai chi and ballroom dance classes or ride a new 150-meter-long zip line across the Bassin de la Villette.

Oddly enough, swimming in the Seine is forbidden – there are row boats and kayaks for rent instead.

Paris Plages

Žluté Lázně, Prague

Best for: Sporty types

On the banks of the River Vltava, this venerable city beach turns 103 this summer.

The expanse of imported sand provides plenty of spots for horizontal relaxation. Games include beach volleyball, slack-lining, petanque, netball and giant chess.

There are several bars and restaurants, a children’s play area and – this being a common requirement for European urban beach-goers – a “no-clothes” beach.

Evening beach parties feature DJs and young, attractive crowds.

Žluté Lázně

Guincho, Lisbon

Best for: Urban surfing

After a morning in Lisbon’s medieval Alfama quarter, its cathedrals and cubbyhole cafes, a trip to this long beach below the cliffs near Cascais, a 20-minute bus ride from Lisbon proper, makes a great change of scene.

Many consider Guincho the most beautiful beach around Lisbon, but whether you come for the scenery or not, you’re almost guaranteed a decent swell.

The beach is renowned for its strong waves and chill surfing vibe – whatever day of the week you can expect plenty of kite- and windsurfers in the water.

Surf rental shops and schools are nearby, but the beach is also fine for bodysurfing.

For more about Lisbon visit the official Lisbon tourism website.

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