The trend of urban beaches started right here in the heart of France in 2002. Each July the streets along the River Seine are transformed into strips of sandy beach lined with palm trees, lounge chairs, cocktail bars and street-food stalls. Paris Plages (Paris Beaches) have now become an essential part of the city’s summer lifestyle. Although swimming in the river is prohibited (and likely to make you ill), last year Paris introduced artificial pools at the Canal de l’Ourcq for a cleaner way of cooling down – but go early, the queues can be hours long.
Being the second-largest port in Europe, it’s no wonder that Hamburg has several urban beaches. The harbour covers a land area of 43.31km², with various museums, bars, restaurants and even a floating riverboat church. For an authentic experience, head down to the natural beach on the River Elbe. Here you can grill sausages and gaze at the grand mansions clinging to the hillside. For a truly urban beach, Sky & Sand is a rooftop beach bar atop the Hamburger Meile shopping centre, which underwent a 22-month-long renovation in 2010, making it the most modern mall in the city. Hamburg’s highest beach club, Sky & Sand offers visitors dazzling views and an exceptional drinks menu.
You don’t have to take the train to Scheveningen to get into the holiday mood in Amsterdam. The city’s nonchalant atmosphere carries all the way to the Strand IJburg beach, a 40-minute train ride from Amsterdam Centraal Station. You’ll find festive lanterns, hammocks, live music and campfires where people gather sipping ice-cold beers and watching the sun slip behind the horizon. To add to the beatnik vibe, Blijburg is a tented restaurant pavilion bedecked with hanging plants and Buddha statues. In summer, it hosts live music events such as themed festivals and art workshops on a sand bank by the water. Last year the entire venue was transformed into a Bedouin desert retreat complete with shimmering oasis lake, food trucks and boutiques. Does it get any more bohemian than that?
Madrid’s first urban beach was born in 2008 as part of the Madrid Rio project, converting 820 hectares along the Manzanares River into a beautiful, 10km-long park of cycling routes and picnic spots. Kids’ play areas are scattered throughout, with imaginative equipment such as a tree trunk jungle and a zip line, all set underneath a canopy of more than 26,000 trees. The beach has three oval-shaped water play areas for kids, with effects like water vapour clouds and jets to cool off from the baking Madrileño sun.
Despite being an inland city far from the sea, thanks to its eponymous lake, Geneva has many beaches and swimming spots. The most popular is Bains des Paquis, located on the west side of the lake. Beach-goers can swim, go paddle-boarding or rent a water bike. La Buvette des Bains restaurant opens at 9am every day and serves a healthy lunch menu and delicious fondue in winter, which you can eat on the beach. From here you have a perfect view of the city’s famous Jet d’Eau fountain peeking out from the middle of the lake.
They say summer doesn’t exist in London but that doesn’t stop the British from squeezing every ounce of enjoyment from even the slightest bit of sunshine. The go-to spot to dig your toes in the sand is Beach East – Britain’s largest urban beach – at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. On the weekends, you’ll find paddling pools, live music and sticky jerk chicken at the BBQ beach bar. Other stretches of urban sand include Brixton Boulevard beach and the Southbank beach – a recreation of Rio’s Copacabana. Dance to samba, sip on ice-cold caipirinhas and order the cod fritters with malagueta sauce – a Brazilian speciality.
The Danube Island, built as part of Vienna’s flood protection, has become a perfect getaway from the busy city. This 21km-long island has many swimming spots, green meadows that are great for picnics, running and cycling trails, and laid-back strips of sand. It’s also home to a wakeboarding park and the world’s biggest floating trampoline centre. Copa Cagrana beach hut is a great pit stop for lunch (order the deep-fried aubergine fritters) and has its own pool sheltered from the Danube’s strong currents. Even better, the U-Bahn from Central Station to the island takes just 30 minutes.