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In Iceland, balaclavas are beachwear / Photo: Adobe Stock

Flopping on warm sand with a book you'll never read to while away the holiday hours is a time-honoured tradition, and rightfully so. Everyone loves beaches, from hole-digging kids to snoozing grandparents. But to stop at sunbathing is to miss so many of the exciting things happening on them all over Europe. So pack a sense of adventure (and no need for a bucket and spade) – here's a round-up of shore-fire winners.

1. Put your hands in the air

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Hideout festival in Croatia has been running for 10 banging years / Photo: Alamy

Hideout, Croatia

The organisers of the Hideout island festival on the Croatian coast promise pre-parties, afterparties, pool parties, a beach party, and boat parties – it’s safe to say you’ll probably need a break from partying when you get home. Since 2010 it’s been taking over the clubs on a stretch of sand on the island of Pag, just north of Zadar. A glance at previous line-ups will give you a flavour of what to expect (Rudimental, Eats Everything, Joy Orbison) – international acts who know how to work a dancefloor. If it all gets too much, the beach is right there too. A whale of a time guaranteed.

✈ Fly to Zadar – book flights and holidays

2. Strike a pose

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Practise your headstand on the sand / Photo: Fabrice Coiffard

Paradis Plage, Morocco

Fancy getting into fish pose by the sea or camel pose on the sand? Yoga on the beach is a more grounding experience than doing it in a sweaty studio, and Paradis Plage are the zen masters of seaside retreats. At a dreamy five-star resort in Morocco, they organise classes overlooking the Atlantic waves as palm trees sway in the background and breezes float off the ocean. See, you’re feeling relaxed already…

✈ Fly to Agadir – book flights and holidays

3. Save the turtles

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Help these little cuties and have a holiday? Yes please

Go Eco, Greece

They say one of the best ways to feel happier is to do something for someone else – and it’s even better if that someone else is a cute little turtle. At one of the longest-running conservation projects in Europe, volunteers rock up for a minimum of two weeks to Elis in southwest Greece to help protect loggerhead seat turtle hatchlings on the beach by the Med. It’s an ethically sound way to make a difference in the world – and it’ll give you more satisfaction than shelling out on just another regular beach break.

✈ Fly to Athens – book flights and holidays

4. Eat with your feet in the sand

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Vila Joya Sea: the beachside restaurant of your dreams

Vila Joya Sea, Algarve

This restaurant of the luxurious Vila Joya overlooks the crashing Atlantic, but calling it a beach shack would be to undersell it: yes, it’s decked out in rustic materials and is open to the ocean air, but this is as chic as the rest of the hotel. It does a great line in local oysters, seafood and Japanese-inspired grills, and could well be one of the nicest places to eat next to the water in Europe. If it was any closer to the sea you’d need to have lunch in your wellies. 

✈ Fly to Faro – book flights and holidays

5. Get stacked

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Find your inner caveman by working out… in a cave / Photo: Alex Atack

Wildfitness, Menorca

At these fitness-focused retreats, you’ll lift rocks, wrestle and reconnect  with your inner caveman on the glorious shores of the most unspoilt Balearic island. From a tasteful farmhouse base in the south of Menorca, participants of the Wildfitness events learn mindful, ‘animal’ movements, hike through wondrous landscapes and use the beach as a sort of sandy-floored gym. What do you mean, you’d rather just lie on it?!

✈ Fly to Menorca – book flights and holidays

6. Get stacking

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Piles of stones elevated to new heights / Photo: James Craig Page

The European Stone Stacking Championships, East Lothian

First, a warning – stone-stacking can disturb delicate beach environments and should not be done except under controlled circumstances. Like the European Stone Stacking Championships in Scotland, where the rock stars of this underappreciated artform gather outside Edinburgh to create the most aesthetically pleasing piles of pebbles, then carefully disassemble them. This year’s was cancelled but the 2021 edition should be in September.

✈ Fly to Edinburgh – book flights and holidays

7. Chill out

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The northern lights over Breiðamerkurjökull Lake in Iceland / Photo: courtesy of Glacier Lagoon

Breiðamerkurjökull Lake, Iceland

Think of beaches and you might imagine swaying palms, balmy waters and sand sticking to your sunscreen. Not so in Iceland, where they’re usually downright chilly but way more dramatic than your average Mediterranean stretch. By the sea in the Vatnajökull National Park, a lake is dotted with glacial icebergs and the dark sands are home to fat seals. Take an amphibian tour with Glacier Lagoon to bob among the ‘bergs – it’s about as far from a typical beach experience as you can get.

✈ Fly to Reykjavik – book flights and holidays

8. Build castles in the sand

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Puts your paltry sandcastles to shame, doesn't it?

European Championship Sand Sculpture Festival, Netherlands

Remember when you were a child and your favourite beach activity was happily building sandcastles for hours? Well, some people never stopped. Every summer,  the seaside town of Zandvoort aan Zee, just outside Amsterdam, holds the European Championship Sand Sculpture Festival, where the continent’s foremost grain arrangers get to work around a theme (in 2020, it was ‘Zandvoort Goes Wild’). Put it on your bucket list for 2021.

✈ Fly to Amsterdam – book flights and holidays

9. Watch a movie under the stars

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Amante's screen by the sea is a magical place for a film / Photo: Amante Ibiza

Amante Movie Nights, Ibiza

Amante, a restaurant overlooking a rocky cove not far from Ibiza Town, holds outdoor movie nights throughout the summer months. Twinkling lights, sea breezes and palm trees – you don’t get that with a Netflix binge. Okay, no one wants sand in their popcorn, but watching Point Break by the waves or The Beach by, well, the beach is a magical experience. (Jaws, maybe not so much.)

✈ Fly to Ibiza – book flights and holidays

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