15 Best Beach Destinations in the World, Ranked
Whenever a serious case of wanderlust occurs (now more than ever), you may embark on a bit of self-torture. That is, Googling tantalizing beach images to feed that travel appetite. You know the ones we mean — white-sand beaches backed by a wall of green, swaying palms, as a roll of languid waves sleepily break onshore.
These are the best beaches in the world, and they can be found in every corner of the globe. From the far reaches of French Polynesia to the craggy coastlines of Europe to the various islands that make up the Caribbean, these splotches of sugary sand are just waiting to warm our weary bones.
For your next vacation, you may want to explore U.S. News and World Report’s latest list of the world’s best beach destinations. And, to make planning easier, we also included our suggestions for the must-visit beach in each. Trust us, you won’t regret it.
15. Cinque Terre, Italy
Cinque Terre marks No. 15 on U.S. News and World Report’s 2021 list — and for good reason. It’s Northern Italy's version of the Amalfi Coast. Picture five cliffside villages that seem to perch magically on craggy cliffs that tumble down to the spectacular coastline.
In fact, Cinque Terre (which translates to “five lands” in Italian) is so stunning that it has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The villages date back to the early medieval period — a calling for history buffs — but given their coastal location, you better believe they also have some pretty special beaches.
Must-Visit Beach: Canneto Beach
Most travelers are going to camp out at Monterosso al Mare, the largest beach in Cinque Terre. And it is truly beautiful, but it can be hard to enjoy when you're sharing a space with hundreds of your fellow travelers.
Instead, head to Canneto Beach, which will make you one of the few "in the know." This tiny beach is just down the coast from the Riomaggiore and is only accessible by sea. The reward is crystal-clear water and very few other visitors.
14. Sicily, Italy
Legally Italian, Sicily is a world completely unto itself. It has its own culture, dialect and cuisine, and it’s one of the most unique islands you can visit in the Mediterranean.
Being an island also means that it is wreathed in stunning beaches that have dazzled both locals and visitors for centuries.
Must-Visit Beach: San Vito Lo Capo
When in Sicily, the beach to visit has to be San Vito Lo Capo, located on Sicily's northwestern coast. It's no small feat to reach the village, which is accessible by one road that goes over mountains and past vineyards and olive groves.
The journey itself is amazing, but the destination is even more breathtaking, especially if you like a white-sand beach framed in jagged mountains and water so clear you can see to the bottom.
13. Crete, Greece
The Greek Islands are nothing if not famous for their beaches, but none is as splendid as Crete. Crete is a beach lover’s paradise, but it packs in so much more, from stunning, rugged landscapes to storybook villages and ancient traditions.
Legend has it that Crete is the island on which Zeus was born, so you know that it has to be something magnificent.
Must-Visit Beach: Elafonissi Beach
Not far from the city of Chania is this world-famous, pink-sand beach. The crushed seashells mix with the white sand to give a powder pink glow, which looks outstanding against the crystalline water.
The beach is divided by a narrow strip of sand, creating two shallow wading pools, making this a beach experience unlike most others.
12. Amalfi Coast, Italy
Made famous by the jet-setting Hollywood elite in the first half of the 20th century, Italy's Amalfi Coast still manages to retain that old-world glamour. Mountains tumble down to the turquoise sea, dotted with pastel-colored cities like Positano, Ravello and Sorrento.
Resorts abound, hiking trails vein the craggy mountains, and bronzed beauties lounge on sun-warmed rocks before taking a dip into the Mediterranean Sea.
Must-Visit Beach: Marina Grande
To visit the Amalfi Coast and skip Positano is to skip the Amalfi Coast entirely. You'll want to visit Marina Grande Beach, which is where the entire world seems to mix and mingle.
Sure, there are crowds, but you'll be rubbing elbows with locals, visitors and celebrities, all of whom feel like royalty as they sip on a Spritz.
11. Bali, Indonesia
Bali has a rightful perch on every traveler's bucket list. The tiny island in the Indian Ocean may be part of the Indonesian archipelago but feels like a separate country all on its own. Known for its tiered rice fields, peaceful Hindu culture, temples and epic surf beaches, there is a reason that sun worshippers are always looking for a reason to escape to Bali.
Bali is home to more than its fair share of five-star hotels, but it’s also a popular backpacking destination, so no matter what budget you're on, you'll find a beach for you.
Must-Visit Beach: Seminyak
Most of the beaches in Bali are found on the southern end of the island, which is where the majority of the resorts are. If you think this means Bali beaches are crowded, you are right. But it will be entirely worth it once you feast your eyes.
Seminyak, for example, is a stretch of white sand that runs for 3 miles. It's a beach for views as well as activity, as it's backed by bars, restaurants and high-end hotels.
10. Phuket, Thailand
One of the world's most famous beach destinations, the Thai island of Phuket is blanketed in white beaches, wrapped in teal-colored water and teeming with swirling clouds of rainbow-colored fish.
Each beach on the island is different, and there are plenty to go around. You're certain to find one to call your own, no matter what your budget allows.
Must-Visit Beach: Patong Beach
Picking the best beach in Phuket is a near-impossible feat, but most travelers will tell you Patong Beach is the one to check out. It is surely the most popular and is the longest beach on the island.
It's a constant hum of activity, from the restaurants and hotels to the shopping and people watching. While it can get crowded, visitors come in droves for the crystal-clear water and wide swath of white sand. If you’re interested in nightlife, this is the beach to be at as well.
9. Railay Beach, Thailand
At the tip of Krabi, Thailand, sits the spectacular Railay Beach, a peninsula spoken about in the rock-climbing community in hushed, reverent tones. Limestone cliffs plummet down to the cerulean-colored Andaman Sea.
It's here that you'll discover some of the best beaches in Thailand, many of which are only accessible by boat, which is great because it keeps many of the crowds at bay.
Must-Visit Beach: Phra Nang Cave Beach
The southernmost tip of Railay gives way to Phra Nang Cave Beach, arguably the best beach on the entire peninsula. Unfortunately, word has gotten out on its legendary beauty, so day-trippers do come in droves.
That said, it is still worth the trip for the looming cliffs that protect this sugary stretch of sand. If you're a rock-climber, this would definitely be a beach to put on your bucket list.
8. Kauai, Hawaii
Kauai is not the most-visited island in the Hawaii archipelago, but those who are in the know are fiercely loyal to the mountainous, jungle-covered island. Kauai is nothing if not pure natural poetry, from its plunging waterfalls, jade-colored mountains and, of course, eye-popping beaches.
Kauai is the adventurer's island, yet its beaches are not to be overshadowed by the sheer volume of natural activity that lies inland.
Must-Visit Beach: Hanalei Beach Park & Bay
The sweeping crescent of Hanalei Beach Park & Bay is undoubtedly a local favorite on the island. It offers 2 miles of sand along a quiet bay, wreathed in shadowy, mist-covered mountains.
It's a great crowd-pleaser beach, where one side is great for surfing, while the other is far more gentle and perfect for swimming or wading in.
7. The Bahamas
The northernmost islands of The Bahamas are just a hop, skip and a jump from the tip of Florida, and yet they feel like another world away.
The entire archipelago is made up of 700 islands and 2,400 cays, most of which are completely uninhabited, but all of which are known to be splotches of stark white fringed in aquamarine.
Must-Visit Beach: Pink Sands Beach
With more than 700 islands to choose from, picking the best beach in the Bahamas is no easy feat. Still, there are plenty that stand out above the rest. Pink Sands Beach on Harbour Island, for example, is a cut above simply because it is so unique.
The beach is named for, you guessed it, its pink sands, which are made up of finely crushed coral. When backed against the hue of an emblazoned sunset sky, it will be easy to see why this is a beach not to miss.
6. U.S. Virgin Islands
Americans don't necessarily need a passport to get to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. A quick trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands is a domestic way to see stunning shorelines.
Made up of three separate islands — St. John, St. Thomas and St. Croix — there are myriad ways to soak up the sun in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Must-Visit Beach: Honeymoon Beach
Beat all the crowds and make a bee-line for the island of St. John. Peppered in villas, the luxury island is famous for its low profile and spectacular, quiet beaches.
Honeymoon Beach is probably the fan favorite, tucked within the Virgin Islands National Park. Picture idyllic visions of bleached sand, swaying palms and plenty of colorful fish below the turquoise water.
5. Maui, Hawaii
One of Hawaii's most sought-after islands, Maui is a splendid mix of stunning natural beauty and outdoor adventure. Whether it's a hike through the bamboo forests or driving the Road to Hana, Maui never ceases to amaze.
But the most beloved parts of Maui surely run along the shoreline, as the golden beaches are world-renowned for surf breaks and unbeatable scenery. If you're looking for the best beaches in Hawaii, Maui will surely deliver.
Must-Visit Beach: Makena Beach
Maui has more than 30 miles of beaches, so it can be difficult to pick just one. But a local favorite is consistently Makena Beach State Park, made up of Big Beach and Little Beach.
Its conditions are so picture-perfect that it happens to be one of the most photographed beaches in all of Hawaii.
4. Tahiti, French Polynesia
Even if you weren't a beach person, you'd still be drawn to Tahiti for its jungle-carpeted mountains pocketed with waterfalls, jewel-colored lagoons and the undeniable cultural heartbeat that echoes throughout the 118-island archipelago. Fortunately, the beaches in Tahiti are also out of this world.
Add to that a significant penchant for French cuisine, and you've got quite a truly well-rounded vacation destination.
Must-Visit Beach: Papenoo Beach
Other beaches in Tahiti might be marked by white sand, but with that comes considerable crowds. With Papenoo Beach you're gaining an off-the-beaten-path experience — that is, a black-sand beach with an uncharted isle-type vibe.
The beach is shaped like a horseshoe and is very popular with surfers. Nearby, you'll discover the Arahoho Blowhole as well as a waterfall.
3. Bora Bora, French Polynesia
Unlike the previous two destinations, which are strings of islands, Bora Bora is one tiny island in the South Pacific that packs quite a memorable punch. The island is only 6 miles long and less than 3 miles wide, but the entire island is saturated with gorgeous beaches, blanketed in lush jungle and peppered with five-star resorts.
It's a perfect destination for adventure enthusiasts and lovers of luxury hotels.
Must-Visit Beach: Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora
Arguably the best beach in Bora Bora is the one right in front of the Four Seasons Resort. Why? It's located on a private island and has the most deliciously warm and calm water with views of the iconic Mount Otemanu.
It's perfect for relaxing or wading slowly into the bath-like sea. But if you're interested in activities, there is a smaller beach that is dedicated to water sports.
The Maldives are made up of nearly 1,200 islands in the Indian Ocean, so you could find yourself on a different spectacular beach every day for years on end. The islands are also among the most luxurious travel destinations in the world, home to five-star resorts, where yachts, seaplanes and overwater bungalows are the norm.
With such haute tastes to please, the beaches had better be up to par — and trust us, they are.
Must-Visit Beach: Cocoa Island
If you can swing the hefty price tag, Cocoa Island is as close as you can get to a private island experience. That's because the luxurious COMO Cocoa Island resort is the only resort on the entire island.
Cocoa Island (also known as Makunufushi) is marked by its powder-soft beaches, spectacularly clear water and some of the best diving in the world. The fact that you'll have so much of the beach to yourself is just another perk.
With more than 300 islands dotting the glittering waters of the South Pacific, Fiji seems like the natural choice when looking for the world's best beaches. It's truly like #beachporn overload when flying over the region. In fact, popular movies and TV that rely on a tropical backdrop have filmed in Fiji, from “Cast Away” to “Survivor.”
Whether you're an experienced diver, a casual snorkeler or a full-fledged landlubber, the sparkling white sand and A-list resorts are at the very least visually pleasing, and at the very best full-blown luxury.
Must-Visit Beach: Castaway Island
Speaking of “Cast Away” and “Survivor,” these were shot on the picture-perfect Mamanuca Islands, a smattering of 20 islands that stand out like patches of starry white against a sky of turquoise. In fact, the only thing to really do on the Mamanuca Islands is to enjoy the beach, as there are very few cultural offerings there.
The beach to beat in the Mamanucas is Castaway Island, a small island wreathed in stark white sand.