Iconic Beaches, Ranked
If there was ever a time to have serious wanderlust, it would be when looking at images of the world's most famous beaches.
You know the ones: These are the sandy shores that we make our screensaver images, so every time we glance at our screen we can wish we were sitting with toes in the sand. It even seems these iconic beaches are part of an unofficial social-media bucket list, as Instagrammers make pilgrimages to snap and post photos of them by the millions.
To help you refine your bucket list, we're ranking the most iconic beaches in the world. See which beaches are the best of the best...and let the wanderlust commence.
35. Shoal Bay Beach, Anguilla*
There is a reason 4.2 million people descend upon the Caribbean islands every year. (Eighty percent of them from the United States!) The islands all feature amazingly clear blue waters set along stretches of expansive beaches.
One such beach can be found on the island of Anguilla. It may only be 1.5 miles in length, but Shoal Bay Beach is wide and ready for the 151,000 people who descend upon the island every year. Here, the sand is soft and the waves are minimal, providing the perfect perch for R&R, even with many resorts nearby.
*To determine this list, we turned to outside publications like Conde Nast, Travel Channel and Travel Pulse; Instagram, to determine the world's most-photographed beaches; and TripAdvisor for user reviews. We also gave bonus points to those making it onto clean-beach lists such as Dr. Beach and deducted points from beaches plagued by overcrowding.
34. Grace Bay Beach, Turks & Caicos
Similarly, in the northern Caribbean is another stretch of famous white sand: the beaches that line Grace Bay in Turks & Caicos. Stretching nearly three miles, Grace Bay Beach is lined with resorts and restaurants and is the go-to place for the nearly 1 million people who visit the islands every year.
But don't fear those numbers! The beach never feels crowded and offers plenty of places to hide from other beachgoers. Spend your days with your toes in the sand while sunbathing and enjoying the warm sea waters, then dig them back in during the evening when dining at beachfront restaurants.
33. Grand Anse, Grenada
More than 100,000 people visit the island of Grenada every year, and when they do, they head to Grand Anse. Located near St. George, Frommer's calls this the "granddaddy" of the 45 beaches found on the island. (The island is just 12 miles wide and 21 miles long, so 45 different stretches of sand is astounding!)
Yes, there are many resorts nearby, but that doesn't take away from the pure bliss of two miles of wide sand, open space and St. George's famously brightly hued homes and fishing boats —as if the blue sky and water weren't bright enough.
32. Seven Mile Beach, Grand Cayman
Grand Cayman Island's renowned Seven Mile Beach is 5.5 miles (don't ask) of unbelievably soft sand as fine as sugar bordering calm, clear Caribbean waters that give you a view to the sea bottom without the need of a snorkel mask.
Alas, this is also a very popular beach, with many bustling resorts to its name. So while it provides plenty of choices for accommodations, it lacks the serenity of other hidden gems appearing on this list. Still, it's free, open to the public and extremely beautiful, making it worthy of inclusion.
31. Pink Sand Beach, Barbuda
While some may know Bermuda for its pink-sand beaches, Barbuda, deep within the Caribbean, has one of the world's most amazing pink beaches. More than a million people visit the sister island of Antigua and on certain days will see the pink deepen to a dark blush.
The pink hue is created by broken shells and coral from nearby reefs that are battered by waves and refined into sand. Barbuda's beach may be called Pink Sand Beach but its true name is Princess Diana Beach— just as beautiful as the English rose.
30. Praia Do Sancho, Brazil
Rio de Janeiro's beaches may grab more headlines, but repeatedly landing on best beaches lists is the Praia Do Sancho. Located on Ilha Fernando de Noronha, Praia Do Sancho is a crescent-shaped beach found on an archipelago between Brazil and Africa — this means it receives few visitors and remains secluded and pristine!
There is an airport on this island that you can fly into from mainland Brazil, and you should add it to any trip to South America.
29. Tortuga Bay, Ecuador
When you think of the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador's mainland, you think of its wildlife: giant tortoises, iguana, sea lions, penguins and more. But when you visit these islands, you'll find they are also lined with some of the most remote, untouched beaches you'll find on earth.
On Tortuga Bay's Santa Cruz Island is a stretch of beach so wide and fine, you may not come across any form of life that is human.
28. Ora Beach, Indonesia
Also known as Pantai Ora, this remote beach is difficult to access but well worth the travel it takes to get there (flight to Indonesia; hours on a boat; another couple hours by car). As you can see by the image, those persistent enough to make it to the emerald green-bordered shores enjoy dramatic spoils and pure calm.
The small beach features six thatched-roof cottages at the Ora Beach Resort so once you arrive, you have a place to stay. Be prepared: You may never want to leave.
27. Ile Aux Cerfs, Mauritius
Also known as Leisure Island, Ile Aux Cerfs is part of the Indian Ocean island nation of Mauritius. The name actually translates into Deer Island as nothing but deer once inhabited it. These days, humans can also enjoy its beautiful lagoon — so clear, you'll see your toes wiggling in the sand as you walk.
The island is a water paradise for enthusiasts wanting to kayak, jet ski, parasail and snorkel. Plenty of beach restaurants are available to the many who arrive by boat on daily excursions from the main island of Mauritius, just a quick flight from Madagascar.
26. Praia di Marinha, Portugal
Nearly 4 million people visit Portugal's Algarve region every year, and with beaches like the Praia di Marinha, it's easy to see why. This southernmost region of Portugal boasts not only secluded golden-sand beaches but expansive resorts and Michelin-starred restaurants.
Praia di Marinha is nestled into orange limestone, and beachgoers must take a rocky staircase down to the turquoise waters below. It's this difficulty and seclusion that makes it one of the world's best.
25. Cape Cod, Massachusetts
The Cape Cod National Seashore, part of the U.S. National Park System, is made up of Coast Guard Beach, Nauset Light Beach, Marconi Beach, and parts of Chatham, Orleans, Eastham Truro, Provincetown and Wellfleet. All told, it welcomes 4 million people every year.
Nearly 40 miles of shoreline face the Atlantic Ocean on Cape Cod, serving both as a "we go every summer" family destination and one that even West Coasters want to visit, at least once. Could it be that quaint New England charm? The seals and dolphins playfully swimming by? Beaches you can drive on to get far removed from others?
Yes, yes and yes!
24. Beach of the Cathedrals, Spain
For those making a pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago in Spain, the end for most is Santiago de Compostela's cathedral. But the real reward is detouring to see the Cathedral in the seas. Officially known as Aguas Santa, the beach of the Cathedrals is a worthy nickname, as the water-carved rocks certainly feel like a sanctuary.
The beach is located less than 10 miles from Robadeo in Gallicia, Spain, and it is said that during the summer months 5,000 people per day enter this "church" along the eastern Atlantic Ocean.
23. Spiaggia Grande, Italy
Italy's famed Amalfi Coast, which hugs the Mediterranean Sea in a series of twists and turns, is filled with cobblestone villages where villas are nestled along mountainous cliffs. Of all the southern coastal villages, posh Positano is one of the most sought after for shopping, dining and the Spiaggia Grande — the golden-sand-covered beach beside the marina that brings in guests from mega-yachts and cruise ships. The beach's stellar views of both the cliff dwellings and the sea can't be beat.
The Amalfi Coast sees 5 million visitors a year, and space is limited on Spiaggia Grande. Sure, it's one of the largest beaches in the area, but those colorful chairs (available only by rental) go quickly. When you are lucky enough to spend the day here, though, you'll have beach waiters to keep your wine glass full and bring you a fresh Neapolitan-style pizza when you're hungry.
22. Waikiki Beach, Hawaii
Waikiki Beach is one of TripAdvisor's top 10 attractions in Honolulu, the largest city on the Hawaiian islands.
The whole stretch of sand, with its resorts on one side, Pacific Ocean on the other and Diamond Head mountain keeping watch in the distance, is inviting. But it's the section called Duke Kahanamoku Beach that really shines.
This beach is where king surfer Duke Kahanamoku would hang 10, introducing the world to the sport of surfing. Today, his statue on the beach ensures he always has an eye on the waves. The beach is so clean and cared for that it also lands on Dr. Beach's best-of list at No. 5.
21. Deauville Beach, France
When you think of the beaches of Normandy, you may think of World War II. But long before the war brought devastation to the northern shores of France, Deauville was a popular seaside tourist destination. In the 1800s, it was renowned for horse races and a grand casino. In the 1920s, Deauville added its beach promenade and set up bathing cabins for beachgoers.
D-Day damped the shores of Normandy, but the sandy beach survived. Then slowly but surely, the resort town began to make its comeback.
Thankfully, not enough people realize this gem is back to its original glory, meaning it is still relatively untouched by American tourists. (The secret won't be kept for long!)
20. Anse Source d'Argent, Seychelles
On Africa's La Digue Island, the third-most-populated and fifth-largest island in the Seychelles, you'll find Anse Source d'Argent. This fairytale beach was ranked No. 8 on the "Conde Nast" list of the World's 20 Best Beaches, as well as No. 8 on a recent review of the world's best beaches by Canadian travel company Flight Network — so it's safe to say it's an acclaimed stretch of shore.
Even better, only 161,870 tourists visited this beach in 2018. Let us venture to guess this is because the Seychelles are not easy — or cheap — to get to. There are no direct flights for Americans who have to fly halfway around the world to visit. It's easier for the Brits, as flights from London fly directly to Mahe Island's international airport. From there, however, you'll need an additional 30-minute ferry to reach La Digue.
But even if it does take a few connections and a full day of travel, you can see why it's worth it.
19. Shipwreck Beach, Greece
Shipwreck Beach, so-called for the shipwreck remains that washed up on its shores, has become one of the most identifiable tourist destinations in the world. Accessible via boat, this private beach has become a must-selfie location — more than 73,000 Instagram photos alone are dedicated to #shipwreckbeach. Still, when a landslide on this Ionian Island hurt seven visitors, Greece put a halt on visitors until just recently.
Shipwreck Beach's real name is Navagio Beach (which has just as many hashtags), and it is listed as the best beach in the entire world on Flight Network's ranking. But visit soon, if you can, as Greece may close it again, this time due to over-tourism.
With 10,000 people visiting daily, the area's environmental beauty is at risk. This also makes it exceedingly difficult to find a place to sit.
18. Plage Beau Rivage, France
The playground to the wealthy, the French Riviera, or Cote d'Azur, doesn't just feature picture-perfect blue water, but shops you can get lost in, restaurants that can break your belt and picturesque mountains aligning the Mediterranean.
Nice is so nice that 5 million tourists pour into its rock-strewn beaches. (Seriously, you'll need to bring water shoes to get from your perch into the water.) The area has a long run of beaches that fall between the pedestrian promenade and the sea, but it's the Plage Beau Rivage that's most famous and beloved.
It will cater to you from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., with ice buckets to keep your rosé from Provence chilled as you sip in the flavors the South of France has to offer.
17. Ipanema Beach, Brazil
Tall and tan and young and lovely, the girl from Ipanema goes walking, and when she passes, each one she passes goes ah.
The Brazilian bossa nova tune "Girl from Ipanema" introduced the world to Rio de Janeiro's famous beach in the 1960s. Since then, tourists have arrived en masse to feel the love and the sunshine as they imagine the girl from Ipanema walking by.
Today, Ipanema Beach is one of the top five attractions in Rio, according to TripAdvisor. Two million people visit each year, as evident by the more than 2 million #Ipanema tags on Instagram (#IpanemaBeach "only" gets 300,000).
If you visit, make time to take in Sugarloaf Mountain and Guanabara Bay nearby.
16. Lover's Beach, Mexico
Land's End in Baja California, Mexico, brings visitors along the Pacific Ocean to the very tip, where limestone rock formations just out of the sea and secluded beaches are best accessed by boat. More than 3 million travelers arrive in Los Cabos every year, many of whom climb aboard a chartered boat to sail to the tip of Cabo San Lucas and reach Land's End.
Near the famed and oft-photographed Arch of Cabos San Lucas is Playa del Amore, Lover's Beach. Here, stroll hand in hand and enjoy the seclusion (unless you took a boat tour with other tourists). Divorce Beach is also nearby, if you'd rather celebrate your independence.
15. Seven Sisters Cliff, England
Not to be confused with the white cliffs of Dover, the Seven Sisters of East Sussex are fantastically striking and flanked by the Beachy Head headland, where you can lay out a blanket and have a picnic while enjoying some serious views.
Located 2 hours from Dover, the Seven Sisters are a continuation of the chalk cliffs found in southern England, and are considered as iconic as London's Big Ben. This area along the English Channel welcomes 350,000+ annual guests, and there are nearly 300,000 photos tagged #SevenSisters or #SevenSistersCliffs on Instagram, all showcasing different perspectives on the gorgeous scenery.
14. Trunk Bay, U.S. Virgin Islands
Before the fall of 2017, more than 300,000 visited the island of St. John, most of which is a United States national park in the Virgin Islands. But that was before hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated the Caribbean islands and travel declined to a near stand-still.
The USVI has rebuilt, albeit it was a few struggles here and there, and yet the turquoise-blue Trunk Bay receives far fewer visitors than it once did. Go now and you'll get the beaches (mostly) all to yourself, while supporting a tourism industry the islands want and need to flourish again.
13. The Baths, British Virgin Islands
Just across the channel from St. John is one of the British Virgin Islands, and like all the various landmasses dotting the Caribbean Sea, it too received a beating from the 2017 hurricanes. Many resorts were so impacted that they had to rebuild from scratch.
Yet the natural geologic treasure known simply as The Baths remains as beautiful as it was before the storms. When molten rock seeped through the floor of the sea millions of years ago, it created the granite that remains today. The sea has carved caves and pathways through the boulders, and you can wade in and out of warm waters and across fine, white sand.
This is the No. 2 attraction on the island of Virgin Gorda and No. 3 in the entire territory.
12. Surfer's Paradise, Australia
It's not just a nickname: Surfer's Paradise is the official name of this Queensland town and its expansive beach. Of course, with a name like that, you know it's not going to disappoint when it comes to wave action.
A suburb of Sydney, "Surfers" is practically surrounded by water through its series of intracoastal waterways; add in high-rises, cool shops and excellent dining, and the area may remind some of Miami.
Surfer's beach is the No. 2 attraction on Australia's Gold Coast and receives 15,000 visitors per day. Check out the nearly 1.5 million #surfersparadise posts found on Insta to get your daydreaming started.
11. Flamingo Beach, Aruba
You won't find a flamboyance of flamingoes on the beaches of mainland Aruba. No, you'll have to take a boat to the private island owned by the Renaissance Hotel for that. This adults-only island is available exclusively for hotel guests (and those who buy a day pass), yet it's Aruba's No. 1 attraction and has more than 75,000 posts on Instagram.
Maybe the crowds of Oranjestad and Palm Beach made the flamingoes take up home on this small island, which they began doing over 15 years ago. Of course, the resort cashed in and before you knew it, posting social-media shots of flamingoes here became the thing to do.
These days, people clamor to stay at the hotel, which is actually located on the mainland but provides a boat ride to the island for a more romantic getaway.
10. Bondi Beach, Australia
Sydney's famous suburb of Bondi has a surfer beach that rivals Surfer's Paradise and is a bit more famous.
There are 2.6 million annual visitors to Bondi Beach, which is actually named Tamarama Beach. (We admit it, Bondi Beach sounds cooler.) It also boasts more than 1.5 million Insta posts and is the No. 2 attraction for the city of Sydney, says TripAdvisor.
Many visitors to Sydney follow the coastal promenade that connects Bondi to the nearby beach of Coogee, allowing city slickers to slick up with suntan lotion instead. And don't fret: You don't have to surf to enjoy it here. Even if the sand gets too crowded, enjoy the neighborhood shopping and dining along Hall Street.
9. Tamarindo Beach, Costa Rica
Great surfing beaches aren't just relegated to Australia. In Costa Rica, it was surfers chasing the rollers who started to make Tamarindo Beach famous.
Formerly a quiet fishing village, Tamarindo is fast becoming more popular as an outdoor-lover's playground — here, you can surf, hike, ATV, zipline, you name it.
Located in the province of Guanacaste on the Central American Pacific Coast, the area is far less visited than the east coast's San Jose. Then again, during its peak, 1,500 people daily may visit Tamarindo Beach (or Playa Tamarindo), so it's not exactly free of crowds either.
8. Santa Monica Beach, California
Of the 420+ beaches found along California's 840-mile coastline, it's Santa Monica Beach that is most illustrious. The beach has been famous since Santa Monica opened it 110 years ago, appearing often in movies and television over the years.
Pacific Park, which opened in 1996, is an amusement park located on the pier that features a nine-story Ferris wheel alit at night with 160,000 color-changing LED lights. When you take a ride on this attraction, you climb 130 feet above the Pacific Ocean and get the best views of Santa Monica Beach.
7. PhraNang Cave Beach, Thailand
We're getting into the good stuff as we enter the top seven most iconic beaches. In Thailand, two exotic beaches make the list. The first, PhraNang Cave Beach, is accessible only via boat from Railay Bay and Ao Nang.
You'd think this hidden beach would be more crowded, as it was featured in the movie "The Beach," which sent hordes of backpackers to Phuket. But thankfully, the beach remains relatively obscure: Only 4,000 posts identify #PhraNangCaveBeach.
6. Hidden Beach (El Nido), Philippines
Another hidden beach accessible only by boat can be found on the island of Palawan, considered the gateway to the Bacuit archipelago. You'll feel you've found heaven when you travel through this archipelago where limestone cliffs, coral reefs filled with colorful fish and sea life, and white-sand beaches convene.
And yet! It's not overrun with tourists! True, there are some 1.2 million posts hashtagged #ElNido or #ElNidoPalawan, but annual tourism in 2017 didn't even hit 150,000. Run, don't walk, to beat the crowds and see this magical place while it is still in its pristine state.
5. James Bond Island, Thailand
Here's that second Thailand beach we promised, but we bet you expected this one would be ranked pretty highly. This Phuket landmark first went international in "The Man with the Golden Gun," a 007 thriller, and is another to showcase otherworldly landscapes made of limestone.
Officially called Koh Tapu in Phang Nga Bay, the area is known for its karst towers. These natural wonders are a feature of Ao Phang Nga National Park, as is the white-sand beach of Ao Thong. While it is illegal to step foot on the limestone towers, you are more than welcome to gaze at them while enjoying the bay's beaches.
Surprisingly not too crowded — despite the traffic jam of boats ferrying camera-wielding tourists — this is a place where you can sit under the shade of a palm tree and truly relax.
4. Tulum, Mexico
It's amazing to think that, surrounded by dozens of all-inclusive resorts packed with tourists, are the remains of an ancient Mayan city.
Not only can you walk around the remnants, including El Castillo, but you can follow a wooden staircase down to the secluded Yucatan beach, Playa Paraiso, and take a dip in the warm Caribbean Sea. Who needs a swim-up bar when you are literally swimming with history surrounding you?
Tulum is the No. 2 attraction in Mexico's Riviera Maya and Playa Paraiso landed at No. 7 on Flight Network's best-of list. Last year, 300,000 visited Tulum and even more have tagged it on Insta — there are upwards of 5 million posts for #Tulum!
3. South Beach, Florida
The U.S. is home to one of the top three most iconic beaches in the world: South Beach.
Can you believe this strip of land that overlooks the Atlantic was just farmland until the late 1800s? By the early 1900s, Miami Beach (a separate city from Miami) was incorporated and became one of the most prosperous cities in the country. Meanwhile, the city's South Beach — or as those in the know call it, "SoBe" — became a worldwide star, earning particular attention during its thriving Art Deco period.
Here, pastel-colored homes rest beside restaurants' outdoor patios and the neon lights of nightclubs as expensive and flashy sports cars cruise along A1A. Sure, there was a period when it looked like South Beach would die out, but a 1980s rejuvenation has kept it on the world's radar.
South Beach has been Instagrammed more than 7.5 million times, and another 11.5 million posts are tagged #miamibeach! This love does mean crowds — last year, 23 million people visited — but then again, people-watching is part of the fun.
2. Whitehaven Beach, Australia
No, this photo hasn't been Photoshopped. Whitehaven Beach really does showcase this otherworldly swirl of white and blue.
The white sand here is made up 98 percent of pure silica, giving it a strikingly bright hue. Silica sand is so fine, it will also squeak under your feet as you walk (it's like it's singing!).
Only 75,000 visitors per year come this far north on the Queensland coast, yet Whitehaven is the No. 5 attraction for the state. It's also Flight Network's No. 2 pick.
1. Kelingking Beach, Indonesia
The people of Indonesia call this stretch of land "Kelingking," which translates into "Pinkie," because it looks a bit like the smallest finger on the hand. Others say it looks like a T-Rex. Either way, the area sends Instagrammers into a frenzy.
The No. 1 attraction in Nusa Penida in Bali, 1,000 people a day come to this very spot to snap a picture of the unique landscape jutting into the Bali Sea. What they are missing, however, is the fantastic beach below, Kelingking Beach, or Crystal Bay Beach.
This gem is the epitome of what you'd want from a trip to Bali: water so clear you can look down and see your toes and sand so soft you could forgo a towel or blanket. But you can't get to the beach from atop the cliff (which can be very dangerous for selfies); you'll have to visit this secluded beach by boat.
Then you can smile as you look up at all the people missing out on the best of the world's beaches.