Sunshine, sea and a sandy beach is often considered the epitome of a good holiday. And while it’s lovely to relax with a good novel on a pristine beach with a cocktail in hand, sometimes it’s nice to experience more on our precious annual holiday.
That’s why we’ve rounded up the best beach holidays that take you beyond the beach. The ones that combine exciting cities, breathtaking wildlife, cultural sites and more. Perhaps you’d like guided walks or foodie tours on the coast, or the chance to experience an island’s annual festival. There’s plenty to experience on a beach holiday that offers more than the standard fly and flop.
Eschew the sun-drenched surf on Cornwall’s beaches and visit the glorious gardens of the West Country, home to some of the world’s finest magnolia trees. Maybe take a guided walk through the mountain towns and villages of the Pyrenees or embrace the magnetic culture and cuisines from Madrid to Marrakech on a rail journey through Spain and Morocco.
Or you could see the paradise beaches of Central America from a different angle on a cruise on a traditional tall ship. A little closer to home is a sustainable wildlife cruise around the rugged coves of the British Isles. Check out our favourite tours and trips which look beyond the beach to offer something a little extra for 2023.
From rail journeys through the mountains to meeting elephants in the jungle, we’ve picked our favourite beach holidays that offer a little more…
Advertisement – Continue Reading Below
Take a fascinating rail journey through the coastal cities of Spain and Morocco
From the culture and cuisine of Barcelona to the atmospheric cities of Marrakech and Casablanca, this fantastic 10-day trip through Spain and Morocco straddles the charms of Europe and Africa. Starting in Barcelona, Spain’s most famous beach city, you’ll have time to explore Las Ramblas and Gaudi’s eclectic architecture before taking the train to Madrid to see some of the world’s greatest artwork in the Prado.
Hop on a ferry from Algeciras to Tangier and become infused by North African charm. Enjoy time in Casablanca with its beautiful beaches and bustling souks, visit the curious blue-hued town of Chefchaouen in the Rif Mountains, before witnessing the mesmerising snake charmers, fortune tellers and acrobats in Jemaa el-Fnaa in Marrakech.
Go wild on a nature-themed tour of the Isles of Scilly
Famous for its beautiful white-sand beaches, lush botanic gardens and picture-perfect seaside towns, the Isles of Scilly is considered one of the most special corners of Britain. Offering more than a simple beach holiday, this six-day escorted tour is based in St Mary’s but explores several of the archipelago’s other islands. You’ll visit Tresco and the sub-tropical Tresco Abbey Garden, often described as like ‘Kew without the glass’.
The Isles of Scilly are renowned for its wildlife and this trip includes a a marine wildlife cruise where you’ll often spot the porpoises, dolphins and seals who flip-flop between the islands. It also includes a fascinating talk and dinner with Julian Branscombe, the Chief Executive of the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust.
See the sub-tropical side of Madeira during its annual flower festival
Rugged natural beaches, a mountainous volcanic landscape and glorious year-round climate, Madeira is a great destination for a beach holiday with a difference. Known as ‘The Floating Garden in the Atlantic’, Madeira is blessed with several sub-tropical gardens, all displaying flora from across the world.
This eight-day escorted tour includes visits to the Botanic Gardens, Palheiro Gardens and Monte Palace Gardens, and also coincides with the island’s annual Madeira Flower Festival. The week is spent in the waterfront Monumental Hotel in Funchal and includes an island tour, a city tour of the capital, as well a VIP view of the festival’s many flower parades, where floral-filled classic cars parade along Avenida do Mar and Comunidades Madeirenses in Funchal.
See the mountains and beach on a walk in the Pyrenees
Combining the beautiful beaches of the Costa Brava with the mountainous peaks of the Pyrenees, this eight-day escorted tour offers the best of both worlds. Stay in the charming seaside resort of Roses on the Costa Brava, where you can explore the historic Old Town or relax on the beaches.
The tour includes scenic tours on the Roses Express, which takes you to the Cap de Creus National Park, and the Little Yellow Train of the Pyrenees, often described as one of the world’s greatest railway journeys. However, the best way to really get under the skin of the Pyrenees is by walking. Enjoy guided walks between Cala Montjoi and Punta Falconers and the route across the border to France, following in the footsteps of the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s.
Explore the British Isles on a sustainable cruise
Britain’s coastline of beaches and craggy cliffs is staggeringly beautiful. One of the best ways to see it is on this all-inclusive, 12-night cruise on MS Maud. Starting and returning to Dover, the sustainable ship travels around the British Isles stopping off in Wales and the beautiful Pembrokeshire coast. It sails over to Northern Ireland to see the Giant’s Causeway, Douglas on the Isle of Man and up and around the Scottish islands of Iona and Islay.
Running on biofuel technology, this sustainable cruise is a great way to see Britain’s marine life, from puffins and porpoises to Minke whales. In addition to daily mainland adventures, you can enjoy onboard lectures and talks from experts each evening.
Take in Corsica’s beach views by train
Known as Ile de Beaute or the Island of Beauty, Corsica is famed for its spectacular and often rugged beaches. But scratch beneath the shore and you’ll discover there’s so much more to this little French island.
This 10-day no-fly holiday is almost entirely by train, departing from London and travelling via Paris, Marseille and Nice before you travel by ferry to Corsica. Once on the island, you’ll explore its interior by a narrow gauge railway which has criss-crossed the the island since the 1850s. You’ll visit historic mountain towns like Corte, the ancient capital of Corsica, and Ajaccio, the birthplace of Napoléon Bonaparte. Of course, there’s plenty of opportunity to relax on the beach in Calvi, too.
Enjoy Cornwall’s greatest gardens from a seaside base
Cornwall is famous for its incredible coastline and temperate climate, which is why it’s one of the most popular beach destinations in Britain. But step away from the beautiful sandy swathes of Fistral and St Ives and explore Cornwall’s glorious gardens which benefit from its almost Mediterranean climate.
This six-day tour of Cornwall includes entry into six great gardens, including Caerhays Castle Gardens, home to National Magnolia Collection, and the Lost Gardens of Heligan. There’ll also be a chance to meet gardening exert Helen Yemm, who will lead tours of Trewidden House and Garden, awash with camellias, magnolias, and azaleas. Finally, enjoy a grand champagne reception and dinner hosted at Caerhays Castle. Throughout the tour, you’ll stay in pretty Padstow, surrounded by glorious beaches.
See Thailand beyond the beaches on a three-centre holiday
Whether it’s coming face to face with elephants in the jungle or riding a tuk-tuk around the backstreets of Bangkok, Thailand offers the ultimate Asian adventure. When the country is awash with colourful temples, vibrant street markets and a mountainous rainforest, it’s worth adding on a few more stops than just heading straight for the paradise beaches.
This exciting two-week, three-centre holiday includes three days embracing the hustle and bustle of Bangkok, before heading north to meet the elephants who roam the lush jungle of Khao Sok. After three days and nights in Elephant Hills, a luxury tented camp in the jungle, you can finally, kick back with a week of relaxing on the beaches of beautiful Khao Lak.
Explore the isles of the Inner and Outer Hebrides on a Scottish cruise
The Hebrides on the western shores of Scotland are renowned for having some of the finest beaches in the British Isles. And the best way to experience them is on a cruise. From majestic heather-strewn mountains to deep and dramatic lochs, this 11-day cruise around Scotland’s Inner and Outer Hebrides is a once-in-a-lifetime journey.
Sail on the expedition-level MS Spitsbergen over to Mull, stop by the colourful Georgian houses which line Tobermory’s harbour, see the wildlife dancing in the waters around Arran before visiting the many whisky distilleries dotted across Islay and Iona. It’s the perfect way to get a real taste of Scotland.
Looking for more inspiration for your next holiday? Grab a cuppa and browse our brochure packed with unique escapes.
Advertisement – Continue Reading Below