The world's most unique beaches

The world is full of breathtakingly unique beaches. Some have awe-inspiring geology while others boast a rainbow of colours – red, black, green and pink. Some even glow in the dark! If you want to make your next holiday just that little bit more special, then include one of these 12 amazing beaches in your plans.

  1. As Catedrais Beach, Ribadeo, Spain  
  2. Pink Sands Beach, Bahamas
  3. Playa de Ajuy, Fuerteventura, Spain
  4. Jökulsárlón Beach, Iceland
  5. Papakōlea Beach, Kaʻū, Hawaii
  6. Xi Beach, Kefalonia, Greece
  7. Benagil Cave, Algarve, Portugal
  8. Zlatni Rat, Bol, Croatia
  9. Shell Beach, Australia
  10. Scala dei Turchi, Sicily, Italy
  11. Vaadhoo Island, Maldives
  12. Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland  

1. As Catedrais Beach, Ribadeo, Spain

As Catedrais Beach on Spain's northwest coast is certainly a dramatic sight. Caves lining the beach have intricate Gothic-like entrances while huge arches become visible at low tide or can be explored by divers and snorkellers when the tide is high. The beach's official name is Praia de Aguas Santas (Beach of the Holy Waters) but owing to the magnificent rock formations it has been nicknamed "Beach of the Cathedrals". Walking between the caves, crevices and rock formations is a unique experience but do watch the tide, it can catch you out. 

Perfect for romance: 

As Catedrais is one of the best spots in Europe for watching the sunset. 

2. Pink Sands Beach, Bahamas

Pink Sands Beach in the Bahamas is considered to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Instead of golden or white sand, the beach has a delicate pink hue that really comes into its own at sunrise and sunset. This pink glow is caused by the skeletons of “foraminifera”, a minute insect that lives among the coral reefs. At the end of their lives, they are washed up onto the beach. While unusual, this Bahamian beach is not unique. You'll find a pink beach closer to home at Elafonissi in Crete. Here the pink shade is created from millions of crushed shells.

Get away from it all: 

As it’s 5km (3 miles) long, it's always easy to find a secluded spot on Pink Sand Beach in the Bahamas. 

3. Playa de Ajuy, Fuerteventura, Spain

Meander your way through the pretty fishing village of Ajuy in Fuerteventura and down to its beach. As well as being one of the most idyllic spots on the island, Ajuy Beach has a history. The Canary Islands were the haunt of pirates for many centuries, pirates who hid their hauls of treasure in remote dark caves such as the ones you can visit here. Ajuy Beach is truly photogenic with limestone cliffs, black volcanic sand sparkling in the sunlight and sweeping views of the bay. It's also a great spot for enjoying freshly caught fish and seafood. 

Highlight: 

Stroll to Caleta Negra, the “Black Cave”. A guided tour leads you down steps into its dark interior-

4. Jökulsárlón Beach, Iceland

You're never far from ice in Iceland and you'll definitely see it on Jökulsárlón Beach. Every day, chunks of ice from the Vatnajökull Glacier drift into the lagoon with pieces breaking off and joining the pebbles on the beach. It's the shape and size of these ice cubes that give the beach its nickname of “Diamond Beach”. They certainly glitter like diamonds when the sun strikes them. Another popular Icelandic beach is Vik where volcanic black sand and basalt sea stacks create its unique appearance. These are beaches for admiring rather than swimming (unless you're truly hardy)! 

Strange fact: 

According to Icelandic folklore, the strangely-shaped sea stacks of Vik were once trolls who were turned to stone. 

5. Papakōlea Beach, Kaʻū, Hawaii

The world's largest volcano, Mauna Loa, is in Hawaii and it's this that's responsible for the green colour of Papakōlea Beach. As the ocean cools the lava, semi-precious olivine crystals are formed and mix with the sand on the beach. After Mauna Loa has erupted, most of its debris gradually gets swept out to sea but the heavier bottle-green crystals are left behind. This means the beach is actually becoming greener each year. Papakōlea Beach is one of just four green beaches that exists in the world. If you want to explore the other three, they're Punta Cormorant in the Galapagos Islands, Talofofo Beach located in Guam, and Hornindalsvatnet in Norway. 

Best time to visit: 

From December to March, when humpback whales migrate from Alaska to give birth in Hawaii's warm waters. 

6. Xi Beach, Kefalonia, Greece

This red sand beach takes its name from the X shape of its cove in Paliki, Kefalonia. At this special place, the red sand contrasts brilliantly with the white rocks that surround it. For many centuries, people have believed that the clay of the cliffs has detoxing and healing properties so, before stretching out on the sand, rub some of the clay on your body. As well as its spa properties, this beach is family-friendly with sunbeds, watersports and beach bars. Greece boasts a similar beach in Santorini aptly named Red Beach. This is just as photogenic and heavenly. The contrast of the red cliffs and turquoise waters make for a great photo. 

Must visit beaches: 

When you’ve visited Xi Beach, try the peaceful beaches of Lagdakia and Kounopetra, just a short distance away.  

7. Benagil Cave, Algarve, Portugal

Portugal's Algarve coastline has many splendid beaches but Benagil Cave is something different. You need a touch of adventure to get to this sandy beach as it's hidden inside a cave. Enter it by boat, kayak or stand up paddleboard. The limestone cliffs have eroded over thousands of years to leave a magical and mysterious grotto where the only light comes from above. Praia de Salema is another unique beach worth visiting in the Algarve. Its red and orange limestone cliffs date from the Lower Cretaceous period and at the western end of this family-friendly beach, fossilised dinosaur footprints track their way across slabs of rock. 

Not to be missed: 

Take a boat trip from Albufeira that combines a visit to Benagil Cave with a dolphin-watching expedition. 

8. Zlatni Rat, Bol, Croatia

Famous for both its beauty and its windsurfing, Zlatni Rat in Croatia has another quality that makes it unique. Zlatni Rat translates to“Golden Horn” which is what this looks like as it juts out into the Mediterranean. It is unique because its shape is constantly shifting thanks to the wind currents, tides and waves that meet here. Not only does the beach constantly shift, but the surrounding water changes colour from bright turquoise to the deepest blue within just a few yards. Adding to its photogenic charms is its fringe of deep green pine trees. 

Family fun: 

Nearby is the Aquapark Inflatable Playground. Adults can enjoy an aquatic challenge while the kids have fun. 

9. Shell Beach, Australia

Found in the UNESCO Shark Bay World Heritage Site of Western Australia, Shell Beach stretches for almost 40 miles while the billions of tiny white cockle shells that cover it lie over 30 feet deep in places. The water here has a high saline content, allowing the local Shark Bay cockle to thrive. While a barefoot stroll might not be a good idea, the beach really is wonderful to look at. The water at Shell Beach is an intense green-blue colour and its high salinity makes it easy to float in (much like the Dead Sea). 

Fun fact: 

In the early 20th century, the cockle shells were quarried and used for building works in the nearby town of Denham. 

10. Scala dei Turchi, Sicily, Italy

Head down to Agrigento in Sicily and visit Scala dei Turchi ("Stair of the Turks"). It's one of the most unique beaches you'll find in Europe. The cliffs here descend in a staircase formation to form a headland where they meet the water and are so bright white you'll definitely need your sunglasses. The cliff is formed from white marl limestone that's soft enough for the sea and wind to have created these remarkable terraces. Sandy family-friendly beaches lie on either side of the headland. Here, in contrast to the whiteness of the cliffs above, the sea appears vividly blue.

Fun fact: 

Nearby is Porto Empedocle, the model for the town of Vigata in Andrea Camilleri's Montalbano novels (now a popular TV series).  

11. Vaadhoo Island, Maldives

The eerie beauty of Vaadhoo Beach in the Maldives is best enjoyed once the sun has gone down. Microscopic phytoplankton are found in the sea here. To disorientate predators, they give off a bioluminescent glow that appears as a sparkling blue light. This chemical phenomenon is called the “Sea of Stars” locally and the mysterious romance of it has turned this small island into a paradise destination for honeymoons and romantic breaks. This bioluminescent wonder can also be seen elsewhere in the world such as at Indian River Lagoon in Florida.

Fun fact: 

Go for a barefoot walk after sunset and see your footprints glow in the dark before the ocean washes them away. 

12. Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland

With its mysterious and unique appearance, the Giant’s Causeway in County Antrim, Northern Ireland has been the subject of many legends over the centuries. The most enduring is that the hexagonal basalt columns (over 40,000 of them!) form part of a huge causeway built by the giant Finn MacCool to take him over to Scotland to fight an enemy. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was actually created by volcanic activity millions of years ago. While not a beach in the truest sense, it's a wonderful spot for photographers and hikers. A spectacular five-mile hike that starts at Dunseverick Castle takes you through rugged coastal scenery.

Fun fact: 

In a nearby cave, Robert the Bruce watched a spider trying to spin a web and uttered his famous words, 'If at first, you don't succeed, try, try again'.

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