Editor’s Note: Those who choose to travel are strongly encouraged to check local government restrictions, rules, and safety measures related to COVID-19 and take personal comfort levels and health conditions into consideration before departure.
With balmy sea breezes and beautiful scenery, charming coastal towns offer a winning formula for a relaxing getaway. And they beckon visitors from around the world, from the stunning Mediterranean shoreline to quaint small towns right here in the United States. Whether you want to lounge on a white-sand beach or dive into local history and culture, we have a perfect coastal destination for you.
Here are 16 of the world’s most beautiful coastal towns.
You wouldn’t know at first glance, but this idyllic town in Cornwall has a scandalous past. In the 18th century, Polperro’s secluded coastline was a frequent entry point for smugglers, who brought in alcohol, tobacco, and other contraband. They left few traces behind; traditional fishermen’s cottages, dating back to the 16th century, line the narrow streets, and the downtown area has boutiques and galleries. But you can learn about Polperro’s colorful history at the Heritage Museum of Smuggling and Fishing.
Saint George’s, Bermuda
The Town of Saint George dates back to the early 17th century. Today, you can visit St. Peter’s, the oldest Anglican church in the Western Hemisphere, built in 1612, and the Unfinished Church, with its majestic stone arches. Other buildings have a decidedly tropical feel: Think white limestone roofs and exteriors painted in vibrant hues of pink, yellow, blue, and orange.
Italy has no shortage of pretty coastal towns, but we’re partial to Manarola. The tiny Cinque Terre village dates back to the Middle Ages and consists of a jumble of bright cliff-side homes overlooking the sea. Manarola—and the rest of Cinque Terre—is also known for producing white wine and olive oil.
If you were asked to picture a quintessential New England coastal town, chances are you’d envision Camden. The former manufacturing village occupies the green shores of Penobscot Bay, near the base of Mount Battie. Historic windjammers and dozens of other boats bob in Camden’s harbor. The downtown business area, rebuilt after an 1892 blaze and designated the Great Fire Historic District by the National Register of Historic Places, is filled with handsome brick buildings, and white clapboard homes line the residential streets.
At more than 2,000 years old, Kotor is Montenegro’s oldest town. Its historic area has narrow streets and stone buildings dating back to that time. Besides the impressive architecture, Kotor’s surroundings are also quite idyllic. The town sits near the base of the rugged Mount Lovcen, in a quiet corner of the Bay of Kotor.
Lunenburg, on Nova Scotia’s southern coast, is one of the few North American towns designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was founded by the British in 1753 and still has a historic feel. The fishing and shipbuilding town’s buildings were traditionally painted black and white — those being the cheapest paint colors. In recent years, people began choosing other colors to make their homes and businesses stand out, giving historic Lunenburg a cheerier look.
Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia
It’s hard to believe Sidi Bou Said is just minutes outside Tunis, Tunisia’s largest city. The picturesque Mediterranean town feels worlds away, with its bougainvillea-draped stone streets and blue-accented, whitewashed buildings. Sidi Bou Said is also known for its white-sand beaches and impressive harbor.
Surrealist artist Salvador Dalí supposedly found inspiration in this village on Spain’s Costa Brava. He spent time in Cadaqués while growing up and later had his home and studio (now a museum) in neighboring Port Lligat. Cadaqués has a rustic, yet sophisticated charm. Whitewashed houses with tiled roofs line the rocky coast, and art galleries continue to flourish.
Cua Van, Vietnam
Located in Vietnam’s dramatic Halong Bay, with lush mountains as a backdrop, this little village is completely composed of floating homes. About 700 people (traditionally fishermen) live in anchored houseboats, with kids attending a floating school. Cua Van has become a popular tourist attraction, as visitors want to see this unusual way of life for themselves.
In the 1700s, Greenland began the tradition of color-coding its buildings: hospitals were yellow, police stations black, and fisheries blue. The colors were the same from town to town. Folks eventually chose more varied pigments for their dwellings. In the archetypal fishing village Ilulissat, the rainbow-hued architecture makes a stark contrast to the Arctic surroundings. Ilulissat is also home to an ice fjord of the same name: a collection of giant icebergs that you can see from the streets.
Oia, a town on the northern coast of Santorini, is absolutely stunning, and with just one glance, you can see why Oia appeals to so many travelers. Perched on cliffs above the sea, it’s the romantic blue-and-white Greek town that has launched thousands of cruise-ship vacations.
Paternoster, South Africa
The maritime way of life is firmly rooted in the DNA of Paternoster, about 90 miles north of Cape Town. Most buildings are classic fishermen’s cottages, white with dark roofs. The town enforces a strict architectural code to preserve its character. Fittingly, you can get great seafood here, too.
Croatia has other idyllic coastal spots—Trogir, Split, Dubrovnik—but this Istrian town’s distinct layout earned it a place on our list. Rovinj’s historic center is completely contained within a small peninsula. (It was once the island of Mons Albanus, but the channel between the island and mainland was filled in 1763.) As a result of the tight quarters, buildings are tall, narrow, and close set, with red tiled roofs. Towering above it all is St. Euphemia, a stately Baroque church and Rovinj’s main landmark.
Reine is one of Europe’s most beautiful villages and among Norway’s most photographed places. Jaunty red wooden cabins (called rorbuer) make up the town, set against the rugged Lofoten Mountains. Reine is also the jumping-off point for exploring Reinefjord, one of northern Norway’s pristine fjords.
Port Fairy, Australia
Don’t drive Australia’s Great Ocean Road without pulling over at the southern town of Port Fairy. The seaside village resembles a 19th-century shipping port, and the National Trust of Australia has designated more than 50 buildings as historic. A stroll will take you past whitewashed fishermen’s cottages and old stone churches.
With its stately hillside homes overlooking the water, Sausalito could be mistaken for an Italian fishing village. But this Bay Area town is just a quick ferry ride from San Francisco, on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge. Sausalito is known for its floating houseboats—more than 400 docked in five marinas—and an artsy vibe, with galleries, boutiques, and fine restaurants.