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    Wednesday, August 7, 2013

    Europe's Best City Beaches

    Sand and cities don't naturally go together, but they're matched to perfection at lidos, pop-up beaches and metro lakesides from Paris to Prague, via sandy Vienna.
    Unless otherwise indicated, these urban beaches are free and open year round.

    Strandbad Wannsee, Berlin
    Berliners have been sprawling on the shores of Europe's largest swimming baths, complete with sand shipped in from the Baltic Sea, since 1907. This one's also got a nude area.
    Best for: Sun-worshippers
    A 20-minute train ride from central Berlin, on the banks of the Wannsee Lake, gets you to the largest inland lido (urban public swimming spot) in Europe -- the swimming and sunbathing areas together cover around 35 hectares.
    Berliners have been heading here with their beach towels since 1907 to kick back on the 1,275-meter stretch of sand, shipped in from the Baltic Sea.
    There's beach volleyball and giant chess games, a water slide into the lake and a nudist area.
    Strandbad Wannsee; open until September 29, 2013; admission €4.50 adults, €2.80 children.

    Lido di Venezia, Venice, Italy
    The Italians invented the lido, which is why you'll find swimming areas in colder, grayer places throughout Europe named after this original. Come during the August film festival and you'll find celebrities unclothed.

    Best for: Celeb spotting
    Venice has its own version of Palm Beach in the form of the Lido (after which many, generally less impressive European swimming areas are named), an 11-kilometer-long sandbar, reached by ferry, that separates the Venetian Lagoon from the Adriatic Sea.
    One of the loveliest areas is the WWF-protected sandy dunes at Alberoni. Rare bee-eater birds are often seen here.
    Visit the Lido during August and you may spot George Clooney or Helen Mirren -- big Hollywood names come for the Venice Film Festival (August 28 to September 7, 2013), held at the grand Palazzo del Cinema.
    For more about Venice and the Lido de Venezia, visit Turismo Venezia.

    Barceloneta, Barcelona, Spain

    You need to arrive early if you want a decent spot on Barca's biggest and most popular beach on a sunny day. Its USP? Eye-grabbing structures from architects Frank Gehry and Rebecca Horn.
    Best for: Beach architecture
    At Barceloneta, the city's former fisherman's quarter, you'll find Barcelona's largest, most centrally located and most popular beach.
    At a mere hint of sunshine, locals beeline for the three-kilometer-long ribbon of sand.
    Arrive early if you want a decent spot.
    The beach is lined with strange architectural wonders, including a giant golden fish sculpture by celebrated American architect Frank Gehry, and a three-story-tall leaning tower of steel boxes, the work of German sculptor Rebecca Horn.
    For more about Barcelona and Barceloneta beach visit Barcelona Turisme.

    Blijburg aan Zee, Amsterdam
    Amsterdam's city beach has a bohemian vibe -- no surprise in one of Europe's most permissive cities. It comes into its own at night, with campfires, DJs and a summer-long beach party.
    Best for: Night owls
    Amsterdammers come to this wide stretch of sand when they want to feel the sand beneath their feet, but don't want to schlep all the way to the coast.
    The beach is on IJburg, a collection of artificial islands east of the city center.
    It has a laid-back bohemian vibe and a beach shack serving ice cream.
    After dark the beach comes alive with campfires, DJs and a beach-party atmosphere that continues into the morning hours.
    Find more on Amsterdam and Blijburg aan Zee at the official Amsterdam tourism website. Details of evening and other events on the beach here (Dutch-language site only).

    Sand in the City, Vienna
    Along with gastro nights and salsa on the sand, beach volleyball under the lights is popular at Vienna's Sand in the City.
    Best for: Almost any kind of beach activity you can imagine
    The Danube River has a number of beaches along its length, but the coolest one is located in the grounds of the Vienna Ice Skating Club: the Sand in the City beach club.
    One sandy theme succeeds another at the club.
    The Sport Beach has beach volleyball, the games lit up at night with floodlights.
    At Gastro Beach, stands serve strawberry punch, Italian ice cream and other refreshments.
    Every Sunday the beach is transformed into an open-air salsa party with international DJs.
    Sand in the City; open until September 7, 2013

    Bruxelles les Bains, Brussels
    Around 3,000 tons of sand from the North Sea create a beach resort in that most unlikely of places, Brussels, complete with cocktails at sundown.
    Best for: Pretending you're at a resort when you're in the city
    Every summer, 3,000 tons of sand from the North Sea are poured along the banks of the Brussels Canal.
    The result is more like a resort than a beach, with a children's park and activities galore, from boules to Ultimate Frisbee.
    Weekly events include beach rugby tournaments, a huge video games tent, dance lessons and free concerts held on the "sand stage."
    Cocktail bars pepper the beach -- sundowners are hard to avoid.
    Bruxelles les Bains; open until August 11, 2013

    Amager Beach Park, Copenhagen, Denmark
    Amager Beach Park has almost three miles of beach. The northern end is wild, with winding paths and sand dunes -- people come for picnics and play. The southern end has the new "city beach," with a broad promenade and boat marina.
    Best for: Swimming laps
    Since 1934, whenever locals have needed beach time, they've crossed one of two bridges to this island just off the city's coastline.
    There are almost three miles of beaches here; the northern end is wild, with winding paths and sand dunes -- people come for picnics and play.
    At the southern end is the new "city beach," with a broad promenade and boat marina.
    You can launch yourself off the jetty for a swim, or get your heart rate up in the kilometer-long swimming lane.
    Amager Beach Park (Danish-language site only)

    Paris Plages, Paris
    Parisians compete to look chic on 2,000 tons of sand deposited next to the Seine and other waterside locations across the city.
    Best for: Parisian chic
    What began in 2002 as a single, short beach on the Right Bank of the Seine has turned into one of the biggest pop-up beaches in Europe.
    More than 2,000 tons of sand are loaded onto various Paris waterside locations: this year it's across from the Georges Pompidou exhibition center and at the Bassin de la Villette artificial lake.
    Visitors can sit on a deck chair under a palm tree, borrow books free of charge, join in tai chi and ballroom dance classes or ride a new 150-meter-long zip line across the Bassin de la Villette.
    Oddly enough, swimming in the Seine is forbidden -- there are row boats and kayaks for rent instead.
    Paris Plages‎, open until August 2013

    Žluté Lázně, Prague
    This Czech beach may be 103 this year, but it doesn't feel old, with all manner of activities including volleyball and petanque. There's a nudist section, too.
    Best for: Sporty types
    On the banks of the River Vltava, this venerable city beach turns 103 this summer.
    The expanse of imported sand provides plenty of spots for horizontal relaxation.
    Games include beach volleyball, slack-lining, petanque, netball and giant chess.
    There are several bars and restaurants, a children's play area and -- this being a common requirement for European urban beach-goers -- a "no-clothes" beach.
    Evening beach parties feature DJs and young, attractive crowds.
    Žluté Lázně; 80Kc ($4) adults, 40Kc children

    Guincho, Lisbon
    Lisbon's most beautiful beach? Guincho is certainly its windiest, which makes it great for kite- and windsurfing.
    Best for: Urban surfing
    After a morning in Lisbon's medieval Alfama quarter, its cathedrals and cubbyhole cafes, a trip to this long beach below the cliffs near Cascais, a 20-minute bus ride from Lisbon proper, makes a great change of scene.
    Many consider Guincho the most beautiful beach around Lisbon, but whether you come for the scenery or not, you're almost guaranteed a decent swell.
    The beach is renowned for its strong waves and chill surfing vibe -- whatever day of the week you can expect plenty of kite- and windsurfers in the water.
    Surf rental shops and schools are nearby, but the beach is also fine for bodysurfing.
    For more about Lisbon visit the official Lisbon tourism website

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