10 of the world's best city beaches

10 of the world's best city beaches

Strip away the suit and indulge your tropical fantasies at these cities by the sea

When you hear the word "city," what do you think of?

Skyscrapers? Traffic jams? Great restaurants? Bad service?

How about beaches? 

There are some cities where the working class can strip off the suit and tie, jump into the swimming shorts or bikini and enjoy a day with their toes in the sand without having to leave the urban perimieter. 

By talking with our well-traveled friends and colleagues, collating data from tourism authorities and using our own experiences, we've put together a list of what we think make up 10 of the best city beaches in the world. 

No doubt you've got your own. We'd love to hear about them in the comments. 

Start your city-beach tour by clicking on the graphic below.

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1. Ipanema Beach, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil

Ipanema Beach, Rio De JanieroA beautiful beach, but take care in the currents. Ipanema was famed long before Vinícius de Moraes and Tom Jobim composed their 1962 ode to one of the "tall and tanned and young and lovely" females that still throng the beach.

"The Girl From Ipanema," however, perfectly encapsulates the eternal allure of the 1,600-meter-long, 90-meter deep stretch of white sand. Majestic granite peaks create a spectacular backdrop while the Cagarras Islands in the distance offer a counterpoint to the brilliant blue of the Atlantic.

This is the place where the dental-floss bikini and the crocheted G-string for men made their debuts, however, and it’s the sight of the beautiful people of the Cidade Maravilhosa strutting their scantily clad stuff that makes for arguably the most compelling spectacle.

Lowdown (marks out of 5)

Cleanliness: 4 -- Ipanema is regarded by Cariocas (Rio natives) as the city’s cleanest beach.

Visual stimulus: 5 -- Need we explain?

Food/drink options: 5 -- Hawkers ply the sand selling everything from cold beer and caipirinhas to grilled sticks of halloumi cheese, while the streets that back the beach host some of the Rio’s best restaurants.

Safe swimming: 2 -- The word Ipanema translates from native Indian as "bad, dangerous waters" and the undertow and the crashing waves should not be underestimated.

Party factor: 5 -- Rio’s inland districts have the edge when it comes to partying down but Ipanema’s clubs are no slouches either.

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2. Gordon-Frishman Beach, Tel Aviv, Israel

Gordon-Frishman Beach, Tel AvivSun, sand and formation planes. Jerusalem may be the capital but the youthful pulse of Israel can be felt most keenly in Tel Aviv and especially at its tremendous beaches.

Stretching for miles down the western side of the city, the golden sand offers a range of possibilities from hedonistic bar scenes to family orientated fun. Hipsters and the city’s (many) beautiful people tend to flock to the Gordon-Frishman beach in the heart of the strip to sit in a seaside café or take a dip in the saltwater pool.

On Fridays many Tel-Avivians head a little further south to Dolphinarian Beach where a weekly music festival gets the weekend off to a suitably rousing start.

Lowdown (marks out of 5)

Cleanliness: 4 -- Tel-Avivians take great pride in their beaches and they are kept accordingly pristine.

Visual stimulus: 4 -- Tel Aviv is home to some of the most beautiful people in the Middle East. The sunsets aren’t bad either.

Food/drink options: 4 -- The beach fare (think wraps, hummus, salads and fried calamari) is simple and healthy and there’s no shortage of lively bars.

Safe swimming: 5 -- The beach is manned by lifeguards and the warm, generally placid, water is ideal for swimming.

Party factor: 4 -- Beach parties are a regular occurrence during the summer months.

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3. Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia

Bondi Beach, SydneyMajor cause of Sydney's office sick days. Most of Australia’s main cities are close to great beaches, but Sydneysiders are justifiably bullish about the ones on their doorstep.

Coogee, Manly and gorgeous and often practically deserted northern beaches such as Palm Beach all have their advocates but for an iconic all-rounder you can’t go far wrong with Bondi. 

One of the world’s most famous strips of sand, Bondi is the closest ocean beach to the center of the city ensuring its popularity with tourists and locals alike. The wide curving crescent of white sand can get incredibly busy but the turquoise water and the prime people-watching opportunities offer ample recompense.

Lowdown (marks out of 5)

Cleanliness: 4 -- Bondi has been one of Sydney’s cleanest beaches since an outlet pipe was installed in 1991 to discharge Sydney's waste five miles offshore rather than just off the cliff face that juts out of the beach.

Visual stimulus: 5 -- The beach itself is picture perfect and the surfing contingent ensures a healthy stream of toned flesh.

Food/drink options: 5 -- With over 130 eateries in Bondi, beachgoers can chow down on everything from Asian tapas to gourmet fish-and-chips.

Safe swimming: 3 -- An underwater net keeps the sharks away but dangerous rip currents mean you should swim only in designated safe-swimming areas.

Party factor: 4 -- It’s not the most sophisticated clubbing scene but there’s plenty of scope to cut loose in Bondi’s nightspots.

Also on CNNGo: Best beaches in Sydney

4. Waikiki Beach, Honolulu, Hawaii, United States

Waikiki Beach, HonoluluAnd you can stay right where you are for the honeymoon too.The hula girls and twangy guitars may mostly be confined to Honolulu’s hotel lobbies these days but Waikiki Beach retains a widescreen aura fostered in countless movies.

The beach sprang to worldwide fame during the 1950s but was sought-after long before exotic dancers started putting leis around the necks of stars such as Elvis Presley. Originally a retreat for 19th-century Hawaiian royalty the beach was also a favorite of author Robert Louis Stevenson.

Today the clutch of high-rise hotels is evidence of its status as one of the top holiday destinations in the United States but the turquoise waters and the killer views of the Diamond Head crater make up for the surfeit of concrete and garish short-sleeve shirts.

Lowdown (marks our of 5)

Cleanliness: 5 -- Work by pressure groups such as Healthy Hawaii Coalition ensures that the beach and the water remain pristine.

Visual stimulus: 4 -- Even the lardy tourists can’t detract from the spectacular sight of the Diamond Head crater.

Food/drink options: 3 -- Waikiki Beach is both touristy and commercial so it can be hard to find anything cheap or leftfield.

Safe swimming: 5 -- The water is shallow and warm and perfect for bathing.

Party factor: 4 -- Plentiful bars and nightclubs advertising foam parties and a "relaxed" dress code make for a raucous after-hours scene.

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5. Brighton Beach, Brighton, England

Brighton Beach, BrightonPeaceful paddling an hour from London.Brighton's proximity to the British capital has earned it a reputation as a kind of "London-on-Sea." Yet while some apply the soubriquet derisively, the town’s fusion of hip urban energy and fresh sea air acts as a tonic to any traveler and commuter ills.

The beach, which is mostly shingle down to the low tide mark, is a far cry from the paradisiacal clichés -- this is England after all -- but it resonates charm and pulses with energy, especially on rare sunny days.

Arcane British seaside traditions such as stripy deckchairs, sticks of rock candy and fairground rides abound but cosmopolitan cravings can be sated a stone’s throw away in the historic Brighton Lanes -- a maze of quaint streets and alleyways crammed with independent shops.

Lowdown (marks out of 5)

Cleanliness: 3 -- Although considered clean by British standards, Brighton didn’t fly a Blue Flag -- the official "super clean" status -- last summer thanks to debris washing into the sea.

Visual stimulus: 4 -- Brits are not slow to strip off at the first glimpse of sun so there’s plenty of flesh on parade during the summer months. Brighton's (stony) naturist strand was the first official clothes-optional beach in Britain.

Food/drink options: 5 -- "London on Sea" is blessed with an eating and drinking scene that pales with the capital’s only in terms of size.

Safe swimming: 3 -- The beach slopes sharply into the sea at high tide. Take care.

Party factor: 5 -- Great nightclubs and music venues and frequent appearances on the beach by big names make Brighton a hit with music lovers.

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6. Barceloneta Beach, Barcelona, Spain

Barceloneta Beach, BarcelonaIf it's good enough for Shakira ...Barcelona’s beaches are not the most beautiful in the world but when it comes to atmosphere they are hard to beat. The most popular due to its proximity to the center of town is Barceloneta Beach.

Lined with palm trees and backed by buzzing bars and cafés the beach is dominated by Peix, a 60-meter-long abstract golden fish sculpture by Frank Gehry, which is situated at the northeast end.

Another of the beach’s major attributes is the area of Barceloneta itself where superb seafood tapas do justice to the area’s history as the traditional fishermen’s quarter.

Lowdown (marks out of 5)

Cleanliness: 5 -- More than 200 people clean Barcelona’s beaches daily.

Visual stimulus: 3 -- Beach patrons include a significant quota of tourists, leisure groups and schoolchildren. Not the sexiest of demographics then.

Food/drink options: 4 -- Beach bars known as "chiringuitos" line sand and the district of Barceloneta is not short on choice eating options.

Safe swimming: 5 -- There are no dangerous currents close to the shore and the beach is patrolled by Red Cross lifeguards.

Party factor: 3 -- The DJs tend to favor chill-out tunes over raucous anthems.

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7. Jumeirah Beach, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Jumeirah Beach, DubaiNo beer, just bronzing. Soaring skyscrapers, mega-malls and manicured golf courses all catch the eye but the center of attention in the Middle East’s most fantastical city-state remains its beautiful coastline.

When the Emirate’s ruler, Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, decided to bank Dubai’s future on its tourism potential, he rightly saw the spotless beaches and crystalline waters of the Persian Gulf as one of his main assets, and so they remain.

The beaches at Al Mamzar on the opposite side of Dubai Creek have their fans but the prime sun-worshipping spot is Jumeirah Beach.

Lowdown (marks out of 5)

Cleanliness: 3 -- Illegal dumping of sewage by tankers has been an issue in the past but lab tests last year gave the waters around Dubai the all-clear.

Visual stimulus: 3 -- Dubai is liberal for the Middle East but it’s not Rio.

Food/drink options: 4 -- Jumeirah Beach Road is lined with restaurants. If you want an alcoholic beverage, however, you’ll need to head for a hotel.

Safe swimming: 5 -- The Gulf’s shallowness and bathtub temperature make it ideal for bathing.

Party factor: 4 -- Better than you might think. Try Barasti or 360° for some beach beats and beverages.

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8. Miami Beach, Miami, Florida, United States

Miami Beach, FloridaA serious pampering awaits. It is not difficult to see why Miami is synonymous with its beach. More than 14 kilometers of the east coast of the barrier island that holds the Florida city is taken up by palm-backed white sand.

Unsurprisingly, the beach plays a massive role in civic life. It has a reputation for hedonism and it is true that its nightclubs -- especially in the South Beach area -- are magnets for the rich, famous and beautiful. 

However, there’s more to the area than lithe bodies, vacuous chat and expensive cocktails. The historic art deco neighborhood of South Beach rewards exploration while major arts events such as the annual Art Basel Miami Beach up the culture quotient.

Lowdown (marks out of 5)

Cleanliness: 3 -- Pollution and littering has been a problem but groups such as ECOMB (Environmental Coalition of Miami and the Beaches) have been working hard to spread the cleanliness message.

Visual stimulus: 4 -- South Beach is the place to head if you want to, er, "critique" a model shoot.

Food/drink options: 3 -- The beach itself isn’t great for food and alcohol is (officially) banned but there are plenty of options on thoroughfares such as Ocean Drive and Lincoln Road.

Safe swimming: 3 -- The water temperature is perfect for most of the year but jellyfish can be an annoyance.

Party factor: 5 -- It may not be to everyone’s taste but Miami Beach’s swanky nightlife is famous for a reason.

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9. Kitsilano Beach, Vancouver, Canada

Kitsilano Beach, VancouverIf Vancouver's one the best cities to live, does that make Kits one of the best beaches to play on?Proof that the cities of south and central California don’t have a monopoly on great urban beaches on North America’s west coast comes in the biggest city in British Columbia.

Vancouver is consistently ranked among the most liveable conurbations in the world and you’d have to think that the 18 kilometers worth of beaches within its city limits don’t hurt its rep any.

Kitsilano or "Kits" is one of the most popular, both with beach bums and with sporty types who balk at the idea of wasting too much time on a towel. Activity options include 10 tennis courts and two basketball courts. At 137 meters, Kitsilano's saltwater pool is the largest in Canada.

Lowdown (marks out of 5)

Cleanliness: 3 -- Grey sand and often murky water don’t give the best impression but regular beach cleanups and a smoking ban ensure minimal detritus.

Visual stimulus: 4 -- Snow-capped mountains, Vancouver’s striking skyline and lithe athletic bodies all catch the eye.

Food/drink options: 4 -- The upmarket neighborhood of Kitsilano is home to some great restaurants. The Boathouse in particular is renowned for its waterfront drinking and dining.

Safe swimming: 4 -- The water is clean and the swimming is safe. It can get mighty cold however.

Party factor: 3 -- The cluster of bars and restaurants over the road from the beach make Kits a lively place to unwind.

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10. Clifton Beaches, Cape Town, South Africa

Clifton Beaches, Cape TownAs stunning as the wildlife just over the top.Cape Town’s Clifton beaches come with one major drawback -- the icy waters of the Atlantic Ocean are what might politely be termed as bracing practically all year round.

Despite this they remain a magnet for visitors due to their spectacular natural beauty and unbeatable African sunsets. Divided into four small but interlinked coves by massive boulders the size of small cars, the separate beaches cater to very different demographics.

1st Beach is for the moneyed set who live locally, 2nd Beach attracts a sizeable gay contingent while 3rd Beach is more family orientated. The liveliest spot, however, is 4th Beach where Cape Town’s hip set come to top up their tans.

Lowdown (marks out of 5)

Cleanliness: 5 -- The beaches have been awarded the Blue Flag for excellent environmental standards by the international Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE).

Visual stimulus: 5 -- The beaches' fashionable patrons make great efforts to look trim. The spectacular scenery and sunsets scrub up quite well too.

Food/drink options: 2 -- There’s not much in the way of restaurants and drinking alcohol is not permitted on the beach.

Safe swimming: 2 -- Shark attacks are not unknown and the water is cold all year round. Cold but clean however.

Party factor: 2 -- There are occasional parties on 2nd and 4th beaches but otherwise Clifton is pretty subdued.

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