Top 11 Cultured Beach Destinations

Zanzibar

Of course, sometimes you go on a beach holiday to do nothing else than to kick back in the sand and salty water, perhaps sip a cocktail or two but generally do absolutely nothing of any use whatsoever with your time. We completely understand the need to switch off.

Having said that however, we reckon there are also times that you want to head to a beach destination yet stimulate your mind as well. Perhaps that is by exploring big cities or small towns with architectural gems, by checking out a museum here or there, exploring castles, palaces, temples or whatever else floats your boat. Allow us to introduce 11 travel destinations (in no particular order) to you that are perfectly fit for those looking to undertake a cultured beach holiday.

1. Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town

The beaches in Cape Town are claimed to be some of the best in the world. The water may not be the warmest here, but beaches like Camps Bay or Clifton with their white sands are exactly how we like them. And the scenery obviously doesn't hurt either. Being the second biggest city in South Africa and having an extensive European heritage ensures that there is enough to see and explore when you're not lazing away on the beach. Main sights include the Castle of Good Hope and St. Georges Cathedral.

2. Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona

Where yo dou even start with a city like Barcelona? 2000 years of history, Gaudi and his Sagrada Família, the old town, on the cultural front you are assured not to be bored here. And the beaches? Well, seeing as that it was named the number one beach city in the world by National Geographic, you're spoilt for choice, really. Pick the busier beaches near the town center or head further out if you prefer things a bit more quiet.

3. Tulum, Mexico

Tulum

Tulum, pretty as it may be, in fact only has two attractions of quite a narrow scope. On the one hand there is the extremely pretty Mayan fortress ruin of the Castillo perched on top of some rocks next to the sea, and on the other hand there is the turquoise sea and its breathtakingly beautiful beaches. So I guess you're going to have to find a way to combine the two, don't you?

4. Bali, Indonesia

Bali

Predictable you say? Fair enough, but Bali simply couldn't be excluded from this list. Think about it, the gorgeous beaches of Kuta, Nusa Dua and Sanur, or the black sand beaches of Lovina up north. And all that in combination with temples, rice paddies, Balinese culture and other fantastic scenery... We think everyone should travel here at least once in their lives. There is almost no better place in the world to combine beaches with cultural explorations.

5. Salvador, Brazil

Salvador

Salvador lies in between Rio and Recife. If you know how good the beaches in either of those are, you have a pretty good idea of how those in Salvador look. In our review we used the word "mesmerising" to describe them. But it wouldn't be on this list if it didn't have some seriously impressive cultural offerings too. Just head up to the Cidade Alta (old town), pass the neoclassical Palacio Rio Branco Salvador and explore the other sights.

6. Penang, Malaysia

Penang

Penang offers visitors a colorful mix of colonial and historical sights and neighbourhoods, temples, mosques night markets and great beaches. Batu Feringghi is a picture perfect beach near the capital city of Georgetown, but if you have more time then by all means venture further out as there are some hidden gems here.

7. Crete, Greece

Crete

Crete may be mostly known for its beaches, but thousands of years ago this was also home of the first European civilization, the Minoans. Plenty of monasteries, picturesque towns and the main sight of the Palace of Knossos are just some examples of what is on offer here. And the beaches? Well, the coastline is dramatic and long so there's something for everyone. Up north you find the more developed spots, whereas if you look south you may find some much more quiet beaches.

8. Zanzibar, Tanzania

Zanzibar

Well, if that picture doesn't look inviting then I don't know I am sure what does. Zanbzibar is an island archipelago off Tanzania in East Africa. It is home to 30 beaches that are as perfect as it gets: white sand, palm trees, the deep blue ocean, you get the idea. Culturally, there is the Moorish, Persian, Indian, African and European architecture of Zanzibar City which was pronounced a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000.

9. Sydney, Australia

Sydney

With its Opera House, pretty Sydney Harbour and loads of excellent museums, Sydney is a class city with plenty to see and do. And for the beaches, well... does Bondi, Manly or Bronte really not ring a bell at all? In that case you've been missing out. Surfing is a way of life here.

10. San Diego, United States

San Diego

As we argued in our review, San Diego tends to get overlooked by California's cities further up north, and we think that makes no sense. San Diego is laid back, has great beaches (the very wide and long Mission Beach offers not only a great beach but also plenty of activities and nightlife), and on the cultural front can compete with the best. Of particular interest there is Balboa Park with its 15 museums. Or else go check out the old town or La Jolla.

11. Sintra, Portugal

Sintra

Of course we realise that it looks a bit odd to have a list of 11, instead of 10 or 15. But well, we had to make sure to include Sintra here. This Portuguese city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site home to the famous Castle of the Moors which resembles the Great Wall of China and Palácio da Pena. And while it may be situated on a hill amidst the plains, just a few minutes from here you'll be at the beach. And when it comes to those, too, Sintra has quite a bit to offer.