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.

7 (surprising) European Christmas Destinations

Nuremberg Christmas Market

There is something special about spending December in Europe. Wearing thick winter clothes, shuffling around on a German Christmas market spread out across a medieval town center, holding a glass of mulled wine in hand, surrounded by families on their day out... Bright lights and decorations all around. Walking into a fancy shopping mall to get away from the cold and leaving the building an hour later with half of your Christmas shopping already done.

That's a pleasant mental image, isn't it? And around this time of year, you will struggle to find a town anywhere in Europe that does not make an effort to create that extra special Christmas atmosphere. We would not dare to tell you that we have decided which ones are best (how does one decide that anyway), hence we are not calling this the "7 best Christmas destinations" or anything like that, but here are 7 places that we think are worth highlighting. Highlights in most of these places are, of course, the Christmas markets...

1. Bruges, Belgium

The throngs of tourists descending upon Bruges in summer may not realise this, but Bruges is one of those cities that is actually more appealing in winter. An ice rink is set up on the market square, buildings are spectacularly lit up and small Christmas markets dot the center of town. Head for a stroll around the canals after darkness sets in and you will be hard pressed to find a more attractive town anywhere else in Europe.

2. Nuremberg, Germany

Okay, so if you know anything about Christmas markets in Germany, the inclusion of Nuremberg is not exactly going to be surprising to you. But for those of you less familiar with it, it just may be. The Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt is huge and the most famous in Germany, pretty much defining the whole concept: the old town gets filled with nearly 200 stands selling everything from Christmas decorations, mulled wine, gingerbread and bratwurst. It's all in perfect harmony with the lovely historic town center.

3. Český Krumlov, Czech Republic

Český Krumlov is a kind of mini-Prague and a UNESCO world heritage site that is a tourists favorite in summer months. In December it is not exactly empty here, but definitely less crowded. Combined with snow (fingers crossed) in December, the whole town takes on a magical atmosphere. And of course, Český Krumlov too has a Christmas Market. This is one to go purely for the atmosphere. Highly recommended.

4. Colmar, France

With its German cultural background, it is no surprise that the Alsace does Christmas markets exceptionally well. In December, Colmar looks nothing short of a fairy tale. In fact the whole historic town center with its canals and half-timbered houses turns into a Christmas market: châlets all around sell everything from Christmas decorations to pastries and sweets.

5. Bolzano, Italy

We just discussed a town in a French region with a German background (Colmar). Now its time to discuss a town in an Italian region with a German background: Bolzano! Located in South Tyrol, it houses Italy's most famous Christmas market. The mix of Italian and German influences makes this one of the most interesting markets in Europe, and the romantic backdrop of the town with its arcaded streets and a good chance of snow in winter doesn't hurt either. The gastronomic variety is even better than in some of the other markets mentioned here, mixing the northern European and the Mediterranean. Oh, and even without all the Christmas there is plenty to see and do here. Ötzi?

6. Salzburg, Austria

Salzburg is basically the quintessential Christmas destination in Europe. The castle towering over the town and brightly lit, the streets often covered with a blanket of snow and Cathedral Square filled with the yearly Christmas market selling everything from Christmas ornaments to mulled wine, Lebkuchen and caramelised almonds. And if you get bored of strolling the town and market, why not pack your skis and head up the mountain in one of the nearby ski resorts?

7. Wroclaw, Poland

Wroclaw is picturesque. During the Christmas season this becomes even more the case. Poland seems more in touch with the religious origins of the festive season than the rest of Europe, which makes it a joyful place to spend some days around Christmas. The Rynek (Main Square) and Swidnicka Street house the Christmas market and an ice rink. At the market you will find the typical type of Christmas market food, but also Polish Christmas decorations and gifts which make for nice souvenirs.