As the mercury soars and balmy conditions abound in the northern hemisphere, many of our readers will find themselves contemplating a summer sojourn. Of these dog-day escapists, there will likely be a clear divide in priorities. There are the enterprising few who are keen on discovering a new city or nation for themselves. Then, there are those resolved to top up their tan in a safe-bet seaside resort. On my recent assignments, however, I’ve discovered three European cities that cater beautifully to both criteria: interesting and overlooked enclaves with urban beaches to boot.
First there’s the Tuscan capital and the shores of the River Arno in Florence. Now far be it for me to suggest that this cultural powerhouse needs either better promotion or more tourists (much the opposite is true) but its slither of urban beach – La Spiaggetta – is for the most part unknown by anyone but locals. The beach is unmarked on maps but just a few hundred metres east of the hurried jewelers of the Ponte Vecchio (and within view of the Uffizi Gallery). It’s a simple bank of sand bedecked with canvas loungers, showers, changing rooms and a small bar. But it’s capable of transforming a trip to the busy, landlocked city.
Next we head to Oslo. As one of Europe’s fastest growing cities there’s plenty to see in the Norwegian capital. From the Snøhetta-designed marble Opera House to Renzo Piano’s Astrup Fearnley Museum and the great food on offer at Smalhans or Ylajali, the city’s reputation for being dull and drizzly is unearned and unfair – especially come summer. Bounded by its island-studded fjord to the south and a thick beard of evergreen forests to its north, Oslo’s outdoors and nearness to nature are worthy of discovery. As are the sandy surrounds of Bygdøy beach on Oslo Fjord to the city’s west, which are easily accessed by a 10-minute ferry from City Hall.
Lastly, and perhaps most surprisingly, on the beach front is Warsaw. On the eastern banks of the Vistula river and centered on the Temat Rzeka and La Playa bars, respectively, you can find two sandy swathes of beach, thronged by sun-worshippers basking in the joy of this recently reclaimed urban oasis.
In contrast to a tried-and-tested Mediterranean resort town, these city beaches offer a toehold in a fascinating new destination. They’re places that offer the sense of discovery that comes from plumping for a road less travelled. And of course, if you’re feeling lazy there’s always a sandy asset on which to bronze.
Josh Fehnert is Monocle’s design/ edits editor.