Beach & City Tourism Have it Both Ways: Vacations That Combine the City and the Beach
To beach, or not to beach—when it comes to vacation planning, that is often the question. We’ve all been there, unable to decide whether to cash in our precious vacation days basking in the sun or exploring a concrete jungle. So, why choose at all? If you play your cards right, you can enjoy the best of both the city and the sea on the same trip. Whether you’re headed to Eastern Europe or the Caribbean, Africa or the Mediterranean, here are our favorite destinations to pair.
New York–Punta Cana
Tom Wolfe once famously wrote, “One belongs to New York instantly, one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years.” Travel to a city of 8.5 million people, and you’re bound to feel simultaneously overwhelmed and embraced—in New York, anything goes. First-time visitors should hit all the essentials: the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, Empire State Building, and 9/11 Memorial & Museum. Conversely, repeat travelers and those looking for a more “micro” side of the city should explore melting-pot Brooklyn neighborhoods like Williamsburg (trendsters and Chasidim), DUMBO (art and brownstones), and Fort Greene (tree-shaded streets and indie cafés). In Manhattan, marvel at the just-finished Oculus, Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava’s latest masterpiece, and wander inside for some upmarket shopping.
New York–Punta Cana
When you’ve had your fill of the Big Apple— be it because of the finicky weather or general overstimulation—treat yourself to a tranquil retreat in Punta Cana, an oasis of powdery sand and arching palms on the eastern tip of the Dominican Republic. A bevy of airlines fly there nonstop from New York, keeping prices for the four-hour trip at consistently competitive rates. Once you touch down, you can tune out on the beach (resorts tend to have the best tracts) or treat yourself to a well-deserved massage. But if you’re up for a little adventure, Punta Cana can be about much more than simple R&R: Ask your concierge about how to go whale watching from the air, horseback riding between coffee groves, or zip-lining through the treetops.
From world-class museums to breathtaking architecture to mouth-watering tapas, Madrid has it all—except for, well, agua. The landlocked Spanish capital gets so much sun and so little rain that its landscapes are often scrubby, its famed Manzanares river a mere trickle. But what the city lacks in lushness, it makes up for with culture: In a single afternoon, you can marvel at Picasso’s masterwork Guernica, go boutique-hopping through the trendy neighborhood of Conde Duque, and embark on a tapas crawl down Calle Ponzano, a street so popular among millennial Madrileños that it has its own hashtag, “#ponzaning.”
When you’ve had your fill of bustling crowds, catch a direct flight to the Canary Islands, the warm archipelago off the coast of Morocco, where a paradisiacal microclimate means warm days year round. For white-sand beaches and surfer vibes, Fuerteventura is the island you’re looking for; catch some rays on the Caribbean-like Matorral Beach or get lost in the Corralejo dunes. Hikers, on the other hand, will swoon over the island of Tenerife, whose volcanic Teide mountain is the highest in Spain at 12,198 feet. Lanzarote is the most bohemian island of the bunch, thanks to César Manrique’s legacy. A contemporary of Andy Warhol, Manrique, who was born on the island, brought revolutionary architecture (don’t miss Tahíche, his “volcano house”) to Lanzarote’s otherworldly landscapes.
An ancient city built on the Mediterranean with some of the most impressive architecture on earth, Barcelona appeals to all the senses: Its xampanyerias (sparkling wine bars) lure you in with the aroma of nutty jamón, its plaças echo with the ebullient music of buskers, and its Moderniste block (Manzana de la Discòrdia) captivates the imagination with its undulating façades. Barcelona is so loveable that 32 million people visit each year and some of them use to go to its popular urban beaches.
When you start to tire of the hustle and bustle, puddle-jump over to the Balearic Islands, just south of the Catalan coast, a calm oasis where—if you know where to look—you can find miles of unspoiled beaches and family-run restaurants serving fresh Mediterranean cuisine. On Majorca, the most populated island, find a pocket of calm in the Mondragó National Park, where you can hike a seaside trail or unwind with a beach read in the reserve’s virgin cala (sandy cove). Couples and families shouldn’t miss boarding the rickety wooden train that passes through almond groves between Palma, the capital and a city break destination, and Sóller, a quaint seaside resort.
Ibiza, on the other hand, has long been known as a partier’s paradise. Its wild DJ nights, theatrical themed events, and sundown-to-sunup raves draw an eclectic international crowd. But there’s another, less flashy side to Ibiza worth discovering, too, particularly in the off season. Simple pleasures, like a juicy grilled steak from Es Caliu, an inland tavern specializing in traditional Ibizan cuisine, or a tranquil walk along Ses Salinas beach, offer a different kind of high.
A city split in two districts, Buda and Pest, the Hungarian capital is a stately stunner boasting such Gothic Revival masterpieces as the 691-room Parliament building. There are even some remnants of Ottoman occupation; miraculously, a number of the city’s famous Turkish bathhouses (such as Rudas Baths) endure within their 16th-century structures. After treating yourself to a relaxing soak or spa treatment, continue your day of pampering with a sweet indulgence like chocolatey Hungarian Dobos cake at Ruszwurm, a family-run café established in 1827, or better yet, learn to make it from scratch in the “Hungarian Baking Class” offered by Taste Hungary.
To complement Budapest’s Eastern European seriousness, consider tacking on a few days in a laid-back beach town like Budva, Montenegro, on the Adriatic coast. There, wide sandy beaches give way to cobalt-blue water, boardwalk restaurants serve succulent grilled seafood, and the Old Town rises from the port like a miniature version of Dubrovnik. When you’ve seen everything in town (Budva is compact with just 13,000 full-time residents), board the ferry to Sveti Nikola, a nearby island locals refer to as “Hawaii,” for more beaching and reverse views of the city.
With so much to see in Morocco—from its ornate mosques to its windswept dunes to its chaotic souks—there are infinite ways to break up your itinerary in this North African nation. But there are certain non-negotiable destinations, and Marrakesh is one of them with its UNESCO- protected Medina (Old Town) dating back to the 11th century. Weave through the ancient streets and marvel at the soaring horseshoe arches, intricate fretwork, and elaborate fountains around every corner. You’ll wonder what life was like here before the onslaught of tourism; quench your curiosity at Maison de la Photographie, a petit museum housed in a riad whose collection of photos depicts daily life in Marrakesh beginning in the 19th century.Buildings in some images will look familiar, especially if you’ve visited the sprawling Bahia Palace complex or hectic Jemaa el-Fnaa marketplace.
Three hours south, where the foothills of the Atlas Mountains meet the sea, Agadir sits waiting to be discovered. Maritime, quaint, and family friendly, it’s the antithesis of frenetic Marrakesh and Morocco’s vacation capital. Here, locals take leisurely strolls on the boardwalk at dusk, and pubs welcome jubilant groups of friends out to have a good time. You’ll likely spend most of your time sprawled out on a beach towel, but in spare moments, visit the historic Medina for pleasant cafés and boutique shopping, or catch a glimpse of local life on stroll through the stalls at the fishing port.