Wild and rugged coastlines rank among the most alluring and jaw-droppingly beautiful features of our planet. The combination of crashing waves, dramatic landscapes and far-reaching views often creates legendary scenery of epic beauty that has mesmerized people for centuries. If you need some inspiration for a scenic bay to explore or a coastal drive to set out on your next holiday, here’s my selection of the world’s ten most astonishingly beautiful coastlines, scattered across five continents and three oceans.
There is more information below the slideshow. Do you have a favorite coastline that didn’t make my list? Leave a comment.
Running for 212 km (130 mile) along the rugged Atlantic coast from Belfast to Londonderry (Derry), the Causeway Coastal Route is studded with sandy beaches, Game of Thrones filming locations, rope bridges, fishing villages, and dramatic landscapes. Scenic highlights include the spectacular Gobbins cliff walk which has clung to the enormous basalt cliffs of the Islandmagee peninsula for over one hundred years. Another standout is the UNESCO world heritage site of Giant’s Causeway, a geological feature which consists of around 40,000 hexagonal basalt columns that appear to form a staircase-like pathway out to sea. The legend goes that the causeway was built by an Irish giant, so he could do battle with a Scottish giant.
The Great Ocean Road begins a 90 minute drive from Melbourne’s city centre. It spans 400 kilometres (249 miles) from the town of Torquay to Nelson on the South Australian border. From rainforests and rivers to old volcanoes and rugged coastlines, the Great Ocean Road showcases nature at its most diverse, covering an incredible range of scenery. This stretch of coast is most famous for a spectacular sea stack called ‘the 12 Apostles’. These are limestone pillars that were once connected to the mainland cliffs, but waves and wind carved them into caves, then arches, and eventually battered them down into 45 metre (150 foot) tall columns. There are, in fact, only eight Apostles at the moment, but who knows when the next stretches of cliff will become pillars.
Ha Long Bay is located in the emerald waters of the Gulf of Tonkin in the northeast of Vietnam, approximately a four-hour drive from the capital Hanoi. Including over 1600 jungle-clad islands and islets, most of which are uninhabited and unaffected by humans, Ha Long Bay forms a spectacular seascape of towering limestone pillars and wind- and wave-eroded grottoes, and is an ideal model of a mature Karst landscape developed during a warm and wet tropical climate. The bay’s ethereal scenic beauty is complemented by its great biological interest, hence why it was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1994. You can catch a glimpse of Ha Long Bay on a day trip from Hanoi, yet if you want to get the most out of your trip, you should allow at least two days and book an overnight cruise.
Covering 3.3 million acres of rugged mountains, dynamic glaciers, temperate rainforest, wild coastlines, and deep sheltered fjords, Glacier Bay National Park is part of a 25-million acre UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of the world’s largest international protected areas. Long before global warming became a headline, the glaciers of Glacier Bay began a rapid retreat, which has created a 65-mile (104 km) fjord of spectacular beauty that is still dominated by numerous large glaciers that cascade down from the surrounding mountain peaks. From the bottom of the deepest glacial fjord to the summit of its highest peak, the area encompasses some of our planet’s most amazing scenery and wildness. About 80% of visitors explore Glacier Bay during a cruise.
The Skeleton Coast is one of the world’s last great wildernesses: harsh, untamed and extraordinarily beautiful. There is no denying that the Skeleton Coast is an unforgiving environment: the cold Beguela current produces a thick, heavy fog that clouds the coast for most of the year; the icy surf of the Atlantic Ocean pummels the shore; and the desert winds from the east bring less than 10 millimeters of annual rainfall. Yet, it boasts otherworldly landscapes of wind-swept dunes, rugged canyons of richly colored volcanic rock and vast mountain ranges. The Skeleton Coast got its name from the bones that once littered the shore, remnants of the whaling industry. Today, the skeletons that remain are those of the ships that fell victim to the hidden rocky outcrops and blinding fog.
Deep within Fiordland National Park lies Milford Sound, New Zealand’s most stunning natural attraction a UNESCO World Heritage site. Described by Rudyard Kipling as the ‘eighth wonder of the world’, Milford Sound was carved by glaciers during the ice ages. Breathtaking in any weather, the fiord’s forest-clad cliffs rise vertically from the dark waters, mountain peaks scrape the sky and waterfalls cascade downwards from as high as 1000 meters (more than 3000 feet). When it rains in Milford Sound – and it often does – those waterfalls multiply with magnificent effect. Boat cruises – during the day or overnight – are an excellent way to experience the Sound. Adventurous types might also like to head out sea kayaking, diving or flightseeing.
Possibly one of the most spectacular stretches of coastline in the world, Big Sur is a precious jewel that remains pristine, rugged and remote. Here, you find one of the crown jewels of America’s national scenic byways system, the 145 km (90 mile) Pacific Coast Highway, bordered by Carmel to the north and San Simeon (Hearst Castle) to the south. This narrow two-lane road hugs the impressive cliffs of California’s Central Coast, towering over the waves crashing into the shore below. Some of the best spots for a break along this roughly five-hour drive include the Monterey Peninsula and the Bixby Bridge in Big Sur, one of the most beautiful (and photographed) places in all of California.
- Other accolades: Big Sur also features in my top 10 list of the world’s most scenic drives.
The area around Naples, Italy’s third largest city, is widely considered to be Europe’s most scenic coastline. It represents a landscape of towering, green-swathed mountains, pastel-hued villages with cobblestone streets, palatial renaissance mansions, and expansive vistas over the turquoise waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Because of its amazing scenery and historic value, the Amalfi Coast on Naples’ Sorrento Peninsula was rightfully awarded a coveted spot on UNESCO’s World Heritage list in 1997. A short 20 minute boat ride from the Sorrento mainland is the fabled island of Capri, whose dramatic coastal scenery has been known for at least 2000 years as Emperor Augustus and Emperor Tiberius both had homes here.
- Other accolades: The Amalfi Coast also features in my top 10 lists of the best things to see & do on the Amalfi Coast and the world’s most scenic drives.
Spanning 17 mi (27 km) along Kauai’s North Shore, the Napali Coast is a sacred place defined by extraordinary coastal scenery. Spectacular emerald-hued cliffs with razor-sharp ridges tower above the Pacific Ocean, revealing magnificent beaches and wild waterfalls that plummet to the lush valley floor. The rugged terrain appears much as it did centuries ago when Hawaiian settlements flourished in these deep, narrow valleys, existing only on the food they could grow and the fish they could catch. There are many ways to explore the Napali Coast, such as hiking the incredibly spectacular Kalalau trail which runs for 11 mi (18 km) along the Napali Coast. The best way though to grasp the magnitude of the phenomenal coastline is onboard a helicopter tour.
- Other accolades: The Napali Coast also features in my top 10 lists of the best things to see & do in Hawaii, the best things to see & do in Kauai, the world’s most epic trekking routes and the world’s most scenic flights.
Just minutes away from downtown Cape Town unfolds a nature lover’s paradise, with unbelievable coastal scenery, dramatic hiking trails, incredibly beautiful beaches, and reach-for-your-camera views on a jaw-droppingly beautiful coastal road. The coast is especially spectacular along the Atlantic Seaboard – also known as Cape Town’s ‘Riviera’ – running from the V&A Waterfront on the north shore of Table Mountain all the way down to Hout Bay. Sandwiched between the glistening Atlantic Ocean and the majestic slopes of the Twelve Apostles, this stretch of coastline is dotted with magnificent beaches. Capetonians are blessed, not only with a magnificent city, but also with unrivaled natural surroundings and the world’s the finest coastal scenery.
- Other accolades: Cape Town also features in my top 10 lists of the world’s most beautiful cities and the world’s most scenic travel destinations.