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The Best Unconventional Beaches For Your Non-Tropical Vacation

Lauren Allain

Seattle, WA, USA

Pina Colada in hand, toes in the sand, serenity increasing with each wave as it quietly laps onto the shore and then disappears. There’s no denying a vacation on the beach is often just what we need to hit the reset button. More often than not, this idyllic beach destination belongs in the tropical family of palm trees and warm breezes. But non-tropical and often overlooked beaches exist all around world (and definitely deserve just as much love). Here are some unconventional beach destinations that are sure to earn the badge of postcard-worthy places to take a dip.

Sørenga Sjøbad, Oslo, Norway

Although a chunk of Norway is in the Arctic Circle, the southern capital of Oslo can creep into some sweaty temperatures in the summer. July and August of 2018 saw temperatures in the high 80s. Amidst the fjord tours, museums, and smoked salmon, Oslo hides a secret hangout. A 10-minute walk from the Oslo Opera House will land you at Sørenga Sjøbad, the perfect beach.

In order to find your favorite spot at Sørenga Sjøbad, you’ll need a flowchart to go over specifics. Do you want to settle into sand, a beach chair, grassy park or lay out on a wooden pier? Do you prefer to wade in, jump off the pier or jump off the high dive? Take your pick!

If you prefer to keep your head above water, the rental shop is a few feet away to grab a stand up paddle board or a kayak. Then, head off to explore the waterfront from the most unobstructed view possible. Sure, not a single palm tree is in sight, but the surrounding bay and islands are stunning with Nordic charm and small fishing boats pass by often.

Back on land you’ll find the cute surrounding streets to be packed with open-air restaurant, bars, cafes, and ice cream shops. Most offer takeout if you want to keep keep of your spot in grassy beach heaven. The grocery store is a three minute walk away if you’re on the budget meal plan for a picnic.

When you get home, you can brag to your friends that you swam in the Oslofjord, which sounds pretty badass. But actually fjord just means a long, deep body of water, not necessarily of freezing glacial temperatures. But your friends don’t need to know that.

Hung Shing Ye Beach, Lamma Island, Hong Kong

Lamma Island, Hong Kong.
Lamma Island, Hong Kong.

A ferry ride away from the buzzing hills of metropolitan Hong Kong lies a remote and barely inhabited island. Lamma Island is known for its hippie vibe with cars being strictly prohibited and building regulations stating three stories high is high enough. The island has a tropical hideout feel to it.

The Lamma Island Family Trail is two and a half miles and connects the two ferry piers on the island, so you can get dropped off at one pier and hike to the other, stopping often to take in the spectacular views and tour the pagodas scattered around.

Lamma Island, Hong Kong.
Lamma Island, Hong Kong.

Hung Shing Ye Beach is where you’ll want to stop for a refreshing swim in the South China Sea. Lush green hills jut up to surround the beach, and paired with the fact that you hiked to the beach and will hike back out, make this a very memorable experience.

In case you were concerned, the beach is protected by a shark net. I never enter a body of water thinking I’m heading out to swim with sharks, but the sign telling me I was safe from sharks made me wonder. I instantly envisioned numerous sharks swimming laps back and forth on the other side of net. Alas, none of the sharks know the secret password to enter the swimming area so not to worry.T

Odaiba Beach, Tokyo, Japan.

Odaiba Beach Park, Tokyo, Japan. helovi /
Odaiba Beach Park, Tokyo, Japan. helovi /

If you’ve never been to Tokyo during the summer months it might come as a surprise that Tokyo lies in a subtropical humid climate. If you have been to Tokyo in the summer months you’ll now be recalling those mornings when you stepped outside and your clothes immediately glued themselves on to you. It gets hot, but you won’t melt as long as you’re heading to Kasai Rinkai Koen or Odaiba Beach to cool off.

Kasai Rinkai Koen lies in the furthest eastern corner of Tokyo proper. It’s a massively impressive park with two islands jutting into Tokyo Bay. One is a bird sanctuary with no access. The other is a long stretch of perfect soft sand beach. Swimming here is only allowed during summer months. The park also hosts clam digging in the summer. Check the schedule for events on the park’s official website or its Twitter. Previously, the water quality in Tokyo Bay was too low to allow swimming, but Kasai Rinkai Park decided to combat that issue by planting thousands of oysters to filter the water. The result, years later, is water quality healthy enough to allow for swimming. Thanks, oysters!

Although closed to swimming (unless you’re a triathlete competing in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics), Odaiba Beach Park is for water-sport enthusiasts. With a stunning view of Tokyo, Odaiba Beach is the place to be in the summer months. There’s something for everyone here. Beach combing, wading, beach volleyball, stand up paddle boarding, and windsurfing are just a portion of the activities found at Odaiba. The beach becomes especially beautiful at sunset to watch the evening colors reflect on the Rainbow Bridge.

Englischer Garten, Munich, Germany

Englischer Garten, Munich, Germany.
Englischer Garten, Munich, Germany.

In the summer months, the Englischer Garten in the heart of Munich turns into an idyllic “beach.” Although Munich is nowhere near the ocean, the shores of the Eisbach River calmly meander through the center of the park. With sunbathers abound, beer gardens a few hundred feet away, and surfing, the park is brimming with the ultimate beach vibes. Tucked into the corner of the Englischer Garten is a constant and stationary wave thanks to the Eisbach River gushing into the park. If surfing is your favorite beach activity, this is the spot for you.

Surfers line both sides of the river regardless of the temperature outside, even if snow is falling. Surfing in the center of Munich is certainly a treat for those who love the sport, but it’s equally exciting for spectators and the perfect place to hit beach mode. If you forgot to pack your surfboard on this trip, there’s plenty of room to dip your feet in while watching the surfers practice their turns.

Englischer Garten, Munich, Germany.
Englischer Garten, Munich, Germany.

If an extreme sport doesn’t appeal, grab a blanket and relax by the riverside. The park is huge (bigger than New York’s Central Park), so you’re guaranteed to find a nice spot along the river for a picnic and a dip in the refreshing water. Clothing is optional in the northern part of the park, if that’s your cup of tea.

If you happen to find the perfect riverside spot near Chinesischer Turm (Chinese Tower), you’re in for an extra treat if a band is playing. And if you’re thirsty or in dire need for the most delicious pretzel you’ve ever had in your life, the Chinesischer Turm beer garden has a cold stein with your name on it and seating for you and 6,999 of your friends.