Europe boasts a rich history, beautiful architecture, and some of the most significant landmarks in the world—and so does its vast coastline.
The best sailing destinations in Europe are the coasts and rivers of the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Finland, Germany, Greece, Cyprus, and Portugal. St. Petersburg, Russia, and Amsterdam, Holland, are also great places to explore
In this article, we’ll go over some of the best sailing destinations in Europe and the top attractions they have to offer. We’ll also go over the local sailboat and marina facilities in these locations, along with what to expect when you travel there.
We sourced the information used in this article from European travel guides. We also considered the testimony of sailors who frequently travel around the coastlines and inland waterways of the region.
Ten Best European Countries to Sail To
There are 27 separate countries in the European Union, and many of them have at least one prominent coastal city or coastline area. Here, we put together the top 10 sailing destinations in Europe, both inside and out of the European Union.
1. The United Kingdom
The UK is one of the most storied and beautiful countries in the world—and it’s also responsible for many of the sailing innovations we take for granted today.
Over its history, the island nation developed advanced shipbuilding techniques and naval tactics and went on to dominate the world by sea for centuries. Today, the nation remains one of the most historic and interesting locations for anyone with a passion for boats.
One of the greatest sailing destinations in the UK is London. This English city is the most populous in the nation and home to some of its most historically significant
sites. You can sail right up the Thames river through the heart of the city and dock with a view of the historic cruiser HMS Belfast.
There’s plenty to do in London once you’re off the dock and even more to see throughout the rest of the country. One of the most interesting marine excursions is through England’s many canals, which cut through the countryside that once served as the lifeblood of the nation.
France is another top destination for European sailing, and it also hosts one of the most favored mooring spots in the sailing community. The breathtaking French coastline is just part of the story, as you can spend days or weeks exploring the country’s vast network of channels and rivers.
Paris is, of course, a favorite destination for tourists—maritime or otherwise. But there’s much more to see in the area, and there’s sure to be something for everyone.
A notable example is Omaha Beach, where the Allies began one of the most vicious battles of World War Two. The scars of war remain in the form of massive shell craters and busted-up concrete bunkers, which still dot the landscape as if the battle happened yesterday.
But if war isn’t quite your speed, there’s another French coastal destination that might suit you well. It’s the isle of Corsica, and it’s the gorgeous birthplace of famed French leader Napoleon. The isle sports crystal-clear water, beaches, and ancient architecture.
Who can think of a sailing vacation in Europe and not picture Italy? The country, located on the Mediterranean Sea, is one of the most beautiful sailing destinations in Europe. The food, the music—it’s all there and ready for you to immerse yourself into.Much of Italy hasn’t changed much in centuries. Of course, that also includes Venice. The waterlogged city of Venice is the most famous canal city in the world, and it has remained largely untouched for years.And though you can’t technically take your boat through the canals, you can hire a local to row you through for an authentic experience. And if Venice isn’t your speed, try the breathtaking Amalfi coast and its picturesque buildings. Monaco is another beautiful city to visit, and it has plentiful modern marina space.
4. St. Petersburg, Russia
A short trip up the Neva River leads you to Russia’s most ‘European’ city. With architecture and geography more on par with Sweden than Moscow, this city is a gem and a great destination for sailing.
Often considered Russia’s most beautiful city, St. Petersburg survived much of the nation’s turbulent history and retained its stunning Czarist Russian architecture. The river, which has modern marina spaces, is the gateway from the EU to Russia.
St. Petersburg is also a highly affordable place to visit, as prices there are often half of what you’d pay in an EU country. The locals are friendly, and the city is extremely safe, even by Western European standards. Additionally, there are numerous tourist attractions, including the historic Russian cruiser Aurora.St Petersburg is also a short jump away from Finland by sea, so you can tour countries such as Sweden and Norway on the same trip. Just be sure to follow all the declaration and visa rules, as Russia can be tricky due to the currency and language barriers.
If you’re already in the area (for example, headed down the Neva River from St. Petersburg), it’s a great idea to stop in Finland and see the stunning landscape and architecture. This Northern European country is known for its beautiful riverside architecture—which you can pull your sailboat right up to in many places.
Finland is also one of the few destinations where you can see the Northern Lights without taking your boat through, particularly treacherous waters. That said, the Baltic Sea isn’t known to be particularly friendly during the winter.
Upon arrival in Finland, you’ll be greeted by rows of colorful houses and some of the friendliest people in Europe. During the summer, the days are extremely long, and the sun never sets completely. This is an incredible experience, and you can have it from the deck of your boat in one of Finland’s many coastal hideaways.
Germany is one of Europe’s most interesting countries, and it’s home to world-renowned food, drink, and annual festivals. How cool would it be to throw an Oktoberfest party on your sailboat? Just head up the Rhine river to Duisburg or Frankfurt, and you can.
Germany has beautiful landscapes and historic architecture, along with some of the most advanced shipbuilding in the world. The country also hosts ancient ruins, and who can forget the world-class beer and chocolate?
Germany also has a tumultuous past—the scars of which, such as the Berlin Wall, remain and are a must-see for any history buff. Germany usually isn’t a top destination on sailing vacation lists, but it should be because modern Germany has a whole lot to offer to sailors and plenty of sights to see.
7. The Netherlands
Specifically, we’re referring to Amsterdam. This beautiful city in Holland is the most picturesque and interesting coastal city in Europe. You can access it directly from the water, with no complex rivers to navigate. Additionally, Amsterdam is home to modern marinas and amazing accommodations.
Amsterdam is divided by an intricate series of rivers and canals. It’s a very boat-friendly city, but you can’t bring your full-size cursing sailboat everywhere. Nonetheless, it’s a popular destination for sailors from all over the world.
During the summer, the weather is perfect for exploring the city’s endless streets and historic buildings. After enjoying dutch food, drink, and entertainment, you can walk all the way back to your boat for the night or simply hop on the city’s fantastic public transportation system.And while you’re in Holland, you can see the world-famous windmills and rolling fields of wildflowers. It truly is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, and also one of the most modern.
Are you looking for southerly warmth and endless history? Greece is the country to see, and there’s no shortage of either in the area. Greece is the cradle of western civilization, and the nation’s stunning ruins and beautiful scenery are unsurpassed anywhere else in the world.
The majority of Greece borders the water, which is great news for sailors. There are dozens of marinas and yacht clubs located around the country, including many ancient cities that are well worth exploring. The islands that surround the country are also the perfect Mediterranean vacation spots—out of the way and teeming with authentic Greek food and culture.
And while you’re in the region, don’t forget to check out the tiny island nation of Cyprus. This storied country is located in the eastern Mediterranean and home to some of the most beautiful sailing in the world.
Upon arrival to Cyprus, you’ll be greeted by ancient ruins of a once heavily defended territory. Beautiful Mediterranean architecture dots the landscape, and some of the most picturesque harbors await you along the way.
While in Cyprus, you can hang out on the yellow sand beaches and enjoy the sun or adventure off into the heart of the nation to view the landscape and historical sites. Cypress is also an ideal winter sailing destination, as the weather remains warm and favorable year-round.
Welcome to the cork capital of the world and one of the most breathtaking European sailing destinations. Portugal is located on the western border of Spain, and the coast spans most of the country. This southerly paradise is also famous for its warm weather and beautiful coastal docking locations.
The rocky shoreline of Portugal is famous for its unique rock formations and long, sandy beaches. The unique architectural style in the country resembles that of Spain, though it has a Portuguese touch that’s easy to distinguish.
While in Portugal, be sure to check out some of the beautiful coastal sites of Lagos and Praia Dona Ana. You can enjoy the crystal clear waters from your boat or dock to explore the colorful and historic hillside towns.