The Most Astonishing Coastlines In The World

Manarola, Cinque Terre, Italy
Manarola, Cinque Terre, Italy | © Matteo Colombo / Getty Images
Helen Armitage

From the rugged isolation of Namibia’s Skeleton Coast and the scenic Pacific beauty of the Big Sur to sprawling coastal metropolises like Rio de Janeiro – we present the most astonishing coastlines on the planet.

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Vietnam’s Halong Bay is simply breathtaking. Thousands of limestone islands hide dramatic cave systems and rise sharply from the crystal-clear, emerald blue waters of the Gulf of Tonkin dotted with floating fishing villages. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994 and voted a New 7 Wonders of Nature in 2012, Halong Bay is home to Đầu Gỗ Cave. This is a spectacular grotto housing huge stalactites and stalagmites that, legend has it, General Trần Hưng Đạo used to fend off Mongolian invaders in the 13th century.

People in a rowboat near a floating village off Cat Ba Island in Lan Ha Bay, Halong Bay, Vietnam

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

There’s a reason why Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s second largest city, is known as Cidade Maravilhosa (‘Marvelous City’). It is home to one of the world’s most dramatic, iconic landscapes. The sprawling seaside metropolis of more than six million residents is clustered around the western shores of Guanabara Bay where Sugarloaf Mountain rises over the city harbor. More than 20 beaches populate the Rio de Janeiro’s shores, including the world-famous Ipanema and Copacabana beaches. Meanwhile its most iconic landmark – the 98-feet-high Christ the Redeemer – overlooks the city from high atop Corcovado Mountain.

Botafogo beach view from Sugarloaf, Rio de Janeiro

Lofoten Islands, Norway

Often hailed as one of the world’s most beautiful archipelagos, the Lofoten Islands are known for their craggy mountains, scenic sheltered bays and picturesque fishing villages. Approaching the islands from the waters of Vestfjord are the mighty peaks of the Lofoten Wall. This chain of mountains spanning 160 kilometers welcome boats and hide a labyrinth of straits, fjords and sounds. Adding to its beauty, Lofoten’s location where northern Norway meets the Arctic Circle means they are home to natural phenomena. This includes the midnight sun in summertime and the northern lights from autumn to spring.

Typical view of Lofoten Island, Norway

Great Ocean Road, Australia

Spanning 243 kilometers along Australia’s southeastern coast from Torquay to Allansford, the Great Ocean Road is one of the world’s most scenic coastal routes. Constructed by Australian soldiers over the course of 13 years and officially opened in 1932, the Great Ocean Road is dedicated to fallen soldiers of World War I. It is the world’s largest war memorial. Along the spectacular stretch of coastline you’ll find beautiful beaches busy with surfers and the magnificent waterfalls of the Otway Ranges. Then there’s what is perhaps the Great Ocean Road’s most well-known landmark, the towering limestone stacks of The Twelve Apostles.

Twelve Apostles, Great Ocean Road, Australia

Big Sur, California, USA

Bounded by the charming coastal village of Carmel-by-the-Sea to the north and San Simeon in the south, California’s Big Sur is a ruggedly beautiful stretch of coastline. It is home to quaint, tiny towns, secluded coves and forest covered canyons. Big Sur’s natural, isolated beauty has made it a long-time haven for artists. Some of Edward Weston’s best-known photographs were taken at Point Lobos. Jack Kerouac’s beat generation classic Big Sur recounted his time in the region. It is best seen by driving Highway 1, which stretches the length of Big Sur and crosses the breathtaking Bixby Creek Bridge.

Big Sur Pacific Coastline, Bixby Bridge and Highway 1, California

Legzira Beach, Morocco

Located midway between Mirleft and Sidi Ifni on southern Morocco’s Atlantic coast, Legzira Beach is an eight-kilometer stretch of shore considered one of the country’s most gorgeous beaches. Like much of southern Morocco’s coast, Legzira Beach is rugged, rocky and wild. Though what makes it different are its two towering red sandstone arches carved into the cliffs by years and years of erosion. A haven for surfers, para-gliders and beachgoers alike, Legzira Beach is especially beautiful at sunset when the sunlight turns the arches a dramatic, intense red.

Legzira beach, Morocco

South Georgia Island

Beautiful in its sheer ruggedness and isolation, sub-Antarctic South Georgia Island rises dramatically forth from the stormy southern seas. It has a breathtaking landscape of snow-covered mountains, icy glaciers and emerald green bays. Once home to around 2,000 at the height of its whaling industry, South Georgia Island’s human population today is consigned to two research stations manned year-round. Its wildlife population – including king penguins, elephant and fur seals, humpback and fin whales – thrives.

Overlooking Salisbury Plain King Penguin colony, South Georgia Island

Cinque Terre, Italy

A particularly picturesque portion of the Italian Riviera, Cinque Terre is the rugged stretch of Liguria coast. It is named for the five quaint and colorful villages – Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore – built haphazardly into its cliffs. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, the Cinque Terre towns are connected by a series of walking paths inaccessible to cars. These paths span the 18 kilometer-long stretch of rocky coastline and pass by Cinque Terre’s pretty pebbled beaches and cliff-side terraced gardens.

Colorful buildings and beach of Vernazza in Cinque Terre, Italy

Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park, Hawaii

Nestled on the rugged northwestern edge of Hawaii’s Kauai Island, Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park is a breathtaking landscape. Here, towering peaks, deep valleys, cascading waterfalls and streams meet the blissful blue of the Pacific Ocean. A truly remote and unspoiled wilderness, the park can only be accessed via the Kalalau Trail. The precarious 17-kilometer trek is not for the faint-hearted and traverses Na Pali’s deep gorges and clifftops. It is often listed among the most dangerous hikes in the world.

Na Pali Coast, Hawaii

Cape Town, South Africa

The vibrant South African city of Cape Town is home to one of the world’s most beautiful coastlines – a landscape of contrasts. The hustle and bustle of a sprawling metropolis resides alongside the natural beauty and wildlife of the Western Cape. Overlooked by the dramatic Table Mountain and Lion’s Head peak, Cape Town offers miles of scenic coast. The views range from the white, sandy shores of Noordhoek Beach to the more rugged Boulders Beach on Cape Peninsula where Cape Town’s resident colony of African penguins live.

Hout Bay, Cape Town

Skeleton Coast National Park, Namibia

Spanning more than 300 miles from the Ugab River in the south to the Kunene River in the north, Namibia’s Skeleton Coast National Park is one of the world’s last true wildernesses. It consists of 6,500 square miles of extraordinary beauty covering around one third of Namibia’s coastline. Dramatic mountain ranges, rugged canyons and the windswept dunes of the Namib Desert meet wild, desolate beaches. On the beaches shipwrecks are a haunting reminder of the Skeleton Coast’s treacherous weather and seas and large colonies of cape fur seals rule the roost.

Beach on the in Skeleton Coast National Park, Namibia

Antrim Coast, Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland’s Antrim Coast is home to three Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty – the headlands and rolling farmlands of the Antrim Coast and Glens, Binevenagh’s dramatic clifftops and the Causeway Coast. The area is best explored from the Causeway Coastal Route. A scenic road trip will take visitors past stunning landmarks like the nail-biting Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge just outside Ballintoy, the beautiful 18th century Mussenden Temple and ruins of Downhill Demesne. Of course, tourists will also see the world-famous Giant’s Causeway – a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Northern Ireland’s best known landmark.

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, Northern Ireland
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