Lonely Planet Writer

Love the beach? Here are the best European countries to visit for water quality

Beaches all around Europe are cleaner than ever according to a new study from the European Environment Agency (EEA), but if you are looking for truly excellent water quality on your next beach vacation it may be time to plan a trip to Luxembourg or Cyprus.

Striped deck chairs on pebble beach.
Striped deck chairs on pebble beach. Image by Richard Newstead/Getty Images

The EEA released its annual bathing water report, which includes analyses of water samples taken from more than 21,000 coastal and inland sites around the EU, Switzerland and Albania. The report looks into which sites have excellent, good, or poor water quality to inform potential bathers exactly what type of water they may be dipping their toes in.

The whole of Europe fared well, with 96% of all bathing sites meeting the minimum standard for cleanliness, while more than 84% were considered excellent. Some large tourist sites in places like Blackpool, Copenhagen and Munich, which had previously scored lower, are reportedly getting much cleaner due to improved sewage systems. Back in 1991, only 56% of bathing sites studied reached the highest standard, while in 2015 that number hit 87%.

Despite finding that beaches around Europe had generally clean water for swimmers, come countries were naturally found to be much cleaner than others. All 11 reported bathing sites in landlocked Luxembourg reached the standard of excellence. But if you’re looking for a more authentic beach vacation, 99.1% of swimming sites in Cyprus were considered to have excellent water quality, followed by Malta (97.7%), Greece (97.2 %), Croatia (94.2 %), Italy (90.6 %), Germany (90.3 %) and Austria (90.2 %).

Albania had the highest percentage of low quality sites, with nearly 40% having poor water quality. Within the EU, the UK has the highest percent of sites ranked poor (4.89%). However, overall the swimming sites had good quality as 27.48 % were ranked good and 59.55% were ranked excellent. Ireland followed the UK in poor bathing sites, with 4.38% ranking as poor, while 73.72% were excellent and 9.48% were good. The highest number of individuals bathing sites with poor water quality was Italy and France with 95 poor water quality sites each and 58 poor bathing sites in Spain.