These 12 beaches are among some of the hundreds around the world which proudly fly a Blue Flag at certain times of the year. But what does this special flag really mean? Read more to find out, check out where the best ones are, and know when to visit them!
The Blue Flag programme
The Blue Flag programme, run by the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE), aims to improve public knowledge about coastal areas and their environment through educational displays and activities. Furthermore, to be able to fly a Blue Flag, these beaches must meet an incredibly strict criteria that takes into account a huge range of factors such as water quality, services offered, safety, accessibility and available information about the surrounding area's biodiversity. Each beach given this award is allocated a "Blue Flag season", during which time they must operate to meet these criteria and offer at least one environmental education activity. The programme is worldwide, with over 4,500 coastal areas (beaches, marinas and sustainable boating tourism operators) flying a Blue Flag in over 45 countries. By visiting a Blue Flag beach, you'll not only enjoy yourself, but you'll also learn more about the environment and how to conserve our world's marine life.
Astir Beach, Vouliagmeni, Greece
Located just south of the city of Athens, Vouliagmeni is a beautiful, peaceful coastal area full of sandy beaches and rocky headlands. Astir Beach is a high-profile luxury beach, frequented by many celebrities each year, and it's only accessible by paid entry. It flies its Blue Flag from early June to late October, when the weather attracts thousands of tourists to its surrounding hotels, restaurants, cafés and spas.
Llandudno Beach, Cape Town, South Africa
Llandudno Beach, which has flown a Blue Flag since 2011, is tucked away in a cove southeast of Cape Town. The beach is quiet, beautiful and sandy, with rocky outcrops at each end. Its Blue Flag season is from the start of December to the end of January, which is during the beginning of South Africa's summer. But don't be fooled by the warm weather, the water is still extremely chilly!
Playa Norte, Isla Mujeres, Mexico
The Isla Mujeres sits off the east coast of Mexico's Yucatan region. This stunning island is dotted with beaches, but one in particular is known for its dedication to environmental education and protection. The Playa Norte (North Beach) is a stunning white sand beach with glimmering water, and it's often referred to as Mexico's most beautiful beach. Its Blue Flag flies only for the month of June, so make the most of the short window during which you'll be able to learn more about the flora and fauna of the island.
Sandbanks Beach, Poole, UK
The Sandbanks Peninsula extends out to the west from Canford Cliffs, almost reaching the Studland and Godlingston Heath National Nature Reserve. This tiny strip is one of the most expensive places in the world by area. Sandbanks Beach is a beautiful stretch of sand onto which many of the opulent houses look, with their own private gates heading down to the sea. Its Blue Flag season is between 15 May and 30 September, during which time there are lifeguards monitoring the beach all day.