Packing for Europe: What About the Beach?

 I’ve just spent two beautiful weeks in Sicily, enjoying architecture, museums, food, exotic culture and, um, more food. It was a busy tour, full of great experiences. Being a Mediterranean island, a trip to the beach was at the top of my to-do list.

But what do you wear to the beach in Europe? There are plenty of ideas and theories out there. Many people may think that European beaches are generally topless or even clothing optional. This is not true. Beaches over here are somewhat similar to back at home, in terms of etiquette.Swimsuits may seem a little more skimpy here, especially for men. Many men wear little Speedo bottoms rather than swim trunks. This is not something I suggest, for obvious reasons. For men, a typical pair of swim trunks will do just fine. European men seem to be adopting that type of suit lately I’ve noticed, so you won’t feel out of place.

Women wear almost exclusively bikinis. Yeah, you heard me, I mean ALL women. It’s actually pretty hard to find anything else.

I do wear a bikini to the beach. I’m not saying you must, but I’d like to give you some reasons why you should think about it.

First of all EVERYONE is wearing one- thin, fat, old, young, fit or flabby. Nobody cares. People are at the beach to enjoy the beach, not the fashion. I have to admit, it’s pretty liberating to get into the local spirit and realize that self-consciousness just isn’t a thing on the beach here. Women are there to have fun, get a tan and they simply don’t care what you think about what they have on. Second, a bikini is lightweight. It takes up half of the space and weight that a full swimsuit does. Because it’s light, it tends to be more comfortable for active movement like swimming or playing on the beach. Third, especially for us busty ladies, a well built bikini is more supportive than a typical swimsuit if you buy them from lingere manufacturers. My favorite bra brand, Freya, makes a line of bikinis that are so comfortable that I often wear my top as a bra when my regular ones are dirty. And this is my sneaky fourth reason, a bikini can substitute for underwear in a pinch. Same for a speedo…but I’m never going to endorse that idea.

So what, you may wonder, is the deal with toplessness or nudity? Topless sunbathing happens. Sometimes. It’s not as common as I remember it being 15 years ago. But women will take off their tops part way to even out their tans. Even I do that. Nude beach going still exists, but usually at beaches that are designated or seperate from crowded ones, and often they are sort of secretive. I’m sure the Internet can fill you in on locations. My only suggestion there- make sure you’re not the first nude one on the beach. 😉

Freya swimsuits are sold in pieces and can be found here: //


Sarah Murdoch is a tour guide and guidebook writer for Rick Steves Europe. Her blog, Adventures with Sarah, focuses on packing tips, travel stories and advice for planning the best trip possible.