If you are fortunate enough to live near the beach, it's difficult to imagine living in a place without sand and sunbathing nearby. However, in some parts of the world, the beach at the ocean may be hours by train, or even by flight, away from the city. With this in mind, an increasing number of cities are creating or allowing "urban beaches:" manmade beach areas with sand shipped in for the summer months. For city-bound travelers who don't want to sacrifice their tans, the members and editors at VirtualTourist.com have picked the "Top 5 Urban Beaches."
It's not surprising that the culture that gave us the bikini would also be the first to figure out how to bring the beach to their fabulous city! The original "plage urbaine," the Paris Plage began in 2002, with the French converting the Seine's banks into pedestrian areas as well as sandy sunbathing spots. The first plage spread from the Louvre to the Pont de Sully on Voie Georges Pompidou, covering three kilometers (1.86411 miles) along the Seine River. The popularity of the event caused organizers to build additional plages at Port de la Gare and Bassin de la Villette. The beaches open around July 20 and usually last four weeks, with all Paris Plages open until midnight daily.
While Berlin is noted for its art scene and nightlife, it has never been famous for its beaches. While Paris created the "plage urbaine," the term widely used in Berlin is "beach bar," and they've been popping up along the Spree River since 2002. While these are not necessarily city-created urban beaches, we can't discount them as part of the phenomena, especially since there are almost 30 of them in the summer! The first documented "beach bar" was Strandbar Mitte, which is still open today, conveniently located across from Museum Island. Another popular spot is Oststrand, the city's largest urban beach, where visitors can also relax on the deck of an anchored ship along the river bank. Oststrand is located near the former Berlin Wall and theEast Side Gallery, so a sight-seeing trip could easily turn into a beach day here. Near the central station and the government district, there is Capital Beach, so all the various sectors of the city have their own beach bar. In general, Berlin's beach bars are open from April to September, with Strandbar Mitte and Oststrand opening as early as 10 a.m. daily.
You might say a beach needs sand, but the Danish design denizens of Copenhagen are just the group of outside-the-box thinkers to prove you wrong. It's not surprising that the people who turned an opera house into a "Black Diamond" could create an urban beach that strikingly arises from the water and contains no sand. Havnebadet, or Harbor Bath, at Islands Brygge is a riverside swimming complex, with five pools, two specifically for children, and two towers off which visitors can dive. Across the canal, a similar harbor bath exists at Fisketorvet.
If you're looking for a more "traditional" urban beach experience, you can head to the Halvandet, a beach bar conveniently positioned on an unused quay in the harbor. The spot provides a location apt for fantastic views, but also pulsing beats, so it can turn into quite the party spot. In addition to beach chairs and sand, this location also has many sports, including volleyball, but travelers should note that unlike the harbor baths, you cannot swim at this location.
Copenhagen also has another Danish "take" on the urban beach -- Amager Strandpark, an artificial beach park constructed three miles from the city center. While the beach park does contain swimming pools, it is also an overall recreation area and available for use year round. Havnebadet at Islands Brygge is also open year round, while Fisketorvet is only open from June 1 through Aug. 31. Halvandet is traditionally open from April 1 until mid-September, depending on the weather and events calendar.
MONTREAL, QUEBEC, CANADA
Few cities are better positioned for an urban beach than Montreal, since it has a major waterway, the St. Lawrence River, and an idyllic spot (the quays) for a summer destination. Part of the Societe du Vieux-Port's master plan to redevelop the Old Port, Old Montreal's Clock Tower Beach brought a true urban beach to Rue Quai de l'Horloge, complete with sand, brightly colored beach umbrellas and chairs, as well as a traditional wooden boardwalk and refreshment stand. Unfortunately, no swimming will be allowed, since the currents off the quay are too strong for swimming, but the locale is apt for tanning and enjoying the lovely views of Old Montreal and the nearby islands. The early renderings, as well as photographs of the completed park, greatly resemble the Christo and Jeanne-Claude Umbrella installations of the mid-'80s; whether this is intentional or not is unknown. Clock Tower Beach will be open daily from June 16 to Sept. 2, and then open weekends only from Sept. 3 to 23.
NEW YORK CITY, N.Y., USA
While it seems a bit crazy for New Yorkers to build urban beaches when they are within a few hours of some of the most beautiful beaches on the eastern seaboard, a few afternoons spent on the Long Island Expressway barely moving and we'd look into some local options, too.
Formerly known as Water Taxi Beach, the venue now goes byBeekman Beer Garden Beach Club and is located at the South Street Seaport, near the Financial District of Manhattan. In addition to having sand, great views of the Brooklyn Bridge, and fire pits, the spot also serves as a concert venue; this summer, it hosted Eric Prydz, Yacht, and the Black Lips.
If you are on the other side of town and want to be on the water, check out the Frying Pan, a former "lightship" docked on Pier 66 Maritime, a former railroad barge that is now used as a pier at the bottom of West 26th Street & Hudson River Park near Chelsea on the west side of Manhattan. Booze and burgers can be enjoyed, as well as unparalleled views of Hudson River. Both Beekman Beer Garden Beach Club and the Frying Pan are open year round; Beekman BGBC is open daily from noon to 3 a.m., the Frying Pan is open daily from noon to midnight.