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Perissa, Greece
Do not expect to get this one to yourself – with a beach this famous, you have to share. Perissa is probably the most beautiful of Santorini’s black-sand beaches, overlooked by the huge rock Mesa Vouno, which is lit up at night. The beach is long so you will not be too squashed by the hordes, but if you do feel like some time out, the ruins of Thira, an ancient city, are just a sprightly hike away. Bring flip-flops to this beach as the black sand holds the heat.

Stay close to the action at Stelios Place, just metres from the beach; it has white balconies, a pool and good breakfasts.

Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland
It is easy to see how legends grew up around the Giant’s Causeway. Volcanic eruption has shaped thousands of basalt columns into precise hexagonal shapes, grouped together like organ pipes. It is almost impossible to believe that they have not been carved by human hands. The mythology of the place has the famed warrior Finn McCool swapping shouted threats with a Scottish giant over the sea. They started to make a causeway so they could get their hands on each other. (Geology supports the myth: there are similar structures on the Scottish side of the sea.) Do not miss particularly sculptural structures like the Giant’s Boot and the Chimney Stacks.

Rainbow Beach, Australia
Not content with merely taking on an unusual colour, Rainbow Beach takes on a myriad. On Fraser Island (the world’s largest sand island) off Australia’s east coast, the beach is backed by exquisite cliffs where you can see the rainbow colours most clearly in edible-looking striations of nougat, rose, honey and cream. Aboriginal legend has it that a spirit personified in the rainbow dove into the cliffs during a fight over a woman, staining them with his colours. The sand looks gold from a distance, but scoop up a handful and you will see the rainbow.

Get up early to hand-feed wild dolphins at nearby Tin Can Bay. There is only one feeding a day, at 8am sharp.

Vík Beach, Iceland
The little town of Vík has three distinctions. One, it is Iceland’s southernmost point. Two, it is the rainiest place on the island. And three, it has one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. White waves wash up on jet-black sands, like a beach seen in negative. The cliffs above glow green from all that rain. And strange basalt figures, traditionally believed to be ill-fated trolls that got caught out in the sun, stand here and there like sculptures.

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© 2011 Lonely Planet. All rights reserved. The article ‘The world’s most unusual beaches’ was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.

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