A land littered with classic stone, unmatchable art and historical value, the boot of Europe is also surrounded by the ocean, a fact that makes the best beaches in Italy ideal destinations for a weekend escape or a longer seaside vacation.
Cooling off in the azure waters a short drive from Rome, Florence or Naples is a summertime must, especially when considering the beach clubs popping up along the normally bare sands with sun loungers and colourful parasols from June to September all throughout the country. A note, though: many of these destinations require a fee to secure your sun-drenched seat for the day (staying at a nearby hotel may grant you complimentary beach access).
From picturesque seaside escapes to pebbled beaches in pastel villages and natural limestone decks for sun-worshipping, visit these locations to experience the very best of Italy.
RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best things to do in Italy
Best beaches in Italy
Film set and ‘gram worthy, bubble gum coloured houses sit atop one another on a steep incline overlooking the waters of this cliffside village. Its narrow streets (and steps) take you to a pebbled beachfront popular with travellers. This is iconic Italian beach living at its finest and worth the stair descent to frolic in the cool waters after walking the famed Sentiero degli Dei (Path of the Gods) hiking trail linking Positano to Bomerano.
The region is known for its historic cities – Florence and Siena – yet its coast is equally worth swooning over. Baratti’s crystal blue water and remote location makes it a destination spot and, since it’s on the periphery of the Bolgheri region, you’ll discover incredible wines as well as memorable swimming spots. During the summer, nearby wineries like Petra host music events while glamping within the vines at Tenuta Poggio Rosso makes for a fruity stay over experience.
White pebble beaches and white-washed houses sum up this part of the Bari coastline with Cala Porto (also known as Lama Monachile), a popular slither of beach tucked between jagged cliffs in the village of Polignano a Mare. Named after the Roman bridge that borders the watery enclave, you can watch brave folks cliff dive at Grotta Piana right into the Adriatic Sea.
A little further south from bustling Cinque Terre, Porto Venere offers a similar charm with pastel coloured houses and deep blue waters – sans the crowds. Boats run from the port town of La Spezia up the coast to Riomaggiore basically all day long and, if you’re seeking a peaceful moment, find the cove of Grotta di Lord Byron: named after the British poet, it is said to have been his favourite spot for meditative contemplation.
Southern Sicily is famed for its Greek temples in Agrigento and the nearby white cliffs of Scala dei Turchi (Stair of the Turks), which offers jaw-dropping views and pristine beaches near Porto Empedocle. Although two sandy beaches can be accessed by foot, the main event is the limestone rock weathered into the shape of a staircase which can be climbed to secure the best spot for tanning between sea swims.
With Olbi to the north and Cagliari to the south, it would be expected of you to stay by the main towns but doing so will have you miss your chance at visiting the most beautiful beaches on Italy’s second largest island. So head east for crystal clear waters and hidden coves within a nine-kilometre stretch of coastline near the town of Tortolì. Spiaggia Grande (literally “big beach”) was awarded the region’s most bandiere blue (blue flags) and is spread over 3.5 kilometres of fine white sand along panoramic Highway 125.
Arguably the most chic and stylish of Tuscan beach towns, Forte dei Marmi is where Florentines descend during the height of summer. Wedged between the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Apuan Alps, its long sandy beach is lined with summer clubs offering private cabanas and seaside swimming pools. Come nighttime, the town becomes even livelier with music clubs and seafood restaurants overlooking its moonlit waters. You can spend all summer here.
This picturesque town in Sicily’s north just east of Palermo is filled with quaint lane ways leading to its watery edge. After exploring the streets and the 12th century Duomo, take a swim along the golden sands at Lungomare Giuseppe Giardina. Cefalù is known as the scenic setting of the film Cinema Paradiso and famous for its delicious seafood: post swim, devour a plate of pasta con frutti di mare (mussels, clams, squid, prawns), a favourite choice among locals.
Down the coast from Amalfi on the road to Ravello, Atrani is one of the region’s best-kept secrets. A tiny fishing village (population: 1,000), it’s home to a small beach on the Tyrrhenian Sea with loungers positioned under the shadows of its hilltop houses. Post sun lounging, enjoy a Spritz with the locals in Piazza Umberto I, the town’s main square, amidst the crumbling yet charming exterior decor.
Rome boasts beach options only 30 minutes from the city centre and if you venture a little further you’ll be rewarded with even clearer waters and castle views. Just north of the Eternal City, Santa Severa has been a popular destination for centuries that has played host to Popes (including Gregory XIII, Sixtus V and Urban VIII) and was used by the Germans during World War II given its strategic position. Today, its 14th century castle doubles as a museum dedicated to the region’s heritage.
On the west of Italy’s “heel” is Puglia, spectacular especially around the limestone town of Gallipoli. To its north, the beaches at Porto Cesareo in the Gulf of Taranto rival the ones in the Caribbean, turquoise and clear with warm weather that lasts into late September. One of the largest protected marine areas in Italy, old torri (stone towers) once used as lookouts to ward off pirate ships remain intact, enchanting the sea vista from your sandy location.
Capri is an island that doesn’t even need an introduction. The famous Grotta Azzurra is on plenty travel bucket lists (and for good reason), as is strolling the island’s bougainvillea-lined streets. Beachside Marina Grande offers the most spacious sunspots and is by the main street, which is peppered with eateries offering breathtaking sea views for a tasty lunch break. Smaller Marina Piccola, to the island’s south, has a few small strips of beach that are free to access, where visitors can perch on the pebbles with the locals.
The largest of the five villages of Cinque Terre, Monterosso al Mare is home to a long sandy beach to the north of the old town that boasts the best seats for lounging after hiking Cinque Terre’s famed trails. Via Fegina has the most beach clubs (a favourite is Bagni Eden by the eponymous restaurant) while a tiny square of public free space is tucked in front of the main train station.
En route to Naples, this medieval village with quaint whitewashed houses is filled with laneways also offering beach views at every turn. Sun loungers line the long stretch of sandy beach made famous during the 1950s and ‘60s, when frequented by the likes of Brigitte Bardot and Andy Warhol. Legend has it that Greek hero Ulysses sailed its seas a century before it became popular with the ancient Roman rulers of the day.
Skip the crowds of Capri and head to Spiaggia dei Pescatori (Fisherman’s Beach) on the idyllic isle of Ischia. A short journey from Naples, it remains a hot spot for local sea catchers and home to numerous eateries serving fresh fish. At its eastern edge, medieval Aragon Castle can be accessed by stone bridge while history lovers revel in the Sea Museum at Palazzo dell’Orologio, which is devoted to Ischia’s fishing tradition.
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