The Best Beaches in Italy (And How to Get to Them)

Best Beaches in Italy Tommie Hansen/ CC BY 2.0
Travelers coming from outside of Europe may not think of Italy as a beach destination. But consider that “the Boot”—including its major islands Sicily and Sardinia and a dozen other postage-stamp isolas—is hugged by nearly 5,000 miles of coastline. Some of it is rocky and some of it is formed of sheer cliffs. But oh, the parts that are accessible and soft! White, gold, and even pink sand beaches, pebbly ones, and ones backed by Roman ruins, wave-carved grottos, postcard-perfect medieval towns, or wild Mediterranean landscapes. Beaches where servers keep the Aperol Spritzes a’comin' and secret beaches you have to hike miles to reach. Whatever your ambience preferences are, somewhere in Italy, there’s a slice of coast with your name on it. We've been publishing exhaustive guide books to Italy for decades—read on for our take on some of the top beaches in Italy, how to reach them, and when to go. But first, a little primer on how to navigate the peculiarities of the Italian beach-going experience… 
 
(Pictured: Le Pelosa, Sardinia)
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You know that photo of the wild, deserted Italian beach, with a lone bikini-clad beachgoer dipping her toes in the water? That photo was taken in January. The truth is that during most of the months that anyone actually wants to sunbathe in Italy, there are no deserted beaches. There are only crowded ones and slightly less crowded ones. In developed areas, much of the beachfront is leased to stabilimenti, which are private areas with rows and rows of rental umbrellas and lounge chairs (pictured, in Rimini). Stabilimenti typically have a bar or restaurant, bathrooms, showers, and lockers. An umbrella and lounger can cost as little as €10 a day or as much as €30 and up, depending on the time or year, how exclusive the area is, and how far the spot is from the waterline. Some stabilimenti, especially at nice hotels, will be served by attendants for snack and drink orders.

Spiaggi liberi, or free beaches, are a cheaper option, but they fill up quickly in high summer season. And we mean densely packed. We’ve been on public beaches so crowded that they were hard to walk across them without stepping on someone else’s towel. At all beach areas, expect to encounter a steady stream of vendors—most often, North African immigrants—selling everything from cheap jewelry to sunglasses to kites or blow-up rafts. 
 
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Best Beaches in Italy: High season is July and August Boss Tweed/ CC BY 2.0
Most Italians get two weeks of vacation a year, and they take it in July or August. While some head for the mountains, the majority go to the mare—the sea. During this period, you’ll find the warmest weather and the best temperatures for swimming. The caveat is that everyone else will have the same idea as you. If you want to eke out a little bit of privacy during these months, hit the beach before 9am or between 1 and 4pm, when everyone goes to lunch and then rests indoors during the hottest part of the day. Note that August (pictured, at Amalfi) is by far the busiest month on Italian beaches. Crowds peak during the week surrounding ferragosto—August 15, a national holiday and the semi-official end of summer vacation.
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Both June and September are usually reliable months for an Italian beach vacation with fewer crowds. Usually. While the summer season in Italy is getting longer and hotter thanks to climate change, June can be fickle—hot and sunny for days on end or chilly and rainy for a week or more. You’ll pay less for your vacation this month and have a lot more elbow room on the beach, but water temperatures may make for a brisk swim and good weather, while likely, is not guaranteed. The beginning of September (when this photo was taken in Sardinia) is a safer bet in our book. Sea temperatures won’t have started to cool off yet, crowds will have thinned down post-August, and hotel prices will have dropped significantly. Evenings may call for a light jacket or sweater, but days on the beach should be reliably warm and sunny.

So that's how to prepare for the worst of the Italian beach experience: the crowds. Let’s take a look at the compelling reasons to go anyway with this unranked list of the best beaches in Italy. 
 
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Best Beaches in Italy: Tropea, Calabria Norbert Nagel/ Wikimedia Commons
With the 6th-century Sanctuary of Santa Maria dell’Isola looming on an outcropping, the white sands stretching for more than two miles, and an eye-poppingly blue, clear Tyrrhenian Sea gently lapping at your feet, it’s hard to find a defect at Tropea. Sure, it’s a little crowded in July and August, but so is everywhere else. And Tropea’s just-hard-enough-to-get-to location right before the toe of Italy means that geography and distance keep the biggest hordes somewhat at bay. This far south, you’re probably safe planning a trip later in September and even into the beginning of October, when you’re likely to have the views all to yourself. The town of Tropea has a pretty centro storico (historic center) dating to the 1700s, and is famous for the cultivation of Tropea onions, a sweet red variety. The closest airport is at Lamezia Terme, about 40 miles away, with Trenitalia connections to Tropea.
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Best Beaches in Italy: La Pelosa Beach, Sardinia Tommie Hansen CC BY 2.0
Readers who’ve visited Sardinia won’t be surprised that the island’s beaches make our list. In fact, Italy second-largest island has so many beaches that leave us gobsmacked that it’s hard to winnow the list down to a few. But try we must. First among equals is La Pelosa Beach on the Stintino promontory of northern Sardinia. Also called Spiaggia della Pelosa, this stretch of beach is famous for its fine white sand—not a given on Sardinia—and its ankle-deep, looking-glass-clear waters that stretch for dozens of yards offshore, making this a great family beach. The secret is definitely out on La Pelosa—it’s considered one of Europe’s finest beaches and Italians, and Europeans flock here in July and August. Just wade out into that water and the crowds on the beach will seem miles away. A September visit (when this photo was taken) is probably safe here, as the shallow waters won’t cool down as quickly as the deeper waters in neighboring areas. The closest airport and ferry port is at Olbia, about 100 miles away. From there, the only practical way to reach the Stintino promontory is with a car. 
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Best Beaches in Italy: Riserva Naturale dello Zingaro, Sicily Mboesch CC BY 3.0
As the largest chunk of coastal Sicily without a paved road, the Zingaro Nature Reserve, part of the San Vito Lo Capo promontory, is prized for its inaccessibility and pristinely wild state. Where the dirt track ends at a parking lot, the footpath begins, linking to one stunning cove after the other. The farther you hike, the more privacy you’ll find but remember, what goes down—there may be steep rocky scrambles to get down to the water—must come back up. There are no services on any of these beaches so bring water, snacks, and plenty of sunscreen. Also bring a snorkel and mask, because fish abound in these clear waters. The shore is pebbly, so swim socks are in order. If you want to beach-hop in the nature reserve but skip the hiking part, consider renting a boat at nearby Castellamare. The closest airports are at Palermo or Trapani, after which a car is needed. 
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Best Beaches in Italy: Spiaggia dei Conigli (Rabbit Beach), Lampedusa Visit Sicily
Part of Sicily’s Agrigento province, largest of the Pelagic Islands and Italy’s southernmost island, geographically, Lampedusa has more in common with North Africa—Tunisia is just 70 miles south—than it does with Italy. Far and away its most famous piece of real estate is Spiaggia dei Conigli—Rabbit Beach—a graceful arc of white sand and shallow water facing the Isola dei Conigli—Rabbit Island—where snorkelers can explore underwater rock formations and spy brightly colored fish. As the closest port of entry for migrants making the perilous journey from Tunisia and Libya, Lampedusa’s reputation took a hit during the height of Italy’s recent migrant crisis. For better or worse, tourists see few effects of the influx—and Rabbit Beach and other dreamy beaches on Lampedusa are seeing the crowds come back. Lampedusa (one of our favorite little-known islands in Italy—read about some others here) has an airport with incoming flights from across Italy. It’s also served by hydrofoil from Port Empedocle in Sicily.
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Best Beaches in Italy: Chia Coast, Southern Sardinia Cristiano Cani CC BY 2.0
Wide stretches of peach-tinged sands, calm turquoise waters, and plenty of elbow room. Wait a minute! Are we still in Italy? Sardinia’s Chia Coast, running roughly from Santa Margherita di Pula down to Su Giudeu beach, is dotted with coves—many too rugged to safely access—dramatic cliffs, and just as you'd hope, long crescents of beach with sugary-fine sand kissed by shallow waters. As coastal Sardinia goes, this area is relatively undeveloped and low-profile camping villages outnumber resort hotels. Some of the beaches are only reachable via 15–20 minute walks, and you know what that means: The farther you hike, the lonelier it gets. The wider area near Chia, from the Sardinian capital of Cagliari south, is dotted with archaeological sites, including several nuraghe, the bronze-age conical structures unique to the island. Cagliari has a major airport and ferry port. From there, buses connect to the Chia Coast, though a car is more practical. 
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Best Beaches in Italy: Grotta della Poesia, Puglia tifoitalia CC BY 4.0
Though not a beach per se, we couldn’t bear to leave this natural wonder off the list. Grotta della Poesia—the Cave of Poetry—is an wave-carved swimming pool just yards from imposing sea cliffs. While there is no sandy stretch here, there is plenty of flat space at the rim of the cave on which to spread a towel. The daring can dive into the waters for a quick cool-off; the less brave can just use the steps carved into the side. Either way, this is a pinch-me-I’m-dreaming experience that’s not to be missed if you’re in Puglia, way down in the heel of Italy’s boot. Arrive early in the morning or for a sunset swim if you want to have the natural pool mostly to yourself. Otherwise, expect a lot of company when you queue up for your dive. The coast south of Grotta della Poesia (which is just outside the village of Roca) is dotted with dramatic sea stacks and caves, archaeological sites, and some spectacular beaches, especially around Torre Sant’Andrea. The closest airport is at Brindisi and from there, buses connect to Lecce and then to the coast. A car makes the most sense here. 


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Best Beaches in Italy: Biodola Beach, Elba Island Carlo Pelagalli CC BY 3.0
Napoleon couldn’t wait to escape from exile on Elba Island, but if you ask us, he never knew he had it so good. Biodola Beach is just one of dozens of gorgeous beaches ringing Italy’s third-largest island, famously associated with the diminutive ex-emperor. You could—and should—spend days exploring the island’s pebbly and sandy beaches, its charming towns, Napoleonic sites, archaeological zones, and hiking its nature trails. Biodola and its neighboring beaches get busy during the summer, so consider hiring a gommone—a zodiac boat—with or without a pilot to explore the island’s many hidden coves and beaches that are accessible only from the sea. You’ll feel (rightly so) like you’ve found your own private Mediterranean paradise. Dozens of daily ferries from the mainland port of Piombino reach three different cities on Elba. Portoferraio is the closest to Biodola but really, anywhere you go here, you’ll find a lovely beach. 
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Best Beaches in Italy: Cilento National Park, Campania Pixabay
If Italy’s crowded beaches have you longing for a bit more isolation, get thee to a national park. South of the Amalfi Coast in the Campania province, Cilento and Vallo di Diano National Park is Italy’s second-largest, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to the mighty Greek temples at Paestum. Within the park, you'll find a mix of small seaside towns with busy, developed beach areas, and area of untouched shoreline reachable only by boat or on foot. Like so many of Italy’s protected coastal areas, the combination of dramatic cliffs, boulder-strewn shorelines, sea stacks, and multi-hued turquoise and teal waters make the Cilento worth the effort it takes to get there. The land surrounding Polinuro is more on the wild side, while a wide sandy swath at Santa Maria di Castellabate offers more creature comforts. Salerno is the closest airport. From there, trains go as far as Paestum or Agropoli, then buses ply the Cilento Coast. You’ll have a lot more freedom to explore if you rent a car in Salerno.
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