While most tourists to Italy think of it as a destination for history, archaeology, art, food, and culture, it's also one of the most popular summer beach vacation spots in Europe. With its peninsula reaching into the Mediterranean, Adriatic and Tyrrhenian seas, Italy is ringed by gorgeous beaches, many with dramatic cliff backdrops or at the foot of lovely seaside towns.
Summers on Italian beaches are hot, crowded and lively, as beach clubs, called stabilimenti, set up rows of lounge chairs and umbrellas for rent, visitors to public beach areas (spiaggi libri) grab every piece of free sand, and holiday-seekers swim, snorkel, paddle around on pedalos, or play beach volleyball. While you may not find peace and isolation on an Italian beach in the summertime, you will find a quintessentially Italian vacation ambiance.
To help you find your perfect Italian beach, below is an unranked list of some of our favorite beaches in Italy.
Combine clean, turquoise waters, white-sand beaches, a backdrop of chalk-white cliffs with a charming village sitting on top of them, and it's easy to see why Tropea is one of southern Italy's most popular beach destinations. The town of Tropea has a range of hotels, B&Bs, and vacation rentals, plus great regional restaurants to keep tourists comfortable, and its position near the toe of Italy's boot is full of exciting towns and archaeological sites.
La Pelosa Beach, Sardinia
The sugary white sand of Le Pelosa in the north of Sardinia, Italy's second-largest island, is so coveted that tourists have been slapped with hefty fines and even arrested for stealing it. And Le Pelosa's appeal extends beyond the shoreline. Families love it for its clear, shallow waters, which warm up early in the season and make a great play area for little ones.
Spiaggia dei Conigli (Rabbit Beach), Lampedusa
Tiny Lampedusa, Italy's southernmost island, is home to one of the world's most famous beaches—Spiaggia dei Conigli (Rabbit Beach) consistently ranks high on any list of best beaches on the planet. Shallow waters ideal for snorkeling, an offshore island within easy reach, and plenty of fine, white sand are some of the reasons Rabbit Beach has earned its accolades. Lampedusa isn't the most accessible place to get to—you either have to fly here or take a high-speed hydrofoil from Sicily, but this piece of paradise makes it worth the journey.
Chia Coast, Southern Sardinia
The Chia Coast of Sardinia runs from Santa Margherita di Pula to Su Giudeu and offers some of the most wide-open spaces and uncrowded beaches in all of Italy, with fine sands, tinged white, peach and pink. The area is mostly undeveloped save for campgrounds, meaning the beaches are slightly harder to get to, and most lack the stabilimenti that line the majority of Italian beaches—and for many beachgoers, that's a good thing.
Cilento National Park, Campania
While Italy's famous beaches, especially those near towns of any size, are crowded all summer, the shores of its national parks remain delightfully wild and uncrowded—if a little harder to get to. In the Campania region, Cilento National Park offers a mix of developed beach areas, plus dozens of small beaches and coves that are reachable only by boat or via a challenging hike. The reward? Pebbly, nearly deserted beaches backed by rugged cliffs and lapped by eye-popping blue waters perfect for snorkeling.
Elba, the largest island of the Tuscan archipelago, has at least 80 named beaches, ranging from long, sandy stretches to tiny, rocky coves. Like so much of Italy's Tyrrhenian Coast, the water is clean, bright, gorgeously blue, and filled with fish and other sea life. Bring your snorkel gear and reef-safe sunscreen to sandy, centrally located Biodola Beach, one of the island's largest, or try the smaller beach at Capo Sant'Andrea, where you can snorkel among rock formations just offshore.
The beaches of the Italian Riviera have had an exclusive cache for at least a century, as wealthy Europeans have flocked here to build seaside villas and, more recently, to moor their yachts. Towns like Bordighera, Santa Margherita Ligure, and Levanto are expensive places to vacation. But for idyllic settings, well-equipped beaches, al fresco dining, and waters awarded the coveted Blue Flag status for cleanliness and clarity, the Riviera is still as chic as ever.
The region forming the heel of Italy's boot, Puglia is known for its curious Trulli dwellings, regional cuisine, and centuries-old live trees. It also has a string of both developed and wild beaches, starting from the thumb-like Gargano peninsula, stretching down to Capo Santa Maria di Leuca, then wrapping around the heel up to Gallipoli and Taranto. Some are fields of stabilimenti, others are natural stretches of sand backed by dunes and Mediterranean scrub, and others, like Polignano a Mare (pictured above), are tiny, scenic coves where a spot of sand might be challenging to eke out in high summer.
One of Europe's oldest and most extensive beach resorts, Rimini, on the Adriatic Coast, has 9 miles of wide, sandy beaches lapped by shallow waters. The area is an excellent choice for families with young children, as there is an extensive range of hotels and resorts offering kids' clubs, babysitting, entertainment, and organized beach activities. By night, Rimini's miles of stabilimenti transform into hopping nightclubs, meaning the area is popular with young Italians and international travelers. You may not find quiet on Rimini's beaches, but you will find the "Italianest" of Italian beach vacations.
Best known for its Renaissance cities, medieval hill towns, wine and cuisine, Tuscany also has a long stretch of coastline facing the clear waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Beaches in the Maremma area to the south are wild and undeveloped, while the stretch from Grosetto north to Livorno is a mix of developed beaches lined with hotels and stabilimenti, natural areas with rocky or wooded coastline, and industrial zones like at the ports of Piombino and Livorno. From Pisa north to Marina di Carrara, a string of exclusive resort towns are defined by elegant Liberty-style hotels and crowded popular beaches.
Either as a long day trip from Rome or a destination unto itself, Sperlonga wins top honors for the most beautiful beach on the coast of Lazio, the region of Rome. Though there's not a lot of undeveloped sand here, Sperlonga Beach has Blue Flag status, attesting to its cleanliness and water quality. It's back by the lovely town of Sperlonga, with shops, cafes, hotels, and restaurants. Even the Romans knew a good beach when they saw it—Emperor Tiberius built a villa here, which you can visit along with the archaeological museum.
While either sandy or rocky cove beaches ring almost all of the island of Sicily, most of them are crowded in the summertime—typical of beaches all over Italy. The beaches of San Vito lo Capo, famed for their white sands and shallow waters, do draw the crowds. But just a short distance to the southeast, those of the Reserva Naturale Dello Zingaro, a protected nature reserve, are less accessible and therefore less crowded. To get to many of them, you'll need either a boat or sturdy hiking shoes and plenty of stamina.
Of the dozens of absolutely stunning beaches on Sardinia's Golfo di Orosei, many are difficult or impossible to reach without a boat. Not so for Cala Liberotto, set near the town of the same name. With plenty of free parking near the beach, wide, sandy stretches not dominated by stabilimenti and Sardinia's legendary clear waters, this might just be the perfect Italian beach.
You won't find any idyllic, deserted beaches along the Amalfi Coast—at least not from June to September. But you will see dramatically situated pebble and sand beaches, many surrounded by rocky outcroppings great for snorkeling. In many areas, the water gets deep quickly but remains so clear that even 30 feet or more, there's total visibility. Family-friendly beaches can be found at Positano, Amalfi town, and Erchie, Maiori and Minori, while smaller cove beaches like that at La Praia might be more suitable for confident swimmers.
Near Tropea in the Calabria region of southern Italy, Capo Vaticano is a wilder version of its neighbor to the north. Its beaches are found beneath rugged cliffs and in secluded coves great for scuba and snorkeling. Some are reachable by car or foot, and others are best explored with a zodiac boat, which you can rent with or without a guide.