Explore Italy's Adriatic Coast

Grand Canal in Venice, Italy

 Peter Unger / Getty Images

Italy's east coast runs along the Adriatic Sea from the border of Slovenia to the heel of the boot, the Salento Peninsula. A rail line runs along the coast from the city of Trieste in the north to Lecce in the south, although it's necessary to change trains at least once to make the entire trip. A highway also runs along the coast, so it's possible to drive the whole route.

Our Adriatic Coast itinerary starts in the northeast region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia.​ ​Grado and Lignano are top seaside resort towns in this area. The Lagoons of Marano and Grado are dotted with small islands and are full of birds so it's a great area for boat excursions. There's a small airport at Trieste.

Of course, the most visited place on Italy's east coast is the city of Venice, one of Italy's top cities and most romantic places. Venice is a city of canals and its main square, Piazza San Marco, is the top place to go in the city. Venice's architecture is a unique blend of eastern and western styles, and sights include the unusual Saint Mark's Basilica, the Doge's Palace, and stunning churches and mansions.

Since Venice is a car-free city, it's best visited on a train itinerary and for those who wish to start or end in Venice, there's an airport with flights to other parts of Italy and Europe.

Another city of canals on the east coast is the fishing port of Chioggia, sometimes called Little Venice, although it lacks the magnificent monuments. There's a beach in Chioggia and during summer a tourist ferry runs between Chioggia and Venice, making it a good alternative to staying in Venice.

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Rimini and the Adriatic Coast of Emilia Romagna

James Martin

If you're traveling by car, the next stop along would be the Po Delta, one of Europe's largest wetland areas with over 300 species of birds. Comacchio is a pretty fishing village and gateway to the southern lagoon, a protected area where you can take a boat ride or walk or bike along the pathways.

Farther south, Cesenatico is a pretty seaside town with a canal through its center.​

The seaside resort town of Rimini is known for its miles of sandy beaches and its nightlife. The town has an interesting historic center and Roman remains and was the birthplace of film director Federico Fellini. To the north and south of Rimini are smaller seaside resort towns with good beaches, offering a more laid-back beach vacation. 

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From the Spur to the Heel of the Boot: The Puglia Coast of Southern Italy

Puglia coast
Peter Adams/Getty Images

Puglia is a long, thin region that starts at the Gargano Promontory, the spur of the boot, and continues to the Salento Peninsula, the toe of the boot. Much of the Puglia region is coastline, and Puglia is well known for its beautiful beaches, fresh seafood, and charming coastal towns.

Trani is one of the prettiest towns in this part of the Adriatic coast. Trani's cathedral, in a beautiful setting on the harbor near the castle, is one of the best examples of a Romanesque church in Puglia, with fantastic carvings on the exterior and beautiful floor mosaics in the crypt.

The town of Giovinazzo, just north of Bari, is a small fishing town that makes a good place to relax and take in the local life. 

Bari, about halfway down the coast, is Puglia's biggest seaside city. It has an interesting medieval center, a seaside promenade, and a port. Travelers often take the ferry to Greece from either Bari or Brindisi, another coastal city further south.

Continuing past Bari, the sandy beach at Polignano a Mare is in a small bay sheltered by the towering limestone cliffs on which the picturesque town is perched. The beach is one of the beaches in Puglia that's earned the blue flag award for cleanliness and environmental friendliness. 

Though it's not on the sea, we recommend a visit to Lecce, a beautiful baroque city referred to as the Florence of the South. It's one of the larger cities of the Salento Peninsula, but its historic center is compact and walkable.

Just about everywhere on the coast of the Salento Peninsula, you'll find great beaches, clear down to Santa Maria di Leuca, on the very tip. Here the climate is very mild, giving a long season to the popular beaches. The whitewashed town itself is pretty and has a good seaside promenade with trendy nightclubs.

Another top Salento town to visit is Otranto, whose cathedral has an unusual chapel of bones. Its old town, running along the sea from the castle, has a Greek feel and there's a beach within walking distance of the town. Also along this part of the coast, there are good beaches at Porto Badisco, known for its sea urchins, and Santa Cesarea Terme, known for its thermal springs.