The best beaches in Italy are shared fairly evenly between the famously boot-shaped mainland and its attendant islands. Washed by the Adriatic, Ionian, and Tyrrhenian Seas, Italy’s beaches benefit from mild waters and waves strong enough only to bronze the sand or sizzle out through the pebbles. Its translucent water is suffused with turquoise and adds emerald and sapphire hues as you wade in deeper.
But what truly elevates Italy’s beaches are their locations. From secluded hideaways tucked beneath a pastel-colored fishing village to sandy stretches juxtaposed against stunning natural phenomena, here’s a list of the best beaches in Italy.
Monterosso al Mare, Cinque Terre
The Cinque Terre, a series of spectacular fishing villages that appear to have grown organically out of the rough Ligurian cliffs they’re set into, are not particularly known for their generally small, sharply upholstered beaches. Except, that is, for Monterosso al Mare.
The largest of Cinque Terre’s seaside villages, Monterosso offers a long, sandy beach with rocks jutting out from impressively azure waters. As the only significant beach in one of Italy’s most high-profile destinations, Monterosso features many colorful loungers and parasols alongside the usual accouterments you’d expect to find at a popular Italian seaside resort.
You’ll find it easy to unwind while ensconced by wild cliffs blanketed in a vertical patchwork of bright architecture and terraced gardens. Enjoy the cool breeze carrying the scent of Monterosso’s many lemon trees as it makes its way through the air. Or maybe you’re smelling the lemon squeezed over your cone of takeout calamari from Il Bocconcino? Either way, dig your toes into the warm sand and enjoy one of the unmissable things to do in Cinque Terre—watch the spectacular sunset.
Poetto Beach, Cagliari
Sardinia is blessed with extraordinary beaches and Poetto, the main beach in the capital of Cagliari is one of the best for its good looks, as well as nearby amenities. Notably clean for what is essentially a city beach, Poetto is five miles of white sand bliss strung like a bow between flamingo-strutted salt pans and the beach’s glittering white sand shallows.
Being so splendid and so close to the city, Poetto is never empty, pinstriped with cycle lanes and a kite surfing school at the beach’s southern end. While lounging on the sand under the Sardinian sun, you’ll have a view of the Sella del Diavolo hills projecting out into the tranquil Gulf of Quartu.
Once your stomach begins rumbling for Sardinian cuisine, you’ll find everything from the elegant fish dishes of Chiringuito Lounge Bar & Restaurant to the old trusty Baffo Snack food van and its mammoth fried eggplant sandwiches wrapped in freshly-baked bread.
Chia Beach, Sardinia
Make your way through fragrant juniper bushes and onto the warm sand of Chia Beach. Of all the world-class stretches of sand enclosed within Chia Bay, on the island’s southernmost tip, Chia Beach is a spacious paradise with warm white sand that turns caramel beneath the waves.
Its northern half, known as Sa Colonia, is arguably the greater destination, mostly due to the nearby cliffs and proximity to some extraordinary historical artifacts. Walk up the sandy path surrounded with rocks clad in mustard yellow lichen and dusty blue scrub over to the headland of Torre Chia, where you’ll find an elegantly ruined Spanish tower. Even more extraordinary are the ruins located at the foot of the promontory that was once part of an 8th-century Phoenician city.
Cala Goloritzé, Sardinia
When approaching Cala Goloritzé—by sea or the cliff path—you’ll notice the famed pinnacle of Aguglia a Tramontana first, a towering natural stone of karst planted to mark this special Italian beach.
Located within the craggy embrace of the eastern Gulf of Orosei, Cala Goloritzé is slightly inconvenient to reach and offers the perfect balance of wild but still comfortable. While tourists may invade its turquoise waters in the summer, the beach is an Italian National Monument, which has a helpful cap on the number of visitors allowed per day.
If you’re not traveling on the water, you’ll have to reach Cala Goloritzé through the five hundred meter path winding through white limestone, weathered oaks, and strawberry trees. But once you arrive at the white pebble beach, with its natural stone arch lowering itself gently into the water, you’ll understand the need for the cap is as clear as the water.
Isola Bella, Taormina
The name for this pebbly beach, which translates as “beautiful island,” at first seems a little misleading. But once you’re there it makes perfect sense. Situated beneath the floating piazzas and bougainvillea-laden hotel terraces of Taormina, the ends of either side of this beach knit together into a white sand isthmus that connects (at low tide) with the verdant islet of Isola Bella.
The island was once the private domicile of Florence Trevelyan, an English exile that was rumored to have been banished to Sicily after having a dalliance with Queen Victoria’s son (and the heir presumptive). A keen gardener, she imported exotic plants to her new home and these are now protected under the island’s status as a nature reserve.
With balmy sea breezes, a romance-imbued islet, and the inviting hiss of the sea through the shingle, Isola Bella is easily one of the best beaches in Italy. There’s also a cable car that whisks you straight to Taormina to ensure you have a cocktail in hand in time for sunset.
Vendicari Nature Reserve, Sicily
The Vendicari Nature Reserve just south of Syracuse is home to flamingos, rare plants, and some of Sicily’s best sandy beaches.
Of the five, often uncrowded beaches found here, the top pick is probably the golden sands and Caribbean hues of Calamosche. Only about a twenty-minute walk from the parking lot along a terracotta-colored path, you’ll find Calamosche’s silken sands sliding into the shallows waters of a tranquil bay.
And while Calamosche’s charms are hard to resist, the 1,500-acre reserve—home to migrating flamingos, grassy duneland, and some of the island’s most fragrant macchia scrub—is also a wonderful location for a coastal walk. Factor in archaeological remains, which include a necropolis, and suddenly it looks like you might need to push back your dinner reservation.
Scala dei Turchi, Sicily
One of Italy’s beaches that seems utterly unique is the Scala dei Turchi in Sicily, a stunning, sloping cliff made of white marl and limestone.
Its name translates as “stair of the Turks” and can be credited to invading Turks, who used to anchor in the bay. Meanwhile, the stair element refers to the remarkably fluid topography that makes this place so appealing. Like a wall of sculpted meringue, sun worshippers gather on the various ledges of this gently sloping spot that offers far-reaching views along the coast.
There’s a sizeable sandy beach adjoining the cliff, although it’s possible to plunge into the warm ocean from the cliff itself, too. With the remarkable juxtaposition of the gleaming, snow-white rock and the azure waters, the Scala dei Turchi truly is a must-see beach. You’ll find it on the south coast of Sicily, just west of Porto Empedocle.
Maiori Beach, Amalfi Coast
What the Amalfi Coast is known for: precipitous terrain characterized by crags and coves, a wiggly highway, and gravity-defying Italian towns. What the Amalfi is not known for: beach holidays.
But that might be because visitors aren’t looking hard enough. In Maiori, a landslide in the 1950s led to a re-shaping of the seafront into a generously proportioned beach. It’s now the longest stretch of sand in the Amalfi and rightfully earns its place as one of the top Italian beaches, as it blends an extremely appealing physical beach with the Amalfi’s almost otherworldly glamor.
This is a sea-lapped spot that welcomes all visitors, from the chic young couples in their classic Fiat 500s to the Italian families on a day out. Hire a lounger or make your way to the sections at either end of the beach, where you can lay your towel wherever you choose.
Afterward, check out historic Maiori. If you’re a fan of Roberto Rossellini, you might have a sense of deja vu after touring its small streets since the Maiori backdrop is featured in no fewer than four of his films.
Minori Beach, Amalfi Coast
Minori is the rough diamond of the Amalfi Coast—less self-conscious than its neighbors, and more relaxed for it. Amid its labyrinth of lemon-yellow, peach, and ice white homes, you’ll find a rich heritage of top-quality gastronomy. The town’s famed scialatielli pasta, once hung out to dry in floured ribbons in the piazzas, is a must-try with local seafood, while the former ‘King of Panettone’ pastry chef Sal de Riso has a shop and cafe overlooking the sea.
After you’ve gorged on pastries infused with Amalfi lemons, rest upon the south-facing Minori Beach. It’s a shorter stretch of sand than Maiori, but with enough space for you, the fishing boats, and the holidaying Italians that appreciate Minori’s more laid-back, authentic vibe. As the sun begins to set, join the locals for their daily walk along the pine and palm-lined boardwalk or up the town’s short pier.
While the nearby Amalfi might try to take up more of your itinerary, its lesser-known neighbor Atrani—connected by a footpath from Amalfi—is a quieter delight amid the razzle-dazzle of big-name destinations. Better for you that everyone is distracted elsewhere, as Atrani is also home to a little wedge of a beach bracketed by viaduct arches and clear shallows. With so little space, the symmetrical blue and turquoise loungers laid out make one of the best beaches in Italy look almost like a curved step covered in Italian tile.
The clean water makes for excellent snorkeling with bright fish darting out from beneath the undersea boulders. Atrani itself makes for a lovely wander, although if the tiers of colorful houses look like a hard hike, book one of Le Arcate’s tables that overlook the beach instead and explore, with Aperol spritz in hand, MC Escher’s studies of the town from above.
Positano Beach, Positano
Positano, the region’s most emblematic town—and the first to import bikinis into Italy—is a pastel cascade of buildings tumbling down to a broad, gray-shingle beach. While the view of yachts cutting across the sparkling Tyrrhenian seems like the obvious choice, you’ll be tempted to turn your lounger around and gaze at the extraordinary architectural staircase behind you instead.
With such name recognition, Positano Beach is something of a destination in the summer (it’s also the only part of town without any steps to conquer). Visitors come to gather/pose/observe by the water’s edge, or refresh at the numerous bars and restaurants nestled between the pines and fluttering wisteria. Despite the jet-set cachet, the beach feels relaxed, especially amid the free middle section.
Viareggio Beach, near Florence/Pisa
Viareggio Beach, overlooked by the lush Apuan Alps, has long been one of Tuscany’s most well-known destinations. It belongs to the eponymous 18th-century resort town famous for its gigantic Carnevale floats, the composer Giacomo Puccini (he lived there), and the elegant art-nouveau facades of its downtown (the gorgeous Grand Caffe Margherita was where Puccini scored his espresso).
Its epic beach is part of a huge stretch of sand lining the Tuscan coastline. Viareggio’s golden portion is six miles long and features a pointillist parade of striped umbrellas fluttering in a warm, jasmine-scented sea breeze. At the southern end of town, there’s a superyacht shipyard, while the north side of the boardwalk has been modernized with chic cafes and restaurants close to the sand that allow you to see the fishermen in the waves who supply the fresh ingredients for your bowl of cacciucco.
See the Bel Paese’s ravishingly beautiful beaches for yourself on a cruise to Italy and discover its shimmering coves, translucent surf, and well-serviced pedalos. Browse our cruise itineraries online and book a memorable vacation to a destination of effortless glamor.