Italy has so many great seaside resorts and beaches that it is hard to know where to begin when planning a summer holiday. On this page you’ll find my top suggestions. This selection should contain something for everyone; it includes my very favourite coastal spots, and others I wouldn’t care to visit in high season, though they would appeal to others. It is only a brief selection – Italy has a huge number of lovely places to visit – but I hope it will provide some ideas.
Italians love the sea, and flock to it each summer, so there is no such thing as an undiscovered Italian beach. But some are much quieter, smaller and more charming than others. If you possibly can, avoiding late July and August will make your holiday much cheaper and less crowded. June and early September are great months for the seaside in Italy, and May can also be nice, though the weather is less hot and beach establishments will only just be setting up for the summer.
Capri is a fabulous rocky island close to Naples and the Amalfi Coast. With glorious views, short walks, Roman ruins, boutiques and an exclusive atmosphere, it is one of my personal favourites for a holiday. Travellers should note that the island is expensive, and a ‘coastal’ rather than a ‘beach’ destination.
Cefalù is a charming historic seaside town in Sicily with a beautiful Norman cathedral, atmospheric lanes, and sandy beaches close to the town centre. It’s a super combination of authentic charm and beach lifestyle, and if you get bored of swimming in the sea or exploring historic lanes, you can climb the hill behind town, make day trips to other interesting Sicilian destinations such as Palermo or take a summer boat excursion to the Aeolian Islands.
The Amalfi Coast is probably the most spectacular coastline in Italy and offers a wide range of attractions, from the small beaches in pretty resorts to dramatic high-level hikes with staggering views. The beaches themselves are limited in size – Positano‘s beaches are pebbly; Amalfi‘s is gravelly and more bather-friendly – but for an all-round holiday with sunbathing, walking, swimming, views, gardens (don’t miss the famous gardens of Ravello) and boat trips, this is a great destination. Accommodation tends to be expensive, but there is a large choice, including some B&Bs.
Lido di Jesolo
Jesolo is an unpretentious modern beach resort near Venice, popular with families and with local youngsters, who visit for the nightlife. With the exception of the long day trip to Venice, there are no cultural attractions, but if you want a good, long beach and a resort atmosphere, it’s a safe choice.
Rimini is Italy’s classic mass-tourism summer beach resort: miles of sand divided up into sunbed concessions, hundreds of hotels, cheap shops and brash nightlife. The old town, a short distance inland, is more atmospheric, and the town offers a good range of activities including day trips to the little Republic of San Marino. Not for lovers of solitude, but it’s a convenient resort for a short break, with an airport of its own.
Sardinia is a large island famed for its beaches and turquoise sea. Although a very popular holiday destination, it has so many beaches that, especially in early or late summer, you can find space and tranquillity. The island group of La Maddalena, in a marine nature reserve, is a particularly good destination for unspoilt beaches.
Tropea, in Calabria, is renowned for its red onions, but it is also a holiday resort par excellence. Particularly popular with German-speaking holidaymakers, the town’s attractive historic centre sits on a rocky outcrop, with beaches on either side. Other, smaller, holiday resorts spread out along the coastline on either side of Tropea.
Otranto is a picturesque small resort on the coast in the southern region of Puglia. There’s only a small beach in the town, but more can be found along the coast. Otranto’s historic centre on a headland is very charming, with a handful of enticing bars, shops and restaurants, and there is a lovely twelfth-century church mosaic to admire. The famous baroque town of Lecce is a train-journey or a drive away.
Want somewhere a bit more off the beaten track? Scilla in Calabria, with a tourist beach, a picturesque fishermen’s quarter (called Chianalea) and a castle supposedly dating back into mythology, is one of Italy’s many seaside resorts which are not much known to non-Italians. On a railway line between Reggio Calabria and points north, it would make a pleasant place to hole up for a break.
Some of Italy’s best city destinations have beaches nearby, usually connected by bus to the centre of town. Both the beaches and the public transport may be crowded in summer, but many ‘city beaches’ are surprisingly pleasant, and make a refreshing break during a sightseeing trip. If you’re visiting a town within reach of the sea, ask the locals – they will always have a favourite beach to recommend.
> Mondello (Palermo) – fine, though crowded, beach with glorious shallow waters
> Venice Lido – just a boat trip from central Venice, the Lido has many affordable hotels as well as a long sandy beach.
> Ostia – Rome’s beach resort is nothing special, but it’s convenient for those without the time or transport to travel further afield
> Poetto (Cagliari) – lovely long beach a short bus-ride from the town centre.
> More seaside resorts – a longer list of Italy’s seaside resorts, organised by type of destination.
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