Choosing which of the best Italian beach towns to visit is a tough decision. Celebrated for its diversity, the coastline of this Southern European nation is just as varied as its major cities.
To help you narrow down your options and find your perfect Italian beach break, we’ve rounded up a shortlist of the most beautiful Italian coastal towns and villages.
Best Italian Beach Towns
This guide to Italy’s best beach towns is divided into three parts: Northern Italy, Southern Italy, and the islands. You might want to read this in tandem with our guide to the best cities in Italy and craft an itinerary that fuses the cultural destinations with these dreamy seaside spots.
Best Italian Coastal Towns: Northern Italy
Let’s start with the most beautiful north Italian coastal towns in the Italian Riviera and Cinque Terre regions.
Naturally, any of the five villages in the Cinque Terre region flies to the top of the list. Riomaggiore is one of the best Italian beach towns to add to your list if you want to explore this string of historic coastal villages in the Italian Riviera.
This devastatingly scenic town consists of colorful buildings that plunge down the cliffs and meet the Tyrrhenian Sea. You can roam the warren of streets and find your new favorite bakery and take a dip in the water for a unique perspective of the town. Note that Riomaggiore only has a pebble beach, as is the standard in Cinque Terre.
If you only have one day in Cinque Terre, you can walk between the five villages or travel by train. Riomaggiore and Monterosso al Mare are the typical start/end points of this route.
2. Monterosso al Mare
Another member of the Cinque Terre family, Monterosso al Mare is the one to know about if you want to spend some time on the beach as well as hiking. Monterosso al Mare is the only town in the cluster to boast a sandy beach!
One of the largest of the five villages, Monterosso al Mare is in fact spread across three beaches. It feels distinctively resort-like in comparison to the others, with an abundance of hotels and restaurants. Do also pay a visit to the Statua del Gigante, a depiction of the sea god Neptune carved into the seaside cliffs on Spiaggia del Gigante.
If you’re a fan of Pixar, the film Luca is set in an idyllic Italian town called Portorosso – which sounds (and looks!) suspiciously like Monterosso.
3. Santa Margherita Ligure
Santa Margherita Ligure is one of several towns within the coveted Italian Riviera, beyond Cinque Terre. Sometimes referred to as the Ligurian Riviera or the Ligurian Coast, this stretch connects La Spezia with the French border.
You’ll have likely heard of Portofino – the playground for the rich and famous. Although this town is well worth a visit, it’s known for being extremely expensive so you might want to check out alternative bases.
And that’s where Santa Margherita Ligure comes into the picture! This postcard-pretty town consists of a chill swimming beach, pastel-hued buildings, and a marina. You can see the remains of the castle that once defended the settlement from pirates. This is one of the best Italian seaside towns for low-key vibes.
If you opt to stay in Santa Margherita Ligure then you can visit the surrounding towns and national parks within the Italian Riviera.
Vernazza is another of the best coastal towns in Italy within Cinque Terre. This is a tiny village with a natural harbor and pastel-colored houses set among a lush green backdrop.
Once a prominent military base, Vernazza has since become established as a hub for the production of wine and olive oil.
The church of Santa Margherita d’Antiochia watches over the harbor while the ruins of Castello Doria stand tall and proud on the headland. Dip your toes into the water from the pebble beach and take a stroll through the marina to see the little fishing boats bobbing in the waves.
5. Sestri Levante
Sestri Levante is located 30 miles south of Genoa, another of the best Italian beach towns. Due to its setting sandwiched between two bays, Sestri Levante is known as the “city of two seas”. In fact, it was originally an island – later connected to the mainland.
These bays are romantically termed the Bay of Silence (Baia di Silenzio) and the Bay of Fables (Baia delle Favole). They form a duo of crescent-shaped beaches with amber-colored sand with calm swimming conditions.
Buildings in the Old Town are beautifully painted in pastel and terracotta hues. For a change of scene, you can explore the trails and lookouts of the hilltop park, Madonnetta.
Although less popular with international tourists, Sestri Levante is a typical choice for Italian holidaymakers. These beaches fill up swiftly during the peak summer months.
Best Italian Seaside Towns: Southern Italy
Heading down to Southern Italy, the following places vie for the title of the best Italian coastal town.
Sorrento is one of the most popular Italian coastal towns. Located on the Sorrentine Peninsula, the clifftop resort overlooks the Bay of Naples and Mount Vesuvius. While, strictly speaking, Sorrento does not have a beach it more than makes up for that in terms of views and overall seaside energy.
Plus, if you do fancy a swim – loungers and beach clubs are set up on piers near the harbor.
The charming plazas of Old Town hum with restaurants, cafes, and gelato stands. Meanwhile, hundreds of souvenir shops are full to bursting with bottles of limoncello crafted in the local lemon groves. Dining and drinking in the sunshine is naturally one of the best things to do in Sorrento.
Due to excellent transport links, Sorrento is an ideal base for exploring the Amalfi Coast.
You can take one day to visit Naples to explore the archaeological sites of Pompei and Herculaneum. You can also take a day trip to Capri. Frequented by the rich and famous in their superyachts, you can get your sand fix here!
7. Polignano a Mare
Polignano a Mare is one of the best coastal towns on Italy’s southern Adriatic Coast. Situated in the Puglia region, the town is built atop a limestone cliff and consists of a handful of beaches. Architecture nods to influence from the Romans and Spanish while many of the city walls are emblazoned with quotes and poetry.
Lama Monachile is the signature beach. This tiny inlet is nestled between dramatic cliffs and made up of pebbles and an aquamarine swimming basin. It’s extremely popular and, given the compact size and proximity to the town, it does fill up easily. Therefore, it’s recommended that you visit Lama Monachile during the off-peak or shoulder seasons.
A short walk south brings you to Scoglio dell’Eremita, a crag off the mainland where you can catch gorgeous sunsets.
The jewel of the Amalfi Coast, Positano is one of the best Italian beach towns for all traveler styles.
In general, the Amalfi Coast is revered for its sheer coastal cliffs that drop into the Tyrrhenian Sea. The 30-mile (50 km) stretch of the Sorrentine Peninsula is dotted with little fishing villages with colorful buildings. Positano is the glowing example of a typical Amalfi village and you can spend your time strolling the teeny cobblestone streets among the wisteria, ducking into whatever cafes and boutiques catch your eye.
Visit the main beach, Spiaggia Grande, for a jaw-dropping perspective of how the resort town is constructed into the cliffs.
You can visit Positano (and neighboring villages such as Amalfi) as a day trip from Sorrento or splash out on digs in the town itself. A word of warning: the road from Sorrento to Positano is not for the faint-hearted! It’s far safer to take the public bus than to self-drive.
Vieste is located in southeast Italy along the shoreline of the Adriatic Sea in the Puglia region.
The whitewashed buildings of the town occupy a nook on a promontory of sheer limestone cliffs. Easy walking trails lead you to viewpoints of the settlement and the Vieste Lighthouse, situated on a small islet off the shore.
Vieste is blessed with long sandy beaches within walking distance of the town center. These include Spiaggia di San Lorenzo and Spiaggia di Castello. As Vieste is built within the limits of the Gargano National Park, you can devote a day or two to exploring hikes through the forests, wetlands, and coastal bluffs.
If you need a rest from the heat, the Museo Malacologico is a collection of seashells and fossils.
Tropea is one of the best Italian coastal towns for beaches and…onions. That’s right, this small seaside resort is legendary for its red onions!
Situated on the east coast of Calabria, Tropea is one of the most southerly beach resort picks on this list. Ultra fine white sand lapped by shallow azure waters beckons tourists and local residents down for a leisurely spot of swimming and sunbathing. Meanwhile, the centuries-old Santa Maria dell Isola Church looms above the town on a crag overlooking the sea.
And as for those onions – you’ll find that most of the town’s cuisine features a generous lashing of the local pride and joy! They’re eaten raw, cooked, and caramelized. “Zuppa di cipolla rossa di Tropea” (Tropea red onion soup) is a typical dish that gives the French classic a run for its money.
Best Italian Beach Towns: Italian Islands
Embark on a trip offshore to experience some of the best Italian beach towns on the country’s enchanting islands.
11. Portoferraio (Elba)
The island of Elba belongs to the Province of Livorno and floats off the Tuscan coastline. Portoferraio, the largest settlement, is a pretty port town on the northern coastline. When staying in the town, you can take your pick from a string of beaches and historic attractions.
Portoferraio’s Old Town is a maze of alleys, heritage villas, and the defensive Medici Fortresses. Overlooking the marina, you will see the remains of the Roman-built Villa della Linguella.
Napoleon Bonaparte was famously exiled to Elba and you can visit two of his island residences. Now a museum, the Napoleonic Mills House is located in Portoferraio Old Town. On the other hand, the Villa San Martino Residenza Napoleonica (along with the Napoleone Museo) are sited a short drive out of Portoferraio.
12. Costa Paradiso (Sardinia)
If you venture across the Tyrrhenian Sea to Sardinia (Sardegna), this Mediterranean island will spoil you rotten with its beaches.
Tucked away on the northern coast, the aptly-named Costa Paradiso is one of the most impressive Italian coastal resorts. The coastline is characterized by rocky cliffs that rise from emerald coves and photogenic lookouts including Spiaggia Li Baietti.
Spiaggia di Li Cossi is one of the number one beaches in Costa Paradiso and Sardinia overall. The sandy beach is encased by a natural amphitheater. This buffers the cove against waves and winds and results in gentle conditions where children and non-swimmers can frolic freely. Adventurous souls can hone their diving skills by leaping off the cliffs.
Meanwhile, the hike down to Tinnari demands more effort but the pay-off is a beautiful pebble beach with calm swimming conditions. Remember to pack your snorkel gear before visiting this cluster of beaches.
13. Ventotene Town (Ventotene)
Ventotene is a tiny island within the Pontine Island Archipelago that sits in the Tyrrhenian Sea. It’s a popular escape for Neapolitans but is yet to make waves among international tourists. That makes it one of the best Italian seaside towns for offbeat travel.
Bearing in mind that you can walk from one side of the island to the other in less than an hour, Ventotene is perfect for beach lovers. Cala Nava, the principal beach, offers safe swimming conditions. Ancient Romans carved holes into the rocks to make salt and you can still see the remains of these.
Other things to do on Ventotene Island include sailing, watersports, birdwatching, and touring the Roman cisterns built into the underbelly of the island.
14. Cefalù (Sicily)
Larger towns such as Palermo, Catania, and Syracuse command the most attention on the southern island of Sicily. It’s recommended to travel out to explore other parts of the island to experience the diversity of the “toe” of Italy’s “boot.”
Cefalù, on the north coast, is one of the best Italian beach towns in Sicily. There are several beaches within easy access to the town center, starting with the flagship Cefalù Beach. Kalura Beach cuts a rugged contrast with its jagged rock formations, pebbles, and access via a steep staircase.
Besides the beaches, the Norman-built Castello di Cefalù is one of the key draws of this resort town. You can hike to the summit and pay a modest €5 for access to the site. Naturally, the reward is tremendous views of the mountains and sea.