Italy is bordered on both sides by the sea – the Mediterranean in the West and the Adriatic in the East – so Italian beaches are an important part of this country’s geography, as well as of the way we experience it! In summer, Italians migrate to the coast and cities empty out, making for crowded beaches and a lifestyle that is rather peculiar to outsiders. What’s life like on Italian beaches and which ones are the best?
We’ll take a look at the best beaches up and down the coast, from the Amalfi to Rome, Tuscany, and the Adriatic on the other side of Italy. One thing to know is that Italian Beaches come in essentially two models: free, or paid “stabilimenti” (bathing establishments). Prices of the latter vary widely depending on location and facilities; within one “bagno” you generally pay a premium to sit in the front row by the water, and less towards the back. Free beaches usually do not have any services like bathrooms, showers, and concession stands, but they are enjoyed by all – observing entire families setting up tents, coolers and music for the day is a pastime in itself!
Italian beaches on the Amalfi Coast
The view of Positano from the sea is the collective imagination of the Amalfi coast, which, however, includes many different hidden beaches, towns and a LOT of lemons. Most of the beaches along this stretch of the coast consist of pebbles and not so much sand – let’s take a look at some of the best of them, one by one.
Marina Grande, Positano
No matter how many photos you have seen of this picturesque location, nothing can prepare you for the real experience of approaching by boat right under the famed colorful pile of houses. Positano has several beaches, but Marina Grande has the best view as well as lots to do. Grab a panino and a refreshing lemon sorbet packed into a real lemon, and lay back to watch the majestic waters crashing on to the rocks and pebbles.
Vietri sul mare
Considered to be the gateway to the Amalfi Coast, Vietri sul mare is located between Salerno and Cetara. Here, there’s something for everyone, be it art and culture or nature. If you are a fan of ceramics you’ll be interested to know that Vietri is famous for its bright and colourful patterns and fun animal and lemon paintings on maiolica. Aside from a gorgeous beach, there’s the Church of St. John the Baptist and the rock formation of Due Fratelli, while in cooler weather there are plenty of hiking trails along the coast from the beach, offering breathtaking views.
Erchie, between Cetara and Maiori, is a little more low-key than other Amalfi Coast beaches. The name Erchie comes from an old temple built in honor of Hercules, and is now a picturesque fishing village, surrounded by olive and lemon trees. The pebble beach is secluded and private, with a few inlets accessible only by boat.
Italian beaches near Rome
When thinking about Rome, the Trevi Fountain, Colosseum and the Vatican are what come to mind, but Rome is actually close to many beaches. So if you’ve got a week or so in Rome and have a scorching day ahead of you, consider these beach locations.
Santa Marinella is a local place to sunbathe, just a quick train ride away from Roma. Termini, Ostiense, Trastevere or San Pietro (the 45 minute ride costs €3,60). The sandy beach, with both free and paid establishments, is popular with families and young people, while the seafood restaurants that line the main street fill up in the evenings.
Fregene is known for its nightlife and is a very popular spot for young people to party; on the other hand, the beach is not the nicest. To get to Fregene take the train from Roma Termini to Maccarese-Fregene station. From there, frequent local buses connect to the beachfront.
Sperlonga is a top beach destination for those who are stationed in Rome and don’t mind traveling a little for a gorgeous view and relaxing atmosphere. Sperlonga is a blue flag beach which means the sand and water are clean and the beach is environmentally friendly. Away from the water, visit the Roman Villa of Emperor Tiberius with its adjacent natural grotto that actually gives the city its name (from the latin Spelunca), and the archeological museum.
Italian beaches in Tuscany
Wine, cheese and meat might be most visitors’ priority in Tuscany, but it also has notable blue-flag beaches which are a great way to enjoy the summer, Italian style. Take note of the beaches listed here and consider fitting them into your travel itinerary.
Forte de Marmi
Forte dei Marmi, located in the province of Lucca, is one of the most modern towns in the Versilia area. It is known for its fancy beaches as well as its elegant villas, festivals and markets. There are a plethora of restaurants, bars and clubs, many particularly expensive. The weekly Wednesday market is famous for its deep discounts on designer clothes and leather goods.
Viareggio is the easiest beach in Tuscany to reach from Florence on public transportation. Located in the province of Pisa, it is about an hour and a half train from Florence. Although Viareggio is not known for its gorgeous, crystal blue waters (you will not find that here), the ambiance of the beach is lively and family-friendly with umbrellas, beach chairs and other accommodations for a fee.
Located in the province of Livorno, Castiglioncello is an upscale beach town with crystal-clear waters since the beach itself is rocky. This makes it a bit challenging for families wishing to set up with an umbrella for the day, but if you’re adventurous and don’t fear sunburns, pick your rock and enjoy the peace.
Castiglione della Pescaia
If you’re in the Maremma area, Castiglione della Pescaia is one of the most beautiful options. A car is best to visit this area, since the town of Castiglione has a “city beach” but some of the best waters and activities can be found on the road extending north from here, including Le Rochette, brilliant for snorkeling.
If you’re in the Maremma area, Bolgheri is one you will not want to skip over. It is considered one of the most beautiful beaches of the Maremma and is between Piombino and Livorno. Reaching this beach is easiest by car as you should take the coastal road SS1 Aurelia. A lot of space on this beach is free which is convenient because there is so much to do. For those who enjoy snorkeling there is a clear seabed perfect for such activities, and you can dive off the rocks into the crystal water. Bolgheri is also renowned for the wine; due to the particular characteristics of the soil and micro climate sunny, dry and windy, the grape varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot tend to thrive.
Italian beaches on the Adriatic
The Adriatic coast, on the East of the Italian peninsula, is more shallow than the Tyrrehnian sea, but has sandy beaches that extend for miles – making it ideal for families.
The meaning of this beach speaks for itself. ‘Sabbiadoro’ means golden sand, and that is what you’ll get from this family-oriented spot located between Venice and Trieste. This beach resort in the province of Udine contains bars, shops and restaurants overlooking the sea. In Lignano Sabbiadoro you can also find a zoo, a water park, an amusement park and a theme park with thrill rides and shows.
Rimini (in the region of Emila-Romagna and easily reached by train) may be the top coastal town for nightclubs. But during the day, the area’s shallow waters make Rimini’s beaches great for kids, with lots of activities like kayaking, SUP and more.
Words by Dana Seigelstein
Main photo credit Bracco on Flickr