There’s plenty to recommend Italy already: The rolling hills of Tuscany, the canals of Venice, the charm of Cinque Terre, the wine and food of…well, everywhere. After all, there’s a reason it’s consistently ranked among the most-visited countries in the world, with tourism revenue well into the twelve figures. But add the incredible number and variety of beaches to the equation, and suddenly the country becomes a mandatory item on every traveler’s to-do list.
Ready to traverse the boot? Read on to start plotting the perfect itinerary. And if beach-hopping across Italy isn’t in your future, this list is still worth a look: these places are beautiful enough to cure even the most severe cases of Monday blues, mean reds, or winter doldrums. And after a few glimpses, you may find yourself tallying up your vacation days, scoping out your savings, and planning your next Italian excursion.
1) Acquafredda di Maratea Beach, Basilicata
Six miles outside of the hamlet of Maratea, this rugged stretch of shoreline has the same blue water and dark gray sand of the Amalfi Coast, but it’s further north with none of the accompanying throngs of tourists. It’s a prime place for beachgoers in search of rustic beauty: In spite of neatly arranged sun loungers and beach umbrellas placed by local hotels, the rocky shoreline and cliffs jutting up on either side of the cove preserve the untamed feel of the area
2) Marina Grande Beach, Positano
As if the views of deep greenish-blue seas weren’t enough, the stacks of pastel houses hugging the cliffs make Positano’s main beach feel like something plucked from a midcentury postcard. With over 300 yards of dark sand—large swathes of it dedicated to tidily arranged rows of beach umbrellas and lounge chairs in Technicolor shades of orange and blue—this spot always feels open and roomy in spite of summer crowds. Start in town with a leisurely outdoor lunch overlooking the Mediterranean, then sleep off the limoncello buzz with a snooze on the sand.
3) Camogli Beach, Liguria
Northwest Italy’s coastal towns tend to live in the shadow of the neighboring French Riviera, but that means beaches like Camogli’s have all the Mediterranean beauty with a fraction of the crowds you’ll find in Nice or St. Tropez.
The beach in this little fishing village is pebbly but picturesque—the ancient Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta is perched on a promontory at the harbor’s northern end, with mountains rising up behind it. This spot has something for every traveler: swimming lessons to keep the kids busy, beachside drink service for the laid-back crowd, and rowboats, canoe rentals, and diving lessons for the adventure-seekers.
4) Scalo Maestro, Marettimo
Just off the western tip of Sicily, the island of Marettimo (population: 700) has the kind of wild beauty that gives every moment here a dreamlike quality. The tiny beach of Scalo Maestro is one of the few you can access from the shore, and its gentle slope and clear, calm waters are particularly swimmer- and snorkeler-friendly. Once you’ve had your fill of beach time, charter a boat for a tour of the island: it’s the only way to access Marettimo’s hidden sea caves. You can’t truly appreciate the magic of the Aegadian Islands until you’ve gone swimming in a sun-dappled Mediterranean grotto.
5) Porto Campana, Sardinia
Three miles of golden sand make up the Campana beachfront, and within that expanse you’ll find something to suit every type of beachgoer. Look for rental kiosks to try your hand at surfing, kiteboarding, or paddleboarding; kick back on a rented lounger with a cocktail; sign up for a scuba session with a local outfitter; or admire Campana’s dunes—some as high as 65 feet.
6) Otranto Beach, Otranto
This bay in the center of Italy’s easternmost town is all soft white sand and shallow turquoise water—a tiny sliver of the Caribbean perched on the Adriatic. And while the beach itself is as all-purpose as they come (great for swimming, sunning, snorkeling…), the best way to enjoy this place also happens to be the easiest: Stop in town to pick up a crisp white wine, a hunk of fresh bread, and a ball of Puglia’s creamy, buttery burrata, then while away a few hours sipping and snacking on this little seaside slice of heaven.
7) Poglinano a Mare Beach, Puglia
Nestled in an inlet bound by steep limestone cliffs, this spot is off the beaten path for most tourists, but it’s well worth the detour. Bring a beach chair for comfort—there’s no sand here, only smooth, salt-worn pebbles—and a pack a pair of water shoes if you’re the adventurous type. Then follow the lead of the locals: Climb a few feet up the cliffs, shimmy out until you’re over deep water, and take the leap. Toast your courage in a cliffside cove above the Adriatic at nearby Grotta Palazzese, possibly the most romantic restaurant in the world.
8) Spiaggia di Tuerredda, Sardinia
Even in the off-season, this island idyll is a must-see: The sea here is such a perfect shade of pale blue it doesn’t seem real, and since it’s sheltered from the bracing Mistral winds, the water is warm enough for swimming well into fall. There’s a scattering of casual beachfront restaurants and amenities if you’re interested in paddleboarding or kayaking, but be sure to find time for a languid stroll along the shore. Between the pristine setting, the sound of the waves, and the occasional whiff of Sardinia’s juniper trees on the breeze, your blood pressure will be dropping in no time.
9) Marina del Cantone Beach, Massa Lubrense
This beach is the place to go if you want authenticity: Despite its proximity to the Amalfi Coast’s tourist hotspots, Marina del Cantone is free of the overdevelopment (and accompanying sky-high prices) you’ll find in neighboring coastal towns, and you’re likely to be surrounded by locals. Be sure to wear sturdy sandals to shield your soles from the rocky beach, and if you’re feeling ambitious, hike the nearby footpaths for unbeatable views of the bay and the town from neighboring cliffs. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, head into town for lunch with a view at Lo Scoglio. Their spaghetti con ricci di mare—pasta tossed with a sauce of sea urchin, olive oil, and garlic—is creamy, salty-sweet, and the perfect capstone to an Amalfi afternoon.
10) Rabbit Beach, Lampedusa
It takes a bit of determination to make your way to this secluded spot—the tiny island of Lampedusa is just over 100 miles off the coast of mainland Italy, closer to Tunisia than Europe—but the effort pays off. The water is shallow and perfectly clear even at the edges of the bay, and cliffs flanking the beach keep it sheltered from strong winds and waves. The visibility and abundant sea life (turtles includes) make snorkeling a must, but the remote location means you won’t find much in the way of facilities and amenities, so pack gear and provisions before you go.
11) Spiaggia di Chiaia di Luna, Ponza
This is Italy’s answer to the white cliffs of Dover. Sheer golden bluffs plummet over 300 feet down to sea level, where they’re bordered by a thin crescent of sand. It’s a must-see destination year round: If it’s too chilly for swimming, Instagram-worthy tableaux abound if you take a stroll along the beach or atop the coastal cliffs. And though the beach is the main draw, be sure to carve out enough time for inland exploring. Ponza has been settled since the Neolithic era, so the island is scattered with Roman and Etruscan ruins that archaeology buffs will love. For bonus points, pack The Odyssey for beach reading: Ponza is rumored to be Homer’s inspiration for the isle of Aeaea, where Odysseus meets the enchantress Circe.
12) La Cattedrale, Palmarola
From Ponza, charter a boat to the neighboring island of Palmarola for even more jaw-dropping scenery. The harbor beach on this uninhabited isle is beautiful enough, but for the real showstopper, head to La Cattedrale, a series of rocky arches jutting into the sea, so named for their resemblance to the vaulted naves of medieval churches. An afternoon spent swimming in the grottos, dozing in the shade of the cliffs, and spotting the dolphins that play offshore is the kind of once-in-a-lifetime experience you don’t want to miss.
13) Lido Beach, Lido di Venezia
14) Lago di Braies, South Tyrol
It may not be on the ocean, but this gem nestled in the Dolomites is guaranteed to satisfy beachgoers in search of beautiful scenery and a refreshing dip. The lake boasts clear, blue-green waters and white sand—a striking visual contrast to the dense pine forest and snow-dusted peaks that surround it. A day hike is the best way to see everything Lago di Braies has to offer: Pack your swimsuit, a towel, and a lunch, then venture out on the beginner-friendly footpath that circles the perimeter, pausing to picnic and swim at the first beach that suits your fancy. Be sure to stop at the Braies bungalow—built on stilts over the lake, it’s a cross between an alpine ski lodge and a Tahitian overwater cabana—for photo ops and rowboat rentals.
15) Scala dei Turchi, Sicily
One of the most visually striking beaches in the world, Sicily’s Turkish Steps are a must-visit for aesthetic reasons alone. The bright white marlstone has been slowly eroded, creating a sloping staircase that leads right into the sea. Go at low tide for the best views, and wear sturdy shoes for the journey—the climb is not for the faint of heart. If you’re feeling particularly ambitious, pack a flashlight and stay until the sun sets. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better visual than that of the cliffs awash in gold and silhouetted against a fiery sky.
Mo’orea is a volcanically formed island in the French Polynesia, reachable from nearby Tahiti by high-speed Cataraman. Expect pristine white powder sanded beaches, bright turquoise waters, staggering emerald green cliffs and luxury hotels with over-water bungalows. Mo’orea is ideal for honeymooners who want a lesser known destination. Recommended hotels include Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort (pictured) & Sofitel Moorea Ia Ora.
How in all wonder Columbus got over,
That is a marvel to me, I protest,
Cabot, and Raleigh too, that well-read rover,
Frobisher, Dampier, Drake and the rest.
Bad enough all the same,
For them that after came,
But, in great Heaven’s name,
How he should ever think
That on the other brink
Of this huge waste terra firma should be,
Is a pure wonder, I must say, to me.
How a man ever should hope to get thither,
E’e’n if he knew of there being another side;
But to suppose he should come any whither,
Sailing right on into chaos untried,
Across the whole ocean,
In spite of the motion,
To stick to the notion
That in some nook or bend
Of a sea without end
He should find North and South Amerikee,
Was a pure madness as it seems to me.
What if wise men had, as far back as Ptolemy,
Judged that the earth like an orange was round,
None of them ever said, ‘Come along, follow,
Sail to the West, and the East will be found.’
Many a day before
Ever they’d touched the shore
Of the San Salvador,
Sadder and wiser men
They’d have turned back again;
And that he did not, but did cross the sea,
Is a pure wonder, I must say, to me.
And that he crossed and that we cross the sea
Is a pure wonder, I must say, to me.