Stamping its identity indelibly on the central Mediterranean, boot-shaped Italy is famed for its history, worshipped for its food, and loved for its beaches. With dozens of offshore islands and a long and deeply indented coastline, Italy boasts more than 7600km (4722 miles) of shorefront, from sprays of sand backed by towering sea cliffs to sparkling turquoise coves.
The most famous beaches are dotted around the southern islands, but Italy's sands run the gamut from rock-bound bays to accessible-to-all city beaches and Rimini’s boisterous resorts. For beach lovers, the challenge isn’t finding a suitable spot to lay down your towel, it's choosing from the vast selection of bellissimo beaches on offer.
To help you find your own perfect spiaggia (beach), here’s our pick of the best beaches in Italy, from the tucked-away covers in the Cinque Terre to the sands of Sicily and Sardinia.
Spiaggia Rena Bianca, Sardinia
Best beach for powdery sand
The “just like the Caribbean” comments come thick and fast when it comes to Spiaggia Rena Bianca – a glorious sweep of pale sand lapped by shallow, crystal-clear aquamarine water on the northern tip of the island of Sardinia. From the eastern end of the beach, a trail threads along the coastline past granite boulders and rock formations that fire the imagination with their incredible shapes – it's everything you've been led to expect from Sardinia.
Spiaggia di Sabaudia, Lazio
Best beach near Rome
Located in the Lazio region, about 80km (50 miles) south of Rome, Sabaudia's fabulous beach stretches for miles. A wide expanse of fine, soft sand flanked by billowing dunes capped by Mediterranean scrub, this idyllic spot is largely free of invasive development, with facilities concentrated at the end nearest town. The sea is clean and perfect for swimming, though it can get choppy when the wind whips in. You'll need your own wheels to get here; note that parking can be a headache during the peak summer months.
Tropea Beach, Calabria
Best beach for sunsets
The village of Tropea, a pleasing puzzle of lanes and piazzas on the west coast of Calabria, is famed for its dramatic cliff-edge location and spectacular sunsets. It sits on the Promontorio di Tropea, a line of dramatic cliffs and icing sugar-soft beaches between Nicotera in the south and Pizzo in the north, all edged by jewel-like waters.
Tropea's picturesque namesake beach sits under a wall of buildings perched atop sheer cliffs, but more beaches spill along the shoreline to the east and west. Unsurprisingly, crowds of Italian holidaymakers descend here in summer. If you hear English being spoken, it is probably from Americans visiting relatives: enormous numbers of Italians from this part of Italy left to forge better lives in America in the early 20th century.
Spiaggia dei Conigli, Lampedusa
Best island beach
Few beaches in Europe enjoy such legendary status as this long stretch of pristine white sand on the tiny islet of Lampedusa, Italy's southernmost island, which is geographically closer to Tunisia than the Italian mainland. Lapped by gemstone-blue waters, this stunning beach has managed to retain its beauty thanks to its protected status as the centerpiece of the Riserva Naturale Isola di Lampedusa.
Spiaggia dei Conigli is accessible only by boat, or on foot via a 15-minute trail off the main road (look for the sign of a lounging rabbit). This is one of the few places in Italy where loggerhead sea turtles lay their eggs and the beach is strictly off-limits at night during peak nesting season (typically between May and August). Watch for signs advising of current restrictions.
Fossola Beach, Riomaggiore
Best Cinque Terre beach
Although famously crowded, the colorful fishing villages of the Cinque Terre are undeniably picturesque, and this goes double for the beaches. For our money, the best is tiny Fossola, a pebbly charmer immediately southeast of Riomaggiore, the easternmost village of the Cinque Terre. The shore is rugged and delightfully secluded from the village, but this small cove still gets packed in the summer. It's also remarkably photogenic, with the waters framed by the steep hillsides, but swimmers should be wary of currents. Take the short trail that leads past the harbor to get here.
Cala Goloritzè, Golfo di Orosei, Sardinia
Best walk-in beach
On the eastern coast of Sardinia, Cala Goloritzè can stand up and be counted among the world's best beaches. At the southern end of the sand, bizarre limestone formations soar away from the cliffside. Among them is jaw-dropping Monte Caroddi, a 485ft (148m) needle of rock regularly tackled by rock climbers. Boat trips from local hubs such as Cala Gonone can take you to Cala Goloritzè, but this area is protected so boats can't drop visitors on the beach. To spend a day here, hike in from the Altopiano del Golgo on the beautiful, 2.2-mile (3.5km) Cala Goloritzè Trail. Note that the beach is quite petite and can get crowded in summer.
Spiaggia di Sansone, Elba, Tuscany
Best beach for snorkeling
Around 3 miles (5km) west of Portoferraio on the tiny Tuscan island of Elba, Spiaggia di Sansone (Samson's Beach) is a postcard-perfect swathe of tiny white pebbles and shingle ensnared by cliffs, with crystal-clear, turquoise waters much-loved by snorkeling enthusiasts. This is arguably the finest of lovely Elba's beaches, and a steep footpath links it with similarly appealing Spiaggia di Sorgente. Park by the roadside or – assuming you rose with the larks – in the tiny car park.
Poetto Beach, Cagliari, Sardinia
Best beach for all-round fun
An easy bus ride from the center of Cagliari, fabulous Poetto Beach extends for 4.3 miles (7km), running east from the Promontorio di Sant'Elia, nicknamed the Sella del Diavola (Devil's Saddle). In summer, many of the city's young people decamp here to sunbathe and party in the restaurants and bars that line this saltmarsh-backed sweep of sand. Water sports are big and you can hire kayaks at the beach clubs. To get to the beach, take bus PF or PQ from Piazza Matteotti in Cagliari.
Spiaggia di Cefalù, Sicily
Best town beach
Italy's largest island is known for its history and striking coastal scenery, and Cefalù's crescent-shaped beach is one of the most popular in all of Sicily. In summer, the sand gets packed, so be sure to arrive early to get a good spot. Though some sections of the beach require a ticket, the area tucked below the walls of the old town is public and you can hire a beach umbrella and deckchair to relax in.
Rimini Beaches, Emilia Romagna
Best party beaches
Don't come to Rimini expecting peace and quiet. Located within easy striking distance of San Marino, this is Italy's most glitzy strip of sand. Party people are drawn here like moths to a flame by the segments of ticketed beach known as bagni – some sporty, some chic, some oriented toward locals and some targeting visiting revelers. There's almost always a fee to get to the sand, and top DJs spin night and day at local clubs and bars. Expect sun loungers, beach umbrellas, loud nightlife and lots of beautiful people.
Baia di Ieranto, Sorrento, Campania
Best for a local vibe on the Amalfi Coast
A small, spectacular beach at the tip of the Punta Penna peninsula south of Sorrento, Ieranto is reached via a walking path that starts in the village of Nerano, and it's a fine place to escape the touristy vibe of the Amalfi Coast. The walk takes about 45 minutes one-way and there are several steep downhill sections to negotiate so wear good shoes. The pebbly beach is sheltered by headlands and perfect for swimming, but, as with most beaches in Italy, it can get crowded in summer.
Lido de Venezia, Venice
Best for film-star glam
Okay, nobody would claim that the Venice Lido is undiscovered, but what it lacks in serenity, it makes up for in movie-star cachet. From the 1900s onwards, this 11km (6.8-mile) barrier island on the edge of the Venice lagoon became a haunt for the rich and glamorous – a reputation enhanced by the Venice Film Festival, which has been held near the sand since 1932. For non-film fans, the big appeal is the warm, Blue Flag-rated water, the sense of faded history, and the ease of getting here from Venice by vaporetto (public boat).