If there's one thing Italians love to do, it's hit the beach when the sun is out and then argue over which one is the best. Spirited debates flourish among families about the most beautiful stretch of shore and no wonder – when you live in a country gifted with gorgeous stretches of sand, there's always another favorite to celebrate.

During July and August, locals flock to the almost 8000km (4971 miles) of coastline to find their special corner and make it a second home. Keep in mind that many beaches in Italy are dominated by stabilimento (beach clubs that will charge you a daily fee for entrance to their stretch of the sea and provide you with lounge chairs, bathrooms, and other facilities).

The more popular the beach and the closer to the August holidays you are, the more likely places are to be booked solid. If you’re looking for a deserted paradise to wile away the hours, visit in September. But even if you’re among the legions, you’ll be spoilt for choice. While there's no way to cover everyone's favorite, I've done my best to round up 17 of the most bellissima beaches in Italy.

Bird's Eye View - La Pelosa Beach - Sardinia
The beach at La Pelosa is popular but is also well managed with a cap of daily visitor numbers © Gian Lorenzo Ferretti Photography / Getty Images

1. La Pelosa, Sardinia 

There’s no point in denying it. La Pelosa on the northwestern tip of Sardinia is quite simply the most beautiful beach in the world. Photos really don’t do it justice, plus the surrounding Asinara archipelago and the loveable town of Stintino are worth sticking around for a couple of days to explore.

Planning tip: La Pelosa has instituted a cap on people who can spend the day on the beach in the high season in order to preserve the delicate ecosystem. Reserve your place on the website if you plan to spend the day there (€3.50). You’ll also have to bring along a mat to avoid tracking sand away on your towel. Local organizations have made a real effort to better manage tourism here, and supporting them is important. 

2. Favignana, Sicily 

Standing proudly off the western Trapanese coast of Sicily, Favignana is the main island in the Egadi archipelago and was so named to denote the warm winds that drifted onto the coast. The island boasts about 33km (20.5 miles) of coastline which means you’ll have scores of different beaches to explore, from craggy Cala Rossa to expansive Lido Burrone. And yes, technically it’s sort of cheating to call an island one beach, but are you really mad about having so many incredible options? I didn’t think so. 

A view of Cala Goloritze beach, Sardinia
Cala Goloritzé is the most striking beach on the Golfo di Orosei in Sardinia © maniscule / iStockphoto / Getty Images

3. Cala Goloritze, Sardinia 

Is it a beach? You be the judge. Is it a hidden cove only reachable by boat or an arduous climb? Yes. Is it worth the effort? Absolutely. This UNESCO-protected cove tucked into the still untamed Gulf of Orosei is bursting with aquatic life, perfectly framed by the natural arch that juts into the blue abyss and the towering rock formation created by a landslide. It is the type of beach that changes a person. 

4. Fontane Bianche, Sicily 

Choosing even twenty of the best beaches in Sicily alone is a thankless task, but I can confirm that Fontane Bianche is an indispensable addition. The tiny town of 900 is about 12km (7 miles) from noble Syracuse and presides over a 3km stretch of beach with fresh water springs that flow from the seabed, making it among the most pristine swims you’ll ever take. That, coupled with the white cliffs that frame the tiny gulf, make it a must. See? Told you. 

Detour: History lovers won't want to miss the other top attraction near Syracuse (or Siracusa): Parco Archeologico della Neapolis is one of Sicily's greatest archaeological sites.

5. San Vito lo Capo, Sicily 

Jutting out from the northwestern coast, San Vito lo Capo is one of those magical places where land and sea live in such perfect contrast that it becomes harmonious. The town is anchored by the 15th-century Santuario, an imposing Arab-Norman structure. The sea, protected by Monte Monaco from above, is so crystalline and calm that you may just forget where you are and what brought you here. No matter, keep floating. 

A man takes a photo from a boat in the bay with a View of the abbey of San Fruttuoso, famous Benedictine monastery. Portofino (Italy),
Yes there's a beach in front of a thousand-year-old abbey at San Fruttuoso © Marta Carenzi / Mondadori Portfolio / Getty Images

6. San Fruttuoso, Liguria 

Liguria has taken the battle for the ultimate beach to a sacred level with its stretch of sand located at the foot of a thousand-year-old abbey. This wildly popular spot, accessible only on foot or by boat, is more than just a good spot to work on your tan though – diving enthusiasts and fans of underwater worship can visit the Cristo degli Abissi, a bronze statue that was placed at the bottom of the bay in 1954.

Planning tip: On the last Saturday in July the town commemorates the Cristo degli Abissi with a festival. 

7. Sperlonga, Lazio 

Turns out that not only were the Ancient Romans very good at building aqueducts and inventing concrete, they also knew a good spot for a beach club. The ruins of the Villa of Tiberius sit on the shore and include the spectacular grotto, which must have been the VIP room back in the day. These days, however, all the action is along the sandy coastline, which you’ll find to the north and south of the ruins, and just a short jaunt from Rome

Local tip: The Museo Archeologico Nazionale was built at Sperlonga in the 1950s to house all the sculptures that were discovered at this archeological site when a road was built near here.  

8. Castiglione di Ravello, Campania 

When you think of beaches, do you also think of dizzying heights and staircases that feel like cardio challenges, or is that just me? Descending from dreamy Ravello on the Amalfi Coast may seem like you’re challenging gravity itself, and getting back up from the beach at Castiglione may cause you to rethink your exercise regimen, but it is worth the trouble. The azure water, dramatic cliffs, and excellent spritzes at the beach club are reminders that good things come to those who climb. Every time. 

A cyclist on a single lane road in Tuscany through Feniglia pines
Walk or cycle through the pine forest at La Feniglia to discover these Tuscan beaches © Maremagnum/ Getty Images

9. La Feniglia, Tuscany 

Have you ever walked through a forest that seemed destined to take you into the deepest regions of the strangest places, only to find yourself in paradise? Stretching for 7km (4.3 miles) down the southern Tuscan coast, La Feniglia is at the end of a journey through one of the natural pine forests of the Maremma nature reserve. It’s a protected area with white sand, clear waters and surreal beauty.

10. Cala Violina, Tuscany 

The name comes from a local legend that swears you can hear a magical sound from the sand as you walk on it. While you might have a hard time hearing it with the summer crowds, try anyway at this half-moon bay in the middle of the Bandite di Scarlino Nature Reserve.

Planning tip: To protect the melody, the tourist office of Scarlino has also instituted a cap on visitors during the high season, which runs from 1 June to 30 September. Reserve on their website before you go.

11. Palinuro, Campania 

Although Amalfi dominates the discourse, going a little further south along the Campania coastline brings you to the Cilento, a lesser-traveled but equally evocative stretch of cliffs and beaches that will have you gatekeeping in no time. It's easy to understand why – whether it's the rugged Ficocella beach or the sandy Saline, there’s a beach for everyone in Palinuro. Maybe we can let just a few people in on the secret. 

12. Spiaggia Nera, Maratea, Basilicata

If otherworldly beauty is your jam, how about a little hike through Mediterranean scrub onto a black volcanic sand beach? Basilicata is even further down the southwestern Italian coast, far from many of the madding crowds (unless it’s August – you’ve been warned).

Soak up the sun on ebony rocks that keep the water warm for just a little longer, and be sure to check out the caves that hold legends about cheating lovers (Grotta della Sciabella) or rogue turtles (Grotta della Tartaruga). 

13. Scalea, Calabria 

Don’t wait for your coolest friend to come back from their Italian holiday and tell you that Calabria is a secret they've discovered. Beat them to the punch! Scalea is bigger, bluer and more beautiful than you think: the wide expanse of crystal clear sea will inspire child-like joy in even the most jaded traveler. Plus, you’ll eat some of the tastiest (and spiciest) food during your holiday. 

14. Torre del Orso, Puglia 

It is an objective fact that Puglia is possessed by a specific, incontrovertible magic – anyone who goes there loses all notion of space and time once they touch the sea. Evidence suggests that it's likely to occur at Torre del Orso, a beach so lovely that you'll surrender to its beauty immediately.

If ever you do lose your way, look for le Due Sorelle, a rock formation that sits in the bay, beckoning. But who are we kidding, you’re not lost at all, and you’ve got nowhere else you'd rather be. 

15. Spiaggia di Pescoluse, Puglia 

This stretch of beach is very nearly at the end of Puglia, just before getting kicked off of the boot at Santa Maria di Leuca. It’s often called the Maldives of Salento because the water is so clear and limpid that it evokes the paradisical islands. But for those in the know, it’s the other way around – the Maldives are known as the Pescoluse of the Indian Ocean. 

Tourist admiring the Two sisters beach (spiaggia le due sorelle). Conero, Italy
The beaches in the Riviera del Conero are what dreams are made from © Andrea Comi / Getty Images

16. Riviera del Conero, Le Marche

Have you ever been somewhere and wondered how you managed to gain such favor with the universe as to end up there? Get thee to any of the beaches in the Riviera del Conero, easily reachable by bus from Ancona, and you’ll very likely experience the same sensation.

From the wild beauty of Mezzavalle to the dulcet tones of Numana Alta, every bit of this protected area feels like you’ve done something very good in life, at least once. Stop for a meal of local moscioli (wild mussels) and it might even be twice. 

17. Le Ginestre, Friuli 

I have pledged my unabashed love to the Friuli Venezia-Giulia region on many occasions and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Take a trip to the northeastern corner of Italy and find your way to this sacred curve of coastline that always seems to have just the right balance between sun and shade, laughter and silence. Give the Adriatic a chance to work its magic and I am willing to bet that you’ll be pledging your love too. 

This article was first published Jul 20, 2020 and updated Mar 20, 2024.

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