Postcards from Italy

So, You Want to Go to the Beach in Italy…

When the temperatures soar in Italy each summer, a cool break from the sweltering cities of Rome and Florence suddenly seems like a great idea. Luckily, there are very few towns in Italy that are more than a couple of hours from either the Tyrrhenian on the west coast or the Adriatic on the east coast, so you can easily hit pause for a day and relax on the clear waters of the Mediterranean to recharge your travel battery.


(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Unfortunately, you will find that you aren’t the only person who has had that bright idea, as Italians love the seaside in the summer and Italy’s beaches are usually very crowded, especially on the weekend. But follow these tips and you can still have a relaxing beach break, even during the hottest and most crowded time of year.

What to Expect at an Italian Beach

If you are looking for a long stretch of white sand, be prepared to be surprised. In Italy, a beach does not always mean sand: quite often beaches are pebble or rock, and in some places can be a series of small tiered platforms or terraces carved out of the cliffside. Be sure to ask ahead if you have a strong preference for a sand beach, particularly if you have small children. Sand and pebble beaches usually have a stretch of shallow water along the shore that is suitable for families to frolic in, where rocky and cliffside beaches are along deep water that you dive into to swim, and use a ladder attached to the rock to climb out, thus are not suitable for small children or people with limited mobility.

Positano, Amalfi Coast, Italy

(Photo by VV Nincic via Flickr)

For sandy beaches, try the coastlines of Tuscany and the Salento peninsula in Puglia, and the Lido just outside of Venice. The Amalfi Coast is where you will most often find pebble beaches, and Capri is lined with rocky or cliffside “beaches” along its turquoise waters.

The Stabilimento Balneare, or Beach Club

It is especially simple to organize a break at the seaside in Italy because the coast is lined with stabilimenti balneari, or beach clubs, which provide almost everything you need for a day at the beach so you don’t have to bring anything more complicated than your suit and a towel. For a daily fee, the stabilimento will provide you with the basics of an assigned sunbed and umbrella, an outdoor shower, and bathrooms, in addition to a clean, maintained beach and a lifeguard. For a bit extra, you can book a “cabina”, or a small changing room where you can get dressed, freshen up, and store your belongings out of the sun, and, on the more elegant beaches, a beach bed with a large, canopy-covered mattress and pillows.

Colors of Ischia

(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

In addition, most stabilimenti have a small snack bar serving cool drinks, gelato, and light snacks. Larger beach clubs offer snack and drink service directly at your umbrella and a fully functional seafood restaurant overlooking the water, where you can book a table in the shade for lunch and enjoy generally delicious fresh fish. Just don’t go back in the water right after eating, unless you want everyone on the beach to stare at you in dismay: Italians observe a strict “no swimming for at least three hours after a meal to digest” rule. If you are traveling with family, you can choose a beach club with a play area, beach soccer or volleyball field, and even a mini-club with dancing and activities for kids.

Even if you are the first to arrive at the beach, you may be seated a few rows back when the first rows of sun beds and umbrellas seem to be empty. Many Italians buy a weekly or even a season pass at their favorite stabilimento, so often the first two rows of umbrellas are reserved for regulars. You can always ask if it’s possible to find a place in the front rows (sometimes the regulars only come during the weekend, so during the week day their umbrellas are available), or call the beach club in advance to request a front row seat.

How to Dress at an Italian Beach

Italians are generally elegant for most occasions, and the beach is no exception. Women under 80 (and sometimes even above) wear stylish bikinis, and topless sunbathing is common. Men can be spotted in the infamous “Speedo”, but swim trunks are more common, especially for younger men.

Summer in Italia!

(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Swimsuits are only worn on the beach itself; to visit the snack bar or restaurant, take a stroll along the boardwalk, or walk to and from your hotel, it is polite to wear a beach cover up: sundresses or pareo skirts are common for women, and t-shirts or button-down linen shirts are common for men. Italians also tend to bring a change of swimsuit to the beach to avoid sitting around in a wet suit after a swim, during lunch, or at cocktail hour. Flip-flops are also worn only on the beach and are not considered proper footwear for touring or for dining out.

Beach shopping

Any day on an Italian beach is punctuated by a steady flow of vendors who walk through hawking almost anything: cheap sunglasses and costume jewelry, fresh watermelon or coconut, swimsuits and cover-ups, temporary tattoos, hair braiding, and massages. The most organized will wheel a large cart or clothing rack along the sand: a mobile fashion boutique which draws a small crowd of bored and curious beach shoppers. Some vendors can be cloyingly persistent, but most can be either stopped or sent along with a simple nod or shake of the head.

The end of the day

Most beach clubs start to close up shop as the sun begins to set, folding and storing the sunbeds for the night and raking the sand. This is often the best part of the day, as the majority of beach goers head back home for dinner, the wind off the water cools down, and the club bar serves drinks and finger food for an aperitivo on the beach. Stick around to watch the sun set over the water while you enjoy a spritz in the relative peace of the deserted beach.

The best beaches in Italy

Though the Adriatic is the most popular stretch of coastline for Italian families, the crowds, charmless modern hotels and apartment blocks lining the coast, and often sketchy water does not make it the best place to head for a beach break. Instead, enjoy the pristine water and more exclusive beach clubs along the Amalfi Coast at the foot of the coastal cliffs; the Tuscan coast, especially the areas near Castiglione della Pescaia and Monte Argentario in the province of Grosseto; the Salento peninsula, where you can swim from early spring to late fall; and the islands of Sardinia and Sicily.

Wherever you decide to escape, you can check the quality of the beach on the Blue Flag website, which ranks beaches based on the cleanliness of the water, the quality of the beach club services, safety, and environmental impact.


(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

All the Beach, none of the crowd

If you’d like to take a break at the beach but don’t want to deal with the high season crowds, consider chartering a boat for a few hours or a full day instead. You can spend your time at sea exploring the scenery along the Amalfi Coast or Cinque Terre, drop anchor when and where you want to take a cool dip, explore the hidden coves accessible only by boat, have a picnic on board or stop for lunch at a seaside restaurant, and relax in complete privacy and silence.


Related posts:
The Best Beaches for Daytrips from Rome, Florence, and Venice 
Boating Along the Amalfi Coast
Italy’s Islands: Capri 

Travel Specialists

Maria Landers

Brian Dore