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Italy is famous for its incredible beauty, delicious food and wine, and passionate people. But when you want something different from the mainland crowds and tourist attractions, it’s the small Italian coastal cities that can really enchant you. Visiting these locales, you get to enjoy the country’s old-world charm. Here are 18 small coastal towns in Italy by the sea to visit when you want a peaceful and relaxing beach vacation.
Portofino is a seaside village in the city of Genoa off the Ligurian coast in northern Italy. Its name means “the dolphins’ home” and originates from Pliny the Elder, who called it Portus Delphini because of the presence of so many dolphins.
The exclusive resort is also known for its beautiful harbor and became legendary in the 50s and 60s thanks to celebrities including Elizabeth Taylor, Ingrid Bergman, Ernest Hemingway, Frank Sinatra, and Brigitte Bardot.
Although many rich people have summer residences there, you can still count on making the most of low-key activities like taking in the view of one of the prettiest coasts of Italy with a nice drink, kayaking in its clean water, and picking up some thick, creamy gelato to cool off and wow your taste buds.
Vernazza belongs to the 5 hillside villages of Cinque Terre that include Monterosso, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. Vernazza is probably the best-known and, in my opinion, the most picturesque of all. The villages are connected all year round by trails and although summer might be too hot to hike them, exploring the area is a great excuse why you should visit Italy in winter.
Vernazza is known for its small marina surrounded by colorful, elegant houses. It is also famous for the Santa Margherita di Antiochia Church and Belforte Bastion, an old bastion tower that was turned into a restaurant and serves seafood dishes and classic pasta. An interesting fact is that the church was built in honor of the saint because locals found a small wooden box along the coast that contained the finger of Santa Margherita’s hand.
But what also makes it special is that as the only natural port of Cinque Terre, it’s one of the truest fishing villages of the Italian Riveria. The village center has no car traffic, so you’ll be able to walk around freely while you explore this charming seaside town.
If you are planning to visit Vernazza in the peak season, keep in mind that accommodation is quite limited with just a couple of small hotels, guesthouses, and private apartments. I love the vibes of Casa Pina Quiet Apartment.
Another charming Cinque Terre town, Riomaggriore is a fantastic spot to visit in the La Spezia province. With its sun-kissed rocks coming out of aquamarine waters and its rugged vineyards, the views of the sunset over the harbor or overlooking the coast from Castello di Riomaggiore are especially memorable.
Hiking, cooking classes, wine tasting, boating or kayaking, snorkeling or scuba diving, eating fried fish and anchovies with salt and lemon, and exploring the village or other Cinque Terre villages by train are just a few activities you can enjoy. Excellent accommodations, places to eat and drink, and youthful energy make it perfect for day and night, whether you visit for only a day or a week.
Some memorable spots are the main street of Riomaggiore’s main street, Via Colombo and the small yet impressive church of Oratorio di Santa Maria Assunta. To end the day, walk around Castello di Riomaggiore, a fortress located in the upper part of the city. It is a relatively easy hike, and you can enjoy breathtaking views!
Check out Stellio Affittacamere Guest House if you are looking for a cute accommodation right in the center.
One of the most peaceful beach destinations in northern Italy, Lerici is a great alternative to the Cinque Terre. Located on the Gulf of La Spezia and the Gulf of Poets on the eastern tip of the Ligurian coast in the Italian Riviera, just 2 hours drive from Florence, its distinctive landmark is a castle that was founded in 1152 to control the entrance to the gulf.
It says all about the beauty of this famous Italian beach town that is often referred to as “La Perla del Golfo,” or pearl of the gulf, because of its charming village and gorgeous harbor. Its beautiful sandy beaches right in the town center, Venere Azzurra and Lido di Lerici are well-equipped with amenities, restaurants, and bars around and are suitable for families with children too. They get crowded during summer though, so if you prefer to explore when there aren’t too many people around, come in the shoulder or off-season.
Compared to the Cinque Terre, there are more activities for families and for couples, relaxing beaches, a better price-quality ratio, and plenty of piazzas, cafes, and restaurants. Beach lovers will love staying at the Eco del Mare Resort, which is situated along the coast between Lerici and Tellaro, overlooking a beautiful small cove. Doria Park Hotel is another excellent choice just minutes from the town’s historic center.
The old, tiny town of Sperlonga is in the south of Rome, in the Gulf of Gaeta off the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea. As one of the most charming small towns in Italy by the sea, it is a pleasure to explore with its whitewashed houses and mazelike stairways that open to hidden terraces above the sea.
It is famous for its cozy, beautiful, clean Sperlonga Beach (Spiaggia Sperlonga) through which you get to the town as well as the Grotto of Tiberius, the cave that emperor Tiberius used as his summer banquet room.
Sperlonga is about halfway between Rome and Naples, so you can easily get there by public transport or by renting a car. If you consider spending a few days in Sperlonga, check out Florenza Residence, a lovely apart house set between bars and restaurants of the old city and close to the beach.
Gaeta is located in central Italy on the Gulf of Gaeta off the Tyrrhenian Sea. Known as the “city of 100 churches”, there are more than a few that deserve seeing, mostly Baroque and Byzantine in styles. Another must-visit spot when in town is the Santuario della Monte Spaccata, a dramatic split cliff with a seaside chapel next to it.
Gaeta has wonderful beaches too, some of them are said to be the best in the area. Spiagga di Serapo, its main beach has many restaurants, beach clubs, and bars. To witness some of the coast’s most spectacular cave formations, take a trip to Pozzo del Diavolo (Devil’s Well), a large half-underwater half above-water cave. It is reachable both by land and sea, even by kayak from Serapo Beach.
A pebble beachfront lines this cliffside destination, the first village of southern Italy’s Amalfi coast, which leads to boutiques and cafes alongside narrow, steep streets. Positano is well-known as a holiday destination famous for its rich culture and history of museums, churches, and art galleries as well as its gorgeous beaches boasting both famous and secluded spots.
Popular sights in Positano include the Church of Santa Maria Assunta, which features a 13th-century Byzantine icon of the Virgin Mary and a majolica-tiled dome, and the Museo della Carta museum, which produces handmade paper. Since its streets are narrow, you’ll have a perfect excuse to take the stairs for faster travel by foot over public transport. Positano has to offer something for everyone including families, younger or older couples, and even for solo travelers.
Another gem on the Amalfi coast is Atrani, which is one of the best undiscovered Italian coastal towns due to its seclusion and small size of only 0.2 square kilometers. As one of the smallest seaside towns in Italy, it has only 1,000 people.
Atrani is located several minutes down the coast to the east of Amalfi, in the province of Salerno in the Campania region of southwestern Italy. You can count on an authentic, fishing village experience instead of the hustle and bustle of Amalfi and Positano, which includes unique breathtaking ocean views, old-fashioned eateries, and mouth-watering seafood.
Polignano a Mare
The cliffside town of Polignano a Mare is located in southern Italy on the Adriatic Sea, near the metropolitan city of Bari, Apulia. Its origin is debated to be either the ancient Greek city of Neopolis in Apulia or Julius Caesar, assuming it was a central hub for trade on the Via Traiana ancient Roman road.
You can enjoy the crisp air and the view of crystal-clear waters and white pebbles on the Roman bridge-bordered Lama Monachile beach (Cala Porto) and go to the bottom of a cliff to see the Ponte dei Lapilli cove. When you’re in the mood to learn art and history, you can visit the Museum of Contemporary Art Pino Pascali and check out San Vito Abbey’s 16th-century tower and Romanesque church. There’s always a memorable meal waiting for you, too.
The small coastal town of Otranto is located on the Salento peninsula, in the region of Puglia. Otranto originates either from the Latin word Hydruntum, meaning a small river that crosses the Idro valley, or a hill near the port area named Odronto.
This port town is one of the best beach towns in Italy and attracts locals and tourists alike with its 10km of beaches and diving rocks overlooking the Adriatic Sea. The defensive city walls that were built after the Ottoman invasion have an opening called Porta Alfonsina, which leads you to the UNESCO site Centro Storico, Otranto’s historic center, and its many shops and restaurants.
Sea views, churches, and monuments such as the Monument to the Martyrs of Otranto make this one of the more enriching Italian beach towns. Moreover, the coast of Otranto gives home to one of the best southern Italy beaches, Baia dei Turchi.
San Nicola Arcella
San Nicola Arcella has two sides. Located in Cosenza province in the Calabria region in southern Italy, this seaside fishing village on the edge of a steep cliff is ancient but also a modern resort. For an Italian seaside vacation filled with sunning and swimming, this town offers several beaches.
Cafes, restaurants, clubs, and bars are also plentiful, and there are vibrant, luxurious rental homes for you to stay in. Villa Max is my recommendation; this spacious 5-bedroom villa features a huge terrace and fantastic sea views!
Popular attractions include a natural arch known as Arco Magno, the Isola Dino rock island with a Grotta Azzurra (Blue Grotto), and the Torre Crawford watch tower. Things to do and activities are endless here; you can go horseback riding, biking, ATV off-roading, try paragliding, parasailing, and boating; the choice is yours!
On the east coast of Calabria is Tropea, called the Pearl of the Mediterranean, and is considered as the most beautiful village in Italy by many. This small town on the Italian coastline of Amalfi was built on a former Byzantine cemetery and boasts marble sarcophagi and a painting of a saint, the Lady of Romania in its 12-century cathedral who was believed to protect the town from earthquakes.
This coastline of Italy, Lido Costa degli Dei (Coast of the Gods) features some of Italy’s best white sand beaches. The waters of Tropea’s main beach are crystal clear and pretty warm during the summer months so you can spend long hours swimming without getting cold. If you’d like to, you can go snorkeling too as there are plenty of fish around the rocky areas and you might find some underwater caves too!
Trope Boutique Hotel is a great hotel in Tropea with a beautiful view of the coast, nicely decorated rooms, and friendly staff.
Portoferraio – Elba
If you prefer to experience some small island vibes, visit Portoferraio on Elba. Although it is the island’s largest city, with a size of less than 50 square km and a population of 12000, it still makes it to the list of loveliest small towns in Italy by the sea. It’s an excellent destination for outdoor lovers with its many beaches, mountain biking, and hiking trails.
Portoferraio was founded in 1548 by Cosimo I de Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, and was the site of Napoleon’s first exile. Its huge line of walls and the three forts of Forte Stella, Forte Falcone, and Forte Inglese remain to this day that will make you feel like traveling back in time when walking around in the town.
Castelsardo – Sardinia
Known as the most beautiful island not only in Italy but in the whole Mediterranean, you cannot miss visiting Sardinia. With an unspoiled coastline, world-class sandy beaches, and dramatic rocky shoreline, it makes a perfect escape year-round.
If you want to avoid busy cities, Castelsardo is an excellent choice. Located in the north of Sardinia, this seaside town was founded by the Genoese Doria family. You will be witnessing ancient architecture throughout the town with the hilltop Castello dei Doria as the main highlight.
Set right on the seafront at Castelsardo, Hotel Meli offers great views both to the beach and the castle!
Arbatax – Sardinia
On the central-eastern coast of Sardinia is Arbatax, a marine hamlet in Tortoli in the Capo Bellavista peninsula. The small town boasts family-friendly sandy beaches such Spiaggia San Gemiliano and Spiaggia Riva di Ponente but nice rocky ones too if you prefer those, like Cala Moresca or the beach at Rocce Rosse rock formations.
The numerous guided treks along the shoreline make you enjoy the area’s diverse nature and allow you to explore secluded beaches. Staying at Arbatax Park Resort and Spa is a great way to have a fantastic beach vacation.
Taormina – Sicily
Sicily is famous for its unique culture and for its active volcano named Mount Etna and staying in Taormina allows you to experience both. In fact, Taormina is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Italy so it can get busy and more expensive than other parts of the island, but its beauty is so fascinating that no one should miss out on visiting it.
Taormina also has an ancient Greco-Roman theater known as Teatro Antico, a world-famous tourist attraction that even Johann Wolfgang Goethe mentioned in one of his novels. The other symbol of Taormina is Isola Bella, a tiny island and nature reserve you can reach through a narrow stretch of sand.
Marzamemi – Sicily
For a slower pace, you’ll want to visit Marzememi. Its history dates to the 10th century, when Arab families founded here a tuna fishery, and the area turned into a small town as the industry grew. Although the fishery closed many years ago, the sleepy fishing village vibe remained.
When walking around the town, you can explore charming buildings, the pretty Church of San Francesco di Paola, ancient ruins, colorful wooden boats, and impressive beaches. You can get to Marzamemi from Syracuse by train, taxi, bus, or car.
Cefalu – Sicily
On the northern coast of Sicily, just one hour’s drive from Palermo is the city of Cefalu, a former small ancient fishing port. It’s charming medieval old town and seafood-heavy cuisine makes it a great choice for those who want to spend their vacation in one of the most beautiful villages in Italy.
Popular attractions include its 12th-century Norman cathedral with twin towers and Byzantine mosaics, the Mandralisca Museum displaying Greek ceramics and Arab pottery, and its long sandy beach, Spiaggia di Cefalù.
Astro Suite Hotel has a great location near the beach and is only a 5min walk from the old town.
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