Italian coastal towns are without doubt among some of the planet’s most picturesque locations. Add into the mix the golden sands and pretty ports found at many of these beautiful beach towns in Italy and that might sound like enough of a reason to visit.
Yet the best coastal towns in Italy have so much more to offer besides. Destinations range from smart, upmarket and more famous beach cities in Italy, such as glittering Portofino, elegant Ravello and citrus-scented Sorrento, to small villages that are some of the best Italian coastal towns to experience.
The top coastal cities in Italy to visit are located all over the country and its islands. From some of the prettiest Cinque Terre villages to larger resorts, the finest Italian beach towns can be found from Liguria in the north to the southern coast.
Towns of the Amalfi Coast include iconic Positano, a refined resort with some rustic, authentically Italian characteristics. There’s also Amalfi with its 9th century Duomo, as well as nearby Atrami, where citrus terraces, flower-filled gardens and old buildings climb uphill from the sands.
The islands of Sardinia, Elba, Levanzo and Sicily are also home to some of the best coastal towns of Italy. Cagliari offers Roman remains, appealing beaches and golden domes. Elba, meanwhile, boasts the Napoleonic ‘Iron Port’ of Portoferraio, and Cefalù in Siciliy has several ancient megolithic structures dominating the landscape. Levanzo is perhaps lesser known, but is notable for prehistoric art and traditional way of life, while Castelsardo in Sardinia is renowned for basket weaving.
Some of the best beach cities in Italy aren’t cities or even towns at all. Classic examples include colourful Manarola and Riomaggiore in the Cinque Terre National Park. Both are packed with narrow lanes and historic buildings and offer magnificent coastal panoramas. Plus, they are the ideal places to sample fine Italian wines.
From historic Sperlonga poised between Naples and Rome to clifftop Polignano a Mare in Bari or the stately villas of Ravello, these are the most beautiful coastal towns in Italy to visit.
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15 of the most beautiful coastal towns in Italy
While numerous Italian coastal towns vie for the title of the country’s prettiest town, Positano would certainly be a serious contender. This picturesque spot can be found at the heart of the Amalfi Coast.
Despite the fact that its appearance borders on the rustic in places, Positano is one of the most refined resorts in Italy. It is also one of the most costly, but offers visitors easy access by boat to Capri, the Grotta dello Smeraldo, and Ischia.
Positano also has a couple of attractive beaches. Fornillo is smaller and lesser known than Spiaggia Grande. Both are incredibly pleasant places to spend the day, with the former being busier and the latter more peaceful.
Witnessing the sight of the colourful cliffside buildings during wisteria season makes for an unforgettable – and extremely photogenic – experience.
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Appealingly compact in size, Amalfi is situated in a ravine at the base of Monte Cerreto. It’s possible to walk across town in around 20 minutes, although you may wish to allow time for a coffee stop in a sunny square or to laze on one of the little beaches.
The 9th century Duomo di Amalfi is a superb example of a Roman Catholic structure, boasting a breathtaking ceiling and some colourful, intricate mosaics.
Browsing Amalfi’s stores can also be rather diverting, as you try to choose between the cameo brooches that the town is famous for. Limoncello is another of the Amalfi Coast’s most famous products.
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Manarola is one of five Ligurian villages that make up the Cinque Terre National Park. This picturesque village is packed with vibrant, painted buildings, which is why it’s often referred to as the world’s most colourful town.
Manarola’s setting is also particularly stunning, with vineyards that were first established centuries ago dotted across the clifftops. This makes wine tasting a popular pastime, and the area’s white wines are of particularly high quality.
San Lorenzo church is not to be missed, for the stunning views across the surrounding coastal landscape as well as its beautiful rose window. Observing the sunset from this charming village also makes for a most memorable experience.
Another feature of Manarola is the steep, slender lanes that lead down to the sea, known locally as carrugi.
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Riomaggiore is the furthest south of the five villages forming the Cinque Terre National Park. It is also the most easterly, and lies fairly close to the Tuscan border on the Gulf of Genoa.
Like nearby Manarola, Riomaggiore is famed for its cliffside cluster of colourful buildings. Some of the homes lining the narrow, cobbled lanes are ‘tower houses’, and the village boasts 14th century churches and a medieval castle.
Vineyards also surround Riomaggiore, and this Cinque Terre village is famed for Sciacchetrà, a sweet white wine made from Vermentino, Bosco and Albarola grapes.
Popular walking routes begin in Riomaggiore: the first part of the Lovers’ Path (Via Dell’Amore) between Riomaggiore and Manarola is also known as the Blue Path (Sentiero Azzurro). It’s also worth climbing the village’s steep, rocky staircase for magnificent views over the coastline.
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Well-heeled Portofino can be found within Genoa province on the Ligurian coast. It’s known for its singular semi-circular harbour, as well as its popularity with the uber rich.
Portofino is famed as a hangout for the wealthy, who are drawn to this smart town by its undeniable beauty. Awash with gleaming white yachts and stylish designer shops, this is the Italian Riviera’s most fashionable spot.
While the local museum, Castello Brown, has a rather ordinary moniker, this 15th century castle is an absorbing place to visit. Not least for the spectacular views over Portofino’s famous harbour from the elevated site. Museo del Parco – the sculpture park – is also a must for artsy types.
If you enjoy luxury, romance, beauty and sheer indulgence, Portofino should be included on your Italian itinerary.
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The province of Naples is home to Sorrento, another of Italy’s best located towns, set among a surrounding landscape rich in lush valleys and fragrant citrus groves. The beautiful and locally produced ceramics and lace have also firmly placed Sorrento on the map.
This Neapolitan town is a fabulous place to spend time, sipping coffee or a glass of wine in Piazza Tasso. All while admiring the glamour and soaking up the atmosphere, as well as the sun.
Positioned where the coastline meets the peaks, Sorrento’s location can barely be bettered. Although those seeking beach life would be best off heading to the neighbouring island of Capri, or north towards other towns of the Amalfi Coast.
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As the capital of the island of Sardinia, Cagliari has lots to offer visitors. Approach by boat if you can, so you see the best of the town’s beaches and golden domes before even setting foot on Sardinian soil – or sand.
Smart Poetto beach is a must, where young families enjoy al fresco meals while flamingoes wander round the surrounding marshland. Roman remains are dotted around the town too, as are plenty of appealing cafes, stores and restaurants.
The best sights and views in Casteddu (as Cagliari is locally known), however, are accessed by trekking up to the old town. Once you’ve reached the hilltop, you can wander cobbled alleys, take in the views from Piazza Indipendenza and discover Bastione San Remy, the local landmark with a limestone arch and Italiate pillars.
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Sperlonga makes a great day trip from Rome or Naples, as it is positioned around midway between the two Italian cities. It also has a pretty, pristine beach and a history centering on Emperor Tiberius, its most famous former resident.
Tiberus’s villa now houses a range of sculptures that were found in the grounds, detailing the accomplishments of Odysseus – aka Ulysses, the fabled Greek icon. Dating from Roman times, these were uncovered in the 1950s.
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Located off the western coast of Italy is the island of Elba, and Portoferraio can be found at the centre of the harbour.
As it’s surrounded by the sea on three sides, there are sublime views from the hills of the town. From the Italian mainland, Elba can be reached by ferry, and the approach makes a memorable vista.
The name Portoferraio literally translates to ‘Iron Port’, and the old iron mills caused rapid growth here during the Napoleonic era. At the Civic Archaeological Museum, visitors can also delve deeper into island history.
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On Sicliy’s Tyrrhenian coast is Cefalù, a coastal spot known for its 12th century Norman cathedral. This pretty, historic town is one of the island’s most popular resorts.
The fortress is a magnificent sight, with monolithic twin towers that loom over the town. Impressive Byzantine mosaics can be seen here too. Perched on a huge crag known as Rocca, the Temple of Diana’s ruins dominate the area.
Cefalù’s Mandralisca Museum is also popular, containing an original Antonello da Messina portrait, plus a range of archaeological artefacts.
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11. Polignano a Mare
With a dramatic cliff top location, Polignano a Mare is in the Italian province of Bari. As well as superlative sea views from the terraces, the town is known worldwide as a superb cliff diving spot, and has played host to competitions in the past.
Polignano a Mare boasts a charming old town, packed with narrow streets lined with historic homes and buildings. Here the facades tend to lean towards the honey-hued rather than the pastel-painted, allowing the turquoise waters to take centre stage.
At the heart of the town is a clean sweep of golden sand, where you can spend the day sunbathing and swimming. Or simply take a rest break with a gelato between sightseeing and capturing the appealing scenes on camera.
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Immediately east of the larger settlement of Amalfi on Italy’s southern coast is Atrani, the smallest town in the region. It was once the chosen residence of the region’s most influential families.
Atrani is characterised by the traditional homes, lemon groves, medieval buildings and pretty gardens that lead upwards from the sands. All along the coastline there is a series of curving support arches, a marvellous sight that can be seen by those who pass along the coast by boat.
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Off Sicily’s western coast are the three Egadi Islands, and Levanzo is the smallest of the trio. Of all the best beach towns in Italy, this one is the most basic but also very authentic.
The lightly toned stone of the buildings truly stands out against the brilliant blue of the sea here, making this one of the prettiest ports on earth. It’s a fairly rustic sort of place, with simple dwellings, dry stone walls, and dusty tracks.
Levanzo’s sole attraction is the Grotta del Genovese containing well-preserved examples of prehistoric art. As it’s popular, booking in advance is essential. Otherwise, the key attractions here are the warm waters and serene landscapes.
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Perched above the Bay of Salerno, Ravello was once described as being nearer to the sky than the sea. In addition to its stately position, the town is famous for the villas of Cimbrone and Rufolo and their lush, colourful gardens.
The views from these outdoor oases of beauty and calm are nothing short of spectacular. It’s why many artists are said to have been inspired by the setting and surroundings of Ravello.
As for the villas themselves, each is justifiably famous in its own right. Villa Rufolo dates from the 13th-century, and is a superb example of a Moorish style structure. Regular concerts and events are held both indoors and out throughout the year. This includes the Ravello Festival that takes place in summer.
Medieval Villa Cimbrone is positioned on a rocky outcrop, and is renowned for its beautiful garden.
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On Sardinia’s northern coast, Castelsardo is a pretty town with an ancient castle and an abundance of cafes and souvenir stores.
Castello dei Doria is Castlesardo’s main draw, and there is also a museum on site devoted to the handicraft of basket weaving, an important tradition in the area. Lots of woven items are displayed around the castle.
Exploring the maze of alleyways leading down from the medieval fortress is also worthwhile, and visitors can also explore ancient churches and the rocky shoreline.
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Have you visited any of these beautiful coastal towns in Italy? It’s been tough narrowing them down, but hopefully you’re suitably inspired for your next Italian getaway. Now, pass me the Limoncello!
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