Italy loves to count her lucky sea stars — FIVE, to be exact.
She’s a rarity on the Mediterranean, with almost any spot (especially in the south) being within reach of five sparkling seas:
- The Ligurian Sea — In the northwest, where you’ll find the Italian Riviera and some of our favorite towns (like the Cinque Terre villages and Portovenere), not to mention romantic Corsica.
- The Adriatic Sea — To the east of Italy, bordering gorgeous spots like Puglia, Venice and Trieste. It’s not super well known to most, but it’s actually got 1200 islands floating in it. No biggie.
- The Tyrrhenian Sea — In the southwest, this is where you’ll find Italians heading for their own vacays. The Aeolian Islands (aka the Hawaii of Italy), Sicily, Naples and Sardinia all hang out in this oceanic pocket.
- The Ionian Sea — To the southeast, this baby mingles with Greek waters, and their influence is totally clear on the Italian side! Greek theaters abound along this coastline, ft. postcard-pretty places like Catania and Taormina.
- The Mediterranean Sea — Obvi. Down south from Sicily, all these seas merge into the majestic Mediterranean.
From coast to coast, Italy is panino-d between all of these water babies — which means that when you visit, you gotta take a dip.
Roadtrip with us down the Italian coast today! We’re gonna show you where to soak up the sun and dip your tippy-toes.
Here are 10 of the best, most beautiful coastal towns in Italy that are *always* worth a visit:
1. Cinque Terre
Cinque Terre literally means “five lands,” which means five opportunities to dip into the sea, and there’s big-time variety between each of their waterfronts. Pick your fave pastel-y town — Riomaggiore, Vernazza, Monteresso, Manarola or Corniglia.
On the boot, the Cinque Terre is: Just north of the Tuscan border, hanging out in the Ligurian region.
Cinque Terre is worth seeing because: It’s like stepping back in time by 50 years. A cluster of multicolored tower-houses stacked on cliffsides, terraced vineyards climbing the hills for miles, and winding hiking trails connecting pretty villages. Plus aperitivo hour overlooking 100% clear water. It’s a protected Italian marine park, which means there’s no industrial pollution or massive ships in this area.
How to get to the Cinque Terre: It takes about three hours to get there on the train from either Florence (to the south) or Milan (to the north). If you’re flying into Italy and will be visiting the Cinque Terre first, the best airports are Pisa (easiest), Genoa or Milan.
When in the Cinque Terre: Check out our day tours! We’ll show you the area’s hidden gems with expert guides who live, breathe and drink in that sea salt air every day.
Another Ligurian love after our hearts, Camogli is about an hour north of the Cinque Terre. It’s a sweet fishing village where Italians like to vacation, but it’s not on the radar for foreign tourists. It’s calm ‘n’ charming, and perfectly positioned for a pit stop between some fab cities.
On the boot, Camogli is: On the west side of Portofino, smack-dab in between Milan, Turin, Florence and Genoa (the capital of Liguria).
Camogli is worth seeing because: It’s old-school, take-me-back timeless Italian Riviera at it’s best. No glitzy, glammy, can’t-find-a-sunlounger vibes here. It’s got all the perks of the hot spots along the Riviera, but none of the crowd factor.
How to get to Camogli: It takes about 40 minutes on the train from Genoa, two hours from Milan (by train or driving) and three hours from Turin. Flying in here first? Head to Genoa or Milan and grab the train.
Hot coastal tip: You can take a day trip from the Cinque Terre. Stop in Sestri Levante along the way!
While the Amalfi Coast itself is made up of a string of pearly towns, there’s one that’s *actually* called Amalfi. It’s the largest town and perched in the middle of this strip, with gorgeous medieval buildings and a famous church.
On the boot, Amalfi is: South of Rome and Naples, on the curve before the toe.
Amalfi is worth seeing because: It’s fancy in the ways you think Italy is fancy. The beaches, art and architecture are refined and bella. There is SO much to see in such a small area.
How to get to Amalfi: Fly into Naples or Rome (Rome is cheaper) and take the train — it’s a couple hours from each. Along Amalfi you’ll want a driver (we have those on our tours).
Portofino is *peak* Riviera. Popping with pastels at the sandy seams, this small village is stacked with gorgeous buildings from the marina up to the castello and villas where you might just find Madonna or Domenico Dolce (plus Stefano Gabbana) hanging out. They love to boat around this area.
On the boot, Portofino is: In the north, southeast of Genoa.
Portofino is worth seeing because: It’s practically made for people-watching, whether you’re sipping your aperitivo at the marina or eating tiramisu at the piano bar of one of its luxe hotels. It’s a wealthy enclave with multi-million euro real estate and the Gucci shop to prove it.
How to get to Portofino: Hanging out on the Ligurian coast? Take the ferry. It’s also a short train ride from Genoa, and a couple hours by train from Milan.
Overlooking Mount Vesuvius, Sorrento makes up for its lack of beaches with its perfect climate — it usually stays super warm here for most of the year, compared to other Italian coastal towns. Consider it your gateway to the Amalfi Coast, a perfect base for exploring the surrounding villages.
On the boot, Sorrento is: In the South, just a hop from Naples.
Sorrento is worth seeing because: This is Amalfi Coast vibe at its best. Think strolling through Piazza Tasso, sipping freshly-squeezed OJ, and wondering if it’s time to siesta.
How to get to Sorrento: Three ways! From Pompeii, take the train. From Naples or Capri, you can hop on a fast-ferry connection. You can also take a bus or hydrofoil from Positano, Amalfi or Capri. If you’re flying in, Naples Capodichino airport is about 30 miles out from Sorrento. We stay in Sorrento on our Southern Italy tour.
Perched pretty in pink on towering cliffs, Positano will most definitely inspire your inner painter (whether you knew you had one or not!). It might also inspire some early retirement plans — built around one sandy crescent, it’s the perfect place to grab an iced limoncello and say cheese “chill” under its signature orange and green beach umbrellas.
On the boot, Positano is: Along the same winding roads as Sorrento.
Positano is worth seeing because: It’s insanely picturesque. And all paths run down to that sparkling sea, which means you’re either lookin’ at it, dipping your toes in or floating on a boat on it. Either way, it’s always groovy. PS Dine at the gorgeous Champagne & Oyster Bar at Le Sireneuse, or at lower key Franco’s next door.
How to get to Positano: Two ways: fly into Naples and arrange a private transfer to Positano, or take the ferry over. If you want to drive along gorgeous windy roads, start your road trip from Rome or Naples.
7. Polignano al Mare
You might not have heard the name Polignano al Mare, but you’ve probably seen the iconic photos of this town, its dramatic limestone cliffs bordering its white, pebbly beach. Just a half hour from Bari, this Puglian town is the stuff of whitewashed houses and sparkling turquoise waters.
On the boot, Polignano al Mare is: On the ankle, in the province of Puglia.
Polignano al Mare is worth seeing because: You’ll get to hang out at the picture-perfect beach, Cala Porto, and if you’re feeling fancy, dine inside the ancient caves overlooking it at Grotta Palazzese. Alternative plans: jump off cliffs, find the nearest focacceria, and snag a spot on a rooftop for evening aperitivi.
How to get to Polignano al Mare: The closest airport is Bari, and that’s the best spot to either drive (35 minutes) or take the train (30 minutes) from.
8. Santa Maria di Leuca
Sandwiched between two rocky tongues, the name “Leuca” actually comes from the Greek “leukos” — apparently Greek sailors who used to arrive here deemed it a white city kissed by the sun. And they were totally right.
On the boot, Santa Maria di Leuca is: At the very tip of Puglia — the very bottom of the heel, where the Ionian and Adriatic seas meet.
Santa Maria di Leuca is worth seeing because: It’s filled with coves and caves, perfect for swimming and snorkelling. The seafloor is perfectly pristine. And its port, connected by 184 staircase steps, is so gorgeous that it’s often used for fashion shows! This stretch of coastline makes for a very interesting road trip.
How to get to Santa Maria di Leuca: The closest airport to fly into is Brindisi, and you’ll need a rental car and an afternoon.
Hot coastal tip: Planning on staying in Lecce? Santa Maria di Leuca is the perfect day trip!
9. Forte dei Marmi
This sexy, stylish seaside Tuscan town oozes old-school Italian rich vibes and hosts one of the best markets in Italy. It’s SO easy to get around here on foot or bike, and it’s got some secret beaches that Italians like to stay mum about.
On the boot, Forte dei Marmi is: High up on the knee, just south of Cinque Terre and west of Florence.
Forte dei Marmi is worth seeing because: Hardly anyone comes here! They’re too busy hanging out in nearby Florence or Siena. If you dig under-the-radar spots, this Tuscan town is IT. Whether you want to hang out at the beach or shop till you drop, you can do both (and more) in this gem.
How to get to Forte dei Marmi: If you’re planning on visiting Florence, catch the train from the Santa Maria Novella Station — it’ll take you about 2.5 hours. If you’re flying in, the nearest airport is Pisa and it’s a 30-minute drive. Laying low in Cinque Terre for a while? Forte dei Marmi is a sweet day trip! We take all our clients here for the day on our Cinque Terre tours.
Tellaro is a member of I Borghi Più Belli d’Italia (Italy’s Most Beautiful Villages), an Italian cultural institute dedicated to preserving and maintaining villages of quality heritage. Painters and poets alike have filled their canvases and journals here, and as the poet Mario Soldati wrote, it’s “a paradise between sea and sky, between the rocks and the green mountain.”
On the boot, Tellaro is: High up and super-duper close to Portovenere and Cinque Terre.
Tellaro is worth seeing because: It’s been listed as one of the 100 most beautiful villages in Italy and is a total gem on the Gulf of Poets. Off the beaten track and super peaceful, it’s a great escape from the busy coastal towns around the area. We love cruising through the caruggi (winding alleys) and hiking the rugged mountains.
How to get to Tellaro: Super easy from La Spezia — we recommend driving (it’s 30 minutes) or if you’re using the train, it’ll take about an hour. Better yet, take the ferry from Portovenere to Lerici for the views (30 minutes) and then hop on the bus (14 minutes) to Tellaro.
Hot coastal tip: Spend a day at Eco del Mare, a fab beach club where you get a beautiful bay all to yourself — totally secluded. Leave plenty of room for aperitivi and bring your sunscreen!
Want to travel the Italian coast, Italian Fix style? Here are the solutions we offer:
And here are some more blog posts, too:
- The Best Beaches in Italy’s Cinque Terre and Beyond (+ Our Fave Only-Locals-Know-About-These Spots!)
- Secret Italian Islands
- Wish You Were Here: Salina, Aeolian Islands, Sicily
- The Beginner’s Guide to the Cinque Terre + Free Itinerary
- The Italian Riviera: What, Where & Why
- Restaurants in Cinque Terre
Planning your trip to one of these coastal spots this year? Drop your q’s in the comments below and we’ll jump in to help!