The Most Beautiful Coastal Towns in Italy/ La dolce vita, indeed.
November 10, 2022 || views
We love Rome, Milan, and Florence as much as the next traveler, but nothing compares to the natural beauty of Italy’s coastal towns.
Home to Mediterranean views, pristine beaches, excellent seafood, and well-preserved architecture, these pockets of beauty are well-worth a stop on your next trip. From Manarola to Ravello, get ready to trade city life for coastal charm. Warning: You may never want to come back.
This small Italian fishing village nestled on the Italian Riviera isn’t just pretty—it’s surprisingly happening, too. In addition to rows of candy-colored homes, there’s a small harbor with shops and restaurants, a carousel near the water, and a large piazza that’s a perfect spot for sipping coffee and people-watching.
Found on the Amalfi Coast, the popular fishing village of Positano is a reader favorite (and even once graced our cover). It’s famous for its beautiful harbor and elegant, Moorish-style architecture—and for being frequented by celebrities like Denzel Washington, Tom Cruise, and Mick Jagger.
Portoferraio, Elba Island, Tuscany
You may know Elba Island as the former home of exiled Napoleon Bonaparte (his summer house, Villa San Martino, is currently open to the public), but the site also happens to be one of the least-touristed Italian islands…for now. Though it’s the largest island in the Tuscan archipelago, Elba looks more like the lush French island of Corsica than its rocky sister islands, thanks to underground springs, which keep the island green year round. Its largest city, Portoferraio, welcomes ferries from Italy’s mainland with its dense vegetation, beautiful hidden beaches, and well-preserved Medici forts.
Sperlonga was the former hideaway of many Roman emperors, and it’s no wonder: The tiny town’s pristine beaches, lush greenery, and proximity to Rome—just an hour by train—makes it the perfect weekend escape. The town also has an excellent museum, Museo Archeologico di Sperlonga, which is set amongst the ancient ruins of Emperor Tiberius’ old villa. The Torre Truglia, located at the tip of the promontory on which Sperlonga is built, has the best views in town.
The coastal town of Portofino is one of the most beautiful European ports to sail into. It also has a wealth of excellent hotels like the Hotel Splendido and the Grand Hotel Miramare, plus great shopping, and of course, that radiant coastline.
Also along the Amalfi Coast, lies the town of Praiano (close to Positano), which is packed with beautiful beaches like Marina di Praia and Gavitella—and culture to boot. Come here for stunning ancient churches, towers, and sacred sculptures.
Wedged between mountains and coastline, just an hour’s drive east of Palermo, the idyllic town of Cefalù in Sicily is tiny but popular—especially among sun-seekers from other parts of Italy. Besides gorgeous beaches, Cefalù also offers great restaurants and a hip nightlife scene, particularly in the summer months when its population triples.
Polignano a Mare, Apulia
The picture-perfect town of Polignano a Mare rises out of a cliff face on the Adriatic Sea. In addition to breathtaking views over the Adriatic, the town is also filled with charming, white-washed streets, enchanting old churches, and a beach with warm turquoise waters, flanked on either side by cliffs.
Tucked between two cliffs overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea, the village of Atrani is the Amalfi Coast’s best-kept secret. It’s often bypassed en route to the larger and more famous towns of Amalfi, Positano, and Sorrento, and this is a good thing—you’ll almost always have its beautiful churches, piazzas and charming trattorias (we love A’Paranza for its fresh seafood and smoked mozzarella) all to yourself. Added bonus: it’s an easy 30-minute stroll from Amalfi.
Manarola is one of the oldest towns in the Cinque Terre, and arguably one of the most beautiful. It’s known primarily for its fishing, wine-making, and excellent hiking in the hills and vineyards above the town. Don’t miss the famous walking trail called Via dell’Amore, or Love’s Trail.
With a population of around 450 and a total area of 2.25 square miles, Levanzo is the smallest of the three Aegadian Islands, off Sicily’s western coast—and it’s worth a visit for anyone trying to get away from all the noise of modern life. The island’s town of the same name is the launching point to explore the whole island, best experienced by following the extensive hiking trails as they pass through fertile agricultural plains, and gently climb towards peaks that offer spectacular views of the Mediterranean Sea. Once you’ve worked up a sweat, stop for a dip on one of the island’s many beaches, like Cala Tramontana—an isolated bay, walled in by limestone cliffs.
Ravello, located high on a mountain three miles from the town of Amalfi, isn’t just a pretty face—you’ll find plenty of restaurants, cafes, museums, and charming villas galore. Don’t forget to visit the 13th-century Villa Rufolo, which offers sublime views of the Amalfi coast, a garden that is forever in bloom, and a musical legacy (Wagner’s time here in the 1800s has inspired an outdoor concert series that takes place every summer).
Aci Trezza, Sicily
Aci Trezza, a tiny fishing community on Sicily’s Ionian Coast, is often overshadowed by its larger neighbors, Acireale and Catania; but its diminutive size offers a level of tranquility not found in more popular tourist spots. The town is best known for the “isole dei ciclopi”—three jagged rocks that jut out of the water, right off the coast—which, according to legend, are the rocks that the Cyclops hurled at Odysseus in Homer’s Odyssey. The oceanfront is also home to some of the coast’s best seafood restaurants: We recommend Il Covo Marino, which sports a menu that changes daily, depending on the morning’s catch.
Despite the lack of a beach, tourists love Sorrento, which straddles the cliffs overlooking the ocean. The old town makes a great base for exploring surrounding areas—the Amalfi Coast to the East, Pompeii to the North, and the island of Capri offshore. As for its dramatic, rocky coast? Also cover-worthy.
Sardinia is best known for its pristine beaches and mind-blowing culinary scene, both of which you can find easily in the vicinity of Castelsardo, on the island’s northern coast. But Castelsardo is also a remarkably well-maintained piece of a history that dates back to the Nuragic civilization that made Sardinia its home during the Bronze Age, almost 4000 years ago. Remnants of that ancient legacy can be found in the area, in the region’s signature nuraghe ruins, but you can also fast-forward a few millennia and take in sweeping views of the ocean from the town’s cathedral, built in the 16th century.