From pebble beaches to sandy beaches, beaches tucked between cliffs to forests that open onto beaches, Italy has it all. With 7500 km of coastline, there certainly is no shortage if you’re looking for sunshine and swims. But can you afford to go there?
Beaches account for 3240km of Italy’s coastline. Many of these are public, both on the Tyrrhenian and the Adriatic Seas. While some areas are well-known for their beaches and have become costly to stay around, there are a number of budget-friendly options.
In case you need evidence, it’s all provided for you here. All your questions about where to plan your next dream-worthy beach vacation, as well as how beaches in Italy work, and tips on saving during your holiday are answered below. You’ll be wiping away the drool and scrambling to book before you’ve finished reading.
Best affordable beaches in Italy
Often when we’re on a bit of a budget, we think that a beach holiday is perfect: you can relax on the beach and be outdoors in nature, not spending any money and just enjoying what the natural surrounds have to offer, soaking up the sun and the gorgeous views.
Then when you start looking into it, the prices of accommodation at the beach are high – duh, they’re in a prime location, why didn’t you think of that?! So then you look at accommodation further away, but that requires hiring a car. The restaurants along the beachfront all have killer views and killer prices to go with them. Some of the beaches are paid, some require boats to take you there, and before you know it, it’s not looking like such a cheap holiday, and you consider going somewhere else or just canceling altogether.
But this isn’t necessary! Whether you’re planning a full-on beach holiday in Italy or have a little bit of excess budget to spend and just want to spend some days unwinding there before or after your other vacation plans, you have options that will work even on a tight budget. And we’re not necessarily talking about camping, although there are some fantastic options for camping close to some very beautiful beaches on exclusive parts of the country’s coastline.
The following places are all lesser-known to international tourists and not the go-to places when thinking of holidays in Italy. This does not detract from their beauty nor history and makes for a memorable trip, with the option to go back next year again with all the money you’ve saved!
With heaps of charm and pristine waters, this is a great pick for beachgoers and water sports enthusiasts alike, with the gentle breeze making it ideal for windsurfers. White sandy beaches and conveniently located hotels make Otranto a great off-the-beaten-track destination.
- Santa Maria Castellabate
Built on the water’s edge, this fishing village can tell tales as old as time. Punta Licosa has some of the clearest water on this coast, making it an excellent spot for diving. It is also popular for fishing, in case that’s on your itinerary too!
Beautiful sunsets, sandy beaches, clear water, and affordable beach clubs make this an economical and fun place to visit. Enjoyed by locals, this ancient fishing village is full of history too.
With cliff-backed white sandy beaches, warm water, and plenty of water sports, Tropea is a paradise for beachgoers seeking beauty and budget. Enjoying a long summer and offering a number of public beaches, this little pearl is a must-visit.
With clean water and fine sand, this is a popular spot for locals, so arrive early if you’re aiming to get a spot on a public beach. When hotels are available for one hundred euros per night for a double, in close proximity to beaches and restaurants, it’s a bargain that shouldn’t be passed up!
With clear waters and long beaches along the Adriatic coast, this destination is less frequented by international visitors and well-priced, even during the high season. Still popular with locals, particularly Romans, it is advisable to still book well in advance for this gem. Soft sand and excellent local cheese and wine abound on this part of the shoreline.
- Cupra Marittima
A blue flag beach, this is a popular destination for locals. With a wide, sandy beach that extends to the neighboring town, water sports are encouraged, while ball games on the beach are not, making it safe from getting in the way of flying objects! Tranquil, with a handful of restaurants, this beach is economical and generally quieter, apart from August.
The third-largest city in Italy, this is one of Europe’s most important ports. A little rough around the edges, Naples is full of history and the pizza capital of the world. With amazing fresh food from the area, this stretch of coastline offers some budget beaches, as well as access to some of Europe’s most popular exclusive coastline close enough for day trips, without the expense of staying there.
With wonderful weather and your pick of white sandy beaches, particularly to the south, this historic port city offers a superb beach holiday. With a combination of modern and historic buildings, this gem is also a great city to explore when you need a break from the beach.
With an expansive coastline, Sicily has many beaches to offer, notably at Golfo di Castellammare and Taormina. The average cost of stays here is much lower than in mainland Italy, and one can get by even on a shoestring budget of thirty euros per day.
How do beaches in Italy work?
Beaches in Italy can be either public or private. Public beaches, particularly those near to big cities, are not always well-maintained and can be crowded, dirty, and loud, without the additional amenities you may hope to have access to on a beach. Private beaches require a small fee and are well looked after. Your fee goes towards keeping the beach clean and providing you with sun loungers, an umbrella, showers and sometimes toilets, changing rooms, and a bar or restaurant. There is often a lifeguard on duty and private beaches and a closing time.
Despite the distinction between the two, no one can stop you from walking through either or charge you a fee for doing so. The space is public, and if you’re going for a walk and need to cross an area of a private beach, you cannot be charged for doing so. In general, there are more public beaches in the south. Usually, even beaches that are private do have a public area, most commonly at one or both ends of the beach.
Beaches in Italy are rated using the international blue flag system. This takes into consideration various environmental, safety, and accessibility criteria, including water quality. There are numerous Blue Flag status beaches in Italy, so have a look at where they are before planning your trip.
Italians usually get to the beach fairly early, between 8-10 am, and then try to avoid the hottest part of the day. Leaving by lunchtime and returning late afternoon until sunset or closing time, Italians only get the best parts of a beach day. Beaches in Italy tend to be smaller, so don’t expect miles of sandy white stretches. Many of them are also pebbly rather than sandy. This is great for not leaving the beach with sand everywhere!
The pebbles also mean that it is advisable to take shoes with you and use a sun chair on the beach. Besides shoes, you are expected to dress when leaving the beach. While on the beach, locals often take an extra swimsuit to have a dry change of outfit for once they’ve come out of the water. This is cultural and a matter of personal preference…speaking of which so is topless tanning, which is allowed on public beaches and not uncommon.
Where should I go on a budget in Italy?
There are several cities that are great for traveling on a budget. Perhaps you’re looking to make your whole trip on a fairly strict budget, maybe you can’t stand the heat of the beach for very long, or you might just be looking for variety in your holiday itinerary. Whatever the reason, if you’d like to explore more of Italy while avoiding the most expensive and crowded regions, have a look at some of these ideas for holidays that won’t break the bank.
Famous for wine and truffles, this beautiful countryside has castles, food, and plenty of paths and bicycle ways for those getting around on foot or by bike. A wonderful region to explore, this is a good option for off-season visits too.
Matera is like taking a trip back in time. As Italy’s culture capital of 2019, parts of this city are a protected UNESCO site, as it is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world. Wines and olives produced locally also mean a delectable culinary experience, all with a lower price tag than the more popular cities.
Molise is a hidden treasure. For those who’ve been to Italy before and want something different, this region has mountains, beaches, medieval villages, and castles waiting to be explored.
Puglia is one of the best deals in Italy. It has beaches, amazing food and wine, great weather, and many of its old historic farmhouses have been converted into accommodation. Within this region, Polignano a Mare and Alberobello are great spots, as is Maria di Leuca, offering dreamy beaches, coves, and views over the Adriatic and Ionian seas.
Bologna has everything from opera and fine dining to street art and cheap drinks. A mecca of history and culture, this city is also the unofficial food capital of Italy and offers something for everyone.
Whether you decide to go beach or city is up to you – you won’t really go wrong either way, so it’s just a matter of what type of holiday you’d like to have and the sorts of activities you’re looking for. For those who are set on a relaxing beach vacation, keep reading for ways to keep those purse strings firmly shut.
Tips for saving on your beach holiday
It’s easy to let the numbers add up for a beach holiday, as you get more and more tempted to buy little add-ons or get caught out last minute by having to pay higher prices. However, with some planning ahead and a little research, it is easy to keep costs down and enjoy a gorgeous beach holiday along Italy’s magnificent coastline on a budget with the following tips.
- Book out of season. The summer months, particularly August, are the height of peak season. Beaches will be most crowded, hotels and flights most expensive, and restaurants most packed. By booking in April-May or September-October, you will avoid the bulk of the crowds and the higher prices that accompany them. Flights will be less (and possibly less frequent, so plan in advance), and the cheaper accommodation will more likely be available and not totally booked up.
- Eat your main meal at midday. This is when the meals are usually cheaper at restaurants, particularly the set menus. If you fill up over lunch, you can get away with just a light snack at dinner, either from your local store or a market with fresh produce. This is also a great opportunity to try out fresh local ingredients yourself. Put together a picnic or prepare something tasty in your accommodation. Whatever you decide, it is not necessary to eat out at both lunch and dinner.
- Go to the free public beaches. Yes, the private ones may look tempting, but you can do without the facilities. Your accommodation might have beach chairs to lend you, and you can go back there to shower. Some of the most beautiful beaches are public or have public areas on them, and unless they’re remote, will have small cafes or bistros within walking distance nearby.
- Pack a picnic. If you don’t want to eat out at lunchtime, get some fresh bread, meat, cheese and fruit, throw it into a bag, and head to the beach. You’ll be able to snack at your leisure, at a fraction of the cost.
- Stick to one course in a restaurant. While Italians usually have multiple courses in one meal, and it is tempting to try everything, pick a filling dish such as a pizza or pasta and make that your single course meal. You will not be hungry afterward, and it’s a great way not to overeat, which is so easy to do in Italy!
- Stay somewhere self-catering. With meals not included, you’re likely to pay less than a resort or hotel with meals built into the cost of your stay. Additionally, there are often cooking facilities, and if you choose carefully, even a little terrace or garden, so preparing food from the local market is easy to do at home, and you’ll have somewhere to enjoy it.
- Consider camping if you have equipment. While it is impractical to rent all your camping gear from scratch if you are driving from across the border somewhere, camping is a great option, and even traditionally more expensive parts of the country such as the Amalfi coast have great camping options. You’ll find some within walking distance to the beach, but others require a car to get to nearby beaches.
- Research ahead of time. Check out what is in your local area or the accessible surroundings. Plan to visit different beaches or natural parks to keep some variety in your itinerary so that you don’t feel bored and tempted to spend money on other entertainment.
With so much to offer budget holidaymakers, Italy has something for everyone. There is no need to miss out on beautiful, free blue flag beaches because of your budget – it just takes a little extra planning. Now that you know what’s out there, you can have your beach and lie on it!