Tuscany’s Etruscan coast is where Florentines and Tuscan locals go to the beach for the weekend. Close to Pisa and Florence, it offers dramatic coastline, convenient and clean beaches, great food and ancient ruins!
Here are my personal top picks on the Etruscan coast for:
- the most dramatic location: Castiglioncello
- best all around beach town for kids: Cecina
- best rainy day town: Livorno
- best place for large free beach + Etruscan ruins: Baratti and Populonia
I’ve been living in Tuscany for over 15 years and these are the places where my Italian family and I like to go. I’ve also included information about:
- when to go to the Etruscan coast
- the blue flag (bandiera blu) to keep an eye out for if you’re looking for clean beaches
- the difference between private beach facilities and free public beaches in Tuscany
- what to eat on the Etruscan coast
Table of Contents
WHERE IS THE ETRUSCAN COAST?
The Etruscan coast is part of the Tuscan coast, on the Tyrrhenian sea. It is about 90 km long, and runs from Livorno down to Piombino.
In Italian, the Etruscan coast is called the Costa degli etruschi. It got its name from its many Etruscan necropoli.
The pronunciation of Costa degli etruschi is: KOH-stah DEH-lyee eh-TROO-skee
Listen to how to pronounce Costa degli etruschi here:
The Etruscans are the people who lived in Etruria, which was located in present-day central Italy. Etruria existed in the pre-Roman era and is considered the first great civilization of Italy. It reached its heyday in the 6th century BCE.
WHY THE ETRUSCAN COAST IS SPECIAL
- Coastline that ranges from rocky cliffs (scogli) to flat sandy beaches
- Etruscan ruins
- Clean beaches
- It is a convenient day trip from Pisa or Florence
- Most towns have direct train service from Pisa if you wish to travel by train
- Variety of towns and landscapes
- Plenty of activities for kids
- World famous wines
- Go where Tuscan locals go to the beach
Almost all of the beaches on my list are Bandiera Blu beaches. The coveted Bandiera Blu, or Blue Flag, is awarded to clean beaches by the Foundation for Environmental Education. Criteria include clean water, quality of facilities and amenities, and waste management.
TOP TOWNS AND BEACHES ON THE ETRUSCAN COAST
CASTIGLIONCELLO: Most dramatic location
Castiglioncello is a unique spot along the Tuscan coast, about 45 km south of Pisa. Marvelous Quercetano Bay (Baia del Quercetano) is the star: it cuts a wide crescent into the cliffs, making a dramatic backdrop for the sandy beach below.
Even though Castiglioncello beaches aren’t easy to access, climbing all the stairs down the cliff and back is worth it!
It’s easy to tell why Castiglioncello was the place for Italian VIPs in the 1960s. Italian cinema greats Alberto Sordi and Marcello Mastroianni vacationed in Castiglioncello, and it still has an air of glamour.
CASTIGLIONCELLO IS BEST IF YOU:
- want a unique beach experience
- don’t mind lots of stairs
- want to take a day trip from Pisa or Florence by train
- don’t mind paying a premium for a private beach club
- want a Bandiera Blu beach
Read my guide to One Day in Castiglioncello.
CECINA: Best all around beach for children
Cecina gets my vote for the best all around beach experience with kids. Not only that, Cecina has something for everyone– right in town! There are plenty of beach clubs, a quiet nature reserve if you like to get away from the beach scene, and even a water park!
Cecina Mare is about 55 km south of Pisa, so it’s a convenient spot to reach from Pisa, Lucca, Florence, and the Chianti area.
CECINA IS BEST IF YOU:
- have kids or limited mobility: Cecina is flat
- want lots of different activities within a small radius
- like bike riding
- want to discover a special pine forest: the Tombolo di Cecina Nature Reserve
- like water parks and water slides: Acqua Village Cecina is right in town
- want a Bandiera Blu beach
- Near Bolgheri and Castagneto Carducci wine country
LIVORNO: Best rainy day town
Livorno has a lot to offer, whether rain or shine. A major port city 27 km south of Pisa, it boasts the Livorno Aquarium, Tuscany’s best place to see aquatic life. The Terrazza Mascagni is a majestic waterfront promenade that’s fun for strolling and people watching. There are even beaches on the shore right in front of the city.
La Venezia (“Venice”) is a neighborhood in the old town center with canals built in the time of the Medicis. Livorno is a great food destination, with old time seafood restaurants and the Mercato delle Vettovaglie, a huge covered food and seafood market with about 200 stalls.
LIVORNO IS BEST IF YOU:
- are looking for a day trip from Pisa or Florence: Livorno is well-connected by train
- want a break from the beach
- need some rainy day activities
- have kids or are a fan of marine life: the Livorno Aquarium is fun for all ages!
- like seafood and want to taste a genuine cacciucco: we sometimes go all the way from Florence to Livorno just for lunch!
BARATTI and POPULONIA: Best for large free beach and Etruscan ruins
This area just north of Piombino on the southern Etruscan coast offers the best of both worlds for beach and history enthusiasts. Here you are walking and sunbathing right where the Etruscans mined, worked metal, and lived.
The Baratti and Populonia Archeological Park is an 80 hectare open-air museum rich in Etruscan ruins including two Etruscan necropoli and the Acropolis of Populonia.
The Etruscans built their only seaside city here, and today the Gulf of Baratti offers a long stretch of beach with dark gold– almost red– sand from the hematite the Etruscans worked to obtain iron. It is mostly free public beach space (though parking is not free), and there are a couple private beach facilities.
The city of Populonia looks out over the Gulf of Baratti. It has an imposing medieval tower and fortress, with incredible views of the coast below.
Buca delle fate (hole or cove of the fairies) is a remote rocky bay hidden in the park just south of Populonia. It is popular with Tuscan locals and can only be reached on foot or by sea.
BARATTTI AND POPULONIA ARE BEST FOR:
- a unique mix of nature and history
- fascinating Etruscan ruins
- both sandy beach and rocky coast (scogli)
- views of the coast and Tyrrhennean sea from Populonia
- getting away from the built-up coast
- arriving by car (limited public transport)
WHEN SHOULD I GO TO THE ETRUSCAN COAST?
Beaches on the Etruscan coast of Tuscany get extremely busy in the summer. In July and August, when Italians go on vacation for ferragosto, you can truly experience the Italian beach scene. However, a huge drawback is that the beaches and restaurants are super crowded.
To get a break from the crowds, I recommend visiting the Etruscan coast in June or September. In July it’s best to go during the week.
It’s also good to know that Tuscans flee to the beach for the weekend during the spring and fall, so the coast can get crowded if there’s good weather. There is almost always traffic on Sunday evenings along the coast and heading into Florence after a sunny weekend.
It’s a tradition for Italians to go to the beach (or out to the countryside) for Pasquetta (Little Easter), the day after Easter.
We like to go to the Etruscan coast throughout the year, even in the winter, fall and early spring. We go bike riding, and take a stroll along the beach. Livorno is also a fun place to visit in all seasons.
UNDERSTANDING TUSCAN BEACHES
When you go to the beach, it’s useful to understand the difference between private beach facilities and public free beaches in Italy.
PRIVATE BEACH FACILITIES
The Tuscan coast is largely devoted to beach clubs. At a private beach (spiaggia privata) or beach facility (spiagga attrezzata or stabilimento balneare) you must pay to rent an umbrella in order to access the beach. There are bathrooms, changing rooms, showers, and a coffee bar that usually serves sandwiches and light meals.
A private beach or beach facility is like a beach club, but you don’t have to pay to be a member all season: instead you can pay per day to rent an umbrella (ombrellone), sun lounger (lettino) and/or beach chair (sdraio).
Usually private beaches are open from about May through September.
Private beaches usually have a lifeguard, but don’t trust them to notice if you or your child is drowning. Usually they’re on their cellphones or chatting. Make sure you watch your kids at all times.
Many Italian families have a beach club that their family has been going to for years, where they rent the same umbrella station and chat with the same people summer after summer.
PROS of beach facilities:
- All amenities and conveniences are right there, like bathrooms and food
- You don’t have to lug your own shade and chairs to the beach
- Sun loungers are more comfortable than the ground
- Sand is regularly cleaned of litter
CONS of beach facilities:
- Little privacy: you’re right next to the people at the next umbrella and you can hear each other’s conversations
- Smoking is allowed so you may end up smelling cigarette smoke at the beach
- You have to pay
FREE PUBLIC BEACHES
In Italy, a spiaggia libera is a free public beach. You don’t have to pay to access the beach, and you bring your own umbrella and beach chairs. Space is first come first serve. The downside is that free beaches in Italy are often not as clean or well-maintained as private beaches, and there are no bathrooms.
Usually there is no lifeguard or showers at free public beaches.
Tuscany has many beautiful nature reserves with free beaches, like Parco dell’Uccellina. Many of them are out of the way, but worth the effort getting there if you like more isolated spots.
PROS of free public beaches:
- You’re usually not right on top of your neighbors
- You don’t have to pay
- Unobstructed sea views
CONS of free public beaches:
- In Italy, free beaches are usually not well-maintained and you may find litter
- First come first serve
- Have to bring all your own stuff
WHAT TO EAT AND DRINK ON THE ETRUSCAN COAST
Keep an eye out for the following local specialties:
- The Livorno area is famous for cacciucco, a local tomato-based fish and seafood stew.
- Cecìna (the food, not the town) is like a savory flat “pizza” made from chickpea flour.
- Palamita (Bonito) is a local blue fish related to tuna. In Tuscany it is served fresh, or preserved in olive oil.
- The area near Baratti and Populonia is well-known for the super sweet Val di Cornia melon.
Along the coast you’ll find seafood and fish on almost all menus. Classic dishes to have at the beach are spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti with clams) and fritto misto (mixed fried seafood: usually calamari and shrimp).
Some of Italy’s most prestigious red wines come from the nearby Bolgheri area. If you like white wine, try a Vermentino from the Tuscan coast.
And of course, don’t forget to have plenty of gelato!