Did you know that Tuscany has almost 300 km of coastline, and 7 islands? Tuscany isn’t just Renaissance art, picturesque countryside, and wine towns (though we’ll take that too)!
Here are my top picks for the Tuscan coast. I’ve chosen beautiful beaches that are conveniently located either in beach towns, or near nice sea villages. I’ve been living in Tuscany for over 15 years and this is where my Italian family and I like to go to the beach.
Stay tuned for:
- my personal favorite towns and beaches on the coast of Tuscany: Forte dei Marmi, Castiglioncello, Cecina, Giannella and Giglio Island
- what the different areas of the coast are called
- what Bandiera Blu means when you’re looking for clean beaches
- the difference between private beach facilities and free public beaches in Tuscany
- when to go to the Tuscan coast
- what to eat and drink
Table of Contents
THE COAST OF TUSCANY
Here are the four main areas of the Tuscan coast, on the Tyrrhenian sea:
- Versilia, the most northwestern stretch of coast: convenient from Pisa and Florence
- Etruscan coast, from Livorno to Piombino: convenient from Pisa and Florence
- Maremma, along the southern coast: not as convenient but worth going on purpose
- Tuscan islands: go on purpose!
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 waste management.
TOP TOWNS AND BEACHES ON THE TUSCAN COAST
FORTE DEI MARMI (in Versilia)
Forte dei Marmi is a seaside town about 40 km northwest of Pisa. It’s great for kids because the beaches are sandy and flat, and the water stays shallow very far out, with little to no waves. Behind you are the beautiful Apuan Alps. Forte dei Marmi is known for celebrity spotting and its rich clientele.
FORTE DEI MARMI IS BEST IF YOU:
- are staying near Pisa, Lucca or even Florence
- have kids
- like chic spots and people watching
- aren’t looking for clear aquamarine water (try my Maremma and Island picks instead)
- want a Bandiera Blu beach
CASTIGLIONCELLO (on the Etruscan coast)
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 (on the Etruscan coast)
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
GIANNELLA (off the coast of the Maremma)
Giannella is a wide stretch of sandy beach connecting the mainland to Monte Argentario, a peninsula off the southern coast of Tuscany. You have to see the turquoise water to believe it: and there are shallow gentle waves and incredible sunsets. You have your choice of beach clubs, or plenty of free public beach space.
I recommend Giannella not only because it’s a beautiful beach, but also because it’s between two fun towns: Porto Santo Stefano is a bustling pink and peach harbor town, while Orbetello sits in a lagoon.
GIANNELLA IS BEST IF YOU:
- are coming on purpose, since it’s out of the way of major cities
- have kids or aren’t a strong swimmer
- are looking for clear, turquoise water
- want to have a choice of two very different towns nearby
- wish to explore Monte Argentario peninsula
- want a Bandiera Blu beach
GIGLIO ISLAND (Island off of Tuscany’s southern coast)
One-of-a-kind Giglio Island (Isola del Giglio) is a bit out of the way, but 100% worth the trip: it’s a 1 hour ferry boat ride off the coast of Porto Santo Stefano (about 154 km northwest of Rome and 200 km south of Pisa). Giglio Island is the second largest of the Tuscan archipelago’s seven islands.
Giglio Island has crystal clear water, dramatic cliffs and coastline, and picturesque beaches. It’s small enough to make you actually feel like you’re on an island, but has 3 towns. The most charming are Giglio Porto, a harbor town lined with shops and restaurants; and Giglio Castello, a medieval hamlet at the island’s highest peak, named one of Italy’s most beautiful small towns.
GIGLIO ISLAND IS BEST IF YOU:
- dream of crystal clear water and spectacular vistas
- like swimming off the rocks (scogli) as well as beautiful beaches
- want to experience a small Tuscan island
- like discovering small coves by boat
- want breathtaking natural scenery
- like sunsets: watch the sun go down over the sea from Giglio Campese beach.
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
WHEN TO GO TO THE TUSCAN COAST
Beaches on the 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 Tuscan 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 Tuscan coast in the winter, early spring, and fall even if it’s too cold to swim. It’s nice to have a change of scene, breathe the sea air, and take a walk on the beach.
WHAT TO EAT AND DRINK ON THE TUSCAN COAST
The Tuscan coast near Livorno is famous for cacciucco, a local tomato-based seafood stew. Cecina (the food, not the town) is a street food from the northern part of the Tuscany coast. It’s like a savory “pizza” made from chickpea flour.
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!