If there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that the Italians are masters at beach life.
While the rest of the world may schlep to the beach, Italians seem to just arrive. That’s because Italy is blessed with over 7,900 km (4,900 mi) of coastline. The country is full of casual cafes, seaside bistros and tiny kiosks with everything you need — from umbrellas and beach chairs to pasta and peaches soaked in white wine — right on the beach.
I’m not talking fancy beach clubs with cabanas and DJs, although those exist here too. My favorite Italian beach bars are laid back, even in the most desirable destinations like Capri and the Amalfi Coast.
Living the lettino life, as I like to call it, is arguably the best way to enjoy the beaches in Italy. And knowing how to find and navigate beach bars in Italy will totally transform your Italian summer vacation.
An ode to lettini
Finding beach bars in Italy usually doesn’t require much of a search. If you’re on the beach, the chances are you will see a beach bar. It doesn’t matter if you’re on the Adriatic, Tyrrhenian, or a small island. Beach bars are all over Italian beaches, with colorful chairs and umbrellas lining up towards the sea.
What makes Italian beach bars so great is undoubtedly its lettini. These sun beds are usually sold on a daily rate along with umbrellas to provide shade from the hot midday sun. No need to lay on a towel and burn your bum on the hot sand or rocks. Italian beach bars make life easy by renting chairs and umbrellas to guests.
Italians love to spend long days in the sun, so they get to the beach pretty early. Growing up as a child, I remember spending hot August summers in Sabaudia with family friends and grandparents who would stay up late chatting, smoking, and sipping amaro. Then, they all would beat me to the beach the next morning.
If you’re traveling in July or August, make sure to book your lettini ahead of time — at least a day ahead unless you’re in a very popular place, then try to book a week in advance. Booking ahead is also mandatory if you want to snag lettini in the first row right in front of the sea. If you’re in a more rural area (especially early or late in the season), chances are you can just walk up and get a chair on the spot.
Don’t know where to go? Ask the locals! They’ll know which establishment has the best prices, the most delicious food, and great vibes. Just remember that beach bars are open seasonally, usually from May – September.
Lettini and umbrelloni do vary in price depending on location, popularity, and season. Typically, you will pay somewhere around 10-15 euros for a chair. Umbrellas may be extra. However, in upscale places like Treville Beach Club and Arienzo Beach Club in Positano, expect to pay upwards of 50 euros per chair.
Of course, you can visit a beach bar alone without renting lettini. Just bring your towel and enjoy the spiaggia libera (free beach). You can still go to the beach bar to grab something to eat or drink. Remember: beach bars are about convenience and relaxation, not complication!
Eating and drinking at the beach bar
For me, the best part about Italian beach bars is the food. My fondest memories are lunches there as a little girl. I’d run to the counter with my mom, watching as she ordered my favorite panino con tonno e pomodoro (tuna and tomato sandwich). I would eat it all too fast so that I could run back to order myself a Magnum Classico gelato and play cards with my friends.
Italian beach bars are usually casual affairs, but they often serve up more than panini. Looks can be deceiving, as these small kiosks on the beach can cook up a storm in their little kitchens. They usually serve local and seasonal specialties, like pasta, salads and fresh seafood, and you may even find pizza if you’re lucky. One of the best spaghetti alle vongole I’ve ever had was at a beach bar. Nothing beats eating fresh clams while overlooking the iridescent blue waters of the Mediterranean.
As for drinking, Italian beach bars rarely disappoint. They are stocked with enough beer and wine to keep everyone happy. Many also prepare cocktails, from Aperol spritz to a gin and tonic. My favorite is ordering the local sparkling wine. There’s nothing better than sipping something bubbly as you lay on a lettino, gazing endlessly at the sea.
Beach bars usually keep strict hours for lunchtime, just like Italian restaurants do. But, don’t worry about keeping time while you relax at the beach — Italian beachgoers will do that for you. Starting at 12pm, you’ll start to see the beach vacate as if there were a high tide warning. But an empty midday beach just means it’s time for lunch!
Explore the extras
While Italian beach bars tend to function the same, each beach bar offers little perks. It could be paddle boarding or kayak rentals. Or, it could be something unique to the beach itself, not just to the beach bar. I’ll never forget the man with the walnut leather tan who would yell ‘coco coco!’ on the beach, selling fresh and chilled coconut slices. There’s nothing like eating cool coconut flesh on a blazing hot beach day with your toes in the sand.
See More: The 10 Best Beaches Near Rome