Boasting more than a dozen offshore islands and nearly 1500km of coastline on the Ionian, Tyrrhenian and Mediterranean seas, Sicily has beaches for every taste. While Sicilian beaches are often of the pebbly variety, with fewer sandy expanses than other Mediterranean hotspots, the coastal scenery here is some of Europe’s most dramatic, with deep-blue, turquoise and emerald green waters framed by rugged rocky outcrops.
Sicily’s waters remain clean and warm throughout the summer and autumn months, with swimming conditions at their best from June to early October. Beaches range from crowded bathing lidos where you can rent sun loungers and umbrellas to stretches of nearly deserted strand.
Best for families: Cefalù
Cefalù’s long crescent of soft, golden sand is a dreamy place to spend a day… or a week. Basking here in the sun, gazing across the blue-green waters at the palm-fringed medieval cathedral backed by craggy cliffs, you may just be seduced into staying longer than expected.
The calm, warm waters – perfect for families with kids – coupled with Cefalù’s proximity to Palermo (an hour away by train) make this one of Sicily’s perennial favourites. The town also boasts an enchanting historic centre, making for atmospheric strolling and gelato-shopping when dinnertime rolls around.
Best for scenery: Scala dei Turchi
Named Scala dei Turchi for the Arab pirates (colloquially known as ‘Turks’) who according to legend hid out here in stormy weather, this blindingly white, staircase-like rock formation is Sicily’s most dazzling beach backdrop.
Driving in from Agrigento (15km to the east), the first beach you come to abuts a shallow swimming area that’s perfect for kids – but older and more adventurous spirits will find it hard to resist climbing high onto the milky-smooth rock shelf beyond. From here, you can leap into the limpid jade-to-indigo waters below, or follow the stratified bands of stone to a longer, sandier strand just around the bend.
Best for solitude: Torre Salsa
Most people travelling between the superstar Greek ruins of Agrigento and Selinunte don’t even notice the turnoff for Torre Salsa – and that’s a good thing! Despite being one of Sicily’s prettiest beaches, this long stretch of golden sand backed by white cliffs remains remarkably secluded. Yes, you do have to navigate a rugged unpaved road to get here, but once you arrive, you won’t have any trouble finding a tranquil place to lay your towel.
The surrounding nature reserve, administered by the World Wildlife Fund, offers some nice trails with sweeping panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and coast; walking tours with WWF naturalists are available if you book ahead.
Best for nostalgia buffs: Mondello
When summer rolls around, Palermo’s entire population packs a beach towel and a pair of D&G shades and heads 11km north to this popular 1.5km strip of white sand sandwiched between the handsome rocky promontories of Monte Pellegrino and Monte Gallo. In fact, Mondello has been the darling of Palermo’s see-and-be-seen crowd since the early 20th century, when a local aristocrat drained the surrounding swamplands and launched the fad of building Liberty-style (Art Nouveau) villas by the waterfront.
Nowadays the ultimate landmark for nostalgia buffs is the Antico Stabilimento Balneare, a gargantuan turn-of-the-century bathhouse whose pale yellow facade and perky turrets rise photogenically from the grand Art Nouveau pier at the centre of the beach. For a splurge, you can dine here, with gorgeous views of the water and surrounding headlands, at the elegant Ristorante Charleston.
Best for snorkelling: Isola Bella
As photogenic a cove as you’ll find anywhere in the Mediterranean, Isola Bella boasts a prime location just 10 minutes by cable car from the chic hilltop resort of Taormina. Named after the adjacent island nature reserve, it’s reached from the main road via a long staircase and is popular with Italians who come to sunbathe between breaks at surrounding cafes and beach clubs.
The semi-circular beach here is rocky rather than sandy (bring footwear and follow the locals’ lead by renting a sun lounger) but the water is blissfully translucent, and there’s great snorkelling just offshore.
Best for boat touring: Spiaggia Valle Muria
Surrounded by sheer cliffs, this dark, pebbly beach on the southwestern shore of Lipari is among the Aeolian Islands’ most dramatically beautiful swimming and sunbathing spots. Buses from Lipari Town will drop you at the spectacular Quattrocchi viewpoint above the beach, from where you can backtrack 300m to a signposted turn-off and walk 25 minutes steeply downhill.
What really sets Spiaggia Valle Muria apart, however, is congenial, wild-haired local resident Barni, who sells refreshments from his rustic cave-like beach bar and provides scenic boat transfers back to Lipari’s Marina Corta dock at day’s end. Navigating through the towering sea stacks off Lipari’s western shore at sunset, with Vulcano’s active crater smoking on the horizon, is an unforgettable experience – and the perfect ending to a long day in the sun.
Best for white sands: Spiaggia dei Conigli, Lampedusa
Lapped by iridescent turquoise seas, this sandy beauty in the remote Pelagic Islands regularly wins awards as one of the world’s finest beaches. The catch? Lampedusa is closer to Africa than to the Sicilian ‘mainland’, meaning that you’ll need a flight or a four-hour hydrofoil trip to get here.
Those who make the journey to Spiaggia dei Conigli will be rewarded with a stunning arc of white sand, with crystal-clear, shallow waters for splashing or lolling about. The entire cove is protected within a 12-hectare nature reserve, which means that no boats can enter, making it one of Italy’s most pristine beaches.