Anyone that knows me well knows that Sperlonga is my happy place. I’ve mentioned it a few times on this blog including here and here. Since it’s the town in Italy that my mom was born and raised in, I spent my summers there as a kid since my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins live there.
I feel such a connection to this little piece of paradise that it’s sometimes hard to explain. The draw I feel to it is so unreal that I actually wanted to move there at one point in my life. Then I thought about it about more and figured it would be hard to make a living there since it’s such a small town and figured that career opportunities would be hard to come by (why do I have to be so practical sometimes? :P)
So I settled for traveling here to visit my family as often as I could (which now, with a full time job and life in Canada, ends up being about once every year or two). But, I figure it’s almost better this way because when I do go, I can really appreciate it. I know so many Sperlongani (Sperlonga locals) that don’t even go to the beach in the summer (my cousins included) because they grew up there and don’t find it that special anymore.
I post about Sperlonga on my Instagram account quite often because it’s just that picturesque and beautiful. So after many Sperlonga posts, I think one of my friends took notice, and decided to see Sperlonga for herself on her honeymoon this year! By the way, it also makes a perfect honeymoon destination since it's one of the most romantic small towns in Italy. It makes me so happy to hear that some of you are planning trips to Sperlonga because of some of the content I’ve shared on social media; nothing makes me happier! So this travel guide was born from my friend’s request, but I wanted to share it with not just her, but all of you as well!
The first thing to know about Sperlonga is that it’s divided into 2 parts – sopra (upper part) and giu (lower part). It’s common to hear one of the locals say “ci vediamo sopra!” meaning “we’ll see you in the upper part of Sperlonga!” Sopra Sperlonga is the older part of the town, complete with whitewashed buildings and picturesque alleyways (vicoli) winding their way upwards and through the old part of the town. Fun fact: my mom was born Sopra Sperlonga in one of these whitewashed buildings. Sopra Sperlonga I would say is more trendy for nightlife and a fun atmosphere if you’re going out at night complete with many bars with outdoor seating where you can just sit and people watch.
Then there’s giu Sperlonga. This is the newer part of Sperlonga and where the beach is located (obviously). Traditionally classified as more of the “family friendly” part of Sperlonga, it has its own unique charm and character, different from that of sopra Sperlonga.
Now on to the details! If you’re in Sperlonga for a few days, there’s definitely time to see, do and eat everything on this list. But if you’re not, feel free to pick and choose what suits you best!
WHAT TO DO
Sperlonga is known for its beautiful beaches. So if you’re a beach person, you definitely need to experience Sperlonga’s beach. In fact, it continuously wins the Bandiera Blu award that is given to cities for their clean beaches and water. The sand isn’t rocky and the water is clear. Definitely my definition of the perfect beach.
Many people from the area will come to Sperlonga in the summer time for a day or weekend al mare. They will even rent houses for the summer months for some beach time. The nice thing is that Sperlonga is only really known to other Italians – especially those from Rome and Naples since geographically it’s situated right in the middle of the two cities. Sperlonga has remained relatively unknown to the rest of Europe and the world (unlike the Amalfi coast). It's even been called one of Italy's best kept secrets. So if you’re looking for an unassuming place that is free of tourists, and filled with vacationing Italians, then this place is for you. It’s funny to see how deserted Sperlonga is in the winter time (trust me, I’ve been). In the summer, the population at least doubles and it becomes alive and vibrant again.
The thing to know about Sperlonga is that it has two beaches. They are separated by the Torre Truglia (more on that later). One beach (the one I usually go to because my grandma lives close), is situated giu Sperlonga and is lined with Sperlonga’s major hotels. Once again, this is known as the more “family friendly” beach.
If you go past the Torre Truglia and past Sperlonga’s marina, you can find the other beach. This beach is known for its younger, more fun atmosphere. Both beaches are nice in their own sense, and it just really depends on what you prefer in terms of ambiance and which one is easier for you to get to. Elizabeth Minchilli does a good job of describing the two beaches in this blog post.
The other thing to know about Sperlonga’s beaches and most Italian beaches in general, is that there’s two ways to spend your time at the beach – at a lido/stabilimento or the spiaggia libera (free beach). A lido is a business on the beach that rents out chairs and umbrellas for you to use for the day for a fee. The lido will usually have a bar where you can buy refreshments, ice cream, snacks and even full meals. I usually go home for lunch when I’m in Sperlonga, but I’ve heard that the food at most lidos is pretty good.
Then there’s the spiaggia libera. This is a space of beach with no lido on it where you can bring your own umbrella and chairs. I usually go to the spiaggia libera, but it’s really up to you and what you prefer. Pieces of spiaggia libera are a bit hard to come by nowadays to be honest, and it can end up getting quite crowded on busy days as well. So if a lido is in your budget, it may be the better option. But hey, I always say to just try out both and see which one you like better! If you’re staying in a hotel, they will usually have a lido associated with it anyway so you’re covered there.
Either way, whatever you end up doing, just enjoy yourself on the beach in Sperlonga. If the local Italians have taken notice, there must be something good about it right?
The best way to see the town of Sperlonga is to walk it. Start giu Sperlonga, walk along the main road (via Cristoforo Colombo), browse the cute stores and boutiques, and then you’ll end up at Piazza Fontana,. Maybe stop for a gelato or a spritz at Fiorelli, then continue upwards. At the Albergo Marconi, there’s a road that leads up to sopra Sperlonga, or you can continue towards the Torre Truglia and the marina and make your way upwards from there.
Sperlonga's Piazza Fontana (giu Sperlonga)
There’s many pathways that lead to sopra Sperlonga – the important thing is to choose one and follow it upwards. This is truly the best way to see the old part of the town, the beautiful buildings and get a sense for Sperlonga’s character. Just don’t walk along the actual road that cars drive on to make your way to sopra. There’s nothing really scenic about that walk. Depending which route you take, you’ll find yourself sopra Sperlonga, and here you can once again browse the stores, stop for a drink in the piazza at one of the many bars, or just enjoy the scenery from sopra Sperlonga J
Your view from sopra Sperlonga
One of the many vicoli sopra Sperlonga
WHAT TO SEE
When I used to buy my mom Sperlonga souvenirs, 9 times out of 10, the Torre Truglia was pictured on the souvenir. It’s a Sperlonga landmark for sure, Historically used as a lookout tower for enemy ships approaching, it’s now a museum. It’s just nice to see such a historic monument, and it’s especially pretty when it’s lit up at night.
Grotte di Tiberio
The Grotte di Tiberio is a grotto on the fun, party side of Sperlonga’s beach. Legend has it that Tiberius vacationed in Sperlonga in the ancient days, and groups of ancient sculptures were found in the grotto.
If you’re a history aficionado, then the museo archeologico di Sperlonga is for you. The sculptures that were found in the Grotta di Tiberio are housed here. I myself haven’t been to the museum since I was little, but it’s definitely worth a visit if history is your thing!
WHERE TO EAT
Pizza (sit down) – Tropical or al Vignale
Both located giu, you can’t go wrong with either of these pizzerias. If you order pizza here, you will be served a whole pizza (I can easily eat a whole one :P). Some of my favorites include a classic margherita, or prosciutto, mozzarella and arugula.
Pizza (by the slice/al taglio) – Pizza Mania
If you don’t have time to sit down and dine at a pizzeria, Pizza Mania sells pizza by the slice (it’s technically a square) and has a good variety of fresh pizzas with amazing flavor. You can find Pizza Mania by Piazza Fontana at the roundabout next to Dolce Gelato gelateria.
Fine Dining – Scylla
I usually dine at nonna’s house, but if fine dining is what you’re after, I’ve heard that Scylla is really good. I’ve never been there myself, but my mom has dined here and she can attest that the food is delicious. Sperlonga is big on its fresh seafood (obviously) and Scylla does fresh fish just right.
Wherever you’re dining in Sperlonga, you must try the spaghetti alle vongole (I mention them in this blog post). It’s a signature dish in Sperlonga and the flavor of the fresh clams is absolutely mouth-watering. No canned clams here! I’ve heard that the restaurants in any of Sperlonga’s major hotels (La Playa, L’auora, L’amyclae) are really good as well. In the end, I don’t think you can go wrong with any restaurant in Sperlonga! Elizabeth Minchilli is an Italian foodie and has some good dining recommendations in her blog post about Sperlonga here.
No meal is complete without dessert right? Crème Caramel serves up fresh desserts like bombe (think an Italian doughnut) and croissants that you can fill the filling of your choice. Last time I was there, I got a croissant filled with pistachio cream and it was heavenly. Other flavours I like are the white chocolate and Nutella. You can eat here, but if it's busy, get your treat and bring it over to the ponte (bridge), sit on the ponte's low wall and eat it there 🙂
Gelato – Dolce Gelato
Located next to Pizza Mania, Dolce Gelato has many delicious gelato flavours. Pistacchio and nocciola are my personal favourites.
WHERE TO DRINK
While there are many bars sopra Sperlonga (and you really can’t go wrong with any of them), one of them really stands out…
Yes, this needs its own category. Il Gorilla is well-known throughout Sperlonga for its yummy and extensive cocktail menu. Located in one of the vicoli, it has an outdoor seating area where you can get your cocktail and just people watch. It has a fun, hip atmosphere and the drinks will not disappoint. One of my favorite cocktails they serve is the capiroska alla fragola.
WHERE TO STAY
Disclaimer: I've never stayed at any of these hotels, since when I go to Sperlonga, I stay at my nonna's house, but I'm giving these recommendations based on what I've heard when visiting Sperlonga throughout the years.
La Playa – Located right on the beach, La Playa is a beautiful hotel and has its own pool. I’ve had lunch there a few times and the food is delicious, so that helps too!
Hotel Belvedere – If you don’t want to stay right on the beach, Hotel Belvedere is a quaint hotel situated right outside of Sperlonga. It’s a family-run hotel and they will definitely make you feel welcome and comfortable.
Sperlonga is known for its small stores and boutiques. In fact, one of my favorite places to shop is not even a store at all. It's a kiosk sopra Sperlonga that sells handmade straw items. I bought the most beautiful beach bag here last year and will probably buy something here next time I go.
There's also a small shop across from the Gorilla that sells handmade leather goods that deserves an honourable mention too.
Are you planning on going to Sperlonga? If so, I hope you find this travel guide useful!
Please please please let me know if you have any questions in the comments below!