Looking for the best things to do in Tropea, Italy? Here are 9 of our top recommendations, plus some great day trips

Tropea is a charming town in the Calabria region of Southern Italy. Located on the Tyrrhenian Sea, it’s known for its stunning beaches, charming historical center and delicious food.

There are plenty of things to do in Tropea Italy, whether you’re interested in exploring ancient ruins or simply relaxing on the beach. It’s a perfect vacation spot for the whole family!

Tropea was my first international vacation travelling with young kids. And as it was our first trip, the boys’ first flight, and my first time travelling with two toddlers, it was definitely a learning experience but we had a fantastic time!

Tyrrhenian Sea in Tropea, with people lounging on the white sand beach and in the green blue water

Why visit Tropea?

To be honest, I booked flights pretty last minute and chose Tropea because I found cheap flights (well, cheap for us Canadians flying overseas). It was a direct flight from Toronto to Lamezia Terme airport, which is about an hour’s drive from Tropea.

As it was my first time travelling with kids, I wanted to go somewhere not as popular or a busy as the major tourist spots in Europe, like Rome or Paris. I thought a smaller town would be perfect, as it’s still very European, but not too busy and touristy that I would be overwhelmed (I’ve travelled to plenty of larger cities, but always solo).

So Tropea it was, and what a good choice. It’s a lovely Italian town, perched on a cliff overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea. There’s a mix of culture and beach, plenty of cobblestones to walk on, European architecture, sidewalk cafes and a beach for the kids to enjoy as well. A perfect mix of activities to keep all three of us entertained and enjoying the vacation.

Fun fact: Legend has it that Tropea was founded by Hercules and the main square is named after him.

Best Things to Do in Tropea (with Kids)

1. Visit Santa Maria dell Isola

view of Santa Maria dell'Isola in Tropea Italy - one of the best things to do in Tropea is to see this church!

One of the best things to do in Tropea is to visit the sanctuary of Santa Maria dell’Isola.  

It’s a beautiful building, perched on a rock jutting out into the sea and the classic photo of Tropea.

The boys first saw this when we were booking accommodations and they thought it looked like a castle.

And once you arrive in Tropea, Santa Maria dell”Isola dominates most views, whether from the lookout points around town or from the beaches.

You can walk up the 300 stairs and enter into the church, (2 Euros, kids under 6 are free) or just admire it from the viewpoints around town.

(Visiting Santa Maria dell Isola also gives you a fantastic view of Tropea, with the houses perched on the tops of the cliffs.)

2. Head to the Beach

This stretch of coast is known as Costa degli Dei, or the Coast of the Gods and Tropea’s beaches are among the best in Italy!

white sand beach with people relaxing and playing in the water. Cliffs rise from the beach and buildings are perched on top of the cliffs in Tropea
Tropea has some of the best beaches in Italy

The beach was definitely a highlight for the boys! Even though they were a little unsure of the waves when we first arrived, they quickly figured it out and played in the surf, rolling around and even trying to catch the waves and “surf”.

The sand is more pebbly and coarse than we were expecting, but not as hard on the feet as we had been warned (we were ok without water shoes).

It wasn’t sand castle building sand but kids can still use their sand toys, which can be found at any shop in town. Sand toys and an umbrella are a must-have, as us non-Europeans aren’t used to the strong sun (but even other European families were under umbrellas too).

Most families seem to come and spend a good part of the day at the beach, with families relaxing, snacking and toddlers napping under the shade of the umbrella.

There are a few different beaches in Tropea, but the main beach in town had the nicest sand and the calmest water.

3. Wander through the Centro Storico (Historical Center)

You could easily spend hours just wandering through the streets of Tropea.

The center is a pedestrian-only area, lined with restaurants, cafes, shops and centuries old buildings. You’ll find plenty of souvenirs, produce and locally made crafts.

The cobblestones streets lead to different viewpoints, where you’ll have stunning views of Santa Maria dell’Isola and the sea.

two toddlers looking out at the Tyrrhenian Sea in Tropea Italy
Views of the Tyrrhenian Sea

Like many European towns, the cobblestones are not the easiest to manage with a stroller, but there are some paved roads.

4. Explore the Norman Cathedral

The beautiful Norman Cathedral stands in the center of town and is one of the few remaining landmarks that have survived throughout the years.

The main altar features a painting of the Madonna of Romania, Tropea’s patron saint. She’s protected Tropea from many disasters, including earthquakes and bombings in WWII, when two bombs fell but didn’t detonate. These two bombs are now on display inside the church.

The cathedral is also beautiful to see when it’s illuminated at night.

5. Have a Gelato

Gelato is sold everywhere! The boys kept calling it ice cream, although it was really gelato.

We had one the first day, as we were pretty hot and tired after the long flight and mixup of our hotels.

As we were waiting to get into our room, we sat and had a gelato – cone for one boy, bowl for the other. This quickly became a tradition and we had to have one every day!

6. Walk Along Corso Vittorio Emmanuele

Corso Vittorio Emmmanuele is the main street in Tropea that leads towards the viewpoint overlooking Santa Maria dell’Isola. Along the street you’ll find plenty of restaurants and shops, including souvenirs and gelato!

people walking through the Old Town of Tropea Italy
The Old Town in Tropea

7. Try the Food

Tropea is also known for its delicious food. Being on the coast, you’re going to find fresh seafood. Try some of Tropea’s famous calamari or traditional Italian favourites like pizza and pasta.

But Tropea is best known for its coveted red onions, which are thinner than the red onions you see in North America, and sweeter tasting. You’ll see them hanging in bunches from carts around town and in many shops selling produce. Try them raw or cooked!

peppers, onions and other dried produce hanging off a cart in Tropea, Italy
Tropea is known for its sweet red onions

You’ll also find ‘Nduja, which is a spicy sausage paste and can be bought in many of the shops in the Old Town.

8. Take the Trenino (the Tourist Train)

We saw this tourist train meandering around town every day and each time, the boys would have to stop and watch it go by. (It’s technically not a train, as it has wheels and drives on the road, but that’s ok!)

Although we knew where the train started from, there was no schedule or information posted so you just had to take a chance and see if you could time it right.

On our last day in Tropea, we managed to time it right and have a chance to ride.

The ride is about 25 minutes and costs 5 Euro (children are free).

The train takes you through town, then heads down a winding road towards the Marina. At each turn, there are amazing views of the hillsides and I was really glad we were on the train, not walking down!

The ride continues along the sea towards the main beach, past the campground before turning and coming back through a more residential part of town and finally arriving back at the centre of town.

It’s a fun and easy way to explore Tropea without having to walk too much!

map of Tropea Italy
Map of Tropea

9. See the Moving Statues Store

(Actually called the Artistic Creations Lighthouse)

We didn’t find this store until the end of our time in Tropea, otherwise I think we might have visited every day!

The store is just up the street from the tourist section, towards the train station. If not for a friend’s suggestion, we might not have known to visit.

From the outside, it appears to be a tourist shop, selling figurines and statues. On a closer look, you can see that some of the large statues outside are actually moving. Then you start to notice others as well.

Inside the store are more of the same tourist souvenirs that you find throughout the town, but if you look to the left the entire side of the store is filled with moving figurines. The boys couldn’t get enough of them!

Many had lights as well and all are very intricately carved. Heading towards the back of the store, there is a separate back room, filled with shelves all lined with even more figurines! Many are nativity scenes and traditional Italian scenes.

It’s an impressive sight to see and definitely worth a visit!

Day Trips from Tropea

Take a Day Trip to the Aeolian Islands

Although the islands aren’t in Tropea – they’re actually part of Sicily – there are plenty of tour companies in town that offer day or evening tours to the islands.  

The Aeolian Island Day Tour stops at Vulcano, Lipari and Stromboli, where you can soak in the hot springs, wander through the colourful villages and explore the islands.

Another popular tour is the full-day boat tour to Lipari, Panarea and Stromboli, with stops at each island where you’ll visit charming villages, wander the winding streets and get a taste of Aeolian life. Then get up close to Mount Stromboli, one of the most active volcanoes in the world, before heading back to Tropea as night begins to fall and watching the fiery eruptions from the volcano that are visible at night.

Visit Zambrone

Just up the coast from Tropea is the town of Zambrone. The town is up on a hill above the road and worth exploring.

Or head down to the beach, which has pebbles and soft sand, and a great view of Lion Rock.

large rock formation which looks like a lion sticking out into the ocean in zambrone, Italy

Visit Pizzo

Pizzo is another pretty town nearby, that is famous for its Tartufo – a chocolate truffle ice cream.

It also has a historic castle and small town to stroll through. The train connects Tropea to Pizzo, or if you have a car, it’s a short 30 minute drive.

Head up the Coast to Capo Vaticano

And for absolutely stunning views, be sure to head up the coast to Capo Vaticano.

beach at capo vaticano near Tropea Italy

The views of the coast are impressive, with the white rocks rising from the water, and you also have excellent views of Sicily. It’s a great spot to watch the sunset!

It’s a short drive from Tropea, or you can take a boat tour, where you’ll have the chance to view the coastline from the water, as well as swim snorkel and swim among the fish.

Where to Stay in Tropea

Airbnbs and local apartments are plentiful in Tropea. In fact, you’ll find more of those types of accommodations than larger hotels.

We stayed in a few different Airbnb due to a mix-up with our first booking and then ended up spending a few days in nearby Zambrone at Hotel Scoglio Del Leone. It was a fantastic resort and only a short train ride into Tropea.

Check for available accommodation in Tropea here

Important Tips for Visiting Tropea:

  • English is not widely spoken, but you will find some English spoken, especially at the tourist information centre and some restaurants.
  • People are VERY friendly and helpful
  • Street signs aren’t common and in fact, some streets may not actually have names, but locals will be able to help you out
  • The center of town is pedestrian-only, so if you are driving, you will have to park outside of the center.
  • May, June and September are great months to visit, as it won’t be as busy, or as hot, as it will be in July and August.

Final Thoughts: Things to Do in Tropea, Italy

Tropea is a great spot to visit in Southern Italy. With its stunning beaches, charming historical center, delicious food, and great position on the Italian coast, there are plenty of things to do in Tropea and the nearby area. It’s a great spot for a family vacation and one that you should add to your travel itinerary!

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