Travel guide to Ischia, Italy | A small Italian island off the coast of Naples
Looking for a new place to discover? Head to the island of Ischia! It’s an island just off the coast of Naples, Italy and is a great place to explore and relax. There are plenty of things to do in Ischia like visiting a terme or the beach. But my favorite thing to do was drink local wine and eat. Not that that shocks any of you.
Islands live by the beat of their own drum and since it’s a relatively unknown spot for many, I wanted to create this guide to Ischia for you. We’ve been a couple of times, stayed in different parts of the island, and visited over different seasons throughout the year which means it’s about time to help you discover this gem.
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Your guide to Ischia, Italy
As independent travelers, any new place can pose challenges because you just don’t know how it all works. What should you eat? Where should you stay? Which souvenirs are the best to take home? Nobody wants a t-shirt (unless they specifically ask for one!).
Honestly, it’s one of the biggest stressors for me. Figuring out all this stuff takes time and patience (and sometimes you only figure it out by making mistakes). I’m really just hoping to save you some frustration and time on your next trip. Guys, seriously, if you want to check out an island for relaxing, Ischia may be what you are looking for! If you’re headed there from Naples, we have a whole post on how to get to Ischia from Naples by ferry.
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Souvenirs from Ischia
Visitors love to take home a little something from their trips as reminders or gifts. I love this idea! Just remember to keep in mind how much you can realistically take with you. Are you traveling carry-on only? Then you’ll have to buy alcohol and other liquids after security at the airport. Will all your things fit? I suggest taking oddly shaped things onto the plane with you, meaning, not checking them in a bag. For me, this is mainly art that I don’t want to be squished. Perhaps the shop is able to ship your product home for you. I just went on a wine tour and the tour guide would handle all the wine you purchase and take care of it all for you. THAT’S service right there.
Be practical and very deliberate with your choices and it will all fall into place. If you are shopping for others, keep a list! On longer trips, it can be hard to remember who you’ve already shopped for.
Famous along the Amalfi Coast, Lemoncello is a great souvenir to take back with you when you leave Ischia. The island is also known for its special lemons so it has its own Lemoncello. If you’re at a restaurant and they offer Lemoncello, be sure to ask if it’s from the island! The other ones are good, but you’ll want to be consuming local products while there.
A specialty of the island, Rucolino, made from two different kinds of arugula that are only grown on the islands in the Tyrrhenian Sea (that includes Ischia, of course). Add that, with some citrus, roots, and some secret herbs then let it sit until it’s ready to be filtered and finished off with sugar and water. It’s not my cup of tea, but herby liquors are popular all over Italy, so I’ve tried a few. Remember, always give it a try! Sean loves the stuff, but I’ll stick to Lemoncello 😉
Ceramics are part of the Ischia history. It goes all the way back to when the Greeks lived on the island. In my opinion, if you take one (non-alcoholic) souvenir back with you, it should be some kind of ceramic. Don’t rush. Walk around the different shops and see what you just can’t live without. BUT, I’m the first to say, if you feel like you can leave it behind because you aren’t in love with it, do so. It wasn’t meant to be.
On Ischia, there are wine varieties that you just won’t find anywhere else. Among the many things to do in Ischia, doing a few wine tastings is one of them. Not only do I love the wine tastings, but I also love the challenge of figuring out which wines to buy. We try to get at least one bottle, but if we really can’t decide, we’ll get two…and figure out the suitcase issue later!
Clothes and accessories
If you are a clothes shop-a-holic, get ready because there are some shops that will pull you in and you will want to throw your money at the staff and take all the things. On the road between Ischia Porto and Ischia Ponte are some high-end shops that sell items a bit cheaper than the mainland. We’re still talking a lot of money…but just a little less money.
Because of the thermal waters, skincare has been a popular topic here for many years. It’s no surprise that you’ll find skincare brands using the local resources to create artisanal products. You’ll find skincare shops all over, but a big concentration will be on the same shopping street that I just mentioned, the Via Roma and Corso Vittoria Colonna streets.
What to eat
Everywhere in the world has a special something you should try while there. Since islands tend to have a long history with multiple cultures, it’s extra fun learning about the foods. Obviously, it’s an Italian island so that’s the strongest food presence, but you might discover some new things as well. Enjoy eating your way around the island!
If there is one thing to eat when on the island of Ischia, it’s rabbit. This is a dish that is all theirs because it was created at a time when there were too many rabbits on the island. The best way to handle that problem was to eat them. That’s when the Coniglio all’ Ischitana was born. It’s a rabbit stew done in a terracotta pan with wine, herbs, oils, and tomatoes. All the flavors combine to create this iconic Ischian dish.
When in Italy! Gelato here is just as good as on the mainland. If you stay awhile, be sure to try a bunch of gelato shops. There’s just nothing better than walking down the street or sitting by the water with a cone and two scoops of gelato on top. My favorite flavor is stracciatella. It’s milk ice cream flavor with shards of chocolate bits. We’ve actually been where the flavor was created — in a shop in Bergamo, Italy. But I had plenty of samples on Ischia and all are worth a try!
You are right across the water from Naples, so Neapolitan Pizza is everywhere on the island. Pizza joints are pretty cheap, too. I’m a pizza Margherita fan. Keep it simple with fresh ingredients and I’m super happy…especially with a glass of wine.
Traditionally, pasta is good no matter where you go in Italy. This region is known for gnocchi, so if you see it on the menu, get it. I like tomato and cheese version. Another one I’d highly recommend is spaghetti and clams. You’re by the water and the seafood is fresh, so go for it! Or mix it all up and just get a seafood pasta.
I mentioned seafood pasta already, but most kinds of seafood will be good on Ischia. Order a whole fish if that’s what floats your boat. Oh! A seafood risotto would be a perfect treat on a night out. Ask what the fish of the day is, that’s always a good place to start!
Bruschetta with tomatoes or a Caprese salad
I had this so many times on our trip. Tomatoes in this region are so so so so good! Just be sure they are local, they will be the best. While the tomatoes are the star, I highly suggest having them as part of bruschetta or a Caprese salad. Read reviews and ask if the produce is local, then you’ll have the best luck getting the best food.
From Caprese salad to Caprese cake. I was super confused as well. In Italian, it’s called “Torta Caprese”. Yep, it’s also named after the island of Capri. It’s not a traditional cake, though. It’s made from almonds and chocolate. You just have to try it to understand why it’s so popular. I thought it would be more like a brownie, but it really is somewhere in the middle of a brownie and cake. It should have a sprinkle of powdered sugar on top…but sometimes that just doesn’t happen. Don’t worry, you’ll have a delicious treat either way.
Ricotta and pear tart
I don’t know where this originates, but I do know that we saw it in a few different places and whenever I had it, I was over the moon. Almonds play a part in this dessert as well since they some sprinkle almonds on top and have almond flour inside. Honestly, I’m not a nut fan and I didn’t think I was a Ricotta cheese fan. This tart, though. It is everything. I would eat a whole pie! It’s comforting, fresh, smooth, with a little crunch from the almonds, and all in a lovely pie crust. I will eat this no matter where in the world I am!
Where to eat
This is not an exhaustive list, but it’s a great one to start with. If only we could eat at every restaurant on the island, we would be the happiest of campers! Through our own research, we found a few good spots. Some we just stumbled across, but all are worth a visit. Restaurants on the island tend to open at 7pm or 7:30pm so be prepared for that if you are early-dinner people like us.
Casa Celestino, Sant’Angelo
This is a pricey option, but well worth it for an evening. Make a reservation ahead of time to be able to get a table by the water. Though, it’s amazing even if you don’t! We went twice and everything we had here was incredible. If you’re looking to try the rabbit dish, you can do that here. Either get the whole rabbit with a side tomato salad or get the rabbit pasta. I actually enjoyed the rabbit pasta more than the whole rabbit, but get whatever sounds good! The views at sunset are nothing short of magical.
Marea Restaurant, Sant’Angelo
Another epic spot for sunset with tables by the water, and a perfect place for a romantic dinner. Our meal was seafood with pasta. Sean has linguine with squid and I had pasta with shrimp and lemon (also popular around here). They have spaghetti and clams on the menu and if we went back, I would have eaten that, as well.
While we tend to seek out a Michelin-starred restaurant, we just couldn’t swing it this time. The good news is that there are plenty on this island. If you want to find the perfect restaurant with that coveted star, just check the official website. The map is super handy!
Our favorites are Da Pasquale Pizzeria Ristorante in Sant’Angelo and Il Pizzicotto in Forio. To save money and eat well, we highly suggest these spots. No reservation needed but you may need to wait a bit. I promise you, it’s worth it. At Da Pasquale, we had the most wonderful lady wait on us. With smiles and limited Italian and English, we got by perfectly. She even gave us the best seat in the house…twice 🙂 Il Pizzicotto is a small place and we got there when they opened. It’s the best way to get a seat at a popular spot.
Ristorante Cantine Pietratorcia
In our research, we found this winery/restaurant that people raved about. But, it feels like it’s in the middle of nowhere. Luckily, a bus stops there and we were able to easily find it. We stayed for a wine flight and some snacks. We didn’t get lunch but only because we had just eaten. A group came in a bit after us and I saw their food…it looked incredible. I’m going to recommend this place even though we get to enjoy lunch because the setting is epic, the meats/cheese/jams we had were all local and delicious, and the wine was perfect. If we go back to the island, we’ll be going here for a full meal. Period.
Porcavacca Ischia Steak House
You may be shaking your head at me, right now. But, you know what? I’m human, I have cravings, and sometimes I just want a good piece of beef. We stumbled upon this place and couldn’t have been happier. It was exactly what I wanted and everything was perfectly seasoned, cooked, and the sauces were just that something extra to put it over the top. Oh, and the wine, muah. Does it HAVE to be on your list? No, but if you are like me and need some non-Italian food every once in a while, it’s worth a stop.
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What to pack
There are so many beaches on the island, and that’s probably one of the reasons you will be visiting, so don’t forget the suit! I’d actually recommend two so one can dry for a full day. Termes (naturally heated pools) are hugely popular, so you’ll probably visit one or two of those, as well. We have more information on termes and things to do on Ischia.
Prescription or not, have sunglasses. If you have prescription glasses and sunglasses, I highly suggest taking along some contacts as well…just in case they break. I don’t wear contacts often (more like never), but I have them in my toiletry bag in case I have to wear them.
I should say that it’s good sun protection and you should always keep your face covered…which is all true. But really, it’s annoying to walk around shading your eyes all the time. Even with sunglasses, the sun sneaks around them at all angles. The good news is that if you forget yours, they have many for sale all around the island. I gave in and finally bought one.
Do I even need to mention this? I hope not. But what I will mention is that you should take a look and make sure it’s reef safe if you plan on going in the water at all. Think of the safety of yourself and all the sea creatures, too.
My travel towel was the best investment I made really early on in our travel days when I didn’t even really know I needed it. It’s small and dries pretty quickly. When you try to pack light, a big and fluffy beach towel isn’t ideal. Get a big travel towel so you can still layout on it if you’d like. A sarong is awesome for those quick cover-up moments or just going from the pool to your room. I ate lunch in mine at one of the termes. Check out that video!
I regret not having water sandals or water shoes. To get to some of the fun local spots, you’ll be walking on big rocks or sand, and you want shoes that are easy to take off/put on that will allow you to do all of that. I suggest anything waterproof that stays on your feet in the water and isn’t slippery.
Where to stay in Ischia
If you are headed to Ischia and staying in a resort and want to spend most of your time there, then it doesn’t matter too much where you go. But if you want to explore by foot a bit, have a grocery shop or restaurants nearby, and be close to beaches, then here are my recommendations.
Yes, there is a part of the island of Ischia that is also called Ischia. Absolutely not confusing at all. Staying between Ischia Porto (where most of the ferries come in) and Ischia Ponte (by the castle) is great if you like liveliness with nightly street strolls (passeggiata), lots of shops and restaurants. Once you get your bus ticket, it’s really easy to get around the whole island from there.
Still want a little bit of a small city vibe with a bunch of beaches? Forio is where to go. Since it’s an island, you are always pretty close to everything. And in Forio, there are a bunch of the smaller buses to get you in the nooks and crannies of the area. That’s a big advantage over Sant’Angelo.
While this is a beautiful area and I highly recommend visiting, I wouldn’t suggest staying for too many days. There’s not a whole lot to do, it’s incredibly hilly, and depending on where you stay, there are only the tiniest of beaches. But, on one side of the big hill, there’s a massive beach and it’s where the warm terme water meets the sea. It’s pretty incredible. Some hotels do offer golf car rides when they are on top of the hill. Sant’Angelo is mostly pedestrian-only (aside from golf carts) so the bus gets you close, but it still takes a lot of walking to get around.
What to expect from Ischia
You go to Ischia if you want a bit of luxury combined with an Italian vibe. There are tons of resorts and some have the best termes on the island, but you can be isolated. If you’re up for a little adventure while still getting partially pampered. Stay at a resort for a couple of days, then stay at a beach-side hotel in an area you can explore on foot.
It’s not a cheap island and getting to and from Naples can be a bit pricey, too. But if you can afford it, I say, go for it! Spend a little extra by getting a transfer to your hotel, then take the bus some days. It’s all about balance if you want a taste of the good life.
English is hit or miss, but Italian, Russian, and German are pretty common. At the resorts, English shouldn’t be a problem. For exploring, get a phrasebook and learn some basics like numbers, tickets, please and thank you…that sort of thing.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this look into Ischia, Italy. If you do end up visiting, please come back and let us know in the comments here, or on our YouTube video.
Wishing you joy and travels!