Off the coast of Naples, Italy is the charming island of Ischia. All around the island, you’ll find homes and guesthouses tucked into the hillsides, with small yet bustling streets in the major centers. You’ll find some areas that cater to tourists, but the island has a distinctly local feel, with beautiful spots you can have all to yourself for at least a short while.
The island of Ischia feels like a hidden gem, a place with large portions that are skipped over by the mobs of tourists who make their way through the Italian cities of Florence, Venice, and Rome. You’ll hear some English, but most of the voices will be carrying on in Italian. You can swim, try some local cuisine, and even visit a castle while in Ischia!
Things to do in Ischia
Once you get to Ischia, you might find yourself wondering how to make the most of your trip. Read on for a list of the best things to do in Ischia!
Visit Castello Aragonese d’Ischia
When in Ischia, you simply can’t miss the Castello Aragonese d’Ischia (or the Aragon Castle of Ischia in English), a stunning castle located on the island that dates back to 474 B.C. The castle is actually a fortress built on top of a separate island near Ischia, but the two are connected by a land bridge that you can simply walk across.
The castle offers stunning views of Ischia, Capri, and other nearby islands. There are lookout points in every direction, as well as two cafes where you can order an espresso or an Aperol spritz and stare off over the sea.
On the castle grounds, you’ll find an assortment of historical sites and artifacts, from torture devices to a crypt filled with 14th century frescoes. The most memorable site was the Nuns’ Cemetery, which contained stone seats with drainage holes that resembled toilets. Nuns’ bodies would be placed on these chairs after they died and they would be left to decompose in the seats until only their skeletons remained.
If you visit the castle, be prepared to walk up a lot of stairs. There is an elevator to bypass the first climb, but we had to convince the staff to let us use it and it is not visible from the entrance. Comfortable shoes are a must in Castello Aragonese d’Ischia!
Take a boat around the island
One of the most unique ways to see Ischia is to hire a boat and take a self-guided tour around the perimeter of the island. There are companies that rent boats you can sail all of the way around the island, and these companies estimate that it takes about 3 hours to make the full loop without stops.
Truthfully, I was too nervous to actually do this because I have never driven a boat! If you decide to hire a boat, you do so at your own risk and I suggest that you have experience boating and follow any relevant precautions.
Rent a scooter or a car and drive around the island
Ischia is a fairly large island with a lot more to see and do than the small port might suggest. In order to see as much of the island as possible, I suggest that you rent a car or a scooter and take the ring road around Ischia. Be sure to stop along the way to see as many lookout spots as possible, as the dazzling views of the coastline are some of the best parts of visiting Ischia.
Try an Ischian bruschetta
While in Ischia, you can’t skip their local bruschetta, made with a type of tomato that is special to the island. If you’ve never had bruschetta, it’s made by piling seasoned, raw tomatoes on toasted or grilled bread, then typically topped with olive oil. On menus, you’ll often find bruschetta listed among the appetizers.
You can find bruschetta at many restaurants throughout the island, but the best one I tried was at Porto 51, where you can also find a zingara sandwich.
Try a zingara sandwich
If you’d like to sample local Ischian cuisine, be sure to try a zingara sandwich, traditional fare on the island. The classic zingara is made with rustic bread, prosciutto, mozzarella, tomato, lettuce, and mayonnaise, then toasted to melt the cheese. Porto 51 makes a wonderful zingara sandwich, and they also carry a vegetarian version made with eggplant if you’d prefer to skip the prosciutto.
The restaurant is set along the main Ischian Port, so you could easily try a zingara while you wait for your ferry.
Watch the sunset
There’s nothing quite like watching the sunset after a day of exploration. The sunset would probably be especially beautiful from a beach or lookout spot on the west side of the island, but we were content to sip Aperol spritzes and enjoy it from a terrace in the Castello Aragonese d’Ischia.
The western side of the island is sure to have an even more beautiful sunset, more reminiscent of the sunsets in Naples or Cinque Terre.
Shop for souvenirs along Corso Vittoria Colonna
The shopping district in Coro Vittoria Colonna offers a variety of shops at different price points, and it’s open fairly late on weekend nights. You can find the more traditional tourist shops along this street, as well as more fashion forward boutiques. My favorite store that I passed carried leather purses that appeared to be fashioned out of old rotary phones for a few hundred euros. I decided I definitely didn’t need a phone purse, but they were fun to look at!
Eat gelato at Pasticceria Trani
I had some of the best gelato of my life in Ischia at Pasticceria Trani, a small gelato shop near the Castello Aragonese d’Ischia. The Neapolitan-inspired baba flavored gelato (named after the rum-soaked pastry that’s popular in Naples) was the best of the dairy options, while the lemon and strawberry sorbet was the perfect combination to beat the heat.
If you don’t make it to Pasticceria Trani, there are plenty of other shops scooping wonderful gelato on the island. You’ll want to avoid places with gelato piled high behind glass cases–these cater especially to tourists and usually won’t be as flavorful or amazing. Instead, opt for shops that are a bit more modest in their presentation, ideally with a small line of locals waiting to buy a cone.
Swim in the sea
The summer sun in Ischia is very warm, so it can be wonderfully relaxing to cool off with a swim in the Tyrrhenian Sea. There are plenty of spots along the coastline that are perfect for swimming, and the sun is warm enough that the water should feel great. On my visit, I swam in the water near Spiaggia dei Maronti and found the waves to be very gentle.
Are there sandy beaches in Ischia?
Yes, there are sandy beaches in Ischia. Not every beach has the same type of sand, though, so if you’re looking for a sandy beach I’d suggest you Google image search it before you go. In particular, Spiaggia di San Pietro has dark sandy beaches and is very close to the Port of Ischia. By contrast, Spiaggia dei Maronti had sand that was very coarse and a little tough to walk on in bare feet.
Try rucolino liqueur
The local liqueur in Ischia is ruolino, an elixir made with liquor, arugula, and sugar. You can find it at many of the bars throughout the island, or simply walk along Corso Vittoria Colonna and try a small splash from one of the liqueur vendors passing out samples. The drink is traditionally served ice cold, and it tastes reminiscent of the popular Calabrian liqueur Vecchio Amaro del Capo that you may see in bars throughout Florence.
Ischia is a volcanic island located in the Tyrrhenian Sea off the gulf of Naples in southern Italy. By ferry, the island is about an hour’s journey from the Port of Naples, and the popular island of Capri is visible from some portions of Ischia’s coastline.
How easy is it to get around Ischia?
Ischia is relatively small, but you’ll still want to rent a car or use public transport to get around the island. If you plan to visit for a day and see the castle along with a few other highlights, you’ll probably be able to navigate the island on foot. However, I’d recommend a car or a scooter for longer trips so that you can see more of the island and access beaches further from the Port of Ischia.
Is Ischia better than Capri?
Ischia is a larger island than Capri, both in landmass and population, and it is home to many more locals. Choose Ischia if you’d like to experience a more local feel, with lower prices and less infrastructure catered to tourists. You’ll also find that prices are lower in Ischia when compared to Capri. This is mostly due to the volume of tourists that head to Capri each day during the height of tourist season.
How long is the ferry ride from Naples to Ischia?
The ferry ride from Naples to Ischia takes about an hour. There are two types of ferries, a high speed ferry and one that is more conventional. The high speed boats travel between the two ports in less than an hour, while the conventional boats take a little over an hour. Both ferries are air conditioned and comfortable, so I’d recommend choosing the boat that works best with your itinerary.
Where does the ferry drop you off in Ischia?
The ferry drops you off at the Porto d’Ischia or the Port of Ischia, where you can find any other types of local transit you might need. The Castello Aragonese d’Ischia is about 35 minutes walking from the port, or you’ll find plenty of taxis available for hire in either location. The prices of cars and scooters are more or less identical between the sellers around the port, so I’d check Google Maps to find one with decent reviews if you decide to hire a vehicle.
Do I need to book a ferry from Naples to Ischia in advance?
No, it’s not necessary to book your ferry between Naples and Ischia in advance. You’ll find that the lines in the Naples ferry terminal are all headed to Capri, so you’ll breeze right onto your boat. That said, the ticket prices may fluctuate, so if you’re sure of your itinerary you may wish to book in advance.
Can you cycle around Ischia?
I wouldn’t recommend that you cycle around Ischia unless you’re a very experienced and determined cyclist. The roads are full of large trucks, scooters, and cars, and the roads are often paved with an uneven type of stone. I didn’t notice any bike lanes while I was on the island, and the steep hills would also pose a challenge.
How long does it take to drive around Ischia?
It would take about 75 to 90 minutes to drive around Ischia, assuming you took the ring road and didn’t stop to admire the lookout spots. If you plan to try to see the whole of the island by car, add some time to drive further off the ring road and towards the coast so that you can take advantage of as many lookout points as possible.
Do people speak English in Ischia?
Some people spoke English in Ischia, but knowing some Italian and being ready with Google Translate is advised. I certainly encountered people who didn’t speak much English, but the tourism industry is developed enough that it wasn’t an impediment. By contrast, many travelers report that Capri is full of people speaking English, so Ischia is definitely a more local and authentically Italian place to visit.
How many days should you spend in Ischia?
The best answer I can give you here is “it depends.” If you’re looking to see the highlights of Ischia, you can realistically experience the island in a day by visiting the castle and staying within walking distance of the port. If you’re looking for a longer island holiday, you could easily spend a few days to over a week in Ischia. For most travelers, one to two days should be plenty of time to get a feel for Ischia and see the major attractions.
How do I spend one day in Ischia?
If you decide to visit Ischia on a day trip from Naples, take the earliest ferry possible to allow yourself plenty of time to explore the island. After the ferry docks, walk the 35 minutes or so to the Aragon Castle of Ischia, stopping along the way for water and/or snacks if you’re hungry. You’ll want to plan to spend at least three hours in the castle, so be prepared with comfortable walking shoes, sunscreen, and water.
After you explore the castle, you can head down to the bridge that connects Ischia to the Aragon Castle, where you’ll be able to swim and lounge near the water on a warm day. There are a few volcanic rocks that are perfect for sunbathing and soaking in the Mediterranean. Then, grab some gelato from Pasticceria Trani and head back towards the Port of Ischia by strolling along Corso Vittoria Colonna.
Finally, grab some local fare like a zingara or bruschetta from a restaurant near the port for dinner. You’ll be able to watch the ships come in and enjoy the sunset from a spot near the water, or you can time your ferry so that you see the sunset from the boat. This itinerary would allow you to see most of the highlights of Ischia without spending the night on the island.
After spending two full days in Ischia, I would say that the island is definitely worth visiting, but can easily be done as a day trip from Naples. The Castello Aragonese d’Ischia was one of the highlights of my recent trips to Italy, both because of its interesting history and stunning views of Ischia. For those seeking an extended getaway from the crowds, Ischia is a wonderfully relaxing spot in the Mediterranean to soak up the sun.
Where to stay
If you decide to stay for a night or longer in Ischia, choose a spot that is a bit away from the busy and bustling port so that you can relax. Travelers sensitive to the heat will want to be sure that their accommodation has air conditioning, and there are plenty of options that offer a simple Italian breakfast if you’d like to avoid having to search for a nearby restaurant each morning.
When I stayed in Ischia, I stayed in Casa Malo on the advice of a friend and had a lovely time. The place was modest but comfortable, with a beautiful view from both our room and the kitchen area. The hosts made cappuccinos and other espresso drinks for us each morning, and the breakfast selection included fresh peaches and pears. If we hadn’t stayed in Casa Malo, we would have also considered Porcavilla b&b, an accommodation with great reviews and a location fairly close to the castle.
There is only one hostel on the island for budget travelers, Ring Hostel. The beds are relatively affordable, averaging about 25 euros per night in September. Note that it is located about a 30 minute bus ride from the Port, or you can take a ferry from the Port of Ischia to Forio Port.
Final Thoughts: Things to do in Ischia
I had a wonderful time visiting the beautiful island of Ischia and it’s a great way to see Italy off the tourist track without venturing too far from a major city. I’ll never forget wandering the castle grounds or eating the bright and flavorful bruschetta from restaurants across the island, both of which were endlessly charming.
Further, Ischia was a wonderful place to visit with my dad, as there were people of all ages wandering the sights and streets. It’s easy to find a table at a restaurant, grab a spot in a cabana on the beach, or otherwise enjoy a view without being shoulder-to-shoulder with other tourists. If you leave the popular cities of Florence and Rome wanting to get a sense of what life is like for local Italians, be sure to squeeze in some time to visit Ischia while you’re in Italy.