- Marine Life
- When to Go Diving
- Scuba Diving Conditions
- Best Dive Sites
The birthplace of the Renaissance, the Roman Empire and, of course, pizza. Full of a uniquely romantic spirit, Italy seamlessly blends the beauty of the past with stylish modernity.
Italy’s borders stretch from the mountainous Alps in the North to the idyllic sandy beaches of the “boot”, nestled between the Mediterranean and Adriatic Seas.
Thousands of miles of coastline feature cliffs that plunge into sparkling blue ocean, interrupted only by small, sandy coves and quaint, coastal villages; palatial villas and fragrant citrus groves.
This classic European holiday destination is also home to an often overlooked scuba diving scene. Venturing beneath the glittering waves of the Mediterranean, you will have the chance to explore caves, drop-offs, wrecks, even ancient artifacts and the remnants of ancient volcanoes. The islands, both large and small, offer exceptional diving – some with dolphin, whale and mola mola sightings. All of this in pristine visibility.
In this Ultimate Italy Diving Guide, we will take you through what you can expect to see and where the best spots are.
Shall we dive in?
Highlights of scuba diving in Italy
- Rome – Wrecks and sinkholes, as well as getting to explore an ancient city
- Elba – Underwater museum and the most diverse marine life
- Sicily – Imposing shipwrecks and the best climate
- Sardinia – Labyrinthine caves and a well-established diving community
- Liguria – Stylish, French Riviera style towns, wrecks and caves
- Sorrento – Wrecks and stunning, protected marine parks
- Campania – Beautiful, isolated islands and archaeological remains
Marine Life of Italy
Due to decades of overfishing, the Mediterranean has a bad reputation for barren dive sites. Whilst this is certainly the case in some regions, Italy has a wide array of creatures on display beneath its waves. Obviously, there is not the variety or vibrancy of tropical regions but many divers will be pleasantly surprised.
Whilst the rocky environment of the Mediterranean is too cold to sustain many of the vibrant corals found in tropical climes, you can find sponges and magnificent Gorgonian sea fans on many dive sites. Macro life flourishes in the temperate climate and you can find numerous nudibranchs, small crustaceans and even seahorses. Also hiding in the rocks, you might find moray and conger eels, octopus, lobster, scorpionfish.
Larger fish species like tuna, grouper, snapper, amberjack and barracuda can be spotted, sometimes in spectacular schools. Hovering above the reefs, you will see many silvery sargo, sea bass and bream as well as colorful darting wrasse and gobies.
It is uncommon to find pelagic species whilst diving in Italy, but it isn’t unheard of. Loggerhead turtles have been seen around Lampedusa, where they have been known to nest. Whales, dolphins and the bizarre-looking mola-mola (or sunfish) are also infrequent visitors. Whilst various sharks have been sighted around the Mediterranean, none have been seen with any regularity or reliability.
When to go diving in Italy
Italy features a classic Mediterranean climate, though the weather can vary greatly between the mountainous northern regions and the warm, sun-drenched beaches of the south. During the summer, the air temperatures vary from 20°C to 30°C. The winter months bring highs of 10°C but they can drop well below freezing in the high-altitude, mountainous regions.
The best, and most popular, time for scuba diving in Italy is during the summer from April to October. During these months, the water temperatures range from 15 to 26°C, peaking in July and August. During the winter, the water temperature can plummet to as low as 10 degrees.
July and August are the busiest months for tourism in Italy, as European and American tourists flock to the balmy coastline. Some of the busiest regions for diving include the Amalfi Coast, Sardinia and Sicily, whilst other tourist destinations like Rome, Florence and Venice can be even more crowded. Be aware that in August, it can get very densely packed and booking ahead is a wise move.
Scuba Diving Conditions In Italy
The conditions for scuba diving in Italy are generally very good. The water temperature of around 26oC in the height of summer will mean that most people require a short or 3mm wetsuit, whilst winter temperatures create the need for 7mm wetsuits or drysuits. Even if you don’t believe you need a wetsuit in 26oC, thermoclines can decrease the temperature by significant amounts.
The visibility is generally very good, around 20m, though it can be up to 50m+ on some of the offshore islands. Some locations, notably the southern regions, can feature fierce currents so be sure to carry a surface marker buoy, or SMB, and follow an experience guide to stay safe. Of course, good diving insurance should be a necessity whenever you dive.
Ultimate Italy Diving Guide: Best Dive Sites
The ancient city of Rome is probably not your first thought when you think about scuba diving in Italy… Fortunately for scuba divers, you can combine excellent diving with a city break!
Just off the Roman coastline, is the wreck of the St Lucia. Sunk during WWII, she lays on the seabed in two pieces at 44m. Those with suitable depth qualifications will love the history lesson as you observe her intact propellers and anchor. This is a great site for photographers due to the excellent visibility and quantity of marine life.
Other great dives around Rome include the Costacuti Reef. Though it lies at 30m, which will require divers to use nitrox to stay for any length of time, there is a wall which ascends to shallower depths. You can also explore the Merro sinkhole (or Pozzo del Merro) which is found near Anzio.
Elba is an island in the Tuscan Archipelago and is Italy’s third-largest island. It is famous as the location of Napoleon’s year of exile. The waters are protected as part of a national marine park. This has created some of the best and richest diving in the Mediterranean. Here, you can see big schools of fish as well as the occasional eagle rays and mola mola, as well as some submerged archaeological remains.
One of the most interesting dives is the Elba Island Underwater Museum, located in the Corsica Canal, which features underwater statues of various historical and mythological figures, including the Punta della Madonna.
The Elviscott is the shipwreck of a 500-tonne Italian freighter, which sank in 1972. Lying at 8-12m and featuring no currents, it is suitable for beginner divers. It is pleasingly intact and is adorned with various fish and moray eels.
Formiche della Zanca lies off the western point of the island and features vibrant red sea fans. It often has strong currents and the topography is dramatic, with huge boulders, canyons, tunnels and walls. You can see schooling barracuda, big grouper, eels, lobster and nudibranch.
Pianosa Island has only recently started to allow scuba diving. As a result, the dive sites are pristine and you can find schools of fish, lobster and even eagle rays.
The largest of the Italian islands, Sicily forms a striking image, dominated by the ominous volcano, Etna. It has some of the best conditions of anywhere in Italy, combined with the warmest climate. There are many shipwrecks hidden beneath the glittering blue waters, dating from the Roman Empire to modern times. This area is also protected, aiding the coral life in the area which features large, bright gorgonians and macro life including seahorses.
Faraglioni of Trezze, or “Islands of the Cyclops” are three dramatic volcanic columns which are spectacular rock formations, both above and below the water. Found near the town of Aci Trezza in Catania, it is a popular tourist destination.
The Zingaro Reserve, found on the rugged and untouched stretch of coastline between Trapani and Palermo, offers wrecks and spectacular visibility.
The scuba diving community in Sardinia is the strongest in the whole of Italy, due to the abundance of excellent diving in the region. Sardinia features crystal clear waters, some of the best beaches in Europe, accessible dive sites and amazing cave diving. So it’s not surprising that scuba diving is so popular!
St Elmo’s Rock is a popular site which is honeycombed with caves and caverns. The site is also famed for its biodiversity and there are plenty of both fish and bottom-dwellers to look out for.
Grotta del Nereo near Alghero is perhaps one of the most famous dive sites in Italy. These extensive caves reach 350m into the towering cliff face, forming an intricate network of tunnels, atriums and passageways. Seeing the spectacular water clarity within the sun-dappled white caves firsthand is an awe-inspiring experience.
Secca del Papa features beautiful and dramatic granite formations. There are also lots of fish, which dart around the rocks.
On the northwestern coastline, Stintino offers some great beginner dives whilst the KT12 and Nasello wrecks in the east are great for history buffs.
Liguria is a region in the northwest of Italy, where it connects to the French Riviera. It is a popular holiday destination, particularly amongst the exceedingly rich, who like to park their mega-yachts here. Portofino is the main town in Liguria and is the birthplace of scuba diving in Italy.
Though there are many excellent dive sites in the region, the most famous is the Christ of the Abyss in the bay of San Fruttuoso. It features a statue, placed in 1954 as a memorial for the diver Dario Gonzatti who died there. Lying at 16m, it is suitable for all levels of divers. Interestingly, copies of this statue can be found in Key Largo, Grenada and St George’s.
Punta Secca Carega, which is also known as Dry Conzatti, features undulating topography which connects the pinnacle to the shore. Full of life, you can find schools of anthia, snapper and bream here as well as huge gorgonian sea fans.
The Shrimp Cave sits within a wall which starts at 20m and plunges sharply into the blue. The cave’s entrance is at 35m and is home to large numbers of shrimp who will flinch away from your torch. The walls are coated in bright red and yellow sponges and there are some big groupers.
The Mohawk Deer is the wreck of a Canadian steam-powered cargo ship that sank in 1974. She sits between 20 and 40m, so she is suitable for advanced divers. She is now populated by various species including scorpionfish, eels and groupers.
Sorrento is a small, popular town that overlooks the Bay of Naples, facing the intimidating behemoth of Mount Vesuvius. Diving in Sorrento features lots of caves, drop-offs and wrecks which can be catered to both beginner and experienced divers.
Punta Campanella is a protected area, which is a delight for both divers and the hikers that walk these rugged cliffs. This protection along 40km of coastline has allowed the marine ecosystem to flourish.
Scoglio del Vervece is an islet that has a cargo ship at 40m to explore, as well as rich marine life and a submerged bronze statue of the Virgin Mary.
Capo di Corrento is a shallow site close to Queen Giovanna’s Baths. Divers can find brightly colored nudibranch, sponges and sea fans as well as shards of pottery dating back to the Roman times.
Campania is the region that is home to the Amalfi Coast, Naples, Sorrento, Pompeii and some great scuba diving. Here you can find the Baiae Archaeological Park. It is a unique experience to dive amidst the lost city of Baiae.
Just offshore, you can find the three lonely Li Galli Islands. They have some of the most exceptional water clarity in Italy and the dive sites are studded with vibrant red and yellow sea fans and sponges. There are also many fish hidden in nooks and crannies including bream and croakers. Even tuna are occasionally sighted in the early spring and late autumn.
Closer to Pompeii, you can experience diving into history as you witness firsthand the devastation that Vesuvius wrought when it erupted some 2000 years ago. There are statues, artifacts and fascinating lava formations to look at.
Isole Pontine is an archipelago between Naples and Rome. It includes the Ponza and Ventotene Islands which have volcanic topography, caves, grottoes and wrecks for divers to explore. They are sat in the middle of a nutrient-rich current which has encouraged the abundant marine life including sea fans, eels and schools of fish.
Liveaboards in Italy
Liveaboard cruises aren’t as popular in European regions as they are in Central American locations like Costa Rica or in equatorial regions of Asia, such as Indonesia or the Philippines. Whilst there are some operating in the Mediterranean, there is a lot less choice.
The reason for this could be due to the more changeable seasons, which would force closures during the winter months. Those that do run tend to cater to small groups, such as the Norseman, which explores the waters around Elba.
Italy is one of Europe’s best scuba diving destinations and many of these sites rank amongst the best in the world.
You will be spoilt for choice between the caves, caverns, wrecks and archaeological remains. And all of this whilst exploring the beautiful rural countryside and ancient cities.
What are you waiting for?!