Grado, Italy: An Expert Travel Guide!
The beautiful seaside resort of Grado is located on a 114 km² island in the upper Adriatic Sea and is one of the most popular vacation destinations in Italy. Also known as the “Island of Sun,” this extremely elegant place attracts visitors with gorgeous beaches, a unique Mediterranean flair, and many attractions. The centerpiece is the historic old town of Grado, which enchants visitors from all over the world with its romantic alleys, hidden churches and excellent restaurants. In addition, the area around Grado, with its picturesque lagoon, islets and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Aquileia, is well worth a visit! Whether you’re looking for a relaxing beach vacation, sporting activities such as cycling and water sports, excursions or sightseeing, Grado has something for everyone. But what are the best things to do in Grado, which are the real insider tips, and what are the highlights not to be missed on any vacation?
In this travel guide, you will find all the important information and tips about Grado in Italy. We show you great pictures, the best things to see and to do, and where to find excellent places to stay in Grado.
General Information about Grado
Grado, a town of about 8,000 inhabitants, is located on an island in the Upper Adriatic Sea in Italy. Together with Lignano, Bibione, Caorle and Jesolo, it is one of the most popular tourist resorts in this region. It is located only about 50 kilometers from the city of Trieste and 20 kilometers from the international airport of Friuli Venezia Giulia. Grado, which is often called the “Island of Sun” or the “Island of Gold”, is connected to the mainland by a 4 kilometers long causeway. In between, there is the lagoon of Grado, which is a true natural paradise for the numerous species of birds that inhabit it. The main attraction is the incredibly beautiful old town and the magnificent 10 kilometer long sandy beach, which offers the best conditions for a summer vacation.
The history of Grado as a seaside resort dates back to 1854, when the first bathing cabins, called “Camerini”, were built for vacationers. About 40 years later, in 1892, during the reign of Emperor Franz Joseph I, the resort was proclaimed “Grado Spa and Bathing Establishment” and the then fishing village was transformed into an imperial seaside resort. The architecture of the many beautiful, well renovated villas in the Viennese Art Nouveau style, which can still be admired today along the coast, also originates from this period.
The Best Things to Do in Grado
When visiting Grado, you can look forward to a number of attractions worth seeing. Most of them are located in the old town and can be explored on a walking tour. But the surrounding area is also beautiful and offers many activities and excursions. So that you don’t lose the overview, we have summarized the best things to do in Grado at a glance:
Grado Old Town
The charming Grado Old Town, with its numerous attractions, is a true jewel of the Upper Adriatic. It was founded as a seaport in the 2nd century B.C., and in Roman times the Castrum fortifications were built. Even today, the old town of Grado is home to a high number of historical buildings, including the Basilica of Sant’Eufemia from the 5th century and the archaeological site of the Basilica della Corte from the 4th century. Also worth seeing are the many charming, winding alleys that form a true labyrinth. Here you will find lovely restaurants, pretty cafés and superb shops selling local specialties and handicrafts. In addition, concerts, exhibitions and festivals are held in the Old Town on a regular basis.
Tip: If you would like to stay right in the center of Grado, then the charming EXCELSIOR 10 – Luxury Apartment is definitely an excellent choice!
One of the best things to do in Grado is certainly a visit to the enchanting harbor, the so-called Porto Mandracchio, built in the 19th century. Its romantic location in the center of the city and its unusual Y-shape create a picturesque setting. Sailboats, small yachts and fishing boats rock in the sea and a promenade invites you to stroll. The atmosphere is very authentic, and you can even watch the local fishermen working while having a walk in the morning. There are also some good cafés and bars around the port where you can enjoy an apéritif or coffee in a unique atmosphere.
Tip: The port is also the starting point for boat trips to the Grado lagoon and the island of Barbana. Moreover, special tours are offered at sunset.
Basilica of Sant’Eufemia
The Basilica of Sant’Eufemia is the main church in Grado and, certainly, one of the most beautiful attractions in the coastal town. Built in the 4th-5th centuries, it is an impressive religious landmark and an important example of early Christian architecture in the region. Next to it is a freestanding 15th-century bell tower that towers over the town, with St. Michael the Archangel at the top. But the interior of the church is also worth seeing, with its artistic mosaics on the floor, its colorful frescoes and its pulpit. Also visit the adjacent baptistery, which contains a baptismal font and 6th century mosaics.
Beaches in Grado
The magnificent beaches in Grado are the flagship of the resort. Along about 10 kilometers of coastline, you can enjoy several wonderful sandy beaches, which will enchant you with their picturesque atmosphere. Grado has been flying the Blue Flag for 33 years, an award for the best cleanliness, facilities and sea quality. Characteristic is the warm, shallow-sloping sea, which is especially loved by families with small children, elderly people as well as non-swimmers. Among the most important beaches are the main beach GIT, the beach Costa Azzurra in front of the old town and the beach Grado Pineta in the east of the resort.
There are also two dog beaches and several free areas where you can spread out your towel for free. There is also a wide range of entertainment and water sports activities to guarantee an unforgettable day on the Upper Adriatic coast.
The promenade, also known as the “diga”, is absolutely stunning and a truly beautiful attraction in Grado. Whether it is spring, summer, fall or winter, a walk along the picturesque promenade is a fantastic experience. It connects the Costa Azzura beach to the west with the main beach to the east. Along the way, there are many places to sit and enjoy the sound of the sea and admire the beautiful sunsets of Grado. Decorated with greenery, palm trees and flower beds, the promenade has a very elegant atmosphere. Also enchanting are the many historic Art Nouveau villas that are still used today as inns and hotels.
Island of Barbana
The small island of Barbana is a real highlight in Grado and a visit should not be missed on any trip. This place of pilgrimage is located in the middle of the lagoon and can be reached several times a day by a pleasant boat ride of about 20 minutes. Here, visitors can enjoy a place of peace and relaxation. On the island there is an enchanting park, a Franciscan monastery and the famous church of the Virgin Mary Santuario di Barbana, which is the main attraction of the island of Barbana. The origins of this church date back to the 6th century, and since 1237 the popular Perdon de Barbana procession takes place every year on the first Sunday in July.
Tip: Wonderful boat trips to the island of Barban are available several times a day from the port and from the pier near the bridge Ponte Scaramuzza.
The Art Nouveau Villas
Unique in Grado are the numerous Art Nouveau villas. Walking through the town center, one can admire a true abundance of these historical buildings, which give the entire town a very special flair. They are testimonies of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, when in 1892 Grado was proclaimed a health resort by the former emperor. At that time, Grado was particularly attractive because of its proximity to Trieste and Vienna, and so many of these villas were built, which are still in use today as prestigious hotels or guest houses. One of these is the Ville Bianchi, built in the early 19th century, which is now a popular place to stop and take a photo while strolling along the seafront. Just opposite is the “Emperor’s Gate“, which was specially made for Emperor Franz Joseph I at that time.
Tip: The Ville Bianchi is now a lovely 4-star hotel on the romantic promenade. Guests love the historic ambiance and the breakfast is top notch.
Val Cavanata Nature Reserve
The Val Cavanata Nature Reserve, located just a few kilometers from Grado, is a true paradise for nature lovers. It covers an area of over 300 hectares and offers visitors a remarkable variety of flora and fauna. The area is home to over 260 species of birds and is therefore especially famous for bird watching. What is really worth seeing, and the main attraction of the park, are the pink flamingos, which can be admired during a walk through the area. Hiking trails with viewpoints and observation posts allow visitors to experience the rich biodiversity up close.
UNESCO World Heritage Site of Aquileia
The historic city of Aquileia, with its excavation sites and imposing basilica, is one of the most popular excursion destinations from Grado. Located just 10 kilometers from the Grado, it was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1998. Aquileia was founded as early as 181 A.D. and was an important Roman city at that time. Due to its strategic location, the city became a major commercial hub on the Adriatic. Today, a visit to the city reveals a variety of interesting attractions and monuments, including the Basilica of S. Maria Assunta with the largest mosaic floor in Europe, dating back to the 4th century. Also worth visiting are the National Archaeological Museum, the Roman Inland Port and the Roman Forum.
Absolutely impressive is the beautiful lagoon of Grado. Located between the Fossalon di Grado and the island of Anfora, this natural jewel covers an area of 90 km². The Grado dam divides the lagoon into an eastern part, the Palù de Sora, and a western part, the Palù de Soto. Even the drive to Grado by car or bicycle over the 4 km long dam is an experience with a wonderful view of the enchanting landscape. A boat trip through the lagoon is also recommended. Excursions are offered several times a day from the port. You will discover a unique natural area, fascinating landscapes, rich wildlife and the historic island of Barbana. A special attraction are the casoni, simple thatched houses once inhabited by fishermen.
A must-visit is the traditional weekly market in Grado. It takes place every Saturday morning between 8:00 am and 1:00 pm and is a real highlight for bargain hunters. It is one of the largest markets in the region and is located along Viale Italia 54. The long street is lined with vendors offering their wares to vacationers. Clothes, handbags and beach towels are the most common items, but there are also bric-a-brac, toys and household goods. It is worth comparing prices and bargaining because some things can also be found in the center of Grado. Moreover, there are also stalls selling local products such as wine, cheese, olive oil, ham and honey, as well as snacks, drinks and coffee.
Where to Stay in Grado
On the island of Grado you can find a good selection of pleasant accommodations. From cheap apartments to bed and breakfasts, from campsites with mobile homes to great hotels near the beach, it’s all here. If you’re looking for a particularly recommended place to stay in Grado, we can give you these accommodation tips along the way… It’s worth a look!
- Fantastic 3-Star Hotel: The Hotel & Apartments Eldorado is a real insider tip for a perfect stay in Grado! Guests love the modern facilities, cleanliness and breakfast.
- Nice Little B&B: The Sunset Room & Breakfast is a nice little guesthouse near the center, with a delicious breakfast and a great location on the beach.
- Charming 4-Star Hotel: The Hotel Villa Erica is a charming 4-star hotel in a 19th century villa. The location directly in the pedestrian zone is also ingenious.
- Adults Only Hotel: The wonderful Laguna Faro Suites is a chic 4-star hotel with beautiful interiors, great breakfast and a rooftop pool.
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