The Italian Riviera, the coastal part of Liguria, stretches from the French border to the northern tip of Tuscany and is dotted with picturesque fishing villages and towns. A rail line running along the coast makes it easy to access most seaside towns by train and in summer season the top villages and towns are also connected by ferry, making this part of northern Italy a traveler’s paradise.
Following are 5 of the most popular places to go along the Italian Riviera.
The 5 picturesque villages called the Cinque Terre make up the best known and most popular place to visit along the coast. Hiking trails connect the 5 villages, although parts of them are sometimes closed for safety reasons. They can be reached by train on the Cinque Terre express that runs between the city of La Spezia and Levanto and from late spring through early fall the most scenic way to arrive at most of the villages is by ferry. Get details in Cinque Terre: Getting there, staying, and information.
- View the villages from the sea, take a swim, and enjoy a seafood lunch in Vernazza in this Small Group Boat Tour of Cinque Terre.
Near the Cinque Terre, but not quite as crowded, is the colorful fishing village of Portovenere, reached by ferry from several places along the coast or by bus from La Spezia. Colorful houses line the harbor and narrow pedestrian streets and stairways in the medieval center run up the hill to the castle from where there are beautiful views. Perched on the promontory at the edge of the village is the picturesque San Pietro Church.
Along with the Cinque Terre, Portovenere is inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Known as a playground of the rich and famous, the beautiful village of Portofino is famous for its half-moon shaped harbor filled with yachts and fishing boats and ringed by colorful buildings. The village sits on a peninsula covered with olive, fruit, and pine trees and most of the peninsula is a regional park with hiking trails. Above the village is a small castle, once home to the British consul to Genoa, reached by a walk through the botanic garden. Along the route to the castle is San Giorgio Church and another trail takes you to the lighthouse.
- Taste olive oil, typical appetizers, and wine in the countryside a short walk above Portofino in this Small Group Tour: Olive Oil Tasting in Portofino.
The best way to reach Portofino is from the larger seaside town of Santa Margherita Ligure, which also makes a good base for visiting Portovenere and Cinque Terre since it’s on the rail line and has many hotels. From Santa Margherita, you can take a bus or ferry, or take the bus to the village of Paraggi and hike the scenic trail to Portofino, about an hour.
The pretty 11th century Abbey of San Fruttuoso sits on the other side of the peninsula and can be reached from Portofino by a 2-hour walk or by boat. There’s no road to the Abbey, making it a peaceful excursion.
Genoa is a large port city with what’s said to be the biggest surviving medieval quarter in Europe, filled with narrow pedestrian streets, churches, and small squares. Much of the port area has been spruced up in recent years and it has a walking path, one of Europe’s biggest aquariums, and the Bigo, a capsule that takes you up in the air for good views of the city and sea. Genoa’s beautiful 16th century Rolli palaces along Via Garibaldi, some of which are now museums, make up one of Italy’s UNESCO World Heritage sites. Take the public elevator up the hill to Piazza Castello for more good views. Read more about Genoa’s Port and Medieval Alleys.
- Take a 3-hour walking tour to explore the Sights and Flavors of Genoa’s Historic Center or see the Masterpieces of Genoa: The Aristocratic Contributions (note: price shown is per group).
Genoa is central to most of the Italian Riviera and has excellent transportation options so it makes a good base for exploring the area if you’re traveling by train. To get to Genoa, book train tickets on Rail Europe in US dollars. Genoa also has a small airport with flights from some cities in Italy and Europe.
Almost to the border of France, Sanremo, or San Remo, is a resort town with a large harbor, a popular casino, good shopping areas, and an unusual historic center called La Pigna, the Pine Cone, that winds up the hill to a mosaic walkway leading to the beautiful 17th century Madonna della Costa Sanctuary. Sanremo is also known for the Italian Song Festival where many Italian musicians have been discovered over the years. Sanremo is a major stop on the rail line that runs along the coast.
Italian Riviera Map and When to Go
To see the location of the above destinations and explore more places to go on the Italian Riviera, see this Liguria Coast Map and Guide.