The Ligurian coast of Italy, also known as the Italian Riviera, is a gorgeous stretch of coastline that begins at the border with France and stretches down to Tuscany. This picturesque area is dotted with colorful seaside villages that boast incredible views of the Ligurian Sea, a picturesque arm of the Mediterranean.
You won’t run out of things to do here, as the towns and villages of the Italian Riviera offer many activities. Whether it’s hiking, shopping, swimming in the blue waters of the Mediterranean, or enjoying culinary delights, this region has it all!
During my trip to Cinque Terre, I realized that the Italian Riviera is home to numerous small coastal towns and villages just waiting to be explored. Given their close proximity to one another, it is easy to visit several of these Italian gems on one trip!
So, without further ado, let me introduce you to some of the beautiful towns to visit on the Italian Riviera.
The town of Portovenere is located in the Bay of Poets, in the Gulf of La Spezia. Though under the same UNESCO World Heritage protection as the towns of Cinque Terre, Portovenere is often overlooked because of its close proximity to the five villages of Cinque Terre.
To get to Portovenere, it is best to take a boat from La Spezia toward Cinque Terre, as the train does not stop in Portovenere. During your time here, you can explore the 13th-century church of San Pietro, visit the 12th-century castle, or just roam the narrow streets of this remarkable medieval town. If you are visiting during the summer months, be sure to take a snorkeling or boat trip to the islands of Palmaria, Tinetto, and Tino.
Pro Tip: If you are planning a trip to the region during the high season (summer), then I highly recommend making Portovenere your home base. Just be sure to book your accommodations well in advance.
The southernmost village of the five villages of the Cinque Terre, Riomaggiore is the first stop on the train from La Spezia. The colorful seaside town is most people’s first stop while visiting the Italian Riviera. The southern part of the town contains great restaurants, a rocky beach, and colorful fishing boats. The northern portion of Riomaggiore is where you will find the agricultural community and the main street, Via Colombo.
Pro Tip: If the Via dell’Amore (“The Way of Love”) hiking path to Manarola is open, be sure to take it. This easy path gives you an incredible view of the Ligurian coast. Be sure to check this website for updates on the hiking paths as they often close for maintenance.
Manarola is one of the most famous towns on the Italian Riviera thanks to its colorful hillside homes and incredible wine. Be sure to take the uphill walk to discover the 13th-century Church of San Lorenzo before heading out on the scenic Manarola Vineyard Walk. The vineyard walk winds you through the terraced vineyards of Manarola and offers some incredible views of the sea and the colorful village.
After your walk, be sure to stop at one of the many charming cafes in town to try some of the Sciacchetra wine produced from the grapes grown on the hillsides. Just take note that this is an incredibly sweet wine, so be prepared.
Pro Tip: If you are up for a climb, be sure to head to the top of the town — and more specifically, Punta Bonfiglio — for a glorious view!
Corniglia is a fabulous medieval town that offers one of the best views of the sea in this area, and the best part is, you don’t have to hike to see it!
Take time to roam the small alleyways of Corniglia with a gelato in hand to truly experience la dolce vita (“the sweet life”)! The main alleyway in town will lead you to a broad terrace that offers up one of the best views in the region.
Pro Tip: When arriving in Corniglia, you can choose to walk the 300+ stairs to gain access into town, or simply wait for the town shuttle bus to pick you up right outside of the train station. Personally, I would wait for the shuttle bus!
As one of the most photographed villages in Cinque Terre, Vernazza is definitely one of the most beautiful towns on the Italian Riviera. The colorful houses seem to be clinging to the seaside cliffs, all overlooking the hustle and bustle of the busy harbor below.
While visiting Vernazza, check out the remains of the old Genoese walls and a watch tower. The town’s cafes and restaurants offer up delicious seafood and fabulous homemade wine, making Vernazza the perfect place to slow down and enjoy life in Italy.
Pro Tip: If you are feeling up for a hike, the path from Corniglia to Vernazza offers amazing views. The entire hike takes about 2 hours and does include a natural, uneven surface.
6. Monterosso Al Mare
Monterosso al Mare is the largest of the five villages of the Cinque Terre, and the only one that contains a proper beach, making it the perfect town to visit if you are a beach lover. In addition to the beach here, Monterosso also offers visitors a chance to explore the historic Church of San Giovanni Battista and the 13th-century Torre Aurora, a medieval tower.
Pro Tip: Monterosso al Mare also makes for a great home base while exploring the Ligurian Coast. There are several hotels and guest houses here to choose from, and the access to public transportation makes it easy to get around.
The Italian Riviera village of Portofino has been popular with celebrities, princes, and poets for years. Located on the Italian Riviera in the Genoa province, Portofino has somehow managed to retain its Italian charm despite its popularity.
Like most villages on the Italian Riviera, Portofino is home to colorful houses and a lively harbor. What makes Portofino unique is that it is also home to a marine nature reserve, Area Marina Protetta di Portofino, that is perfect for snorkeling! Of course, there are also numerous shops and local restaurants for you to explore during your visit.
Pro Tip: If you want a unique place to stay in Portofino, consider the Belmond Splendido, a 19th-century monastery that is now a hotel.
8. Santa Margherita Ligure
Another great village on the Italian Riviera is Santa Margherita Ligure. Located close to Portofino, Santa Margherita is a glorious harbor-side town that is more economical to stay in when compared to some of the other Italian Riviera cities.
During your time in Santa Margherita, enjoy strolling down the promenade before visiting the 16th-century castle, Castello di Santa Margherita Ligure, which is located next to the sea. There are also a number of historic churches that you can visit while in Santa Margherita Ligure. One of note is the Basilica di Santa Margherita d’Antiochia.
Pro Tip: To avoid the crowds, visit during June or September. You will still have great weather but will avoid the droves of tourists.
Bonus: Italian Riviera Cities
While the following are far from towns — boasting populations near or well above 100,000 — I couldn’t help but include these dazzling Italian Riviera cities.
If you are a lover of architecture, food, and history, then Genoa should definitely be on your list of towns to visit on the Italian Riviera! The old town portion of Genoa boasts loads of Renaissance and Baroque architecture along with numerous museums and art galleries just waiting to be explored.
Like the city of Venice, I feel like there are photo opportunities at every turn in Genoa’s old town. Be sure not to miss the Piazza de Ferrari, the Via Garibaldi, and the Teatro Carlo Felice.
Pro Tip: Parts of Genoa feel a little gritty and industrialized. If this isn’t your vibe, then be sure to stay in Genoa’s Old Town area during your time here.
The casino city of San Remo is one of the most stylish destinations on our list. The winding streets of La Pigna, the oldest part of the city, offer visitors an opportunity to be immersed in Italian culture. Here you will find yourself surrounded by beautiful gardens, charming cafes, churches, and fabulous boutique shops.
When you have had your fill of gambling at the casino, be sure to check out the Madonna della Costa Sanctuary. The sanctuary is an iconic symbol to the town of San Remo boasting stunning vistas, a gorgeous exterior, and an even more incredible interior.
The Forte Santa Tecla stands high on the hilltop overlooking the harbor and offers incredible views to visitors during their time in San Remo.
Pro Tip: For an amazing experience, visit San Remo between June and October to take a whale-watching cruise from San Remo. These excursions give you the opportunity to see the whales that migrate along the Ligurian coast during this time of year. Of course, you could also see other aquatic species on your trip!
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