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The Italian or Ligurian Riviera, a coastal strip that lies between the South of France and the Tuscany borders is a very popular holiday spot. Colorful seaside villages, panoramic views, the blue of the Mediterranean Sea and the stunning beaches make this part of Italy a piece of heaven.
On my recent trip to Italy, I had the chance to visit some of the most pretty Italian Riviera cities and towns. I was amazed by the beauty of the region and the many activities it offers to visitors. From swimming to clear blue waters, fishing, hiking, shopping in boutiques, to eating local delicacies and tasting the region’s wines, the Italian Riviera has something for everyone.
- Monterosso al Mare
- Santa Margherita Ligure
- San Remo
12 Italian Riviera cities and towns you have to visit
Portovenere a seaside village located on the Ligurian coast was designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Many visitors tend to visit the neighborhood Cinque Terre villages and leave Portovenere out. For me, Portovenere is a hidden gem that definitely deserves a visit. This small town has a lot to offer; an old castle, beautiful churches, colorful houses, the nearby islands of Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto which are perfect for a cruise, many caves to explore and crystal clear waters.
Where to Stay in Portovenere
The Grand Hotel Portovenere is set just seconds from the beach in a 17th-century monastery. Most of the luxurious rooms and suites have a small terrace overlooking the sea; for those that don’t, there is a spacious terrace and restaurant/bar.
At the Belvedere, the air-conditioned rooms look out over at the Ligurian Sea and are equipped with free toiletries and slippers. Cinque Terre, a popular coastal UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a 35-minute drive.
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It’s the most southern village of the Cinque Terre. This colorful village of the Italian Riviera is divided into two by the railway lines. The lower part is the fisherman village, where you will see small fishing boats, excellent restaurants, and a rocky beach at the side and the upper part where is the agricultural village. The main street of the village called Via Colombo has many take away restaurants serving fresh fish, bars and souvenir shops. The road is very steep and has many steps. From Riomaggiore starts the famous hiking path called Via dell’ Amore which leads to Manarola. Unfortunately, the path is closed due to many rockslides caused by a flood.
Where to Stay in Riomaggiore
Riomaggiore is the first (or last) town on the popular Cinque Terre hike, which means staying here is a great option if you are hiking the trail. The Case Vacanze Scorci di Mare is a 3-minute walk from the beach in a 114th-century building. Renovated with eco-friendly materials, the hotel features beautiful wooden beams, modern bathrooms, and spacious bedrooms.
The Locanda Ca Da Iride is above town, a 9 minute walk from the beach, and features beautiful views over the descending town.Its cozy rooms are clean and inviting and the family that runs it is warm and welcoming.
Another seaside village of the Cinque Terre. The best way to see it is by boat or by taking the path from Manarola towards the village of Corniglia. The path is currently closed, but there is a small part open. From there you can enjoy one of the most breathtaking views of the village. During summer the light is better in the afternoon if you are interested in taking photos. If you walk a little bit further from there, you will find some big rocks that are perfect for sunbathing and swimming.
Where to Stay in Manarola
Ca’ D’Andrean is located in the center of Manarola, the second town in Cinque Terre. Rooms are bright and spacious with modern, geometric decor. There is an onsite bar, lush gardens, and a small terrace.
The small (11 rooms) La Torretta hotel offers a reception each evening, complimentary breakfast, a complimentary non-alcoholic minibar, and coffee/tea facilities in the room. Despite being in a medieval building, the rooms at La Torretta are modern and serene.
Corniglia is the only village of the Cinque Terre that doesn’t have a harbor. It’s actually located 100 meters above sea level and is the smallest and quietest of all. To get there from the train station you have to climb 382 steps. Alternatively, you can take a bus to the village. If you have the Cinque Terre Card, the bus is free. The bus will leave you at a big square. Follow the sigh towards Centro, where through a small alley with shops, bars, and gelaterias you will end up at Corniglia’s main square. From there if you walk further down you will end up in a terrace from where you can admire the whole coast and the other villages of the Cinque Terre. Don’t forget to try some gelato at the Gelateria of Alberto. It makes the best ice cream in the whole Cinque Terre. Even though we didn’t stay in Corniglia, we went twice just for the ice cream. Corniglia is a very charming village.
Where to Stay in Corniglia
Cinque Terre’s third town, Corniglia, is often less crowded than the others as an overnight stay. B&B da Beppe is a charming bed and breakfast in the heart of the town. Rooms are comfortable, if maybe a little small, but come equipped with kettle and coffee/tea making facilities, an ensuite bathroom, and views across the town and sea. Owner Beppe gets rave reviews from past travelers thanks to his warm and engaging personality.
Il Timone lies a one-minute walk from the beach. The rooms are quaint and comfortable, some with terraces, and the location for both beach and town is ideal for couples or families.
Vernazza is considered the most beautiful village of the Cinque Terre. It is also the most touristy one so if you want to visit during the high season do it early in the morning or in the afternoon. The center of Vernazza is Piazza Marconi. There you can sit and have dinner in one of the restaurants, or sit on the bench and admire the view and the fishing boats. There is also a small sandy beach where you can swim, or you can dive from the rocks. If you take the path towards Monterosso al Mare, you will admire the most spectacular views of Vernazza. The same applies if you take the path towards Corniglia.
Where to Stay in Vernazza
The fourth town is one of the most popular towns and as a result accommodation in town can be scarce at times. If you have a car, the Cade Ventu is a great hotel. Located a little more than 3km from town, the pet-friendly hotel offers spacious rooms with balconies or terraces and a complimentary breakfast. Cade Ventu is on the coast between Vernazza and Corniglia, with spectacular views across the sea. It’s a great spot for families as they also offer an apartment.
Another ideal spot for families is The Terrace. The self-contained flat is located in the center of town (I suggest not taking any heavy luggage, as there are quite a few steps!) and is just a few steps from the train station. The sun terrace is the perfect place to enjoy your home-cooked dinner or to savor the late afternoon sun before heading to town for an aperitif.
#6 Monterosso al Mare
Monterosso is the biggest village of the Cinque Terre and the easiest to get around. If you are traveling with kids and elderly people, this is your best choice. Monterosso also has a big sandy beach with umbrellas and sunbeds, many hotels, restaurants, and nightlife compared to the other villages of the Cinque Terre. The historical center is very beautiful with little alleys, pastel houses, and small shops. Don’t forget to climb to San Cristoforo Hill to admire the best views of the coastline. Once there you can visit the Convent of Cappuccini and the Church of San Francesco.
Where to Stay in Monterosso al Mare
As Monterosso al Mare is the last town of the five towns, it’s a popular spot to stay overnight. La Casa di Zuecca is a beautifully designed modern hotel in the center of town, steps from the beach. The hotel offers breakfast on the terrace, and all cafes or wine bars are only meters away in town. If you have a car, unfortunately, there is no parking here and parking in town will cost upwards of €25.
Locanda Il Maestrale is also located in town, in an old 18th-century building that overlooks the historic town. The rooms here are spacious suites, with ensuite bathrooms, a minibar, and complimentary breakfast on the terrace, but it is not suitable for families as it is an adult-only B&B.
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#7 Santa Margherita Ligure
I only went to Santa Margherita because from there you can take the boat or bus to Portofino. I am glad that I did because it’s a very charming Italian Riviera town with pastel houses, elegant hotels and restaurants, sandy beaches and a nice marina with yachts. Don’t forget to check the statue of Vittorio Emanuelle II the first king of Italy and the statue of Cristoforo Colombo who was born in the area. On the surrounding hills, you will also see some amazing villas.
Where to Stay in Santa Margherita Ligure
Guests seeking an elegant and classically beautiful hotel will find it in Hotel Jolanda, a sumptuous and ornate hotel across from the beach in Santa Margherita Ligure. Rooms are well-equipped with plush bedding, warm lighting, and an ensuite bathroom. There are spa facilities and a small fitness center onsite. Hotel Jolanda is ideal for couples seeking a bit of romance, but families will be welcome too and they offer kids meals!
Families might, however, feel more at home at the Hotel Metropole, a resort and spa at the beginning of the seaside promenade. Rooms are spacious and inviting, with luxurious bedding, ensuite bathrooms, and free wifi. Some rooms have additional sofa beds for families.
Portofino used to be a small fishing village. Now it’s a posh resort with expensive hotels, excellent restaurants, and boutiques with brands like Gucci, Dior and more. It’s a very picturesque village with colorful houses, a small harbor with fishing boats and yachts. After walking around the villages and eating a gelato take the road towards Castello Brown. There is an entrance fee to get inside but the view of Portofino from above is breathtaking. The only way to get to Portofino from Santa Margherita is by driving, taking a bus or ferry or hike either by the coastal road or over the hills.
You might be interested in: Is Portofino worth visiting?
Where to Stay in Portofino
Located in the seafront, hotel Piccolo Portofino offers luxurious rooms in a historic villa, private rocky beach with a bar, and stunning views across the sea. It’s great for couples, as the rooms are stylish and modern. Rooms have terraces or balconies.
At the Eight Hotel Portofino (be careful when booking as there is one in town and one in the mountains with the same name), rooms are large and well-equipped with ensuite bathrooms, cozy bedding, and seating areas. Do not miss the sauna and spa services, as well as the private gardens. Breakfast can be served on the terrace or in the room. Children are welcome here, and they can arrange babysitting services!
The historic port city of Genoa is one of the many charming Italian cities that has travelers falling in love with the architecture, food, and community. While parts of the city are still quite industrial, the Old Town features a whole host of Renaissance and Baroque architecture as well as museums and galleries a-plenty to keep visitors entertained. Genoa can be a lovely destination as a stand-alone city break or as a jumping-off point for exploring the Italian Riviera.
Must-sees include the Piazza de Ferrari, the Teatro Carlo Felice and the opulent street, Via Garibaldi. Just make sure you take a camera as there are photo opportunities at every turn!
Where to Stay in Genoa
If you want a taste of Italian grandeur, you can’t beat Hotel Bristol Palace in the heart of the Genoa Historical Centre. The rooms are large and elegant and the exterior is a true work of art.
For a more modern take on Italian style, the 5-star Meliá Genova is a sleek design hotel with comfortable bedrooms and exceptional suites, some with hot tubs and terraces!
#10 San Remo
San Remo, the casino city on the coast, is a stylish Mediterranean destination that offers both grandeur and charm. The winding streets of La Pigna allow you to while away the hours in the Italian sunshine while exploring buildings, gardens, cafés, churches, and boutiques along the way. Aside from the casino, the Madonna della Costa Sanctuary is probably the most famous symbol of the city and features stunning interiors, exteriors and vistas.
The waterfront features stunning palm-fringed boulevards and the harbor is dotted with quaint boats and yachts for you to admire. Alongside the harbor lies the imposing and impressive Forte Santa Tecla, a hilltop fort with spectacular views.
Where to Stay in San Remo
The opulent Royal Hotel Sanremo is a luxurious option for those seeking a central five-star hotel. This hotel boasts a seafront location and stunning tropical gardens so you have a spectacular locale to enjoy while not exploring the city. Rooms feature marble bathrooms and exquisite furnishings so you can live the life of luxury!
The Hotel De Paris Sanremo is a bright and airy hotel with comfortable interiors and a modern spa for guests to unwind after a day discovering the city. Many of the hotel’s rooms include sea views so you can soak up the view from the comfort of your bed! Plus, it’s ideally situated next door to the Sanremo Russian Church so you have one of the top sights on your doorstep.
The colorful city of Ventimiglia offers a quintessential snapshot of the Italian Riviera. The city is divided into two sections with the Roia River passing through the middle. Some of the best bits to explore lie in the Old Town which stands on the hill overlooking the Ligurian Sea so it’s well worth the walk! These include the Biblioteca Civica Aprosiana and the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta. Other top spots include the boardwalk with its open-air markets and the beaches Spiaggia dei Balzi Rossi and the Spiaggia delle Calandre.
The town, located on the Riviera dei Fiori (Riviera of Flowers) is known for its annual Battaglia di Fiori festival which celebrates local flora is a fiesta of color and character.
Where to Stay in Ventimiglia
La Terrazza di Vico Olivi B&B is a charming bed and breakfast option for those seeking rustic Italian styling in a traditional stone building. The breakfast terrace boasts views of Old Town architecture which is the perfect place to start the day.
For a more modern option, the studio apartments at Carso 10 offer everything you need for a cozy and comfortable stay. The studios are well located within walking distance of many of Ventimiglia’s top attractions and each room features a flat-screen TV, air-conditioning and basic kitchenette facilities.
One of the lesser-known Italian Riviera towns, Camogli is a destination that offers all the color and charm of the more popular spots without the hordes of tourists or day-trippers. Camogli lies just down the coast from Portofino and while it still boasts exquisite seafood and a pristine port, it has much less pretense than some of the other towns.
With traditional local dishes, polychromatic architecture, stunning hiking trails, and a laid-back atmosphere, Camogli has everything you need for a classic Italian Riviera vacation.
Where to stay in Camogli
The four-star Hotel Cenobio Dei Dogi is perched perfectly on the seafront with exceptional views of the town. The hotel boasts its own swimming pool and a private beach which are ideal places for relaxing after a day exploring the town or hiking in the countryside. Hotel Cenobio Dei Dogi blends classic Italian styling with modern interiors to create a stylish and welcoming setting for your next vacation.
For a more rustic take on Italian hospitality, Le Clementine B&B on the outskirts of Camogli provides a spectacular hillside setting so you can take in the breath-taking vista of the region. The rooms are modern and cozy and you’ll feel right at home from the moment you arrive. Breakfast is served on the terrace overlooking the sea and there are sunbeds and chairs set out for you to relax in the afternoon sun.
When is the best time to visit the Ligurian Coast
Spring: April and May are the best months to enjoy some trekking and admire local nature at its best. While you can still find some rainy days in April, May will be warmer and sunnier and you might already be able to take a dip in the sea! Easter Week shall be avoided because it’s a traditional vacation time for Italians and all the main tourist destinations get very crowded.
Summer: despite the crowded beaches, summer remains the most popular period to visit Liguria. To enjoy a quieter beach holiday, choose the first weeks of September when the majority of tourists have already left!
Best month: September, to combine sunbathing, swimming and trekking!
How to get around the Ligurian Coast
- By car
Pros: you’ll be free to move at your own pace and stop anywhere you want for a break or to take some pictures.
Cons: traffic jams are common, especially in summer and during the weekends when people from Piemonte and Lombardia go there to spend a couple of days by the sea. Parking space is scarce because many villages are really small and “squeezed” between the sea and the mountains.
- By bus: there is no regional bus company, so you shall carefully organize your trip according to the schedules of the main local transportation companies located in Genoa (https://www.atpesercizio.it/cartina.php) and Savona (https://www.tpllinea.it/).
Pros: you can reach Liguria by bus from other Northern Regions (ex: bus from Turin or Milan to Genoa). Then you shall organize your Liguria trip differently.
Cons: bus connections are poor
- By train: trains are fast, frequent and cheap, so they are a very common way of moving around in Liguria. Have a look at schedules and stops here https://www.trenitalia.com/en.html
Pros: fast, frequent and cheap
- By ferry: ferries are an excellent way of moving around in the Cinque Terre area and you can find many rides from La Spezia (http://www.navigazionegolfodeipoeti.it/en/). Liguria has many ferry companies offering trips and connecting the main tourist locations and the main companies you can contact for information are: Trasporto Marittimo Golfo Paradiso (https://www.golfoparadiso.it/en/), Cooperativa Battellieri di Genova (http://www.battellierigenova.it/ ) and Servizio Marittimo del Tigullio (https://traghettiportofino.it/en/).
Pros: great view
Cons: while moving through Cinque Terre by ferry is relatively easy, boat transports are not so efficient and well organized in other areas, so it might be difficult to plan your trip ahead.
- By bike: thanks to its natural beauties, Liguria Region set-up many cycling paths both along the coast and in the mountains, so you shall definitely take into consideration to rent a bike!
Pros: it’s the best way to travel while being immersed in nature
Cons: if you stay for a few days, it’s a too slow way of moving around!
Best way to move around: definitely by train!
You might also want to check out:
- Where to stay in Cinque Terre.
- How to spend 2 days in Cinque Terre.
- A day trip from Florence to Cinque Terre.
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Have you visited any Italian Riviera cities? Which was your favourite?
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