Italian Riviera Seaside Towns

Martha Bakerjian's guide to towns on the Italian Riviera

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Jules Pearson

Martha Bakerjian
HomeAway travel expert

Cinque TerreOne of Italy's prettiest and most popular stretches of coastline is the coast of the Liguria region in northwestern Italy, known as the Italian Riviera. Liguria starts at the Gulf of Poets, or the Bay of La Spezia, just beyond Tuscany, and continues to the border of France.

The Riviera is divided into two sections with the city of Genoa between them – Riviera di Ponente (closest to France) and Riviera di Levante. Part of the Riviera di Ponente is called the Riviera dei Fiori and is known for its greenhouses growing flowers and especially mild temperatures. All along the Riviera, you'll find beautiful towns, often with the typical Ligurian trompe l'oeil decor – and great seafood. 


Martha's tips for visiting the Italian Riviera

 Avoid driving as much as possible. Parking is limited in most Italian Riviera towns and the roads can be very congested. Trains stop in many towns and from late spring through early fall, ferries run between towns, too. Except for Portofino, my recommended towns to visit are all on the rail line.

 Sundays are the most crowded days on the coast, when Italians often spend the day by the sea.

 Fresh basil is grown along the Riviera and pesto originated in Genoa, so be sure to eat some with your pasta. 

 Spend a day exploring inland towns and villages that are less touristy and have a much different feel than the coast. The large port town of Genoa is also worth a visit and if you're traveling with kids they may enjoy Genoa's Aquarium, the second largest in Europe.

 If you're going to spend a day at the beach, consider paying to use one of the beach establishments that have changing rooms, umbrellas, chairs, a WC, bar, and lifeguard.


Martha's picks for Italian Riviera seaside towns


The picturesque Cinque Terre The picturesque Cinque Terre

The Cinque Terre, a group of five picturesque villages set amidst terraced olive groves and vineyards, is one of Italy's most popular destinations and a highlight of a visit to Liguria. You can travel between towns by train, ferry, or on trekking paths (sometimes closed because of bad weather, so check status of paths here). Because the vilages are in a national park, you'll have to buy a pass if you want to walk on the trails connecting them. There are good hiking trails in the hills above the villages as well. White wine and Sciacchetra', a dessert wine, is produced from the vineyards on the slopes of the hills and the town of Monterosso is famous for its anchovies.

View holiday rentals in Cinque Terre



Portofino harbour Portofino harbour

Portofino is a colourful town on a half-moon shaped harbour ringed by pastel houses, restaurants, cafés, and shops. Portofino was a favourite of the rich and famous in its 1950s heyday and you'll still probably see lots of yachts in the harbour. Castello Brown sits on the hill overlooking the town, reached by a pathway near the Botanic Garden. It became the residence of Yeats Brown, the British consul to Genoa, in 1870, and inside are furnishings and pictures belonging to the Browns as well as photos of many famous visitors to Portofino. The train doesn't go to Portofino so you'll have to take a ferry or bus from Santa Margherita Ligure or another nearby town.

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Rapallo resort Rapallo resort

Rapallo is one of the largest resort towns on the Riviera but it has what's probably Italy's smallest castle, sitting in the sea by the harbour. There's a seaside promenade skirting the harbour and the historic centre has pedestrian shopping streets and a Lace Museum. From Rapallo, take the spectacular ride up the hill on the funivia, or cable railway, with fantastic views of the coast (leaves every half hour from 9am to 12pm, and 2pm to 5pm with later hours in summer). At the top you arrive at Montallegro, where there are hiking paths, the 16th-century Sanctuary of Montallegro, and a couple of restaurants with views of the sea below.

For more information, check out this site and video – it shows the dramatic ride down to Rappalo.

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Camogli fishing village Camogli fishing village

Camogli, a charming fishing village on a rocky outcrop, is a more laid-back town with a small harbour, where you'll see fishing boats rather than yachts, and a nice beach. Pastel buildings with trompe l'oeil decor line the seaside walkway and streets, and there's a small historic centre. From Camogli visit the pretty San Fruttuoso Abbey, accessed by ferry or trekking path only, and the surrounding marine wildlife protected area. You can also rent kayaks in Camogli.

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Sanremo Sanremo

Sanremo, almost to the border of France, is known for its casino and large, pretty harbour but it also boasts one of the most unusual historic centres I've seen. Tiny pedestrian streets and alleyways wind up the hill in the old centre called La Pigna, the Pine Cone, arriving at Madonna della Costa Sanctuary, reached by a pretty cobblestone mosaic walkway, and the Gardens of Queen Elena with great views of Sanremo and the sea. Sanremo holds a European music festival in June, Rock festival in July, and Jazz in August. Shows and concerts are held throughout summer.

View lets in San Remo



Main image by Gail Lipson
Cinque Terre by Gail Lipson
Sanremo by James Martin   
All other images by Martha Bakerjian

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