Best towns you have to visit in the Italian Riviera - Liguria, Italy

Most Beautiful Small Coastal Towns of The Italian Riviera

In Italy, Travel inspiration by JurgaTHIS POST CONTAINS AFFILIATE LINKS

Italian Riviera, synonymous with Liguria region, is probably best known among international travellers for the picturesque coastal villages of Cinque Terre and the luxury holiday resort for the rich and the famous – Portofino. I have to admit that we knew very little about the region before we visited. Cinque Terre has been on our list for some 20 years, but when we finally started planning the trip we realised that there are so many other incredibly picturesque and charming places nearby. So today I want to share some of our favourites, the most beautiful small coastal towns and villages of the Italian Riviera. These are one by one stunning destinations, each worth a trip on its own. These 8 Ligurian coastal towns are relatively close by to each other so you can easily visit several or even all of them during the same trip (we visited all these places and a few more in 5 days).

Best towns of Italian Riviera #Italy #Liguria

Portovenere – Porto Venere

It’s not a coincidence that I list Portovenere as the first among the best towns along the Ligurian coast. This little colourful town in the Bay of Poets (Golfo di Poeti) surrounded by history and incredible nature became one of our absolute favourites at the Italian Riviera.

We visited Portovenere by boat on the last day of October, which is also the last day of the season of the coastal Cinque Terre ferry. Portovenere is the first stop on the ferry route from La Spezia to Cinque Terre, which also makes it a great base for exploring Cinque Terre and the nearby coastal areas. In summer, the possibilities are endless. But on the day we visited there were very few boats which meant that we had 5 hours to fill in Portovenere. As we arrived at a tiny picturesque harbour we were wondering how in the world we would keep ourselves and the kids busy here the whole day…

It turned out that Portovenere had so much more to offer than it looked at first sight. We visited the 12th century castle, the 13th century church of San Pietro, walked along the cliffs and saw the nearby grottos, climbed countless staircases and explored the narrow streets of this medieval town… There are plenty of restaurants, gelaterias, and little shops… Our time in Portovenere flew by. It was such an enjoyable visit with so much history, stunning vistas over the Mediterranean, and very few tourists compared to Cinque Terre.

There is also a possibility to take a scenic boat trip to the three nearby UNESCO World Heritage Site comprising of three islands: Palmaria, Tino, and Tinetto. And in summer there are many more options to hire boats, visit beaches, go swimming, snorkelling or diving… Here you can read more about the best things to do in Portovenere.

Tip: If you are visiting Italian Riviera in high season, I would strongly consider staying in Portovenere and using it as a base town for excursions. There aren’t that many accommodation options, so make sure to book in advance. You can find the best deals for Portovenere accommodation here.

Portovenere is one of our favourite small towns on the Ligurian Coast in Italy

Portovenere

 

Camogli

Camogli was a completely unexpected find for us, so we consider it to be a true hidden gem of Liguria. From the reactions on my pictures on Instagram it seems like this town is quite known to international travellers, but it wasn’t for us.

If you arrive in Camogli by car, you will definitely be able to relate to the ‘hidden’ part. We passed it without realising that there was a turn to the town centre and ended up in the next village. It was raining and on our last day in Liguria we were wondering if we wouldn’t just turn around and drive home. But then we said we are here anyway, let’s just get out of the car for 5 minutes and walk around a bit. Five minutes turned into several hours and we never wanted to leave… Camogli is without doubt one of the most beautiful coastal towns of the Italian Riviera!

Surrounded by the steep hills dotted with colourful houses, Camogli’s picturesque setting will not leave anyone untouched. It’s simply STUNNING!

We walked down to the beach without having a slightest idea of what to expect. And the moment we saw it, we had a WOW moment. One of those moments you travel for. When you know you stumbled upon a place that will stay in your memory forever… Pictures don’t do justice to the beauty of this town, nor to how it felt to be there on that deserted beach on a stormy day in November. The kids loved looking for colourful stones and could have played on the beach for days…

Just as with the other nearby towns, there is plenty to see and do in and near Camogli, especially in high season. It’s not only a beautiful vacation town, but also a great base for exploring Portofino Peninsula (hiking and/or by boat). Here you can find the best deals for Camogli accommodation.

Camogli is one of the most beautiful towns along Ligurian Coast in Italy

Camogli

 

Manarola

Manarola is one of the five Cinque Terre villages and if I were to visit just one town there, this would be it. With colored houses leaning against a mountain overlooking the Mediterranean, Manarola is as picturesque in reality as it is in the pictures.

It’s also the liveliest town in Cinque Terre and as I already said in my guide to visiting Cinque Terre, Manarola is probably the best village for those who want to stay in Cinque Terre itself.

We only visited Manarola shortly, for sunset, and despite it being very busy, it was one of the most special experiences of our day in Cinque Terre. We had dinner at restaurant Nesun Dorma and it became one of my favourites spots for sunset. Ever.

Manarola in Cinque Terre at sunset

Manarola

 

Portofino

Portofino is probably the most picturesque town of the Italian Riviera. Maybe even the whole of Italy. With luxury yachts in the azure blue water, colourful houses and luxury estates dotting the landscape it’s a picture-perfect town you see on postcards and in travel guides. Surrounded by mountains and spectacular coastline, Portofino Peninsula is not to be missed in Liguria.

The narrow coastal road leading to Portofino is incredibly scenic, just as the whole surrounding area. We truly enjoyed the walk leading to Castello Brown and the lighthouse of Portofino. A boat trip to the nearby 10th century San Fruttuoso Abbey is also not to be missed.

All this being said, we didn’t love Portofino as much as we loved the other towns in Liguria. Overpriced restaurants with snobbish personnel ruin this small picture-perfect village. I honestly wonder if there are any local fishermen left in this so-called ‘fishing village’. Portofino is now the place for the rich and the famous.

The place to stay in Portofino is the beautiful Belmond Hotel Splendido. I would recommend to have lunch or a drink there. The prices can hardly be worse than in the harbour (where they charge over 8 EUR for a soda), and the views are said to be the best in town. A nice alternative is also Belmond Splendido Mare. If you want to spoil yourself for a nice romantic weekend, then don’t look any further. For cheaper options, check the best Portofino accommodation offers here.

Portofino is the most picturesque village on the Itaian Riviera

Portofino

 

Santa Margherita Ligure

One of the bigger towns of Portofino Peninsula and the biggest of this selection, Santa Margherita Ligure is probably the most lively and local town of them all. With a good mix of local residents and vacationers, Santa Margherita Ligure is a town that seems to be one of the most popular options among those vacationing on the Italian Riviera. Beautiful beaches, a big variety of accommodation, plenty of dining and shopping options, and easy access make it one of the best towns along the Ligurian Coast.

We enjoyed walking around the harbour area and checking out the local food stores selling wine, cheese, and local pastry specialties.

Santa Margherita Ligure is located just a few kilometres from Portofino, but what a difference! If you are looking for a really nice lively town with a good laid-back atmosphere, then don’t miss Santa Margherita Ligure.

Santa Margherita Ligure is among the best towns to see at the Italian Riviera

Santa Margherita Ligure

 

Vernazza

Vernazza is one more really picturesque little village along the Cinque Terre coast. It’s a very lively and colourful town surrounded by vineyards. I strongly recommend to make an effort and hike a part of the Vernazza – Monterosso trail for some of the best views of Cinque Terre. We hiked the Cinque Terre trail from Monterosso to Vernazza and further on to Corniglia, but you don’t have to hike far or to be extremely fit to just walk to the viewpoint from this picture. It’s just 5 minutes away from the town centre.

Practical guide to visiting Cinque Terre in Italy - all your questions answered

Vernazza

 

Lerici

Lerici is another beautiful town of Italian Riviera, situated in a picturesque inlet of Golfo di Poeti, close to La Spezia and the above mentioned Portovenere. Lerici, also called The Pearl of The Gulf (Perla del Golfo), is a charming coastal town with a small marina, a 13th century castle and a church from the same period. It’s a tourist resort that comes to life in summer, yet despite its proximity to Cinque Terre, Lerici seems to still be under the radar of most international tourists, and is mostly visited by Italians. It’s the only place along the Ligurian coast where we had difficulties ordering a meal in English. So here it is, the secret is out – you can still find a real Italian beach town on the Italian Riviera, one that somehow managed to escape the crowds from the huge cruise ships docking just a few kilometres away.

We wouldn’t have thought of going to Lerici was it not for an Italian friend who recommended it to us. And indeed, it was really worth a visit.

Tip: if you have an extra day in Lerici, you should hike to the nearby fishing villages Fiascherino and Tellaro which are considered among the most beautiful villages of Italy. You can also get there by bus and in summer also by boat.

Lerici is one of the coastal towns in Liguria that is still under the radar of most international travelers

Lerici

 

Riomaggiore

Riomaggiore is one more of the five Cinque Terre villages that you shouldn’t miss. The best view over this little colourful town can be found down at the harbour. Don’t miss the coastal walk along the cliffs leading from the Riomaggiore station to the beach.
In the past you could walk Via dell’Amore between Riomaggiore to Manarola along the coast, but at the moment (end 2017) only a small section of this road is open. Via dell’Amore has been closed due to land slides.

Practical guide to Cinque Terre in Italy - all your questions answered

Riomaggiore

 

So, this is my short guide to the most beautiful small coastal towns of the Italian Rivera. Did I miss any of your favourites? Please leave a comment and share your experience and the most special places along the Ligurian coast.

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Most beautiful towns of Italian Riviera for your bucket list #Italy #travel #lLiguria

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Comments

  1. Thank you for the new dots on the map. Lerici was in our planning, but Fiascherino & Tellaro are completely new to us. Will check it out in a few days. By the way, we don’t have much time, so will be driving. Is it easy to park?

    1. Author

      Good to hear that you found some new inspiration for your trip, Rimantas. And no, it’s really not a good idea to visit the small villages like Tellaro and Fiascherino by car, especially now in the peak season. Parking is really difficult anywhere in that area and there are restricted traffic zones as well (just driving past those will get you a big fine as there are cameras everywhere).
      We visited in lower season (end October/ first week of November) and parking was already a real challenge in Lerici. There is a car parking a bit outside of town (follow the signs when you arrive) and it’s really not far to walk to the town centre from there. You can take a small local bus to the nearby villages or a boat, maybe even a taxi boat wouldn’t be too expensive. Believe me, it will save you lots of headaches and probably lots of time as well.
      Enjoy it and feel free to come back and tell us your experience after your visit.

  2. Thank you so much, Jurga, for these ideas of places near Lerici. I have read about Portovenere, but Tellaro and Fiacherino are real surprises.
    You have a wonderful blog. It’s nice to read and get new ideas.
    Aušra

    1. Author

      Thank you, Aušra. It’s nice to hear you found some new ideas for your trip to Italy. This region is truly beautiful and it’s definitely worth it to escape the main tourist areas and discover some less known places.

  3. Hi, love this post. We are planning a 2 week trip in June of 2019. Road trips are our style and visiting small coastal towns and beaches are our priority. Is it possible to do our first week here and then do our second week in the Amalfi Coast? What would be the distance from Liguria to the Amalfi Coast? Where would you recommend flying into and flying out of, if this is possible? Thanks so much for your advice.

    1. Author

      Hi Mari, yes of course it’s possible. If you have a week at each place (Liguria and Amalfi), you can visit quite many places.
      As for driving distances and times it’s best to use Google Maps to plan your itinerary – it’s usually quite accurate. It’s roughly about 7hrs, so a long day. You could break the drive in two and spend some time half way.
      Where to fly, it depends a lot where you are coming from. If you are traveling from overseas, then Rome is probably the best option since it’s most centrally located. If you are in Europe, then you may want to consider smaller cheaper airports and maybe fly in to one and out of the other in order to save yourself some driving. Naples is very close to Amalfi coast, whereas Italian Riviera (Liguria) is close to quite some airports like Genoa, Pisa, Milan, Bologna, or Florence.

      1. Hi Jurga, thanks so much for your reply. We will be traveling from Florida (U.S.). Would like to fly into Genoa and spending the first week in Liguria. . . Staying (2) nights in Genoa, (2) nights in Porto Venire & (2) nights in either Santa Margarita or Camogli. (Which one do you recommend?) Then head on to the Amalfi Coast for the second week, stopping (1) night in Florence and (1)night in Rome to break-up the driving distance. Then continue on route and stay (2) nights in Positano, (2) nights in Capri and (2) nights in Naples and return back to the U.S. from the Naples Airport. (Should we stay (2) nights in Genoa? Or will (1) night be suffice? If one night is enough, where would you tag that extra day to?)

        Where would you recommend us stopping in Florence and in Rome?

        Thanks again for your help and advice and look forward to hearing from you soon.

        1. Author

          Hi Mari, I’m on the road so don’t have a possibility to answer in much detail. Your itinerary looks ok at first sight, but it’s a lot of changing of hotels. Which is fine for smaller places, but I’m just not sure if it’s such a good idea to drive into Florence or Rome for one night. Maybe better stay outside the city? Driving/parking in Rome is definitely not easy, Florence a bit better, but still… Maybe sleep somewhere else in Tuscany, there are so many beautiful smaller towns to see there. Check our articles about Tuscan towns for some inspiration.
          As for Camogli vs St Margherita Ligure both have quite some possibilities for boat trips to Portofino etc, so it probably doesn’t matter much. Camogli might be a bit cheaper and also coasier.

  4. Wow! The views look amazing! Would love to visit some day! Great post!
    Thanx Jurga

  5. HI There!
    Thank so for compiling this list of beautiful places.
    I’m hoping to go in the summer but don’t drive, is it possible to get around easily without a car?

    1. Author

      Hi Saphiya, yes, it’s possible to visit these towns without a car. You may want to check this article for practical information for visiting Cinque Terre villages. You can get there by train or by boat. If you take a boat you can easily get to Portovenere as well. There are local busses going there too.
      There is a train to Camogli as well. From there you can visit the nearby villages (e.g. Portofino, Santa Margherita Ligure, etc) by boat as well.

  6. I love these pics! These towns are so beautiful but I really love visiting in the lower season, this summer was so crowded!

    1. Author

      That’s what I keep hearing from everyone, that it’s crazy busy from April till October, Ari. Actually, I couldn’t believe how busy it still was in Cinque Terre at the end of October. Luckily all these other towns were just pleasantly lively. Perfect to enjoy the atmosphere and since we are not much of beach-goers anyway, we don’t feel like we missed anything.

  7. Your photos are beautiful, I have always wanted to go to the coast in Italy, to sit overlooking the water with a nice cold drink in my hand. Your photos make me want to jump in the plane and just go!

    1. Author

      Sounds great, Sarah! Unfortunately, we never seem to be able to just sit somewhere and enjoy the view for a long time. That’s how traveling with kids changes everything… 😉

  8. This is not a part of Italy I am familiar with at all. Lots of reasons here to enjoy when we return to Europe. We are planning a house sitting trip through Italy so I will keep my fingers crossed there is a house to sit in one of these villages!!

    1. Author

      House-sitting sounds like such a great way to slow-travel the world and explore deeper, Tracy. Italy is definitely worth exploring that way. It’s like every town, every village there is worth a visit. I still have to visit one place in Italy that I wouldn’t fall in love with.

  9. It makes me very happy when you go to a place first – I don’t have to do so much searching cos your guides are always so good! This area has long been on my bucket list but sadly we haven’t made it yet, maybe next year though. Thank you for all your brilliant research and top tips!

    1. Author

      🙂 Well, you inspired us to visit Central Portugal and we loved it. So it goes both ways, Alex. Hope you get to visit Liguria – so much to see!

  10. I have been there in October as well and whilst I have been to Cinque Terre before, it was my first time visiting Portovenere. I really fell in love with this little town, I spent half a day there just exploring and enjoying a delicious fish lunch at one of the local restaurants.

    1. Author

      We also loved Portovenere, beautiful location and such a nice place to explore a bit deeper. Thanks for sharing your experience as well, Joanna.

  11. Brilliant, it’s lovely to have a comprehensive list and info on all these beautiful towns and villages. Gives me something to aim for when I finally get to visit.

    1. Author

      Thanks, Faith. Hope you get to visit, Liguria is definitely worth a trip!

  12. Wow! Please take me there ASAP! These all look so dreamy! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Author

      Thank you, Vanessa. We were just talking the other day that these Italian towns indeed look like they come straight from a fairy tale.

  13. Wow! Your pictures are stunning. Never heard of some of these towns before. Thanks for sharing

    1. Author

      Thank you, Yolande. I never knew about most of these towns either, that’s why I wanted to share it, to inspire people to spend a bit more time in the area and see beyond the Cinque Terre.

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