The famed Italian Riviera, also known as the Ligurian Riviera, is the narrow stretch of coastline along the Northwestern Coast of Italy, known for its picturesque seaside towns and resorts. While the most famous place on the Riviera is Cinque Terre, there are plenty of other incredible cities and towns worth exploring. Here are the 8 best places to visit on the Italian Riviera in 2021.
The amazing beaches. The colorful buildings everywhere you look. The diverse lifestyle and cuisine. It’s all there for the taking in the Italian Riviera. It’s just a matter of filtering out the noise and focusing on what you really want to be doing. Walking through colorful streets, relaxing on sandy beaches, and trying some of the best food in the country — what more could you ask for?
So if you want to know the best places to visit on the Italian Riviera and what to do at each, continue reading to plan the best trip of your life!
Cinque Terre is without a doubt the most famous place along the Italian Riviera. Cinque Terre draws in visitors from all over, including tourists and locals alike. Composed of five different small towns and villages, Cinque Terre is a diverse area in northwestern Italy worth spending some time at. There’s just so much to see and do in Cinque Terre that you could make an entire trip out of just going here!
Explore the Five Towns of Cinque Terre
Cinque Terre is not one small town like the other places on this list, but actually a collection of five small villages located within the Italian Riviera. Due to this, Cinque Terre is one of the most culturally diverse and exciting locations in the Riviera. The five towns that make up Cinque Terre are Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore.
That said, there’s so much to see and do in Cinque Terre. But one of the best things to do is just explore the five towns that make it up. Depending on how long your trip is, you could even spend an entire day in each town walking around and taking it all in.
Check Out the Views from the Manarola Scenic Viewpoint
When you find yourself visiting Manarola, one thing that you absolutely cannot skip out on is checking out the views from the Manarola Scenic Viewpoint. Not only are the views here the best by far of Manarola itself, but they are some of the best you’ll find in Cinque Terre.
Located close to the town’s harbor, the walk to the viewpoint is a fairly simple one, albeit a bit steep at times. But the views are worth every bit of effort of the journey. Having your photo taken from the viewpoint along with your loved ones will create a memory you’ll never forget.
Eat at Nessun Dorma
While in Manarola checking out the fantastic views, you should treat yourself to one of the best restaurants anywhere in Cinque Terre — Nessun Dorma. Offering its guests authentic Italian cuisine, it’s a popular choice among locals and visitors alike. And if the locals eat somewhere regularly when you’re in a tourist location, then you know it’s something worthwhile!
On top of the amazing food, Nessun Dorma offers Pesto tasting classes as well, which could be another fun thing to do while you’re visiting. Spend an evening with that special someone going through the Pesto tasting and then being treated to a delicious meal.
Watch the Sunset from Stella Marina Beach
Don’t be fooled into thinking that Manarola is the only place worth visiting in Cinque Terre, though! All five towns have something to offer, and one of the best things you can do while visiting is to experience the sunset at Stella Marina Beach in Monterosso.
With Punta Mesco in the distance, you can relax on the soft sand of Stella Marina Beach and watch the sun disappear in the distance. Grab some delicious wine and maybe a fresh seafood dinner and relax on the beach with that special someone.
Grab Some Tasty Gelato
As with many small towns throughout Italy, one of the best things to do after a long day of exploration is to enjoy some delicious, authentic gelato. And with the five small towns of Cinque Terre, you have your work cut out for you when it comes to choosing where to go.
If you really have a sweet tooth (like we do!) you can try some tasty gelato every evening when you’re visiting a new town. If that sounds like too much gelato for you, then we suggest trying out one of the many options in Vernazza. But we’ve never been disappointed in our Cinque Terre gelato!
San Remo, sometimes called Sanremo, is a coastal city that is part of the Italian Riviera. Visitors flock to San Remo year after year for its diverse culture, peaceful atmosphere, and a slew of things to see and do. Walk along the city streets, take a stroll through the city’s many gardens, or let loose at the famous casino. No matter what you want to do, San Remo is a great place to be.
Walk Through La Pigna
Translated as “the Pinecone” in English, La Pigna is the oldest area of San Remo. As the historic center of the town, you can expect to find a slew of old Italian architecture and construction everywhere you look.
Explore the narrow streets and you’ll find countless churches, public squares, and other examples of incredible architecture to check out and marvel at. Many of the buildings in La Pigna even have signs posted outside describing them to tourists — they know just how intriguing this part of town is!
Spend Some Time at Casino San Remo
One of the mainstays of San Remo is none other than the famous Casino San Remo. Before you even step inside and start enjoying yourself, take a moment to admire the building from the outside. It’s yet another example of historic Italian architecture that’s worth checking out.
Once you step foot inside, get ready to have fun! You’ll find all the typical casino games such as slots, blackjack, and roulette, but there’s plenty to do for the non-gamblers as well. Enjoy dinner at one of the many restaurants or listen to some live music. It’s a great way to spend an evening in San Remo.
Check Out the Many Gardens of San Remo
San Remo is the perfect town to visit in the Italian Riviera for anyone who likes to spend time walking through beautiful gardens and enjoying the area’s flora. While visiting, feel free to check out the gardens at any of the nearby villas, including Villa Zirio, Villa Nobeland, and Villa Ormond, to name a few.
But the best gardens in town are the Gardens of Queen Elena. Easy to reach after you’re done checking out La Pigna, these gardens offer visitors a great place to relax while surrounded by peace and beauty.
Explore the Madonna della Costa Sanctuary
An icon of the town, sitting high above the area on a hill above La Pigna, Madonna della Costa Sanctuary is a must-visit while you’re in San Remo. The centuries-old structure is beloved by the locals and a favorite spot for visitors alike who are interested in Italian architecture.
Compared to the rest of the structure, the dome is relatively “new”, although it still dates back to the mid-1700s. A mosaic made of delicately placed cobblestones from the 1650s will guide visitors up the path to the entrance. Once inside, the beauty just keeps going with lavish decorations and artwork adorning every wall.
Portofino is a fishing village of the Italian Riviera that is world-famous for its unique and beautiful harbor. Nearly the entirety of the town is clumped together around its harbor, and the city is well-recognized for its colorful buildings surrounding the water. While here, you can explore old churches and fortifications, walk the lively streets, and even shop some of the most luxurious brands in the world.
Visit Piazza Martiri dell’Olivetta
Situated in the heart of the Portofino harbor, the town’s main public square is Piazza Martiri dell’Olivetta. If you’ve ever seen photos of Portofino (hint: look at the one just above this) and seen the colorful buildings and numerous boats, you’re probably looking at Piazza Martiri dell’Olivetta.
This famous social center is lined with restaurants, cafes, and shops all around. So it’s the perfect place to grab a tasty dinner or a fresh coffee and just relax. Take in the fantastic water views and just watch the hustle and bustle of Portofino culture around you.
Explore The Church of San Giorgio
One of the oldest buildings in the area, the famous Church of San Giorgio is a must-see while visiting Portofino. Located just a short walk from the main square mentioned above, this 12th-century Catholic church is rich with history. After being destroyed during World War II, the Church of San Giorgio was rebuilt soon after in the 1950s in its former glory.
Check out the architecture and decorations within while you take in the nearly thousand-year history of this incredible structure. The walk to get there also offers some of the best views in the area, and it’s right on the way to the next attraction on our list.
Check Out Castello Brown
One of Portofino’s most famous buildings, Castello Brown, was constructed as a fortress for the town way back in the 16th century. Its namesake is the English Counsel Montague Yeats Brown, whose family owned the castle from 1867 through 1949.
While you’re visiting the Piazza Martiri dell’Olivetta, you can look up in the hills and see Castello Brown looming overhead. The journey up to the castle is a steep climb, but the views along the way and once you reach the top are worth it. Spend some time checking out the castle itself as well as appreciating the views.
Shop the World’s Most Luxurious Brands
Although Portofino is a small town with narrow streets and covered alleyways, it’s still the perfect place to get your shop on. Not only can you shop till you drop here, but you can also do so with some of the world’s most luxurious brands.
Here in Portofino, you’ll find brands such as Armani, Vuitton, Hermes, and more. So get your wallet ready, because these brands aren’t cheap! You’ll find these shops and more in Piazza Martiri dell’Olivetta, on Umberto I Pier, and via Rome.
Walk The Colorful Streets of Portofino
If shopping for the most expensive brands in the world isn’t your cup of tea, one of the best things to do in Portofino is entirely free — simply walking the streets of the town. The narrow streets and colorful buildings of Portofino are like nothing else you’ll ever experience.
Spend some time just exploring the small town and taking it all in as much as possible. Grab some food or a drink at one of the many mom-and-pop restaurants that you’ll come across. Or hop into a shop and buy some authentic handmade goods. There’s plenty to see and do if you just explore!
Situated on Italy’s northwestern tip in the Italian Riviera, Ventimiglia is a small city packed full of fun and adventure. Split into two main parts, the Old Town and the more urban areas, Ventimiglia offers visitors plenty to see and do. Whether it’s visiting old structures, relaxing on the beach, or eating tasty food, this city’s got you covered.
Visit The Old Town
If you’re up for an adventure into the rich history of Ventimiglia and the Riviera in general, spend some time heading up to the Old Town. This historic portion of the town dates back to the time of the Ancient Romans and sits high above the rest of the town, surrounded by imposing city walls.
Although it’s a bit of a climb to get to the Old Town, it’s worth all the effort. Once you get up there, you’ll find plenty of new things to see and do. Spend some time exploring and checking out the historic churches and ancient ruins. At the same time, you’ll have the best views of the rest of the city. It’s a must-do while you’re visiting Ventimiglia.
Relax on Le Calandre Beach
One of the relatively few beaches along the Italian Riviera with soft sand beaches resides here in Ventimiglia, Le Calandre Beach. This sandy beach is a nice respite from the rocky shores you’ll find elsewhere, and it’s the perfect place to spend the day sunbathing and just taking in the beauty and serenity of the Riviera.
The waters on this beach are gorgeous and perfect for wading in and checking out the city from the sea, but do be careful of the common undertow along these shores. Pop back onshore and head to the many nearby shops and restaurants to grab a snack or a delicious meal throughout the day.
Stroll Through the Hanbury Gardens
If you’re into beautiful gardens and peaceful settings, then the Sir Thomas Hanbury Gardens are for you. As one of the biggest series of gardens that you’ll find anywhere along the Italian Riviera, the Hanbury Gardens are something that you don’t want to miss.
In the gardens, you’ll find all sorts of exotic plants like hibiscus and cacti. You’ll also be able to walk along the seemingly endless walkways as you check out the fountains, sculptures, and more everywhere you look. Go for a peaceful walk to clear your mind of any stresses or take a romantic stroll with that special someone.
Shop the Friday Morning Market
If it’s Friday morning in Ventimiglia, there is nothing else you’ll want to be doing except shopping along the incredible boardwalk. The town comes alive on Fridays as open-air shops, stands, and stalls are operated by vendors all along the boardwalk open, allowing you to shop until you drop.
Vendors here will have everything you’re looking for, from clothes, jewelry, and artwork to delicious homemade food and hand-crafted leather. Keep in mind that the boardwalk can get extremely crowded during the Friday marketplace, so the earlier you stop by, the better!
Visit Biblioteca Civica Aprosiana
For anyone who loves books, history, and exploring old buildings, the Biblioteca Civica Aprosiana is for you. If you were to think about some of the oldest libraries in all of Italy, you’d probably think they’re in Rome, Venice, Florence, etc.
But don’t forget about this hidden gem in the little town of Ventimiglia. Constructed in 1648, this library is one of Italy’s oldest and is home to the second-largest 17th-century book collection in the country. It’s an incredible place to visit and worth spending a few hours exploring.
Located in the province of Savona along the Italian Riviera in northern Italy, Alassio is a small town best known for its scenic atmosphere and incredible views. With a relaxing and inviting beach chock-full of boutique hotels, an abundance of trails taking you into the droves of nature, and some of the best food options around, Alassio is a town for everyone to enjoy.
Stay at a Boutique Hotel on the Beach
As one of the amazing beach towns in the Italian Riviera, it should come as no surprise that one of the best things to do in Alassio is to spend some time at the beach. But we don’t just mean for an hour or two. You should consider staying at one of the many boutique hotels located right on the water.
Wake up in the morning and go out to the warm sand beach with endless water views. At these hotels, you get an assigned deck chair and umbrella for your stay, so you never have to worry about having a place to sit back and relax. Talk about service!
Hike the Trails of Alassio
For the more adventurous types that are into hiking and exploring, Alassio is the perfect place for you to stay. Surrounding the small town are hiking trails of all kinds and intensities, offering visitors with different skill levels the chance to hike along the Italian coast.
If you stay at one of the beach hotels as suggested above, the staff should be able to provide you with a map of the area, including all the hiking trails available to you. Two of the best nearby locations to hike up to include Santuario and especially Monte Bigone. The views from both are breathtaking, some of the best you’ll find in the Riviera.
Grab Dinner at La Prua
While you’re visiting Alassio, any seafood lover has to spend at least one evening grabbing dinner at the incredible La Prua. This upscale restaurant is also one of the top choices in the area for a romantic evening out with that special someone.
Specializing in seafood, La Prua has delicious options for all courses of your meal. Try the octopus terrine as an appetizer before enjoying your stuffed sea bream fillet as the main course. Spend time together as you enjoy your meal from the beach deck of La Prua — you’ll be able to watch the sunset right on the water.
Get Dessert Alberto Marchetti Gelateria
After you’ve had your fill at La Prua and are finished relaxing on the beach, it’s time for an authentic Italian dessert. And no other dessert is more authentic than gelato. While you may have many options available to you, none are better than the Alberto Marchetti Gelateria.
Enjoy the creamy Italian ice cream-like dessert at the gelateria, trying a multitude of flavors if you like. The owner, Alberto Marchetti, selects every ingredient by hand himself and prides himself on making it the old-fashioned way for the perfect gelato every time.
Portovenere, sometimes referred to as Porto Venere, is a diverse little area within the Italian Riviera consisting of three small villages and three islands. The villages include Fezzano, Le Grazie, and, of course, Portovenere. But they’re all often just referred to as the latter. People flock here to explore the beautiful harbor, sail to the three islands nearby, and check out some ancient structures. It’s truly an incredible place to visit that many overlook!
Walk Along the Town’s Harbor
While spending time in the Italian Riviera’s Portovenere, one of the best things to do is walk along the harbor. Taking in the views. Being surrounded by smells and taste. It’s something that you don’t want to miss out on, and it’s also entirely free!
The walkways along the harbor bordered by the sea on one side and a wall of colorful buildings on the other. Both of which will draw your attention one way or the other. Find one of the many restaurants or cafes offering outdoor seating and enjoy a drink while you take in the Portovenere culture and watch the world go by.
Sail to the Nearby Islands
Just off the coast of Portovenere sits three incredible islands that are worth visiting — Tinetto, Tino, and Palmaria. Tino cannot be visited under normal circumstances since it’s a military territory (although it can be visited twice a year) but the other two are worth the short trip.
You can easily take a boat taxi or ferry to the islands and spend a day exploring the beauty of them. The islands offer unique views of Portovenere and the surrounding sea as well as enough hiking trails to keep you entertained. It’s a great way to spend a day away from the town center of Portovenere.
Visit the Villa of Varignano
If you’re willing to leave the confines of Portovenere but don’t want to sail to the nearby aforementioned islands, consider visiting one of the other nearby factions of the town. One of which is La Grazie, a quaint little area of town with more to see and do than you might imagine.
While exploring La Grazie, check out the little-known Roman villa of the area, Villa Varignano. This ancient structure dates back to the 1st century BC. After 700 years, it was abandoned before being transformed into an archaeological museum, which it still is to this day. The amazing artifacts combined with the rich history of the property make it a must-visit.
Check Out San Pietro Church
If you visit Portovenere’s harbor, you’ll eventually come up to an interesting building. The stone-construction of the structure and surrounding walls make it look more like a castle than a religious building, but as you get closer, you’ll realize it’s the town’s well-known San Pietro Church.
Its namesake, St. Peter, is appropriately recognized on the interior with an ornate statue built in his likeness. But the iconic landmark is just as amazing to view from the outside as it is on the interior. So take some time to explore the grounds and the church itself. It’s worth every minute.
Explore Doria Castle
As you’re wandering through the narrow streets and alleys of Portovenere, you will likely come across some steep steps leading up to something high above you in the distance. If you choose to brave it out and climb these staircases, you will eventually emerge on the grounds of Doria Castle.
As one of the oldest buildings in the entire Italian Riviera, Doria Castle was built long ago between the 7th and 9th centuries, so you can imagine how much history the castle has seen. Check the ancient architecture and construction that’s lasted this long as you explore the area.
Genoa, sometimes called Genova, is the capital of the region of Liguria, which makes up most of the Italian Riviera. So unlike some of the other places on this list, it is not one of Italy’s hidden gems. But it’s still much lesser-known than places like Rome or Florence! In Genoa, you can take in the bustling lifestyle of the city while exploring ancient structures, visiting Italy’s premier aquarium, and enjoying the views at night. It’s a wonderful place for an Italian vacation.
Visit Piazza de Ferrari
The main public space of Genoa is without a doubt, Piazza de Ferrari. This social center is well-known for its bustling cultural scene as well as the impressive central fountain. The iconic fountain is circular in design and surrounded by streams of water shooting into it from all directions — it’s truly a thing of beauty.
Other than the fountain, Piazza de Ferrari is the city’s main social hub, with visitors and locals alike filling up the public space in all directions. From the square, you can look around to see some of Genoa’s most important structures, including the Main Exchange and Teatro Carlo Felice Opera House.
Check Out Porta Soprana Gatehouse
Leaving from the city center of Piazza de Ferrari, head south down Via Dante, and you’ll eventually come up to the Porta Soprana Gatehouse. This gatehouse is left over from Genoa’s original fortifications, constructed some 900 years ago in the 12th century.
The imposing gates and tower will take you back in history and let you vividly imagine the years when the city fortifications were needed. Nearby you can also find the house where the famous explorer Christopher Columbus was raised. It’s a great way to spend a morning taking in the rich history of Genoa.
Spend Some Time at the Aquarium
For anyone that’s into marine life and checking out top-tier aquariums, then Genoa is the perfect place for you. The Acquario di Genoa is the premier aquarium in all of Italy and one of the biggest ones throughout Europe. So it isn’t something that you’ll easily explore in a couple of hours.
On top of all the different exhibits of fish, the Genoan Aquarium also has a tropical garden that you can spend time exploring. If you just want to get a glimpse of everything the aquarium has to offer, you could do so in a few hours. But to really experience everything, you’ll need at least a day, if not multiple. It’s an experience like none other that you’ll get in the area.
Visit Forte Begato
Forte Begato is a fairly new fortification when compared to other defensive structures built in the region, as it was completed just 200 years ago in the early 1800s. Forte Begato is currently closed to the public on the inside, but you can still walk up to its exterior and explore the area.
Forte Begato is rich with history due to the fact that it was used during World War II to house prisoners of war. One of the other best reasons to visit the fort is for the amazing views you get of Genoa and the surrounding Italian Riviera region due to its high vantage point.
Catch a View of Lanterna di Genoa When the Sun Goes Down
When the sun goes down over Genoa, one of the best ways to relax after a busy day of exploring is to sit in view of the ancient lighthouse of Genoa. Once the sun goes down, Lanterna di Genoa lights up and shines tall over the quaint town below.
The third oldest lighthouse in the entire world, Lanterna di Genoa, is amazing to see lit up all these years later. With its high vantage point, it’s easy to see from almost anywhere in Genoa. So grab some gelato at one of the town’s many dessert places and enjoy a tasty treat while you relax under the stars.
A small fishing village located right next to the much bigger city of Genoa, Camogli is one of Italy’s hidden gems that not many people know about. With a population of just over 5,000 people, it’s a tiny town that’s packed full of adventure. Walk the streets of Camogli, relax on the beaches, and eat some delicious Italian cuisine. No matter what you’re into, Camogli will have something for you.
Walk the Colorful Alleys of the Town
Like with a few of the other destinations on this list, Camogli is a town full of narrow walkways, cobblestone streets, and colorful buildings throughout. So while you’re there, one of the best things you can do is just wander around the area and explore the town.
The colorful alleys of Camogli are some of the most interesting that you’ll find in the Riviera. Tall, multi-colored buildings will tower overhead as you meander through the incredibly narrow walkways. It’s a unique experience you won’t find many other places on earth. With just how narrow some of these walkways are, it might not be the best idea to aimlessly wander through the alleys if you are claustrophobic.
Spend a Day Relaxing on the Camogli Beaches
While you’re visiting the Italian Riviera, you certainly want to be sure you get your beach fix. And if you’re in Camogli, you’re in luck. The beaches around Camogli are some of the best beaches anywhere in the Riviera and are the perfect way to spend a day relaxing and escaping the bustling town center.
Although the beaches here are made up of more pebbles than sand, the relaxing vibes and endless sea views more than make up for it. Throughout Camogli, you’ll find beaches that are both private and public, so no matter what you’re looking for, you’ll be covered.
Go Diving at the Marine Reserve of Portofino
If you’re even more of a water-lover and want to experience more than just relaxing on the beach all day, take the time to go diving at the Marine Reserve of Portofino. We know, Portofino? I thought this was the Camogli section? The Marine Reserve of Portofino runs from Camogli to Portofino, but it just has the latter’s name.
The best thing to see while diving is the famous Christ of the Abyss statue put in place in memory of one of the country’s first divers who lost his life in this spot.
Visit the Church of Santa Maria Assunta
One of the oldest buildings in Camogli and one of the towns most famous is the Church of Santa Maria Assunta. Located at the end of Camogli Beach, this 12th-century structure still stands today overlooking the water and drawing the attention of visitors.
Its yellow exterior has intrigued tourists for centuries, and the ornate decorations inside will take your breath away. Between the artwork adorning the walls and the beautiful altar centerpiece combined with the amazing architecture, this church is something you don’t want to miss.
Eat Dinner at Ristorante La Piazzetta
When dinner time comes around, make sure you try out the amazing cuisine at Ristorante La Piazzetta. This delicious restaurant is located right along the main walkway of the Camogli harbor and offers outdoor seating right near the beach that can’t be beaten.
Specializing in both Pesto and seafood, Ristorante La Piazzetta will have options that everyone can enjoy. Eat your dinner right on the beach while watching the sunset in the distance—the perfect end to a day on the Italian Riviera.