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Italian Riviera Cities & Towns: Explore the Ligurian Riviera

Italian Riviera Cities & Towns: Explore the Ligurian Riviera

There are so many beautiful Italian Riviera towns and a few really wonderful Italian Riviera cities to explore along this coastline.

Italy is a country that I, like many people, love more than most other places in the world. There’s just something magical about it. 

I feel so very lucky to say that this trip to the Italian Riviera was my eighth trip to Italy, but the first time I have ever been to any of the coastal regions of Italy.

I have fallen in love with places like Rome, Florence, Bergamo, and Milan. I have eaten very well in Bologna and not so well in Venice.

But a city on the Italian Riviera like Genoa or the towns along the Ligurian Sea like Camogli and Santa Margherita Ligure made me fall even more in love with this incredible country.

Whether a trip to the Italian Riviera will be your first time in Italy, or you have also been lucky enough to visit multiple times, you will without a doubt find tons of great Italian Riviera towns to fall in love with. I hope this list is a good starting point for your travel planning.

Where is the Italian Riviera?

The Italian Riviera, also referred to as the Ligurian Riviera or the Ligurian Coast is the coastline of Italy that runs from the border with France at the town of Ventimiglia to the tip of Punta Bianca, the tip of a small peninsula (Capo Corvo), just near La Spezia.

The Italian Riviera is also sometimes referred to as the Ligurian Riviera or the Ligurian Coast. This is because the sea that the Italian Riviera sits along is the Ligurian Sea. 

The Italian Riviera covers roughly 215 miles (350km) and includes all four Ligurian provinces; Genoa, La Spezia, Savona, and Imperia.

These are the four largest Italian Riviera cities and while they aren’t all absolutely fantastic stops along your must-see itinerary, it’s worth knowing about them as you travel this region of the country.

map of the italian riviera

The towns and cities of the Italian Riviera along the Ligurian Coast.

How to Get to the Italian Riviera

If you plan to travel the Ligurian Riviera, there are a few ways to get here depending on your planned itinerary.

A good starting point is Genoa (or Genova in Italian). There is a large international Airport in Genoa and I explain all about that in this guide to things to do in Genoa.

The entire Italian Riviera is very well connected by train (like almost all of Italy). Whether you are coming from Nice, Florence, Milan, Rome, or even the little airport where I came into the country from, Bergamo, you can easily and affordably get yourself to the coast. 

The main train options will likely either be to Genoa, Savona, or La Spezia. From here, you can take regional trains to many of the Italian Riviera towns on this list.

How to Get Around the Cities in the Italian Riviera

Getting around the Italian Riviera, and indeed getting around all of Italy, is incredibly easy by train.

If you plan to rent a car, be sure that you have decent confidence with city driving. Driving in Italy isn’t for the faint-hearted. The roads are narrow and often winding.

People drive in Italy much as they do in other large and chaotic cities around the world like New York, Mexico City, or Paris. However, they drive like that even when they are not in a chaotic city anymore. Road rules are very loosely followed.

I prefer train travel because not only do you not have to worry about other drivers, but you also don’t have to worry about parking. 

To get around the Italian Riviera by train, I highly recommend downloading the TrenItalia app (on Android here and on Apple here).

You can check train times, book train tickets, and even change train tickets if you realize the original time isn’t going to work anymore (you just have to change it before the date and time of the original ticket passes).

Once you arrive in the cities and towns in the Italian Riviera, you can easily walk, rent bikes, take taxis, or hop on a local bus to get around. 

Map of the Italian Riviera

Italian Riviera Towns and Cities to Visit

  • Genoa
  • Camogli
  • San Fruttuoso
  • Rapallo
  • Santa Margherita Ligure
  • Portofino
  • Riomaggiore
  • Manarola
  • Corniglia
  • Vernazza
  • Monterosso al Mare
  • Sestri Levante
  • Lerici
  • Sanremo
  • Imperia

You could spend months exploring the entire Italian Riviera. 

I have no doubt that each and every Italian Riviera town has something special about it. Some have incredible beaches, others have world-class restaurants that no one outside of the town has ever heard of.

Many of them have that picture-perfect look of colorful buildings that line the turquoise waters or climb up into the hills that are full of olive trees waiting to be used for the region’s famous olive oil (and even more delicious focaccia!).

These are just some of the wonderful towns and cities in the Italian Riviera that I think you should visit. 

bocadasse beach

Bocadasse is a beach in Genoa that is well worth visiting while you are in Genoa.

1. Genoa (Genova)

Genoa is a city unlike any other Italian city that I have ever been to. The city has been an important port for over 1,000 years and during the Renaissance period, the city’s nobility built some of the most exquisite palaces.

There are palazzi all over Genoa and they are indeed some of the best things to do while visiting.

Genoa is also home to focaccia, pesto, salami, and the birthplace of ravioli! It is a foodie heaven and packed with so many amazing restaurants to explore. 

I spent two days in Genoa on this trip along the Ligurian Riviera and I could have easily spent at least another two days here. It has so many museums, so many restaurants, so many little narrow streets to get lost on. There are viewpoints and historical sites dating back to the middle ages, and did I mention the focaccia?

Where to stay in Genoa: Hotel Bristol Palace is located right on the main shopping boulevard of XX Settembre and will take you back to the Renaissance in a tasteful way. The rooms are stunningly decorated and the hotel itself feels very luxurious despite rooms starting around $120 per night. Book a stay at Hotel Bristol Palace here.

Check out my video from Genoa and see why I fell so in love with it.

2. Camogli

Camogli is a little town in the Italian Riviera that I want to buy a house in and never leave.

During the summer months, Camogli attracts plenty of beach-goers, hikers, and explorers who want to get out on the ferries to explore places like San Fruttuoso, Portofino, and even further afield.

There are boat trips several times a day from Camogli to all of these places, including all the way down to Cinque Terre for the day.

However, I recommend sticking around Camogli, even just for a day, as you make your way along the Italian Riviera. 

I spent an entire day simply enjoying the sunshine, eating gelato on the beach, having an Aperol Spritz in the sunshine at one of the outdoor restaurants, eating dinner at La Camogliese while watching the sunset over the Ligurian Sea.

I also hiked from Camogli to San Fruttuoso and then took the ferry back from San Fruttuoso and the views of Camogli from the water were pretty special.

Where to stay in Camogli: Hotel Cenobio Dei Dogi is one of the most famous hotels in Camogli and for good reason. The rooms have stunning views, it’s one of the few hotels in the area with a swimming pool, and the hotel has its own private beach. A full and great breakfast is included in your stay. Rooms start at $150 per night. Book a stay at Hotel Cenobio Dei Dogi here.

See my video from Camogli to see why this place is such a special part of the Italian Riviera.

3. Rapallo

Just an eight-minute train ride from Camogli is the larger Italian Riviera town of Rapallo. 

Just like many of the towns in this region, Rapallo is a popular summer beach spot and it has several great patches of sand right in the center of town where you can go for a dip in the Ligurian Sea or simply relax on a beach chair in the sunshine.

I found Rapallo to also be a very cool little place to hang out in the evenings. There are wonderful restaurants like Rapalà and O Bansin and one of the best little bars I’ve been to in the Italian Riviera called Rock Cafe Rapallo

Right next to the port, you’ll also find Castello di Rapallo. This castle was originally built in 1550 as a defensive tower after pirates began looting the town of Rapallo.

Over its history, it has been used as a defensive fort, a home for the captain of the city’s port, and even as a prison. Now it is a small museum that you can visit during your trip to Rapallo.

Where to Stay in Rapallo: I loved this cute and affordable guesthouse in the center of Rapallo. The location couldn’t be better right in the old town, a block from the beach, and two minutes from the beach. Rooms start at an insanely affordable $35 per night. Book a stay at Nonna Lucia Guesthouse here.

Santa margherita Ligure

The beautiful Italian Riviera town of Santa Margherita Ligure.

4. Santa Margherita Ligure

I visited the town of Santa Margherita Ligure twice on my trip to the Italian Riviera. Once while I was staying in Rapallo and once again at the end of my day trip to Portofino just before leaving the coast to head back home.

I love this little seaside town perhaps the most of all the towns on this list.

It is a little bit fancier than Rapallo, but not nearly as stuffy as Portofino. It has colorful pastel buildings that line the waterfront, several really wonderful beaches to explore, and is home to the best gelato I’ve ever eaten (try their hazelnut!).

If you want to visit a really beautiful part of this peninsula, take a walk back up the hill out of Santa Margherita Ligure towards Rapallo (you can also take bus 707) until you reach San Michele di Pagana. This is a tiny little town in the Italian Riviera, so small it gets bunched in with Santa Margherita Ligure. 

However, the beach here, Bagni Pagana, and the little restaurants that line the sidewalk are truly a special experience. Get here early if you are visiting during the summer months, because it gets incredibly busy.

If I could redo my trip to the Italian Riviera, I would have based myself in Santa Margherita Ligure for at least two nights of my trip. This is the best place to base yourself for hiking in the Portofino Regional Park area as well as to get a ferry or bus for a day trip to Portofino.

Where to stay in Santa Margherita Ligure: Hotel Helios is right on the beach, a few minutes from the promenade and center of town. It has a rock pool that is absolutely stunning and the rooms are clean and comfortable. Rooms start at $130 per night. Book a stay at Hotel Helios here.

Have a look at my video from my time in Santa Margherita Ligure and Rapallo to see why they are both such exceptional places to visit in the Italian Riviera.

5. Portofino (and San Fruttuoso!)

Portofino is one of the most famous towns in the Italian Riviera. It may even simply be one of the most famous towns in Italy.

It is the holiday destination of the rich and famous and it has been since the early 20th century. Along the port area of the village, you will find expensive restaurants, high-end shops like Dior and Luis Vuitton as well as smaller boutiques packed with all manner of brand names.

There are very few hotels in Portofino and indeed, most people simply head here for a day trip from the neighboring towns along the Italian Riviera. You can even do day trips to Portofino all the way from Genoa.

A few highlights not to miss are Castello Brown, which was a fortification that dates all the way back to Roman times and is now an interesting museum worth exploring.

I also highly recommend walking all the way to the lighthouse bar and, depending on the time of day, treating yourself to a coffee or a cocktail. The views from this little lighthouse are extraordinary and it has nice relaxed vibes out at the tip of the peninsula.

Where to stay in Portofino: The most famous place to stay in Portofino and indeed one of only a few hotels in the entire village is Splendido, a Belmondo Hotel. It is an utter luxury and a once-in-a-lifetime kind of stay at nearly $700 per night. For a more affordable option (but still pretty expensive), there’s the luxurious Eight Hotel Portofino. Both are so very Portofino and a wonderful option if budget is of little importance.

portofino town in the italian riviera

The town of Portofino is very beautiful and one of the most popular spots along the Italian Riviera for international tourists.

6. Cinque Terre

As the name suggests, Cinque Terre is actually five towns and villages along the Italian Riviera, however, it felt like cheating to list them all separately since you will likely visit them as one place anyway.

The five towns of Cinque Terre include:

  • Riomaggiore
  • Manarola
  • Corniglia
  • Vernazza
  • Monterosso al Mare
vernazza in cinque terre

The beautiful Vernazza in Cinque Terre is one of the five beautiful towns inside this beautiful national park.

These five towns are not only beautiful in their own right, but an excellent base if you want to do some hiking. The main trail is called the Sentiero Azzurro or the Blue Trail and goes between all five towns.

The trail runs along the coastline almost the entire way and takes about 4-5 hours depending on how many stops you make (this doesn’t include stopping in each town to explore).

There is also a train line that connects the five towns if you want to hike some or none, but still want to explore the towns. Besides the Sentiero Azzurro, there are several other excellent trails that take you up and into the national park to explore vineyards, olive groves, and views back over the Ligurian Sea.

manarola cinque terre

Manarola has one of the most famous views in all of Italy and you can see why!

7. Sestri Levante

One of the most popular beach towns in the Italian Riviera because it’s one of the few towns with a sandy beach.

Most of the beaches in the other towns in the Italian Riviera that I have mentioned in this article have pebbly or even rocky beaches (something I personally prefer). 

The other special thing about Sestri Levante is that it sits on a very narrow peninsula, so you get beaches on both sides with Baia delle Favole on one side and Baia del Silenzio on the other. The locals call it ‘la città dei due mari’ or the city of two seas.

Both beaches are stunning and have very calm waters for swimming. Baia del Silenzio or the Bay of Silence, is particularly wonderful because it is small and the water is so crystal clear. 

If you are visiting the Italian Riviera and want a beach day at Sestri Levante, get there as early as possible. The Bay of Silence is a completely free beach, a very rare thing in Italy (you usually pay for the chairs and umbrellas), so it gets very busy.

Where to stay in Sestri Levante: I find many of the hotels in Sestri Levante to be a bit dated, but Grande Albergo holds onto the old-school Italian Riviera charm without feeling tired or outdated. The rooms are clean and comfortable, you’re steps from the beach and town, and breakfast is included in your stay. Rooms start at $135 per night. Book a stay at Grande Albergo here

mountains in italian riviera

So many of the towns in the Italian Riviera have these colorful homes that climb up into the hills and the lush green hills are dotted with olive groves (Liguria is home to some very excellent olive oil!).

8. Lerici

Located in what is called the Bay of Poets, Lerici is a picturesque town that I breezed past on the train and immediately added to my “must-go” list for a return trip.

Writers like Lord Byron and Percy and Mary Shelley called this little Italian Riveria town their home and it’s easy to see why it was such a haven for creatives.

It’s a few miles south of the larger Italian Riviera city of La Spezia and is a good base for exploring La Spezia, Porto Venere, and of course, saving time to explore the beautiful Lerici. From Lerici, you can also easily explore Cinque Terre. 

The Lerici Castle was originally built in 1241 by the Pisans to fortify the city. Much like the Rapallo Castle, the Lerici Castle was used as a prison over the years, and now you can visit the interior for €5.

The beaches of Lerici are one of the biggest draws of this beautiful town and there are tons of bays and beaches big and small that surround the town. Many of them are accessible right from the downtown and you can walk to them all in under 30 minutes. 

Where to stay in Lerici: Velamica Resort has a rooftop that I would love to relax on with a good book and an Aperol Spritz. It’s a very cozy and family-run B&B with delicious breakfast, wonderfully friendly staff, and a great location for accessing town and beach. Rooms start at $220 per night. Book a stay at Velamica Resort here.

hotels in the italian riviera with pools and views

The hotels along the waterfront in Sanremo really make you feel like you’ve stepped into a film taking place in the Italian (or French) Riviera.

9. Sanremo

Sanremo is on the complete other side of the Italian Riviera to the other towns on this list, but it is one that I have high on my priority list for a return to this region of Italy.

It is much closer to the border with France and would likely be a great addition to a trip from Marseille, Nice, and a revisit to my beloved Cassis). I think it would actually be easier to get here from the Nice airport and then take the train from there.

However, it is equally as easy to arrive in Genoa and take the train from Genoa to San Remo.

Sanremo is home to the longest-running annual TV music competition in the world, the Sanremo Music Festival, and you can actually get tickets to watch it live. It usually takes place in February each year.

The town is also incredibly beautiful and just a wonderful place to spend winter or to come for a hot summer beach day (or any season in between, to be honest). 

Where to stay in Sanremo: Miramar Palace Resort is housed in a stunning old Palazzo and has prime real estate on the beach. There is also a huge pool with sun loungers, a great restaurant, plush rooms, and all for rooms that start at a relatively affordable $120 per night. Book a stay at Miramar Palace Resort here.

10. Imperia

Imperia is one of the most beautiful cities in the Italian Riviera and one that, other than the stunning city of Genoa, you should definitely make time for in your Italian Riviera itinerary.

Like so many of the beautiful towns and cities around the Italian Riviera coast, Imperia has colorful buildings that line the shore and climb up into the hills.

The sandy beach sits at the center of it all and offers incredible views over the sea and surrounding hills. 

It’s also worth enjoying some of the local food, especially anything using the city’s famous olives and olive oil. 

Where to stay in Imperia: Hotel Corallo is right on the beach and still close to the downtown and great restaurants. The rooms are comfortable and very clean with balconies facing the ocean. Breakfast is included in your stay and it all starts at a very affordable $80 per night. Book a stay at Hotel Corallo here.