The Italian Riviera, otherwise known as the Ligurian Riviera (In Italian: Riviera Ligure; in local Ligurian dialect: Rivêa Ligure) is a part of Italy in between the Ligurian Sea and the Alpine and Apennine mountain chains. Geographically just below France, in the Comune di Genova, the region used to include the city of Marseilles. Now, the region’s boundaries are different, and it has become somewhat smaller.
The Italian Riviera is rich in culture and history, as is all of the peninsula. However, the region’s vicinity to France and deep local history mark it as a completely distinct destination as compared with the rest of Italy. The area has its own language, cuisine, architecture, hosts the annual San Remo music festival, and boasts some of the most beautiful seaside views in the world.
The riviera consists of small traditional fishing towns. Buildings’ facades are easily recognizable due to their bright, varied colours, said to be in place so drunk fishermen could easily identify their homes.
Where to Stay in the Italian Riviera
Dotted with palm trees and beautiful flowers, the landscape pairs sea and mountain, giving visitors excellent spots to enjoy sunsets over the ocean.
In this article, we suggest some towns to visit in the Italian Riviera. We also give you some ideas on how to enjoy this beautiful region of Italy to the fullest and what to do in the Italian Riviera if you are visiting for the first time.
How To Get To The Italian Riviera
Before we dive in on the best things to do in the Italian Riviera we need to get there first. There are several ways to get to the area. If you are flying the nearest airport is Genoa Christopher Columbus from here, you have several options to reach the Riviera depending on which village are you looking to stay. You can get to any of the villages by public transport, taxi or by renting a car. By train with the line 1 ferry, by bus with the following numbers 1, 13, 7, 82, always make sure to check with the tourist information as the bus numbers change depending on the village you are looking to reach.
Santa Margherita in Ligure
While most people think of Portofino when they think of the Italian Riviera, Santa Margherita in Ligure is a cheaper, less touristic option. The town is easily accessible by train from Florence or Bologna, and upon arrival, you will feel instantly relaxed.
The town is small, but rests right along the beach, meaning you can easily walk to wherever you might want to go. It would be nice to grab focaccia (one of the main dish of this region) at the Panetteria del Corso and head down to the beach on a sunny day. Beaches near the port allow free access. Alternatively, you can go to one of the bagni (beach clubs) and rent a chair for a luxurious Italian beach day.
If you are more interested in history, visit the Castello di Santa Margherita Ligure, which the Republic of Genoa built in 1550 to defend themselves against pirates. You can also see the Basilica of St. Margaret of Antiochia or the Abbazia della Cervara. The historically relevant abbey lies on the road to Portofino.
Portofino is the romantic town that most think of when they think about the Italian riviera. Famous for hosting celebrity visitors, the town is also a gem for lovers of nature and the outdoors.
Of course, here too, you can enjoy the beach and seaside. Sit in the piazzetta (Piazza Martiri Dell Olivett) and have a glass of the crisp, local white wine while you watch the many-colored dinghies float in the harbour.
On a rainy day, there are still so many things to do. You can visit the Statue of Christ of the Abyss, placed underwater on 29 August 1954 in the inlet at a depth of 17 meters (56 feet) located in San Fruttuoso between Camogli and Portofino. Placed to protect fishermen and scuba divers in memory of Dario Gonzatti, the first Italian to use SCUBA gear. Sculpted by Guido Galletti, it represents Christ in the act of blessing while looking up at the sky with open arms.
If you want to get out for some activity, hike up to the sixteenth century Castello Brown and the Church of St. George. Roman ruins exist underneath the 15th-century Castello. The entire area is full of fascinating history that visitors can explore on foot. You’ll find rose gardens, pergolas, and picturesque terraces. Another hike you don’t want to miss is the wonderful Parco Naturale Regionale di Portofino with incredible views.
Located on the west side of Portofino’s peninsula, Camogli is another less-touristy destination worth visiting. It lies in the Gulf of Paradise, with a population of just under 6,000. Camogli boasts beautiful beaches with views of colourful buildings and has a reputation as the city of a thousand white sailboats.
Take a walk down Via Garibaldi and enter the Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta. This baroque-style church built in the twelfth century is full of beautiful, prestigious frescoes. You can also visit the Castello della Dragonara, a medieval fortress that provides excellent views of the small town’s port.
Camogli gives you a distinct feeling of living in a traditional sailing village. With a landscape (well, seascape) unmarred by mass tourism, here you can truly experience the life of an Italian sailor. Grab a book about Genoa and take yourself back in history as you enjoy the local cuisine, wine, and the sound of the sea.
If you’re not sure what to do in the Italian Riviera, you can always check out San Remo. Best known for the music competition that takes place every year, this Roman founded town located close to the French Riviera has its own flavour entirely.
Larger than the towns mentioned previously in the article, San Remo has a population of 55,000 and a more bustling feel.
Another differentiating factor for San Remo is its casino. Opened in 1905, the casino is allowed to operate despite strict Italian gambling laws, making it a destination for foreigners and Italians alike.
San Remo has always had a reputation for abounding in glitz and glamour due to the celebrities passing through on their way to Nice or Cannes. But not all of it is Hollywood-style. An interesting anomaly is Bussana Vecchia, a town that was evacuated in 1887 during an earthquake, and then became repurposed in the 1960s by a community of artists.
Today the area, just across the border from France is inhabited by a small group of locals as well as international artists, with shops, cafes, and restaurants. Over the years it has gained popularity as a destination for creative souls, so expect to meet many artists as you explore.
You can only access this part of the Italian Riviera by sea or foot. The main attractions are the Statue of Christ of the Abyss, already mentioned above and the Abbazia di San Fruttuoso (San Fruttuoso Abbey). The monastery, an ancient Benedictine is a lovely stone building with a small dome, which straddles the beach. Parts are medieval, some Romanesque, and the burial vaults of the aristocratic Doria family of Genoa are kept here.
Final Thoughts on What to Do In the Italian Riviera
So, what to do in the Italian Riviera? When visiting the Italian riviera, it is best to relax, enjoy the climate, views, and of course the food and wine. No matter what town you visit, you will have the opportunity to experience the beauty and history of the area, with lots of activities for everyone to experience from hiking, just enjoyong the beach or do some historical sightings. You are never short of things to do in the Italian Riviera.
It wouldn’t be fair to end this article without mentioning the Italian riviera’s notable cuisine. First, you’ll need to try trofie al pesto. Pesto sauce originates from Genova, and hand-rolled trofie pasta pairs with it perfectly. It also goes well with the local testaroli, another pasta that is thinly pounded into a sheet and then cut into diamond-like shapes.
Finally, be sure to drink some of the locally produced Vermentino, Pigato, Rossese, Bosco or Albarola wine. We hope that this article gave you lots of ideas and tips on the best things to do in the Italian Riviera.