One look at the enticing landscapes and azure seas of Liguria is enough to make anyone fall in love. This narrow, seaside crescent in northwest Italy, sheltered by the Maritime Alps and overlooking the rugged coastline of the Ligurian Sea, is one of the most beautiful destinations in the Med. Bordering on the Côte d’Azur, Liguria – also known as the Italian Riviera – is much more diverse in topography and architecture than its French neighbour and decidedly less hectic.
Travellers come from far and wide to linger on the riviera’s dazzling beaches, but also to explore the terraced vineyards, lush olive groves and colourful old villages that decorate the Ligurian mountainside. If you’re thinking about going on holiday to Liguria yourself, you’re probably feeling spoilt for choice among all the fantastic things there are to put on your itinerary. To help you narrow it down, we’ve gathered our own collection of places to go, things to do, where to eat and kid-approved activities that we know you’ll love. Start planning your week in Liguria right here…
Best Beaches in Liguria
– Barely a stone’s throw from the iconic Cinque Terre is the alluring beach retreat of Levanto. While most beaches on the Italian Riviera are rather small, the beach at Levanto is a long stretch of sand with a picturesque boardwalk. It also happens to be the home of surf culture in Liguria, and where you’ll find the best lessons on the coast.
– If you can appreciate the charm of a quaint pebble beach with a peaceful atmosphere, you must make your way to San Fruttuoso. Set right below the town’s medieval abbey, this tiny beach is tucked away in a national park with beautiful surroundings. You can reach it by ferry or by hiking from Portofino.
– Right in the centre of Noli, a seaside town in western Liguria, you can make a visit to Spiaggia dei Pescatori (that’s Fisherman’s Beach in English). This long and wide stretch of sand is perfect for lazy afternoons in the sun, but you’ll have to share the space with the colourful boats parked right on the beach by local fishermen.
– The small beach of Baia delle Sirene, meaning Bay of Mermaids, can only be reached via a steep set of stairs. The steps will lead you the 30 metres down to sea level from the road atop the cliffs that surround this picturesque cove. This beautiful sandy gem is best enjoyed in the mornings while it’s positively drenched in Italian sun.
– Just a short trip from Cinque Terre is the popular Monterosso al Mare – the first thing you see when stepping off the train in Monterosso town. You’ll immediately be drawn in by the beautiful azure colour of the sea but remember to also keep an eye out for the impressive sculpture of Neptune on the western end of the beach.
Things to See and Do
– Discover the thousands of Mediterranean and exotic plants that adorn the Hanbury Botanical Gardens, just west of Ventimiglia. These beautiful gardens founded by Sir Thomas Hanbury in 1867 are under the care of the University of Genoa and hold a place on the UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Make the most of your visit by following the marked path through the fragrant and colourful park.
– Get your culture kicks with a visit to the Musei di Strada Nuova, where three of Genoa’s most prestigious historical palaces make up a collection of ancient art exhibits all on the same 16th-century street. The Palazzo Rosso, Palazzo Bianco and Palazzo Tursi are each architectural wonders in their own right, and no visit to the city is complete without discovering their combined masterpiece.
– Climb the 172 steps to the top of Genoa’s most emblematic landmark, La Lanterna, and take in the views of the harbour from the lighthouse’s observation deck. Its current form was built in 1543, and it’s still active today. You can learn more about its history in the multimedia museum at the foot of the lighthouse, and take a guided tour on the last Sunday of every month.
– If you find yourself with a Friday morning to spare, make your way to the famous Ventimiglia Market. In addition to its permanent produce market where you can shop for all the ingredients of a decadent Mediterranean lunch, the market sprawls along the beachfront on Fridays, selling clothes, art, street food and other goodies. Arrive hungry and ready to find some great local bargains.
– Overlooking the elegant Portofino harbour is Museo del Parco, an open-air modern art museum of over 120 sculptures by some of Europe’s best-renowned artists. During the summer months, you might also come across some cultural events while wandering the different levels of the gardens. Just don’t forget to stop for a moment and appreciate the view of the Riviera from above.
– The Ligurian Sea is a goldmine for nature lovers, and one of the best spots in Europe for whale watching. This patch of ocean is a protected marine area, home to eight different species of whales. You can hop on a whale watching boat in any of the main ports on the Riviera and enjoy a few hours at sea spying for friendly cetaceans in the company of expert marine biologists and sailing crews.
– Avid cyclists (and hikers) will jump at the chance to get on the Pista Ciclabile, a single 24-kilometre bike path running through the western part of Liguria. The trail runs along the old Genoa-Ventimiglia railway, shut down since 2001, including the old tunnels. Along the way, you can stop at designated rest spots by the coast and enjoy meals at stations that have been converted into restaurants.
– Discover the gem of the Italian Riviera on foot by strapping on your best boots and hiking the Cinque Terre. The five iconic villages that sprawl across the steep rocky coastline of Liguria can be explored via the 11-kilometre-long hike known as the Blue Trail. With no stops, the hike should take about 5 hours, but we recommend making a day of it and taking plenty of breaks along the way!
– Make a detour on your explorations of the Cinque Terre to admire the view from Punta Bonfiglio in Manarola. It can be found jutting out toward the sea on a rocky path out of town and is one of the most photogenic spots on the Riviera with an incredible panorama of the local village. Perfect for a picnic outing, the viewpoint has a children’s playground for families and a nice bar nearby.
– Discover the secrets of the Ligurian sea by scuba diving at Gallinara Island. Perfect for beginners, the waters surrounding this tiny island holds many hidden treasures, including a sunken statue of Christ surrounded by aquatic life. To preserve the integrity of the Regional Nature Reserve of the island, all dives must be accompanied by a certified guide, so make sure to schedule ahead of time.
– Kids of all ages will have an incredible time exploring the Aquarium of Genoa. Covering over 27 000 square metres, it’s the largest aquarium in Europe. As part of the experience, you can explore the underwater worlds of hundreds of species, meet expert marine biologists, and take tours behind the scenes. When the little ones need to recharge, there are also family-friendly dining options on site.
– Take the whole family on an exploration of an ancient and mysterious world below ground with a tour of the Toirano Caves. Among crystals and stalactites, you’ll discover everything from hand-impressions and pre-historic pottery left behind by human settlements to the famous Grotte Della Basura which houses the remains of huge cave bears that hibernated there over 25000 years ago.
– Head down to the Old Port in Genoa and let the kids play around in La Citta dei Bambini e dei Ragazzi, an interactive science and technology centre for visitors aged two to twelve. There are over 90 educational stations and exhibits where children can learn through playing. The centre is split into three sections suitable for different ages, including everything from mirror games to a tv-studio.
– Splash around in Liguria’s largest waterpark, Parco Acquatico Le Caravelle, with attractions, slides, wave pools and even artificial beaches. The park has recently been renovated and offers top-quality family fun (with special pools for babies and toddlers), entertainment and dining. For adults with some time to spare, there is also a spa section of the park which offers massages and steam rooms.
– Run amok on board an (almost) real-life pirate ship, aka the Galleon Neptune from Roman Polanski’s classic 80s film ‘Pirates’. The life-sized pirate ship used as a set for the film is now open to the public and is docked in the port of Genoa. Kids will go crazy playing pirates aboard the galleon, exploring the decks and secret rooms below. It’s a must-visit for families and film-buffs alike.
Food & Drink
– While you won’t eat pizza or pasta at Nessun Dorma, you’ll find exquisite and authentic Italian food made with the best local ingredients, unique flavour combinations and delicious wine pairings. And, above all, you’ll get to enjoy some of the best food on the Italian Riviera overlooking the lively sea and the buildings that cling to the cliffside at Manarola. A Ligurian experience if there ever was one!
– Ask anyone, and they’ll tell you no trip to Liguria is complete without a few good helpings of local pesto. We can’t think of a better way to enjoy this signature flavour of the Riviera than by making it yourself, at a local pesto course in Levanto. The ‘laboratory of pesto’ in the city’s historical centre is the perfect place to learn to make your own sauce and to pair it with some delicious local wine.
– We believe that the very best Italian food is made using techniques and recipes that have been passed down through the generations, which is why we love Ombre Rosso so much. This family-run restaurant in Genoa doesn’t have a menu per se but will serve dishes based on whatever looked good at the market that morning, so don’t shy away from taking the waiter’s recommendations!
– Whether you’re looking to stock up on some amazing Italian wines to take home with you, or you’re just keen on sampling a few glasses, head to Cantine Lunae. The knowledgeable staff will happily teach you all about their wines, and you can pick up some edible goodies to with your drink as well. Don’t be afraid to bring the kids either; they’ll love playing in the big green garden outside.
– Ligurian street food is incredibly delicious and indulgent in all its simplicity, especially the famed focaccias. These are best enjoyed fresh out the oven at a local spot like A Pestun’a in Genoa, where you can enjoy focaccias with loads of different flavours like sage or olives, or even filled with cheese. These yummy breads are delicious with a cold beer and best enjoyed picnic-style on the beach.
Ah, Liguria… we can practically smell the ocean air already. If you’re feeling ready to kickstart your adventures on the Italian Riviera, keep an eye out for our stunning holiday homes in the region launching soon! If you have any questions in the meantime, just get in touch with our concierge team.