Curious about the region beyond the Cinque Terre? In our Liguria travel guide you’ll find out all about it. With basilico gelato in one hand, and a slice of freshly baked focaccia in the other, let’s discover one of the most underrated coastlines in Italy. This picturesque region conjures up images of pretty pastel colored buildings built right into vibrant green hillsides with the Ligurian Sea jutting out underneath. Most famous for the popular Cinque Terre villages, and of course pesto pasta, this region offers so much more if you care to scratch the surface just a little.
A mosaic of relaxed fishing villages, glitzy resorts, untouched mountain towns, and the impressive capital city – Genoa – is what you’ll find on a trip to Liguria. More recently brought to life in Disney’s film ‘Luca’, a visit to the region will undoubtedly include hiking, swimming, taking in stunning views, and indulging in the delicious local cuisine. Keep reading to find out more in our Liguria travel guide.
Where is Liguria
Liguria is a long, narrow strip of land that lies along the Mediterranean Coast in the uppermost North West corner of Italy. The Liguria region of Italy borders the South of France, Piedmont, Tuscany, and Emilia Romagna.
From Milan, the capital Genoa is 144km/89 miles South and can be reached in just 1.5 hours via high speed train. Further afield, Florence to Genova is 250km/155 miles North West and Rome is a longer 504km/313 miles away. If travelling from Venice, you’ll head 396km/246 miles West.
Map of Liguria
Main cities and towns in Liguria
Liguria is a relatively small region (the third smallest region in Italy) but has a great variety of towns to explore. Many of them are filled with the same beautiful palette of pastel colored homes (with decidedly less crowds) just like the iconic Cinque Terre villages. These are the best places in Liguria to visit in our opinion:
- Genoa: The capital of a once mighty Maritime Republic, opulence oozes from Genoa’s impressive and historic buildings and UNESCO world heritage palazzi. Wander through great art museums, visit the huge aquarium, and don’t miss exploring the fishing village Bocadasse which is arguably just as pretty as the famous Cinque Terre villages.
- Portofino: For those who like a little peek into the lives of the mega rich and famous, visit this glamorous resort town on the Italian Riviera. Portofino screams exclusivity and indulgence, so come prepared for hefty prices or visit on a day trip instead. Admire the slick super yachts, soak up the stunning views and consider a visit to the historic Castello Brown museum.
- Camogli: This pretty seaside town with beautiful coloured houses and fishing boats on the Golfo Paradiso bay is a working fishing port. You’ll find a low key and relaxed atmosphere in Camogli. Enjoy a swim in the characteristic black pebble beach, and of course plenty of freshly-baked focaccia.
- Sanremo: This upmarket town on the Italian Riviera is just over the border from the South of France. For those who want to try their luck, one of the only casinos in Italy is found here. Sanremo is also renowned for their flowers and of course their famous music festival in February.
- Chiavari: If you love pretty seaside towns full of character, make a stop in Chiavari. Wander along the porticoes, gaze upon historical shops (known as boutique historique) and be sure to sample the delicious food. For those who like antiques, don’t miss the monthly weekend antique market.
- Santa Margherita Ligure: A stunning seaside town close to Portofino, Santa Margherita comes without the enormous price tag. VIP yachts do dock here, but it’s more of a working fishing port with a relaxed pace of life rather than a place for glitzy designer boutiques like its more famous neighbor. Don’t miss tasty seafood, the stunning basilica and their monthly antiques fair.
- Sestri Levante: Another ridiculously gorgeous seaside town full of pretty pastel colored houses, Sesti Levante is straddled by two bays on either side. Enjoy some tranquility at the Baia del Silenzio (the Bay of Silence), relax on the sandy beach, and indulge in the local shops with a basilico gelato in hand.
- Cinque Terre villages: We’d be remiss not to include the gorgeous but unfortunately over-touristed Cinque Terre villages. This collection of 5 small fishing villages nestled along the LIgurian coast includes Monterosso Al Mare, Vernazza, Manarola, Corniglia, and Riomaggiore. Ideal for hiking, and soaking up the views, do expect heavy crowds here – especially between May and October.
Liguria Travel Guide: Top Things to Do
There are so many fantastic things to do in Liguria. Nature lovers, sports enthusiasts, foodies, and those just wanting to soak in the distinct Ligurian culture will have no trouble finding plenty of things to stay entertained here. Some of our favorite activities include:
Go on a boat tour of the Cinque Terre
Our secret to avoiding the crowds is to see these breathtakingly beautiful towns by water! Hop on a Cinque Terre boat tour and enjoy spectacular views as the sun sets with focaccia and local Vermentino wine in hand.
If you love trekking, then this is the region for you! There are tons of different hikes to do, with the most famous along the Cinque Terre towns (Sentiero Azzurro/blue path). Some other options include the Alta Via dei Monti Liguri, a long-distance hiking trail of about 440 kilometres (270 miles) and 44 day hikes going all the way from Ventimiglia to Tuscany. You can join a local guide to take you along the trails in the Cinque Terre too.
Learn to make pesto
One of the most famous Italian sauces around the world is undeniably pesto. But have you ever made your own? Discover just why Ligurian pesto is so good with a cooking class like this pesto making course in Levanto.
Swim in the azure Ligurian Sea
During the summer season, of course one of the top activities in Liguria is to hit the beach! With 300km of coastline, the biggest question will be where to go swimming?! Try one of the many pretty coastal towns like Camogli, Sestri Levante, Sanremo, and Levanto to name just a few. For more water activities, consider renting a kayak for a few hours in Portofino.
Visit San Fruttuoso Bay and Abbey
Take a boat ride out to the remote San Fruttuoso Bay and Abbey (pictured above). It’s one of the most gorgeous little coves nestled between the Portofino promontory, Portofino Regional Natural Park and the blue sea. You can dine at the beach club restaurants, or even sleep at the Abbey. Snorkelers will want to check out the Christ of the Abyss – an impressive underwater statue. To get there, take the boat from Santa Margherita, Portofino or Camogli.
Explore the mountains and look for wild horses
Liguria is not all coast – its actually Italy’s most wooded region. Explore a lesser traversed side of the region in the Aveto National Park. Go for a hike or consider going wild horse watching. The park has around 80 beautiful wild horses.
What to eat and drink in Liguria
Ligurian cuisine is centred around delicious extra virgin olive oil, vegetables, Genoese basil and fresh fish. Wine in the region is very important as thanks to many different grape varieties, however the production is very small due to the tiny amount of land. The Albenga Plain produces great vegetables like coeur de boeuf (beef heart) tomatoes, artichokes, violet asparagus, trombetta zucchini, and an easily digestible garlic. When it comes to particular dishes, these are our favorite things to eat and drink when traveling in Liguria:
- Trofie Pasta alla Genovese: small, twisted pasta shapes that pair perfectly with pesto, potatoes and green beans
- Focaccia Genovese: Fluffy flatbread from Genoa, which is crispy on the outside and moist on the inside. It’s baked until golden and glistens with olive oil.
- Farinata: The perfect quick snack, this is a a pancake-like tart made from chickpea flour. It’s almost identical to the French Riviera’s ‘socca’.
- Pesto: You haven’t tried real pesto until you have eaten it in Liguria. It’s made with special basil and garlic only found in this region. The garlic, known as aglio di Vessalico, is special for making pesto because it is very sweet, spicy, and easy to digest. Meanwhile the basil from Genoa has a distinct sweet flavour (not minty) that makes Ligurian pesto so tasty.
- Pansotti (Pansoti): A tasty stuffed pasta shape traditionally filled with wild herbs, a local cheese, and topped with a walnut sauce.
- Pigato white wine: Besides Ligurian Vermentino, try something a little lesser known like Pigato. It’s the dominant variety in the province of Imperia and Albenga. This strong white wine has great complexity and flavour.
- Fried anchovies: The perfect lunch on the beach or strolling along the lungomare (promenade). Enjoy fried anchovies from May to September when they’re in season.
- Stuffed mussels: This summery dish is very delicious. Fresh mussels from La Spezia area are filled with mortadella, Parmigiano cheese, garlic, parsley, bread, eggs, and herbs before cooking slowly for 3-4 hours in a secret sauce. Yum!
Where to stay in Liguria
There are diverse accommodation options to explore when you visit Liguria. Besides traditional hotels and B&Bs, there are beautiful relais and agriturismi (farmhouses) you can also consider depending on your homebase. Genoa makes for a great base to explore the capital city and daytrip along the coast to the Golfo Paradiso (Camogli, Recco, Sori, Pieve Ligure and Bogliasco), San Fruttuoso, Santa Margherita Ligure, and Portofino. Try Le Due Piazze apartments, NIU Lux Apartments or historic Hotel Bristol Palace for stays inside the historic center.
For those wanting to brave the crowds, take a read of our article on the best places to stay in the Cinque Terre. Alternatively, Levanto (pictured above) is a lovely, quieter base with a sandy beach to explore the five towns from instead. Try Hotel Palazzo Vannoni just 200m from the beach!
For those wanting to explore the mountains, consider Borgio Verezzi. This mountain town has the most spectator views over the Ligurian Gulf! Try Blu Oltremare for the best views.
When to go to Liguria
This sunny coastal region enjoys mild temperatures for most of the year, however it can be prone to heavy rainfall and wild storms especially from October to February. Winter sees highs of 10C/50F and can be beautiful to explore some of the towns without crowds if you get a clear day. Resort towns do close down over this period however, so don’t expect a lot to be open especially in Cinque Terre. Music lovers should take a trip to Sanremo to experience the music festival in February.
High season runs from May-September as tourists descend upon the Cinque Terre and Europeans flock to the Italian Riviera. Summer sees temperatures around 27C/80F but it can often feel hotter because of the humidity and warm wind that blows in. There are some great food festivals during this period including July’s garlic festival in Vessalico. In August, there is a great ‘Palio’ rowing festival in La Spezia with parades the night before the race. Or enjoy the snail festival (a delicacy) in September in Molini di Triora, or the stockfish one in Badalucco.
Spring and early Fall can be a beautiful time to visit with mild temperatures (16C/60F) making it perfect for enjoying one of the region’s many great hikes. Enjoy the Fish Festival in Camogli in May with beachside bonfires, and lots of fishy foods. Meanwhile, the town of Monterosso al Mare (Cinque Terre) comes to life as an oversized lemon with the lemon sagra in May.
How to get to Liguria
The main airport in the region is the Genova City Airport which services some international and domestic flights. The easiest way to travel to Liguria from abroad however is to fly into Milan Malpensa Airport and then either take the train or drive to Liguria. From Milan city center, you can reach Genoa in just under two hours by the train or in around 2.5 hours via the A7.
From Florence, the train time is around 2.5 hours on the fast train (note that it doesn’t run regularly), whilst driving time is around 3 hours on the A12/E80. Instead, from Rome, the train time is around 4 hours on the fast train or around 6 hours on the A12/E80 and A1/E35.
How to get around Liguria
Liguria is served quite well by the railway and ferries, which makes this a great option for getting around the region. For trips specifically to the Cinque Terre, you actually cannot drive into these towns or between them so you will certainly need to take either the train or a ferry. From Genoa, you can easily reach towns along the Italian Riviera via the train network too (although they can be slow). Book digital train tickets in advance with Omio.
Driving in Liguria can be a little bit scary as there are many tunnels to travel through at high speeds. There are also frequent road works, which means delays and traffic jams are frequent. However, a car can be useful to visit a broader range of towns on your own schedule and is certainly needed for a trip into the mountains. We recommend hiring a car through AutoEurope and reading our guide to renting a car in Italy with useful tips for your trip.
Let’s go to Liguria!
Are you dreaming of this off-the-beaten-track region after reading our travel guide to Liguria? For more information, listen to our podcast on an insiders view of the Cinque Terre, read our article on perfect Italian Riviera towns, or listen to our podcast episode on how to explore Liguria.
In 2023, we are taking small groups to explore this lovely region and its incredible food and wine. Why not join one of our small group tours to Liguria to dive deeper into the culture, the people, and the places that make this region so special.