Top popular places to visit in Liguria

  Wandering what are the top places to visit in Liguria? From Cinque Terre to Portofino, on this blog post you will know what are the mo...

Wandering what are the top places to visit in Liguria? From Cinque Terre to Portofino, on this blog post you will know what are the most popular sites in the Italian Riviera as well as what to do in each of them, so you can add them to your itinerary when you visit this beautiful part of Italy!

This post is based on current values and circumstances dated in June 2020, and may not be true nor applicable at the time you read it or prepare for your trip. Please read the information on official sites for updated values and conditions. I have linked these as much as possible to help you on your planning :)

portofino view

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Located between Cote d'Azur (French Riviera) and Tuscany, Liguria (also known as the Italian Riviera) has plenty of beautiful places to visit, and it is specially popular for it's colourful coastal houses, in particular Cinque Terre and Portofino, as well as the city of Genoa.

Even though Portofino it's within the most popular places to visit in Liguria, it is still fairly unknown comparing to other Italian towns such as Rome, Pisa and Venice, so it is a perfect place to visit if you're trying to escape the crowds. Even Cinque Terre, the most popular area in Liguria, as a lot less visitors during peak season than places like Rome. I visited Cinque Terre in August, back in 2018, and even though it had quite few people visiting, it wasn't flooded like what you will see in Rome and Venice.

To make it easier to visualise and identify these locations, I will start with the most popular locations from west to east (from France to Tuscany), and I will later write another blog post on off the beaten path locations in Liguria.

1) Genoa (Genova)
2) Portofino
3) Cinque Terre

Genova skyline. Photo by Paolo Trabattoni from Pixabay, edited with my presets.
Genoa is not a pretty coastal town with colourful houses, but it's a big landmark in Liguria: located in the centre of this region, Genoa has a massive port, a large medieval centre with many squares (piazzas) and many historical monuments and museums, including the largest Aquarium in Italy (and one of the largest in Europe). If you're into culture and history, you will find interesting attractions to spend your time, but if you're into pretty locations, you will find Genoa a bit too industrial and unattractive.
Genoa can also be a great location for accommodation as the train services from here are quite great, and the prices are fairly cheap comparing to other more fancy areas such as Portofino and Cinque Terre.
We spent two nights here and this was definitely my least favourite town in Liguria, mostly because of how *disgusting conversation alert* dirty the city was and how many dodgy places we encounter, to the point of having bus stops that stink and had marks of piss on the floor and the seats.
That being said, there is an area of Genoa that is quite popular for it's colourful houses and it is photo worth it: Bocadasse.

portofino harbour
Portofino from St. George Church Plazza. One of my favourite viewpoints in Portofino.
Portofino is a beautiful fishing village located in the Italian Riviera, known as a fancy destination for celebrities - which explains it's prices and luxury shops. Beautiful coloured houses aligned around it's small square (Piazzetta) and the harbour, fancy restaurants, hotels and boutiques, and stunning green hills in the background, this place will surely steal your heart as you visit.
While this is a popular meeting place for VIPs, you will also have plenty of opportunities to hike and enjoy the nature in the Portofino Regional Park, with all it's lush vegetation and stunning views to the town and the coast. The views to the harbour and the small square from the Church of St George and Castello Brown are worth the hike, and you can also hike from Santa Margherita Ligure through a beautiful path along the coast. On top of that, there is also the opportunity to hike the Portofino Regional Park to get to San Fruttuoso, a location that I will talk about in our next blog post. If you're into water activities, you can take a boat tour, go kayaking, snorkelling or diving.
Access to Portofino can be a little tricky thanks to it's location. You can drive to Portofino but the parking tickets are absurd (5.50€), so I would recommend taking a bus or hiking (1h30min hike) from Santa Margherita Ligure, or getting there by boat.
Another thing to consider about Portofino is that while during the day you will see many other tourists like you, at night the atmosphere is completely different, and you will feel a bit off in your sweaty clothes as everyone else is dressing nicely and smelling good to seat by the harbour for a fancy dinner under the lights of a pricey seafood restaurant.

Vernazza viewpoint
One of the most popular viewpoints in Vernazza, Cinque Terre
As mentioned previously, Cinque Terre is the most popular destination of the Italian Riviera. It is the most touristy of all locations, and it includes (just as the name indicates) 5 different villages (terre), from west to east: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore - Vernazza, Manarola and Riomaggiore being the most picturesque of all 5 and Corniglia the least interesting.
Most people visit all 5 villages through the hiking trails available (payment required to access some of this hikes), popular for their stunning views, but you can also visit them through sea by boat (only available during Summer, and subject to weather and tide conditions - if the waves are too strong, they won't operate) or even train - just make sure you validate your ticket every time to avoid a bit fine!
Cinque Terre has amazing views to offer to the coast, many souvenir and local art shops, tasty fried fish and fried seafood and an amazing relaxing vibe, so you will surely feel like staying to enjoy the water and the Italian sunshine.

The mistake most people do when visiting Liguria is to only include the highlights of the Italian Riviera onto their itinerary, when this part of Italy is full of small little and colourful towns, where you can truly appreciate the culture and the local life of Italians that reside in this part of the country.
So make sure to add few extra days on your trip to Liguria, and I will bring you all of the off the beaten path locations on the next blog post!

Hope this blog post was helpful to you, and I will add the map with all locations below, as well as my Youtube video where I talk about these 3 popular places. Have a lovely day! ❤

Tips to use the map above
  • You will find different layers on this map, showing you all points of interest by categories. To see these, click on the tab icon (top left). All layers will be enabled by default. By clicking on the check marks, you can disable/hide a specific label to better understand the info you're looking for.
  • To view more detailed information on any point of interest, click on it's icon over the map.
  • You can save this by clicking on the star on the top of the map (right next to the title). This will be added to your Google Maps, and you will be able to access it from any device (Google Maps - Your Places - Maps)

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