Small Towns of the Italian Riviera

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Advisor - Cindy Fogel
Curated By

Cindy Fogel

  • Couples Travel

  • Active Travel

  • Food & Wine

  • Italy

  • Romantic

  • Beach Town

  • Island

View of park green places and island
Curator’s statement

The Italian Riviera is known for its picturesque coastal towns like Cinque Terre, Portofino and Santa Margherita Ligure, offering breathtaking sea views, colorful architecture and vibrant local culture. You can explore historic sites, enjoy fresh seafood and relax on beautiful beaches while experiencing the region's unique blend of natural beauty and Italian charm.

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Where to stay on the Italian Riviera

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Things to do on the Italian Riviera

Boats on the water in front of buildings and trees.

When most people think of the Italian Riviera, they think of beautiful beaches, harbors filled with yachts, delicious seafood, and picturesque coastal towns. The vibe is relaxed, yet lively. There is an air of elegant sophistication mixed with laid-back coastal charm. Here I will spotlight both the more popular as well as the smaller, lesser known but equally as beautiful towns in this region, spanning Cinque Terre to Genoa, the capital of the Ligurian region.

Known for its breathtaking beauty, Cinque Terre consists of five pastel colored fishing villages, Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare. All five villages are perched on cliffs overlooking the Ligurian Sea and are connected by a series of hiking trails. This UNESCO World Heritage site has become a popular destination for travelers seeking a taste of authentic Italian culture. Car access is restricted within the five villages to preserve the environment and maintain the area's historic charm. The easiest and most convenient way to travel between the villages is by train. If you are anywhere near the Italian Riviera, do not miss the opportunity to visit this coastal gem.

The town of Rapallo is a well-known and popular base when visiting the Italian Riviera due to its strategic location. Main attractions here are the castle built right over the sea in the harbor, as well as the vibrant Vittorio Veneto seafront, home to many restaurants and a bustling nightlife. This was our home base when visiting, and we were treated to a summer festival with a spectacular fireworks display.

Santa Margherita Ligure is a charming coastal town located just west of Rapallo along the coast and just five kilometers from Portofino, an iconic fishing village and one of the more recognizable names along the Italian Riviera. Here you can explore historic churches and enjoy fresh seafood. Make sure you take a leisurely walk along the tree-lined waterfront promenade.

Nestled between Santa Margherita Ligure and Portofino is the tiny village of Paraggi. Lush greenery surrounds this small, picturesque bay, creating a tranquil oasis for relaxation and swimming. Don't miss the Passeggiata dei Baci (Walk of Kisses), a short, easy 2km pedestrian path between Paraggi and Portofino.

Often recognized for its colorful buildings, buzzing harbor and luxurious yachts, Portofino is a popular destination for wealthy travelers and celebrities. This well-known riviera town offers high-end boutiques, waterfront restaurants, and stunning coastal walks. Head up to Castello Brown and walk through its beautiful gardens. It is also a beautiful locale for panoramic views.

Camogli is a less-visited seaside town with colorful buildings and is often called one of the prettiest towns in the Ligurian region. Don't miss San Fruttuoso di Camogli, a small oasis accessible only by boat, ferry, or by foot via Portofino National Park. Our group did a half day boat tour and the captain made us a reservation for lunch here, in a beautiful bay overlooking the beach and the area's main attraction, the San Fruttuoso Abbey.

Ferries are the easiest way to get around this stretch of the Ligurian coast. Check before you go because the frequency changes with the time of year.

Continuing west along the coast you will reach Genoa, a city that blends history, culture and natural beauty, making it a captivating destination for those looking to add a city to their travels.

Places to eat & drink on the Italian Riviera

View from Excelsior Palace Hotel

Rocco e i suoi Fratelli: Extensive and elegant Ligurian cuisine on the Rapallo waterfront with a warm and friendly atmosphere, this family- run restaurant also offers a tasting menu

Ristorante Nettuno - Pizza, pizza, pizza. In Rapallo, this is where the locals go

Da Giovanni: Perched up on a cliff in San Fruttuoso, overlooking the monastery and the beach, the food is second only to the location

Ristorante Belforte: Perched on the hills in Vernazza, one of the villages of Cinque Terre, sit on the veranda and enjoy the delicious seafood with incredible views

Ristorante Puny: A celebrity favorite in Portofino, this gem is located right on the main piazza of the harbor. Don't miss the shrimp risotto with peas

La Terrazza: Fine dining at its best located in the Belmond Hotel Splendido. There's also a cocktail bar for an aperitivo or a nightcap.

La Vedetta: Informal and family-friendly, enjoy your meal on long picnic benches in a beautiful exotic setting

Ristorante Oca Bianca: Located off the Main Street in Santa Margherita Ligure, this intimate spot is ideal for pastas, meats and of course, the wine

Need to Know

For more travel tips, check out Fora Advisor Claire Ruscitti guide, Soak Up Summer in Santa Margherita Ligure, a Gem in the Italian Riviera.

Advisor - Cindy Fogel

Travel Advisor

Cindy Fogel

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This guide is part of our ongoing series on travel to Italy.