Beauty surrounds you everywhere you go in the Italian Riviera — from the most glamorous towns of Portofino and Santa Margherita Ligure to the quieter Portovenere on the eastern portion of the coast.
Here are our picks for the top attractions in the Italian Riviera:
Anchor Yourself in Portofino
This picturesque former fishing village, featuring ports dotted with luxury yachts, is an international tourist destination. Walk its old streets and then sit in the piazzetta (small square) to soak in the atmosphere. Make sure you take the 20-minute boat trip to the tiny island of San Fruttuoso, an isolated village of fishermen with a small beach and a Benedictine abbey.
Drive Along the Coast of the Gulf of Tigullio
This sweep of the Italian Riviera is spectacular, with its coastal views and thriving vegetation. Drive the old coastal road Via Aurelia, starting from Nervi and proceeding through the delightful villages of Camogli, Portofino, Santa Margherita Ligure, Rapallo, Chiavari and Sestri Levante.
Stay at Belmond Hotel Splendido or Belmond Splendido Mare
Two luxury hotels make for one impressive property: Splendido is a 16th-century hillside former monastery, while Splendido Mare is on the town’s piazzetta, by the yacht-filled harbor. Most rooms have balconies and some offer vistas of Portofino’s cove. It features a wellness center and a heated saltwater pool, and the annexed restaurant La Terrazza serves excellent seafood.
Nosh at Pitosforo
Internationally renowned and popular with celebrities, this restaurant is right on the water in the town’s piazzetta. Pitosforo specializes in Ligurian cuisine with a creative touch.
Relax in the Gulf of La Spezia
The slice of coast closest to Tuscany, the Gulf of Poets takes its nickname from the many writers who chose it as their residence, including British poets Byron and Shelley. Its highlights are Portovenere and the islands of Tino and Tinetto, which are rich with marine caves; Lerici, which boasts a castle; and the unique Tellaro, widely considered one of the most beautiful villages in Italy.
Trek on Isola Palmaria
The island just off the coast of Portovenere is easily walkable in three hours. Isola Palmaria is especially known for its marine caves; don’t miss the Grotta Azzurra, Grotta Vulcanica and Grotta dei Colombi.
Discover the Riviera dei Fiori (the Coast of Flowers)
This expanse of coast to the west of Genoa is well known among Italians but often overlooked by international tourists. It’s best visited by driving along the old coastal Via Aurelia.
Explore Albenga, known for its towers and historic monuments; Alassio, with a little church that has a prime view of the town below; Taggia, where you can admire the houses dating back to the 14th and 15th centuries; Sanremo with its elegant Corso Imperatrice promenade, casino and medieval neighborhood of La Pigna; and Bordighera, which has a magnificent seafront promenade and old town.
Hike the Cinque Terre National Park
This steep and rugged stretch of the Italian Riviera comprises the five fishing towns of Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore, perched on the mountains terraced with vineyards and olive groves. A panoramic walking trail known as the Sentiero Azzurro (the Blue Path) connects all five.
Sample from L’Insolita Zuppa
Helmed by chef Margherita Olivieri, this restaurant specializes in local cuisine with a menu that changes according to seasons and product availability. Some of its specialties are housemade ravioli, mezzelune stuffed with pesto — which originated in these parts — and potato, and l’insolita zuppa, which means “unusual soup.”
Visit the Genoa Aquarium
The largest aquarium in Europe is in the ancient port area of Genoa. The two-and-a-half-hour tour shows the living environments of all marine life and reptiles. Particularly worthy are the three big tanks filled with dolphins, sharks, seals and tortoises. Your kids can even touch the fish in some of the tanks — not the sharks, of course.