The Best Italian Riviera Towns & How to Enjoy Them

January 25, 2023

With the announcement this spring that the tourism board of the Cinque Terre is considering implementing a quota system to limit the size of the crowds that threaten to overrun the fragile coastline each summer, now is a good time to start thinking about other coastal breaks in Italy that offer the same mix of beautiful scenery, great beaches, and quality food. The good news is that the Italian Riviera extends far beyond the Cinque Terre and includes scores of amazing coastal towns, many of which remain much less crowded than the more famous spots. Some of the most impressive Italian Riviera towns (and the easiest to reach) are located on the Golfo Paradiso, but in this post we’re diving even deeper into this storied stretch of Ligurian coastline to highlight some of its other gems; We’ll take you from well-known luxury destinations like Portofino and Santa Margherita Ligure, to smaller towns dripping with ambience like Rapallo, Zoagli, Chiavari, Lavagna and Sestri Levante. so without Further ado, here are some of the wonders of the “other Cinque Terre,” the Italian Riviera.


Portofino is one of the most picturesque and famous towns on the Italian Riviera | Photo via flickr, by Mr. Theklan.

Portofino is one of the most picturesque and famous towns on the Italian Riviera | Photo via Flickr, by Mr. Theklan.

This fishing village is one of the more famous Italian Riviera towns and its idyllic harbor hosts luxury Yachts alongside rickety fishing boats. Since the 50s it has been considered one of the best places to visit in Italy by Europe’s jet set and still attracts its fair share of A and B-List Celebrities. Portofino stands out from other “celebrities-vacation-here” towns due to the natural beauty of its harbor and the regional park that envelops it and extends to multiple towns along the coast – perfect for hiking on flower-lined trails! The best place to view this picturesque town is from Castello Brown, a small house/museum tucked away in the hills above the harbor.

Stay here if: you want to hang with someone that might show up in a tabloid; you don’t mind paying a bit more for food and accommodation based on name recognition; you have a weakness for beautiful natural ports.

Santa Margherita Ligure

Santa Margherita Ligure on the Italian Riviera | photo via flickr by Jeremy Sutcliffe

Santa Margherita Ligure | Photo via Flickr by Jeremy Sutcliffe.

For a taste of a true Italian holiday, look no further than Santa Margherita Ligure. Lined with swaying palm trees and ornate villas, this Italian Riviera Town is an interesting blend of beachside resorts and old world charm. It also boasts a deeply rooted fishing culture. The highly sought-after gambero rosso di Santa Margherita (“red prawn of Santa Margherita”) can be found on most menus, often served raw – a can’t miss for foodies.

Stay here if: You are a foodie in search of one of the world’s great seafood delicacies along with great fish; you don’t need to have a lot of impressive churches and attractions within walking distance; you are looking for a laid back, small town vibe.


Rapallo sunset | Photo by Luca

Sunset in Rapallo | Photo via Flickr by Luca.

Rapallo is a beautiful Italian coastal town but it’s particularly famous for the small castle in its center. The castle was constructed over 450 years ago to protect Rapallo from the attacks of pirates who ranged across the Mediterranean from ports within the Ottoman empire and the Barbary Coast (the old name for the area we now call the Maghreb). The harmonious atmosphere, mild winters, and tranquil seascape of Rapallo led many renowned thinkers and writers, including Friedrich Nietzsche and Ezra Pound, to draw inspiration from its breathtaking views.

Stay here if: you want to travel Italy in the footsteps of your favorite writers; you want to learn about the fascinating medieval history of Italy; you want a comfortable but less-expensive base from which to explore pricier towns like Portofino; you don’t mind not staying in the trendiest town on the coast.


Zoagli | Photo via Flickr by Joakim Olander

Zoagli | Photo via Flickr by Joakim Olander.

The main draw of this Italian Riviera town is its serenity. You won’t find any chain hotels here – just charming bed & breakfasts and agriturismi (loosely “farm-stays” in Italian) along the coast and in the hills of the hinterland. Probably the quietest of the towns on this list, it’s where to go if you really want to see how the locals enjoy the Italian Riviera. It’s also surprisingly good for shopping; Zoagli silk is exported all over the world and is distinguished by its handmade, high-quality weave, staying true to secrets passed down for generations.

Stay here if: you have an aversion to tourist hotspots; glamor is less important to you than comfort; you want a taste of quiet, small town Italian life.


A Panorama of Chiavari | Photo via flickr by Vengomatto.

A Panorama of Chiavari | Photo via flickr by Vengomatto.

Aside from its exceptionally pleasant water, Chiavari is also known as the proud hometown of one of the founding fathers of unified Italy, Giuseppe Garibaldi. As one of the celebrated “fathers of the fatherland” Garibaldi fought battles all over Italy in the 19th century in a bid to toss other empires out and consolidate the peninsula under a single flag. Although he was born in Nice, France, the town celebrates his heritage with street names, plaques, and a large statue in Piazza Matteotti. The center of Chiavari is pedestrianized and one of the better preserved “old towns” on the Italian Riviera.

Stay here if: You want to escape the noise and congestion caused by drivers on tight roads; you are looking for a nice beach town where you can swim during the summer months; you are an Italian history buff who can’t get enough of the larger than life Garibaldi.


Lavagna hosts what is perhaps the biggest party on the Golfo del Tigullio, the legendary Torta dei Fieschi. Every August since 1949 the six medieval quarters of the town have come together to celebrate the 1230 marriage of Opizzo Fieschi, Count of Lavagna, to aristocrat Bianca de’ Bianchi of Siena. The two-day party kicks off with the “marriage announcement” and “bachelor party,” complete with live music and medieval games. The town rests the following day for the evening “wedding” when the real game begins. After the “wedding vows”, partygoers receive one-half of a card printed in a medieval dialect of Italian. Everyone must then make their ways through the crowd to find the person with the other half of their card before enjoying their slice of the enormous wedding cake.

Stay here if: you go in August and want to enjoy one of the most vibrant and little-known street parties in Italy.

Sestri Levante

The Baia del Silenzio in Sestri Levante | Photo via Flickr by Jiuguang Wang.

The Baia del Silenzio in Sestri Levante | Photo via Flickr by Jiuguang Wang.

This Italian Riviera town is located on a peninsula that is split into two gorgeous bays. On one side is the Baia del Silenzio (“Bay of Silence”, also sometimes referred to as Portobello) and on the other is the Baia delle Favole (“Bay of Fairy Tales”), named after Hans Christian Andersen, who lived in the small town for a brief period in 1833. In recent years the town has grown in popularity among tourists given its unique layout (on a promontory surrounded by the aforementioned bays). While still less glamorous/expensive than Portofino, it is now approaching that town’s renown. And for good reason, it’s probably the prettiest town on our list.

Stay here if: Gorgeous sunrises/sunsets are an important part of every day for you; you enjoy classy hotels; you are a travel photo fanatic who wants to fill your new SD card; Portofino is too much of a scene for you but Zoagli isn’t quite enough of a scene.

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