The 7 Best Italian Riviera Towns & How to Enjoy Them

January 26, 2024

When people think of the Italian Riviera, Cinque Terre often comes to mind. While it’s home to some of the most breathtaking Italian Riviera towns, controversy surrounds this buzzing destination.

Gossip is that the tourism board of Cinque Terre is considering implementing a quota system to limit the size of the crowds that threaten to overrun the fragile coastline each summer.

Considering this, 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 Cinque Terre and includes scores of amazing coastal towns, many of which remain much less crowded than the more famous spots.

Let’s dive in!

Italian Riviera town Portofino.

Hiking the Italian Riviera will have you gasping at the breathtaking views. Photo credit: Chelsea Essig

The best Italian Riviera towns (beyond Cinque Terre)

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. Here’s everything you need to know before visiting Italy and the Italian Riviera.

seaside town in Italy

Discovering these seaside towns is an experience you won’t forget. Photo credit: Viktor Hesse


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 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 in Portofino if:

  • You don’t mind paying a bit more for food and accommodation based on name recognition
  • You have a weakness for beautiful natural ports
  • You have high hopes of running into a celebrity
  • You don’t mind crowds (lots of buzz = lots of crowds!)
Panoramic view of Portofino in the Italian Riviera.

Portofino is the perfect Italian Riviera to visit if you’re looking to spot some celebrities. Photo credit: Kristine Tanne

Santa Margherita Ligure

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 in Margherita if:

  • You’re a foodie in search of one of the world’s great seafood delicacies, along with great fish
  • You’re looking for a laid back, small town vibe
  • You care more about relaxing than sightseeing
Closeup of statue with colorful buildings in the background.

Explore the streets of Santa Margherita Ligure after eating some gambero rosso di Santa Margherita. Photo credit: Nathan Prost


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 in Rapallo if:

  • You want to travel Italy in the footsteps of your favorite writers on a literary tour
  • 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
Ceiling of cathedral painted with Italian biblical paintings.

Enjoy Rapallo’s beautiful coastline and art. Photo credit: Antonio Scalogna


The main draw of this Italian Riviera town is its serenity. You won’t find any chain hotels here – just charming bed & breakfasts and agriturismo (loosely translates to“farm-stays”) 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 in Zoagli 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
View of Italian Riviera town Zoagli and it's bridge.

Want to get away from the tourists? Take a trip to tranquil Zoagli. Photo credit: Gerardo Lamattina


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 in Chiavari if:

  • You want to escape the noise and congestion caused by drivers on tight roads
  • You’re looking for a nice beach town where you can swim during the summer months
  • You’re an Italian history buff who can’t get enough of the larger than life Garibaldi
Building in center of Chiavari, one of the most beautiful Italian Riviera towns.

Chiavari has rich Italian history waiting to be explored. Photo credit: Chris Curry


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 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 in Lavagna if:

  • You want to enjoy one of the most vibrant and little-known street parties in Italy (during August!)
closeup of medieval Italian queen.

Medieval times play an important role in Italian culture. Photo credit: Torsten Dederichs

Sestri Levante

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 in Sestri Levante if:

  • Gorgeous sunrises and sunsets are an important part of every day for you
  • You enjoy trendy and chic hotels
  • You’re a travel photo fanatic who wants to fill your camera with stunning pictures (though, all of Italy would be the case here!)
  • Portofino is too much of a scene for you but Zoagli isn’t quite enough of a scene

Insider’s tip: If you can’t get enough of hiking the coastal Italian Riviera, be sure to check out the Almafi coast. It’s the lesser known cousin of the Cinque Terre, but still just as breathtaking.

Panoramic view of an Italian Riviera town and statue in ocean.

Sestri Levante has many viewpoints to enjoy sunrises and sunsets. Photo credit: VINCENZO INZONE

Update Notice: This post was updated on January 26, 2024.

Follow us

Stay up to date with travel tips, local insights and all things Italy on our social channels!

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Get curated Italy travel tips delivered to your inbox!

Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now