When I first heard of Cinque Terre, I had no idea what the guy was talking about. Houses in cliffs? I pictured something like Cappadocia. Eventually, I came across a picture of Cinque Terre, and all I could say was, “Wow.” Turns out, I’m not the only one. Considered off-the-beaten-path just some decades ago, Cinque Terre is now as necessary to the typical Italian vacationer’s itinerary as Pisa. So what can you do to avoid this over-tourism? Well, go somewhere else! And luckily for you, Liguria (the region where Cinque Terre is) is has no shortage of gorgeous towns, villages, and cities. In the ten days I spent there, I saw there is so much more to Liguria than just Cinque Terre, and today, I’m going to share my findings with you in this Liguria travel guide.
Even in ten days, there was SO much more I wanted to see. I’ve already got a list of areas to check out on my next Liguria visit, so I plan to update this Liguria travel guide with that when it happens. Just make me one promise? You won’t tell toooo many people about these places? *wink*
TOP DESTINATIONS IN LIGURIA (BESIDES CINQUE TERRE)
Apparently, Portovenere (spelled as two separate words in Italy: Porto Venere) was the original Cinque Terre of the area before Cinque Terre got “discovered” by mass tourism. It’s sits on the same Ligurian Sea, it has the same colorful buildings, and it has the same snorkel-worthy waters. What is doesn’t have is the same type of Instagram-sent-me-here crowds. Don’t get me wrong, Cinque Terre is hyped for a reason: it’s beautiful. But sometimes, annoying crowds make me want to rush out of a place as fast as I can – no matter how beautiful that place is. That’s luckily not how I felt in Portovenere.
As I already alluded, it’s not that Portovenere is completely free of tourists, but rather, that it’s just a different kind of tourist. People seemed calmer here – not in any rush to “visit all five villages in one day” or complaining that they “still have one more hike to do.” They seemed to be in Portovenere because they wanted to be there, not simply to cross it off a must-see list, snap a pic or two, and move on to the next destination.
Unlike any swimming area I saw while in Cinque Terre three days, Portovenere has at least one beach with a shower rinse-off area. Now, that may not seem all-too important at first, but after a dip in the salty sea, you’ll be itching ‘til you’re back home, so a place to rinse off is a major plus. Below is the map for this beach.
If swimming by cliffs is more of your thing (*raises hand*), Byron’s Grotto is your spot. It’s nick-named after the English poet George Gordon Byron, though Grotta Arpaia is its true name. Also unlike any of the Cinque Terre villages, Portovenere (sort of) has “attractions.” It’s not just a photogenic town, so try to stop by Chiesa di San Pietro, Chiesa di San Lorenzo, and Castello Doria while there.
Because it’s so close to Cinque Terre (just a forty-minute ferry ride from Riomaggiore) many actually use Portovenere as their base for seeing the five villages. The ferry, however, costs €14 each way, so using Portovenere as a base is definitely not to save finances, but rather to avoid the sometimes-unbearable Cinque Terre crowds. If you’re interested in using ferries at all to travel around the Cinque Terre area, check out the timetables and fares at the official website.
This little village, hiding tucked away in a natural harbor, has lured many a celebrity to its jewel-toned waters. It’s typically a destination associated with wealth, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy Portofino if you’re traveling on a budget, like I always am. (I actually have a detailed article on the cheapest way to see Portofino via day trip. It’s written as a day trip from Genoa, but the day trip can easily be done from Cinque Terre, too!)
Portofino sits one hour north of Cinque Terre by train and bus (check the article linked above for all the deets – it’s less complicated than it sounds). It has the same colorful buildings you’ll find in Cinque Terre, the same amount of lovely swimming spots, and even a hike (much smaller than any in Cinque Terre, though) with views that just might make you exclaim, “Mamma mia!”
Though Portofino is by no means not crowded, I still found it much less crowded than every town in Cinque Terre, except perhaps Corniglia (that middle town without direct sea access). Personally for me, it was still a little too touristy of a feel, BUT the swim spots were the prettiest I’ve seen in Liguria. For those alone, I would 100% recommend paying Portofino a visit.
For many, Santa Margherita is simply a stopping point en route to Portofino. But actually, I think I liked Santa Margherita more than I liked Portofino! It felt less touristy, I actually saw locals out and about (rare in Liguria’s most popular spots!), and meal prices were cheaper.
Like the Cinque Terre and Portofino, Santa Margherita sits on the water and boasts colorful houses. In addition to that, though, it boasts multiple parks, plazas, and plenty of sea-side sidewalk. Santa Margherita is just an hour up from Cinque Terre, but it does not require a the additional bus ride like Portofino does. For full details on what to do and see in Santa Margherita, check out the post I wrote on how to visit Portofino and Santa Margherita in one day.
While this former maritime power is essential to Italy’s economy, it’s not quite as essential to the average Italian traveler’s itinerary. I literally only heard one other fellow American accent the entire time! To me, this lack of a tourist presence was a huge plus, and it made my whopping five nights in Genoa all the more enjoyable.
Genoa felt old yet modern, grungy yet lively, bustling yet not crowded. It’s a city full of juxtapositions, and while I wasn’t particularly blown away at first, by the end of my stay, it had grown on me. (I even found a cafe where I made a morning routine of coffee and pastry for breakfast!)
Central Genoa itself has plenty to entertain you, while its suburb neighborhoods provide clear waters with the backdrop of colorful houses. It would recommend at least two days to see all Genoa has to offer, and I’ve detailed exactly how I’d divvy that up in this Genoa two-day itinerary.
Not only is Genoa itself worth visiting, but I’d highly recommend staying a while and using it as a base to explore northern Liguria. I’d also highly recommend giving my complete Genoa travel guide at least a quick skim! It includes what attractions to see in Genoa, Genoa’s best day trips and exactly how to do them, some accommodation recommendations, and more.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
So you see, there’s much, MUCH more to Liguria than just Cinque Terre. In the same way no one went to Cinque Terre for decades until it got “discovered,” Liguria has many other gems that are equally worth your while but simply have less tourists. I definitely plan to return, since I didn’t cross everything off my Liguria list, but please comment any recommendations for what I MUST see next time. And as I continue exploring Liguria, I will of course continue updating this Liguria travel guide!