The Italian Riviera — the lowbrow, underappreciated alternative to the French Riviera — has a breezy beauty all its own. The Cinque Terre are tops: Five idyllic hamlets along a rugged coastline, connected by scenic hiking trails and dotted with beaches. But nearby towns to the north (Levanto, Sestri Levante, Santa Margherita Ligure, and Portofino) have more beaches; towns to the south offer a mix of marble (Carrara), train connections (La Spezia), and yachts (Porto Venere).
At a Glance
▲▲▲ Vernazza The region's gem, crowned with a ruined castle above and a lively waterfront cradling a natural harbor below.
▲▲ Monterosso Resorty, flat, and spread out, with a charming old town, a modern new town, and the Cinque Terre's best beaches, swimming, and nightlife.
▲ Riomaggiore The biggest and most workaday of the five villages.
▲ Manarola Low-key, hiking-focused waterfront village wrapped in vineyards and dotted with a picturesque mix of shops and cliff-climbing houses.
▲ Corniglia Quiet hilltop village known for its cooler temperatures (it's the only one of the five villages set above the water), fewer tourists, and tradition of fine wines.
▲ Porto Venere Enchanting village perfect as a scenic day trip by boat from the Cinque Terre.
▲ Levanto Surfers' hangout with a long beach and quick train connections to Monterosso and the rest of the Cinque Terre.
▲ Sestri Levante Charming town on a peninsula flanked by two nice beaches.
▲ Santa Margherita Ligure Easygoing old-school resort town with a handful of sights and easy connections to Portofino.
Portofino Glitzy resort that makes a fun day trip from Santa Margherita Ligure.
La Spezia Beachless transportation hub with the region's nitty-gritty essentials.
Carrara Home to world-famous marble quarries; handy stop for drivers between Pisa and La Spezia.