La Spezia, a charming coastal city in Italy, often goes unnoticed by those eager to explore nearby Cinque Terre. Despite being overshadowed by its popular neighbors, La Spezia is a true delight for the curious traveler with an eye for unexplored beauty. With its picturesque landscapes and lively atmosphere, La Spezia is a true hidden gem in Northwestern Italy.
As a gateway to the stunning Cinque Terre region, La Spezia provides a perfect starting point for any traveler’s journey, and taking the time to appreciate its rich cultural heritage, a beautiful waterfront, charming museums, and bustling markets, will no doubt enrich your trip to Liguria.
1. Cinque Terre
Cinque Terre, Liguria
Cinque Terre, situated in the La Spezia province of Italy, consists of a series of five picturesque villages perched on the rugged coastline of the Ligurian Sea. These villages, Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore, are renowned for their vibrant pastel-colored houses and terraced vineyards, which can be seen alongside ancient stone trails leading from one village to another.
Each village in Cinque Terre has its distinct features. Monterosso al Mare is well-known for its expansive beachfront and elegant villas, while Vernazza comprises a labyrinth of narrow streets leading to its quaint waterfront. Corniglia’s elevated position rewards travelers with spectacular views of the surrounding coastline, and Manarola is recognized for its stunning cliffside vineyards. Lastly, Riomaggiore’s iconic set of colorful buildings plunges towards the harbor, providing an idyllic backdrop for photographers.
To reach Cinque Terre from La Spezia, you have several convenient options. The most popular method is taking the regional railway service operated by Trenitalia: La Spezia-Cinque Terre-Levanto line (Linea Ligure Levante). This line gives quick access to all five villages in a matter of minutes from La Spezia Centrale railway station. You can purchase a Cinque Terre Card that grants unlimited train travel between La Spezia and Levanto along with additional services like entry to various hiking trails. Alternatively, you can access Cinque Terre by boat through a ferry departing from La Spezia’s harbor.
2. La Spezia Naval Museum
Viale Giovanni Amendola, 1, 19121 La Spezia SP, Italy
The Technical Naval Museum, located in La Spezia, is dedicated to preserving and presenting Italian naval history. Housed inside the impressive 19th-century Porto Lazzaretto building, the museum showcases an extensive collection of maritime exhibits, from ancient navigation to contemporary vessels. Among its well-preserved artifacts are ships, weapons, uniforms, and navigational instruments from different eras of Italian naval warfare.
One of the highlights at the La Spezia Naval Museum is the remarkable collection of antique ship models that meticulously recreate vessels involved in historical battles. These models offer a unique insight into naval craftsmanship and technology through the ages. Additionally, there is a large exhibition focusing on submarine warfare that features remnants from sunken submarines and detailed descriptions of their missions and operations.
3. Palazzina delle Arti e Museo del Sigillo
Via del Prione, 236, 19121 La Spezia SP, Italy
Palazzina delle Arti e Museo del Sigillo, located in La Spezia, is a prominent cultural institution dedicated to preserving and exhibiting various forms of art and historical collections. The museum, housed in a historic building formerly known as the Capitanato, contains an extensive collection of seals that date back to the ancient world. The collection includes seals from the Roman, Byzantine, and Medieval periods, providing a chronological insight into the evolution of these small but significant artifacts.
In addition to its vast collection of seals, Palazzina delle Arti e Museo del Sigillo also features rotating exhibits of contemporary art and photography.
4. Castello San Giorgio
Via XXVII Marzo, SN, 19121 La Spezia SP, Italy
Castello San Giorgio, constructed in the 14th century, stands as an emblematic landmark in La Spezia, Italy. This historic fortress once served as a defensive structure protecting the city and its inhabitants from potential invaders. Perched on hilltop Poggio San Giorgio, the castle commands an impressive panoramic view of La Spezia and the Ligurian Sea.
Through various restorations, Castello San Giorgio has managed to maintain much of its original medieval design. The castle’s architectural features include Ghibelline-style swallowtail merlons adorning the ramparts and internal chambers adorned with frescoes.
To access Castello San Giorgio, you can take bus number 3 from La Spezia Centrale train station to the Carducci-Colombo bus stop.
5. Parco Naturale Regionale di Porto Venere
Via Giuseppe Garibaldi, 9, 19025 Portovenere SP, Italy
Parco Naturale Regionale di Porto Venere, located in Liguria, is a protected natural area spanning approximately 400 hectares. Established in 2001, this regional park encompasses the territory of the municipality of Porto Venere, including the islands of Palmaria, Tino, and Tinetto. The park features extraordinary biodiversity, with flora such as Mediterranean scrub, Aleppo pines, and maritime pines. Within its boundaries are also numerous endemic and rare plant species.
Several historical sites can be found within the Parco Naturale Regionale di Porto Venere, such as the Church of San Pietro, which dates back to the 13th century and is built on a rocky outcrop overlooking the sea. Another site of interest within the park is the Doria Castle, a medieval fortress built in the 12th century. Additionally, hikers will appreciate the various trails in the park.
To reach Parco Naturale Regionale di Porto Venere from La Spezia, travelers can take public transportation. Bus lines P and P11 take passengers directly from La Spezia to Porto Venere, which lasts approximately 30 minutes. Alternatively, Consorzio Marittimo Turistico operates ferries between La Spezia and Porto Venere throughout the year. Consider taking an early morning bus or ferry service to avoid crowds and have a smoother trip to Porto Venere Regional Park during high season periods.
6. Lerici Castle
P.za S.Giorgio, 19032 Lerici SP, Italy
Lerici Castle, located in the eastern Italian town of Lerici, is an imposing fortress that dates back to the 12th century. Overlooking the Gulf of Poets, this medieval structure has played a significant role in the region’s history, having been utilized as a defense fortress by various rulers, including the Pisans, Genoese, and Florentines. Constructed primarily of stone, its robust walls and watchtowers have endured for centuries and remain a testament to the craftsmanship of medieval builders.
Throughout its history, Lerici Castle has undergone several renovations and expansions. Today, it houses a fascinating museum dedicated to local paleontology and geology that showcases numerous important finds from the surrounding area. The castle also offers impressive panoramic views of the Gulf of Poets and the surrounding landscape, which includes picturesque coastal towns and villages.
To reach Lerici Castle from La Spezia, you can use a bus (Line P) or ferry services. The bus journey usually takes around 30 minutes. Alternatively, the ferry ride takes approximately 20 minutes and offers lovely scenic views along the way.
7. Castello di San Terenzo
Via Castello, 8, 19032 Lerici SP, Italy
Situated in the village of San Terenzo within the municipality of Lerici, Castello di San Terenzo is an iconic coastal castle overlooking the picturesque Gulf of Poets. The castle, built in the 15th century for the Marinarezzo family, underwent several transformations over time due to various owners. The fortification features a pentagonal tower and an imposing wall structure, with its most eye-catching feature being the beautiful contrast between its pale stone walls and the surrounding azure waters.
To reach Castello di San Terenzo from La Spezia, you can take a regional train from La Spezia Centrale station to Lerici. Upon arrival at Lerici station, take bus number 18 towards San Terenzo and disembark at Piazza Bovio.
8. Cattedrale di Cristo Re
Piazzale Papa Giovanni XXIII, 19121 La Spezia SP, Italy
Located in central La Spezia, the Cattedrale di Cristo Re stands as an anomaly amidst the classic Italian architecture. Constructed between 1956 and 1975 by the prolific architect Adalberto Libera, this remarkable cathedral deviates from conventional styles, featuring a reinforced concrete shell roof that imposes a powerful yet elegant silhouette against the scenic cityscape.
Cattedrale di Cristo Re’s interior design is also characterized by modern artistic elements in stained glasses and mosaics.
9. Seaside Promenade of La Spezia
Passeggiata Morin, 19121 La Spezia SP, Italy
The Seaside Promenade of La Spezia, also known as “Passeggiata Morin” or simply “La Passeggiata,” stretches along the urban coastal area. It offers picturesque views of the Ligurian Sea and the surrounding natural beauty. Dotted with palm trees and green spaces, it serves as an ideal location for a peaceful walk or bicycle ride. This scenic waterfront also provides an excellent vantage point for observing maritime activities, such as sailboats, ferries, and other vessels gliding across the blue waters.
10. Giardini Pubblici
19121 La Spezia, Italy
The Giardini Pubblici, or Public Gardens, are a noteworthy public park amidst the bustling city of La Spezia. Designed by architect Giuseppe Bertaina in 1894, the park showcases a plan that combines geometric shapes and botanical elements. Within this lush green space stands the Garibaldi Monument, dedicated to the prominent Italian general and nationalist Giuseppe Garibaldi.
11. Le Terrazze
Via Fontevivo, 17, 19125 La Spezia SP, Italy
Le Terrazze shopping center is a prominent retail and entertainment destination in La Spezia. Spanning across a three-level structure, the center houses over 100 stores, which include well-known fashion brands, electronics, and home decor outlets. Additionally, it features a supermarket and various dining options.