Spend two weeks exploring northern Italy at your own speed with this self-drive itinerary that allows you to choose the stops. You'll start off in the northern lakes, with Lake Como and Lake Garda offering boat tours past villas and amusement parks alike. Then make your way into Tuscany, where you'll ride a horse-drawn wagon through the countryside and explore the medieval walled city of Siena and famous art of Florence. Finish your trip in the Italian Riviera and colorful five villages of Cinque Terre.
Enjoy a stroll from Santa Margherita Ligure to Portofino, another nearby picturesque and compact coastal village, with colorfully painted houses tumbling down to a historic fishing port. For adventurers, there are hiking trails suitable for different abilities. Some of the best routes are near Portofino and around the San Fruttuoso Abbey. If relaxation is on your mind, then discover the sandy beaches that stretch along the Mediterranean Sea.
Recommended Places to Visit:
Santa Margherita Ligure. All over the Italian Riviera, you’ll notice the trompe-l’oeil (painted decorative details on buildings) that trick the eye into thinking they’re real. The elegant seaside resort of Santa Margherita Ligure is one of the best places to look for this signature decor. You'll find it on the colorful buildings that line the promenade or further back in the historic center.
A stroll through the streets of the old town leads you up to the Basilica of Santa Margherita d'Antiochia, with important paintings from the Ligurian Baroque period. From here, you can enjoy magnificent panoramic views over Rapallo and the Gulf of Tigullio, the elegant yachts and sailboats, the hotel palaces, and the beach promenade. In the center of this town, make a stop at Seghezzo Delicatessen, a popular gourmand shop with regional and national delicacies and homemade creations.
Portofino. Hiking from Santa Margherita Ligure to Portofino takes just over an hour. Most of the walk is flat along a pedestrian walkway that follows the coastline with fantastic views of lavish villas clinging to the cliffside. At the little cove of Paraggi, enjoy a quick detour that takes you up into the woods.
Portofino is very touristy and expensive but utterly gorgeous. The focal point is the cobbled piazza overlooking the small harbor, where you can admire colorful houses and yachts. It’s worth walking up to the bright yellow San Giorgio Church for the view, and if you have more energy, continue up to the Brown Castle. This fortress was built around the year 1000 CE and used as a defensive fortress in Napoleonic times. On your walk up, make a stop at the quirky Museo del Parco Sculpture Garden to admire modern sculptures with a view.
San Fruttuoso. This waterfront abbey is only accessible on foot from Camogli or Portofino or by ferry from Rapallo. Along the way, you'll pass through the picturesque towns of Portofino and Santa Margherita, which is a great way to see them from the sea! Swim at San Fruttuoso di Capodimonte Beach, and bring snorkeling gear to discover the Christ of the Abyss underwater statue.
Camogli. As one of the most picturesque villages of the Italian Riviera, you'll enjoy its row of tall, colorful houses and cozy harbor. Relax on the grey, pebbled beach and take a swim in the turquoise water. The village has a variety of options for lounging and swimming, including private and public beaches. Camogli's Marine Museum has artifacts from the maritime history of the Liguria region. Follow the short walking trail to San Rocco and look out over the Bay of Tiguillio (and even Corsica on a clear day).
We recommend visiting a bakery to taste the acclaimed Focaccia di Recco. Its special features are thin dough without yeast and creamy, melting cheese inside crispy layers. Taste a real Italian Chinotto with it, a type of bubbly soft drink produced from the juice of the myrtle-leaved orange tree (Citrus myrtifolia). Afterward, try one of the many types of Camogliesi, a local chocolate praline that melts in your mouth!
Sestri Levante. This town is best for an evening stroll as you admire the ancient Segesta Tigulliorum with its picturesque old town and two beautiful sandy beaches. Hans Christian Andersen gave the "Baia delle Favole" (Fairytale Bay) its name. The heart of the town is Piazza Matteotti and the Duomo. Behind the cathedral, a footpath leads to the Romanesque parish church of San Nicolò all'Isola, established in 1151 CE. At the highest point of the peninsula, you'll find Torretta Marconi, the tower from which the physicist Guglielmo Marconi carried out his first short-wave experiments.
Italian Riviera Beaches. If you'd like to relax on the sand and in the sea, you'll find beautiful sandy beaches around Sestri Levante and Lavagna and much smaller stretches near Moneglia. Baia del Silenzio and Baia delle Favole are famous but often overcrowded in the summer season. As alternatives, you can try Riva di Levante, Riva Ponente, and Sun Beach (all in Sestri Levante).
- West Riviera. This picturesque region sits between Genoa and the French border. Check out Spotorno, a charming village surrounded by hills rich in olive groves and maritime pines. Enjoy the profound contrast between the trees and the sparkling blue sea. Bordighera has deep blue water and a year-long warm climate. In Varigoti, you'll find the longest free beach with white sand at Saraceni Bay.
Itineraries with Free Day on the Italian Riviera
Northern Italy Family Road Trip: Florence, Chianti, Italian Riviera, Lake Como & Lake Garda - 10 Days
Wheel your way through northern Italy on this road trip with stops that school-aged children and parents can enjoy, with timing adjustable to your own preferences. You'll start amid the Renaissance influences of Florence, then set out into the Tuscan countryside and Chianti Valley on winding olive- and vineyard-lined roads. From there, head to the coast to wander the beaches of the Italian Riviera and then up to Lake Como to explore its luxurious shores. Wrap up your Italian sojourn on the playful shores of Lake Garda before you return to Florence.