If you are planning a cruise with La Spezia as a port of call, then you must make the most out of your time in this beautiful part of the Italian Riviera. What is there to do in one day in or near La Spezia – Portovenere? Most cruise travelers know that they can visit the famous Cinque Terre, but there are also other amazing options between the Gulf of Poets in Liguria and northern Tuscany.
Exploring Portovenere and the Gulf of Poets
The Gulf of La Spezia is also known as Gulf of Poets, because of innumerable artists that visited it throughout history, often choosing it as their second home or place of inspiration. It stretches from the village of Portovenere in the west, through La Spezia and all the way to the villages of Lerici and Tellaro on the eastern part of the Italian Riviera, bordering Tuscany.
In the past few years, an increasing number of travel journalists, bloggers and tourists have praised Portovenere for its beauty, nature, history and authenticity, recommending it as the alternative to Cinque Terre. This is the village to visit if you appreciate the concept of Slow Travel off the beaten path.
From La Spezia, you can reach Portovenere with a 20-minute drive if you rent a car, by taxi or by bus. The most panoramic option is to go by boat: you can reach Portovenere from La Spezia with the battello (ferryboat), which takes about 45 minutes. Or you can choose a fast boat transfer, for example with HopHop Boat.
Visiting the Gulf of Poets is one of the most rewarding and surprising things to do during your cruise stop in La Spezia. There are exclusive tours that allow you to visit Portovenere and explore the bay from the sea, adding a touch of history, culture and gastronomy. Examples include the Oyster Tour and the Tour of the Poets, which give you enough time to visit the inspirational bay slowly and to return to your cruise boat in La Spezia by 5pm.
If you would like to spend more time in Portovenere, your options include wine tasting or a cooking lesson, hiking on Palmaria Island, shopping along the main carugio. For even more ideas, have a look at 10 Things to do in Portovenere. If you get hungry and want to stop for a quick but delicious lunch with panoramic views, or want to try a special cocktail, head over to Palmaria Restaurant and Venus Bar right in front of the harbor.
Things to do in La Spezia
Feeling lazy or inspired by the panorama? Stay in La Spezia itself! You can walk around town at your own pace and without any rush. The city has a charming waterfront overlooking the wide bay, alternating historic buildings with gardens, palm trees and the modern white bridge called Ponte Thaon di Revel, which links Porto Mirabello with the Morin Waterfront. In the historic center you will find shops and restaurants, while if you love art and history make sure to stop by the Naval Technical Museum, San Giorgio Castle and CAMeC – Centro Arte Moderna e Contemporanea. Read more about La Spezia.
The famous five: visiting Cinque Terre from La Spezia
If you have four to eight hours of free time during your cruise stop in La Spezia, you can reach the Cinque Terre by boat or by train.
You can admire the coastline from the sea with the ferries that depart from La Spezia and Portovenere, and depending at which time you catch the boat, you should have enough time to get off and visit at least two out of the five villages by foot.
The trains are the faster option, as they depart regularly from La Spezia Railway Station and connect the villages with short three- to seven-minute rides. You can visit more villages this way, including quaint Corniglia, which cannot be reached by boat.
Keep in mind that the Cinque Terre have become a popular tourist destination in the recent years, leading to concerns about mass tourism in the protected nature park that surrounds the villages of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso. You might find rowdy crowds and queues, especially between July and September.
Visiting Tuscany from La Spezia: Pisa, Lucca, Carrara Marble Quarries and Florence
The trains make it fast and easy for you to visit Pisa or Lucca from La Spezia in a half-day trip. Another interesting option for sightseeing, art and history is a guided tour in the marble quarries of Carrara, used by Michelangelo for some of his most iconic artworks. Carrara is just a 40-minute drive from La Spezia, and there are tours that include the transfer, the visit to the marble quarry and even a delicious local lunch.
Many cruisers want to visit Florence from La Spezia: although it is feasible if you are OK with doing a very quick tour of the city, keep in mind that you will spend half of your time traveling by train or by car, depending on your choice of transfer.
If you are wondering if it’s possible to do Cinque Terre and Pisa or any of the Tuscan towns in one day, the answer is no. You would have to pack way too many transfers and things to see in a small amount of time. The same goes for visiting the Gulf of Poets and Cinque Terre: it can be done if you arrange your independent transfers to perfection, or if you choose a tour or hire a private motorboat, but trust us when we say that these destinations each deserve to be admired, appreciated and tasted slowly. The best option is to choose one destination during your cruise stop in La Spezia, and to take your time to discover the essence of the local history, gastronomy and culture.
Main cover photo credit: ADSP DEL MAR LIGURE ORIENTALE ar.adspmarligureorientale.it