3 days in the Italian Riviera

In March 2017, my partner and I took an adventure to the stunning Italian Riviera. Turquoise waters, colourful houses and enough gelato and pizza you can only dream of – we had to go!

As we only had a short amount of time to explore, we planned a tight itinerary to cram in as much as we could. We flew out to Pisa and hired a car ready to pick up at the airport (a short walk or a shuttle ride takes you to the hire car park). Whilst there is a train station near the airport (you can catch the 5 min shuttle), we opted for car hire as it gave us more freedom to explore.

Tip*** We hadn't driven around Italy before and were not aware we would mostly be driving the Autostrade. Whilst the motorways are big and open to drive, they are littered with toll gates. We made a wrong turn on our route and unluckily got stung with a charge we could've avoided. Make sure you do your research and have cash on you to pay the toll fees!

We stayed in the charming port city of the Liguria region, La Spezia. This is a great place to stay if you're visiting the Cinque Terre as there is a train line which takes you there direct, it seems more affordable for a stopover than staying within the Cinque Terre and there are less tourists!

This was our cosy, authentic spot.

Although we had the car, it's not recommended to drive to the Cinque Terre. With winding, narrow roads and limited places to dump the car - we could see why!

Day 1: The Cinque Terre


Tip*** Get a Cinque Terre train card. For the bargain price of 7.50, you can visit each village as many times as you wish in one day - perfect for hopping on and hopping off as you please! The trains run frequently on the hour giving you enough time to explore each village one by one. You can grab yours at the La Spezia station along with a handy pocket timetable.

We followed the train line route, hitting up each village on the way. Lined along the Italian Riviera coast, these charming fishing villages all offer their own unique beauty and it's certainly worth visiting each one.

Order of villages from La Spezia:
  • Riomaggiore
  • Manarola
  • Corniglia 
  • Vernazza
  • Monterosso

Day 2: Genoa & La Spezia

Having enjoyed an eventful first day around the Cinque Terre, we spent half of the 2nd exploring La Spezia. There's plenty to see and do, with beautiful walks around the marine, lots of cheap places to eat, museums and high street shops.

For the remainder of the day, we took the car and drove out to Genoa. Now, this was an accidental visit. Google images confused us and what we thought was going to be more vibrant, colourful houses along the coast, was actually far from the case! Genoa is the capital of the Liguria region and a 2 hour drive from La Spezia. Known for its maritime heritage, Genoa is very much a working, bustling city with little in the way of what we were looking to explore as tourists. Don't get me wrong, you can visit the aquarium, plenty of museums and shop till you drop but this wasn't for us and it's extremely busy, making it highly difficult to drive around.

Having returned to our B&B in the evening and did a little more research, we were actually trying to find Portofino - a beautiful coastal village 1 and half hours drive from La Spezia. We were gutted we hadn't researched our route properly and sadly did not have time to cram a visit in. 

Tip*** If you're tight on time, do not go to Genoa and make the same mistake as us! Take the car to Portofino.

Day 3: Florence & Pisa

Piazzale Michelangelo

On our last and final day, we decided to make the most of it. We got up bright and early and ventured 2 hours in the car to the picturesque city, Florence. 

Tip*** Parking is problematic in Florence as most areas are restricted by the ZLT zone (limited traffic) meaning its only possible to enter with a special permit. If you enter without one, there are hefty fines! We parked FOR FREE at the coop which is opposite the Nenni-Torregalli (a tram line which takes you directly into the centre of Florence). The trams run every 5 minutes and take around 15 minutes to get into the centre. Tickets are available to buy on the platform from a machine and cost €1.20 which gives you 90 minutes of travel!

Throughout the morning, we enjoyed strolling around, embracing the romanticism of the city. Florence is filled with historical sights and artistic culture. Painters and live musicians pave the streets and are set amongst the breath-taking buildings which surround the centre. 

There is so much to explore but here are a few sights i'd recommend;
  • The Florence Cathedral
  • Basilica of San Lorenzo
  • Santa Maria Novella
  • Palazzo Vecchio
  • Ponte Vecchio
We purchased another travel ticket and caught the bus to the see the panoramic view of Florence at Piazzale Michelangelo. Upon arriving, we were graced by the beautiful sounds of a pianist serenading the tourists. As we looked down, a bride and groom were having their photos taken in front of the spectacular views of the city. At that moment, it felt like we had landed on the set of a romantic film. It was so beautiful. 

Later in the day, we drove 1 and half hours to Pisa. Once again, we were stunned by the historical beauty of the city. A short walk from the car park, we visited the Leaning Tower of Pisa and Piazza dei Maracoli. After wondering the grounds soaking up the sun, history and culture, we grabbed our classic tourist photos and headed back to La Spezia before flying home. 

Whilst there was so much more we could've explored if we had more time, we were happy to have experienced so much Italian culture in just a few days. Highly recommend!