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La Spezia, Italy is a stunning town not far from some of Italy’s most famous cities like Pisa, Genoa and Florence. Historically, La Spezia was a prominent trade center during the Roman Empire. Today it remains not only one of Italy’s busiest port towns, but also home to the country’s largest naval base. As a stop on a Cinque Terre cruise, La Spezia is convenient, centrally located, and a little underrated.
The city is a major stop for a variety of Mediterranean cruises, and passengers often continue on to Ligurian cities like Cinque Terre, Pisa, or Genoa from La Spezia. Cinque Terre is merely a thirty minute westbound train from Stazione La Spezia Centrale, making it easy to explore the port of call and surrounding areas in a day or half-day excursion. Florence, too, is just two hours away—start your day on the coast of the Ligurian Sea and end the day looking up in awe at the Gothic-style Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore.
From the La Spezia cruise port, you’ll have a view of commercial and passenger ships coming and going from the port’s plentiful canals and inlets. Don’t miss views of the Apuan Alps and Cinque Terre to the west. On your Cinque Terre cruise, the opportunities are plentiful to explore inland cities and seaside towns alike.
Step into the history of La Spezia with a stroll. Via del Prione divides the town, and marks the commercial centre of La Spezia, which is lined with shops and small businesses for you to explore.
Stop in at this church for a quick tour of one of La Spezia’s top historic sites, or stay for a service, since this church is still an active center of worship. The Church of Santa Maria Assunta (“Our Lady of the Assumption”) was originally built in the 15th century and has been rebuilt several times over the course of its lifetime. You’ll find the interior of the Abbey Church is teeming with marble statues, religious iconography, and sculptures dating back to the Renaissance.
San Giorgio Castle was La Spezia’s answer to fortifying the city during the 13th century. Its primary purpose was to guard the city against attack, but was quickly destroyed just eleven years after completion. San Giorgio Castle has since been restored in a decades-long process, and is now home to historic archeological collections.
La Spezia’s port area offers famously coastal views as you walk and take in the city. You’re not far from the historic city center, either. Take a leisurely walk—the Italians call this a “passeggiata”—to enjoy the city on foot before dinner and work up an appetite. At the waterfront, stop into a bar or trattoria for an aperitivo, and take in views of the Ligurian sea.
History buffs rejoice — the Naval Technical Museum provides a peek into the history of the Italian naval and its technical elements. You’ll find figureheads, cannons, torpedoes, and model ships on exhibit there. A must-see for Italian history lovers and battle experts.
Though all the villages of Cinque Terre boast colorful building facades, steep terraces overgrown with herbs, spices, and vines, and a coastal lifestyle, each of the five is known for something different for travelers to experience while they’re passing through.
Monterosso is known for its rugged beaches and natural hiking trails, and a large statue called the Statue of Neptune keeps a watchful eye over the coastline of Monterosso. In typical Genoa style, the streets of Vernazza are comprised of caruggi (or “narrow lanes”) with views of the sea along each turn. Corniglia produces world-renowned Ligurian wines, like the Pollenza or the popular Sciacchetrà, and has breathtaking views of all five villages. In Manarola, you’ll find terraces filled with vines and orchards, a testament to nature and growth despite the altitude of this cliffside village. Riomaggiore is Cinque Terre's largest village, and the closest to La Spezia. Riomaggiore is home to historic murals, ruins, and small churches ready for exploration.
Lucca is a city in Tuscany, founded by the Etruscans, and famous today for its intact, preserved Renaissance-era city walls. Lucca went on to become a Roman colony in 180 BC. Lucca holds specific historical significance as a city—in 56 BC, Julius Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus formed the First Triumvirate in Lucca. Even Dante spent part of his exile in the city.
The walls encircling the old town remain intact even as the city modernized and grew into the Lucca we know today. Now, you can walk along these historic walls as part of a pedestrian walkway called Passeggiata delle Mure Urbane.
Florence is the capital of Tuscany and its most populated city. Florence was a center for trade, finance, and art, cementing the city’s wealth and status. While you’re there, see Michelangelo’s statue of David in person at the Accademia Gallery, or soak up views of the stunning Cathedral of Santa Maria Del Fiore, a vast Gothic structure decorated with pink, white and green marble, topped with a dome designed by Filippo Brunelleschi.
Although Pisa is renowned for the Leaning Tower, the city contains over 20 historic churches, medieval palaces, and multiple bridges across the Arno. Don’t miss the Square of Miracles, or Campo dei Miracoli, where the Tower of Pisa stands alongside four other buildings. Though you can’t miss it, the Leaning Tower of Pisa is the highlight of the piazza, where its famous tilt continues to awe, inspire, and baffle architecture students to this day. The Leaning Tower of Pisa took 200 years to construct due to various wars and interruptions, but this white marble structure remains a lasting testament to beauty that can be found only in imperfection.
The region of Liguria is known for its olive oil and wine. Pesto genovese, minestrone, and focaccia are traditionally Ligurian dishes, so this region’s cuisine won’t disappoint while on your Cinque Terre cruise. Since many Ligurian towns are coastal, seafood is a staple of the diet in Cinque Terre and La Spezia. One of the five villages of Cinque Terre, Monterosso, is famous for its anchovies.
Ristorante Miky - Monterosso al Mare
Address: Via Fegina 104, 19016 Monterosso
Find abundant seafood and traditional Ligurian cuisine at this highly-rated, upscale restaurant in Monterosso al Mare, one of the five villages comprising Cinque Terre.
Regginella - Pisa
Address: Via di Gello, 134, 56123 Pisa PI, Italy
Located just two minutes from the Leaning Tower of Pisa, you can indulge in pizza for breakfast here. What better way to start your day?
Enoteca Pontevecchio – Florence
Address: Corso dei Tintori, 21, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy
This Florentine wine boutique specializes in organic, sulfite-free wines, and they offer wine tastings alongside cheese and prosciutto boards. Plus, you can purchase regionally-produced extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegars while you’re there.
Trattoria Il Francescano – Florence
Address: Largo Piero Bargellini, 16, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy
This historic Florentine eatery is known for more expensive Tuscan plates in a beautiful, quiet space. This marble-filled restaurant is perfect for a romantic date while in Florence.
Trattoria dal Billy - Manarola
Address: Via A. Rollando, 122, 19017 Manarola SP, Italy
Located in the village of Manarola, Trattoria dal Billy features incredible views of the terrace hillside of village below from a steep cliffside. Known for fresh, regional anchovies and local dishes including stuffed mussels and baked fish.
La Spezia is the second-largest city in the region of Liguria. The city grew slowly, but population boomed after the Unification of Italy. La Spezia was designated as a Naval base in 1861, and its population skyrocketed soon after, as La Spezia then became a major ship-building center. The town’s importance as a military facility also made it a target for bombings during World War II, and after the war, La Spezia was a major departure point for Jewish refugees heading to Israel.
Today, La Spezia’s is steadily becoming a major cruise ship destination. The port is able to accommodate two large ships at once with continued plans for growth on the horizon.
From the port of La Spezia you have several shore excursion options available to you. The local port authority also provides a complimentary shuttle bus to the city entrance. From Molo Garibaldi, the commercial terminal, the historic city center is a a little over a mile walk. This can be a nice chance to stretch your sea legs after the cruise ship docks. The train station, called Stazione La Spezia Centrale, is about 2 miles from the port, accessible by foot or taxi.
There are three main methods of transportation from La Spezia to other nearby destinations.
Find taxis readily available outside the terminal.
The train system in Italy is well-equipped to get you to many locations throughout the country. The train station is located near the city center, where you can catch a train to Rome, Florence, and other parts of Italy. There is also a commuter line available if you’re trying to get to the five villages of Cinque Terre.
The ferry service from La Spezia to the Cinque Terre is generally active during spring and summer. Note the ferries can have longer lines during peak times.
In La Spezia itself, you’ll find shops in Centro Storico, or the city center, which is walking distance from the La Spezia port. In Centro Storico you’ll find handbag stores selling handbags, leather goods,and boutiques, but more plentiful shopping opportunities await in Florence for designer and luxury items, or the villages of Cinque Terre for quaint, local goods. Note that most shops in La Spezia are closed on Sundays.
Italy uses the euro as its primary form of currency. ATMs are widespread, and major cards such as Visa and MasterCard are largely accepted. American Express is recognized less commonly. Some smaller shops, trattorias, and hotels prefer cash, and it’s recommended not to rely on credit cards at museums or galleries in Italy. Tipping isn’t a common practice in Italy. Tips are already included in your bill in most trattorias. Providing a tip in taxis or hotels is optional, but you can round up to the nearest euro in a taxi if you are pleased with the service. At high end hotels, tip porters about €5 for helping with your bags.