Welcome to the port of La Spezia!
Conveniently located in the Gulf of La Spezia, on the northwest coast of Italy, La Spezia is the capital city of La Spezia province and the second-largest city in the Liguria region. Due to its favorable geographical position and closeness to Florence, Pisa, Lucca, Cinque Terre, and Genoa, La Spezia has grown into one of the major Italian cruise ports and a frequent stop in the Mediterranean cruise itineraries.
This part of Italy is truly magical and you should plan your day in port as there are so many fantastic places to visit and numerous things to do. In this article, I share with you the insider cruise tips and information on:
- La Spezia cruise port info
- Top 5 things to do in the city of La Spezia
- 5 Best La Spezia shore excursions & day trips
La Spezia Cruise Port
La Spezia cruise terminal is located approximately 3 km (1.9 mi) from the historic heart of the city and the cruise ships dock at the newly built Molo Garibaldi terminal which has two berthing spaces.
La Spezia port is a cargo port, so guests are not allowed to walk around the port on their own. Instead, cruise passengers are transferred via free shuttle buses to the La Spezia port terminal building located at the exit of the container port, from where they can access the historic center on foot via Viale S. Bartolomeo and Viale Italia streets.
The walk to the historic center takes around 20-30 minutes, and the alternative option is to take a taxi to get you there. If you are heading to the train station, the main railway station La Spezia Centrale is located approximately 3 km (1.9 mi) from the terminal exit and I suggest you take a taxi to get you there as the ride lasts less than 10 minutes (a walk takes 45 minutes).
The walk to the historic center itself isn’t the most scenic one, and there are not many shops or cafes around. The true feast for the eyes begins when you reach a beautiful seafront promenade overlooking the natural harbor filled with boats and yachts. Here, you can grab a coffee or a bite in one of the bar restaurants offering amazing views of the harbor. From there, you can access some of the main La Spezia attractions and historic landmarks (read more in detail below).
SHORE EXCURSIONS NOTE: Keep in mind that La Spezia is one of the busiest cruise ports as most of the cruise passengers book day trips to Florence, Pisa, and Cinque Terre.
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The guests joining the cruise line-sponsored shore excursions will join their tour buses right in front of the ship. Read the instructions written on your tour tickets and make sure you respect your meeting time and place (your tour meeting place will most probably be onboard the ship, however, always read the instructions!) to avoid missing your tour.
For guests who book their tour with an Independent Tour Operator will be informed ahead of their tour meeting place and time (most probably you will meet your tour guides in front of the ship or by the exit of the terminal).
Top 5 Things to Do in the City of La Spezia
For guests who decide to stay in the town, there are several La Spezia highlights you can visit:
1. Castello San Giorgio
Built in the 14th century on a hilltop dominating the town, St. George castle and its archeological museum feature exhibits of ancient sculptures and artifacts dating from the Roman period. The absolute highlight of the castle is its open rooftop from where you can admire the majestic views of the city, harbor, and surrounding mountains. You can reach the castle on foot, however, there is an elevator at the bottom of the hill that will take you to the castle’s entrance for free.
2. Cathedral of Christ the King (Cattedrale di Cristo Re)
A modernly designed, circular Catholic Cathedral was constructed in the second half of the 20th century and certainly represents one of the major curiosities of La Spezia. It is definitely unique, as its round form and architectural innovations don’t match the traditional religious sites we are used to. It is the main Cathedral in the city, so I highly suggest you visit it.
3. Our Lady of the Assumption (The Church of Santa Maria Assunta)
Peacefully situated in the heart of La Spezia old town, this beautiful church dates from the 13th century. The church is an active place of worship and boasts a remarkable collection of religious artworks, including sculptures created by notable Renaissance artists Andrea della Robbia and Giovanni Battista Casoni. It has been rebuilt several times throughout history, including the complete reconstruction after suffering significant damage during World War II.
4. Monument of Giuseppe Garibaldi
A monument dedicated to one of Italy’s “fathers of the fatherland” and the most prominent Italian generals proudly dominates the Giardini Pubblici – Community Garden of La Spezia, located only a few minutes walk from the scenic harbor and promenade. The bronze monument inaugurated in 1913 is the symbol of the city and is believed to be one of the most beautiful ones in the entire province. The monument is situated in the vicinity of another gorgeous park – Parco Salvador Allende, where you can relax and enjoy the stunning views of the harbor.
5. Via del Prione
Located in the heart of the Old Town, Via del Prione is one of the main pedestrian streets where you will find a handful of shops, restaurants, cafes, and several museums (Ethnographic and Art museum). Explore its historic alleys, go shopping, delight in pizza and Italian gelato, or simply walk around and soak up the local atmosphere…. You’ll be surprised what this city has to offer!
5 Best La Spezia Shore Excursions & Day Trips
When taking a cruise to La Spezia, keep in mind that your day in port will probably be limited to several hours. If you decide to spend your day in the port of La Spezia, you should take it easy and explore the city at your own pace. However, if you plan to go to Cinque Terre, Florence, Pisa or Lucca, I highly suggest you organize your day ahead as some of these cities are quite far from the port.
I would definitely recommend booking a tour as it’s the most convenient way that guarantees your safe return to the ship. You can book your tour with the cruise line, or an Independent Tour Operator. As mentioned earlier, La Spezia port is one of the busiest ones, and if you book a tour with your cruise line you might expect full buses, crowds, large groups, and limited time on sites.
On the other hand, Independent Tour Operators offer more privacy, smaller groups, and customized trips. If you are booking with third-party companies, make sure you let them know in advance your ship arrival/departure time (although most of them are usually informed as they have a lot of experience in working with cruise lines).
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1. Cinque Terre
Known as the “five lands”, Cinque Terre National Park is one of Italy’s greatest treasures of incomparable beauty and one of the main attractions of the Liguria region. Cinque Terre consists of five old fishing villages perched on the mountains and steep cliffs of the Italian Riviera, interconnected by footpaths and accessed on foot, by rail, or boat.
Surrounded by lush vegetation, vineyards, olive trees, and overlooking the turquoise Ligurian Sea, the villages of Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore are simply stunning! Picturesque, medieval, and authentic, each village boasts an interesting history, a handful of eateries, shops, historic landmarks, and incredible landscapes.
If you are going for a day trip from La Spezia port, you won’t have time to visit all five of them. You can book a shore excursion, or you can go on your own. For more adventurous ones, I suggest you consider hiking as that’s one of the most popular activities in Cinque Terre.
I had an opportunity to visit Cinque Terre and Portovenere (the neighboring coastal town that officially doesn’t belong to the Cinque Terre but is equally beautiful) on a tour by boat and it was absolutely spectacular.
I wrote about it in detail in my article: Cinque Terre and Portovenere Day Trip from La Spezia – I suggest you check it out!
How to Get to Cinque Terre from La Spezia?
Take the Cinque Terre Express train from La Spezia Centrale railway station in direction of Levanto (final stop). The trains run every 20 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the time of the day and season (from mid-March until November trains run every 20 minutes).
Your first stop will be Riomaggiore (the ride takes only 8 minutes). After Riomaggiore, the train stops at Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, Monterosso al Mare, and Levanto (the distance between the villages is less than 5 minutes ride). The whole circuit (from La Spezia to Levanto and Levanto to La Spezia) takes approximately 30 minutes. You can find timetables and additional information on Trenitalia.com
You can purchase the tickets at the information desk at every train station, and the price starts at 2.20 € per person one way. However, you will need to pay more if you want to get off at more than two villages. If you plan to visit more villages and move without limitations, you should buy Cinque Terre Card that gives you access to the hiking trails with unlimited train rides on the line La Spezia – Cinque Terre – Levanto.
This train day pass costs 16 € per person (aged 12 +) and 10 € for children (aged 4-12). You can buy it at every train station or book online.
If you want to use hiking trails only, you can buy Cinque Terre Trekking Card at the price of 7.50 € per adult, and 4.50 € per child. This ticket covers the hiking trails from Monterosso to Vernazza, and Vernazza to Corniglia which are the two most famous trails. However, this ticket doesn’t include an unlimited train ride.
Please note that there is no entrance fee to the Cinque Terre National Park and there are many other hiking trails that are free of charge. Cinque Terre train card can only facilitate your transportation and allow you easier access to the villages. It is super practical for those staying only 1 day in Cinque Terre.
During the high season, from April to November, there are ferry boats that run from La Spezia ferry terminal to Portovenere and Cinque Terre to Levanto and back. The ferries run every 45 minutes to 1 hour (or sometimes less frequently, make sure to check it at the ferry terminal). To reach the first stop – Portovenere, it takes 45 minutes boat ride. From Portovenere to the first village of Riomaggiore it takes 30 minutes, while the boat ride between the villages takes anywhere from 15-20 minutes. You can get off at every village, except for Corniglia that doesn’t have water access.
There is a daily boat ticket that allows you unlimited boat rides with stops at villages and Portovenere. It costs 35 € per adult (aged 11+), and 20 € per child (aged 6-11). You can opt for a half-day ticket at a price of 27 €/adult, 15 €/child.
As you can see, the ferry ride from La Spezia can take up a lot of time and is not recommended for cruise ship passengers. The alternative option is to buy a one-way ticket from Vernazza to Levanto that costs 12 €/adult, 7 €/child, however, that ticket will only allow you partial boat sightseeing of the coast.
Book a tour
To get the most of your day, I suggest you book an organized trip or a customized tour that will show you the highlights of Cinque Terre. I think the best way to see the villages is by boat (make sure you sit on the starboard side for the best coastal views) and also don’t miss visiting Portovenere which is equally marvelous.
When I went on a tour, we first took a 30-minute bus ride to Portovenere and then embarked on a 1-hour 15-minute boat ride to Monterosso al Mare. Make sure you wear a hat as it can be pretty hot on the open deck.
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By rent a car/private transfer
It is not recommended to drive on your own around Cinque Terre as the majority of villages are closed to car traffic. Riomaggiore and Manarola have small parking above the villages, while Monterosso is the only one with a large parking facility. Vernazza and Corniglia do not have parking facilities.
A better option would be to book a round-trip private transfer that would ensure a safe pick-up/drop-off at the designated place. It’s much cheaper than a taxi.
The distance between La Spezia and Portovenere is 30 minutes’ drive, La Spezia – Riomaggiore/ Manarola is 30 minutes’ drive, La Spezia – Monterosso al Mare/Levanto is 45-50 minutes’ drive.
The cradle of the Renaissance and the charming capital of the Tuscany region, Florence is on the bucket list of many cruise travelers cruising to La Spezia. The city itself is a masterpiece – its palaces, museums, art galleries, old narrow streets, and alleys throw you back to the Golden Age of Renaissance and its masterminds who made Florence one of the most artistic and beautiful cities in the world.
One day in Florence is certainly not enough, and given the distance between La Spezia and Florence which is around 150 km (93 mi) or a 1 hour 45 minutes drive, I definitely suggest you book an organized tour that will include stops at the city’s most famous attractions and landmarks. Some of these are:
- Duomo Cathedral – Dating from the 13th century, this monumental cathedral was named in honor of Santa Maria del Fiore and is one of the most spectacular sights in Florence. The cathedral is known for its red-tiled dome designed by Renaissance artist Filippo Brunelleschi in the 15th century, an elegant tower and colorful marble façade. The entrance to the cathedral is free, which usually results in long lines at the entrance. However, if you want to visit the Museum, the Baptistery, climb up to the dome and the bell tower, you need to purchase the ticket.
- The Gates of Paradise – The famous golden doors are the main gate of St. John’s Baptistery located in front of Duomo Cathedral. The doors depict Biblical religious scenes and are a 15th-century masterpiece created by Florentine artist Lorenzo Ghiberti.
- Uffizi Gallery – Housed in the 16th century Renaissance palace, near Piazza della Signoria, Uffizi gallery is a remarkable art gallery featuring rich collections of Primitive and Renaissance masterpieces, including Giotto, Botticelli, Paulo Uccello, Masaccio, Michelangelo, Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, and others.
- Piazza della Signoria – The main square in the city dominated by the 14th century imposing tower of Palazzo Vecchio, filled with restaurants, shops, and historic landmarks.
- Ponte Vecchio – At stone’s throw from Piazza della Signoria and Uffizi Gallery, Ponte Vecchio is a picturesque medieval bridge over Arno river.
- Santa Maria Novella – Dating from the mid-13th century, this magnificent church boasts an extraordinary marble façade and houses valuable medieval and Renaissance masterpieces, including Giotto’s crucifix.
The list goes on and on.
As mentioned above, I suggest you take the Florence walking tour as the heart of the city is best explored on foot. You probably won’t take time to enter the museums, so I would go for a leisurely stroll through the city and exterior visit of the most famous attractions. Make sure you bring comfortable shoes, as some areas are cobblestone. Florence is also crowded, so in case you plan to visit a specific museum or landmark, make sure you pre-book your admission tickets.
How to Get to Florence from La Spezia?
Book a tour
This is what I highly recommend because you are guaranteed to get back to the ship (keep in mind that the ride takes 1 hour 45 minutes each way). You can choose between a cruise-line sponsored shore excursion, or a customized/small-group tour booked with an Independent Tour Company.
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You can catch a train at La Spezia Centrale and get off at Firenze Santa Maria Novella railway station located within a short walking distance from the historic heart of Florence. The trains run frequently (once up to three times per hour), however, most of them are not direct trains and you need to change a train in the cities of Pisa or Empoli.
The direct train ride can take up to 2 hours 45 minutes, while the connecting ride takes up to 2 hours 15 minutes one way. The prices start at 14 € per person one way. As you can see, the train is not a good option if you stay in La Spezia port for a limited time.
By private transfer
If you want to explore Florence at your own pace, a private transfer is a cheaper option than a taxi.
Home to the world-famous Leaning Tower, Pisa is another popular day trip for cruisers docking in La Spezia. The distance between La Spezia cruise port and Pisa is 77 km (48 mi), or approximately a 1-hour drive one way, which makes it a perfect getaway for cruise travelers.
Pisa is definitely most famous for its iconic Leaning Tower that dominates the Square of Miracles (Piazza del Miracoli), a vast open space that is home to several other impressive monuments including the Cathedral, Pisa Baptistery, and the cemetery.
The 50-meter high marble Tower is actually the bell tower of the Cathedral standing next to it and was constructed between the 12th and 13th century (Fun fact: the Tower started leaning before it was even finished). At the end of the 20th century, the reconstruction of the Tower’s base started and after a decade it was finally reopened for the public.
Entrance tickets to the Tower are limited and it is wise to book in advance. The standard ticket bought on-site costs 18 € for both children and adults. Children under 8 are not allowed to climb the Tower for safety reasons, and those aged between 8 and 18 must climb with an accompanying adult.
During your visit, make sure you visit the monumental medieval marble-striped Cathedral dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta, as well as the Baptistery of St John. You’ll be enchanted by the splendor of these landmarks that don’t leave anyone indifferent. To top off your day, you can grab a bite at one of the eateries and cafes surrounding the Square of Miracles.
Hot to Get to Pisa from La Spezia Port?
La Spezia is well connected to the city of Pisa and trains run 1-3 times per hour. The train ride lasts between 1 hour and 1 hour 15 minutes. You will get off to Pisa Centrale train station, and then walk 20 minutes to the Square of Miracles and Leaning Tower. The ticket price starts at 7.90 € per person, one way.
Book a tour
There are many shore excursions to Pisa and you can choose between Pisa guided tours and exploring on your own. Make sure you pre-book the tickets to the Leaning Tower in case they are not included in the tour price.
It is not recommended to travel by car as the historic center of Pisa is closed to traffic, and parking lots are not free. However, the best option is to book a round trip private transfer to Pisa – the prices are more affordable than taxi prices.
Another Tuscany’s hidden gem, Lucca is a charming town located a 1-hour drive from La Spezia port (77 km; 48 mi). This historic city is located on a plain at the bottom of the Apuan Alps which makes it an ideal location for those guests with walking difficulties.
One of Lucca’s main attractions is a 4 km long flat pedestrian promenade built on top of the 16th century Renaissance city walls that defended the city in the past. The promenade is well-maintained and offers beautiful panoramic views of the city. The walls are fully accessible on foot or bike (bike rental is around 3 € per hour), and there are many benches along the promenade where you can sit, relax and indulge in Italian gelato.
Once you pass through the wall closest to the train station and enter the heart of the old town, you will soon arrive at the magnificent St. Michael’s Church (San Michele al Foro, commonly referred to as il Duomo), dating from the 11th century. Renovated over centuries, the church is a remarkable example of Romanesque architecture and holds a large number of valuable artwork and masterpieces.
Another landmark that you should visit during your stroll is Piazza dell’Anfiteatro – an oval-shaped square and an ancient site of a Roman amphitheater, nowadays filled with old buildings, restaurants, and shops.
Known as the “city of one hundred churches”, Lucca is truly beautiful and besides historic landmarks offers nice shopping and a wide variety of restaurants, cafes, and gelaterias to indulge in.
How to Get to Lucca from the Port of La Spezia?
There is no direct train from La Spezia to Lucca. Once you catch a train at La Spezia Centrale, you need to change the train at Viareggio or Pisa train stations and then continue to Lucca. From Pisa to Lucca it takes a 15-20 minute train ride. The overall ride takes from 1 hour to two hours one way, depending on the train timetables and time of the day. Normally, the trains run once per hour and ticket prices start at 7.90 € per person, one way. Check the timetables on Trenitalia.com
Once in Lucca, you’ll get off at Piazza Ricasoli train station and walk to the city walls for about 5-8 minutes.
Book a tour/private transfer
5. Tuscan Countryside
Besides historic cities and a variety of landmarks, Tuscany boasts endless green valleys, scenic fields, hills, and vineyards. Chianti region is renowned for its premium quality wines and there are numerous wineries and wine estates where you can enjoy wine tasting and food and wine pairing.
The best way to explore the Tuscan countryside is on a shore excursion. Budget allowing, you can book a customized trip that includes a visit to Pisa and other cities and villages. To complete your stay, make sure you take time to delight in Italian pasta, bruschetta, cheeses, and other typical dishes paired with Tuscan red and sweet wines.
The beauty of Italy cannot be put in words. You have to feel its vibe and learn to appreciate the art, as everything in this part of Italy is art. Marvelous architecture, paintings, sculptures, but also art in wine-making, food-preparing, the way of living.
I wish you a wonderful cruise to Italy!
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