Many tourists planning to visit Liguria wonder if it’s worth to rent a car and drive around the Italian Riviera.
This is a short yet practical guide that will help you determine whether a car rental is ideal for you or whether you should consider alternative transport means, such as trains or boats.
In fact, much depends on which part of the Italian Riviera you are planning to visit.
The Riviera di Levante, or eastern coast stretching between Genoa through Portofino, Cinque Terre and La Spezia, has a very good train system that connects all the major tourist attractions with relatively short and affordable rides.
For example, moving between the famous five villages of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso almost feels like taking the subway, as each ride lasts about five minutes.
But more importantly, most of the famous towns on the eastern Italian Riviera do not allow cars to transit and have virtually no parking spaces!
When they do have a small car park, it’s usually not near the center so be ready for quite a long and unattractive walk before you reach the actual villages.
For this reason, a car rental is not worth it in Cinque Terre and Portofino.
There are a couple of lesser-known villages, like Portovenere and Lerici, which do offer some limited parking spaces though depending on the season of your visit, they are very expensive and you might find yourself jammed in local traffic.
But what if you are already driving around Italy as part of a larger trip and decide to visit these destinations?
Then the best thing is to park your car in La Spezia and get the train to Cinque Terre, or to park it in Santa Margherita Ligure and get the bus to Portofino.
Another alternative, is to book accommodation a bit outside of the tourist areas, as they often offer parking space and a shuttle service to the nearby attractions.
There are not hotels with parking that are walking distance from Cinque Terre.
Are there valid alternatives to trains to move around the eastern riviera?
Renting a private boat is a great and exclusive option. It is not for all pockets but provides a fantastic and unique way to hop on and off the different villages along the Gulf of Tigullio, Cinque Terre or Gulf of Poets.
You can also opt for the ferryboat, which is more affordable but not as glamorous and forces you to time your visit according to its schedule.
And finally, you can also choose to travel around with a private driver.
What about the coast that is west of Genoa?
The situation is quite the opposite there!
Renting a car in the Riviera di Ponente is recommended as parking areas are more widespread and the local transport system is not great.
If fact, it only connects you with certain beach resorts.
If you want to explore the beautiful enogastronomic and artistic itineraries that Liguria has to offer on this side, then a rental car or a private driver is a must.
With a car you can easily visit the famous city of Sanremo and the exotic gardens of Bordighera, the inland villages of Dolceacqua and Apricale, the areas of the “Slow Food Presidia” where the precious “chinotto” citrus is cultivated and ancient jams and liquors are produced.
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