25 things to do in La Spezia
La Spezia is primarily known as a convenient stop over on the way to Cinque Terre. But the second largest town in Liguria has more to offer. Here is our list of things to do in La Spezia.
In spite of being the second largest city in Liguria with a population of 94.000 people, a popular cruise hub and next-door neighbour to a string of UNESCO World Heritage sites, there are surprisingly few tourists in La Spezia. La Spezia presents itself as a no-nonsense kind of town with room for cars, industry and work. You won’t find many pricy pestos, hand-carved wooden spoons or ceramic trinkets around here, but there are a lot of other interesting things to see and do in and around this major port in Eastern Liguria. Here is our extended list of things to do in La Spezia.
1. Via del Prione
The streets in the centre of La Spezia are a crisscross of straight lines, but they are placed on different altitudes which means lots of stairs and free exercise. Via del Prione divides the old town in two and illustrates the close ties between La Spezia and the Republic of Genoa. As part of the urban layout the street draws a straight line from the port to the road to Genoa and history of the last 800 years is reflected in some of the buildings and decorations lining the now pedestrianized street. Via del Prione marks the commercial centre of La Spezia, but it’s also a great place to hunt for historic traces.
2. From the Station to the Arsenal
Another important street in La Spezia is Via Garibaldi that connects the railway station with the military arsenal. Like Via del Prione, Via Garibaldi is intrinsically linked with the history of the city. The military arsenal was constructed between 1862 and 1869 and it quickly boosted the population from 5.964 inhabitants in 1861 to 37.000 people in 1884.
The arsenal is hidden behind massive walls, but military men in white uniforms can be seen all over the city.
3. The Fountain at Piazza Garibaldi
Piazza Garibaldi is a relatively new square in the intersection between Via del Prione and Via Garibaldi. The distinguishing feature is a fountain made from white Carrara marble by the sculptor Villiano Tarabella from Pietrasanta. The fountain depicts two sails in homage to La Spezia’s maritime roots. Seen from certain angles the two sails converge in the shape of a heart.
4. Liberty style houses
One of the main attractions of La Spezia if you ask me is the discovery of Liberty style houses. Especially the doorways and portals of palaces once belonging to the local aristocracy display an impressive combination of elegance and imagination. Suddenly you’ll see beautiful enamel shop-signs, semi-naked ladies supporting an Art Nouveau doorway or buildings covered in curving ornaments often based on flowers or figurines.
5. The civic theater
The Spezia Civic Theater was inaugurated in 1846 as the first theater specially built for this purpose in the city. The project was drawn up by the neoclassicist architect Ippolito Cremona. After some changes made at the end of the century, the theater was demolished to be replaced by a new theater building meeting new needs. The new project entrusted to the architect Franco Oliva was completed in 1933.
For a long period towards the end of the 20th century the civic theater lost its function as the main theater building of the city. It was downgraded to a cinema, but in 1995 it reopened to become a cultural lighthouse with a rich programme throughout the winter months. It is also used as a venue during the International Jazz Festival of the City of Spezia.
6. Market Piazza Cavour
Monday through Saturday mornings there is a covered outdoor market in Piazza Cavour, where you can buy fruit and vegetables, fresh fish, flowers and local cheese and salumi. Friday a busy flea market mostly dealing in clothes and shoes takes place on Via Garibaldi.
7. Eating out
La Spezia is a phenomenal town for eating out with an eclectic choice of high quality restaurants. Most of them are located in the narrow streets west of Via del Prione, which are crowded with people going out for a bite and a drink in the evennings.
8. Parco Giardini Pubblici
Between the the historic centre of La Spezia and the harbour you’ll find the public gardens, where marble statues spring up among a diversity of exotic trees and bushes. The public gardens are placed on a landfill from the construction of the military arsenal and in the centre theres an imposing equestrian monument of Giuseppe Garibaldi on a rampant horse. Other monuments are dedicated to local personalities such as the singer, Ceccardo Roccatagliata .
9. Passeggiata Costantino Morin
The promenade of Constantino Morin, lined with palm trees, allows you to observe the Gulf in all its splendour. The view ranges from the high profile of the Apuan Alps in the east over the breakwater and other artificial islands to the jagged coast that moves westward in the direction of Porto Venere. The promenade was constructed using stones from the excavation of the docks of the nearby Arsenale Militare.
On the first Sunday in August every year the Palio del Golfo boatrace takes off from the Passeggiata Costantino Morin.
10. Ponte Thaon di Revel
Ponte Thaon di Revel is a modern walkway that connects the public gardens to Porto Mirabello with splendid views along the way. The bridge was inaugurated in 2013 and it extends Via del Prione and integrates the yacht harbour in the city.
The bridge was conceived as a thin line of white steel that appear to emerge from the water like a sailboat. It was named after the World War I admiral of the Italian navy and president of the Italian Senate from August 1943 to July 1944, Paolo Emilio Thaon di Revel.
11. Porto Mirabello
There’s also Porto Mirabello, a newly built tourist port with shops and restaurants. Here you can mix with the owners or crews of monstrously oversized super-yachts and wonder about the symbolism of a statue of a wet girl dragging a metal whale up on dry land.
12. The breakwater
Between 1873 and 1879 a 2.2 km long breakwater was constructed across the Gulf between the promontories of Santa Maria and Santa Teresa promontories. The breakwater was constructed for defensive purposes giving the military easy control of the two narrow passages that provide access to La Spezia harbour for ships and boats. After the construction of the breakwater it was decided to establish a seaport in La Spezia
13. La Spezia international Jazz festival
Every year in July, La Spezia hosts an international jazz festival in corporation with Lerici and Porto Venere. The festival will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2018 and over the years it has staged a number of world famous jazz musicians who have performed on indoor and outdoor venues throughout the town.
14. Discover Pre-Roman Traces
La Spezia has been inhabited since pre-Roman times and a number of statue-menhirs and other types of megalithic art have been excavated in the area. Statue-menhir are carved stones from the third millenium before Christ. These Bronze Age carvings represent stylized men or women. The men are mostly depicted as warrriors with daggers or spears, while the women can be recognized by breasts and ornaments.
The function of the monuments is still subject to debate among scholars: The most acclaimed views see the carved stones as a representation of divinities or heroic ancestors, with a propitiatory purpose towards the community. The places of discovery suggest that the monuments should be located in open-air sanctuaries or woody clearings, outside of both inhabited areas and burial grounds.
To see the statue-menhirs discovered in the area of La Spezia visit the archaeological museum at San Giorgio Castle or ‘Museo delle statue stele della Lunigiana’ in Pontremoli.
15. Center for Modern and Contemporary Art (CAMeC)
The Center for Modern and Contemporary Art (CAMeC) was inaugurated in 2004 and hosts an important collection of works from the various editions of the Premio di Pittura del Golfo competition instigated in 1933 by the futuristic poet Marinetti along with Righetti, Prampolini and Fillia along with private collections donated by local philanthropists.
16. Naval Technical Museum
The Naval Technical Museum in La Spezia focuses on the history and the technical aspects of the Italian navy with exhibition of figureheads, cannons, torpedoes and model ships. It’s located at the entrance of the military arsenal. The museum is a must-see for people interested in military history and Italian naval battles.
17. San Giorgio Castle
San Giorgio Castle was originally constructed as part of La Spezia’s defensive fortification network by Nicolò Fieschi in 1262 century, but only 11 years later he lost power to the Republic of Genoa who destroyed and pludered the castle.
It was later rebuilt with new walls and a guards’ walkway protected by ghibelline merlature in order to improve regional defense structures.
Today, after a careful restoration lasting more than a decade, the castle of San Giorgio houses the civic archaeological collections of the Museum “Ubaldo Formentini” where you can see a few statue-menhirs.
18. Chiesa Abbaziale di Santa Maria Assunta
Compared to most other Italian towns of comparable size and age La Spezia has surprisingly few monumental churches. The most important one is the church of Santa Maria Assunta in piazza Giulio Beverini. A green and white striped marble structure consecrated in the 15th century, and continuously altered, renovated and redesigned in subsequent years. The church was almost completely demolished by a bomb on 19 April 1943.
The interior of the church is modestly simple, but there is a tin-glazed terracotta bas-relief first attributed to Luca della Robbia and then to his nephew Andrea to the left of the nave. The terracotta was looted by Napoleon and transferred to Arles in 1814 but 90 years later it returned to La Spezia
19. Cattedrale di Cristo Re
The Cristo Re Cathedral is probably one of the most uninviting churches I’ve ever seen, but it’s still a sight for people interested in construction and statics. The massive concrete structure was the result of a design competition held in 1930. The winner project by Brenno Del Giudice was delayed for 20 years and then redesigned by the rationalist Adalberto Libera, before it was finally consecrated in 1975.
The exterior is characterized by a circular body surrounded by a hyperbolic fence with no openings. Inside twelve pillars support the total weight (about 2,000 tons) of the 50 meter diameter drum cover in reinforced concrete.
20. A Railway Hub
The railway line from Pisa to La Spezia opened in 1864 and was extended to Genoa and Parma 10 and 20 years later, making La Spezia an important railway hub. The frequent train services are also paramount to La Spezia’s current status as a tourist hub for visitors to eastern Liguria and northern Tuscany. You can see the timetable here.
21. Cinque Terre
The main attraction around La Spezia is undoubtedly a visit to the five villages and gorgeous landscapes known as Cinque Terre, where a hike along the coast is an absolute must. There are regular train services from La Spezia to Vernazza, Manarola, Riomaggiore and Monterosso al Mare throughout the year.
22. Parco Naturale Regionale di Porto Venere
Porto Venere is a village comparable to the hamlets in Cinque Terre as regards beauty and charm. It is contained qithin the Porto Venere Natural Park whre you can ramble the hillsides, explore the Doria castle and the Forte del Muzzerone and see the Bay of Poets from which Lord Byron swam to visit his friend Shelley across the Gulf.
23. Isola Palmaria
The island Palmaria beckons at the western end of the gulf of La Spezia with a dramatic coastline, picturesque beaches, hidden marble caves and unspoiled flora and fauna. It is the largest island of an archipelago of three islands south from the mainland at Portovenere. The other two islands, Tino and Tinetto, lie further south. All three islands are part of UNESCO’s World Heritage listing for Cinque Terre.
In the summer you can reach Isola Palmaria by ferry from La Spezia, Lerici and Porto Venere. You can find the more information at Consozio Marittimo Turistico.
Like Portovenere, Lerici 8 km southeast of La Spezia merits a visit. The village famous for its association with the tragic demise of the English poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley, who drowned in the bay when his boat overturned in a storm.
. The lido, the harbour and the Lerici castle are among the main sights along with the pretty coloured houses.
25. Bring an Umbrella
In Italy, La Spezia is known for its changeable and unpredictable weather. The annual precipitation is high, so if you plan to visit in the spring or fall make sure to carry an umbrella. The city is sheltered from most northern winds which leads to hot, humid summers and cold, chilly winters. Winds from the southeast can bring heavy rain.
This post was last updated in November 2017