Standing on the Ligurian Sea with distant views of the Apuan Alps, the commercial Port of La Spezia is also home to Italy’s main naval base. Its name is derived from its historic role as one of the great spice ports where spices from the Middle and Far East arrived in Europe. Today the port’s strategic location close to the UNESCO World Heritages villages of Cinque Terre has made it a popular port of call for cruise ships visiting this part of the Mediterranean. Passengers also have the option of taking a number of other enjoyable shore excursions to destinations such as Portovenere, Pisa and even Florence.
Port of La Spezia
Thanks to its deep water harbour, La Spezia is a major port of call for cruise ships visiting the Ligurian region of Italy. Ships dock at Molo Garibaldi which is approximately 3km from Castello di San Giorgio in the city centre. Passengers can walk to the downtown area or take one of the shuttle buses which are normally made available. Once in the Centro Storico all the city’s main attractions are accessible on foot. Some smaller vessels drop anchor further south in the waters just off Portovenere then tender their passengers ashore.
Airport Transfers to La Spezia
The location of La Spezia Centrale train station within close proximity of the port allows cruise ship passengers to transfer to their ships by public transport from the airports of Pisa or Genoa. A more comfortable option is to pre-book transfers from Pisa Airport (82km) with Shuttledirect who specialise in such services. They also provide transfers from Genoa Airport (110km).
By Train: Passengers who are planning on visiting the villages of the Cinque Terre or Pisa by train will need to get from the port to Stazione La Spezia Centrale (Piazzale Medaglie d’Oro). This station lies 4km west of Molo Garibaldi and is best reached by taxi.
Train passengers must buy a Cinque Terre Train card at La Spezia Centrale which covers all rail travel between the villages. This ticket must be validated at the machines on the platform in La Spezia Centrale before boarding the train otherwise passengers could find themselves subject to a fairly hefty fine.
By Ferry: Alternatively, you can walk along the Passeggiata Morin to the ferry terminal in La Spezia from where frequent ferries depart for the villages of Cinque Terre via Portovenere. Some well informed passengers like to travel to Portovenere on bus P-11 then take a ferry service as far as Vernazza. They then return to La Spezia Centrale with stops at Manarola and Riomaggiore en route.
Main Tourist Attractions
As a major industrial port city which saw many of its buildings destroyed by Allied bombing campaigns during the Second World War, La Spezia isn’t much of a tourist destination. Nevertheless the city does have a number of interesting attractions for those passengers who prefer not to head out on day excursions. The highlight of these is the 13th century Castello di San Giorgio (Via XXVII Marzo) which overlooks the harbour. Much of its interior has been converted into an archaeological museum which houses artefacts discovered over the centuries from the Ligurian region. The venue is home to a busy calendar of cultural events during the summer months.
The most beautiful of the city’s religious buildings is Santa Maria Assunta (Piazza Giulio Beverini) which is home to an impressive art collection with items dating back to the 13th century. The city has a modern cathedral called Cristo Re dei Secoli (Piazza Giovanni XXIII) which was only completed in 1975.
Insider Tip: For an impeccable lunch in downtown La Spezia head for Osteria Della Corte (Via Napoli 86). This fine dining venue serves excellent local seafood and pasta dishes in exquisite surroundings. For a cheaper option in a typical local restaurant try Il Picchio Rosso (Via Piave, 14) which a good range of pizza, pasta and meat dishes.
The Museo Civico Amedeo Lia (Via del Prione, 234) is a fine arts museum which is highly recommended. Highlights of its exhibits include works by Titian and Tintoretto. The Museo Tecnico Navale della Spezia (Viale Giovanni Amendola, 1) on the waterfront is a must-see for anyone interested in naval history. It displays a wide range of maritime exhibits including many items from the Second World War. Unfortunately, the information is only displayed in Italian.
Shore Excursions Beyond La Spezia
Cruise ship passengers visiting La Spezia are spoilt for choice when it comes to shore excursions with a number of exciting options to choose from. The most accessible is to take a scenic bus ride to the beautiful coastal village of Portovenere which lies 15km to the south on a peninsula overlooking the Gulf of Spezia. In the tourist trade this has become known as the ‘Bay of Poets’ since the English poet Byron swam from Portovenere to Terenzo on the opposite coastline to visit his friend Shelley in 1822. Bus number P-11 departs frequently from the bus stop on Via Garabaldi near the corner of Corso Cavour. The journey takes around 35 minutes.
Whilst this pretty fishing village dominated by attractive houses in different colours has plenty to attract the casual visitor it is mostly used as a stopping-off point en route to the famous coastal villages of the Cinque Terre which can be reached by means of frequent ferry services which depart from the pier in Portovenere. These villages from east to west are Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare. As a group they appear on UNESCO’s World Heritage List and all but Corniglia can be visited by ferry.
Visitors should be warned that these waters can get very rough on windy days so visiting the Cinque Terre by train from La Spezia Centrale railway station might be a better option. Frequent train services stop at all five villages. Alternatively, there are ferry services from La Spezia which travel all the way around the coast to the villages via Portovenere.
A completely different option for passengers is to take a train from La Spezia to the ancient city of Pisa which lies just just 78km to the south-east. Home to the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa, this historic destination understandably attracts more than a million visitors every year. It’s easily accessible on frequent services from La Spezia Centrale to Pisa Centrale in less than an hour.
The glorious city of Florence lies a further 90km inland from Pisa but is too far away to be considered a viable option from La Spezia by public transport. Some cruise lines will offer organised tours to the capital of the Tuscany region which is home to some of Italy’s greatest artistic and architectural treasures. Unfortunately, the journey takes two hours in each direction so much of your day will be taken up sitting on buses.
About Shuttle Direct
Shuttle Direct is the most established and respected airport transfer provider in Europe and northern Africa. Our friendly local drivers will ensure your safe, economical, and convenient passage to and from the cruise terminal, airport, or major train station of your choice with a minimum of fuss. Book your transfer with our easy to use online booking system and leave the rest up to us!