Looking for the best things to do in Santa Margherita Ligure, Italy? This charming town on the Italian Riviera is a great place to visit and has a lot to offer tourists. In this post, I will show you 14 of the best things to do in Santa Margherita Ligure.

I have travelled extensively throughout the Ligurian region of Italy, with my most recent visit being in October 2022. You may like to read my other Italy posts before your trip.

colourful buildings and boats in Italy, Europe
Santa Margherita Ligure

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Where is Santa Margherita Ligure?

Santa Margherita is located in the province of Genova, between Camogli and Rapallo. It is a beautiful, colourful town on the Italian Riviera (Liguria) which has both mountain and sea views.

Santa Margherita is known for its stylish riviera aesthetics, laid back atmosphere and local cuisine.

a group of colourful buildings sitting on top of a hill next to a body of water
Santa Margherita Ligure

14 best things to do in Santa Margherita Ligure

There is a map at the bottom of this post, showing all of the things to do in Santa Margherita on this list. You will also find hotel recommendations, Santa Margherita FAQs and general travel advice for your trip to Italy.

1. Stroll along the promenade.

The promenade in Santa Margherita Ligure is one of the main tourist attractions here. Full of colourful architecture, palm trees and restaurants, the walkway stretches along the waterfront and provides stunning views of both sea and mountains.

white statue of queen margherita with colourful italian buildings in the background
Statue of Christopher Colubus

There are lots of shops, cafes and restaurants along the promenade, along with pretty gardens, statues and fountains. Everything here is pretty and colourful, including the signs and street furniture!

2. Visit the castle of Santa Margherita.

Strategically placed at the base of a hill, the majestic fortress was constructed in 1550 by order of Genoa’s Senate to protect against Barbary pirates. It was constructed extremely quickly (in just a matter of months) due to the ongoing threat from the pirates.

a stone tower with a flag on top of it - Santa Margherita Castle
Santa Margherita Castle with the Republic of Genoa Flag

Armament improvements and structural repairs were made until the early 17th century, when pirate attacks ceased.

The castle was designed by architect Antonio de Càrabo who also played a key role in constructing the castle in Rapallo too. It is easy to see the similarities between the two castles.

3. Take a boat trip to see the neighbouring towns.

Taking a boat trip is one of the most popular things to do in Santa Margherita Ligure. Line 1 boats run all year round, and you can book tickets on the harbourfront. The nearby towns of Rapallo, Portofino, Camogli are the most popular, and the boats have commentary on board. You can see timetables and prices here.

During your boat trip you will see lots of super-yachts and very expensive houses on the Ligurian coastline along the way, which always makes for an interesting ride.

Tours in Portofino

There are many boat tours and combined tours available in Portofino. You can also charter your own boat too.

If you’d like to make a day of it, I recommend the Portofino boat and walking tour with pesto cooking and lunch. This tour leaves from Santa Margherita, is tailored to your group and also allows for free time in Portofino.

There are water-based activities available in Portofino too, such as paddleboarding, kayaking, and coasteering in Portofino. Book these early (you don’t have to pay anything up front) as they are likely to sell out.

4. Visit Villa Durazzo.

This 17th-century villa was once owned by an Italian noble family, and it now hosts regular art exhibitions throughout the year. The villa is worth visiting for its beautiful gardens alone, with stunning views of the Ligurian Sea.

a large orange building surrounded by lush green trees
Villa Durazzo, with the church next door

The publicly owned property consists of two villas and a 16th-century castle that is decorated with glamorous Murano glass chandeliers and stunning frescos – glamorous enough for Rod Stewart and Penny Lancaster to get married here! After the small ceremony in 2007, the couple held their reception in Cervara Abbey (number 14 on this list).

The lush and extensive gardens overlooking the Gulf of Tigullio are celebrated as one of the official ‘Great Italian Gardens’. Broken into four separate smaller garden areas, the geometrical Italian Garden is probably the most famous with its rare cyclads, box hedges and fulsome camellias.

5. Hike to Portofino.

The hike from Santa Margherita Ligure to Portofino is a great way to explore some of the most beautiful scenery in Italy. The duration of the hike depends on how many times you stop, but it’s about 5 miles each way (8km). The difficulty level is moderate.

If you prefer to take a boat to Portofino, you could book a Portofino half-day hike experience for when you get there. This experience also takes you to San Fruttuoso (see number 10 on this list).

Hazels-Travels-View-of-Portofino-Harbour
Portofino

If possible, try hiking early in the morning before it gets too hot out. I recommend starting early and spending the morning in Portofino, before taking a boat trip back. You could have lunch in Portofino’s main Piazzetta (the main square).

The views from the Piazzetta are beautiful, but beware the food and drink prices are often inflated in Portofino. Have a look at my blog post below and you can even see what I ate for lunch during my last trip!

6. Admire the colourful streets and flowers.

Everything in Santa Margherita is so colourful, you will just want to take photographs all the time. The buildings are decorated with the classic Italian trompe-l’œil painting style (which literally means ‘deceive the eye’) making everything look very pretty, even if not entirely real. If you look closely you will see many of the window boxes and shutters are painted on, to give an illusion of grandeur.

The colourful streets are lined with palm trees and bright flowerbeds, and it really is a joy to stroll around just taking it all in. You might even like to book a vacation photographer in Santa Margherita to really capture those special moments, especially if you are celebrating an occasion.

7. Try the local cuisine.

Santa Margherita is renowned for its distinctive red shrimp. Its size and flavour make it a prized seafood delicacy, with colours ranging from pinkish hues to vibrant blue-violet shades. The darker the colour of these crustaceans, the tastier they become.

You’ll also find a lot of Genovese cuisine here too. You can try signature dishes like trofie pasta with pesto, ravioli Genovese with slow-cooked brisket sauce, and of course no visit would be complete without tasting the iconic focaccia bread.

Trofie pasta with pesto on a white plate
Trofie with pesto

If you have time, stop by Pinamonti Focacceria (Tripadvisor link)on Largo Giovanni Amendola for a unique cheese-filled focaccia al formaggio, which is out of this world.

I also recommend Da’ Gennaro near the waterfront – they serve up delicious regional classic dishes and traditional pizzas too.

Focaccia bread with sunblush tomotoes and black olives on a white plate with glasses of white wine
Focaccia bread

8. …and don’t forget the wine!

This region is very close to the famous Cinque Terre, and therefore enjoys good access to its wines. Locals enjoy the exquisite Cinque Terre DOC, which is a great pairing with the local fish dishes (usually based around red mullet). You will also find Sciacchetrà here too – an indulgent ‘vino passito’ (sweet wine).

For places to enjoy an evening aperitivo, head to the shady arches of Piazza Martiri Della Liberta. Try the Sabot bar (tripadvisor review link) with its luxurious red leather booths, or head on over to Vernissage for the most stunning sunset views to accompany your aperol spritz.

9. Visit the church of San Giacomo di Corte.

The neoclassical Church of San Giacomo di Corte was built in the 15th century and is known for its stunning frescoes. As you ascend the steps into the church, your eyes will be drawn to Nicolò Barabino’s breathtaking frescoes that decorate every wall – all the way from soaring ceilings down to the grand altar.

a cream coloured church with stairs leading up to it
Church of San Giacomo di Corte

The interior is magnificent, which is probably one of the reasons it’s such a popular place for large catholic weddings. You also have the Villa Durazzo with its lush gardens waiting to be explored right next door.

9. Go shopping in Santa Margherita streets.

Souvenir shopping is one of the fun things to do in Santa Margherita. There are lots of different types of shops and things to buy. Below you can see I bought a straw hat. I also found a Liguria edition of the Monopoly board game, which I was delighted to see!

There are also shops selling food and drinks, wine and cheese. I recommend checking out Antica Drogheria Seghezzo, a wonderful small wine and grocery store in the centre of Santa Margherita.

10. Visit the abbey of San Fruttuoso.

The Abbey of San Fruttuoso is a Benedictine monastery that was founded in 1025. The gardens are beautiful and well-maintained, with many flowers and trees. It’s located along the coast in between Portofino and Camogli (about 3km from Santa Margherita).

a large white building sitting on top of a lush green hillside
San Fruttuoso Abbey

You can only reach the abbey by boat. A good idea is to take a boat from Santa Margherita, then explore the abbey, followed by some time relaxing on the beach. You could then stroll around the tiny village of Fruttuoso before returning by boat to Santa Margherita.

11. Dive the Christ of the Abyss.

The Christ of the Abyss is a bronze statue created by Guido Galletti in 1954. It sits underwater just off Santa Margherita Ligure, in tribute to the late Dario Gonzatti who tragically lost his life in this location.

To construct the statue, medals, ship components, bells and propellers of American submarines were used. You can also see a replica in San Fruttuoso’s Church.

On tranquil days, the statue is visible even from above water when snorkelling for those who aren’t diving.

12. Relax on the Paraggi bay.

There are several beaches in or near Santa Margherita Ligure, all of which are easily accessible by public transport and free to visit. Most of the beaches are pebbles or shingle, but there is a beautiful sandy beach nearby called Paraggi Bay.

The Bay of Paraggi is a few kilometres from Santa Margherita, and is known for its stunning views and crystal blue waters. Take a boat trip, try a snorkelling tour or simply relax on the beach.

a beach with a lot of chairs and umbrellas - paraggi bay
Paraggi Bay Beach

13. Explore Ente Parco di Portofino.

The Ente Parco di Portofino is a nature reserve and public park located on the Italian Riviera, just south of Santa Margherita Ligure. It was founded in 1988 with the aim of protecting the natural environment and historical heritage of the area.

Rugged outcrop nature park. mountains and sea.
panoramic view of autumn Portofino Regional Nature Park in Italy

The park consists of three distinct areas: Portofino, Camporosso and Ceriana Nervina. Each has its own character, but they’re all worth exploring if you have time. You can book a Portofino walking tour here or a half-day hike experience here.

There is also the excellent Portofino e-bike adventure tour which takes you through the Portofino natural park, back down to Santa Margherita for ice cream, and then on to the town of Camogli. E-biking is very easy due to there being an electric motor on the bike, but the trip includes a return in a minibus so you don’t have to cycle all the way back.

14. Admire La Cervara abbey.

Just north of Paraggi, you will find the historic San Gerolama Abbey, or ‘La Cervara’, which was erected in 1361 on Monte di Portofino. It is officially an Italian National Monument, including both the monastic complex and the unique Italian-Renaissance style garden. This is one of only two gardens like it along the entire Riviera.

a house on a hill overlooking a body of water
Cevara Abbey Santa Margherita Ligure

La Cervara is a must-see on your stroll to Portofino. However the abbey is privately owned and you can’t usually access it without an appointment. Do check the local events though, as it often holds events, festivals and celebrations where the public can look around.

Map of 14 best things to do in Santa Margherita.

The map below shows all the things to do in Santa Margherita Ligure as listed in this post. You can click the blue icons to see more information about each place. Click the star to add to your own Google Maps.

What else is near Santa Margherita Ligure?

From Santa Margherita Ligure, it’s easy to explore the other villages and towns of the Italian Riviera. You can visit the colourful towns of Camogli, Recco, Chiavari, Genoa and Rapallo that are scattered along the coast from Santa Margherita Ligure. Book a private tour here.

Santa Margherita is also not far from the famous Cinque Terre, with it’s UNESCO listed colourful hilltop towns. I recommend driving to la Spezia, then using local trains to explore the five villages of the Cinque Terre on foot.

If you’re looking for some outdoor activities, hike up to Castello Brown in nearby Portofino or take a kayak out onto the Bay of Tigullio. For those seeking an adrenaline rush, head to Paraggi Beach where you can take part in windsurfing or kite surfing, or Portofino for a coasteering activity.

a large body of water with a bunch of buildings in the background

Conclusion: things to do in Santa Margherita.

Santa Margherita Ligure is an ideal destination for travellers looking for a quiet place to relax and enjoy the Italian Riviera. It has plenty of attractions, including beautiful beaches, hikes through lush forests and vineyards, plus historic churches and abbeys.

colourful buildings in peach and orange in Italy with oranges growing on trees in the foreground.

Where to stay in Santa Margherita Ligure.

Here are my top picks for Santa Margherita hotels on Booking.com:

  • Best luxury hotel: Gran Hotel Miramar is a 5 star hotel overlooking the Gulf of Tigullio with sun terrace, salt water swimming pool and tropical garden.

  • Best mid-range hotel: Hotel S’ant Andrea is an Art Nouveau villa surrounded by a garden, in a private street only a few steps from the sea.

  • Best budget hotel: Hotel Argentina is a 2 star hotel on the Bay of Paraggi, just steps from the stunning sandy beach. Free WiFi.

  • Best Sustainable hotel: Villa Gelsomina Exclusive House is an exceptional property which meets the highest levels of travel sustainability criteria on Booking.com, read more here.

If you would rather see hotel locations on a map, you can use this interactive map below which will take you straight through to Booking.com when you are ready to check availability.

Booking.com

Or you can peruse all of the current deals on all hotels in Santa Margherita on Booking.com (includes apartments and other lodgings too).

I recommend reserving your room immediately to get the best price. It’s usually free to reserve, and you can always cancel later on. Most properties on Booking.com allow free cancellation up to the day before the booking date.

FAQs about Santa Margherita Ligure.

Is it worth visiting Santa Margherita Ligure?

Taking a detour between Rapallo and Portofino to visit Santa Margherita is well worth the experience. This picturesque seaside town will take your breath away with its vibrant coloured buildings, luxurious resorts, and breathtaking views of the Ligurian Riviera. It’s a really lovely place.

Can you walk from Santa Margherita Ligure to Portofino?

Yes, you can walk from Santa Margherita Ligure to Portofino. It’s a 5km flat walk which takes about 40 minutes to an hour, and the views are stunning. It’s well worth doing at sunset. You can also get there by boat or bus. I recommend walking there, having lunch or dinner and then taking a boat back. See my post 10 Things to do in Portofino for more information

Is one day in Portofino enough?

Yes, one day is fine. You could even visit for half a day if you are time-pressured. It’s a small but very beautiful town – see my post 10 Things to do in Portofino for more information.

Can you walk from Santa Margherita to Rapallo?

You can take a train, a boat, a bus, car or yes indeed you can also walk between Santa Margherita to Rapallo. It’s a 3km trail, and takes about an hour to walk. Read my post 10 Things to do in Rapallo for more information about this pretty seaside town.

Travel advice for your trip to Liguria

What is the climate like in Liguria?

Liguria is situated in one of the sunniest parts of northern Italy, with over 300 days of sunshine per year. In July, temperatures can exceed 30C/86F with moderately high humidity. May and September are great months to explore this area if you’re looking for fewer crowds than the summer months, especially at the beaches.

In winter, you can expect lows of 7C/44F and highs of 14C/57F, but bear in mind a lot of hotels and restaurants close over the winter.

Booking.com

What is the best way of getting around in Liguria, Italy?

You don’t need to rent a car in most of Liguria. It is easier to travel by train or ferry between places like Santa Margherita Ligure, Rapallo, Genoa and Portofino.

I have summarised the times you might want to get a car in Liguria versus when not to get a car below:

Reasons not to rent a car in Liguria:

  • Portofino and Fruttuoso are car-free.
  • Portofino has one nearby car park which is always busy.
  • Visiting beaches in the high season is difficult by car – there is a lack of parking spaces and a LOT of traffic.
  • The city of Genoa has 26 train stations.
  • Winding roads in the Cinque Terre can be very nerve-racking to drive on.
  • Narrow roads in Cinque Terre means it takes 1 hour to drive 3km.
  • Motorways have tolls and parking is expensive.
  • It is cheaper, quicker and more environmentally friendy to use trains.
  • Boat rides are a pleasant way to travel between Ligurian towns.

Reasons why you might rent a car in Liguria:

If you are not travelling to any of the above places in the high season, you might want to rent a car in Liguria. Consider these circumstances:

  • It is much easier to drive in Liguria in the off-season (October to May). There is less traffic and lots of parking spaces. Beware the narrow roads in Cinque Terre though.
  • You’ll need a car if you’re visiting Hinterland.
  • You’ll need a car for mountain trekking (but Cinque Terre treks are still usually accessed by train, even in winter).
  • You’ll need a car for visiting olive groves, archaeological sites or wineries (these are usually quite far out).

What currency do they use in Liguria?

The official currency in Italy is the Euro (€) which comes in paper notes and coins.

Are there ATMS in Italy?

Yes there are ATMs in Italy. The ATMs are called ‘Bancomat’ and they work generally the same as in the UK or USA. Cash is accepted everywhere and is sometimes preferred. For example, some taxis might accept card payment but they still prefer cash. It’s best to ask before getting in.

The working hours for the banks in Italy are 08:30 – 13:00 and 15:00 – 16:00, Monday to Friday.

Below are some helpful links for your trip:

Best things to do in Santa Margherita: pin for later

I hope you enjoyed this post about the 14 best things to do in Santa Margherita Ligure, and found it helpful in planning your trip to Italy.

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