"Livorno" Top 5 Page for this destination Livorno by maykal

Livorno Travel Guide: 163 reviews and 476 photos

Finding out what there is to do in Livorno can be a bit tricky. Livorno is a major port in one of Italy's most visited regions, Tuscany, and thousands if not millions of tourists pass through the port each year...but not many stick around long enough to see anything other than the docks, preferring to zoom up the autostrada in coaches heading for Florence, Pisa and Siena.

The cruise I was on (not by choice...) was sceduled to stop in Livorno, and the cruiseline website waxed lyrical about the joys of Tuscany without even mentioning Livorno. Guidebooks were equally dismissive, recalling the heavy bombing in World War II and supplying little more than transport details to more touristic places inland.

It was only by stumbling across a few photos on VT and elsewhere of Livorno's centro storico (old centre) and canals that I realised there may be more to Livorno than a modern port. Opting out of organized shore excursions deeper into Tuscany, I stayed in Livorno.

My eldest brother's tour had been cancelled, so he decided to tag along for the morning. We took the ship's shuttle bus to the Piazza del Municipio in the heart of Livorno's historic centre. The handful of other passengers on the bus queued up at the tourist information kiosk asking about buses to Pisa...it seemed we were the only two set to explore Livorno.

First impressions weren't so great. The streets immediately around the square were nothing to write home about, frantic traffic tearing past modernish shops and office blocks. But a short walk from the square brought us to the first of Livorno's many canals, lined with old houses, mostly reddish brown walls with green shutters. Unlike many historic cities, this one had not been done up, given a lick of paint...Livorno is worn, tired, slightly dilapidated...but that was what makes it so interesting.

Part of the old city is actually called the Quartiere Venezia, built centuries ago for the working classes, canals instead of streets to make transporting goods easier. Add a few souvenir shops and posh waterside cafes, and dump a thousand camera-toting tourists to clog up the walkways, and it could almost be Venice...instead it is a residential quarter almost untouched by tourism.

A large fort which must have once been quite grand now stands abandoned on an island surrounded by canals. Today it is an open-air park, all over-growing grass, broken swings and slides, and packs of cats. Across the water lies the enormous Piazza della Repubblica, which is in fact a bridge covering the city's main canal. The canal opens up again on the other side of the square, taking you past grander buildings and the impressive Mercato Centrale, before reaching the harbour.

One thing we did notice about Livorno was the almost total lack of cafes. After the terrible coffee on board the ship, I was looking forward to a proper espresso, and my brother was practically gasping for a cappuccino...that had been our initial goal when setting out from the square, something to wake us up before sightseeing...but by the time we'd found one, we'd already explored half the city centre! Maybe we'd been looking in the wrong places, but none of the picturesque canalside walkways or large squares seemed to offer any coffee whatsoever.

Caffeine intake dealt with, we headed down to the coast to the south of the city. Ten minutes or so from the harbour, we came across the historic Scoglio della Regina, a ruined bathhouse which used to cater for the royal family many moons ago. A bit further south, we reached the Terrazza Mascagni, a 1920's promenade with balconies and chessboard black and white tiling, a great location for wedding photos it seems. A string of private beach complexes ends in Piazza San Jacopo in Acquaviva, flanked by the sea and an oddly attractive old church.

A great lunch of pasta and beer at a seaside restaurant later (a much cheaper lunch than anything teh rest of my family ate in overpriced Florence), we returned to the city centre to meet up with my other brother, who had just got back from an organised tour of Lucca. He wasn't interested in seeing Livorno ("once you've seen one canal, they're all pretty much the same"), so both brothers boarded the shuttle bus back to the ship...but I was not going back to that nightmare just yet...not when there were more streets to explore. There were still a good few hours before the last shuttle bus, so I made the most fo it, tramping the backstreets, visiting churches, and enjoying one last espresso.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Canals, old houses, forts, markets, seafront, and no tourists
  • Cons:Not so many actual sights, slightly dilapidated
  • In a nutshell:Anyone sick of crowded touristy Tuscan cities...Livorno is for you.
  • Last visit to Livorno: Aug 2008
  • Intro Updated Nov 29, 2008
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Reviews (10)

Comments (2)

  • craic's Profile Photo
    Jan 23, 2009 at 3:51 AM

    what do you know - it is the same church and you got the name of it too - i am so glad you apreciated Livorno - so few appreciate her - my nonna especially - she got the hell out of the place and never went back

  • mccalpin's Profile Photo
    Jan 21, 2009 at 8:13 AM

    How typical that the unplanned and unexpected hours are the most rewarding! Bill



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