Livorno: Tuscany’s Hidden Gem
When many people hear of the city of Livorno, they immediately think of cruise ship access to popular Mediterranean sites such as Pisa, Florence, and a place to catch ferries to other popular Tuscan highlights. It is that, but so much more! This large commercial port on Italy’s western coast, surrounded by charming villages and Tuscany’s renowned wine country, is a cultural treasure in its own right. From breathtaking views and historical landmarks to succulent seafood and culture around every corner, Livorno is a captivating place to spend the day.
Visitors arriving to Livorno each year are greeted with the city’s intoxicating mixture of medieval, renaissance, and modern architecture. Those who stay in town are rewarded with a taste of authentic Italy without the typical tourist traps and crowds. Livorno is truly an untapped gem.
Livorno, Italy: More Than Just a Cruise Port
Livorno is a buzzy seaport full of multiethnic and multicultural delights, and it shows through the city’s architecture and food. Modern buildings and medieval fortifications welcome you at the shore, and a walk through town reveals the influence of Venice with its canals and renaissance-style buildings.
Foodies adore the fresh seafood and delightful variety of flavors from Italy, North Africa, and Spain. The city’s contemporary cultural scene dazzles with lively music festivals, art galleries, and theater. Popular pastimes include watching the ballet, listening to the orchestra, visiting the libraries, and relaxing at Fortezza Vecchia while listening to sultry soul and blues music.
Tourists and locals alike appreciate the easy access to many nearby tourist hotspots such as Pisa and Florence. It’s a great location for planning a wide variety of memorable day trips to add to your itinerary.
A Brief History of Livorno
What was once a sleepy fishing village around 1017 AD has slowly morphed over the centuries into the third largest city in Tuscany and a main central economic hub. Due to its strategic location, Livorno was a popular pawn throughout history between competing interests. It changed hands many times, from Pisa and Milan to the Genoese and the Florentines, then finally to the Kingdom of Italy in 1868.
During the late 1500’s Livorno became a well-regulated, duty-free port attracting many foreign merchants from all over Europe and putting down progressive roots by providing asylum for many settlers, including Roman Catholics from England as well as Jews that were expelled from Spain and Portugal. Further expansion and renovation came in the 17th and 18th centuries under the House of Medici dynasty in attempts to create an Ideal Town. Livorno later became a magnet for rich tourists and some of Italy’s first seaside resorts. In more recent years, the city suffered heavy casualties during World War II, and has undergone extensive renovations to date.
Livorno has had its share of notable residents through the years, including the painter Amedeo Modigliani; composer Pietro Mascagni; writer and politician Francesco Domenico Guerrazzi; Jewish painter and sculptor Amedeo Modigliani; and former President of the Republic of Italy Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.
Things to Do in Livorno
Sightseeing in Livorno is easy, thanks to the city center’s compact layout and the convenience of 24 hour hop on/hop off buses that will take you around to all of the landmarks and must-sees. Have your camera and a map of Livorno, Italy, in hand and you’ll be good to go!
Upon arrival at the port of Livorno, make your way to Fortezza Vecchia. Translated to “Old Fortress,” this imposing castle at the entrance to Quartiere Venezia faces the sea and has a unique history of its own.
The Mastio de Matilde is the fort’s iconic round tower and is one of oldest architectural remnants from the Middle Ages. Inside the fort’s walls you will find the little Cathedral de San Francisco, built in 1530 with high ceilings and varied altar styles. Climb to the top of the fort for fun views of the port and the postcard-perfect villages surrounding the city.
From there you can fan out into the pentagon-shaped harbor and visit the Museo Civico Giovanni Fattori inside the ornate Villa Mimbelli. Among the hundreds of 19th and 20th century art are paintings by Giovanni Fattori, a leader in the Macchiaioli school. This school of local painters incorporated early elements of Impressionism in their pastoral paintings years before the radical Impressionist movement exploded in France.
The waterfront Acquario di Livorno (Livorno Aquarium) is a family-friendly place full of amazing sea life; everything from seahorses and sea turtles to colorful fish, corals, octopus, and zebra sharks can be found here. Amphibians and reptiles make an appearance here as well. Be sure to take a walk through the touch pool, observe a recreated Roman shipwreck, then see an actual anthill where you can watch leaf-cutting ants at work.
Next door to the Acquario di Livorno you will find Terrazza Mascagni. Lovingly referred to as “the window to the sea” by the locals, this popular neoclassical-styled seafront promenade features a stunning black and white checkerboard walkway overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea. Stroll along the boardwalk or relax in the gazebo and watch the people and joggers go by.
The Mercado Centrale, housed in a 19th century building, is a lively grocery market bustling with 200 vendors known for their fresh produce and sizzling street food.
If sunshine and sand are calling your name, you are in luck! Livorno’s beaches are some of the most popular in Tuscany, complete with boardwalk cafes and incredible views.
In the heart of Livorno you’ll find Nuova Venezia, a Venetian-styled historic district. Here vendors offer boat rides along a system of canals built by Venetian craftsmen that were used to transport commercial goods during the Middle Ages.
Quick Side Trips From Livorno
Nestled in the hills above the city is the Santuario di Montenero, a small oratory in the Middle Ages that grew over time into a richly decorated Baroque basilica by 1818.
Get there via a three mile hike or take a funicular (cable railway) to the site to see a 14th century sacred painting of Madonna of Montenero. Legend has it that this patron saint of the region healed a shepherd who was limping up the hill with a painting of the Virgin Mary, and news of the miracle resulted in veneration of the painting from the locals to this day.
Here you will also find the Gallery of Ex-Votos with its multitude of fascinating objects including paintings, folk art, car parts, crutches, and clothing offered up in faith and gratitude for protection from shipwrecks and other accidents. Before leaving the area, take a few minutes to check out the ancient caves used as refuge for soldiers and bandits, and enjoy a birds-eye view of Livorno’s beaches and the city below.
Just south of Livorno lies Bolgheri, a hamlet in the Castagneto Carducci commune in the Tuscan wine region. This seaside town with its rich red wines and tall cypress trees beckons visitors to its wineries, medieval streets, and charming shops. Enjoy a luscious wine tasting and cellar tour, then head over to Castagneto Carducci and admire the centuries-old family Castle of the Gherardesca.
The iconic Leaning Tower of Pisa is a short train ride down the coast from Livorno to Pisa and is one of Tuscan area’s most popular attractions. The medieval bell tower in the Piazza del Duomo was constructed between 1173 to 1392 on an unstable foundation, causing the building to lean. Head to the top of the tower and hold on tight to the rails so you don’t slide! While in Pisa be sure to check out the Pisa Cathedral, Pisa Baptistry, and Palazzo dei Cavalieri.
Explore the birthplace of Renaissance with a drive out to the incredible city of Florence. Tuscany’s capital city is an art and architectural lover’s paradise with the iconic Duomo, Battistero di San Giovanni, and the Uffizi Gallery. Shoppers will enjoy hunting for treasures at the Ponte Vecchio bridge.
Livorno’s Sizzling Food Scene
In Livorno, seafood is king! Cacciucco, the city’s most popular dish, is made from a 500 year-old traditional recipe born out of resourcefulness by the local fishermen. This spicy, savory Tuscan take on fish stew warms the soul with its mix of 5 different seafoods and tomatoes served over garlic toast.
Carnivals are big in Livorno, and so is the Cenci that is sold there. These fried carnival pastries are fashioned out of dough, lemon zest, a splash of liquor (such as sambuca or brandy), dusted with powdered sugar, and are downright addicting.
The city’s number one street food is the Torta de Cici; these fried chickpea cakes are tucked away inside an airy focaccia bun, and can be made gluten free as well. Enjoy one with some spicy eggplant for a satisfying kick!
Other foods popular with the locals include lamb, chicken, cinghiale (wild boar), sea urchins, and octopus burgers on squid ink buns. Cardo della Val di Cornia is a native vegetable that looks like celery and tastes like artichokes; try it pickled, served as a spread, or breaded and fried. Top off your meal of choice with a foamy cappuccino or a scoop of delicious handmade gelato.
Lastly, you cannot leave Livorno without drinking its famous Ponce Livornese! This drink is a heady blend of rum (or cognac), sugar, lemon zest, and sassolino (a type of anise liquor. The decadent mixture is heated up then decorated with espresso shot, making it a Tuscan version of Irish coffee. Bottoms up!
Fancy a Visit?
From ancient fortresses and storied history to vibrant Italian culture and sumptuous seafood, Livorno has something for everyone. Contact us today and get ready to experience all this enchanting city has to offer.
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