La Spezia is the gateway to some of the most
romantic of Italy's villages - the Cinque Terre,
but don't overlook La Spezia itself ......
a lovely town on the Bay of Poets!
The charms of the Cinque Terre are usually reached through the port of La Spezia, although some tours go from Livorno, farther south, and Genoa to the north. The five villages farther up the rugged coast are definitely worth seeing - but if you have been there before, you have a chance to really visit La Spezia.
La Spezia is a major commercial port and an important Italian naval base. It has a large natural deep-water bay, and because the sea is of importance to the citizens, a good part of the shoreline has been made into a beautiful park.
Step 1 - the waterfront
The cruise dock, called Molo Garibaldi, is in the commercial port area. Buses go on the dock for your excursions, but you can't walk to town. There is a shuttle that will take you to the Cruise Port Terminal, which is between the commercial docks and the waterfront park.
Come out of the cruise port terminal area and turn left - the parks and waterfront are right there. The waterfront is lined with palm trees, and behind the palms are shaded lawns and flower beds, mostly roses. Just before you come to the end of the park, the ferries to the Cinque Terre are docked. (More about that on the Cinque Terre page.)
At the end of the waterfront park, turn left, and ahead of you is the new Thaon di Revel bridge, a charming, beautifully designed pedestrian bridge. One section rises to allow taller boats to go through.
Step 2 - from the waterfront to the market
From the Thaon di Revel bridge and the end of the waterfront park - go straight up the street. This is Via Prione, the main shopping street and a pedestrian thoroughfare. La Spezia was bombed heavily in WWII, so much of what you see is reconstruction. This has made the architecture very eclectic - with 14th century buildings (there aren't many) that survived the bombing next to others built in the 1800's that also survived, many from both eras rebuilt as they were before the destruction - and occasional modern glass structures.
Walk through the park to the stop light, and then continue straight through the park area and about six short blocks more to a triangular square (?), where the building on the north side is at an angle. Turn left here, and go down the narrow street for a short distance to a larger open area.
This the Abbey Church of Santa Maria Assunta. Several earlier churches stood on this spot. The building of an important church began in 1443 and was almost totally destroyed in the WWII bombing with only the bell tower and part of the presbytery remaining. There is some lovely painting and sculpture in the church.
Walk across in front of the church and the attractive rose-coloured building beside it and turn right.
In two short blocks you come to the market. Every morning except Sunday there are vegetables and fruit sold here. The local people buy their food as fresh as possible, so shop every day. The market is attractive, with its wavy roof lines and glass. Italian markets are always colourful and fun!
Step 3 - from the market to the castle
Walk up the street where you entered the market, with the market on your left. Go two short blocks to Via Prione and turn right. Then turn left where you see stairs - yes, a lot of stairs, and at the top you are about the height of the four story buildings below. Then, across the street are more stairs, and then turn right to the castle entrance. This is the red line - but thankfully, there is a better way!
The second choice is much more interesting! Turn right and walk a long block to an elevator (picture right). Then, go across the street to a funicular - sort of a combination of a glass elevator and a funicular that takes you to the street above (picture below). The elevator/funicular is free and you just get in and push a button, and up it goes. Worth a ride! At the top there are good views over the city, and the entrance to the castle is across the street. The picture below shows where you enter the funicular, next to some ruins of ancient buildings. A section of the old city wall crosses the street just ahead of you, and runs down the hill.
The Castello di San Giorgio has a museum, with artifacts found locally from prehistoric times to the Roman era.
There is a small charge to go into the castle, and a bit more to see the museum. There are wonderful views from the castle
William Domenichini, La Spezia - Castel S.Giorgio, CC BY-SA 3.0
Step 4 - from the castle to the cruise port terminal
When you leave the castle, turn left and walk under the city wall. About a city block further, there are stairs down to the street below. See the photo below - the view from the top of the stairs. Once on the stairs, go straight to the waterfront and turn left to the cruise port terminal.
If you want to take the funicular/elevators down - at the bottom turn left and take the curved street to Via Manzon..... see the red line.