Located on the west coast of central Italy, just south of Pisa, Livorno is one of Tuscany's economic hubs. It is known for its massive, modern seaport and medieval-era fortifications, and as a destination for freshly caught seafood. There are other appealing reasons to visit Livorno, including a lovely system of urban waterways, historic and contemporary museums, and vibrant nightlife. Many visitors arrive by cruise ship and consider Livorno a stopover to more popular destinations. But we suggest not rushing through Livorno and instead experiencing the charms of this lesser-known Italian coastal city.
Here are some of the best things to see and do in Livorno.
Stand Watch for Enemy Ships at the Old Fortress
During the Renaissance era, defensive bastions dotted the coastline of the Italian peninsula, from Sicily all the way to the border with France. Built to defend the city against invasions by nearby rivals or foreign enemies, the Old Fortress (Fortezza Vecchia) faced out onto the harbor, at the entrance to the Quartiere Venezia. It was designed in a pentagonal shape to give it an imposing presence. From inside its walls, you can enjoy amazing views of the city's canals and terracotta rooftops.
Learn About Coastal Life at the Natural History Museum
Besides an impressive collection of whale skeletons (one measuring almost 64 feet long), Museo di Storia Naturale del Mediterranean, originally opened in 1929, contains botanical gardens of Mediterranean coastal flora, an environmental education center, and a number of exhibits covering the Paleolithic and Neolithic periods.
Dive Into Livorno Aquarium
Acquario di Livorno (Livorno Aquarium) is located along the seafront promenade, Terrazza Mascagni. An ideal family destination, the Aquarium has 33 tanks, an entire floor devoted to insects, amphibians, and reptiles, plus an underwater tunnel, a touch pool, and the newest addition: an exhibit which allows you to marvel at the work ethic of the captivating leaf-cutter ants.
Take a Boat Ride Through Quartiere Venezia
Quartiere Venezia (Venice Quarter) is a unique, 17th-century neighborhood located in the historic center of the city. It's also referred to as Venezia Nuova (New Venice), for obvious reasons. The system of canals, common in Italy during the Middle Ages, was used to move products between merchants' homes and warehouses, and even today many residents still keep boats moored outside their houses. The Effetto Venezia (Venice Effect) festival celebrates this water-bound district.
Take a Side Trip to Pisa
Livorno makes a great seaside base for visiting Pisa, just a 17-minute train ride away. The Baptistry, Duomo (cathedral) and the Leaning Tower — an iconic symbol of Italy — are located in Pisa's Campo dei Miracoli (field of miracles). A definite "must-see", especially for those visiting the region for the first time, all three buildings are wonderful examples of 12th- and 13th-century Romanesque-style architecture, adorned with intricate, Arabic-style patterns and details.
Wander Among the Headstones at the Old English Cemetery
Located near Via Verdi, Livorno's Old English Cemetery is the oldest non-Catholic burial ground in Italy. Wander and read epithets of famous and not-so-famous travelers and expatriates of the era, such as Scottish writer Tobias Smollet, wealthy American businessman William Magee Seton, and many British and American sailors. Fortunately, the cemetery survived WWII with very little damage and is today one of Livorno's most interesting and tranquil places to visit.
People-Watch on Terrazza Mascagni
Terrazza Mascagni is a charming waterfront promenade that's buzzing with activity year-round. Paved in a black-and-white checkerboard pattern, it's lined with marble benches, restaurants, shops, and a grand gazebo. In the evening, Terrazza Mascagni is where locals and visitors, young and old, come to walk, people-watch, and to see and be seen!
Sample Cacciucco or Other Livornese Cuisine
In Livorno, seafood reigns, so it stands to reason that the city's best-known dish is cacciucco: a fish stew made with herbs and tomatoes spooned over garlic toast. Other gastronomic delights include recipes of lamb, cinghiale (wild boar), and fowl. For an after-dinner drink, try a heady ponce livornese: a mix of rum, cognac, sassolino (anise-flavored liqueur), lemon rind, sugar and a shot of hot coffee.
Stock Up at the Central Market
Livorno's traditional Central Market occupies a 19th-century building and houses more than 200 stalls and shops. There's a little bit of everything here, from ready-to-eat street food to the makings for a good ragu. Even if you're not grocery shopping, a spin through this lively market (closed on Sundays) offers a wonderful slice of Italian life.
Head to a Beach Bagni
While Livorno is not a great beach town, you can still spend a day at the sea here, at one of the many bagni, or seaside complexes south of the port. For a day-use fee, you can access small sandy areas for kids to play, along with sheltered swimming areas, lounge chair and umbrella rentals, snack bars and changing facilities.