Most visitors arrive in the city of Livorno by cruise ship, ready to head out into the surrounding Tuscan countryside or to the nearby cities of Florence and Pisa. Don’t get me wrong, it makes sense that you’d want to head further afield to the more interesting, classically beautiful places. But what should you do in Livorno? If you find yourself visiting Livorno on the regular like I did, or if you arrive in the city and just don’t feel like travelling far, it’s fully worth dedicating some time to exploring. There are some really beautiful parts of the city to be found, and some delicious things to eat, and as well as getting into the best day trips from Livorno, I’d like to open your eyes to what gems there are to be found within this lesser-known city’s proverbial walls.
The story of the city
Livorno is one of Italy’s most important ports, and although it had been around for centuries before the Medici family got involved in things, it was under the direction of those Medicis that things really took off for Livorno. (The Medici family, in case you’re not already aware, were the folks who ran things in the Republic of Florence for donkeys years; bankers by trade who also provided the Catholic Church with several popes, and pretty much financed the entire Renaissance in some way or other. Powerful folk, you know?)
In the late 1580s, the Medicis declared Livorno a free port- aka DUTY FREE, BIG SPENDERS!! Which basically made it one of the most attractive and successful ports ever, drawing new residents from all over the world, as is common with most port cities. A large Jewish community formed here, and there’s still a ginormous and very futuristic-looking synagogue in the centre of town today. They’re all about that multi-cultural lifestyle, you know? Despite this multiculturalism, it seems that the English just couldn’t get a true grasp of the name ‘Livorno,’ and the city was known as ‘Leghorn’ for many a year. Weird.
The name has worn off over time (thank goodness for that, as it just makes me think of Foghorn Leghorn the giant chicken from Looney Tunes, and that’s not a sophisticated mascot for an Italian city to have is it?), but the port of Livorno continues to welcome in many a visitor, whether arriving by road, cruise ship or ferry from Sardinia and Corsica.
Little baby Venice
Guys!! It’s totally possible to visit canals outside of Venice!! The canals of Livorno might not have quite the same romantic effect as their Venetian cousins, but the pastel coloured buildings reflecting in the waterways here are still rather on the pretty side.
The area is known as La Venezia, and it was constructed during the time of the Medici family’s rule. The weird thing about these picturesque canals is that I never really saw many people strolling around here, despite the fact that it’s rather on the beaut side. Every now and then you might spy a small bar in a wall by the waterside with a couple of fishermen smoking outside, but overall this is quite the tranquil location.
Related: Going Solo in Venice
Plonked smack bang in the midst of all this Canal action, is La Fortezza Nuova, a 15th Century pentagonal fort complete with gun parts and guard towers. Nowadays the fort is actually not very well kept, but it still makes an intriguing wander if you’re into semi-abandoned places. The city of Livorno has attempted to turn the fort into a public park, however there could definitely be more of an effort made to keep it in a decent condition; maybe it gets looked after better in Summer but in wintertime it was all threadbare grass and random bits of chain fencing. Poor old thing.
Even if semi-abandoned-semi-falling-down fortresses aren’t your thing, the great thing about La Fortezza Nuova is that it has a great view of the canals and the colourful houses that line them.
Related: What to do in Le Marche, Italy
Where to eat in Livorno
The first time we arrived at the port in Livorno, we headed straight to the city in an attempt to locate something to eat. Unfortunately for one of our trio, he happened to be on a diet at the time. Very sad times, my friends!! Do not be on a diet in Italy, it just won’t do you any good!! We located the best pasticerria in Livorno- Pasticerria Caffeteria Cristiani 3.0– and ordered ten miniature sweet TREATS. I was in heaven. As our third man is a dedicated fellow, he opted to watch the other two of us splitting the tiny cakes and pastries between us, rating each and every one of them. I’d imagine it was like torture but I was very impressed how strong-willed he was throughout the entire debacle, until we had whittled it down to a winning cake and declared that he HAD TO TRY IT, ASAP.
When it comes to specific food from Livorno, in classic Italian port fashion, seafood is top quality here. Muscles, mullet, oysters or cod; you name it, they have it, all for sale down at Il Mercato Centrale in the middle of the city. And if you’re in a restaurant the most classically Livornese dish to eat in Livorno is probs Cacciucco- a hearty stew traditionally made from the unsold fish left at the market at the end of the day. Waste not want not, after all.
For amazing ice cream head to the Gelateria Latte and Co. (I highly recommend the fig and ricotta gelato- it’s a keeper), and obviously I’m gonna have to pop a pizza restaurant in here as well; it’s Italy after all. Pizzeria 10 Piu’ 10, on the Piazza della Repubblica, is AWESOME. And also cheap as chips.
In stark contrast to the amazing pizzas I ate at Pizzeria 10 Piu’ 10, ironically this little Tuscan town also helped me to experience the worst pizza I have ever eaten in MY ENTIRE LIFE. Who’d have thought it?
Christmas Day in Livorno, ft. The worst pizza in Italy
It was Christmas Day, I was feeling mildly weird about being on a ship in Italy for Christmas, and so my pal declared that we would go outside and find a restaurant for a hearty Christmas Day meal!! I was doubtful that anywhere would be open, and in all honesty quite reluctant about the whole idea, but the majority of the other nationalities of people I work with onboard don’t actually celebrate on the 25th December; they were rather shocked at the fact that the streets were empty and everywhere seemed to be closed. But. We kept on hunting, and eventually we discovered one tiny, family-run restaurant in a little back street, with noise and laughter and all sorts of celebratory sounds coming from within it. Success!
A waiter in his early sixties said he could seat us, the only non-Italian people in the entire restaurant, at a table by the fridge. I appreciated this highly; it was truly offered to us in the spirit of Christmas! Looking around, it was obvious that everyone else in the restaurant had booked a set meal, mostly large families consisting of three or four generations, all gesturing excitedly at each other as they spoke, kids darting across the floor and tripping up waiters and waitresses left right and centre. The only exception to the large family rule was one old man sat at a table not far away from ours, dressed in his best suit and working his way contentedly through every single course, washed down with all the wine. I admired his style- dressing up and taking himself out for Christmas dinner. Seems like something I’d do.
We ordered pizzas, mainly as it was the only thing on the menu if we hadn’t booked in advance, and sat back soaking in that Christmassy cheer.
Half an hour later, we were still soaking up the Christmassy cheer, although our stomachs were beginning to make confusing noises in all the hubbub. Our waiter arrived, presented us sheepishly with our meals, and gave an apologetic shrug before he walked away in a hurry. We looked down at our pizzas, saw that they were two perfectly round pieces of charcoal with a few shrivelled toppings fighting to stay alive in the middle, and burst out laughing. I managed to snap the crust of mine after a few seconds of brute force and then discovered that it made a really nice ‘clink’ sound whenever I tapped it against the plate. What a musical delight!!
So there you go pals- just because you’re in Italy doesn’t guarantee you’re going to get a good pizza.
The best day trips from Livorno
Tuscany was basically the epicentre of the Renaissance-universe, so there are several beautiful Renaissance cities within easy reach of the port; and obviously the Tuscan countryside is a beauty in its own right. Just a word of advice for you pals- if you’re arriving in Livorno by cruise ship, don’t get ripped off by a tour either offered to you by the ship or on land: get the train instead. It’s cheaper by miles, and you’ll have loads more time to explore at your own pace.
The port provides shuttles to take you from Livorno port to the city centre, and from there it’s around a 30 minute walk to the train station, or if you don’t fancy a stroll then buses go from the city to Livorno Centrale regularly. (If you really don’t want to faff around with buses and shuttles and using your legs, then a taxi from the port to Livorno Centrale will cost around €20 each way.)
Livorno to Pisa
The journey from Livorno to Pisa by train takes around fifteen minutes and costs €2.60 each way by train. The Leaning Tower is obviously a classic landmark which I’m sure everyone feels they should see at some point in their life, but what really makes this place special for me is the town itself. The tiny alleyways and grand squares that suddenly open up out of nowhere are just lovely, and the Autumnal colours of the buildings made me feel as if I was walking in an illustration.
Livorno to Florence
To get from Livorno to Florence by train takes around an hour and a half and costs about €10 each way. Don’t get me wrong, you still won’t have all the time in the world to explore the city, but if you leave early enough you’ll get a pretty good shot at it, and luckily Florence’s train station is located right in the centre of all the action. When I visited it was so freezing cold that I thought my head was on the brink of falling off, but it was still worth it to see the beautiful architecture of the place.
Related: One day in Florence
Livorno to Lucca
And my favourite of all the day trips: Livorno to Lucca. Lucca was the most peaceful place I visited the entire time I was working on the Western Mediterranean cruise, the city of a thousand towers with barely a soul to be seen between them all. We actually managed to fit in some time in Pisa before we went on to Lucca- you have to change trains in Pisa, so it makes the route a little more challenging if you’re not a big train-traveller- but it just goes to show how far you can get in one day if you put your mind to it. In Autumn when we were there, it seemed as if we were the only visitors the city had all day, and I really appreciated roaming the streets in complete and utter silence. It was full. On. Magical.
Related: One Day in Lucca, Tuscany