Santa Margherita Ligure: The Complete Guide

Santa Margherita Ligure is situated on the Gulf of Tigullio, nestled between Rapallo and Portofino.  Santa Margherita Ligure stands as one of Liguria’s most renowned and beloved tourist destinations, capturing the hearts of visitors from around the world. Nestled within a protective bay along the stunning coast, this coastal town is often referred to as the “Pearl of Tigullio.”

This charming resort town enjoys a prime location, offering a more tranquil atmosphere compared to the fashionable but busier Portofino. Life in Santa Margherita Ligure revolves around its picturesque harbour, adorned with palm trees, making it an ideal place for boating and leisurely sunbathing. Visitors can explore the town’s delightful shopping opportunities, savour delicious offerings at its charming cafes, and discover interesting landmarks, such as the 16th-century castle and the 17th-century Basilica di Santa Margherita.

Despite its vibrant atmosphere and the energy of summer, Santa Margherita Ligure remains distinguished by its enduring elegance, a legacy inherited from the belle époque. This blend of historical charm and lively contemporary appeal makes it a treasured destination that showcases the rich tapestry of Ligurian culture and allure.

Visiting Santa Margherita Ligure for the first time and wondering what are the top places to see in the city? In this complete guide, I share the best things to do in Santa Margherita Ligure on the first visit. Top help you plan your trip, I have also included an interactive map and practical tips for visiting!

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History of Santa Margherita Ligure

The roots of Santa Margherita’s history run deep, tracing back to the ancient days of the Roman era. Throughout the ages, its path was marked by turbulence, including destruction, reconstruction, and the repeated conquests by marauding Saracen pirates.

During the early medieval period, the Ligurian coastline faced the constant threat of raids by Barbary pirates originating from North Africa. Santa Margherita was a part of the Republic of Genoa, one of the wealthiest city-states of the era, making it a prime target for hostile incursions by rival city-states like Venice. Many centuries later, the region came under the control of Napoleon Bonaparte.

In 1861, Santa Margherita became a part of the newly unified Italy. However, the town’s most transformative period occurred when the Genoa-to-Pisa train line was extended to Santa Margherita. This connection opened up the Gulf of Tigullio, with its stunning natural beauty and architectural charm, to the world.

The reputation of the Gulf of Tigullio quickly spread, attracting a wave of mid-20th-century travellers seeking the sun and relaxation. Santa Margherita’s grand hotels hosted numerous famous figures, including Friedrich Nietzsche, Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, and many others.

Following World War II and particularly during the 1960s, Santa Margherita, like many other enchanting places in Liguria, witnessed an unprecedented surge in tourism. This era marked the zenith of its popularity, setting the stage for its status as a vibrant and bustling town, particularly during the summer months. The beachfront is adorned with bathing establishments, while the streets come alive with bars and restaurants that cater to both locals and visitors alike.

3 Best places to See in Santa Margherita Ligure

This complete guide to Santa Margherita Ligure not only tells you about the very best sights and tourist attractions for first-time visitors to the city but also provide insights into a few of our personal favorite things to do.

This is a practical guide to visiting the best places to see in Santa Margherita Ligure and is filled with tips and info that should answer all your questions!

Basilica of Santa Margherita (Santa Margherita Ligure)

Basilica Di Santa Margherita Ligure
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Dapa19
The Basilica of Santa Margherita Vergine e Martire, also known as the sanctuary of Nostra Signora della Rosa, is a Catholic place of worship situated in the municipality of Santa Margherita Ligure, in Piazza Caprera, within the metropolitan city of Genoa. This church serves as the parish seat of Santa Margherita d’Antiochia within the Rapallo-Santa […]
Location: Nostra Signora della Rosa, Piazza Caprera, Santa Margherita Ligure, Metropolitan City of Genoa, Italy | Distance: 0.10km
Visiting Basilica of Santa Margherita (Santa Margherita Ligure)

Santa Margherita Ligure Castle

Castello Santa Margherita Ligure
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Parma1983
The Santa Margherita Ligure fortress, situated at the base of a hill upon which the Villa Durazzo-Centurione now stands, was constructed in response to a resolution by the Senate of the Republic of Genoa in the year 1550. Its primary purpose was to safeguard against the threat of raids launched by Barbary pirates. This defensive […]
Location: Santa Margherita Ligure Castle, Salita al Castello, Santa Margherita Ligure, Metropolitan City of Genoa, Italy | Distance: 0.20km
Visiting Santa Margherita Ligure Castle

Villa Durazzo, Santa Margherita Ligure

Villa Durazzo Centurione Santa Margherita Ligure
CC BY-SA 42.0 / Parma1983
Villa Durazzo-Centurione, nestled within a single expansive complex featuring two villas, a castle, and a splendid seventeenth-century park adorned with an Italian-style garden and meandering paths made of traditional Ligurian cobblestones known as “risseu,” stands as a symbol of pride for the city of Santa Margherita. This grand villa holds a distinguished place within the […]
Location: Villa Durazzo, Via San Francesco D'Assisi, Santa Margherita Ligure, Metropolitan City of Genoa, Italy | Hours: Daily 9.00-13.00 & 14.00-17.00 | Price: €5.50 | Website | Distance: 0.30km
Visiting Villa Durazzo, Santa Margherita Ligure

Best Time to Visit Santa Margherita Ligure

Santa Margherita Ligure offers visitors a pleasant climate throughout the year, making it an ideal destination for various activities such as walking, exploring nearby towns, and enjoying water sports.

Visiting Santa Margherita Ligure in Winter & Autumn

This favourable climate attracts tourists from the UK and Northern Europe during the winter months when they seek respite from the harsh weather in their home countries. Since the 1920s, the town and its neighbouring resorts have been a popular choice among writers and artists looking to escape the northern winter. Some tourism-related services are limited during this period, and the availability of ferry services may be affected by adverse weather conditions.

Visiting Santa Margherita Ligure in Spring

Spring in Santa Margherita Ligure is truly remarkable, with an explosion of vibrant plant collections and gardens that come to life, creating a breath-taking spectacle throughout the town. To celebrate the arrival of spring and usher in a lively summer season, Santa Margherita organizes the Festa di Primavera every year in February. This festival features delicious food, entertaining beach gatherings, and nightly events with bonfires on the beach. As a symbolic gesture that winter is over, two puppets are burned in the bonfire. Along the seaside promenade and on the beach, you can find refreshments and snacks, creating a festive and joyful atmosphere.

Visiting Santa Margherita Ligure in Summer

The early part of June and the late days of September tend to be the quieter periods within the summer months. On the other hand, July and August are the busiest months and offer the most extensive range of events and ferry services.

Average Temperatures in Santa Margherita Ligure

  • January 12°C 17
  • February 13°C 18
  • March 15°C 15
  • April 18°C 12
  • May 22°C 12
  • June 25°C 8
  • July 28°C 4
  • August 28°C 7
  • September 25°C 13
  • October 21°C 23
  • November 15°C 28
  • December 12°C 22

How to get to Santa Margherita Ligure

Getting to Santa Margherita Ligure by Plane

There are no airports located in Santa Margherita Ligure or Rapallo. Instead, the nearest airports are situated in major cities, including Genoa, Milan (including Bergamo), Turin, Pisa, Parma, Bologna, and more. The closest airport to Santa Margherita Ligure and Rapallo is in Genoa, with Milan, Bergamo, Turin, and Pisa also being convenient options for travelers.

Getting to Santa Margherita Ligure by Train

Santa Margherita Ligure’s train station is conveniently located in the town and offers excellent connections to the rest of Italy. It is situated on the main railway line between Pisa and Genoa, making it easily accessible from major cities like Rome and others. Depending on your route, you might need to change to a local or stopping train at a nearby station, such as Chiavari. However, local buses are available right outside the station, and the seafront and various hotels are within a short walking distance, making it convenient for travelers to access their accommodations and explore the town.

Getting to Santa Margherita Ligure by Ferry

Passenger ferries, while not particularly cheap, provide a convenient way to connect Santa Margherita Ligure with other coastal resorts. These ferry rides offer a great opportunity to explore the picturesque coastline and enjoy the scenic views. For example, the short trip to Portofino costs €8 for a return ticket and takes just a few minutes, making it an easy and enjoyable way to reach this nearby destination. Longer excursions down to the Cinque Terre are also available, offering a full-day adventure to explore the charming villages of the region. Keep in mind that these extended trips may not be offered every day, and their availability can vary, especially during the winter months when service frequencies are reduced. Nonetheless, even in the winter, boats maintain connections between Rapallo, Santa Margherita Ligure, Portofino, and San Fruttuoso, ensuring that visitors can enjoy these coastal destinations year-round.

Tours and Activities from Santa Margherita Ligure