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I was a bit worried before we arrived in Rapallo. I liked that the town was more popular with Italians than foreign visitors, and it was cheaper than elsewhere along the Italian Riviera, but I’d also heard mixed reviews with some people describing it as “gritty”.
I needn’t have worried. I loved Rapallo as soon as I took my first walk along the palm-tree-lined promenade.
It’s so colourful—the blue sea, the green mountain backdrop, the elegant hotels and villas painted terracotta and mustard and pink.
The marina at one end is home to fancy new yachts while at the other a tiny 16th-century castle juts out of the sea.
In this post, I share the best things to do in Rapallo, Italy including day trips along the Italian Riviera (including Cinque Terre), why I think it’s the perfect base for the Ligurian coast, and where to stay and eat.
At the end of the post, you’ll find a Rapallo map with all the mentioned attractions.
- Where is Rapallo Italy?
- Introducing Rapallo
- Day Trips from Rapallo
- Where to Stay in Rapallo
- The Best Rapallo Restaurants
- How to Get to Rapallo
- Rapallo Italy Map
- Is Rapallo Worth Visiting?
- More Italy Posts
Where is Rapallo Italy?
Rapallo is located in the region of Liguria on the Italian Riviera in northwestern Italy.
It’s south of Genova (known as Genoa in English) and north of the famous Cinque Terre, five picturesque coastal villages.
The nearest major city is Genova, which is about an hour away by train. Genoa Airport (GOA) is the nearest international airport.
See the How to Get to Rapallo section below for details on getting there by train and exploring the area by train and ferry.
Rapallo has a relaxed seaside holiday vibe with elderly Italians and families strolling along the promenade or sitting on a bench with a gelato and enjoying the view.
Maybe this is the secret to the long life expectancy of Italians—rather than being in old people’s homes, the elders are brought out into the sunshine with the family, even if they need a wheelchair to get around.
I could see why writers W.B. Yeats and Ezra Pound found the town so inspiring when they lived here in the 1920s. I’d only just arrived but I didn’t want to leave.
We hadn’t planned to do much on our first afternoon, but we were caught up in the summer vibe and hurried back to our apartment for our swimwear.
The coast is lined with lidos, private beaches where you pay to rent a sunbed and umbrella. We just wanted a quick swim so we walked further out of town until we found a public beach—a small pebbly cove down some stairs.
The water is lovely and clear once you leave the Rapallo bay behind and a refreshing swim was just what we needed after a morning on trains.
We didn’t have the beach to ourselves. Italian beaches are social occasions, not opportunities to escape it all. Friends and families chatted, played music, and smoked while they worked on their tans. You just have to embrace it.
My love for Rapallo grew the more we explored. One of the distinctive features of the Italian Riviera is the trompe-l’oeil or painted decorative details on buildings that trick the eye into thinking they’re real. Arches, portals, balustrades, and brickwork are all fake.
Some buildings even have artificial windows painted on the upper storeys. Apparently this was to avoid a building tax in the 18th century that was based on the number of windows.
Our cosy apartment was in the perfect location in the pedestrianised historic centre, a minute’s walk from the sea in one direction and the train station in the other.
I loved being in the heart of the action with locals crowded into the narrow lanes chatting, shopping for fresh pasta, eating gelato, drinking an aperitivo in a pavement cafe, or just strolling on the evening passeggiata.
Space is limited but it feels cosy rather than claustrophobic.
The food shopping alone made me want to return for a longer stay. Right around the corner was a vegetable market with pristine piles of tomatoes, melons, and porcini mushrooms.
In the other direction, a shop sold fresh pasta and homemade pesto—perfect for a quick and tasty meal.
Focaccia is a local speciality and every day the bakery tempted us in for another slice. Then there’s the gelato. So much deliciousness…
Day Trips from Rapallo
Rapallo was the perfect base for exploring the Italian Riviera.
During our week’s stay we walked to elegant Santa Margherita Ligure and glitzy Portofino, and we took the train all along the coast—to Cinque Terre where we hiked between the villages and Genova to visit the Aquarium and ancient centre.
Best of all, we took the train to Camogli, where we hiked to the gorgeous monastery and beach of San Fruttuoso and took the scenic ferry ride back to Rapallo.
Read our guide to the Italian Riviera for more details.
As much as we loved the other towns we visited, Rapallo felt like a much less touristy place to come home to.
A week wasn’t enough. There was still so much we wanted to do—take the cable car to Santuario Basilico di Montallegro for the views (one of the top things to do in Rapallo), visit the beach at Sestri Levante (one of the rare sandy beaches), do more hikes along the coast, and learn to cook Ligurian cuisine.
And there’s always more focaccia and pesto to be eaten.
Where to Stay in Rapallo
Renting a holiday home or apartment in Rapallo is one of the most affordable ways to experience the Italian Riviera.
Our Rapallo Apartment
We stayed in this one-bedroom apartment in the perfect location in the historic centre. It was very comfortable, cosy, and well equipped with a TV, fast WiFi, washing machine, and everything you need in the kitchen.
The downside is the cramped shower—you have to sit down in the bath if you are tall. The owner was really helpful and even sent his mum to meet us at the station (which is very close).
It was very affordable, but we paid a bit more to be close to the sea and train station. If you don’t mind walking 10-20 minutes, there are cheaper options on the outskirts. It’s not a big town so nowhere is very far.
If you are looking for a splurge, check out the 5-star Excelsior Palace Hotel. It has two infinity pools overlooking the sea that we gazed at longingly when we walked past.
You can also pay to use their Beach Club for the day—we regret not doing that.
More affordable options with central locations in Rapallo include:
- Hotel Vesuvio – You can’t beat the location of this lovely hotel right on the promenade. All rooms have wonderful sea views and balconies.
- Hotel Astoria – A friendly, family-run hotel across from the promenade with excellent reviews. Some rooms have sea views.
- Hotel Portofino – Affordable rooms in the heart of Rapallo.
The Best Rapallo Restaurants
Eating was a highlight of our Rapallo visit. The region of Liguria has a number of delicious, vegetarian-friendly specialities including:
- Trofie al pesto – Short twisted pasta with basil sauce.
- Pansoti alla salsa di noci – Cheese and spinach stuffed ravioli with a walnut sauce.
- Lasagne al pesto – Thin sheets of pasta with basil sauce (not like a thick typical lasagna).
See our Dos and Don’ts of Eating in Italy for what to expect from courses, cover charges, etc.
Here are the Rapallo restaurants and bars we recommend:
The Tossini bakery chain from the nearby village of Recco specialises in focaccia col formaggio, flatbread stuffed with oozing stracchino cheese.
It’s best eaten hot so look out for a fresh pan coming out of the oven.
We loved all their focaccia varieties and pizza slices. It’s ideal for breakfast, a light lunch, or afternoon snack. It’s close to the station.
Tossini is very popular so take a ticket and join the queue.
This excellent gelateria is near the castle. I loved the chocolate, pistachio, and melon flavours. It’s just a shame you have to pay extra for a decent cone.
Enoteca il Castello and Sole Bar
These two side by side bars are the perfect spots for a sunset aperitivo as they are right on the water away from the road and have a view of the castle. The free snacks with drinks are generous.
Hostaria Vecchia Rapallo
Hostaria Vecchia Rapallo is our favourite restaurant in Rapallo. The food is fancier than at the other restaurants we ate in and we liked the cave-like, old school atmosphere.
There are a number of vegetarian options and we especially enjoyed the spinach and zucchini torta with truffle carpaccio and the pear ravioli with cheese sauce and balsamic cream—the slight sweetness worked really well with the rich cheese.
They also offer 3-hour gourmet cooking classes where you can learn to make Ligurian dishes like pesto, lasagne, and stuffed vegetables, and enjoy a delicious meal of everything you created. They can cater for vegetarians.
Trattoria Ö Bansin
O Bansin is a simpler, cheaper Rapallo restaurant that dates back to 1907.
The breadsticks and olive oil in packets didn’t inspire us with confidence, but the pansoti was my favourite in Rapallo. Our trofie al pesto and melanzana parmigiana were also good.
Pomodoro E Basilico Pizzeria
For a quick, inexpensive meal in Rapallo, you can’t beat Pomodoro E Basilico’s margherita pizza (and there’s no cover charge).
It’s a basic takeout place with a few tables located a 10-minute walk outside the centre. The tasty pizza is Neapolitan style.
How to Get to Rapallo
Rapallo is easily reached by train from major Italian cities (and even France).
Rapallo is 1 hour from Genova, 2 hours 15 minutes from Milan, 3 hours from Florence (with a change in Pisa), and 4.5 hours from Rome.
You can find train times on TrenItalia (use Italian place names i.e Roma rather than Rome).
If you are travelling to Rapallo from further afield, you will need to book the faster Freccia trains online. You get given a PNR code which you can show the conductor on the train.
Regional trains are cheapest and don’t need to be booked in advance.
Santa Margherita Ligure (3 minutes away) and Camogli (8 minutes) can be reached quickly by train from Rapallo.
Rapallo to Cinque Terre
To get from Rapallo to Cinque Terre, you can take the train to any of the five villages, but some sections can be closed for hiking.
When we visited only the Monterosso-Vernazza-Corniglia section was open.
We took the early train to Corniglia with a change at Sestri Levante (1 hour 20 minutes total), walked to Monterosso via Vernazza, and took the train back (40 minutes direct from Monterosso to Rapallo).
Our post on the best things to do in the Italian Riviera has more information about Cinque Terre.
There’s also a limited ferry service from Rapallo to Cinque Terre from April to September.
There’s only one departure a day leaving Rapallo at 8.30am or 8.45am (depending on the route) with a return in the late afternoon. Bookings are required.
Rapallo to Portofino
There’s no train station in Portofino so we walked along the scenic coastline.
It took us 40 minutes to walk from Rapallo to Santa Margherita Ligure (you could also take the 3-minute train ride) and from there it’s just over an hour’s walk to Portofino.
You can also get a bus to Portofino, but they are always packed.
The ferry is a scenic (if more expensive) way to get from Rapallo to Santa Margherita, Portofino, and San Fruttuoso.
Line 1 of the Tigullio Ferry covers these destinations with ferries about once an hour from 9am to 5pm from May to September.
Timetables vary depending on the month and whether it’s a weekend or not. There are less frequent services in March, April, and October, and they close in the winter.
The Rapallo to Portofino ferry takes 30 minutes and it’s an extra 30 minutes to continue on to San Fruttuoso.
I recommend doing at least one ferry journey along the beautiful coast.
Walking to Portofino and then taking the ferry back to Rapallo is an ideal day out.
Rapallo Italy Map
This map shows the key places to visit in Rapallo (and nearby) as well as our favourite restaurants.
Is Rapallo Worth Visiting?
Yes, Rapallo is absolutely worth visiting! It’s beautiful, walkable, and has excellent food shops, restaurants, and a bustling historic centre.
It’s easy to explore the many towns, beaches, and hikes along the coast by train or ferry. I highly recommend Rapallo as your Italian Riviera base.
We loved our week there and are very tempted to return for a month or two.
If you have any suggestions on what to do in Rapallo, leave a comment below.
More Italy Posts
- 10 Best Things to Do in the Italian Riviera
- Hiking to San Fruttuoso: The Perfect Day on the Italian Riviera
- Finale Ligure, Italy: The Quiet Side of the Italian Riviera
Elsewhere in Italy
- 16 Unmissable Things to Do in Bologna
- The Best Restaurants in Varenna, Lake Como
- 10 Reasons to Visit the Langhe Wine Region in Piemonte
- 29 Unusual Things to Do in Rome to Escape the Crowds
- London to Italy By Train: Everything You Need to Know
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