Things to do in Livorno will help you see this Italian town the way I managed to visit it. A lot of people don’t know much about the city but what if I tell you that it was founded by the Medici family in the 16th century and is widely known as the „Tuscan Venice“? It is well worth a visit.
Livorno Italy is situated in Tuscany about 20 kilometers from Pisa. It is the third most populous city in the region, right after Florence and Prato. This natural bay was swampy and deserted although the small coastal village was mentioned for the first time in the 12th century. It changed hands from one Italian republic to the next, being ruled by Lucca, Pisa, Milan, and Genoa. The name „Leghorn“, still used by the British, originates from the Genoa version of Ligorna.
All that changed rapidly when the ruling family of Florence decided to create an „ideal town” which was open to merchants from all over the world and tax-free. Those convicted for lesser offences were declared free in Livorno. The population thus grew multiple times and the town became an important and wealthy port. The city joined the Kingdom of Italy in 1868.
Things to do in Livorno
Not much is left from the pre-Medici period because their architects founded a new town that was going to be functional and good for business. Most of the things to do in Livorno include visits to landmarks that date back to their rule, although Livorno now represents one of the regular stops for large cruisers and is renowned for luxury mega yacht construction. Taking a ferry from Livorno is also the easiest way to get to Elba, Sardinia, or French Corsica.
So, the Medici family copied the plan of Venice and incorporated it into Livorno’s network of canals where more and more Jews, Greeks, Syrians, English, and Germans came to live. Merchants were able to pack goods into their boats and transport them directly to the port. The town prospered through time and we thus have these things to do in Livorno.
One can go through the neighborhood called Venezia Nuova on foot or on a boat tour. Bear in mind that there are no shades on the canal and bringing a hat and sun cream when coming during summer is essential.
Old and New Fortress
The so-called New Venice spreads from the Old Fortress (Fortezza Vecchia) dating back from the 16th century, dominated by the old tower remaining from the 11th-century castle, and situated in the port; and the New Fortress (Fortezza Nuova) that is built decades later on the artificial island surrounded by canals.
There is a nice park at the latter today where one can take a break from all the sightseeing. (It’s also a good opportunity to find some shade.)
When going around the port, there is one more of our things to do in Livorno spots that can be seen nearby. It is a visit to Terrazza Mascagni, a nice seafront where one can watch Mediterranean sunsets, stroll around, or have the famous specialty Cacciucco in one of the local restaurants. It is a special fish stew abundant with seafood.
Mascagni Terrace resembles a chessboard with over 34,000 black and white tiles. The area was occupied by an old military fort which was replaced by the famous Terrace in 1920. There is also a swimming area nearby that is frequent on Livorno’s coast, but the popular Aquarium as well which is an excellent idea if you are coming with kids.
Things to do in Livorno have to include a stroll along the famous Via Grande. The street is easy to visit because it connects the port, via Piazza Grande, and Republic Square. The Monument of the Four Moors is to be seen where the street begins, dedicated to the 16th-century Duke Ferdinand I. If you continue to walk up, you will come across the cathedral at the Piazza Grande. Its construction began at the end of the 16th century and is dedicated to Francis of Assisi. The cathedral was demolished during WWII but it was then renovated according to its original design.
This street is full of shops and restaurants. If you are into shopping, a covered pathway in front of the stores awaits you with various brands and Italian shoes to choose from. (It’s less pricy than Florence.) I was also drawn by local pastry shops offering all kinds of cannolis.
A visit to the Central Market has to be on the list of things to do in Livorno. This is the place to try local produce in a lovely 19th-century building. It will only take a few minutes to walk off Via Grande.
There are 200 shops and stalls in this market with various cheeses and salamis to taste. If you are heading to a beach, you’ll find snacks and fruit to bring. There are also nice wines to choose from. The smell of freshly-grained coffee was the thing that brought me to one of the shops. I tried a small tart-like pastry with cheese and rice filling, sprinkled with sugar that Italians bake for breakfast.
Piazza della Repubblica
With the sweet pastry in my hand, I came out to the vast Republic Square where monuments to Ferdinand III and Leopold II stood, the last 19th-century dukes of Tuscany. It takes time to go over the square, especially if it is sunny and hot outside.
The thing that was interesting was the fact that if you were touring Livorno canals by boat, you would go under the square, making it a vast bridge. It is surrounded by typical buildings with green shutters separated by numerous streets.
I went strolling along one of them trying to reach the central railway station of Livorno that was about 2 km away. It can be reached by bus, but I preferred a walk given the recognizable scenery of narrow Italian streets with cars parked on one side, motorbikes on the other, and laundry hanging from their windows.
I even saw a 19th-century park along the way and finally, came out to Stazione Centrale. Seeing this building could also be one of the things to do in Livorno since it is adorned with lovely arches inside.
My journey was to be continued beside the Pisa Leaning Tower. The train for Pisa is scheduled almost every five minutes while the train ride lasts about 15. By the way, if you are interested in taking a train to Florence, it will take less than 1 h 30 to get there, just so you know.
Next: WHAT TO SEE IN FLORENCE
The full ITALY SERIES