Viareggio Guide: Everything You Need to Know about One of Italy's Favorite Beachtowns in Tuscany?
Updated: May 5, 2022
Tuscany is a multifaceted region with so much to offer. So many of us think of cypress tree-lined gravel roads cutting through rolling green hills with olive trees and row after row of grapevines. Did you know Tuscany also boasts 162 miles of coastline with quaint little resort villages? And Viareggio is one of them. This guide includes restaurants, hotels, and activities that will give you a good start for your visit to the Tuscan seaside.
Viareggio is a seaside town on the north-western coast of Tuscany, in the area known as Versilia. It is the second-largest city in the province of Lucca (Lucca being the largest) and is approximately an hour and 20-minute drive from Florence. Coincidently a train ride clocks in at an hour and 30 minutes and costs as little as 10 euros.
A little bit of history
In the late 15th century Lucca successfully claimed the coastline from Pisa and Genoa. Torre Matilde was built around 1530 to better protect the harbor, its incoming goods from the sea, and its wealthy period of flourishing trades. The Lucchese turned Viareggio into a great port city for Lucca. The beginning of the 17th century saw the town grow in world popularity when the Duchess Maria Luisa di Borbone decided to commission the first sea resort to be built. Many artists and poets followed: Percy B. Shelley (he has a piazza dedicated in his honor), Lord Byron, Manzoni, Puccini, and D’Annunzio enjoyed the beauty of the seaside village.
Most of the town's architecture was lost in the 2nd World War when it took on heavy bombing. Torre Matilde and Palazzo Fanucci Bernardini Mansi (1700) are only a few of the historical buildings that survived. But there are many buildings representing Liberty Architecture (Italian phrase for Art Nouveau) to be enjoyed as you stroll through town. One of the most captivating and wonderful examples of the local liberty architecture is the Gran Cafè Margherita.
You may even enjoy a visit to Villa Paolina - which used to be the Paolina Borghese’s (the sister of Napoleone Bonaparte) summer home, it is now home to the Musei Civici di Villa Paolina (Villa Paolina Civic Museums).
The other event that made Viareggio world famous is its annual Carnevale and it is possibly the most famous in Italy- after the Venice Carnivale of course. This major month-long event attracts a large crowd with street parties day and night, parades of floats, masquerade balls, and festivities of all kinds. The first parade was organized in 1873 by some rich bourgeois to protest, in an ironic way, the high taxes they had to pay. Now the townspeople turn their artistic ways to poking fun at celebrities and politicians. The daytime parades with floats are followed by evening parties called "veglioni colorati" in which everyone dresses in a specific color and according to the announced theme. Sounds like a perfect time for people watching and mingling with everyday Italians!
Finding a room for Viareggio's Carnevale is hard unless you book way in advance. If you miss the event and/or just want to enjoy the resort city without the crowds, you can still get your Carnevale fix by visiting the Carnival Museum inside the Cittadella (the Carnival Town) designed by the architect Francesco Tomassi. (more info below)
Why people come to Viareggio: The beaches
Local beaches bookend the 3km long promenade. In between are more than 15 beach clubs (Bagno, s. Bagni, pl.) where you pay for a spot on the beach with sun loungers and an umbrella. The price of the rental also includes access to the beach club's private showers, bathrooms, changing rooms, and beach bar. NOTE: most of the good sunbed locations (think closest to the water and/or bar) are bought up by season pass holders and reserved all year long regardless of whether the owners are there or not. So please do not think the beach club staff are being mean to tourists by putting them in the back. If you smile and ask politely they will do their best to make you happy.
The town comes alive May 1st when the tourist season starts. I was there at the end of April with no crowds and availability in all hotels that were opened (some don't open until May or June).
One downside to the lack of crowds means the beach clubs aren’t open yet. So if you want to lay on the sand you will have to bring a towel and head to the public beaches. If you are like me and not a fan of sand but want the sun and the sound of the sea waves crashing the rocks or shoreline, head a little farther south past the public beach to the harbor (you can’t miss it). There are two walkways that stretch out to the end of the harbor. Both have wide walls with built-in circular benches large enough to layout on. Of course, the concrete is a lot harder than the sand so choose your spot wisely and enjoy the sun and sea as you prefer.
Thursday is market day in Viareggio where all the shopkeepers bring their products to you. If you want to shop on the promenade (mornings only), you will find souvenirs, clothes, and trinkets in these stalls. If you travel a few blocks inland you will find the neighborhood market (7AM-2PM) where you can find almost anything you can think of. Be sure to wear your walking shoes as it is massive.
Fair warning: as with other international resort towns (think Cabo, South Beach, Ibiza) Viareggio is expensive. But with the right research, flexibility, and some extra walking, you can find what you need at any budget.
Hotel Plaza e de Russie
Piazza Massimo D'Azeglio, 1
Address: Viale Daniele Manin, 16
Grand Hotel Principe di Piemonte (closed from November - May)
Address: Piazza Giacomo Puccini, 1
Gran Cafè Margherita
Address: Viale Regina Margherita 30
Open: Daily 8AM - Midnight
Address: Via Giuseppe Barellai, 13
Open: Thursday 7:30-9:45PM
Open: Friday and Saturday 12:30-2:30PM, 7:30-9:30PM
Open Sundays 12:30-2:30PM
Address: Via Michele Coppino, 118
Open Wednesday - Monday 12:30-2:30PM, 7:30-10PM
La Terrazza Rooftop Bar (closed from November - May)
Address: Piazza Giacomo Puccini, 1
Open Daily 7-11PM
Address: Via Santa Maria Goretti, 5
Closed Monday and Tuesday
Open Wednesday - Friday 3-7PM
Open Saturdays 9-1PM, 3-7PM
Open Sundays 9-Noon
The Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art
Address: Palazzo delle Muse, Piazza Giuseppe Mazzini
Closed Monday and Tuesday
Open Wednesday - Saturday 3:30-7:30PM
Open Sundays 9:30-1:30PM, 3:30-7:30PM
Worth the walk
Food in the harbor area and farther south are noticeably cheaper than on the promenade. Walk to the south end and enjoy the sunset views from the harbor.
February- Carnevale. As I stated above if you plan to stay in the main city center and Promenade area, it is a good idea to book your hotel a year in advance.
August- Italians head to the beach. This means a packed resort town, with lots of congestion. Pack your patience, if you decide to brave the crowds.
If you want to visit Viareggio, but prefer a guided experience, you can join one of my Authentic Tuscany Tours that includes 2 nights in Viareggio.
Let me know if you have been to Viareggio before by posting your thoughts in the Comment section below.