La Spezia is a city close to the Cinque Terre. If you are driving from Rome, Tuscany or Venice, you have to drive through La Spezia to get to the Cinque Terre coastal road. If you are taking the train, you'll probably change trains at La Spezia Centrale station. The boats to the Cinque Terre also depart from La Spezia.
The city is quite big, with about 100,000 inhabitants. It has a beautiful location in the Gulf of La Spezia surrounded by green hills and with the view of the mountains in the background. It has one of the main Italian harbours and also the arsenal of the Italian Navy can be found here. La Spezia is a pleasant city, if you spend a longer holiday in the area, it's worth a visit. I actually like it because it is not a touristy place like Rome, Florence or Venice, although it has a castle, some churches, museums and nice Art Nouveau-style villas. I'd say it is an average Italian town with mainly local people around and everyday life going on. So it's actually fun to experience it. Instead of souvenir shops, you will find here stores for the inhabitants, so it's the perfect place to shop for clothes, shoes, books, Italian music CDs, etc.
What you surely should not miss is the local market. I just love this market. Besides fruits and vegetables, you can buy delicious local stuff: pesto, cheese, ham, olives, artichoke, anchovies, jam, honey, etc. There is also an important fish market here. I always buy the 5-liter box of wonderful ligurian olive oil here which comes from the nearby olive mill featured in our olive harvest video. If you are staying in a Cinque Terre apartment for several days, you should come here on your first day and do your food shopping, it is much cheaper than the village shops. Just to give you an example, 1 kg of pesto costs around 16 EUR here while you pay 48 EUR for the same in the Cinque Terre. The market is open every day except Sunday between 7AM and 1PM. If you enjoy good food and cooking, check out the "Cooking class with market visit" tour on the website, it takes place in La Spezia.
Another good place to visit is the harbour of La Spezia. There is a nice promenade along the sea with flowers, palm trees and nice villas. Cross the new modern bridge to Porto Mirabello, the harbour for super yachts. You can admire the luxury yachts, walk around in the shopping center, have a drink in one of the bars or relax in the beautifully located and expensive swimming pool. If you only come for a day, you can park your car here and take the boat to the Cinque Terre, Portovenere and Lerici. The Cinque Terre sailing tour that I recommend also starts from the port of La Spezia.
If you arrive with a cruise ship and only have a short day to visit the Cinque Terre, I can help you to make the most of your day, and offer you a local guide and private transport if necessary. If you arrive by car for a day, just park your car in La Spezia and take the train: Riomaggiore is only 9 minutes away. If you want, you can buy the Cinque Terre card at the station and there is also a National Park information office here. If you are travelling by train and only do a day trip to the Cinque Terre, you can leave your bags at the luggage deposit of La Spezia Centrale station.
You can even choose La Spezia as your home for your holiday, there are beautiful apartments for rent. Driving to La Spezia is not an issue, and you can easily reach from here not only the Cinque Terre, but also Portovenere, Lerici, Tellaro as well as other beautiful places in Liguria and Tuscany.