What comes to your mind when you hear the name Portofino?
Well, some of you will think of the Ferrari Portofino but many will think of something quaint, romantic and fancy but probably don’t know exactly what to expect.
This is why we decided to tell you in this article all that you need to know before visiting Portofino.
Go ahead and read our ultimate guide to experience Portofino like a local.
Where is Portofino located?
Portofino is located in the Liguria region, aka the Italian Riviera, that stripe of land that stretches from the French border to Tuscany, in the northern part of Italy.
Portofino is not only the name of the famous village but also designates the beautiful promontory called Monte di Portofino, on whose coast the small village is located.
We are between Genoa, the main town in the Region (definitely worth a visit by the way), and the famous Cinque Terre.
What does Portofino mean?
The origins of Portofino date back to Roman times.
The bay of Portofino in fact was one of the few safe shelters on the Ligurian coast.
Even today, you will find that it is so well sheltered that it looks like a lake. In addition to being safe and beautiful, the bay also was populated by dolphins and the name Portofino derives from Latin Portus Deplhini, the port of the dolphins.
Fortunately, even today, thanks to the establishment of the Marine Reserve, the area is rich in fish fauna and is perfect for diving and snorkeling.
What’s is Portofino like?
Many ask us if one day is enough to visit Portofino … you must know that the village itself is very small.
Portofino looks like a crescent of colored houses gathered around the small harbor.
It is dominated by the church of San Giorgio and by the Castello Brown that overlooks the bay from above. All the rest are wonderful villas hidden in the Mediterranean scrub.
The beating heart of Portofino is the famous “Piazzetta” (small square) that overlooks the water. It is a place to enjoy minute by minute, without rush, and savoring the special atmosphere that pervades it.
What is Portofino famous for?
Portofino is famous for its unique beauty that combines the quintessence of Mediterranean nature with one of the most picturesque landscapes on the Italian coast.
But Portofino is also known as VIP’s resort.
Thanks to its privileged but somewhat isolated position (easily reachable by yacht), at the end of the 19th century, the village was “discovered” by some English aristocratic who made it their “buen retiro” building the first luxurious villas such as “Villa Altachiara “.
In the 1950s the village became the summer place of the Roman Dolce Vita, with actors such as Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, Clark Gable and Ava Gardner.
What to visit in Portofino?
Fill your eyes with the beauty of the place, stroll along the quays admiring the luxurious yachts on one side and the boutiques of the most famous fashion designers on the other.
Although we must admit the place invites to idleness. Before you sit at the table to people-watch while sipping a glass of wine, don’t miss the walk to the Church of San Giorgio. It’s only a few minutes!
From here, you will enjoy one of the best views of the village. Arriving at the church, you can enjoy the panorama of the spectacular wild coast that looks out to the open sea.
If you feel like walking 10 more minutes, continue on the path to the left of the church.
You will stroll through lush gardens and enchanting villas with unmissable views and you will arrive at Castello Brown, the fortress that dominates the village.
We advise you to continue your walk to the lighthouse where you can enjoy an aperitif in a truly unique location.
What to do in Portofino?
Portofino is the perfect place to relax between a cappuccino in the Piazzetta and some shopping in the exclusive boutiques.
If you want to enjoy the atmosphere of the Dolce Vita to the fullest, we recommend a private boat tour that will allow you to admire the village from the sea, discover the beautiful coast of the Marine Reserve and swim in the most hidden coves. Here we explain how to enjoy at best your boat tour.
Do you want to add a special touch? Let yourself be tempted by an aperitif in one of the most spectacular gardens in Italy. That of the Cervara Monastery.
If you like outdoor activities, this is your paradise.
The park of the Portofino promontory offers a network of magnificent paths suspended between land and sea. Discover our tips for hiking in Portofino Natural Park.
And what about enjoying a bike ride immersed into the Mediterranean scrub, ending with a gourmet stop at an old mill?
If you are a water person, don’t miss a kayak excursion that will let you discover this amazing stretch of coast from a different perspective.
And to relax and sunbathe?
Well, Portofino does not have a beach but here you can find our suggestions on the best places to swim and the best beaches in Portofino and surroundings
Is it possible to go from Portofino to the Cinque Terre by boat?
Many guests ask us this question and yes, of course, it is possible but we wouldn’t do it.
Why? Well, the Cinque Terre are not that close and to reach them it takes almost 2 hours with a fast motorboat, and two more on the way back. Without stopping along the coast.
Therefore the journey could be a bit boring and tiring.
Better to explore the beautiful Gulf of Portofino by boat and, another day, reach the Cinque Terre by train or with a private transfer and start your boat ride directly from Monterosso or La Spezia.
Where to eat in Portofino?
Portofino is the perfect place for a romantic dinner and a “pieds dans l’eau” lunch.
The restaurants overlooking the Piazzetta and the piers are all very good even if quite expensive. We particularly like La Taverna del Marinaio that serves excellent fresh local fish.
If you want to enjoy the most bucolic part of Portofino you can have an excellent lunch based on 0Km products in an ancient mill right above the village. A perfect place also for a cooking class to learn how to prepare typical recipes of the area.
A delicious break?
The Ligurian Focaccia is excellent in Portofino but, if you want to treat yourself to something sweet, sit at the table in the ice cream shop in the Piazzetta and order a Paciugo, an ice-cream invented in Portofino with a delicious mix of creams, whipped cream, sour cherries in syrup and hazelnut crumb.
How many days to spend in Portofino?
Portofino is a good destination for a day tour but we suggest spending some days in the area to explore the beautiful surroundings too. In this case, consider at least 2 nights.
Where to stay?
Portofino has just a few, most luxury, hotels where you can enjoy an exclusive experience. These are the kind of hotels where to arrive and relax some days after a busy trip visiting other Italian places.
If instead you want to move around and explore, it may be better to find accommodation in one of the neighboring towns. In this post, you can find our recommendations about where to stay in and around Portofino.
When to visit Portofino?
From late March to the end of October is the best period to visit Portofino. Usually, shops and restaurants close in winter and reopen for the Easter holidays.
July and August may be hot but Portofino and its surroundings always offer the possibility to swim and enjoy a beautiful sea.
How to get there?
We told Portofino exclusivity is in part due to its isolated position. In fact, in Portofino, there’s no train station (fortunately!). You can get there only by car or by boat.
If you arrive by car you’ve to think about where to park in Portofino. There is just one, quite expensive parking and, at weekend or in summer you’ll probably find it full.
A very good option is using the panoramic ferry that links Portofino with the neighboring towns of Rapallo and Santa Margherita.
There’s also a small bus departing from Santa Margherita train station but it is often packed with people (the road is very narrow and they can’t use larger busses). Alternatively, you can take a taxi.
If you like walking, there’s a beautiful coastal walk from Santa Margherita to Portofino, passing close to the superb bay of Paraggi.
Renting a bike is a very good idea too but you will have to pedal along the normal road. There isn’t any bike lane but just a few traffic.
To sum up, the better way is to reach Portofino is to park your car in Santa Margherita or Rapallo or get there by train and take the panoramic ferry from there.
What are the closest airports?
Portofino is at about 45 minutes by car from Genoa’s airport.
You can also drive about 2 hours from Milan Malpensa airport or, on the other side, from Pisa airport.
How far is Portofino from the Cinque Terre?
You can easily reach Santa Margherita from the Cinque Terre or vice versa in less than 1 hour by train or by car. From Santa Margherita, take the ferry and reach Portofino in 15 minutes.
Which is better Portofino or Positano?
Well, this is a difficult question. Both of the villages are postcard-perfect places, clusters of colorful houses nestled in a wonderful nature made of terraced hills and an intensely blue sea.
It’s not a competition and both of them worth to be on your travel bucket list.
Nonetheless, if you are uncertain which one to visit first, you can find some information and considerations that may help you to choose between the Italian Riviera with Portofino and the Amalfi Coast with Positano.
Feel the need for the help of a local expert who can help you to plan your trip to Italy making you travel like a local and with a boutique touch?