Portofino is a small port town on the Ligurian coast in the Italian Riviera, once a minor fishing village that became a holiday hotspot for British aristocracy and celebrities from the early 1900s onwards. Portofino’s warm yet breezy climate and the seclusion that the hills and vegetation provided made Portofino the perfect place for the rich and famous to find some sought-after respite.
Today, Portofino is still a pretty little town with candy-coloured houses lining the busy port and the pint-sized hills and calm waters offer an ideal setting for non-strenuous water activities, sailing and hikers of all abilities. Portofino may be a small town but there are lots to see and do: Castello Brown is a 16th-century castle fort that sits on a hill overlooking the port that visitors love to hike to and there are a couple of beautiful churches too. Some may be surprised at the number of designer shops and fine-dining restaurants there are in Portofino which act as reminders to Portofino’s high-class past.
There’s plenty in Portofino for those looking for a luxury getaway in a 5-star hotel or for budget travellers just wanting to explore the beauty along the Portofino coast.
This ultimate travel guide to Portofino will show you how to get to Portofino, what to expect when visiting, where to stay in Portofino and things to do in Portofino which will help you in planning a trip to Portofino Italy.
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How to get to Portofino
The nearest airport to Portofino is Genoa Cristoforo Colombo Airport to the north which is a busy international airport with connections all over the world with the Italian airline Alitalia and budget airlines such as Ryanair to destinations around Europe.
From Genoa airport, you can hop on a direct train to Santa Margherita Ligure station which takes about one hour, then it’s a 15-minute bus journey on the N.82 bus to Portofino which runs every 20 minutes from the station. Or, if you’re not on a budget, you can easily hop in a taxi from the station.
Since Portofino is a port town on the coast, arriving by boat is super easy, especially if you’re travelling from another location on the Italian Riviera. There are daily ferries from towns to the north like Camogli and San Fruttuoso. Driving to Portofino is possible, but the village itself is a car-free zone.
What to expect in Portofino
Portofino is an Italian village on the Northwest coast where the primary language is Italian. The main industry here is tourism in one form or another so the vast majority of locals will work in tourism and speak English very well. The currency is the Euro and Italy is part of the EU and the Schengen zone.
Due to its history as a holiday destination for the British upper class, Portofino is substantially more expensive than any of its neighbouring towns on the Italian Riviera. Where a bottle of beer would cost €3-4 in Genoa, in Portofino it would be €8, and gratuity is often already included in the bill.
This is perhaps why Portofino is a popular day-trip destination as accommodation prices are also high. Consequently, crime is very low in Portofino and the visitors are usually couples or travellers with a disposable income, not usually families with children.
How to get around Portofino
The village of Portofino itself is small and it’s likely, unless you have accessibility requirements, that you can walk to wherever you need to go. Though Portofino is a car-free zone, you will be able to easily arrange taxis should you need them, especially when checking out of your hotel if you have luggage to transport.
If you want to explore the wider region around Portofino, buses are your friend and the bus network is surprisingly extensive. Portofino doesn’t have a train station, but all bus services depart from Piazza Della Liberta which is easy to figure out. From there, you can travel to the nearest train stations by bus (Santa Margherita Ligure in the south and Camogli to the north).
There are plenty of ferries sailing up and down the coast several times per day and even water taxis if you’re not travelling too far and miss your ferry!
The best time to visit Portofino
There really is only one time of year to visit Portofino and that’s in the summer to experience the beautiful, warm Mediterranean climate. Specifically, from June-September but May and October might offer pleasant weather at a push. In the summer, you can enjoy temperatures nearing 30 degrees Celsius, but the heat is not too overbearing due to the sea breeze. Accommodation prices are high in Portofino no matter what time of year you visit.
Portofino can get quite busy during the summer but if you are staying in Portofino as opposed to one of the nearby towns, then you have the luxury of experiencing the village at night without the day-trippers.
In winter, Portofino essentially shuts down and many restaurants and shops will have limited opening hours just for the remaining locals. Many of the big hotels close down for winter altogether and some landmarks have sporadic winter opening times.
Things to do in Portofino
It’s no surprise that one of the top things to see in Portofino is the port it’s named after. For a small harbour, a surprising number of boats go in and out of Portofino Marina every day. It’s not just a busy port but a beautiful one too.
The patchwork pastel houses line all along the edge of the water with the hills standing prominently behind so it’s not difficult to wonder why this town has remained a popular holiday destination for over 100 years.
Sitting at a bar in Piazza Martiri dell’ Olivetta with a cold bottle of Italian lager to watch the boats move in and out of the port is definitely not the worst way to spend an hour or two.
One of the first sites you’ll see of Portofino if you are travelling by boat from the north is Castello Brown. It’s a 16th-century castle build on a hill overlooking the town which was a prime location for defence purposes. Luckily, the castle hasn’t suffered many attacks, so it looks virtually the same as it did 400 years ago.
Today, the castle is a popular venue for events and a museum which exhibits local art and antiquities. And without a doubt, Castello Brown boasts the best views of Portofino Marina.
San Giorgio Church
Just a short hike above the former fishing village through the hills near Castello Brown is the Church of San Giorgio. It’s an unusual-looking church built in the 12th century in a Romanesque style with a bright yellow brick facade and a cemetery comprising of many wooden, brass and marble headstones which adds to the church’s eccentric and incoherent charm. It’s a small church but undeniably special.
The church of San Martino, which is easier to access from Portofino’s main square, is also worth visiting. San Martino has a fun, yellow striped exterior and a chessboard floor. Both churches are free to enter but their opening times are irregular so plan ahead.
If you’re happy to hike out to see Castello Brown and San Giorgio Church, then you should definitely attempt to venture all the way to the Portofino Lighthouse. It was built over 100 years ago and it’s still an active lighthouse, though these days it’s automated. If you managed to complete the hike, the Lighthouse has a bar you can enjoy a celebratory drink in.
Shopping on Via Roma
The expensive prices and fine-dining restaurants aren’t the only clues to Portofino’s glitzy past because, for a small village, Portofino has more than enough designer stores. If you’re in the position to splurge on new threads, then you won’t be disappointed. All along Portofino’s Via Roma street, you can find Louis Vuitton, Dior and some other local boutiques.
It’s also common for stores to hire models to walk up and down this street advertising their merchandise to entice tourists inside. Just in case you were wondering if the women wearing expensive clothes were merely lost!
Galleria D’Arte Portofino
And finally, if you’re less into hiking and you love visiting museums and galleries when you travel, Portofino’s Galleria D’Arte is a working gallery with a beautiful outside terrace displaying contemporary art that you can not only wander around admire but take home with you, if you have the pennies.
The artists featured are all Italian and you can find landscape paintings of the local area and Italian countryside as well as many nautical-themed sculptures.
What to eat in Portofino
Traditional food found in Portofino consists of quintessential Mediterranean fare: think fresh vegetables, salads and lots and lots of seafood with a Ligurian twist which often means lots of pesto and doughy focaccia bread as they both originate in this region of Italy.
There are so many amazing restaurants in Portofino that foodies and food lovers will be spoilt for choice. One of the top restaurants in Portofino is Ristorante Puny which is situated right on the main piazza overlooking Portofino’s port. It’s the perfect place to celeb-spot although you’ll feel like one yourself at this restaurant because the staff are known to go above and beyond for every single diner. They’re especially known for their European sea bass cooked with pappardelle pasta and king prawns in a lemon sauce.
A more affordable, but still excellent, restaurant option is Taverna Del Marinaro who are well-regarded for their seafood serving dishes like spaghetti with mussels, clams and prawns. You can’t really go wrong with any restaurant in Portofino as they’re all exceptionally high-quality!
Where to stay in Portofino
Budget – There isn’t a huge demand for hostels in a luxury destination like Portofino and it’s not big on the backpacker trail. However, there are some great deals to be found on Airbnb. Private rooms in well-located houses and apartments start from around €20 per night and whole apartments can be found from €50 per night.
Mid-range – Again, Portofino is known for its luxury accommodation options but if you would prefer staying in a hotel over an apartment then there are a few options. B&B Tre Mari starts from around €120 per night and the cosy decor, extensive book collection and intimate garden have all the comforts of home with hotel service. Piccolo Hotel Portofino is slightly further out of the town centre near Portofino beach and costs around the same per night but is a far more modern, minimalist choice and still has those gorgeous views over Portofino port.
Luxury – But if you’re visiting Portofino then it’s worth saving up so you can go big or go home. The 5-star Belmond Hotel Splendido has two locations (in the town or near the beach) and both perfectly blend opulence with a fresh, relaxing Italian vibe.
Tours to do in Portofino
Snorkel Tour in Paraggi Bay
Though sailing might be the number one water-based activity in Portofino, snorkelling in the small Paraggi Bay is a fun and affordable thing to do in Portofino and allows you to explore Portofino coast up close away from the port. The water in this bay is crystal clear and you will learn about the area’s local plant life and sea life before being guided to where the starfish and seagrass thrive underwater.
Or if you’d prefer to stay relatively dry but would still love to explore the Portofino peninsula and all the little beaches and alcoves surrounding the town then a kayak tour is the perfect way to explore the area more intimately than from a sailboat.
On this tour, you’ll be able to explore caves and hidden bays that would be otherwise inaccessible to people and there is also the opportunity to snorkel in the warm Mediterranean waters if you wish.
It’s no secret that Portofino is one of the most picturesque, charming towns on the Italian coastline and literally everywhere you look is dreamy. This is why it’s the perfect location to hire a professional photographer for a photo session, so that you not only have high-quality photographs of yourself and/or your family and friends but the memory of the amazing time that you had in Portofino!
Day trips from Portofino
Cinque Terre is one of the hottest destinations in Italy right now and all over Instagram. ‘Cinque Terre’ means the ‘five lands’ and they are five gorgeous little villages situated on Italy’s rocky coastline all within hiking distance of each other: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare. Visiting all five villages is completely doable (and a must-do) in one day but only if you know exactly where to go.
This day tour led by a friendly, knowledgeable guide will take you on a cycling trip around the Cinque Terre National Park, showing you all the best roads and lookouts for epic panoramas as well as where to find the best local food in Cinque Terre. The bikes you’ll be riding on are e-bikes, so you don’t need to worry too much about your fitness levels.
Camogli, Recco and San Fruttuoso
There are so many other charming fishing villages in the Ligurian region around Portofino than Cinque Terre, so this tour is perfect if you’d prefer to stay away from the usual tourist trail and explore some less-visited communities.
Camogli and Recco, situated next to each other, are slightly further north up the coast from Portofino and they have much nicer, longer sandy beaches and rocky coves for swimming. San Fruttuoso is a small yet fascinating part of the Portofino peninsula as it’s known for its 10th-century Abbey and Roman ruins.
If you’re either celebrating an occasion, enjoying your honeymoon or you’re simply aiming for luxury on your trip to Portofino, then you should consider hiring your own private boat for the day to sail up the Portofino coast to Santa Margherita Ligure and enjoy yourself as the rich and famous do on their trips to the Italian Riviera.
Sunbathe, dive into the sea or hop off to explore the coastline further to your heart’s content. You can do anything on your own boat and the local skipper will take care of everything so you can simply relax and enjoy the ride.
Recommended tours in Portofino
- Gulf of Portofino Private Boat Tour
- Charter 1 Portofino – Boat tour with commander Cinque Terre
- Hiking from Portofino to San Fruttuoso with Lunch
- Exclusive Private Day Trip: Portofino & Santa Margherita from Portofino’s Port
- Speed Boat Experience Dipiù 990 600 HP Portofino
- Stand Up Paddleboarding Adventure in Portofino