What to do in Portofino? The Ultimate Travel Guide

Sleepy in winter and crowded in summer, Portofino is one of Italy’s most sought-after destinations and a favorite by celebrities. This charming village is close to the Cinque Terre and nestled in a picturesque small cove. Although it has less than 500 residents, you’ll be surprised by the things to do in Portofino, Italy.

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Portofino is the quintessential fishing village: a row of brightly painted houses set like a crown around a sheltered, hidden bay, surrounded by lush vegetation. One of the most charming towns in Northern Italy, Portofino has a dual personality. Although it is a popular meeting place for VIPs and celebrities from all over the world – mostly in spring and summer -, it is also an irresistible destination for lovers of nature, the sea, and outdoor activities.

If you intend to visit Portofino, I wrote this walking itinerary for you. As the town is small, It won’t take you long, probably half a day or a few hours will be enough. That’s why I also added other things to do in Portofino and its surroundings.

Where is Portofino?

Portofino is in the Liguria region. Shaped like a long and thin half-moon, it stretches from the French border to the end of the Cinque Terre. Genoa is the closest city, and the Cinque Terre is the nearest tourist area.

Portofino is about 45 km from Genoa, 75 km from Monterosso (the first town of the Cinque Terre heading southwards), 180 km from Milan, and 220 km from Florence. You can reach Portofino in various ways.

How to Get to Portofino

By air
The closest airport is Cristoforo Colombo in Genoa. From there you must take a taxi to the railway station and then the train. Alternatively, you can hire a car.

By train
Before all else, you must know that there’s no railway station in Portofino. The nearest one is Santa Margherita Ligure, and from there, you must catch a bus to cover the last short stretch. The bus ride takes about 20 minutes, and the trip costs 5 euros, one way. The train from Genova to Santa Margherita Ligure can take between 20 and 60 minutes because it all depends on the number of stops in between. From Milan to Portofino, the journey takes 2 to 3 hours, while you’ll need more than three hours, and closer to four, to reach Portofino from Florence.

You can also easily travel from the Cinque Terre to Portofino since the trip takes 50 to 70 minutes.

By car
The nearest exit along the A12 motorway is Rapallo, about 10 km from Portofino. From there, you must drive the coastal road passing through Santa Margherita Ligure. Bear in mind that Portofino is very small and almost entirely a pedestrian area. You will, therefore, have to leave your car in the parking garage in Piazza Martiri della Libertà. However, beware that the parking is relatively small and in high season it frequently fills up fast. With this in mind, I suggest you book in advance if you really want to go to Portofino by car. My advice, nevertheless, is to avoid like the plague driving all the way to Portofino. Better rely on the bus, or walk.

With a tour
The fastest and most comfortable way to visit Portofino from Genoa is to take a tour. In fact, a tour is convenient. First of all, you won’t have to pay for parking in Portofino, which drains your wallet. Second, in some cases, you’ll be able to visit other charming spots nearby (Santa Margherita Ligure, Camogli, San Fruttuoso). Third, you won’t have the hassle to plan your trip. On top of that, most tours are by boat, offering spellbinding views of the coastline and its colorful towns.

The Boat tour from Genoa to Camogli, San Fruttuoso, & Portofino is the perfect choice to admire this beautiful stretch of coastline of the Italian Riviera. The advantage of this self-guided excursion is that you have free time in Camogli, San Fruttuoso, and Portofino to explore at your leisure.

Tip: For lunch, it’s indeed better to either bring a picnic or to have a bite in Camogli. San Fruttuoso and Portofino are both pricey and not worth the expense.

Another option is the Boat tour to Portofino from Genoa, with free time to explore the town. However, you’ll only visit Portofino and you’ll see the other towns from the sea.

Arriving in Portofino by boat is spectacular!

Things to do in Portofino

If you’re brave enough to get up very early in the morning, wandering in the alleys when thoughts are still dozing, you’ll get to savor the atmosphere of this charming town. Forget Hollywood stars, famous international entrepreneurs, jet setters, footballers, and showgirls who transformed Portofino into a posh place. In the early hours Portofino is at its best: a delightful fishing village with its colorful houses mirroring in the sea of the most adorable tiny bay.

Stroll in the Piazzetta (the little square)

Piazza Martiri Dell’Olivetta, the main square, is affectionately called “la Piazzetta”, the little square. All around, fishermen’s houses and a few more austere buildings, homes of ancient families of land owners or captains of sailing ships. Have a look at the porticoes in front of the boutiques and fashionable restaurants. Indeed, it was there that in the past, women, from childhood to old age, created bobbin lace, the real one, not the bad machine imitations that people often try to sell to tourists.

This square houses all kinds of restaurants, cafes, and ice cream parlors. It is the center of the village with fishing boats and brightly colored buildings. Albeit tiny, the Piazzetta is very picturesque and invites you to snap a lot of photos of the chromatic puzzle of facades reflecting in the sea. In high season, as you stroll around you’re likely to hear the most diverse idioms, given that Portofino is one of the most popular destinations in Italy.

Admire the view from the Church of San Giorgio

The Church of San Giorgio itself is unremarkable, having been destroyed during World War II bombings and rebuilt in the 1950s. However, the climb is worth it as from up there, there’s a breathtaking panorama of Portofino and the lush coastline.

Opposite the church is the San Giorgio Castle (also called Portofino Castle). By all means, the castle has a fascinating history. Its construction dates back to the 12th century, although it underwent multiple additions over the centuries, giving it its eclectic architecture. However, it was during World War II that the history of the San Giorgio Castle became epic. The baroness Jeannie von Mumm, whose husband Alfons von Mumm bought and restored the palace in 1911, saved Portofino in 1945 from the complete destruction planned by the Nazis, at the risk of its same life.

In recent times, Portofino hit the headlines when the media reported that Bill Gates had bought the San Giorgio Castle with the purpose of transforming it into a luxury hotel. However, a couple of days later, Gates’ team denied the purchase.

Castello Brown

Perched atop a spur overlooking the tiny harbor, Castello Brown in Portofino is a former fortress. Indeed, the Genoese built it in the 15th century to protect the Gulf of Tigullio from enemies attempting to conquer the town. The castle owes its name to Sir Montague Yeats Brown, consul of Great Britain in Genoa, who bought the property in 1867. Yeates Brown refurbished the fortress, transforming it into a magnificent mansion surrounded by a beautiful hanging garden.

Finally, in 1961, the castle’s ownership passed to the Portofino municipality, and the palace became a venue for exhibitions and cultural events. Moreover, Castello Brown in Portofino can be hired for weddings or other important events.

The climb to the castle is quite steep, but the natural environment is delightful, and the view from atop is nothing short of breathtaking. Once you arrive, do not miss visiting the castle and the hanging gardens overlooking the sea. Among the stone vaults, you may hear echoes of battles, music from celebrations, and perhaps even the snoring of the crusader Richard the Lionheart, who apparently slept here during his journey to the Holy Land.

After visiting Portofino Castello Brown you can choose between the steep path that leads to Olivetta beach or continue towards the lighthouse for a romantic walk.

Portofino Park

Many people think that Portofino is just a small village. In reality, they are wrong. The promontory on which the town was built is a portion of Portofino Park, a regional park that is a paradise of Mediterranean scrub, full of biodiversity, animals, and plants, which can be explored via a dense network of paths overlooking the sea.

Camogli Portofino Hike

Hiking the Cinque Terre is on many people’s bucket list, which is totally understandable. The views are gorgeous, and the five colorful towns are incredibly picturesque. But there is a but… Overtourism! Especially in high season. Conversely, Portofino Natural Park is way less crowded and, therefore, all the most enjoyable. I hiked Portofino Park more times than I can remember and explored most of the many paths. Peaceful in winter, not too busy in summer, hiking Portofino is mostly for locals. The hiking trails are lovely, and some of them offer superb views of the gulf.

One of the most popular paths connects Portofino to Camogli. This is a 3-hour walk of medium difficulty and one of the most scenic. And of course, it’s one of my favorites! If you want to know more, read my dedicated post on the best hikes in Portofino.

Other things to do in Portofino and surroundings

If you wonder what to do in Portofino in one day besides strolling through the delightful town, here are a few ideas.

Go scuba diving in the Marine Park

Just like on land, even under the sea, Portofino Park is a unique environment. Established in 1999, the Portofino Marine Protected Area has quickly become one of the preferred diving spots in northern Italy. It’s famous for its biodiversity, Posidonia meadows, and red corals. If it’s the first time you dive in the Mediterranean, beware that the marine is quite different from tropical seas, but nevertheless very rewarding.

Take a kayak ride

One of the most beautiful things about Portofino and its surroundings is its cliffs and hidden coves, where the crystal-clear water is breathtaking.

Forget big motor yachts and try a kayak ride to slowly explore the coast and discover hidden spots, lulled by the sea and the sound of the seagulls.

Chill out at one of the small beaches in Portofino

Don’t even think of wide and endless beaches with powdery white sand or you’ll be in for a massive disappointment. The steep, rocky hills that almost plunge directly into the sea are what make this stretch of coastline so alluring. Hence, Portofino only offers small coves and tiny beaches.

Paraggi is the most famous beach in Portofino. Located at the foot of a promontory, it’s mainly known for its white sand and the pristine waters showcasing an enchanting emerald green color due to the reflection of the surrounding nature in the sea. It’s a great place to relax, swim and snorkel. You can reach Paraggi Beach by car and bus, then continue on foot along a fascinating seafront route. Alternatively, you can take the ferry from the Portofino marina. The beach is equipped with all the comforts at the beach establishments. Alternatively, there are numerous free accesses to sandy, rocky, or pebble beaches based on your personal preferences.

A couple of other tiny beaches in Portofino include Baia Cannone, only accessible on foot. It is made of pebble and offers a superb view of the Portofino castle. Olivetta is not the typical place for sunbathing, although it’s a perfect spot for swimming and for its wild environment.

Useless to say that Portofino beaches are crowded in the high season; thus, if you want to secure a good spot, you better go there early in the morning.

Where to stay in Portofino

Being one of the celebrities’ favorite places in Italy, hotels in Portofino are pricey. However, if you don’t care about the cost and really want to spend a night like a king in one of the most beautiful and romantic villages on the Italian Riviera, below are some accommodation options.

  • Hotel Piccolo Portofino, located on the seafront, offers luxurious rooms in a historic villa, a private rocky beach with a bar, and breathtaking sea views. It’s great for couples, as the rooms are stylish and modern and have terraces or balconies.
  • Eight Hotel Portofino: Rooms are large and well-equipped. Don’t miss the sauna and spa, as well as the private gardens. Breakfast can be served on the terrace or in your room. Children are welcome and it’s possible to arrange babysitting services.
  • Splendido, A Belmond Hotel, Portofino: if you are looking for the top of the top, here you are. This is, by far and large, the best hotel in Portofino. The structure is magnificent. Just to understand the level of the hotel, know that people such as Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton have stayed here. To put it another way, it is the hotel for an elite clientele.

Best time to visit Portofino

There is no better time to visit Portofino. Each period has its pros and cons, and the best period for you will be based on your needs and what you want to do, provided that your work allows you to choose when to travel to Italy.

The climate in Liguria is mild and often very pleasant in winter. However, it may rain, and you will feel cold and wet. On the positive side, there are few tourists, and you’ll experience Portofino’s true nature: a charming fishing village. Another benefit is that it’s cheaper, although some hotels, restaurants, and shops might be closed.

Summer is the hottest period, the most crowded with tourists and prices skyrocket. But you can enjoy water activities, and long days.

If you want to go trekking and explore the beautiful paths of Portofino Park, the best seasons are obviously spring and autumn, when the days are warm and usually sunny. Autumn in Portofino is also a great time to admire beautiful sunsets.


As can be seen, it is definitely worth visiting Portofino. This delightful village is the perfect choice for a romantic getaway in Italy, or for an unforgettable active short break.

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What to do in Portofino, Italy


About Me

Travel addict and passionate about photography, Simon Falvo started Wild About Travel back in 2009. Leveraging her strong PR background, she developed an extensive knowledge of Digital Communications and Content Creation. Besides travel writing Simon holds workshops and trainings, she collaborated with tourism boards for digital marketing campaigns and participated as a speaker at several events.

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