Is Portofino, Italy worth a visit?


Portofino, Italy is one of those picture-perfect, postcard locations you recognise immediately. You can’t mistake her iconic U-shaped port, flanked by a tidy row of similar-sized, multi-coloured buildings. Boats and yachts are continually bobbing in the harbour, and it just seems so darned cute. I knew its reputation was synonymous with “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” on par with St Tropez, but is Portofino, Italy worth a visit?

Is Portofino worth visiting?
Views of the Ligurian Coast

Is Portofino, Italy on your bucket list?

Portofino had been on my bucket list of Italian resorts to visit for a long time, but never had the chance to get there. To be honest, that part of Liguria, Italy has never appealed to me. Yes, the Cinque Terre is along that same stretch of coast and I’ve not been there, either, but I needed to get there.

One reason I may not have been drawn to visit Portofino is the schlep you have to endure to get there. That actually may be its cachê, again, quite like St. Tropez. You have to really want to get there. You either go by train to Santa Margherita Ligure and trudge along by bus, which should take 18 minutes, but good luck in summer. Or from Santa Margherita, you go by taxi or boat. If you have friends in high places, you arrive by yacht. Portofino reminded me so much of St. Tropez that I thought I should see it for myself.

Is Portofino, Italy worth a visit
Is that yacht waiting for me in Portofino?

Invite to the Ligurian Coast

Any rate, I was invited to stay with friends in Ruta, just on the other side of Genova. I hadn’t seen them in years, and didn’t know where Ruta was. But knowing it was just on the other side of Genova, meant it wasn’t a long journey from home.

I took the train to Recco where they picked me up, and we headed to their place in the wilderness. It was a beautiful, little place within a secluded, wooded complex. In fact, you couldn’t see it from the road. You enter the driveway and go down a steep winding decline to arrive at the complex. There, they had their own separate entrance from a garden, an outside dining area covered in luscious grape vines, and a patch of land where you could fire up a barbecue or grow a few vegetables. Continue down a dozen steps and you find a communal swimming pool flanked by imposing, cliche Cyprus trees. And the Med is in front of me.

Ruta resort
The main road is way up top!

The sweeping views to the Mediterranean sea below were magical and serene. From the front lawn you could see a perched village to the left, and in front and to the right was nothing but sea and mountains. I felt like I was in the middle of nowhere. The sunset, as I would discover later, was a brilliant fire-orange/red. It’s what you imagine of the mountainous, forested, beautiful landscape of Liguria.

Is Portofino worth a visit
Looking toward Portofino

We fired up the grill that night and dined outside as the sun went down. The atmosphere had the sights and smells of a campground, but with really great accommodation. But if you don’t have friends that are local, don’t fret. Search for some excellent hotel options available in the Portofino area.

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Cinque Terre Travel Cap?

The topic of travel came up and I mentioned an article I read saying that the villages of the Cinque Terre were going to put a cap on the number of tourists. The article said tourists would need to buy a card to visit the towns and trails. The area wants to limit the number of tourists to 1.5 million from the 2.5 million they usually have each season. Seemed like quite a drastic reduction. There are lovely trails there, particularly if you are considering hiking from Monterosso to Vernazza, and you can easily see why they are so popular.

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The area around the Cinque Terre is very delicate, and with too many people traipsing around, they not only risk damaging the landscape, but also their major source of income through tourism. The Cinque Terre has a small population, so a part of me could understand why they’d want to do this. But I mentioned I’d never been there, and perhaps it was too late.

My friend, Marta, immediately asked whether I had visited Portofino. Well, no I hadn’t, it was on my list, and I didn’t even know where Portofino was compared to where I was… So we flippantly decided to head to Portofino tomorrow before they, too, impose a travel ban.

Take the plunge and head to Portofino, Italy!

If you can’t afford Portofino, base yourself in Santa Margherita

In the morning we drove to the lovely seaside village of Santa Margherita. This is actually a great place to base yourself to explore Portofino if you are not staying in Portofino itself.  Santa Margherita is 22 miles east of Genova with a population of 10,000. You can get there via train. It’s quaint, beautifully, well-manicured, and has a nice beach area. There are numerous quality restaurants and hotels there, at much better prices than you’ll find in Portofino. It’s also where Christopher Columbus spent some time before sailing to America.

Visit Santa Margherita Ligure
Santa Margherita Ligure Beach area

How to get to Portofino – take the ferry!

One of the most visually stunning ways to arrive in Portofino is by boat. Hands down. Forget the taxi and bus. You need to see the coastline from a boat to take in the views. We took the Trigullio – Marine lines to Portofino for $12 roundtrip. It was a 15-minute ride, and sweeps you past stunning coastlines and unimaginable mansions perched within the cliffs.

Again, with the Traghetti Portofino lines, you can also reach the various villages of the Cinque Terre from Santa Margherita. I should have killed two birds with one stone, but hadn’t planned to stay that long. Next time I will definitely use Santa Margherita as a base to explore the Cinque Terre.

Is Portofino worth visiting?
Ferry boat to and from Portofino

The coastline along Portofino is really something special and strange at the same time. I couldn’t help but wonder who lives in these secluded mansions. Are they hiding out? Are they happy? What do they do? Are they bored? Are they stuck within their castle? Can I hotwire their yacht and take it for a spin? You know… random thoughts.

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Views from Portofino, Italy
Who lives here? Is that their personal boat?
Mansions in Liguria
Just who lives in these mansions?

Is Portofino, Italy worth a visit?

Definitely, but it depends on what you are into. The ferry drops you off on the west side of Portofino’s port, and you disembark to find a little beach area, a variety of restaurants, shops and some streets leading off into different directions. The port area is quite congested and not a place to swim, but just a place for boats to come and go.

Dining in Portofino

Dining in Portofino can be pricey. There are a variety of lovely restaurants fronting the port. You have that, ‘Ah, we are relaxing in Portofino’ feel. We checked out a few menus and decided the price tag was just too high for what we were looking for. Plus we were on a schedule with the ferry. With the number of people, we were concerned we wouldn’t finish in time to get back on the boat. Take time to wander the small streets of Portofino if you want to dine at a local restaurant. We bought something quick and fresh from a local bakery and found a quiet place to have a picnic. Sublime, none the less.

What to see in Portofino, Italy

Portofino is tiny with about 400 permanent residents. There are only a few routes to take, so you won’t get lost. We decided to head up to Chiesa San Georgio for the best views of Portofino and to enjoy our lunch alfresco. The cemetery is also quite unique. The views are spectacular here and it was less crowded than by the port area.

San Georgio's Church, Portofino, Italy
San Georgio’s Church
What to see in Portofino - the Cemetery
Cemetery in Portofino

Continuing along from San Georgio’s church, you’ll come across the castle and luscious grounds of Castello Brown. It was built in the 1400’s and today hosts various art exhibits, festivals and events. The magnificent gardens would make a great backdrop if you are considering getting married in Portofino. Keep going and you’ll come across Portofino’s lighthouse, where you can stop for a bevvy and, again, some great views. Aside from hiking a few routes or renting a bike, you’re left with shopping in Portofino.

Visiting Portofino
Castello Brown up on the hill

Things to do in Portofino, Italy – Shop

As you’d expect, Portofino offers a variety of high-end boutiques. You’ll find Loro Piana, Louis Vuitton, Dior, Missoni plus others. Again, this town is quite baffling. Either everyone is wealthy, or they go elsewhere to shop. I also pondered about all the cruise ships that stop here. Just where does everyone go? I assume you can buy high-end clothes on the ship so why would you shop here other than to say, “Oh, I bought this in Portofino.” It was quite busy when we were there, even without a cruise ship in port.  I can’t imagine how the locals deal with all these tourists flocking through…

Where to stay in Portofino and are the hotels expensive in Portofino

If you want to stay in Portofino itself, book early. There are not a lot of hotels in Porfofino and the hotel prices can range from near $200 and up for a room for two people to over the $1000s. Most of the hotels are located near the port and are in a great location to visit all of Portofino’s attractions. There are also some great villas and apartments you can rent if you want a more private and local feel during your stay.

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As I mentioned, Santa Margarita is more reasonable all around and you may want to base yourself there to explore the Portofino and the Cinque Terre.

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Is Portofino, Italy worth a visit?

In a nutshell, the experience was a bit underwhelming. I’m glad I visited. I’m glad I didn’t stay. I don’t profess to always shed a positive light on any destination, but I will give you my honest opinion. And even if I wanted to splurge on Portofino, which I can, I wouldn’t. It was missing something for me.  For a small chic resort, I really prefer Positano on the Amalfi Coast, south of Naples.

If you are in the Portofino area, another small fishing village worth visiting is Camogli. It’s unassuming and you’ll find reasonably-priced restaurants and bars along the sea with plenty of lovely beach areas.

One other thing that I find off-putting is dark sand. I’m not a lover of black or red, volcanic sand beaches. Santorini is included in this lot. I feel like I have been frolicking in the dirt and the waters seem ominous.

Not sure what it is, but I love white sand with clear waters; Mallorca falls into this category. However, in the photo below, you see the dark sand with beautiful water. Can only imagine how spectacular this would look if the sand was white. The reflection through the water would be amazing.

Bagni Lido

I wouldn’t solely visit Portofino on its own, but would absolutely include Santa Margherita, the Cinque Terre and Camogli in the mix.

By the way, the Cinque Terre never did impose that cap, so feel free to visit the area, but be sure to read up before you go so that you respect the surroundings so that others may enjoy it in the future. Please feel free to drop me a line with your thoughts. Please don’t send me any dirty sand… 🙂

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Life On The Mediterranean

US expat living the life on the Mediterranean in the South of France. I regularly travel to Spain, Italy, Greece and other intriguing locations around the Mediterranean. Former Hyatt Corp Marketing Manager, student accommodation director and hotel photoshoot art director.


  1. Verena
    August 1, 2018 at 10:13 pm

    Wow Portofino looks stunning. I‘ve been to the Amalfi coast which looks similar, but I need to check it out. It’s also close to Munich (where I live), so I could spend a long weekend there 🙂 I would also love to visit Cinque Terre. That’s a great info about stopping the flood of tourists. I think it’s definitely necessary in some areas!

    • Anonymous
      August 9, 2018 at 10:18 pm

      Hi Verena. Thanks for the comment. Portofino and the Cinque Terre get quite busy in the summer so if you can hold off a bit – more toward the fall or spring time, would be better. Thanks for checking in.

  2. Kathleen
    August 1, 2018 at 8:51 pm

    Wow portofino looks lovely . Great photos 🙂

    • Anonymous
      August 9, 2018 at 10:17 pm

      Thanks Kathleen. It is a stunning place to visit.

  3. Adam
    July 31, 2018 at 1:11 am

    Portofino looks stunning – as does most of the northern Mediterranean. Despite it’s beauty, it sounds like the town can be hit or miss and had several viable alternatives that are just as good (if not better) as Portofino. Lovely write up – it was a pleasure to read

    • Anonymous
      July 31, 2018 at 7:42 am

      Thanks Adam. Yeah, it’s beautiful but perhaps better in the off season. There’s some great kayaking around there, but again, I don’t see too many coming off a cruise ship to go kayaking.

  4. Kate
    July 31, 2018 at 12:48 am

    Wow, the Portofino mansions are gorgeous! I also wonder who lives in those homes, but mostly am jealous! Haha. Even the cemetery is exceptionally beautiful.

    • Anonymous
      July 31, 2018 at 7:42 am

      I know, right? They were stunning and mysterious at the same time.

  5. Hang Around The World
    July 29, 2018 at 8:04 pm

    It is one of the best place in Italy and the world, we say this not only because we are italian hahaha
    Here there is everything a tourist need to spend the right travel experience!
    We hope you liked it 🙂

    • Anonymous
      July 29, 2018 at 8:07 pm

      Thank you! It really was beautiful and I really do need to return another time to spend more time. Thank you for the comment!

  6. adventuredawgs
    May 11, 2018 at 2:15 am

    Just get a bigger boat and then pull the boat you want to a quiet place where you can figure it out…errrr….picnics are fun 🙂

    • Anonymous
      July 29, 2018 at 7:33 am

      Ah, to have the lifestyle of the rich and famous. Portofino is lovely. You just need to know what to expect. Thanks!

  7. Andi
    May 7, 2018 at 9:49 pm

    Nice and honest recap on Portofino! I’m much more interested in exploring the Positano area sometime soon! And I loved your random thoughts and questions about whoever lives in those mansions in the hills!! I wonder the same things quite often!

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