Portofino Italy is one of those picture-perfect, postcard locations you recognise immediately. You can’t mistake the iconic U-shaped port, flanked by a tidy row of similar-sized, multi-colored buildings. Boats and yachts bobbing in the surprisingly small harbour, and it just seems so darned cute. I knew its reputation was synonymous with the, “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” on par with St Tropez, but the million dollar question is, is Portofino Italy worth a visit?
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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 never really appealed to me. Yes, the Cinque Terre are along that same stretch of coast and I’ve not been there either, but I should get there. So many people ask though, “What’s so great about Portofino Italy?” Read on and I’ll explain.
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Where is Portofino Italy – Portofino Italy Map
If you are wondering where is Portofino in Italy, it’s at the far eastern end of the Ligurian coast. It’s literally 20 miles east of Genova in the northwest part of Italy toward France.
How to get to Portofino Italy
The easiest and quickest way to travel to Portofino is to first arrive in Genova Italy. Then, you can drive to Portofino, which should take about 30 minutes.
Another way to get to Portofino is to take the train from the Genova Brignole train station to Santa Margherita Ligure train station, and then switch to Bus 82 that takes you to Portofino. Yeah, a bit of a trek.
In all, the train and bus should take about 1.5 hrs, but that depends on catching the bus soon after arriving from the train into Santa Margherita Ligure.
Keep in mind that Santa Margherita Ligure’s train station is the closest train station to Portofino Italy. From Santa Margherita, you can measure the distance to Portofino from other cities more easily. Just remember you need to add an additional 30-60 minutes for the bus, which depends on traffic and the season. For instance…
How to get to Portofino from…
- Portofino to Milan on the train takes about 3h 20 min when you include the time on the bus from Portofino to Santa Margherita Ligure, then the train up to Milan. You can drive from Milan to Portofino in about 1h 50 min.
- Portofino to Florence on the train/bus will take 5h 10 minutes, or you can drive it in 2h 10 minutes.
- To go to Rome from Portofino, the train/bus journey is 6 hours, or you can drive it in 4h 45 minutes.
- To visit the Amalfi Coast from Portofino, it will take roughly 8h40m via train/bus, or you can drive it in 7 hours. This route is a bit special because you need to take the train from Santa Margherita Ligure to Napoli Central train station, then you go downstairs to catch the Circumvesuviana Train to Sorrento. You start your Amalfi Coast vacation from Sorrento.
- Portofino from Genova – the best way is to take a day long boat excursion from Genova to Portofino. The trip is super scenic and you do not need to worry about driving, the bus, the traffic. Just sit back and relax and get off where you want to explore.
Seriously, one reason a visit to Portofino Italy hasn’t been a priority for me, 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 see Portofino.
Take a ferry to Portofino Italy
One of the most visually stunning ways to visit Portofino is by boat. Hands down. Forget the bus. You need to see Portofino Italy from the coastline in a boat to take in the magnificent views.
This is truly the best way to see both Portofino or Cinque Terre if you don’t plan to actually hike the route to see the towns of the Cinque Terre.
You see the stunning landscape from a boat and admire them both from the sea. Portofino is not part of the Cinque Terre, but it’s very nearby and you can do a Portofino visit and see the Cinque Terre in the same trip.
We took the Tigullio – Marine lines to Portofino from Santa Margherita Ligure for $12 roundtrip. It’s a 15-minute ride, and sweeps you past stunning coastlines and unimaginable mansions perched within the cliffs.
With the Traghetti Portofino lines, you can reach the various villages of the Cinque Terre, but you need to start from Rapallo, which is a 15 minute boat ride from Santa Margherita Ligure. You then switch boats to visit the Cinque Terre. Again, a bit of a schlep.
If you want to visit both Portofino and the Cinque Terre, the best place to stay near Portofino is Santa Margherita Ligure and visit Portofino or Cinque Terre by boat. Use Santa Margherita Ligure as your base for both areas.
Portofino’s beautiful coast with stunning mansions
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.
Though, I seriously couldn’t imagine living in Portofino Italy. It’s just too quiet for me, and Portofino is expensive – the hotels are expensive, the food is expensive and the rentals would be expensive.
Along the Ligurian Coast
How this trip to Portofino all started was through an invite 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 since it is just on the other side of Genova, that meant it’s not a long journey from my home in Nice.
I took the train to Recco where they picked me up, and we drove 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. Continue down a dozen steps and there was a communal swimming pool flanked by imposing, cliche Cyprus trees, and the Mediterranean Sea in front of me.
The sweeping views of the Mediterranean Sea below were magical. I feel like I am in the middle of nowhere.
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.
Cinque Terre Travel Cap?
The topic of travel came up around the campfire, and I mentioned an article I read saying 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. They want to limit the number of tourists visiting Cinque Terre 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 the Cinque Terre is so popular.
The area around the Cinque Terre is very delicate, and with too many tourists traipsing around, they not only risk damaging the landscape, but also their major source of revenue 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 already too late.
My friends 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 in the morning before they, too, imposed a travel ban.
Portofino Italy is worth a visit
Portofino is definitely worth a visit, but it depends on what you are into. If you want to step foot on Portofino to say you’ve been there, then great.
We decided to take the ferry from Santa Margherita Ligure and the ferry drops you off on the west side of Portofino’s port.
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.
What to see in Portofino Italy
Portofino is tiny with about 400 permanent residents. Seriously, 400 residents! There are only a few routes to take, so you won’t get lost. It also means you’ll be somewhat limited for things to do in Portofino Italy.
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.
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 might as well shop in Portofino.
Shopping in Portofino, Italy
As you’d expect, shopping in Portofino revolves around high-end boutiques. Wander the small alleyways and you’ll find Loro Piana, Louis Vuitton, Dior, Missoni, plus others. Again, this town is quite baffling. Either everyone is mega wealthy, or they go elsewhere to shop.
I also pondered about all the cruise ships that stop in Portofino. Just where does everyone go? I assume you can buy high-end clothes on the ship, and wouldn’t need to shop in Portofino unless you wanted to say, “Oh, I bought this in a shop 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 cruise tourists flocking through…
Dining in Portofino
Restaurants in Portofino can be pricey. There are a variety of lovely restaurants fronting the port offering that, ‘Ah, we are in Portofino’, feel. We checked out a few and decided the price tag was a bit high for what we wanted. Plus, we were on the ferry schedule.
Most restaurants require reservations, and I don’t like stuffing a $100 meal in my belly in 30 minutes. So build in plenty of time in Portofino to wander the small streets and enjoy a leisurely lunch at a local restaurant. We bought something quick and fresh from a local bakery and found a quiet place to have a picnic. Not very Portofino-like, but enjoyable, none the less.
Best Restaurants in Portofino Italy
If I had more time, I would have chosen one of the following highly-recommended best restaurants in Portofino. First up is Chuflay Bar and Restaurant. This restaurant is connected to the Belmond Splendido Mare Hotel, right on the main square. It’s a Michelin star restaurant in Portofino, and is frankly the only restaurant in Portofino in the Michelin Guide. So if you are looking for the best restaurant in Portofino Italy, this has to be it.
The menu is quite diverse with plenty of starters, pastas, meats and seafood mixed with Ligurian accents. Wash it down with something from their extensive wine list, and you’ll be happy as a clam. It’s open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and is located at Via Roma 2, just next to Dior.
For other Michelin restaurants you need to head to Santa Margherita Ligure.
Restaurant near Portofino Port to eat
Ristorante Puny at Piazza Martiri dell Olivetta, 5 is another highly-rated best restaurant in Portofino. It’s on the left side of the port.
The name makes me laugh. Puny, as in tiny! There are about 15 tables on the terrace and the same inside, and you may be grappling with an A-lister to get a table. Their menu is simple, Genovese fare with lots of homemade goodness.
Ristorante Taverna Del Marinaio is also part of the Da Puny family and offers a variety of more moderately-priced seafood and pastas. This is a great local hangout where you can feast on gamberi, sole, calamari and salty anchovies.
Be sure to go when the fish is in season, or ask them what is fresh, because not all fish will be fresh all year long. They also have a sister restaurant in Santa Margherita Ligure.
Best Time to Visit Portofino Italy
The best time to visit Portofino and the Cinque Terre are April and May. The next best time to visit Portofino is September and October. You avoid the heavy summer months, but the staff at the hotels, restaurants and bars are the most refreshed in April and May. Their season is beginning and they are happy to see you.
The months of July and August in Positano are chock full of tourists and the staff in Positano are there simply to serve you, take your money and get you out… Then it tapers off in September and October, but they are exhausted… Plan your trip for the late spring months and you’ll have a better time.
Where to stay in Portofino – Hotels are expensive
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 $200 a night and up for a room for two people to over the $1000s.
Most of the hotels in Portofino Italy 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.
A few hotels I suggest are:
Where to stay near Portofino – Santa Margherita Ligure is a good base
Santa Margherita Ligure has a bit more vibe going on with a population of 10,000. It’s quaint, beautifully, well-manicured, and has a nice beach area.
There are numerous quality restaurants and hotels in Santa Margarita Ligure, at much better prices than you’ll find in Portofino. It’s also where Christopher Columbus spent some time before sailing to America.
Is Portofino Italy worth a visit or is the Amalfi Coast better?
In a nutshell, visiting Portofino Italy was 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.
A lot of people ask whether they should visit Portofino or Amalfi Coast. As I mention above, the Amalfi Coast is more than a 7-hour drive from Portofino, and the train from Santa Margherita Ligure to Naples will take a bit more. The Amalfi Coast is a completely different feel and experience than Portofino. I prefer the south.
You have stunningly beautiful scenery – prettier than Portofino, and you have the southern Italian food that adds a special element to this area. The people are by far friendlier. The Italians in the south are just more open, fun, loud… Italian.
Take a Mediterranean Cruise
And one last option is to take a Mediterranean cruise that has a stop in Portofino as well as Naples, and then from Naples you can take a boat excursion to Sorrento, Positano or Capri all along the Amalfi Coast.
Find a cruise that has an overnight stay in Naples, because all these Amalfi Coast excursions will take time. But you could time a day trip just right to see a couple different spots on the Amalfi Coast. To be honest, I would dedicate an entire vacation to the Amalfi Coast. You aren’t doing it justice just by visiting for a day.
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. There are also nice hotels in Camogli to choose from.
One other thing that I find off-putting is dark sand, like you find in Camogli. 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 in Camogli with beautiful water. You can only imagine how spectacular this would look if the sand was white. The reflection through the water would be amazing.
Visit Portofino, Santa Margherita Ligure and Camogli on the same trip
Is Portofino Italy worth a visit? I wouldn’t solely visit Portofino on its own, but would absolutely include Santa Margherita Ligure, the Cinque Terre and Camogli in the mix.
By the way, the Cinque Terre never did impose that travel cap, so feel free to visit the area, but be sure to read up before you go so that you respect the surroundings so others may enjoy it in the future. Please feel free to drop me a line with your thoughts. What did you think of Portofino?
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