Looking for what to do in Portofino? Get straight up advice from someone who lives in that neck of the yachts.
Portofino is a fab day trip from the Cinque Terre. You can easily hop on a train from any Cinque Terre village and head north. More insider train information in our guide here.
We’ve asked Portofino insider, and Italian Fix guest contributor, Kaitlin King to spill the fagioli. Kaitlin writes …
I first arrived in Portofino aboard a private, 5-story yacht sailing from Monaco. I ate at the finest restaurants, played in one-thousand-euro-a-day beach lounges, and popped champagne with celebrities. “Wouldn’t it be a dream to live here?” my travel companion sighed, dreamily. “Yes, it would.”
Today, I do live here — kind of. My small flat is just down the road. I get to Portofino by bike sharing, spend my days hiking, and splurge on 9-euro Aperol Spritz aperitivi so I can get the free snacks. Truth be told, I came to Portofino the first time as a tutor for a world-traveling European family. I lived the high life with them, enjoying a fairytale tourist experience. Then I fell in love with my waiter, returned after my tutoring gig was over, and today enjoy more of a local, Italian lifestyle.
Here’s a peek into the affordable side of this beautiful former fishing village, and the secret spots that both the posh and the proletariat frequent.
What to Do in Portofino: For the Glamazon
Arriving: Take the yacht… er, ferry… from Riomaggiore, Monterosso, or Vernazza to Portofino. Grab a spot on the top deck, tie on your silk scarf, pop on your sunglasses, and gaze at the beautiful Tigullio coast from above the crystal blue waves. When you disembark at your destination, walk slowly off the ship, look out towards the village, and make a couple of princess waves for good measure. You can check ferry times and schedules near the dock at your arrival and departure points, but do ensure you plan this beforehand so as not to find yourself actually needing to charter a private yacht. Price: From €10-15
Dining: Hotel Splendido has been voted “Best Hotel in the World” for years, and its golden-era clientele have made it the chicest place on the Riviera for a 4-course dinner. Its location on the hill above and behind the village gives you incredible views of the seaside, so be sure to get there before it gets too dark. But do be warned — with all this glamor comes a hefty bill. For a pared-down experience, grab an aperitivo (happy hour) on the deck after 7pm, wander around the grounds, and enjoy the sparkle-clad pianist’s tunes. Price: Drinks for 2, €50
Doing: There is plenty of high-end shopping available to you, at least to look at. Stroll the central piazza and main side streets for the chicest European fashion houses’ boutiques, like Missoni, Dior, Prada, Hermes, Salvatore Ferragamo, and Louis Vuitton. For flouncy, lacy, and locally-made finds, head to the corner boutique Sartoria Antica, which sells blouses and dresses from 50 euro, fit for the Riviera.
What to Do in Portofino: For the Adventurer
Arriving: From any of the five Cinque Terre villages, hop on the train to the Santa Margherita Ligure-Portofino stop, about a 45-minute ride. When you get off, walk down the steps, cross the street towards the sea, and walk to the Santa Margherita Tourist Center, a small green hut by a parking lot near the central piazza.
There, you can purchase a card to use a bike sharing service* by the hour or by the day. If you’d like a little workout, check out a blue bike, a standard, 3-gear model. If not, try a white one — they’re electric! The winding road towards Portofino is in the opposite direction of the train station — it’s about a 20-minute ride, and one you’re unlikely to forget! Pro tip: The road is as picturesque as it is narrow, so stick to the right, use your bell and brakes when rounding a curb, and beware of the other traffic.
Taking this road until it ends will lead to directly into Portofino, where you can park your bikes in the designated area with the scooters (a sign, “Park&Bike,” indicates the area). Or, if you’d like to avoid paying for the bikes while they’re sitting in Portofino, return them in Paraggi, a little beach cove — the bike depot is on the right. Price: €5.60 for the train; bike sharing: 4 hours for €8, 8 hours for €12
*Note, this is a bike sharing system, so your bike isn’t guaranteed to be at the same place when you come back. If you’d like a more traditional bike rental, check out Ciclomania.
Dining: Grab some locally-made pesto, crackers, limonata (a fizzy lemon drink) and other snacks from the small goods store, Niasca, off the beaten path behind the central piazza (follow the road up from the bike parking past the pharmacy). Then, find a spot in the national park for a picnic. There are hiking trails all around town, but if you wander through the town center from Niasca and walk until the dock ends after the yacht club, you can enjoy your feast in the shade of the trees on some benches just after the trail begins.
Doing: Ready for a hike with some limoncello and a gorgeous view awaiting you at the end? Finish your snack on the benches and hike upwards, following the signs for El Faro (the lighthouse), and round the hills to the scenic tip of the coast. There’s a small bar with great limoncello and snacks.
What to Do in Portofino: For the Romantic
Arriving: Follow your heart aboard the train. Remember the train station stop is called Santa Margherita Ligure-Portofino, and stroll to Portofino. Portofino is about an hour’s walk from the train station, on a direct but twisting road carved into the green hillside, perched above the sea. There are some stretches with a special “sidewalk” for pedestrians (one of wood built seemingly floating above the water), and other times you hug the stone wall on the main road shared with vespas, convertibles, bikes and a bus. Breathe in the salty, leafy air and enjoy the sights, nice ‘n slow. Price: €5.60 for the train
Dining: Enjoy a seaside table at Ristorante La Stella, right in front of the dock. Get the scampi or calamari, look longingly out towards the sea, and watch the fishing and tourist boats come and go. For dessert, grab a dark chocolate gelato from Gelateria Il Molo, and go sit on the benches in front of the dock to watch the yachts and passersby hand-in-hand. Price: €20-50/plate
Doing: For such a small little town, Portofino is endowed with three beautiful churches. It is said that the church of San Giorgio brings love and romance to those who pray inside (and truthfully, it did actually work for me and two of my friends). Enjoy the incredible paintings and stained glass art in the simple chapel. Find San Giorgio to your left off the main road, and walk down into the town from there. The second church is nestled between an art gallery and some shops, in the center of town. Its simplicity is calming, and the marble interiors make it a nice place to cool off in the summer heat.
Walking up behind the village leads you to the best view of Portofino and the yellow church Diva Martino that protects the town from above. To the left — the town, to the right — the beautiful, crashing waves.
What to Do in Portofino: For the History Buff
Arriving: After arriving at Santa Margherita Ligure-Portofino by train, walk down to the Tourist Center and catch the bus to Portofino. The schedule to and from Portofino is listed on a board by the building, and you can purchase your tickets from the lean, silver machine adjacent. This is one wild ride so those who are motion-sensitive should be aware — the bus is usually quite full in the summer and does an impressive job of rounding the sharp corners, though it’s not always graceful. It is, however, the quickest way to get to the village from Santa Margherita. Price: €6 round-trip
Dining: La Taverna del Marinaio is elegant and simple, with a cluster of tables along the dock. As Conde Nast aptly says, “If Portofino had any locals left, this is where they would come: The atmosphere is convivial and the seafood is excellent.” The interior is decorated in nautical Ligurian tradition, and the staff can tell you great stories about Portofino’s past. Price: Around €40 per person
Doings: Hike to the stunning Castello Brown and take a tour of medieval relics, neo-gothic architecture, a gorgeous garden, and 360° views of the sea, national park, and town. The Genovese-built castle stood strong against the Venetians, Savoyards, Sardinians and Austrians, and later fell to Napoleon. It was bought by a British diplomat in 1867 and transformed into a private mansion. Price: €3 for entrance
If you’re like me, you have a bit of each of these characteristics in you depending on the day, so mixing and matching is highly encouraged. Create your own Portofino story, and let us know if you end up falling in love and staying forever too!
Note from Bianca: This was written by Kaitlin King, who truly did fall in love with and in Portofino. She is a human-centered designer, a career coach, and entrepreneur — her yoga retreat and education company, Yoga Soule, was founded after her move to Italy fun-ified her yoga practice. Yoga Soule shares the magic of Italy with fellow yogis and spurs yoga professionals to enliven and deepen their businesses. // Image credits: Kaitlin King, except “girl” by Rachel Tobias.
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