What to do and what not to do in the amazing Portofino, the glamorous pearl of Liguria Coast. Here are 10 tips to visit Portofino as a local.
If you consider that Portofino, in Liguria, is such a little town, it is amazing to understand how many things you can actually do and visit here. In case you are visiting Portofino during a day trip or in case you are staying longer, choosing among all the different activities might be challenging.
Coming here has the flavor of a true paradise.
If you have ever been in Portofino we are sure you remember your first arrival here.
The town seems to shine on the water, lying on the side of its green promontory. Everything here seems to belong to a dream, a great dream no one would like to stop. Is it for the brilliance of the sea or the beauty of its colored buildings? Is it for its marine atmosphere?
No one could ever know until he or she comes here.
That's the reason why we have prepared this guide on Portofino, listing all the things we would like you to see, visit and experience.
So let's begin our journey among the Portofino's do's and don'ts!
What to do in Portofino, Italy: 7 recommendations from our local point of view
From #7 to #1, our recommendations on what you can actually see and do in Portofino in order to enjoy the town at its best.
At the end of the article, 3 tips on what you should never do in Portofino will follow.
7. How to arrive in Portofino: we have no doubts on what's the best way
A jewel at the center of the international jet set, Portofino, however, still retains its seafaring spirit. And what better way to start your visit to Portofino than from the sea?
To get an extraordinary glimpse of the entire small bay, the village, the small harbor and the green hills that envelop it all, there is no better way than to come right from the waves. The scenery that unfolds before your eyes is truly incomparable.
Moreover, getting there by public service boats is quite easy. In fact, from May to September (or October), there are daily departures from nearby Santa Margherita Ligure, as well as from Rapallo, Sestri Levante, and Chiavari. The company that handles this service is the Tigullio Maritime Service Consortium.
Please check your boat schedule in advance because it may be varied due to rough seas or bad weather.
6. Visit the symbol of Portofino: the central little square
Piazza Martiri dell'Olivetta is actually known to everyone simply as the 'little square of Portofino'.
A very small place indeed, but one that takes the visitor back to memories of the past. For through here have passed the likes of Princess Soraya, Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, Ernest Hemingway, Clark Gable. In the heart of the twentieth century, in fact, this place was already the heart of the Italian Dolce Vita so much so that it deserves today's title of 'Historical Place'.
Walking around Piazza Martiri dell'Olivetta, crowned by cafes, bars, gelaterias and restaurants, will be a sort of rendezvous with history and with Old Hollywood.
And if you feel like you've seen it somewhere before, it's really true: the little square has been the location for such films as The Wolf of Wall Street starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Murder Mystery starring Jennifer Aniston and Adam Sandler.
5. Visit the Church of San Martino in the heart of the historical center
The Church of St. Martin (or Divo Martino) is located in the oldest part of the village of Portofino.
It is itself very old because, dedicated to St. Martin of Tours, it was built in 986 on the site of an ancient chapel. In the very same year it was sold to the monks of the nearby Abbey of San Fruttuoso.
When the relics of the martyred saints Dorothea, Cassian and Vincent were brought in the 16th century it was finally consecrated.
The exterior of the church, and the churchyard itself, show the features of a rather vivid Romanesque style: of particular interest, however, is also a visit to the interior where there are a variety of 18th-century elements.
A not-to-be-missed stop to appreciate even more the ancient history of the village.
4. An easy trekking to Castello Brown
Wandering around the surroundings of the small square, you will see a small road that climbs the hill that embraces the village from the south: this is the Salita San Giorgio.
What do we suggest you do if you are visiting Portofino? If you have some time, we suggest you follow this road. You will find at a certain point the small Church of San Giorgio on the right, also in Romanesque style, and then you can continue on a path that gradually climbs among the Mediterranean vegetation and offers wonderful scenery of the sea.
You can decide whether to walk up to Castello Brown, or to observe it from afar. The view is nothing short of breathtaking, and the Castle presents itself to the visitor's eye in all its massive 15th-century bulk. It was once called St. George's Castle and served as a fortress until Sir Montague Yeats Brown turned it into a wealthy aristocratic residence in the 1800s.
Its strategic location made it impregnable for centuries. Consider that even Admiral Andrea Doria, who also managed to subdue much of the Ligurian Riviera, failed to conquer Portofino.
Today the castle, with its many rooms, is owned by the municipality and can be visited. Don't miss the panoramic terrace, a balcony wide open to the blue.
3. Continue the trek to the lighthouse
The Portofino Lighthouse stands about 40 meters above sea level and has been active since 1910.
It stands on the headland as a guide for sailors but also as a kind of divider between the Tigullio Gulf and the Paradise Gulf.
The lighthouse cannot be visited inside, but the path winding through the vegetation and the view across the Tyrrhenian Sea will be a priceless reward. With any luck, dolphins and sometimes even whales can be seen from here.
To get here simply continue on the same path that brought you to Castello Brown. The path from St. George's Church to the Lighthouse is about 1 km uphill. It is certainly worth the effort.
2. What to do in Portofino at night: the elegant nightlife of the town
If you have the chance to stay in Portofino in the evening as well, we definitely recommend staying in the harbor area.
In fact, the little square comes alive already at aperitif time, one of the favorite moments of the day in Italy. This is also the place to find several bars and restaurants where you can enjoy typical local dishes, such as chickpea farinata, Ligurian-style minestrone, pesto alla Genovese (amazing) and all kinds of fish dishes.
If you are looking for something more lively, such as a disco, we suggest moving to the nearby resort of Paraggi in Santa Margherita Ligure.
By the way, Paraggi is also considered the 'beach of Portofino', as the village does not have a real one. Paraggi's deep blue waters will easily make you forget the mile and a half that separates it from Portofino!
1. Explore Portofino Natural Park
More than 80 km of trails branch off this promontory, which are mainly divided between the municipalities of Portofino, Santa Margherita Ligure and Camogli.
Some of these paths are easily practiced independently, while others require the presence of an expert environmental guide.
In this park, nature is lush and explodes in the typical forms of Mediterranean scrub: chestnut, hazel, pine and olive trees. Wildlife is also particularly abundant, with specimens of blackbirds, jays and even birds of prey such as the peregrine falcon.
The park's official website illustrates and classifies all the trails according also to duration and difficulty: all that's left to do is set off!
Having explored the 7 things to prefer on a trip to Portofino, here are the 3 things that would be avoided instead.
3 things you should *NOT* do in Portofino
3. Arrive in Portofino by car
We have suggested that you get to Portofino from the sea, but getting there by train, bus, or on foot, walking one of the paths in the Natural Park, is also a good idea.
We do not recommend, however, that you arrive by car. This is definitely the most expensive way to visit the village, but also the most stressful. In fact, finding parking here, especially in high season, is really complicated.
In case you are touring by car, we recommend that you leave your car in Santa Margherita Ligure (or other nearby ports) and take the boat or bus!
2. Forget you are inside a protected environment
Portofino is one of the most precious pearls of the Ligurian Riviera also because its sea and promontory are part of protected natural areas.
When you visit the woods or venture out to sea, don't forget to follow the simple rules that allow you not only to respect your surroundings, but also to enjoy your vacation in total safety!
1. Explore just the town and refrain from visiting the park
Portofino is magical and represents for many the idea of glamour and Hollywood star life. Its dreamy views suggest that there is no place in the world more spectacular than this.
What we suggest is that you don't limit yourself to just the most iconic places in the historic center. If you have time, take a cue from our chart and venture into the old part of the village, or explore the wonders of the Natural Park!
Portofino is such a magnetic place that you will never want to leave.
What to do in Portofino in a two-day trip