The closest major airport to Portofino is the Christopher Columbus airport in Genoa (Aeroporto Cristoforo Colombo di Genova - (GOA IATA)). From there you can rent a car, as it is a relatively short (22 1/4 miles, 35.8 km) ride. Overall the drive takes a little over an hour, due partly to some light traffic leaving Genoa and mostly to the roads once you leave the major highway (the A12). The streets are quite narrow and windy, as you might expect in a European/Riviera town. Proceed with caution, especially around corners and be alert!
Two other options if you are unable to get to Genoa are Nice, France (Aeroport Nice Cote D'Azur - (NCE IATA)) and Milan, Italy (Milan Malpensa - (MXP IATA)). They are a bit farther away but within driving distance and the drive(s) are beautiful.
The nearest railway station, Santa Margherita Ligure-Portofino, is about 5 km away in Santa Margherita Ligure. A train from Genoa takes around 45 minutes and costs around €3. There are frequent buses and boats to Portofino from Santa Margherita Ligure. Walking along the shore road from Santa Margherita Ligure is a beautiful introduction to the area and takes just over an hour. There is also a pleasant hiking trail between the two towns which begins at the end of the harbour area and passes through Paraggi.
Also available is a pleasant ferry ride along the coast. In summer, there are two direct daily departures in each direction from Genoa, which allow for a pleasant day trip. Otherwise, the region's well-developed ferry network provides various connections that could get you to Portofino with a change of boats in such as Santa Margherita Ligure. Expect the ride to take a little longer than driving, but it will certainly be far less nerve-wracking!
One final option should you happen to have the resources, just sidle into the harbour or a cove in your personal yacht. Portofino is a popular destination for the world's wealthy, and the luxurious yachts constantly dot the horizon in this lovely Mediterranean port.
Once in Portofino walking might be your best option. The town is not large and most hotels and beaches are a short walk from the harbour. Alternatively, mopeds seem to be a popular choice for getting about, especially for those people visiting several of the small regional towns like Paraggi or San Fruttuoso on their own schedule. Be careful when walking the streets are cobbled and the roads full of potholes, many steps abound in this beautiful village.
The swimming in Paraggi is world-class and the sea beautifully clean, there are many expensive commercial beach areas and one tiny crowded free area in the middle.
Once again, should you be fortunate enough to have a boat at your disposal, that would be another convenient way to move around the area. There are rentals available in the harbour.
Taxis are available, but very expensive. Minimum charge is €20.
Everything! Truly, the most impressive thing about Portofino is the lifestyle, so running off and "seeing the sights" probably won't be your number one priority when you plan your trip. There are some notable attractions that might be able to lure you from the beaches, but the view from the harbour or any of the surrounding beaches is unforgettable and one could spend the entire day marvelling at it.
The view, however, is entirely artificial. All buildings are just standard concrete blocks with trompe l'oeil painting designed to make them look more intricate and historic than they actually are. In other words, the town is as authentic as EPCOT in Disney World, so if you are hoping for a slice of traditional seaside Italy, you will be very disappointed. It makes for great photos but don't expect much more.
- 1 Castello Brown. It is a 16th-century castle/fort, once used for the area's defense, but now primarily a museum with a fantastic view of the harbour and the Mediterranean Sea.
- Church of St. Martin ((Divo Martino)). It is around the corner from the harbour and is a quaint, stylish little chiesa from the 11th century. It's definitely worth taking a casual stroll around it.
One of the best things you can do in Portofino is relax. Walk around the small city, hear the sea, take a rest at the end of the left Marconi quay. There is a small wine bar where you have an occasion to drink something seated less than one meter from the sea.
Usually all the boutiques are open from the end of February until the end of October. Don't forget to bring something for your shoulders even if you came in the summer time. After 18:00-18:30 the sun goes behind the Portofino promontory and cools off considerably.
Also, you can visit San Fruttuoso Bay and try to see the sculpture of Christ of the Abyss. You can reach San Fruttuso only by sea. You can choose a public boat at reasonable price. If the money is not a problem, try to rent a small taxi boat. It's an unforgettable experience.
If you have some days off, you can also visit the Aquarium on Genoa (30 km from Portofino) — the biggest one in Europe — and walk around the port streets. There are a lot of museum and historical buildings.
There are a couple of small shops in the harbour area offering regional foods and wines for reasonable prices. The bakery is an inexpensive way of getting lunch, selling a variety of foccacias, small pizzas and cakes
There are several posh boutiques selling haute couture, but as the shops are small, by definition, so is the range. If you aren't looking for runway attire, there are also several shops selling craft items, including Murano glass jewellery.
Of course there are a few tourist shops and kiosks as well, with the usual assortment of beads, magnets and t-shirts. Be aware that many of the shops operate on Italian time, which means opening hours are somewhat erratic and it is more usual to be 'closed' rather than 'open'.
The Portofino harbour is surrounded by restaurants, all of which serve broadly the same selection of pasta, frozen seafood and €7 soft drinks.
Three things to remember about dining in Portofino. First, you're on Italian time, especially in the summer, so breakfast is whenever you can get it after you awake, lunch is some time between 14:00 and 16:00 and dinner won't begin until 20:00. Second, as a popular destination for weekend travellers and yacht or line cruisers, the weekends can get busy. If you have your heart set on a particular restaurant for a weekend meal, be sure to make reservations if you'll be dining during a busier time.
Third, bring a lot of cash. The restaurants operate in price-fixing cartel which means prices are broadly the same everywhere — which is approximately three times what you would pay in an expensive city like London. There is a cover charge of €7 per person, so four people going out for a meal will already be down €28 just for sitting down. A glass of wine will set you back €20, while a seafood main course will be €40-50. Pastas and salads are around €20. Despite being beside a harbour, seafood is not fresh and you will see small print on the menu explaining it is frozen. You get a good view of the fake buildings and billionaires on their yachts, but if you want a good meal without spending the best part of €120 per person, you would be better off heading to San Margherita, where prices are much more reasonable.
As with most things Italian, the gelati (ice cream) is spectacular so make sure to treat yourself to some from the stalls along the harbour, particularly the nocciola, a hazelnut and chocolate delight.
- 1 [dead link] Lo Stella, Molo Umberto 1, 3 (facing the harbour, on your right with the green awning; on the left of Delfino restaurant with the blue awning), ☏ , email@example.com. This local Italian restaurant has been around since the mid-19th century and 8 generations. Some people consider the food to be the best in the area. The price is reasonable, and service is telepathic. The Lasagna Pesto (pesto is indigenous to the area) is divine, and all other dishes are excellent. The restaurant sits right by the harbour and offers a beautiful view. It is open during the hours between lunch and dinner as well but closed on Wednesdays.
- 2 [dead link] Pizzeria El Portico, Via Roma, 21, ☏ . One eatery of note just around the corner from the central harbour, within range of its sights and sounds, this energetic family-run spot provides great food and gracious service.
Wine. Surprised? The region is known for some unique white varietals, including some notable Pinot Grigios. The available reds are also quite flavorful, so don't avoid them completely. Several of these wines may not be available outside of Italy, so sample liberally while you can.
Some shops offer locally produced Limoncino (Limoncello), so if you'd prefer a cordial you will have some options.
Of course you'll have plenty of non-alcoholic options if you're driving (really, you shouldn't be) or boating (better idea) that day. Soft drinks and water are readily available and the afternoon coffees and cappuccinos are very good.
There are several fine hotels in Portofino. All are within convenient walking distance of the harbour and offer packages and accommodations to suit most travellers.
Some of note:
Wherever you sleep, rest up! There may not be a better place to relax and embrace the casual lifestyle of the Riviera, so live like a local and enjoy!
- 1 Hotel Splendido, Salita Baratta 16, ☏ . It is the most luxurious hotel in Portofino. Located uphill from the harbour and providing spectacular views of the scenery below. However it is open from April to September. In low-season the cost is around €400 and in high season starting from €730.
- 2 Hotel Splendido Mare, Via Roma, 2, ☏ . In the sister of hotel Splendido close to the harbour. Open from April to September. €400.
- 3 Albergo Nazionale, Vico Dritto, 3 (in the main harbour), ☏ . There is no easier place to stay if spending time in the harbour is your main objective.
- 4 Hotel Piccolo, Via Duca degli Abruzzi, 31, ☏ . It is 300 m from the harbour on a hillside, directly across the road from a beautiful cove and a nice beach, with exclusive access to lounge chairs and food/drink service. Parking is charged at €18 a day: the staff park your car in the general Portofino car park so you have to wait 15 minutes to get your vehicle, but you do benefit from a €4 discount on the parking cost.
The quaint beach town Paraggi is a short walk on the pathway (pedonale) from Portofino toward Santa Margherita Ligure and it seems to cater to a younger and more family-oriented crowd.
The main city and capital of the region is Genoa and can be easily accessible via ferry. Genoa is the birthplace of Christopher Columbus and boasts the biggest historical centre in Europe.
The ferry service from Portofino harbour provides frequent service to other towns on the Gulf of Tigullio including Santa Margherita Ligure, which also boasts a beautiful public beach. In that slightly larger town you'll also find more shopping and with a little walk off of the main road you will find several shops specializing in local foods and libations, and lining the streets will be antique dealers with all kinds of aged treasures.
Pisa is also only roughly 2 hours from Portofino, and if you simply can't miss its leaning tower, it is well within reach of a day trip.