Portofino is a charming fishing village nestled in the Tigullio Gulf, east of Genoa.
World-famous for its pastel-coloured houses overlooking the small harbour, Portofino intrigues for its exclusive lifestyle with luxury shops and spectacular villas, but also for the beautiful landscapes of the park of the same name, of which it is part.
Also mentioned by the writer Pliny the Elder in his work Naturalis Historia, the term Portofino, Portus Delphini, is thought to derive from the presence of numerous dolphins on this stretch of coastline.
Below, you will find what to do and see in Portofino and practical information for organising a visit to this charming Ligurian village that attracts millions of visitors from all over the world every year.
Portofino: where it is, how to get there, what to do
Where Portofino is
Portofino is located in Liguria, along the Riviera di Levante, just over 30 kilometres from Genoa and about 60 kilometres west of the Cinque Terre.
How to get to Portofino
Reaching Portofino by car
Reaching Portofino by car (Rapallo-Santa Margherita-Portofino exit on the A12 motorway) is not as difficult as one might think, but the real sore point is parking.
The centre of Portofino, in fact, is closed to cars, and parking places outside the pedestrian area are few and far between and expensive.
Where to park in Portofino
About 300 metres from the small square in Portofino is the car park in Piazza della Libertà 13/A, open H24. The cost is €6.00 per hour or €20.00 per day. At peak times, it is taken by storm and very long queues can form.
The alternative is to leave your car in the car park near the Covo di Nord Est discotheque, 3 kilometres from Portofino, and then continue on foot or by bus, the bus stop of which is right in front of the car park.
The cost of the car park is €1.00 per hour and the bus ticket is €5.00 return (they are bought from the vending machine near the car park).
Reaching Portofino by ferry
Most visitors arrive in Portofino by sea, using a regular ferry service connecting Genoa’s Porto Antico with Nervi, Recco, Camogli, and Portofino.
Reaching Portofino by train and bus
The nearest railway station to Portofino is Santa Margherita Ligure, about 12 kilometres away. From here, you can take bus line no. 82.
Rides leave every hour in low season and a little more frequently in summer.
Reaching Portofino on foot
The Passeggiata dei Baci
For lovers of walking, it may be useful to know that you can also reach Portofino on foot by taking the famous Passeggiata dei Baci: an itinerary that goes from Rapallo to Portofino, passing through Santa Margherita Ligure and Paraggi.
The first part is on the coast and therefore very scenic, while the last stretch climbs through the woods of Monte di Portofino.
It is a promenade that can be easily walked even with children.
Reaching Portofino by plane
The nearest airport to Portofino is Genoa’s Cristoforo Colombo, 40 kilometres away. From here, as we have seen, you can continue by car, train or boat.
Portofino: where it is, how to get there, what to do. What to see in Portofino
Historical centre and harbour
A visit to Portofino can only begin by admiring Piazza Martiri dell’Olivetta, the little square with the characteristic multicoloured houses built one next to the other.
Those who have wandered a little among the Ligurian villages will have noticed that the colourful buildings are a common feature and this is because it was easier for fishermen to recognise their homes from the sea.
In the piazzetta and among the streets of the historic centre, there are boutiques and luxury shops of the most important brands in the world, reserved exclusively for the ‘super rich’.
In front of the piazzetta is the marina where mega yachts and pleasure boats are moored. This is the Marina di Portofino .
For those who want to delve into the cultural aspect, among the noteworthy churches in Portofino, there is the Church of San Giorgio, whose risseu (cobbled mosaic) in the churchyard is built with sea stones, according to anancient Ligurian tradition .
The Church of San Giorgio is dedicated to the patron saint of Portofino and its position overlooking the cliff makes it a suggestive vantage point.
Other noteworthy churches are the Oratory of Santa Maria Assunta and the Church of San Martino, which houses numerous sculptures and paintings from the 16th century.
The Castello di San Giorgio (known today as Castello Brown) is a splendid construction perched on the promontory overlooking the village of Portofino and the Gulf of Tigullio.
Thanks to its strategic position, Castello Brown had an important defensive function until the 19th century, when Portofino became part of the Kingdom of Italy .
It was then bought by the English Consul Brown and transformed into an elegant private residence.
Today, the Castle is open to visitors as a museum and an exclusive location for wedding receptions .
What to do in Portofino
Walk to the Portofino Lighthouse
The Portofino Lighthouse is perched on a rocky outcrop overlooking the sea, on the furthest point of the promontory.
It is possible to reach the lighthouse from the Piazzetta di Portofino, via an easy paved road that winds through the greenery.
Along the way, you pass the small church of San Giorgio, the Brown Castle, the former Olivetta Fort and the Castle Fort.
From the lighthouse, one can enjoy a magnificent view of the Tigullio Gulf.
▶ Discover activities and guided tours in Portofino with GetYourGuide – Click here.
Excursions in the Portofino Regional Natural Park
The Portofino Regional Natural Park was established in 1935 to preserve the biodiversity of the native vegetation of the Portofino promontory.
The park is criss-crossed by more than 80 kilometres of trails and is an ideal destination for nature lovers.
From those for experienced hikers to simple walks for children, the paths within the park can satisfy the needs of the whole family.
The beaches of Portofino
The only real beach in the village of Portofino is the one in front of the Piazzetta and is a small strip of sand and pebbles, with crystal-clear water.
For those who have time to enjoy the beauty of the landscape, there are other characteristic beaches within walking distance of the village.
Such as, for example, that of Paraggi, located halfway between Portofino and Santa Margherita Ligure.
A rarity for the Ligurian coastline, Paraggi beach consists of sand and is set in an enchanting bay.
Or the beach of Baia Cannone, set among rocks and maritime pines in a small inlet just before reaching Portofino.
To access the beach, it is necessary to descend an iron ladder located near the Hotel Piccolo.
▶ 1-hour snorkelling tour of Baia di Paraggi with GetYourGuide – Click here.
When to Visit Portofino
The ideal season to visit Portofino and its surroundings is spring or autumn.
Summer is suitable if the goal is only beach life, because it is very hot, and then it is always very crowded.
The winter period could also be a good time to plan a visit to Portofino as the climate, on the Riviera, is quite clement , but it must be taken into account that, in the event of strong sea storms, the ferries do not leave.
Where to sleep in Portofino
Definitely sleeping in Portofino is an unforgettable experience to be had, if possible, at least once in a lifetime.
Of course, theexclusivity of being in one of the most beautiful and evocative places in Liguria comes at a price, but if you plan your stay a little in advance or during a low season, you can find reasonable prices.
The Hotel Piccolo in Portofino is a historic villa with private access to the beach and private access to the pedestrian walkway leading to the historic centre.
Reception is always open, there is an in-house restaurant , private parking, and a sun terrace overlooking the Tigullio Gulf.
Some services are included, others are charged for; either way, views and relaxation are assured – Book here.
For those who instead desire a slightly less elite solution, they could opt for a village near Portofino, such as Camogli or Rapallo, connected by boats and with a wide choice of hotels at slightly more reasonable prices.
What to see near Portofino