What are the best things to do in Portofino?

Looking for the best things to do in Portofino? With its pastel coloured fishermen’s houses, tiny harbour and stunning sea views, Portofino is a chic Italian retreat for holidaymakers. There are plenty of great things to do in Portofino, whatever your budget.

I have travelled extensively throughout this region, with my most recent visit being in October 2022. Liguria is quite a large region, so it will help to know where all the attractions are and how to get to them. Be sure to read my other Italy posts before your trip.

Panorama of Portofino town with pastel coloured houses, blue sea, white boats and green cliffs.

The pretty Italian town of Portofino is lined with exclusive boutiques and restaurants hosting al fresco tables overlooking the protected waters of the surrounding marine reserve. May and June are the best months to visit – after that it can be too crowded to enjoy it properly.

10 Things to do in Portofino

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Portofino is popular with wealthy holiday-makers so you may find the prices a bit inflated when compared to the other Ligurian towns nearby. However despite its sophisticated VIP status, there are plenty of things to do in Portofino for those on a budget too.

I recommend visiting Portofino by boat for a day trip, whilst basing yourself in one of the other Ligurian towns nearby, such as Rapallo or Santa Margherita. The waters in this area are usually adorned with glamorous superyachts, which make for a spectacular vista.

Keep reading for my 10 things to do in Portofino.

1. Check out all of the pastel coloured houses

There is an ancient tradition throughout the Ligurian region for painting houses in colourful hues. In Portofino the trompe l’oeil painting techniques are more prevalent than some of the neighbouring towns.

Trompe L’oeil literally means ‘deceive the eye’ and it refers to the technique of painting realistic facades on shop fronts and house fascias. For example you may see brightly coloured ‘shutters’ but when you look closely, they are just decorations.

If you head to my Instagram highlights you can see more examples of the trompe l’oeil painting techniques close-up (just scroll to the Portofino highlight).

2. Eat lunch in the Piazzetta

Piazzetta di Portofino is the central square overlooking the sea, framed by restaurants with terrace seating. It’s a beautiful place to sit and watch the world go by. You could order lunch or drinks or gelato, but be aware the prices will be inflated here.

3. Hit the designer shops

If you like to splash the cash, then you’ll love all the designer boutiques and high-end stores in Portofino. The main streets for luxury brands and designer shops are Molo Umberto I, Calata Marconi, Via Roma and Piazza Martiri dell’Olivetta. I recommend using a Europe-friendly credit card.

Boutique shops in Portofino, Italy.

4. Visit San Martino church

?Chiesa del Divo Martino, Salita della Chiesa, 16034 Portofino GE, Italy

One of several free things to do in Portofino, this is a very old church (10th Century) with a drastically contrasting interior to its rather plain exterior. Inside there are lots of beautiful paintings, marble columns, arches and gold ornaments. Of the paintings, the most valuable is the Madonna del Rosario, although the original painter is still a mystery. Remember to cover up bare shoulders with a scarf like this one when visiting churches.

5. Visit Brown’s Castle

?Castello Brown, Via alla Penisola, 13, 16034 Portofino GE, Italy

One of the free things to do in Portofino, this is an ancient castle with beautiful Mediterranean gardens, which is very popular for weddings and celebrations due to its stunning views and sought after location. It is easy to climb up the hill to the entrance, and you will be stunned by the beautiful romantic interiors.

6. Visit Portofino lighthouse

?Faro di Portofino, Via alla Penisola, 16034, Portofino GE, Italy

Portofino lighthouse might have been built in 1917 but it is still operational, and once you have climbed to the top of the hill you might find the lighthouse keeper there. The lighthouse keeper lives at the base of the tower and is happy to talk to tourists! It’s worth taking a pair of compact binoculars to see the view from here.

Portofino lighthouse, looking out to sea.
Portofino Lighthouse

7. Take a boat trip from Portofino

One of the best things to do in Portofino is to take a boat trip. Boats sail to Rapallo, Santa Margherita or Genova. It’s a spectacular ride and you will see lots of glamorous yachts as well as the picturesque scenery. There are five different ferry lines or you can get private water taxis for a more luxurious experience.

If you’d rather go for something a little more private, you can charter a boat or take a private boat tour. For boat trips, I recommend taking a thin cardigan like this one or a scarf to protect you from any chilly breezes.

8. Follow a Portofino hiking trail

?Portofino Regional Park, 16034 Portofino, Metropolitan City of Genoa, Italy

There are several hiking trails at Portofino – the most panoramic is perhaps the trail to Camogli which is around 3 hours long. You can hike all year round in the Portofino Regional Park and all of the wonderful coastal paths which snake their way past celebrities villas, churches, the lighthouse and the castle.

Rugged outcrop nature park. mountains and sea.
Portofino Regional Nature Park

You can also try a personal hiking guide who picks you up from Santa Margherita and makes sure you don’t miss any of the stunning vistas.

If you suffer from blisters when hiking, I recommend these amazing hiking socks which prevent blisters even on extremely long hikes (10 hours+).

9. Try the local Portofino specialities

All Italian towns have their own local speciality dish – in Portofino it is Pasta di Portofino, a dish made of trofie pasta, pesto and tomatoes. Both trofie pasta and pesto are widely celebrated in Portofino.

Trofie pasta with pesto on a white plate
Trofie with pesto

A common appetiser is octopus salad – ligurian octopus is boiled before being mixed with leaves of basil and parsley, then flavoured with a mix of garlic, olive oil, and lemon juice sourced from locally grown lemon trees.

You will often see the locals drinking Sciacchetrà wine, which is made in the nearby Cinque Terre area. For dessert there is a famous mixed gelato sundae called paciugo, and a creamy pudding called a bunettu de laete.

Lastly of course you can’t forget the Focaccia bread for which the Ligurian region is famous. Foacaccia is doughy, oily and delicious at any time of day with any number of toppings.

If you want to try to recreate some of the famous Ligurian recipes at home, you can buy Italian trofie pasta here, and I also recommend this Ligurian cookbook too.

There is a great tour in Portofino which manages to combine a boat trip, walking tour, pesto class and lunch all into the space of 3 hours.

10. Dive the Portofino Marine Park

The Area Marina Protetta di Portofino, established in 1999, covers 865 acres (350 hectares) of the sea off the Portofino promontory. The area is made up of different zones with varying degrees of restrictions on water sports and fishing.

In Zone A, which protects the delicate marine ecosystem, boating, anchoring, and diving are prohibited. Fewer activities are restricted in Zone C where visitors can enjoy swimming, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, or snorkelling .

Portofino Marine Park not only contains many beautiful sights and wildlife, it also has a religious bronze statue which is famous within the diving community. You can find more information on the Portofino Diving Group website. The tour starts in front of San Fruttuoso beach.

And that’s it for my 10 things to do in Portofino – I hope this article has helped you to plan your trip and find things to do within your budget. You may also be interested in Santa Margherita, Naples, Cinque Terre and Rapallo.

Travel advice for your trip to Liguria

What is the climate like in Liguria?

Liguria is situated in one of the sunniest parts of northern Italy, with over 300 days of sunshine per year. In July, temperatures can exceed 30C/86F with moderately high humidity. May and September are great months to explore this area if you’re looking for fewer crowds than the summer months, especially at the beaches.

In winter, you can expect lows of 7C/44F and highs of 14C/57F, but bear in mind a lot of hotels and restaurants close over the winter.


What is the best way of getting around in Liguria, Italy?

You don’t need to rent a car in most of Liguria. It is easier to travel by train or ferry between places like Santa Margherita Ligure, Rapallo, Genoa and Portofino. For Cinque Terre you are definitely best using local trains to get between the villages.

I have summarised the times you might want to get a car in Liguria, versus when not to get a car below:

Reasons not to rent a car in Liguria:

  • Portofino and Fruttuoso are car-free.
  • Portofino has one nearby car park which is always busy.
  • Visiting beaches in the high season is difficult by car – there is a lack of parking spaces and a LOT of traffic.
  • The city of Genoa has 26 train stations.
  • Winding roads in the Cinque Terre can be very nerve-racking to drive on.
  • Narrow roads in Cinque Terre means it takes 1 hour to drive 3km.
  • Motorways have tolls and parking is expensive.
  • It is cheaper, quicker and more environmentally friendy to use trains.
  • Boat rides are a pleasant way to travel between Ligurian towns.

Reasons why you might rent a car in Liguria:

If you are not travelling to any of the above places in the high season, you might want to rent a car in Liguria. Consider these circumstances:

  • It is much easier to drive in Liguria in the off-season (October to May). There is less traffic and lots of parking spaces. Beware the narrow roads in Cinque Terre though.
  • You’ll need a car if you’re visiting Hinterland.
  • You’ll need a car for mountain trekking (but Cinque Terre treks are still usually accessed by train, even in winter).
  • You’ll need a car for visiting olive groves, archaeological sites or wineries (these are usually quite far out).

What currency do they use in Liguria?

The official currency in Italy is the Euro (€) which comes in paper notes and coins.

Are there ATMS in Italy?

Yes there are ATMs in Italy. The ATMs are called ‘Bancomat’ and they work generally the same as in the UK or USA. Cash is accepted everywhere and is sometimes preferred. For example, some taxis might accept card payment but they still prefer cash. It’s best to ask before getting in.

The working hours for the banks in Italy are 08:30 – 13:00 and 15:00 – 16:00, Monday to Friday.

Below are some helpful links for your trip:

Related Reading: Italy & Liguria

Have you been to Portofino? Feel free to leave your comments below.

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