Visit the Italian Riviera: How to Plan a Day Trip to Portofino from Cinque Terre
Bellissima Portofino! A place made famous by its picture perfect port, colourful array of buildings and celebrity sightings. The little town along the Italian riviera was the inspiration for the 1950s song, “Love in Portofino”! While it may be often overshadowed by its neighbour, Cinque Terre, Portofino is a wonderful day trip destination for anyone visiting the region of Liguria and can be easily reached from the five towns that make up Cinque Terre: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare.
Here’s what you need to know to help plan a trip to Portofino from Cinque Terre!
Tips you should know before you go
How do I get there?
Portofino does not have its own train station, so if you are taking a train the closest station is in Santa Margherita Ligure. Click here for the train schedules and input “S. Margherita Ligure-Portofino” as the name of the destination station.
- From Cinque Terre/Levanto by train: There are number of direct trains from each of the 5 towns to Santa Margherita Ligure. The direct trains take anywhere from 40-55 minutes, and the indirect trains will take an hour or so. Once you arrive at Santa Margherita Ligure, take bus 82 to Portofino from outside the station: the drive will take approximately 20 minutes. These buses can get really packed during the summer so plan accordingly!
- From Cinque Terre/Levanto by ferry: Take the train to Santa Margherita Ligure and then hop on a ferry. Ferry schedules available here but are subject to change.
- From Santa Margherita Ligure by foot: If you do not want to take the bus or ferry from Santa Margherita Ligure, walk! It’ll take you over an hour but if you have the time (and sunscreen), then why not?
- From Cinque Terre by car: Don’t do it. There just isn’t enough parking available in Portofino and it can be stressful trying to find a space.
- From Cinque Terre by scooter: The best way to get there IMHO. The drive takes a leisurely hour or so and also means that you can travel door-to-door without transferring at Santa Margherita Ligure. This option also provides a lot more flexibility so you don’t have to worry about missing the last ferry back or missing the train. Oh, and the views during the drive are incredible! We hired our scooter from Paddock Scooter in Levanto and the drive took just over an hour.
How long should I stay? Portofino is not a large town, so half a day is more than enough. If you leave in the morning by 9 am you can make it back to Cinque Terre for dinner.
Are there ATMs? Bring cash. Most places don’t accept card or have a spending minimum and there aren’t many ATMs.
Is it easy to use my phone to navigate? Cell signal is decent along the coast, make sure you have a local SIM card so you can use Google Maps, or make sure you download maps before you leave the house.
Visiting Cinque Terre? Check out my practical guide to visiting Cinque Terre here!
Things to do in Portofino
Portofino is not a large town, and unlike places like Capri and the Amalfi Coast, there is not actually a ton of things to do. The beauty of Portofino is in wandering around the town and soaking up the atmosphere. If you are visiting Portofino for a day trip, here are the top 3 things that you shouldn’t miss:
1. Walk around and check out the harbour
In the center of town is a row of beautiful multicoloured buildings and a number of laidback coffee shops and restaurants. Grab yourself an Italian gelato and wander around for a little while before strolling over to the harbour. I have never seen so many luxury yachts in one place before! If you’ve been to places like Monaco then you might be unimpressed, but for the rest of us this is seriously cool. The shiny exteriors of the boats glisten under the Italian sun, and it’s enough to make you wonder how you can score yourself a ride on one of these babies.
Once you’ve picked your jaw up off the floor, swing around to the far end of the port to find the trail up to Castle Brown.
2. Check out Castello Brown
Castello Brown sits on top of a hill overlooking the Gulf of Portofino and the harbour. The castle is surrounded by beautiful gardens and you can walk through the grounds from 10 am to the late afternoon (hours change depending on season, so make sure you check the website). Entry costs €5 but this is worth visiting because even in the summer there are no crowds here. Head to the outdoor terrace and you get an amazing panoramic view over the town and gulf – if you are an avid photographer then this is where you want to be!
The property is also available for weddings and events – imagine yourself getting married with this view in the backdrop!
3. Explore the gulf by kayak
If you know me well, you will know that I do not enjoy 1) hiking and 2) kayaking/canoeing. It’s never been my thing, and it never will be. This is the only exception: kayaking in Portofino is a great way to head to some of the most quiet parts of the coast and jump into the crystal clear Ligurian Sea. If you turn left (facing the sea) from Outdoor Portofino you will reach a busy beach in Paraggi, a neighbouring town, but if you turn right and kayak past the next bend then you will find yourself at Port Bay, a private little cove where you can hop out of your kayak and go for a swim.
Outdoor Portofino is a 10 minute walk from Portofino and offers kayak rental at €10-15 per hour (including a life jacket). You can also rent snorkeling gear if you don’t want to hop in a kayak. The shop offers lockers to keep your valuables safe. The best part? Outdoor portofino has a hot shower available to warm you up after your chilly dip in the sea!
Where to stay in Cinque Terre
During our first 2 nights in Cinque Terre, we stayed in Riomaggiore at La Dolce Vita, conveniently located right on the main street. The room was spacious, comfortable and had a little balcony overlooking the heart of town. The only thing is that they do not offer breakfast, but it was easy enough to wander downstairs and pick up freshly baked pastries. Click here to book your stay at La Dolce Vita!
However, if you are visiting Cinque Terre, here is my biggest tip: you don’t actually have to stay within Cinque Terre! In fact, hotels in the five towns are significantly more expensive. We opted to move from Riomaggiore to Levanto, which is one town over from Monterosso and used that as a peaceful base for exploring the coast (plus, it has a beautiful beach and awesome restaurants!). The Cinque Terre towns can get extremely crowded so it’s nice to be able get away from it all in the evening. Levanto also has a local train station that has daily trains to Santa Margherita Ligure which makes it easy to do a day trip to Portofino.
If you’re looking to do the same thing, look no further than Villa Caterina in Levanto, a wonderful family-owned property with beautiful gardens and rooms. It is a short walk away from the train station or you can rent a scooter to zoom your way around the coast. Click here to book your stay at Villa Caterina in Levanto!
Have you visited Portofino? What are your tips to travelers visiting the area?
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