Portovenere (or Porto Venere) is often overshadowed by its neighboring towns along the Ligurian coast of Italy, but is an amazing destination in its own right (and a whole lot less crowded than Cinque Terre). Portovenere is located in what is known as the “Gulf of Poets” because many famous poets, writers and artists sought inspiration from this beautiful part of the world and spent their days in the villages and islands within the gulf.
Portovenere houses the stunning Castle Doria, Byron’s Grotto, the Church of San Pietro and a number of fun little swimming spots, and along with Portofino, is a fantastic day trip destination for anyone visiting Cinque Terre and the region of Liguria.
Here’s what you need to know to help plan a day trip to Portovenere from Cinque Terre!
Visiting Portovenere for the first time? Here are some answers to common Portovenere travel questions, as well as important Cinque Terre and Portovenere tips for a fuss-free trip.
How to get to Portovenere
Note: Although this article will focus on how to get to Portovenere from Cinque Terre, Portovenere can actually also be easily reached from Levanto, Pisa and Florence via La Spezia. You can also opt to travel in the opposite direction from Portovenere to Cinque Terre, click here for my guide to visiting Cinque Terre.
Portovenere does not have its own train station, so if you are taking a train the closest station is in La Spezia Centrale. Click here for the train schedules and input “La Spezia Centrale” as the name of the destination station.
- From Levanto/Cinque Terre to Portovenere by train: There are a number of direct trains from each of the 5 towns of Cinque Terre to La Spezia. The direct trains take anywhere from 10 minutes (from Riomaggiore) to an hour (from Levanto). Once you arrive at La Spezia, head to one of these bus stops to take bus 11 to Portovenere: the drive will take approximately 40 minutes. These buses can get really packed during the summer so plan accordingly!
- From Levanto/Cinque Terre to Portovenere by ferry: The ferry may be one of the most direct ways to get there, but the boats do not appear to stop in Corniglia with limited service to Levanto. The ferry timetable is available here.
- From Cinque Terre to Portovenere by foot: Are you insane? Yes? Ok – well you can hike from Riomaggiore to Portovenere in 5-6 hours. Take this route followed by this route. Make sure you check the National Park website to make sure the hiking trails are open.
- From Cinque Terre to Portovenere by car: I recommend against it, unless you are staying in Portovenere/Cinque Terre and your hotel offers car parking. The distance between Cinque Terre and Portovenere is only approximately 25 KM from Riomaggiore, or 45 KM from Monterosso al Mare. However, the road to Portovenere is extremely narrow and winding and there just isn’t enough parking in Portovenere – it can be stressful trying to find a space. We parked in Portovenere in this lot, and while it was fine with our little rental scooter the rates are expensive for larger cars, and reviews say that the lot is often full with ridiculously tight parking spaces.
- From Cinque Terre by scooter: Because of the long and winding road down to Portovenere, I would only recommend this for people who have lots of experience in driving a scooter/motorcycle. Otherwise, I would recommend that you catch the bus from La Spezia or hop on a ferry from Cinque Terre. If your heart is set on getting there by scooter, we hired our scooter from Paddock Scooter in Levanto.
Looking for the best prices for rental cars around the world? Click here to book your rental car ahead of your trip. Bookings can be cancelled or amended if your plans change!
Is it worth visiting Portovenere?
Yes, in my opinion it is worth visiting Portovenere. This little fishing village is a somewhat lesser-known destination in Italy, and the crowds tend to be slightly thinner than the hordes of people you’re bound to encounter in the five towns of Cinque Terre. The views in Portovenere are extraordinary, and you’re not likely to forget the unique jewel-toned waters that surround the marina and coastline.
How much time to spend in Portovenere
Portovenere is not a large town, so one day in Portovenere (or even 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 for offline use before you leave the house.
Visiting Cinque Terre? Check out my practical guide to visiting Cinque Terre here!
The best things to do in Portovenere
Portovenere is not a large town, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in character. If you are planning Portovenere day trip, here are the top 5 things that you shouldn’t miss. If you are visiting for a day trip from Cinque Terre, read on for what to do in Portovenere.
1. Walk around and check out the Portovenere harbour
The first thing you’ll see as you enter Portovenere is a row of brightly colored houses lining the harbour; these houses are not just beautiful, but functional too as they used to be a part of the town’s medieval defense system!
Take a stroll along the harbour and at the end of the pathway you will find your first stop, the Church of Saint Peter.
2. Check out Chiesa di San Pietro
Perched on a rock overlooking the sea, the Church of Saint Peter offers incredible panoramic views across the Gulf of Poets. The original church dates back to the 5th century but was not officially consecrated until much later in the 12th century, and underwent further restoration in the 1930s.
The Chiesa di San Pietro is probably the most popular and famous attraction in Portovenere, with the vast majority of visitors heading straight to the church once they arrive in town.
Climb up to the roof and admire the glistening sea – this is a great sunset spot if you’re around for dusk! The view from the loggia or upper gallery, part of the original abbey, is stunning as you look out towards the Gulf of Poets.
3. Stop by Byron’s Grotto
Byron’s Grotto is a small rocky swimming spot at the base of stairs leading up to Chiesa di San Pietro. This grotto is where the British poet Byron used to swim to visit his friend in another comune, Lerici. Portovenere is also the starting point for the Byron’s Cup swimming race which sees a few hundred swimmers tackle the 7.5 KM stretch to San Terenzo in Lerici.
If you are keen for some sunbathing and a dip in the water, grab a spot on the rocks and soak up the sunshine.
4. Head up to Castello Doria
Look for the bronze “Mother Earth” statue next to the entrance and follow the path all the way up to reach the Doria Castle. The castle is an imposing structure overlooking the entire town and was an important military fortification built to protect the village.
Today, the Doria Castle also hosts cultural events, art exhibitions and weddings aside from being an important landmark in Portovenere.
There is an entrance fee of €5 to roam the grounds but it is well worth the small cost; the castle is open from 10:30 am to 6:30 pm (hours subject to change).
5. Wander around the narrow streets of Portovenere and grab lunch
Once you are done with exploring the Doria Castle, navigate the pathways that lead you back into the heart of Portovenere. Here you will find little streets lined with coffee shops and restaurants. We stopped by a cute little seafood restaurant with a beautiful water fountain and open-air dining in their courtyard: La Medusa.
Where to stay in Cinque Terre
Should you stay in Cinque Terre or Portovenere? There are more accommodation options and restaurants in Cinque Terre, plus it is easier to get to by public transportation (especially if you’re visiting Florence or Pisa ahead of your trip to the Ligurian coast), so for that reason I’d recommend staying in one of the five towns of Cinque Terre over staying in Portovenere.
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 or click here for even more hotel options in Cinque Terre!
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.
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 or check out even more Italy hotel booking tips and recommendations here.
Planning a trip to Italy? You might also enjoy these guides:
- If you’re visiting Cinque Terre read my guide to the five towns
- …and don’t forget about planning a day trip to the stunning city of Portofino
- Read this article for 14 things you should know before you go to Italy
- Looking for more travel tips on visiting Italy? Head on over here for my other Italy destination guides
- Researching accommodation for your trip? Read on for incredible Italy accommodation options – nearly 20 awesome hotels in Italy tried and tested by yours truly!
Have you visited Portovenere? What are your tips to other travelers visiting the area?
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