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.
Planning a trip to Italy? Click here for 14 things you should know before you go to Italy!
Here’s what you need to know to help plan a trip to Portovenere from Cinque Terre!
Tips you should know before you visit Portovenere
How do I get there?
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 Cinque Terre/Levanto by train: There are number of direct trains from each of the 5 towns 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! More details from the bus operator here.
- From Cinque Terre/Levanto 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. The ferry timetable is available here.
- From Cinque Terre 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 by car: Don’t do it. The road to Portovenere is extremely narrow and winding and there just isn’t enough parking available in Portovenere and it can be stressful trying to find a space.
- 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.
How long should I stay? Portovenere 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!
The best things to see and do in Portovenere
Portovenere is not a large town, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in character. If you are visiting Portovenere for a day trip, here are the top 3 things that you shouldn’t miss:
1. Walk around and check out the 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 or Saint Peter offers incredible panoramic views across the Gulf of Poets. Climb up to the roof and admire the glistening sea – this is a great sunset spot if you’re around for dusk!
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. 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 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 courtyard: La Medusa.
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 or click here for even more hotel options in Cinque Terre!
Looking for other day trip ideas from Cinque Terre? Check out my guide to visiting Portofino here!
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!
Have you visited Portovenere? What are your tips to travelers visiting the area?
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