A picturesque fishing town, Portofino is a splendid location in Liguria that offers numerous attractions, in addition to entertainment, in order to satisfy every kind of tourist. Not only that: it also presents numerous sites of historical and archaeological interest. If you are a lover of cultural travel, Portofino is, therefore, the right destination for you, where you will enjoy one of the wonders of Italy.
Portofino’s nature has inevitably changed a lot over time, especially in the last century. What was a small village deeply linked to fishing and maritime tradition, inevitably discovered the tourism towards the end of the nineteenth century. As happened also in Cinque Terre and in other places in Liguria, Portofino has however largely preserved the typical atmosphere of the fishing village and is still able to exert a profound charm in visitors.
Portofino is located in the western part of the Gulf of Tigullio, not far from Genoa. Its entire territory is included in the Portofino regional natural park and in the homonymous protected marine natural area. It can be reached by plane arriving at Genoa airport, about 30 km away. Then by car along the highway 12 Genova – La Spezia, or by train, getting off at the Santa Margherita railway station and then continuing by taxi or bus to Portofino.
Once you arrive in Portofino, going on foot or using the bike (preferably electric) are the best solutions for getting around and enjoying places and panoramas. The bicycle, in particular, allows you to have maximum freedom, without traffic or parking problems. It is also accessible to everyone: with an e-bike, anyone can tackle the climbs without effort.
The best way to experience the magical atmosphere of Portofino is by walking around the town and discovering its colorful houses, the marina with its yachts, its restaurants, and the many shops.
Things to do in Portofino
Piazza Martiri dell’Olivetta
The first thing to see in Portofino is definitely its small square, located in front of the marina and visible from a little bit every point of the town: Piazza Martiri dell’Olivetta represents the real heart of Portofino. It overlooks the most exclusive clubs and boutiques of the town and here have walked some of the most famous personalities from the world of entertainment, politics and sport, from Guy de Maupassant to Winston Churchill and Rita Hayworth.
Via Roma, Portofino
Walking through the streets of the town center of Portofino you can take Via Roma, the main street that connects Piazza della Libertà directly to the port. This is the area full of shops of all kinds and in addition to luxury boutiques, you can also find typical shops and craft stalls. Nearby, in Piazza Martiri dell’Olivetta, there is the art gallery that offers works of contemporary painters and sculptors among the best known in Italy, also paying particular attention to young emerging talents.
Church of San Giorgio, Portofino
The church of San Giorgio is an important place of Catholic worship and inside there are the remains of San Giorgio, patron of Portofino. Built-in 1154 in Romanesque style, today it has a Baroque style structure and a street (the San Giorgio climb) that allows you to reach the church from the main square of the town. From the area in front you have wonderful views to enjoy Portofino from above and also the view on the other side of the promontory is spectacular.
Also on the promontory, there are other splendid buildings, such as the Brown Castle, from the 16th century and which once served as a military fortress, and the lighthouse of Punta di Capo, from which to enjoy a breathtaking view. Brown Castle is located in the center of the bay of Portofino and is a panoramic point from which you can enjoy an incomparable view of the Gulf of Tigullio. The terrace of the castle leans vertically above the town, making it the ideal place for many events, art exhibitions, meetings, parties, and even weddings. It is surrounded by a Mediterranean garden full of flowers, rose gardens and pergolas. Its construction dates back to 1557 when it was used to guarantee greater military defense given the frequent Saracen attacks in Liguria. Inside you can see some original furniture, Gothic-style windows, numerous bas-reliefs, and architectural furnishings in marble or slate.
Church of San Martino
The church dedicated to San Martino is a place of Catholic worship located in the oldest part of Portofino, inside there are some pictorial and sculptural works such as the Annunciation of the eighteenth century and a painting depicting the saints Rocco, Sebastiano, and Pantaleo of the sixteenth century. Externally the facade is quite simple and with horizontal lines of gray and yellow color, inside instead it is full of frescoes and paintings.
Abbey of San Fruttuoso
Crossing the paths of Portofino mountain, or taking the boat, you then reach the abbey of San Fruttuoso, a thousand-year-old place of peace and silence. Benedictine monastery first and then a fishing village, today the Abbey of San Fruttuoso is a jewel nestled between land and woods. The area is dominated by the Abbey dating back to 1000 AD, the beach, the church, the Torre dei Doria and the rare fishermen’s houses. Legend has it that the place of construction of the Abbey was indicated in a dream by the Fruttuoso Bishop, who died at the stake in Spain, to 5 monks, who recognized the place along the Ligurian coasts and here built the Abbey.
Subsequently, the Abbey passed to the Benedictine friars who enlarged it, and then to the noble Doria family who, in 1983, donated the entire area to the Fund for the Italian Environment. Then the Abbey was totally restored. The architecture of the Abbey is characterized by the typically Ligurian Romanesque style: white marble and slate from the surrounding valleys. The complex includes the monastery with its cloister and the tombs of the Doria family, the primitive church and the parish church. On site you can also admire the archaeological finds and visit the small village. San Fruttuoso can only be reached by sea or on foot, thanks to the paths of Portofino mountain.
Active since 1910, at a height of 40 m from the sea, the Portofino Lighthouse still represents a fundamental guide for sailors. Located at Punta Faro, on the border between the Gulf of Tigullio and the southern area of the Portofino Promontory, it is also a place of sightings of cetaceans including dolphins and occasionally whales.
Christ of the Abyss
But Portofino is also famous for a sculpture known all over the world: we are talking about the Christ of the Abyss, a bronze statue placed in 1954 on the seabed of the bay of San Fruttuoso, between Camogli and Portofino, within the protected marine natural area. It is located 17 meters deep and was created by the sculptor Guido Galletti. Dives are organized every year to visit it and this attraction attracts divers from all over the world.
If you want to spend a day at the beach, the most beautiful one is located two kilometers from the center, proceeding towards Recco. Here, in Paraggi, we find a bay which is the only one in the area to host a real beach, for this reason, called “Portofino beach”, much loved by tourists. The whole bay is closed to navigation. A safe place to swim, snorkel, or simply take a bath.
Portofino Regional Natural Park
Trekking lovers can take advantage of the many paths offered by Portofino. The Portofino Regional Natural Park – which also includes the municipalities of Camogli and Santa Margherita Ligure – gives you the opportunity to walk along 80 kilometers of trails, one more beautiful than the other. Or, you can organize a kayak trip, visiting natural wonders, such as the Gulf of Paraggi or the small Olivetta beach. Within this area, the vegetation is typically Mediterranean, consisting of chestnut, hazel, pine and olive trees. Its fauna is particularly rich, it is easy to meet and observe robins, finches, blackbirds, the jay and many others, and birds of prey such as the peregrine falcon.
Starting from Portofino you can choose which route to take, there is plenty of choices and you can consult them all on the official website of the park, based on the duration, difficulty, length, and route.
Still remaining in the heart of the Portofino Park, we find San Sebastiano, a very small town off the beaten track, accessible only on foot or by bike. Spectacular is the small marine-style church (with the typical Ligurian stone pavement). The town is surrounded by ancient olive trees, from here you can enjoy a breathtaking view of Portofino from above.
Portofino Park Museum
The Park Museum, located at Molo Umberto I and with free admission, stands in a magnificent garden overlooking the sea and houses sculptures belonging to some of the major internationally known artists, including Pomodoro, Messina, Marrai, Costa , and every year it is enriched with new acquisitions making it a cultural space in constant evolution and among the favorite places for nature and art lovers. To date, there are 130 sculptures. It is worth a visit as, in addition to being able to admire the statues and the various works, here you can visit a wonderful and lush garden overlooking the Portofino pier. Visits are possible from June to the end of September every day except on Tuesday.
What to eat in Portofino
As in any city in Liguria, one of the typical dishes is “focaccia”. To taste the classic one, crunchy and very oily, and that of Recco, enriched with a soft cheese and cooked in a wood oven. Among the dishes that are worth a taste, we find the “farinata di cenci” (chickpea porridge), the famous pasta with pesto, the legume soup, the minestrone, the pansotti with walnut sauce, the ravioli with stockfish, the cod.
Two other typical products of Portofino are cherries, small and very tasty, while the lemon apple is a particular apple that grows in this area and which is characterized by its greenish color and its slightly sour taste, reminiscent of lemon.
The nightlife in Portofino
The nightlife of Portofino is very quiet and elegant and this makes it a favorite destination for celebrities and wealthy tourists. The most popular clubs are located in the port area and along the coast and are mostly bars and pubs that organize evenings with live music and piano bars; to find a disco you have to move to the nearby town of Paraggi (the “Carillon”) and Santa Margherita Ligure (the “Covo di NordEst”): the first one is suitable for a more adult clientele while the second mainly hosts young people with a great desire to have fun. Last but not least, the aperitif is one of the favorite moments of the day in Portofino, something that cannot be renounced.