Perhaps more than anywhere in Italy, Portofino is all about embracing the good life: enjoying a spritz with a view, taking a dip in the pool, enjoying the salt air by the seaside, and embracing long meals with spectacular vistas. To my mind, Portofino is part of a collection of uber-exclusive escapes for the glam jet-set tribe; paired seamlessly with places like St. Tropez, Monte-Carlo, Sanremo, and Capri. It’s largely a place to see and be seen, but simultaneously can be a place of refuge for those choosing a privileged little hideaway tucked into the hillside. So, what do you do in Portofino? Well, the experience of Portofino is what I’d liken most to my experiences in St. Barths (a firm favorite of mine despite how bougie that sounds): expect some wonderful – though pricey – dining, upscale designer shops, spectacular hotels, long afternoons with wine and spritzes, and time on the sea to embrace the coastal vibe. Longtime visitors to Portofino will probably say what I’ve come to find true in St. Barths as well: there are a range of experiences available if you want to dig in (e.g. not everything has to cost a fortune). That said, if it’s your first time visiting, know that you’re visiting one of Italy’s most spendy locales and clear your credit card accordingly. For first-timers figuring out their plan, here’s some inspiration for two days in Portofino.
First, let’s talk about getting to Portofino. We had a car rental during our stay in Italy so drove ourselves to Belmond Hotel Splendido where they took care of our car for the stay. There are other properties to base yourself when visiting Portofino but the Splendido and newly relaunched Splendido Mare are the most iconic. If you’re not staying here, I’d still suggest visiting the original Splendido for a drink with a view. It’s spendy but the view is spectacular and the property is a masterpiece.
Day 1 ✧ Explore Portofino
The main piazza in Portofino is a stunning little stretch lined with gorgeous boutiques selling designer duds. You’ll see the likes of Balenciaga and Louis Vuitton along with independent boutiques offering a range of high-end brands. If you’re looking for something from Portofino to take home, keep your eyes peeled for Portofino Gin, a locally made product that comes in a gorgeous little bottle, perfect for your bar. On a sunny day, meander near the harbor with a gelato. The harbourfront is tiny but you’ll find some little veins to explore off the main square.
Lunch in the Square
So, you’ve walked around and worked up an appetite. Time for a long lunch… and no surprise here, seafood is the go-to in this seaside town. You’ll find a range of dining along the harbor front and your choice may very well be limited to availability on a busy summer day. Fan favorites include Puny (this was recommended by friends and we had a fabulous dinner here), along with Taverna del Marinaio and Ristorante da i Gemelli. Beyond seafood, regional specialties include focaccia, which you’ll see peddled on a major scale in Cinque Terre, along with pesto Genovese, arguably the world’s best, produced right down the way in Genoa.
Afternoon Pool Dips
If we’re embracing this dolce vita #vacaymode lifestyle, then we’ve gone from shopping to a long lunch, and now we have an afternoon with time to spare. It’s pool time, and if you’re staying at the Splendido, the pool offers spectacular views to give you an amazing sense of place. One thing that’s always a pleasant surprise for me is the length of days in Italy. Even during our visit in May, the sunset was moving into the 9 o’clock hour which hugely extends your day in a major way. No need to head out for pre-dinner drinks until 7:30 or 8PM, so you’ll have time to enjoy some sun and get ready before your night on the town.
For pre-dinner drinks, choose your adventure: hilltop with vistas (Splendido is basically your option here) or down in the piazza where you can sip on the waterfront. For wine lovers, try Winterose in the square (adjacent to Balenciaga on the far stretch of the harborfront). She offers a wonderful by-the-glass list and serves up a gorgeous little tagliere with your wine for a pre-dinner snack. Worth noting: most upscale locales will give you a bite to go with your aperitivo (complimentary) but some places really load you up with cheese, meats, nuts, etc. If you don’t want those things, just mention it to the host so you don’t end up with a tray of unwanted snacks.
For two days in Portofino, you’ll have plenty of great dining options on the harbourfront in Portofino but in busy months you must reserve in advance to stand a chance of enjoying the places you’re most keen on. We had two great dinners in Portofino: one at DaV Mare, Splendido Mare’s new concept that’s been crafted in conjunction with a three-starred Michelin chef. The menu is super splurgy but the quality of the food was excellent and the creativity was a 10/10. If you’re keen on a tasting menu, they offer a 5-course selection for €140 which could be worth considering.
Day 2 ✧ Lighthouse Walks + Water-Based Afternoon
Buongiorno, Portofino! Time to start the day, and is there anything better than breakfast with a view? During our two days in Portofino, we tried breakfast at Splendido and Splendido Mare to experience both atmospheres and offerings; while both are great, they offer very different vantage points. Hotel Splendido offers that epic view to pair with your morning meal, a lovely and peaceful moment to start the day. By contrast, Splendido Mare’s harbourfront location means that you get a different perspective on Portofino, watching as the town begins to wake up around you. Cars are only allowed into the square from 7AM – 10AM for deliveries to businesses so you’ll see some of that action happening while you’re dining. We found it a nice contrast to our hilltop experience, offering a bit of a local flair as we watched businesses come alive in the AM.
Walk to the Lighthouse
If you need to burn off your breakfast, throw on some flats and head out for a walk. Portofino’s beauty is in its contrast of sparkling sea with gorgeous green hills. As a bonus, those gorgeous green hills offer a bit of hiking, including a nice walk to Faro Lighthouse. You’ll get some steps in while getting in some gorgeous vistas of the iconic harbor along the way. There’s a bar/café near the lighthouse as well so you can treat yourself to a beverage when you’ve finished your walk if you’re so inclined. The walk is pretty simple; about 20 minutes each way with mostly flat terrain.
Boat or Pool Afternoon
You’ve eaten breakfast, gotten a bit of exercise and some fresh air, and now it’s time to delve into Portofino by being on the sea! If you’re staying at Splendido Mare, your stay includes a one-hour boat trip on their gozzo, a local fishing boat. If you’re staying elsewhere, there are plenty of boats for hire in the main harbor and you can sort out an itinerary for half day of exploring the area by boat – and perhaps a spot for a beachy lunch nearby!
If a boat day isn’t in the cards, hit the pool to enjoy some pampered R&R – this is truly what Portofino is about.
Drinks and Dinner
For your final night in Portofino, perhaps try the opposite of whatever you did your first night! If you enjoyed drinks with a view on night one, head down to the piazza and sip seaside at a restaurant or bar along the harborfront. If you missed having a drink up at Hotel Splendido, pop up for a beautiful vista for a true sense of place. For dinner, take your pick of delicious restaurants to cap off your evening before saying farewell to Portofino.
Considering other Coastal Italian escapes? Read my post on Cinque Terre vs. the Amalfi Coast ✨
Portofino is a bit of a fantasyland, which is inherently part of its draw. It’s picturesque, and while it feels a bit fabricated in its perfection, those same picture-perfect facades are part of the draw and charm that visitors seek. For most travelers, Portofino will be a bit of a splurge but if you’re incorporating this seaside Ligurian town into your itinerary, I think it’s important to budget for that and know that you’ll be spending a bit more than you may be elsewhere. Portofino is a rare enclave; building is pretty much capped in the region and prices are sky-high for property so it’s no shock that hotel stays reflect that. For anyone coming through, I’d allocate at least 2 days in Portofino (more if you can swing it!) to enjoy the luxuriously gooey pace of life and embrace the moments along the way!