What to Do in Portofino, Italy in Only One Cruise Day

What to do in Portofino when you only have one day to visit? With its usually gorgeous weather, a full day meandering ashore is perfect. Portofino is one place where you don’t need a ship’s shore excursion.

Entering Portofino harbor

What to Do in Portofino on a Day in Port

A sky that matched a cerulean blue Crayola crayon. The breeze was just enough to keep a comfortable temperature, even in the sun. Our MSC Splendida western Mediterranean itinerary included a port call with a Portofino day trip. And here I was, on a bus from Genoa, zooming along the highway, towards Santa Margarita and nearby tiny Portofino.

From the looks of it, the highway seemed like any other highway in America. I had to keep reminding myself that I was in Italy. Italy! Only two years before, I learned that I was half-Italian so this trip had a special meaning to me. Not quite sure how I’d feel or what to expect when I set foot in the “old country,”  I kept looking out of the bus window hoping someone in my paternal family was from this part of Italy. I planned to just wander since I didn’t really know what to do in Portofino at that point.

Getting to Portofino From Your Cruise Ship

Located on the northwest coast of Italy, Portofino’s closest major city is Genoa. Most large cruise ships dock in Genoa. From there, it’s a 40-minute motor coach ride to Portofino. Luxury smaller ships simply drop anchor in Portofino Harbor and everyone comes ashore by tender. 

Another way cruise ships visit this charming town is to anchor off of nearby Santa Margherita. After a tender boat ride from your ship to the dock in Santa Margherita, guests may choose a 20 minute water taxi directly into Portofino Harbor.

There is also a scheduled bus that runs between Santa Margherita and Portofino, but since your ship will provide transport, there’s no need to get involved in public buses.

Many cruise (and non-cruise) visitors choose to walk the 3-mile scenic overlook path between the two towns. You’ll find signs pointing the way to the Pedonale per Portofino. Walk west to the shoreline and follow the path into Portofino.

But the most dramatic entrance is when your ship drops anchor just offshore from Portofino and within minutes, your ship’s tender boat is docked alongside the town’s sprawling Piazetta, filled with cafés and visitors soaking up the Mediterranean ambiance.

From Genoa to Santa Margarita by Motor Coach

Our bus drove about one hour, across highways and through the mountains until we finally reached the quaint city of Santa Margherita. We had about an hour to stroll around the downtown, visit a church, grab a late morning cappuccino or gelato before we boarded the small ferry boat for the half-hour ride to Portofino.

It’s such a small town that you can easily walk up, through and around it in one afternoon. Once you leave the port area and head over towards the shops and restaurants, there are several self-guided walks that you may choose. The streets are appropriately narrow and winding and of course quite cobbly, so be mindful of where you step.

Winding pathway in Portofino
Checking out the little shops that lined narrow alleyways near the harbor.

Walk up the winding cobblestone path to a medieval castle

Be sure to walk up the path from the right side of the harbor (as you face the town) to see the 12th century Church of San Martino. Back in the Piazetta again, take the path on your left up the hill to the small, simple yet beautiful Church of St. George.

From there, continue along the walled path, past terraced gardens and beautiful overlooks to Castello Brown. This 17th century fortress has an impressive amount of historical artifacts and works of art. You’ll need to pay a few Euros to see the grounds.

Walking to Castello Brown in Portofino Italy
Walking from the harbor up to Castello Brown, the castle on the hill, built in the 1600s.
Just follow the signs to Castello Brown
Just follow the signs to Castello Brown.

On the way back to the ferry boat, I stopped at a small bakery to buy an assortment of sweets to bring back to the ship for the staff in the MSC Splendida Yacht Club.

A bakery in Portofino
You could smell the bakery aroma from a block away.

Dining and Shopping in Portofino

Portofino and surrounding towns are known for their pasta with pesto sauce, a signature dish of the Liguria region. Being a fishing village, fresh fish is also very popular as well as their focaccia bread, served with olives, olive oil, herbs and cheeses.

Highlights to shop for in Portofino include delicate lace and lace tableware, leather accessories and jewelry. Bakeries line the pathways and you can always buy a box of Italian cookies and candies to bring back to the ship.

Keep an eye on the time so you don’t miss your ship. It’s never easy to say good-bye to Portofino.

This is the Portofino that I’ll take home with me.

Arrival into Portofino Harbor


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  1. Hi Lori,
    I don’t have an answer to that question. Either contact the cruise line and see if they offer e-bike shore excursions or Portofino Tourism. I’m guessing maybe not as you have to travel a bit just to get out of the famous port area. Good luck and have a fantastic cruise! Portofino looks just like a postcard.

  2. Hi John,
    Thank you for reading my Portofino article and I’m glad it was helpful. I’ve been there three times by cruise ship and it’s always exciting when your tender rounds the bend and you see what looks like a postcard.

    Enjoy your cruise and be sure to find time to enjoy a glass of wine and appetizers at one of the waterfront cafés. Thank you again.

  3. I will be in Portofino on September 24 as part of a cruise. You info has helped prepare us. Thank you.

  4. Hi Pat,
    Thanks for reading the article. It is a spectacular place to visit. Sounds like your next visit to “Portofino” will be entirely more interesting.

  5. Sherry,

    What lovely images–both digital and your words. I will have a new appreciation of the Portofino restaurant near my home.

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