Portovenere (also known as Porto Venere) is the Italian Riviera’s hidden secret. Sure, the locals know its charms well, but all too often it gets overlooked by visitors who flock to the glitzy Portofino, or the colourful villages of Cinque Terre.
Beloved by poets and artists, Portovenere is a feast for the eyes. A place to swim, sunbathe, and stroll among natural wonders, while taking in the impressive historical structures that surround you.
Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’ll win you over from the first glance, and linger in your memories for years to come. Read on to find out why, exactly, Portovenere Italy is so incredible, and how you can enjoy it for yourself.
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Where is Portovenere in Italy?
Located on the Ligurian Coast, Portovenere lies tantalisingly close to both La Spezia and the villages of the Cinque Terre. Because of this proximity to the top sights of the Italian Riviera, it makes an excellent base to explore the area.
How to Get to Portovenere from La Spezia
There are three main ways to get to Portovenere from La Spezia. By car, bus, or boat. Unfortunately, there is no train to Portovenere from La Spezia. Instead, the train service bypasses the town and heads directly to the Cinque Terre. Perhaps this contributes to why Portovenere is often overlooked (unfairly) on Cinque Terre itineraries.
Bus from La Spezia to Portovenere
One of the most popular ways to travel to Portovenere from La Spezia is via the bus. The journey only takes around 35 minutes and costs €3.
Take the 11P service from the Via Domenico Chiodo, opposite the public gardens. Tickets can be purchased at the main train station and many shops in town, however, I found buying them directly on the DropTicket app to be the simplest option.
Buses run every 15 minutes from La Spezia to Portovenere. Just a word of warning though – I found buses to be ‘flexible’ in their timings. So don’t wait to take the last bus home – it may not come!
Ferry from La Spezia to Portovenere
Another option is to take a boat to Portovenere from La Spezia. But do note that the service only operates from March to November. You can find the timetables and ticket information here.
Ferries depart from the terminal behind the pubic gardens. You’ll be able to spot the 5Terre ticket stand easily.
Ferries are scheduled at regular intervals throughout the morning, starting at 9:15 am. The last return ferry departs Portovenere at 6.20 pm.
If you’re only planning on spending one day in Portovenere, I’d recommend taking the first ferry of the day.
Tickets currently cost €13 return, or you can buy a full day Cinque Terre ferry pass for €35 which allows you to visit the villages also (keep in mind this would be a tightly packed day of sightseeing!).
Driving to Portovenere from La Spezia
If you have a car available in Italy, driving to Portovenere from La Spezia is a straightforward option too. Just be sure to arrive early if visiting in summer in order to secure a car park.
Both times I visited Portovenere from La Spezia I took my car and parking in Portovenere was straightforward. There is streetside parking within the village itself, but I found it easier (and less stressful) to drive in via the Strada Provinciale 530 and park on the side of the road. From there, you can walk down a steep staircase to the main road.
Parking at Parcheggio Muzzerone
However, another option, if you’re feeling energetic, is to drive into the hills and walk down to the village from above. You’ll be rewarded with incredible views if you take this option. Just remember to save some energy for the climb back up!
Search for the Parcheggio Muzzerone on Google Maps. Parking is limited but free. And from there, the track is clearly marked.
Best Things to do in Portovenere, Italy
From sunning yourself on stunning beaches to climbing craggy cliffs, or sightseeing in ancient alleyways, find out what to do in Portovenere, Italy, here.
Take a Wander Through the Old Town
Wander through the Porta del Borgo into the medieval centre of Portovenere where you’ll find a tightly packed maze of streets interlinked by stone staircases.
The main street, Via Giovanni Capellini, is a narrow passage flanked by gelatarias, boutiques, and souvenir shops. You’ll also find a few low key places to eat like La Bottega del Pesto who serve up fresh pasta with homemade pesto to-go.
Follow your nose through the streets, and you’ll soon find that the number of sightseers dramatically dwindles as you get off the main alley.
Take the stairs down to the waterfront, or take them up to the San Lorenzo Church. You’ll also find hidden courtyards and gardens as you climb.
Visit the Doria Castle in Portovenere
Keep walking past the San Lorenzo Church and you’ll inevitably find yourself looking up at the Castello Doria. An impressive structure that frames the village below, it has stood in this spot since the 12th century, but has undergone many transformations since.
You can admire the castle’s exterior, and pause for a picnic in the shady grassed area out front, or pay a small entrance fee to see within its walls.
I chose the latter option and paid €5 euro to gain entrance. One of only a handful of people inside, I soon realised there isn’t a whole lot to see, and the absence of information boards makes the experience fairly non-educational.
However, walking the walls of the Doria Castle affords excellent views over Portovenere and beyond, so it does offer a unique perspective, and the terraced gardens were a lovely surprise.
Peek Through the Windows of the Loggia of Saint Peter
At the tip of the town, the Church of Saint Peter makes a statement as it stands tall on a rocky outcrop overlooking the Bay of Poets. Pop inside to view the rustic interior, but be aware that this church is still used for ceremonies today.
Next to the church, the loggia of San Pietro offers spectacular views over the bay and beyond. Inside, this view is framed by arched stone windows. But you can also take a narrow staircase to the roof for uninterrupted viewing too.
Take a Dip in Byron’s Grotto
On your way down the quay, towards the Church of Saint Peter, you’ll find a doorway that will lead you to Byron’s Grotto.
This swimming spot was a favourite of the late poet, Lord Byron, who used to swim and meditate here in the early 1800s.
Nowadays it is beloved by the locals and visitors alike, who drape themselves over the uncompromising rocks, and swim in the secluded bay.
It’s also a popular spot for snorkelling, so take your mask and flippers if you’re planning on visiting this special place.
Tour the Three Islands off the Coast of Portovenere
From the port of Portovenere, several boat tours are available, including the ferry from Portovenere to Cinque Terre.
But if you’re planning on visiting the five villages another day, a great option for a short sojourn on the water is to take a tour of the three islands.
The tour takes in Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto during a whirlwind 40 minute trip. Unfortunately, the commentary is only offered in Italian (from my experience) but if you’re content to whiz around the islands in the sun, it’s still interesting to see the cliffs, caves and Torre Scuola up close.
Sunbathe, Stroll, or Sip Wine by the Harbour
Portovenere’s waterside promenade is where you’ll find the most action during your trip to Portovenere. Starting at the beach, the waterfront stretches out before you, its tall colourful buildings denoting the abrupt transition between the sea and civilistaion.
All along the promenade, cafe menus tempt you with their offerings, while storefronts spill their wares out onto the pavement. On the other side, young Ligurian’s bake themselves in the sun as they meet on the seafront rocks and piers.
Hike to the Forte del Muzzerone
Take the stairs from the main piazza, and you’ll find yourself behind the village walls. It’s here after a steep climb, that you’ll find a pathway cutting through the thick vegetation up the hillside.
Pause at the last clearing to catch your breath and admire the incredible views over Saint Peter’s Church and island of Palmaria. It’s absolutely breathtaking, and a vantage point that many miss out on.
From here, you can keep climbing, this time under the welcome shade of the bush, to the Forte del Muzzerone. The fort itself is inaccessible, but follow the path a little further and you’ll find the Muzzerone Central Wall which offers an amazing view and an unparalleled climbing spot.
Go Rock Climbing!
Interested in an adventure while in Portovenere? Whether you’re an experienced climber or not, the cliffs surrounding the fishing village offer the ultimate adrenaline junkies playground!
Itineraries will be catered to your skill and comfort level, with more capable climbers tackling the Muzzerone cliffs! What an amazing way to experience the beauty of the Ligurian coast. Book your climbing tour here.
Spend the day on Palmaria Island
If you’re staying a little while in Portovenere, put aside a day to spend on Palmaria Island. The biggest of the three islands in the Bay of Poets, it’s scarcely inhabited, and largely remains in its natural state, making it perfect for outdoor activities.
Take the ferry from the port (or directly from La Spezia if staying there), and spend the day swimming at the untouched beaches, gorging on fresh seafood at the trattorias, or hiking through the rugged terrain.
Do be aware that some of the island is under military control, but inaccessible areas are clearly marked. Allow about 2 hours to trek the perimeter, but much longer if you plan on visiting the secluded beaches of Terrizo, Gabbiani or Pozzale.
Hit the Beach
Speaking of Portovenere beaches, there are several to enjoy in and around the village too, both free and paid.
The main beach is located at the base of the harbour and has a small area cordoned off for swimming. This beach is the best for families with very small children.
Further around the coast, you’ll find lidos with loungers to rent at Arenella Beach and Sporting Beach. Whereas Mirella Beach and Olive Beach offer plenty of space to swim and sunbathe for free.
Where to Stay in Portovenere
Portovenere makes an excellent home base when visiting the Cinque Terre. It’s quieter and more picturesque than nearby La Spezia, but it doesn’t suffer the same crowds as the villages of the Cinque Terre. And while you can’t take the train to continue your journey, you can take the Portovenere to La Spezia ferry, or hike into the Cinque Terre National Park.
Best Place to Stay in Portovenere for Couples:
The Grand Hotel Portovenere is the most famous and prominent hotel in the town. Situated right on the seafront, it affords some of the best views of the port. Book a sea view suite and you’ll never want to leave.
Best Accommodation in Portovenere for Families:
Stay at this 2-bedroom villa and take advantage of the central location, stunning outdoor area, and fabulous views. Tuck the kids into bed at night and enjoy a wine overlooking the serene port.
Best Place to Stay in Portovenere for Budget Travellers:
Accommodation in this part of Italy doesn’t normally come cheap, but this ‘hikers refuge‘ in the hills above Portovenere provides simple accommodation for those who want a comfortable place to rest their head after a full day of exploring or hiking – and it won’t break the bank.
How Many Days in Portovenere?
Ideally, you’d spend at least one full day in Portovenere to appreciate the old town, attractions, and beaches on offer. However, staying longer will allow you to take your time savouring this special area of Liguria. As previously mentioned, you could also make Portovenere your base for exploring the Cinque Terre, La Spezia, and islands off the coast.
Best Time to Visit Porto Venere
Like any popular destination in Italy, Portovenere is busier in the summer months, particularly in the months of July & August when most European families are on holiday.
If you still want to take advantage of the warmer weather, I’d suggest aiming for June, or September-early October. It’ll still be busy at these times, but less so than the peak.
If the weather isn’t so much of a concern, aim for April – May, or late October. During these times, ferries will still be operating, but the tourists will be far fewer. You could, of course, visit in winter, but expect many establishments to be closed.
Porto Venere, Italy is an immensely charming village with a surprisingly diverse range of activities on offer. Whether you’re visiting on a quick whirlwind trip of the Cinque Terre, or enjoying a luxuriously long break on the Ligurian Coast, you’re sure to find plenty to keep you captivated.
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