The rugged cliffs of Riviera di Levante define the Liguria region of Italy as the sweep of the Mediterranean reaches down to the Italian Riviera. The rustic and enchanting towns of Tuscany and the colorful charm of places such as Cinque Terre, Santa Margherita, and Portofino make this one of the most sought-after regions for an Italian Riviera cruise.
Choose a cruise that includes the port of Portofino, in northwest Italy. One of the most picturesque and popular stops for Mediterranean cruise guests, Portofino is probably one of the prettiest places on earth. There are also numerous shore excursions to experience on an Italian Riviera cruise – which will make you want to return more than once.
In a country of so many stunning landscapes, the Italian Riviera is the first choice of many when looking at cruise itineraries.
Shimmering Portofino on your Italian Riviera cruise
A picture-perfect coastal town in Liguria, Portofinos harbor is relatively small, and large cruise ships drop anchor offshore. The villages along this coast have shallow waters which mean large cruise ships cannot dock at the harbor edge.
Most cruise ships will stay anchored in the harbor for at least 6 hours to give you plenty of time to enjoy the area.
If you haven’t booked any tours or excursions before you begin your cruise, check with the shore excursions desk on board to see if they have any special offers to fill possible left-over spaces.
You are brought to Portofino from your cruise ship by tender boat. From the dock, it is a short walk into the town. The first image you will see is scenic colorful houses and small fishing inlets.
Portofino is a great destination in itself to explore. So you may not want to venture too far and instead spend the whole day in the bay. You will meet other visiting cruise guests enjoying a shore excursion from the Italian ports of Genoa, Livorno, La Spezia, and Carrara.
More crowds and higher prices in the Portofino summer season
Be prepared for crowds if you are visiting Portofino in the high season. In many ways, it’s a much nicer experience to visit in the shoulder cruise seasons of spring and fall when temperatures are still warm but the crowds have reduced dramatically.
But it’s a fact that the most popular time to do a Mediterranean cruise is in the summer months of June, July, and August. So make sure your packing list includes sunscreen, a water bottle, and a hat to beat the heat. And budget accordingly as you can expect to pay a higher price for food, gifts, and souvenirs.
What to do and see in the coastal town of Portofino Italy
As your tender boat approached the dock, in front of you is the Hotel Splendido. Host to many celebrities and movie stars over the years, it’s a great place to order a drink and some local dishes. When there ask to sample the locally produced olive oil.
Shopping has everything from local crafts to designer labels. And around Piazza Martiri Dell’Olivetta you’ll find cashmere products that Portofino is known for.
There are numerous cafes, restaurants, and bars to discover. Visit La Portofinese, and the fantastic Gassetta Mill. It is quite a hike but worth it!
Walk the coastal trail (approx. 1.5 hours) from Portofino to the quaint and colorful narrow alleyways of Santa Margherita. You’ll get wonderful views but do this only if you are relatively fit and watch out for traffic along the coastal road. Local drivers can drive fast along this stretch. For the less energetic there is a local bus and a ferry that travels frequently between Portofino and Santa Margherita.
Be prepared to stay longer than you perhaps anticipated in Santa Margherita. Behind the colorful seafront, the town has plenty to offer too. Whilst still a small town, Santa Margherita is bigger than Portofino and has more upscale shopping, restaurants, and a beautiful church to explore.
For an authentic lunch try the Ristorante Pizzeria Dal Baffo and ask for a table in their charming garden. Look out for their special offers if you are there in the middle of the afternoon.
Church of San Georgio and Portofino Lighthouse
Climb the steps from the harbor up to the Church of San Georgio for the best views over Portofino. It can be quite steep in places so wear good walking shoes. Continue on to the castle, Castello Brown, for one stunning view after another.
The same path from St Georgios church will also take you in the other direction to the lighthouse. On the way there you can descend the steep steps to Portofino’s tiny, pebbly beach, Spiaggetta dell’Olivetta. It’s a great spot for snorkeling, but not so much for sunbathing.
Don’t miss out on trying the local cuisine, such as Cabannina, a cured meat from the breed of cattle in the Genoese region. And of course, the area is known for its Pesto Alla Genovese. You can’t miss the aroma of basil grown prolifically around the bay.
A lazy beach day in Portofino
Paraggi Bay is just a 15-minute walk from the harbor n Portofino. It is a tiny, picturesque, area with a few beaches that are a mix of sand and small pebbles.
Beware the high prices charged for sun chairs on private beaches. We recommend instead that you take a towel, sunscreen, and a bottle of water from your cruise ship with you. Head for the free public beach.
If you want to include snorkeling in the bay, then Get Your Guide offers a really good excursion to Paraggi.
A memorable snorkeling experience at nearby San Fruttuoso
At the pier in Portofino there are many boat tours available and this, in our opinion, is one of the best ways do sightseeing around this beautiful port.
One of the best destinations just a short boat ride away is the seaside village of San Fruttuoso.
Visit the Abbey, which nestles among fantastic scenery. If you are a diver, the underwater statue Christ of the Deep is wonderful to explore.
It’s one of the most popular diving spots in this marine reserve. You will also be able to see the statue if you are snorkeling as the top lays just 3 meters deep whilst the rest is around 8 meters down.
One of the shore excursions that we can recommend is from Viator, Boat Charter Portofino. They even provide snorkeling equipment and beverages on board. Opt for a private tour or choose a small group excursion with other cruise guests.
The price is better per person if you are a small group, and the number of guests will decide on the size of boat you need.
Shore excursions and tours in Portofino with a knowledgeable guide
If you are less keen on doing your own thing but want to stay in Portofino, book a guided tour instead.
We recommend a half-day tour with a local guide to Portofino, Santa Margherita, and beautiful Camogli. Your tour includes transportation. Be prepared for hairpin bends, as the road is winding! Your reward is breathtaking views across the Portofino Promontory.
Tours by Locals offer an excellent trip. It can even be customized to suit you and what you want from your shore excursion. Contact them here to find out prices and book.
In addition, you should ask about the tour that includes a short boat excursion from Portofino to Rapallo. Alternatively, it’s an easy trip to do yourself on the local ferry from the harbor.
The best cruise excursions from Portofino
Choosing a shore excursion from Portofino is no easy task. The bay is beyond charming, but you may have long dreamed about visiting the Tuscan countryside. Or Florence. Or Pisa. How about the bucket list destination along the coast of the Ligurian Sea to Cinque Terre?
All this is possible, so which excursion suits you and your family the best during your visit? Here are our top picks:
Florence – A Jewel of a City
This will be a long day with a few hours spent on the bus. That said, the city of Florence – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – is one of the best shore excursions from Portofino you will ever do.
It is the capital of all the beautiful towns of the Tuscany region, known as the jewel of the Renaissance.
Florence is a city you will want to visit time and again. And each visit, you will discover more as you explore hidden gems amid the narrow alleyways.
And close by there are many scenic villages in the countryside. Expect stunning views from the top of hills and vineyards.
Visiting Florence on a day trip means packing a lot into the short time you have there. Book a private tour and explore with a local guide to make the most of sightseeing. You’ll get a glimpse of exciting culture and history, with time for shopping and delicious dining experiences.
Viator has an excellent tour which we can recommend.
Don’t miss the shops here that specializes in authentic Italian leather goods, and you’ll have a great choice when shopping for cruise vacation souvenirs.
Cinque Terre – The Seaside Coastal Dream
The Cinque Terre is a collection of five small towns. All are clinging onto the steep rock face of this dramatic region.
As quaint, colorful, and charming as you have read, Cinque Terre is one of the most popular cruise shore excursions. It is impossible to walk to all 5 villages in one day, but there is a local train. In the summertime, this area is packed with crowds and overseas visitors.
Book either with your cruise company or an external tour operator. The drive from Portofino takes around one hour and twenty minutes and you will need a transfer in a comfortable motor coach to get there.
If you want to book a hiking trail in Cinque Terre, check that your kids meet the age requirement. Some of the hikes can be quite challenging.
Each of the five villages of Cinque Terre are gorgeous, Monterosso al Mare, Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, and Vernazza. Monterosso is the largest and most northern. Whether or not you visit all five depends on the tour you choose.
Vernazza is, in our opinion, the most charming and a definite must-see on your visit. Viator does a great semi-private day tour. Semi-private means that you can join a small group of other guests. This tour includes a stop for lunch at Vernazza.
Tuscany – A Farmhouse and Food Experience
The taste of Tuscany has its heart in local farms and vineyards, who willingly share their secrets of traditional Italian cuisine that makes this region famous. Restaurants, of course, give you this experience, but nothing can beat being taught by the locals.
Find a great tour that offers a farmhouse and food experience in Tuscany if you are a real lover of Italian food as an alternative to visiting the city of Florence.
A visit to the Tuscan countryside is one of the best shore excursions from Portofino you can do.
Search for a tour with a cookery demonstration and a delicious tasting experience that combines food and wine. Kids love this trip, too, as farmhouses often have animals and lots of wide-open spaces for them to be active.
Village shops offer a taste of Tuscany with a gourmet delight of local cheeses, Italian olive oil, and wines.
Alternatively, if you are just adults in your party, the Italy wine tasting experience in the Tuscan countryside with Viator is excellent.
Pisa and Piazza dei Miracoli
The thing about Pisa is that you get limited time there if you choose this destination as part of a combination shore excursion with Florence. Some say it’s not worth the short visit and it’s best to spend more time in Florence.
For others, a visit to the Leaning Tower is a must.
However, Pisa is much more than this. The Square of Miracles (Piazza dei Miracoli) is where your excursion motor coach will stop. Here you will find the monuments of The Leaning Tower, The Pisa Baptistry, and Pisa Cathedral.
Climb the Baptistry to the viewing platform for amazing views. And go inside the cathedral to see beautiful mosaics, it’s free.
If you want to climb the tower (kids usually love this), then pre-book your tickets. You can book online for about 24 euros per person. Your ticket gives you a maximum of 30 minutes at the top to allow other guests to enjoy the view.
If you love history and architecture, Pisa is interesting for you. We recommend you book a guided tour.
More to Pisa than the Leaning Tower
If you are visiting only Pisa and not traveling to Florence, you’ll have many more opportunities to explore the history of this town. We highly recommend a private tour with a local guide.
Beyond the Square of Miracles, be sure to tour Knight’s Square. This Renaissance-style square is the political heart of Pisa.
The area surrounding the leaning tower is full of vendors selling trinkets and tourist souvenirs. And it’s not particularly attractive. So consider taking the time to see the real Pisa. The history, architecture, local culture, and cuisine make this city well worth visiting.