The rugged cliffs of Riviera di Levante define the Liguria region of Italy, following the coast as the sweep of the Mediterranean reaches the Italian Riviera. Tuscany’s rustic and enchanting towns 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. Portofino is probably one of the prettiest places on earth and one of the most picturesque and popular stops for Mediterranean cruise guests. 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, Portofino harbor is relatively small, and large cruise ships drop anchor offshore. The villages along this coast have shallow waters, which means large cruise ships cannot dock at the harbor edge.
Most cruise ships will stay anchored in the harbor for around 7 hours to give you plenty of time to enjoy the area, whether you stay local in the town or book a shore excursion to enjoy the surrounding area.
You reach Portofino by tender boat from the cruise ship, and your first image is of colorful houses and small fishing inlets. It is a short walk into the town from the dock.
Portofino is a great destination in itself to explore. So you may not want to venture too far and 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 in the shoulder cruise seasons of spring and fall when temperatures are still warm but the crowds have diminished.
However, the fact remains 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 you arrive, the Hotel Splendido is right in front of you. Hosting many celebrities and movie stars over the years, the Splendido is a great place to order a drink and sample local dishes – particularly the locally-produced olive oil.
There are numerous cafes, restaurants, and bars to discover. We also recommend a visit to La Portofinese and the fantastic Gassetta Mill. It is quite a hike but well worth it.
Try 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.
Afterward, explore the shops where you’ll find everything from local crafts to designer labels. And around Piazza Martiri Dell’Olivetta, discover the cashmere products that Portofino is known for.
Church of San Georgio and Portofino Lighthouse
For the best views over Portofino, climb the steps from the harbor up to the Church of San Georgio. It can be pretty steep in places, so wear good walking shoes. Continue 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 an excellent spot for snorkeling but not so much for sunbathing.
A lazy beach day in Portofino
Paraggi Bay is just a 15-minute walk from the harbor in Portofino. It is a tiny, picturesque area with a few beaches that mix sand and small pebbles.
We recommend you take a towel, sunscreen, and a bottle of water from your cruise ship. Beware of the high prices charged for sunchairs on private beaches. Head for the free public beach instead.
If you want to include snorkeling in the bay, then Get Your Guide offers an excellent excursion to Paraggi.
A coastal walk from Portofino to Santa Margherita
There is a fantastic coastal walk from Portofino to the quaint and colorful narrow alleyways of Santa Margherita. The walk takes about 1.5 hours, but you should be relatively fit and watch out for traffic when you reach the coastal road. Local drivers drive fast along this stretch. A bus and a ferry frequently travel between Portofino and Santa Margherita for the less energetic.
Be prepared to stay longer than you perhaps anticipate in Santa Margherita. The town is larger than Portofino, and behind the colorful seafront, it has plenty to offer, including upscale shopping, restaurants, and a beautiful church to explore.
If you are there for lunch, try the Ristorante Pizzeria Dal Baffo – a favorite of ours – and ask for a table in their garden.
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 to 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. The underwater statue Christ of the Deep is lovely to explore if you are a diver.
It’s one of the most popular diving spots in this marine reserve. You will also see the statue if you are snorkeling, as the top is just 3 meters deep, and 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 the size of the 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 top 4 cruise excursions from Portofino
Choosing a shore excursion from Portofino is no easy task. The bay is 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
An excursion from Portofino to Florence will be a long day with several 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 the Tuscany region’s beautiful towns, known as the jewel of the Renaissance.
Florence is a city you will want to visit time and again. And with 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 your short time there. Book a private tour and explore with a local guide to make the most of sightseeing. You’ll glimpse 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. 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 to the steep rock face of this dramatic region.
Cinque Terre is one of the most popular cruise shore excursions. Walking to all five villages in one day is impossible, but there is a local train and regular small passenger ferries to boat visitors from town to village.
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 is 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.
In our opinion, Vernazza is the most charming, dramatic, and beautiful of the five towns.
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 many 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 at 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 spending more time in Florence is best.
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 the 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), pre-book your tickets. You can book online for about 24 euros per person. Your access gives you 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.
Our favorite cruise itinerary includes a stop in Portofino
One of our favorite itineraries for a Meditteranean cruise that includes Portofino port is on board Royal Caribbean and its cruise ship Enchantment of the Seas. It is scheduled to sail from Barcelona, Spain, during the summer of 2023.
The cruise visits fantastic destinations: Barcelona, Cannes, Nice, Genoa, Portofino, Florence, and Rome. That means your international flight should be to Barcelona and home from Rome. Be sure to budget for extra days before your cruise from Barcelona and after your cruise to explore Rome. We love this itinerary.