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Discover Portovenere in Italy – Hidden Gem Near Cinque Terre

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Discover Portovenere in Italy – Hidden Gem Near Cinque Terre

Portovenere is a little medieval town in Liguria Italy just a stone’s throw away from the famous Cinque Terre. Despite its status as UNESCO World Heritage site and the most beautiful location on the Gulf of The Poets, this picturesque town is still under the radar of millions of international visitors flocking to Cinque Terre.

Yes, Cinque Terre is beautiful and it’s definitely worth a visit. But there are so many places nearby that are just as beautiful (if not more), yet many tourists never even consider them.

In my previous post I highlighted some of the most beautiful towns along the Ligurian Coast. Today I want to talk more about one of our favorites – Portovenere (or Porto Venere). If you want to escape the huge crowds of Cinque Terre and are looking to explore the area a bit deeper, then don’t miss this lesser-known gem in the Bay of Poets.

We visited Portovenere at the end of October. Since it was a low season, we were a bit uncertain if we would find enough to see and do in Porto Venere to fill a day. Certainly with three kids who always need to be entertained… It turned out that this little town had so much more to offer than it looked at first sight.

We visited all the main landmarks, climbed countless staircases, explored the narrow streets of this medieval town, walked along the cliffs, enjoyed the most spectacular sceneries and local food…

One day in Porto Venere flew by. It was a truly enjoyable visit and the town was pleasantly quiet compared to the crazy busy Cinque Terre we visited the previous day.

We spent the whole day in this historic town and below you can find some suggestions for the best things to do in Portovenere. At the bottom of the post you can also find some practical information for your visit. Find out!

READ ALSO: One Day in Cinque Terre

Porto Venere is a true jewel of Italian Liguria near Cinque Terre
 

Best things to do in Porto Venere:

Visit the picturesque harbor of Portovenere

Chances are big that you will arrive in Porto Venere by boat. The moment you catch your first glimpse on the picturesque harbor surrounded by a wall of colorful buildings you will fall in love with this old fishermen’s village.

The little harbor has a beautiful location overlooking the nearby Palmaria Island. This is a great place to have lunch or just grab a drink at one of the many cafes. Sit back and relax enjoying the ever-changing view of the boats passing the narrow Le Bocche channel on their way to Cinque Terre.

Colorful buildings of Porto Venere Italy
Colorful buildings at Portovenere harbor
 

Porta del Borgo and the narrow medieval streets

The old town of Portovenere is hidden behind the facade of the buildings that you see from the harbor. You can enter the medieval town through Porta del Borgo – the old city gate.

Adjacent to the city gate is the Capitolare Tower. Just like most of the other buildings in town, it dates from the 12th century.

Once inside, you will find a labyrinth of narrow streets, stairways, and tiny passageways that is well worth getting lost in. The main street, Via Capellini is full of artisanal and souvenir shops and can get quite busy. But the moment you leave it, you often have the whole place to yourselves.

Take your time to explore the old town and slowly make your way up towards the castle.

Porta del Borgo and Torre Capitolare in Portovenere Italy
Porta del Borgo and Torre Capitolare
Medieval town of Portovenere in Italy
View over Porto Venere on the way to the castle
Via Capellini in Portovenere Italy
Via Capellini – main shopping street
 

Doria Castle

Situated high on the hill and overlooking the Bay of Poets on one side and the Ligurian Sea on the other side, Castello Doria is a must in Portovenere.

This military fortress dates from the 12th-14th centuries and was of big significance due to its strategic location.

It’s quite a steep climb to get there, but it’s well worth the effort. The views from the gardens are phenomenal and justify the small entrance fee. Don’t miss it!

View over the Gulf of the Poets from Doria castle in Portovenere
View over the Gulf of the Poets from Doria castle
 

Church of San Lorenzo

Right next to the castle you can find the Santuario della Madonna Bianca, also called the Church of San Lorenzo. Every year in August the White Madonna, patron saint of Porto Venere, is celebrated here.

The interior of this church is well worth a quick look, but if you are short on time, the view from outside is beautiful too.

Church of San Lorenzo in Porto Venere Italy
Church of San Lorenzo
 

Church of Saint Peter

San Pietro Church (Chiesa di San Pietro) has the best location in town. Standing on top of the rock and surrounded by the azure blue water from three sides it almost looks like a fortified castle.

Its ‘striped’ exterior is quite remarkable. But make sure to take a look inside as well. We loved its simple interior and a very special medieval atmosphere.

View over Ligurian Sea from Saint Pietro Church in Porto Venere Italy
View from Saint Pietro Church
 

Lord Byron’s Grotto

Just next to St. Peter Church you can see an observation deck next to Lord Byron’s Grotto (previously Grotta Arpaia).

The Bay of Poets gets its name because the area was so beloved by the English poets. Lord Byron often stayed here and he used to swim across the bay to visit his fellow poet Shelley. Hence the name of the grotto.

Nowadays it’s a nice place to swim, dive, or sail. Just be careful with the currents.

Church of Saint Pieter in Portovenere Italy
Church of Saint Pieter and Lord Byron’s Grotto
 

Porto Venere Regional Natural Park

Porto Venere Regional Natural Park has several hiking trails. We didn’t go hiking here, but if you have more time it might be well worth it to explore the area on foot.

It’s even possible to hike from Portovenere to Riomaggiore. It’s said to be a very scenic coastal walk. I am not sure which direction would be less challenging, so you may want to inquire at the tourist office first. You can hike one way and take a boat back (or vice versa).

Porto Venere Regional Natural Park Italy
Beautiful coastline at Porto Venere
 

Visit the nearby islands: Palmaria, Tino, and Tinetto

In summer you can take a scenic boat tour or a taxi boat to the nearby islands Palmaria, Tino, and Tinetto.

Tino is a military island and Tinetto is just a tiny rock with some ancient ruins, so both islands can usually be only seen from a boat.

Isola Palmaria is the biggest island of the three. It’s dotted with caves, beaches, and walking paths and is a popular day trip from Portovenere. It’s a great place to go swimming, snorkeling or diving.

Palmaria Island as seen from Porto Venere - Italy
Palmaria Island as seen from Porto Venere
 

So these are the main highlights that you shouldn’t miss in Portovenere. You can see the town in just a few hours and continue your journey to Cinque Terre. But if you have more time, consider spending at least a day in Portovenere – you’ll love it here!

Porto Venere is also a great place to stay a few days longer and it makes a good base location for exploring the villages of Cinque Terre and some other nearby towns (La Spezia, Lerici, Tellaro) as well.

Practical information for visiting Portovenere

How to get to Portovenere? One of the reasons why Portovenere is less visited than the nearby towns is its more remote location. There is no train station here, but you can reach Portovenere by car, bus, taxi, or ferry boat from La Spezia. There are also Cinque Terre tours that briefly stop in Portovenere. Here’s the best tour I was able to find.

La Spezia is a nearby town that is easily accessible by car or train and is a good base to explore Cinque Terre and the Bay of Poets. Driving here is not easy and parking spots are limited. So I would only advise coming to Portovenere by car if you are staying for a night and can book a hotel with car parking.

Where to stay? There aren’t that many hotels in Portovenere, so it’s advisable to book well in advance. The best hotel in town is the beautiful Grand Hotel Portovenere overlooking the small port and Palmaria island. You can find more Portovenere accommodation options here. The alternative is to stay in Cinque Terre or in La Spezia and visit Porto Venere for a day.

LEARN MORE: Where to Stay in Cinque Terre

Grand Hotel Portovenere is the best place to stay in Porto Venere - Liguria Italy
Grand Hotel Portovenere
 

Can you see Portovenere and Cinque Terre in one day?

 It is possible to visit Portovenere and the villages of Cinque Terre in just one day. Take the first boat from La Spezia to Cinque Terre. The full-day ticket allows you to hop off and on in 4 Cinque Terre villages (excluding Corniglia which has no harbor) and also in Porto Venere.

If you don’t need much time in the villages and are happy with just a short glimpse of each place, then yes, it is possible to see Cinque Terre and Porto Venere on the same day.

However, I would advise to do this in two separate days. Here you can find our suggested itinerary for one day in Cinque Terre.

If you are planning a trip to this area, make sure to read this post for more practical information for visiting Cinque Terre.

More tips for your trip to Italy:

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Best things to do in Portovenere Italy
 
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Naomi

Tuesday 18th of February 2020

Hi Jurga I'm heading to Porto Venere in April with my family. We're staying 5 nights. Can you recommend some great places to eat? Thanks, Naomi

Jurga

Friday 21st of February 2020

Hi Naomi, sorry, but I really can't remember any specific restaurants there. Just check Trip Advisor or reviews on Google Maps and you'll find something nice. Or ask at your hotel - locals always know the best spots. Enjoy your trip!

Jamie Damon

Monday 19th of August 2019

Jurga! You have the most practical, complete and helpful information about visiting the Cinque Terre area of any site I have found. We will be visiting in September 2019 with a large family with different levels of mobility. Your information is exactly what I needed to plan our visit so it is accessible and enjoyable for all. Thank you!

Jurga

Thursday 29th of August 2019

Glad to hear that, Jamie. Enjoy your time in Cinque Terre!

Jack Lipkin

Saturday 3rd of August 2019

Hi Jurga; I really enjoyed reading your blog! First time I have seen it. Thank you! We are planning a 10 day trip from Lake Como to Cinque Terre to Venice by car, where we will board our cruise ship. We want to spend 2 days in CT and we will have a fair bit of luggage with us. We are not hikers so train or boat is how we will get to CT. Where is the best place to stay outside of CT, that will allow us to be most efficient in getting to CT and back, for the 2 days, and where we can leave our car parked. La Spezia? Santa Margherita Ligure? Porto Venere? i hope you get this as I am of the age where I don't do much computer communication through blog sites etc. Sincerely, Jack L

Jurga

Saturday 3rd of August 2019

Hi Jack, if you are travelling by car and have 2 days, I think it's best to stay in La Spezia. You can leave your car there and take a train or a boat to Cinque Terre. You can also easily visit Portovenere from there and maybe make a day trip of it on combination with the islands you can visit from there. You can find more information and practical tips in our Cinque Terre guide. Enjoy your trip.

Brenda Smith

Friday 2nd of August 2019

Beautiful blog. So glad I discovered it.

Jurga

Wednesday 7th of August 2019

Thank you, Brenda. Hope you'll keep on coming back for more inspiration for your future trips. Happy travels!

Rita

Friday 5th of July 2019

Check in time for our b&b is 2:30 in vernazza...we only have the rest of the day to visit portovenere...is it feasible and how thank you

Jurga

Monday 8th of July 2019

Hi Rita, depends on the season, but it should be possible. You could take a boat to Portovenere from Vernazza. If in the evening there would be no boats going back that way, you could potentially take a boat or a bus to La Spezia and a train from there to Vernazza. In summer, boats run quite late, so check the schedule once you get there, and make sure you catch the last one. Hope this helps.

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