Portovenere, Things to Do in the Liguria Coastal Town


Portovenere is very close to Cinque Terre but is also a place less visited. However, its beautiful landscape, colorful buildings, picturesque harbor, labyrinth streets, etc., make it a top holiday destination. Even in the summer holiday season, it was such a quiet town with fewer tourist crowds.

Harbour view of Portovenere, Italay

Portovenere is not so small, but most of its attractions are within walking distance. You can easily visit there for just a couple of hours. If you finish reading my post, you would probably have an idea to stay there for a couple of days. Below are the highlights of our trip:

  • Well-paved promenade
  • San Pietro Church perched atop rocks
  • Romantic Lord Byron’s Grotto
  • The Doria Castle on the hill
  • Church of San Lorenzo, the local myth of the Madonna Bianca
  • A labyrinth of picturesque alleys
  • Lunch in a seafront cafe or restaurant
  • Swimming in the sea

Strolling along the nicely paved promenade

Stroll along the Via Olivo to enjoy the views of the characteristic buildings and Palmaria Island across the Le Bocche channel is a must. The houses are attached to each other and form a tall colourful wall. Some buildings are as high as six stories. Though they look like pretty seaside houses, these iconic buildings were formerly built as a defense mechanism, a fortress protecting the inner town and castle.

View of Ligurian sea, Italy

San Pietro Church perched atop rocks

At the end of the promenade is the Church of San Pietro, perched atop rocks. Built in 1256, this Gothic and Romanesque style Catholic Church is simple but pretty. It hosts a statue of Saint Peter and has a beautifully decorated door. Below the church is a nice restaurant with a few tables only. With panoramic views over the ocean, down the coast, and across the harbour, it was a pleasant visit.

San Pietro Church and the restaurant below
View of the Ligurian sea from San Pietro Church

Romantic Lord Byron’s Grotto

From San Pietro Church, we walked back towards the Doria Castle and passed a rustic door on the left side. Walked through the door, we could easily reach an observation deck of Byron’s Grotto of the Bay of Poets. The English poet Byron loved this bay. It was his favorite meditation and relaxation spot. Lord Byron often stayed there and used to swim across the bay to visit his fellow poet Shelley. The distance Lord Byron had to swim across the bay was quite far.

It was a sunny and clear day. The sea was aqua blue and shimmery. Lots of locals were sunbathing at the cave, and a group of people was learning scuba diving. But when it is a windy day and the waves crash against the rocks, it is dangerous to swim there.

Byron’s Grotto of the Bay of Poet's

The Doria Castle on the hill

After the observation deck, we followed a tight steep stairway and climbed up to Doria Castle hill, where we had panoramic views of the Bay of Poets and church San Pietro. On a sunny day, it would also be a nice picnic place.

The castle stands on a rocky plateau featuring steep walls and mighty archways in local stone. Built around 13th-century, this majestic fortress played an important strategic role during the Genoa Republic.

A narrow steep staircases that lead down the hill from the Doria Castle

Church of San Lorenzo, the local myth of the Madonna Bianca

The spectacular Church of San Lorenzo is next to the Doria Castle. It is also known as Sanctuary of the Madonna Bianca in honor of the local patron saint, of which it holds a legendary painting. The building was erected between 1118 and 1130.

Church of San Lorenzo, the local myth of the Madonna Bianca

A labyrinth of picturesque alleys

The stairs in front of San Lorenzo lead down the hill and to a labyrinth of picturesque alleys. The upper area of this part is residential. Between the narrow alleys, there are tiny courtyards for the locals to relax. It is well worth getting lost in those picturesque alleys and stairways.

The narrow alleys finally lead to ancient carugio, which is called Via Giovanni Capellini. Most shops in the village are located here, such as craft shops selling craftwork, and food shops selling, for example, self-made pesto. In some shops, I found many high-quality made-in-Italy products. These shops have also attracted many VIPs to pass by. Via Giovanni Capellini is a pedestrian street. At the end of the winding cobblestone alley is the town gate.

A labyrinth of picturesque alleys

Lunch in a seafront cafe or restaurant

We felt hot and sweat, longing for a rest at a seafront café or restaurant and relax. There are a handful of restaurants offering Pizzas, seafood, and meat dishes at the waterfront. We had a meal at a seafront eatery and tried some delicious pizzas. One of our pizzas has pesto sauce, a typical sauce used in Ligurian cuisine.

We watched the fishing boats bobbing on the nearby water and the world walking by. It was such a peaceful scene that we wished for time to stand still.

Corlourful buildings at Harbour front, Portovenere

Swimming in the sea

After our lunch break, we could not wait to swim in the sea. The seaside near the car park at Via Olivo is pretty calm. People could swim in a dedicated area. So did we. The water was warmer than we expected, and only a few kids were swimming in the sea. Part of the beach is rocky. We had to be careful when entering the water because the stony ground was very slippery.

In the afternoon, the beach clubs were not well occupied. However, according to the information in front of the beach clubs, all facilities were booked out. Many Italians might have gone home for the afternoon break.

Coastal view of Portovenere, Italy

Travel tips for Portovenere

Day trip to the three islands, Tino, Tinetto, and Isola Palmaria

The three islands, Tino, Tinetto, and Isola Palmaria, are not far from the Portovenere coastline. Tino is a military island, and Tinetto is just a tiny rock with some ancient ruins. Isola Palmaria is the largest island of the three, with caves, beaches, and walking paths. Take either a scenic boat tour or a taxi boat to reach the islands during the summertime.

Suggested tours

Many organized tours from Florence, Pisa, and Milan also include a visit to Portovenere.

Where to stay

Here is a list of hotels in the centre at different budget levels:

How to get there

  • Bus 11/P from La Spezia train station goes to Portovenere. This is the cheapest way to get there.
  • From La Spezia, Levanto, and Cinque Terre, it is possible to Portovenere by boat. A boat tour is quite time-consuming. If you have less time, you probably should take other alternatives.
  • The quickest and easiest way is to drive there. However, the road to Portovenere is considerably narrow and winding, so people with little driving experience might feel insecure.

3 Comments

  1. Portovenere looks like an awesome place to visit. I haven’t been to Cinque Terre yet, but heard so much about it last year when we were in Italy that we know we want to go back. And now, I’ve added Portovenere to our must see list (which is already too long – I’m sure you understand that!)

    1. Hi Stacy,

      Thanks. Just another hint if you travel to that area, you could just pick two villages from Cinque Terre plus Portovenere. The 5 villages have more or less certain similarities. It is better to stay in the area for a day or two so that you won’t get stressed out. Happy traveling!

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