What I didn’t like about Portofino

16th May 2017
What I didn't like about Portofino, Italy - spinthewindrose.com

Located just south of Genoa and north of the Italy’s major attraction of Cinque Terre, Portofino is one of the most popular towns along the Italian Riviera.

With a population of just 500 permanent residents, the small port fills up during the warmer months when an influx of tourists wander the tiny streets and yachters leave their boats bobbing in the harbour. The reds and oranges of the houses are beautifully accentuated by the greenery of the hills and the blue of the water – but is this tiny town really as perfect as people make it out to be?

As a budget traveller and someone who fell head over heels for Italy and all things Italian when I lived there, I was apprehensive about visiting a town that I knew was going to be popular with tourists. Generally, places that are popular with tourists don’t offer a particularly authentic representation of day-to-day life in that country, nor are they particularly kind to your bank balance.

However, since we were staying only an hour’s drive away in Genoa, I figured we might as well make the trip. Here’s what I didn’t like about Portofino.

What I didn't like about Portofino, Italy - spinthewindrose.com

What I didn't like about Portofino, Italy - spinthewindrose.com What I didn't like about Portofino, Italy - spinthewindrose.com

The car parking is outrageously expensive

As with any town or city across the globe, parking in the centre will be expensive. This is something that’s a little annoying when you decide to go on a road trip, but something you learn to accept as one of your unavoidable daily expenses. You come to expect increased prices in the city centre and are pleasantly surprised if it turns out cheaper than you imagined!

Portofino is what its name translates to: The port at the end (of the road).

The main road that leads down the coast from Rapallo to Santa Margherita Ligure and finishing in Portofino is a narrow, winding road that doesn’t offer much in the way of rest-stops where you can take photos of the view. It leads directly into the small town, and directly into an underground car park. The only other way to turn is left, into another car park. You can’t drive around the town, and you can’t park on the outskirts – there are no other roads.

Parking in Portofino was the most expensive we had seen on our 7 day road trip along the French and Italian Riviera, at 5.50€ per hour. So, we only stayed for an hour. When you’re travelling on a minuscule budget, that’s really expensive!

What I didn't like about Portofino, Italy - spinthewindrose.comWhat I didn't like about Portofino, Italy - spinthewindrose.com What I didn't like about Portofino, Italy - spinthewindrose.com

There are SO MANY tourists

Always expected when visiting a popular place, but I hoped that because we weren’t visiting in the high season, perhaps there might not be as many tourists as in the summer months. Wrong!

It was quite a shock to find that almost every person we saw in Portofino was a tourist. The only local people seemed to be those working in the cafes, restaurants and boutiques, or the people offering their services as tour guides around the town. It seemed the grey clouds hadn’t put other tourists off visiting, either. I can’t imagine what it’s like in the height of summer!

On my travels, I love to linger a while so I can get a real feel for a place.

There’s nothing better than sitting in a cafe and watching local life pass by as you enjoy your coffee.

However, in Portofino, there doesn’t seem to be any “local life”. It seemed to be operating purely for tourists’ benefit.

Because of this, I’m sad to say that I personally found Portofino to be surprisingly under-whelming; it didn’t have the quaint, Italian charm that I was expecting. It wasn’t real Italy.


What I didn't like about Portofino, Italy - spinthewindrose.comWhat I didn't like about Portofino, Italy - spinthewindrose.comWhat I didn't like about Portofino, Italy - spinthewindrose.com

It doesn’t look like the photos promise

I found out about Portofino on Pinterest, the same way I do for most of my travel inspiration. Perhaps I set myself up for a little disappointment – because real life never lives up to your expectations once you’ve seen those carefully edited, over-saturated and too-good-to-be-true photographs, right?

Except that’s not always the case. New Zealand actually is as beautiful as it looks. Provence is as quaint as the photos make out. So why wasn’t Portofino?

As I mentioned earlier, the weather wasn’t the best on the day we went to Portofino. The sky was grey, the clouds hung low. The water would have been more blue, the waves sparkling in the light, if the sun had been shining. Annoying, but just one of those things you have to deal with.

But the colours just weren’t quite right.

The paint on the buildings has faded, and some houses and hotels were looking a little run down. If you are wondering, yes, I have edited every photo in this post to make the colours stand out more.

It was pretty, particularly with the boats bobbing along in the foreground, but it just wasn’t as beautiful to the naked eye as I had hoped.

What I didn't like about Portofino, Italy - spinthewindrose.com What I didn't like about Portofino, Italy - spinthewindrose.com

What I didn't like about Portofino, Italy - spinthewindrose.com

There’s not actually much to do there

Besides taking photos of the town and port, there isn’t actually much to do in Portofino. Once we had taken some photos of the port and the Church – and had walked all the way up to the Castello Brown to see if you could get a nice view from up there without having to pay to go inside (note: you can’t) – we were ready to leave. An hour was enough in Portofino for us budget travellers!

On a serious note, things to do in Portofino are quite limited.

In fact, the thing to do in Portofino is absolutely nothing at all.

It’s simply to relax and to enjoy yourself.

We stopped to look at a menu in one of the restaurants, giggling to ourselves that it was more expensive than we would ever pay for. I realised that the reason people love Portofino is probably the reason I disliked it: because you end up spending lots of money, either in the boutique shops, in the restaurants, or by staying in the hotels (some of which are considered the “best in the world”, I should add).

What I didn't like about Portofino, Italy - spinthewindrose.comWhat I didn't like about Portofino, Italy - spinthewindrose.comWhat I didn't like about Portofino, Italy - spinthewindrose.com

Where to stay in Portofino:

As aforementioned, my sister and I stayed in Genoa and drove to Portofino in the morning. It might be worth searching for accommodations in the surrounding towns of Santa Margherita Ligure and Rapello to see if it’s cheaper to stay there. You can browse properties in Portofino using the booking form below.


How to get to Portofino:

If you are renting a vehicle during your stay, Portofino is easily reachable by road; just follow the SS1 south from Genoa and take the SS39 towards Santa Margherita Ligure; turn right onto the Strada Provinciale 227 di Portofino which follows the coast and will take you directly to the town and into one of the two car parks.

If you’re on foot, buses run regularly from Genoa and the nearby towns of Santa Margherita Ligure etc. Rome 2 Rio has some useful info on which buses to take an what times they arrive. A taxi will set you back around 60€ from Genoa.

What I didn't like about Portofino, Italy - spinthewindrose.com

Portofino wasn’t for me

As always, I’ll never tell you to not visit any given place – but be prepared that Portofino might be a little different to the idyll that you imagine.

What I didn’t like about Portofino was that I didn’t fit into its world, I couldn’t relate to it, and I didn’t get the butterflies or the warmth lining my belly feeling of falling in love with it.

Portofino isn’t for people like me. It’s a place for the rich. People come here to shop in the expensive boutiques, to eat in the expensive restaurants, to sleep in the expensive hotels. They come here to experience this little slice of Italian bourgeoisie.

And if you can afford it, why not? Perhaps if I had the lavish lifestyle of most people who frequent the town, I would feel differently… but then I wouldn’t be writing a budget travel blog, would I?

What I didn't like about Portofino, Italy - spinthewindrose.com

Have you visited Portofino? What did you think of it?

Thanks for reading and happy travels!

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What I didn't like about Portofino, Italy - spinthewindrose.com

What I didn't like about Portofino, Italy - spinthewindrose.com

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22 responses to “What I didn’t like about Portofino”

  1. What a great post. I was desperate to visit Portofino after looking at photos. It’s nice to hear an honest opinion. Did you you visit any areas close that your would recommend more?

    • Glad you liked it, I’m always a bit hesitant to write negative posts! I actually liked Santa Margherita Ligure quite a lot, which is near Portofino, but I wouldn’t say it’s worth a trip in itself. I really liked Sanremo, which is nearer to France, and Genoa is worth a visit as well ?

    • Always a bummer when a place isn’t what we expected, especially if it has been on the list for awhile. The photos are still beautiful as ever though!

  2. Katie says:

    nice to hear your opinion on this! Everyone always raves about it, but there are defo things that make it not the best!

  3. This is a super informative post! Portofino is one town on the Amalfi coast I haven’t heard much about. Good to know it might be worthwhile to skip it when I do a road trip down there.

  4. This is an interesting post and a different angle to writing about travel… I agree that the parking fee is outrageous. I’m also thinking that perhaps your photos didn’t POP because it wasn’t really sunny when you were there? I still think you took some beautiful photos, though. But yes, sometimes reality doesn’t live up to photoshopped photos 🙂

    • Yea I said the same in the post, some of the buildings were worn and the paint had faded, but it was more to do with my expectations, it wasn’t AS pretty as I thought it would be.

  5. Thanks for sharing such an honest post. I see blog posts about Portofino all the time, but all they do is praise. It’s nice to see the other side of it! Overly crowded is definitely not my idea of fun.

  6. ada says:

    What a great post! Its so good to read about the other side of all those famous places! Portofino was on my list and of course iif Ill get opportunity to go there, ill still do but now I would be better prepared 🙂 Thanks for sharing it!

  7. Krix says:

    Hmm interesting. Unfortunately sometimes our expectations don’t meet reality. I’m like to read about the disappointment as well not just sugarcoated articles about places. Haha, the pictures do look nice in your post but I suppose if you edited them that expaines… 🙂


    • It’s difficult not to have an expectation when you need to research beforehand though! Don’t we base all our travels on places we want to go because we’ve seen/ heard how great they are?

  9. simonastanescu843896706 says:

    Looks nice and your photos are gorgeous also, but 5,50 for one hour of parking, woooow, that’s way more expensive than parking in Paris…
    But I would still love to visit Portofino and feel the dolce far niente. Just that i would go by train, or park outside the city. Is thhat something possible? To park outside the city than take a train?

    • Extortionate, right! It doesn’t have a train station, it’s tiny, and unfortunately you can’t park on the outskirts; there is no other roads apart from the ones that lead directly into the car parks. I guess you could park in a nearby town and take the bus but I doubt it would save you money.

  10. dmehtaTheELT says:

    It’s always good to hear some genuine opinions but as u also mentioned in your post the reason by so many people like Portofino is the reason why u dun like it so I guess highly subjective! I personally love those places where there is nothing much to do so for a change I dun have to make a must do list?

  11. Jackie says:

    Minus the driving/parking issue (as I took a train and then a bus) I had the same dislike/issues with Portofino. I think its super overrated and was extremely underwhelmed when I visited. The best photo ops from above the city wasn’t even feasible as the stairs to climb up there were being repaired when I visited – so there was QUITE LITERALLY NOTHING to do. I also ended up walking back to Santa Margherita Ligure just to be able to walk along the road (with no rest stops for photo ops lol) to take photos – just as underwhelming lol you didn’t miss much, I assure you!

  12. karen says:

    Very interesting to hear about this area. I haven’t been to this region yet, but I’ve mostly heard good things, so interesting to hear the other parts!

  13. Albert says:

    For a budget a traveler, I am surprised you didn’t research the cost of parking. I would have guessed it right away that it is expensive since Portofino is known for that. Having been to a lot of old cities in Europe, I am always hesitant of driving into the city. Not only about the parking costs, but more importantly the difficulty of finding parking, the narrow roads and heaps of one ways! As a budget traveler, I would have left the car in Genoa and opted for public transport which is quite frequent, not that expensive, and not that far of a commute.

  14. Pat says:

    Doesn’t sound to me like a person that should visit Portofino in the first place. Besides it is more of a combo with mainly spending time in Santa Margherita Ligure with nice restaurants etc. But anyway thanks for sharing and we are still planning to go back in 1.5 weeks

  15. Thanks Pat. I think part of the fun of travelling is finding places you do and don’t like. Portofino is a lovely place, it just didn’t suit me as a budget traveller (but, as I’m sure you can understand, I wanted to go there anyway!)

  16. Al says:

    Portofino translates to: the port at the end. From my sources I know that the name Porotfino comes form Portus Delphini = Port of the Dolphins.
    Besides, why should one be upset just because there is “nothing to do” in Portofino, or any other destination for that matter? What wold you expect from a small fishing town of 500? A funfair with a rollercoaster? Theater performances and concerts, museums and art galleries? I think the town itself is the destination, it is THE thing to see and to do = stroll in the streets, soak in the atmosphere, the nature, the awesome vistas, enjoy the genius loci! 🙂

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I’m a travel-loving sustainability advocate, on a journey to live a low-impact lifestyle alongside seeing the world. I’m obsessed with my two dogs, secondhand shopping, and growing vegetables.