Porto Venere is a small medieval town on the Ligurian coast, near the famous Cinque Terre. As I wrote in my last article, you only need a day or two at most to visit the Cinque Terre villages themselves, but if you want to explore the surrounding area, Porto Venere is a great place to go.
Where is Porto Venere
Porto Venere is located on Italy’s Ligurian coast in the northwestern part of Italy. It is located 14 km south of La Spezia, 24 km of Riomaggiore, about 90 km north of Pisa, and 115 km southeast of Genoa.
How to get to Porto Venere
By car: you can reach Porto Venere by car from La Spezia or from any other location. Keep in mind that parking can be difficult in the summer months, as the streets and parking spaces are narrow. The parking fees in the high season – mid-March to mid-October – is also quite astronomical: €3 per hour (the rate is half that in the low season). I also don’t recommend going here with a motorhome – the parking spaces are definitely not prepared for them, and several times we saw a parked car sticking out into the road where the local bus couldn’t get through.
By bus: because of the above, I would prefer to take the bus from La Spezia. From the center of La Spezia, there is a regular line 11/P which costs only €3. The journey takes less than 30 minutes.
By boat: you can also get to Porto Venere by boat from La Spezia or from any town in the Cinque Terre (except Corniglia).
Exploring Porto Venere
We started our exploration of Porto Venere at the harbor (we left our car parked a short distance away in the car park on Via Olivo). From the harbor, you can get a beautiful view of the Porto Venere skyline.
Porto Venere is different from the Cinque Terre villages thanks to its promenade, and that makes it all the more impressive. Of course, the promenade is lined with colourful houses with cafes and restaurants.
The entrance to the historic old town and its tangle of narrow streets is the 12th-century Porta del Borgo city gate (see photo above), which opens onto the main street, Via Giovanni Capellini, where you’ll find plenty of souvenir shops and other cafes and restaurants.
About halfway up the street, turn right and climb the steps to the church Chiesa di San Lorenzo, built by the Genoese in the 11th century. I definitely recommend you take a look inside. The interior is very dark, but you’ll find some interesting artifacts. There are also nice views from the courtyard in front of the church.
Continue up the stairs and you will reach Castello Doria. The present castle, which used to be a military fortress, was built on the remains of an older structure in 1161. If you want to visit it, the entrance fee is €5.
From here you can enjoy a beautiful view of the Chiesa di San Pietro, built on a natural rocky rise at the end of the harbor.
It is the oldest vestigial church in the area and one of the most famous tourist attractions of the place. From the top of the church, there is a beautiful view of the sea.
Another attraction is a viewpoint called Byron’s Grotto, named after the English poet. When Lord Byron visited here, he often swam across the bay to see Percy Bysshe Shelley, another poet who stayed here.
Yay for the beach
Although there is a small sandy beach right in the harbor of Porto Venere, we went a little further from the center (about 700 meters) to the beach of Spiaggia dell Olivo. We spent a lovely afternoon on this pebble beach with a clear sea.
If there is no weather for swimming in the sea
From the harbor, you can take a cruise around the nearby islands of Palmaria, Tino, and Tinetto. The tour costs 13€ (discounted ticket 8€) and takes 40 minutes. Departures from the port of Porto Venere are at 12 pm and 3 pm.