The Italian Riviera is a strip of Mediterranean coastline that straddles between the south of France and Tuscany. The eastern part is edged with rugged cliffs, turquoise covers, and adorable seaside towns that include the infamous Cinque Terre, Portofino, and Santa Margherita Ligure.
There is so much this area has to offer, that it’s almost impossible to fit it into two days. That’s why for the sake of this itinerary suggestion, I’m not going to include the beautiful Cinque Terre. I think you could spend two days there alone, and even though it’s possible to do a day trip, I promise you that you’ll wish you had more time than a day.
So let’s focus on how to spend two days staying in the resort towns of Portofino and Santa Margherita Ligure.
Due to its convenience, I would recommend stationing yourself in Santa Margherita for your two days. The reason for this is that there is a train station located right in town and this will be the likely way you’ll arrive in the area unless you have a rental car.
By positioning yourself in Santa Margherita, you’ll be in an optimal location for exploring and getting the most out of your short time in the area. When you arrive via train, you’ll want to get checked into your accommodations before heading out for day one of adventuring. There are plenty of hotel options in Santa Marghertia, but we found it more cost-efficient to rent an Airbnb so we also had a place to cook some of our meals. In full transparency, this region was definitely more pricy than places like Rome, or Florence to stay. If you’re visiting during the summer months, you’re going to want to book in advance, and you should expect limited availability and higher prices.
Explore Santa Margherita
Once you are settled, take some time to explore the beautiful pastel-colored town of Santa Margherita. Some notable spots are:
- Villa Durazzo (enjoy beautiful views from the park)
- Castello di Santa Margherita
- Church of San Giacomo di Corte
- Try focaccia at Panificio Pinamonti
If the weather is beautiful, you may want to hit up a beach in the area for some vitamin D. Spiaggia Minaglia Beach is a popular option that’s free, but you’ll also find a ton of places where you can rent a beach spot with chairs and umbrellas for the day at a cost. Make sure to book ahead in high season.
Option 1: Hike to Portofino
If you have time, or if you want a little bit of a challenge, you can also opt to hike to Portofino. There is a simple way to get there by foot along the coastal path, however, Portofino falls in a regional park with some fantastic trails with even better views. When we visited, we did a 12km hike that started in Santa Margherita and took us to Portofino through the hilly countryside, then we walked back to Santa Margherita via the coastal trail that is more commonly used.
This hike was definitely challenging given the elevation, and in total, took about 3.5 hours. It was totally worth it though. We saw amazing views and it felt like a less touristy activity to do in the area. I wouldn’t, however, recommend this if you have kids, or if you aren’t moderately in shape or up for a workout.
Option 2: Rapallo
If you aren’t into an active hike, you can head up to Rapallo instead. There are a few ways to get there. The first is that you can take a ferry, the second is you can take an inexpensive train that takes less than 5 minutes, or the third is you can walk along the coastal path. This is a rather flat walk so it won’t be as exhausting as the hike.
A few points of interest in Rapallo are:
- Rapallo Castle
- The Historic City Centre
- The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Montallegro
- Ride the Rapallo Cable Car
Dinner in Santa Margherita
When you are done your busy day, I’d recommend heading back to your home base to freshen up then have dinner in Santa Margherita. There are so many fantastic restaurants in this area. A few recommendations are:
One of my fav spots we went to for aperitivo was Sabot. It’ll be busy so you’ll want to go early or expect to wait. They have fantastic cocktails and during happy hour you’ll get a hefty plate of snacks. Vernissage is another popular aperitivo spot but unfortunately, they were closed while we were there.
Tip: We traveled in shoulder season at the end of September and found a lot of restaurants would not accept walk-ins because they were fully booked so try and plan in advance and make reservations.
For your second and final day in the area, let’s do some village hopping. What’s great about the Italian Riviera is that it’s pretty easy to hop around to the different small villages even if you don’t have a car. Here are the routes I would recommend you consider:
Option 1: Santa Margherita – Camogli – Portofino – Santa Margherita
Start your day by taking the train to Camogli. You can buy tickets right online or at the station. It’s only about a 5-minute journey. Camogli is an adorable fishing village. Spend some time walking around and enjoying the views. You can also visit Castello della Dragone, and Santa Maria Assunta (church). When we visited it was pouring rain, but if you’re there on a hot and sunny day, then you can opt to lounge on one of their many beaches.
After you’re done exploring Camogli (I’d give yourself at least 2 hours unless you plan to stay on the beach) then you can journey back to Portofino. What we did was take the train back to Santa Margherita, then we hopped on a local bus (they’re very easy to navigate there) that took us to Portofino since we got enough hiking and walking in during day one. However, if you have the time or depending on what you do during day one you can definitely do a hike to Portofino or walk on the coastal path. There is also a ferry that runs from Camogli to Portofino as well but the timing of their schedule didn’t work out when we were ready to leave.
Some things to do in Portofino:
- Brown Castle (worth the walk up the hill to go inside)
- San Martino Church
- Hike/walk to the Lighthouse
- Visit one of the many beaches (La Baia di Paraggi is a popular one) or beach clubs (book in advance)
After your visit to Portofino, head back to Santa Margherita via bus, ferry, or walking. You can also opt to stay for dinner at one of the adorable seaside restaurants in Portofino.
Option 2: Santa Margherita – Camogli – San Fruttuoso – Portofino – Santa Margherita
The other itinerary option for village hopping for day two adds a stop in San Fruttuoso. Named as the home to one of the seven most beautiful beaches in Italy, San Fruttuoso is an authentic paradise and can easily be reached by boat (or foot for the more adventurous). It can be a great spot to sit back and relax on a hot summer day.
What I’d recommend is starting your day the same as the above itinerary – by taking the train to Camogli from Santa Magherita, then you can take the ferry to San Fruttuoso or catch a taxi. There is also an option to hike Camogli to San Fruttuoso but it isn’t a walk in the park. In San Fruttuoso the main attraction is the beach but you also can’t miss a walk around the town as well.
After San Fruttuoso, continue onto Portofino. You can look at the ferry schedule, or take a taxi. We opted out of this stop on our trip because it just wasn’t going to work with our schedule as there weren’t ferries running around the time we knew we’d probably want to leave. The weather was also not nice enough for the beach. There is also an option to hike to Portofino, again this is a challenging route and can take about 3.5 hours to complete.
When you arrive in Portofino you can continue onwards with the above itinerary. Spend some time exploring and then head back to Santa Margherita. You can check out my full guide on village hopping here.
This is a busy two days in the Italian Riviera but it’s definitely doable. I did it back in September. However, if you want more time to explore and relax on the beaches, I’d recommend at least 3-4 days in this area. Of course, if I missed any of your top recommendations, comment below.