The closest major airport to Portofino is the Christopher Columbus airport in Genoa (Aeroporto Cristoforo Colombo di Genova - GOA). From there one could rent a car, as it is a relatively short (22 1/4 miles, 35.8 km) ride. Overall the drive takes a little over an hour, due partly to some light traffic leaving Genoa and mostly to the roads once you leave the major highway (the A12). A warning to nervous drivers, the streets are quite narrow and windy, as you might expect in a European/Riviera town. Proceed with caution, especially around corners and be alert!
Two other options if you are unable to get to Genoa are Nice, France (Aeroport Nice Cote D'Azur - NCE) and Milan, Italy (Milan Malpensa - MXP). They are a bit farther away but within driving distance and the drive(s) could be beautiful.
For a less harrowing experience, you could take a pleasant ferry ride. There is a well-developed ferry service in the region and there are frequent departures from Genoa to places where you can connect to Portofino, Santa Margherita Ligure for one. Expect the ride to take a little longer, but it will certainly be far less nervewracking!
One final option should you happen to have the resources, just sidle into the harbor or a cove in your personal yacht. Portofino is a popular destination for the world's wealthy, and the luxurious yachts constantly dot the horizon in this lovely Mediterranean port.
Once in Portofino walking might be your best option. The town is not large and most hotels and beaches are a short walk from the harbor. Alternatively, mopeds seem to be a popular choice for getting about, especially for those people visiting several of the small regional towns like Paraggi or San Fruttuoso on their own schedule.
Once again, should you be fortunate enough to have a boat at your disposal, that would be another convenient way to move around the area. There are rentals available in the harbor.
Everything! Truly, the most impressive thing about Portofino is the lifestyle, so running off and "seeing the sights" probably won't be your number one priority when you plan your trip. There are some notable attractions that might be able to lure you from the beaches, but the view from the harbor or any of the surrounding beaches is unforgettable and one could spend the entire day marveling at it.
Castello Brown is a 16th century castle/fort, once used for the area's defense, but now primarily a museum with a fantastic view of the harbor and the Mediterranean Sea.
The church of St. Martin (Divo Martino) is around the corner from the harbor and is a quaint, stylish little chiesa from the 11th century. It's definitely worth taking a casual stroll around it.
Visiting Portofino is a sensual experience, and this being the case you should bring some of those sensual items back with you. There are a couple of small shops in the harbor area offering regional foods and wines for reasonable prices, and so providing a perfect way to extend your time there even after you've left.
If you're more into high fashion, there are several posh boutiques from some of the world's most famous designers, not surprisingly with some Italian luminaries on prominent display. If shopping is on your agenda you'll happily be able to peruse the latest designs from Armani, Gucci, Pucci, Ferragamo and Zegna. If you aren't looking for runway attire, there are also several boutiques with unique items, including one with lovely Murano glass jewelry.
Of course there are a few tourist shops and kiosks as well, with the usual assortment of beads, magnets and t-shirts for your browsing pleasure.
The Portofino harbor is surrounded by restaurants, each serving their own unique versions of the regional specialties. From Italian "comfort food" to fine dining, there will be an option for any dining preference.
One eatery of note is Pizzeria El Portico. Located just around the corner from the central harbor, within range of its sights and sounds, this energetic family-run spot provides great food and gracious service.
Two things to remember about dining in Portofino. First, you're on European time, especially in the summer, so breakfast is whenever you can get it after you awake, lunch is some time between 2 and 4 PM and dinner won't begin until 8 PM. Second, as a popular destination for weekend travelers and yacht or line cruisers, the weekends can get busy. If you have your heart set on a particular restaurant for a weekend meal, be sure to make reservations if you'll be dining duing a busier time.
Wine. Surprised? The region is known for some unique and specatular white varietals, including some notable Pinot Grigios. The available reds are also quite flavorful however, so don't avoid them completely. Several of these wines may not be available outside of Italy, so sample liberally while you can.
Some shops offer locally produced Limoncino (Limoncello), so if you'd prefer a cordial you will have some options
Of course you'll have plenty of non-alcoholic options if you're driving (really, you shouldn't be) or boating (better idea) that day. Soft drinks and water are readily available and the afternoon coffees and cappuccinos are very good.
There are several fine hotels in Portofino. All are within convenient walking distance of the harbor and offer packages and accommodations to suit most travelers.
Some of note:
Albergo Nazionale: located directly in the main harbor, there is no easier place to stay if spending time in the harbor is your main objective.
Domina Inn Piccolo: located a short distance from the harbor (300 meters) on a hillside, it is directly across the road from a beautiful cove and a nice beach, with exclusive access to lounge chairs and food/drink service. Another perk is free parking, which is invaluable in Portofino if you have a vehicle.
Hotel Splendido Mare and Splendido: the most luxurious and resort-like hotels in Portofino. Located uphill from the harbor and providing spectacular views of the scenery below.
Wherever you sleep, rest up! There may not be a better place to relax and embrace the casual lifestyle of the Riviera, so live like a local and enjoy!
Many people who visit upscale Portofino also visit the nearby Cinque Terre.
The quaint beach town Paraggi is a short walk on the pathway (pedonale) from Portofino and it seems to cater to a younger and more family-oriented crowd.
The ferry service from Portofino harbor provides frequent service to Santa Margherita Ligure, which also boasts a beautiful public beach. In that slightly larger town you'll also find more shopping and with a little walk off of the main road you will find several shops specializing in local foods and libations, and lining the streets will be antique dealers with all kinds of aged treasures.
The well-known town of Pisa is also only roughly 2 hours from Portofino, and if you simply can't miss its leaning tower, it is well within reach of a day trip.