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CINQUE TERRE: A BUCKET LIST SPOT OF 5 DREAMY SMALL TOWNS IN THE HEART OF ITALY!
Hiking around Cinque Terre is one of the most exciting things to do in Italy!
It’s been on my list of places to visit for quite a few years, and we finally made it there last June.
Cinque Terre is a unique paradise hidden between the mountains and the Mediterranean Sea on the Northern coast of Italy. Its rocky and panoramic footpaths will leave you without words!
Cinque Terre means literally Five Lands and the beauty of these five villages doesn’t go unnoticed: 2.5 million tourists from all around the world come to visit this dreamy location every year.
This destination is so special, Unesco made it a World Heritage Site in 1997 due to the “harmonious interaction between people and nature”. You can’t blame them!
The colorful houses reflect in the sparkling sea, surrounded by wild nature, vineyards and olive trees. It’s a fantastic place, and it will remain in your memories.
I can’t recommend Cinque Terre enough. I thought after seeing thousands of pictures on Instagram, it wouldn’t live up to the hype. But it’s truly special and one of the most romantic places we’ve ever been to.
After a lot of research, I put together a list of all the best tips and things to do in Cinque Terre, to help you to plan your once-in-a-lifetime trip.
Cinque Terre: everything you need to know
Where is Cinque Terre?
Let’s start at the very beginning.
Cinque Terre is located on the coastline of northern Italy, in what is knows as the Italian Riviera: a narrow coastal strip which lies between South of France’s Cote d’Azur and Tuscany.
What makes this region so special is how its villages are surrounded by the sparkling deep blue sea on one side and backed by the steep Maritime Alps on the other.
Check out the interactive map below to see exactly where Cinque Terre is.
What is Cinque Terre famous for?
Cinque Terre is a National Park famous for its unique landscape and colorful houses. With the villages hard to reach by road, Cinque Terre is also famous for the hiking footpaths that surround the Mediterranean coastline, and traverse vineyards and olive groves.
And like most places in Italy, you can’t forget the food: you must try focaccia bread, pesto, and fresh anchovies seasoned with sea salt, oregano, and extra virgin olive oil.
Best time to visit Cinque Terre
We visited Cinque Terre in June. The weather was perfect and the nature surrounding the mountains around the villages was in full bloom. But it was just starting to get a bit too crowded.
I think that September and October are the perfect months to visit Cinque Terre. Most of the summer tourists will have left, and temperatures won’t be too hot.
Towards the end of spring is also a great time, from mid-April to mid-May. The weather will be pleasant, and there will be fewer people around, although the chances of rain are higher.
Depending on what your plans are we suggest:
- Mid-May to the beginning of June or September: if moving around by train is your thing.
- Mid-March to mid-May or the beginning of September to mid-October: if you are planning on hiking the Cinque Terre.
Either way, avoid August. This is THE holiday month in Italy and everywhere is busy and very expensive.
The 5 Cinque Terre towns
Each of the five towns in Cinque Terre has its own unique charm. While you are wandering around village cafes, walking up steep narrow staircases and hiking through the rugged coastline, you will feel like you’ve stepped back in time. The charm of this place is truly exceptional, and although it can get very crowded, especially in the summer months, you will find yourself surrounded by a memorable beauty.
Monterosso Al Mare
Monterosso is the biggest town in Cinque Terre. It stands on much flatter land than all its neighbors, and although at a first sight it might not look as charming as some of the other villages, it’s the only coastal village in Cinque Terre with a long coastline and a large beach.
If you want to spend some time chilling by the beach and don’t like the idea of carrying your bags up and down hills and stairs, staying overnight in Monterosso might be the best choice.
Don’t forget to grab a delicious slice of focaccia or stop in one of the many cafes to grab a true Italian espresso.
Vernazza is one of the prettiest villages and one of the most photographed in the world.
It was badly damaged by a flood in 2011, and we could still see some signs of it when we visited, but locals are busy returning it to its beauty.
If you get here, you might as well take a couple of pictures from the best spots in town:
- Walking trail from Monterosso to Vernazza: while on the trail, you can admire beautiful views of the sea and the coastline. When you are about to reach Vernazza, towards the end of the path, you will get the top view of Vernazza everyone is after. Take your time here, and capture this incredible spot, which encapsulates all the beauty of Cinque Terre.
- Vernazza harbor: this is the next best spot to take a picture, surrounded by colorful fishing boats and with the town of Vernazza as your perfect backdrop.
And once you are tired of taking pictures, take a tour of Doria Castle, and check out the numerous shops and restaurants, focaccerie and gelaterie, ready to please foodies from all around the world.
Corniglia is perched upon the cliff edge of the mountains surrounding Cinque Terre. It’s not accessible by sea, only by foot or bus.
It’s by far the hardest village to reach as you’ll need to climb 377 steps from the bottom of the hill. The staircase is made of bricks and locals call it Lardarina. If you are attempting the climb in the summer, make sure to wear a hat to protect your head from the sun and drink plenty of water.
Because it’s hard to reach, Corniglia is also the quietest of all towns in Cinque Terre.
The view from here is breathtaking: you can admire the beautiful vineyards and orange groves growing all around the hills.
I have to say, Manarola is my favorite village. It’s quite small but the beautiful colorful houses and the amazing view from the footpath next to the marina will leave you without words.
Plus there are plenty of little shops and local artists displaying their artwork.
The village revolves around the main street and has a little harbor at the bottom. If you follow the path to the right of the harbor, you will get a chance to see one of the most photographed views of Cinque Terre.
The path is made in concrete and protected by wooden railing: it’s hard to miss. Along the trail, you will be able to take a beautiful postcard picture.
If you are coming by train from La Spezia, Riomaggiore will be your first stop (or your last, if you are coming from Monterosso).
Riomaggiore has very tall, colorful and narrow houses, a gorgeous harbor and a rocky beach from which you can enjoy a wonderful sea view.
It’s one of the hilliest towns to walk, but if you are up for a bit of exploration, keep walking up Via Colombo to get stunning ocean views from the top end of town.
From Riomaggiore, you can hop back on the train or take the famous Via Dell’Amore (Lovers’ Walk), one of the most scenic footpaths to Manarola.
Top things to do in Cinque Terre, Italy
WHAT TO DO: There are plenty of incredible things to do in Cinque Terre. It really depends on what you fancy. Are you a hiker? How about a walking tour? Are you a foodie? There is something for everyone! Check out this post for all my tips on what to do in Cinque Terre.
WHERE TO EAT: I can’t remember when I came across this quote “To love food and traveling is to love life.” But I think it’s so true. And there isn’t a better place in the world than Italy to discover delicious food. Check out this post to find out what to eat and where to eat the best food in Cinque Terre.
Getting around Cinque Terre
Although Cinque Terre is most famous for its hiking trails, the most economical and simplest way to move around is by train.
Moving around Cinque Terre by train is especially helpful if you’re short on time, as several hiking paths take between 2 to 3 hours to move from town to town and driving between villages just isn’t an option (cars are banned!).
You can leave your car in La Spezia and take the regional train Cinque Terre Express to one of the towns in Cinque Terre.
You can buy tickets at any train station. From 14th March to 1st November 2020, the one-way ticket for the Cinque Terre Express costs 4 euros for adults and 2 euros for children aged between 4 and 12. The ticket needs to be validated before departure and is valid for 75 minutes and for only one route (intermediate stops are not allowed and the ticket can only be used once).
An alternative to buying one-way tickets is to get one of the Cinque Terre Cards.
There are 2 types of cards:
This is a multi-service card that gives you access to:
- Second class access to fast regional and regional trains between Levanto and La Spezia.
- Use of ecological park buses
- Access to all trekking paths
- WiFi internet connection in the area
- Toilets in the area (otherwise, you’ll need to pay 1 euro each time – and if you are a girl like me, you can end up saving quite a bit on toilet trips alone!)
This card is cheaper. It gives you access to the park but you won’t be able to use the train.
You can buy the Cinque Terre cards at the Reception Centers of the Cinque Terre National Park, or you can buy the Cinque Terre Treno in advance here.
Cinque Terre Express
When you are planning your trip, thinking about moving around by train might seem complicated, but once you get to Cinque Terre, you will realize how easy it actually is!
Trains on the Cinque Terre Express line run along the coast and you will enjoy amazing views while traveling between the stations.
The Cinque Terre Express trains connect seven cities:
- La Spezia: the biggest city close to Cinque Terre
- Levanto: another city, just outside Cinque Terre
It takes roughly 10 minutes from La Spezia to Riomaggiore and no more than 5 minutes between each of the five towns.
Depending on the season, trains might run every 15-30 minutes, but in low season you might have to wait up to one hour.
Cinque Terre is, without question, one of the most romantic hiking regions in the world. And walking around its trails is one of the best things to do in Cinque Terre.
If you are fit and healthy, this is by far the most spectacular way to visit Cinque Terre.
You might read in some places that the walks are difficult, but although you definitely need a good level of fitness, you don’t have to be a seasoned hiker to attempt the walks! The different trails climb up and down the mountains, and with the villages at sea level (except for Corniglia), you are in for some exercise!
I strongly recommend you to wear some good trekking shoes and avoid hiking during the hottest hours of the day. Mornings and late afternoons are the best time to walk, and you will also avoid most of the crowd.
There are hundreds of trails around the mountains and you can take several routes. By following Il Sentiero Azzurro (Blue Trail), you will need roughly 5 to 6 hours to hike the entire distance, without counting the time to visit all 5 towns. The trail is roughly 11km long (6.8 miles).
The path is split into 4 walks, but not all walks are always open. Make sure you check here before you go to avoid disappointment!
Monterosso to Vernazza
Path length: 3.6km (2.23 miles) Walking time: 2 hours Difficulty level: moderate
Allow 2 hours to walk between Monterosso and Vernazza (or the other way round). This is the longest of the four walks. Along the way, there are some spots to sit and rest and enjoy the stunning views.
Vernazza to Corniglia
Path length: 3.45km (2.14 miles) Walking time: 1.5 hours Difficulty level: moderate
Corniglia is the only village that isn’t at sea level. As you approach it, the views of the village surrounded by vineyards are fantastic.
Corniglia to Manarola
Path length: 2.9km (1.8 miles) Walking time: 1.15 hours Difficulty level: easy
The walk between Corniglia and Manarola is very flat compared to some of the other walks.
Manarola to Riomaggiore (The Lovers Walk)
Path length: 1.1km (0.7 miles) Walking time: 25 minutes Difficulty level: easy
This is the most famous walk in Cinque Terre. Known as Via dell’amore (The lovers walk), it’s the perfect romantic stroll for couples in love.
Note: Via dell’amore is closed. It should open again from April 2021.
Traveling by ferry isn’t by far the most convenient way to move around Cinque Terre but it gives you a unique and amazing perspective.
The ferry departure is located in La Spezia and it’s only available in the spring and summer months when the weather is good. The ferry will stop in four of the five villages (Riomaggiore, Manarola, Vernazza, and Monterosso).
Prices vary from 8 euros to 35 euros, depending on the type of trip you book. You can check the latest rates here.
Cinque Terre maps and resources
Here you can find links to the most useful maps and resources to help you with your trip:
Cinque Terre Tourism Office: there are several tourist information offices in each of the Cinque Terre villages and its surrounding areas. Here you can get local maps of the trails, information on accommodations and information on the National Park of Cinque Terre.
Cinque Terre Card: buying a Cinque Terre card is a great way to move around the area without spending a lot of money. You also need it if you want to hike the trails in the National Park, including the Blue Trail. The card gives you access to the trails, the use of buses in the park, WiFi connection, use of toilets and trains (if you buy the card with train option). You can find more information on prices and where to buy it here.
Cinque Terre Trails: there are plenty of trails in the Cinque Terre National Park. The easiest, and most well-known, is the Blue trail. As mentioned above, the trail is often undergoing maintenance and before you go there, you better check which sections are open to avoid disappointment.
Cinque Terre maps: a collection of useful maps of the walking trails.
How to get to Cinque Terre
One of the reasons this wonderful area in Italy keeps its appeal today is how remote the five fishing villages feel. This means reaching them, even in these modern days, comes with its own challenges.
The most popular ways to travel to Cinque Terre are:
Your best bet is Pisa International Airport. From there, you can rent a car and reach Cinque Terre in about 90 minutes.
Genoa Airport is the closest to Cinque Terre, but it’s a small airport and you won’t find many international flights here. Plus, flights to Genoa Airport are normally more expensive, so if you are traveling on a budget it’s something to keep in mind.
You can also flight to Florence Airport. Driving from there will take you a bit over 2 hours.
If you are trying to get to Cinque Terre from Milan Airports, driving there will take you between 2 hours and 50 minutes to 3 hours and 30 minutes:
- Milan Linate: roughly 2 hours and 50 minutes, depending on traffic and using toll roads.
- Milan Malpensa: roughly 3 hours, depending on traffic and using toll roads.
- Milan Bergamo: roughly 3 hours and 30 minutes, depending on traffic and using toll roads.
Getting to Cinque Terre by train not only is by far the best way to reach Cinque Terre, but it’s also my favorite way to move around between villages once you get there.
The Cinque Terre Express runs along the coast and stops at all five towns (Monterosso, Corniglia, Vernazza, Manarola, Riomaggiore).
You will be able to find trains from most big cities to La Spezia Centrale (see details below from Italy’s major destinations). Once you reach La Spezia Centrale you will need to change and catch the Cinque Terre Express.
You can buy tickets for the Cinque Terre Express at La Spezia station or on the Trenitalia website.
From 14th March to 1st November 2020, the one-way ticket costs 4 euros for adults and 2 euros for children aged between 4 and 12. The ticket needs to be validated before departure and is valid for 75 minutes and for only one route (intermediate stops are not allowed and the ticket can only be used once).
You cannot park your car in Cinque Terre. Unless the Airbnb or hotel you are staying in has free or paid parking included outside the village, your best bet is to park your car in La Spezia or Levanto and take the Cinque Terre Express train to reach your final destination.
There are car parks just outside each village to leave your car, but they can be expensive (up to 25 euros per day).
The Maritime Tourism Consortium has 15 boats traveling between La Spezia, Lerici, Portovenere, 5 Terre, and Levanto. The service runs in the summer (March through October), and only if weather permits. Prices vary from 8 euros to 35 euros, depending on the type of trip you book. You can check the latest rates here.
Getting to Cinque Terre from the major Italian cities
Florence to Cinque Terre
2.5 to 3 hours, 116 miles
Florence is the perfect place to start your journey to Cinque Terre. And although I recommend spending more time there, some adventurous tourists take a day trip from Florence to Cinque Terre.
By car: If you are renting a car, you can reach Cinque Terre from Florence in approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes. You will need to take toll roads A11 and A12. The estimated one-way cost as of January 2020 is 33 euros (16 euros toll road + 17 euros gas).
By train: Traveling by train will take you approximately 3 hours and cost between 14 to 25 euros for a one-way ticket, depending on the type of train you end up getting. There are a few direct trains per day in the summer from Firenze Santa Maria Novella station to La Spezia Centrale (travel time 2 hours and 43 minutes). Others require you to change trains in Pisa.
You can book your tickets from Florence to La Spezia on Trenitalia.com.
Once you reach La Spezia, change for the Cinque Terre Express.
If you are looking for an easy trip, where all you have to do is relax and explore Cinque Terre, check out this top-rated day tour from Florence.
Rome to Cinque Terre
3 to 5 hours, 284 miles
Rome is a bit further away from Cinque Terre than Florence. A day trip is a bit of a stretch, but you could easily spend one night in Cinque Terre and come back to Rome the next day.
By car: If you are renting a car, you can reach Cinque Terre from Rome in approximately 5 hours. You can either take the toll road A12 which follows the Italian West coast or drive through Italy on the A1. Both routes are good. Just check Google Maps for the fastest route suggested on the day you are traveling. The estimated one-way cost as of January 2020 is between 68 euros (23 euros toll road + 45 euros gas via A12) and 85 euros (35 euros toll road + 50 euros gas via A1).
By train: Traveling by train will take you between 3 hours and 12 minutes to 4 hours and 30 minutes and cost between 17 to 50 euros, depending on the type of train you end up getting. There are a few direct trains per day from Roma Termini station to La Spezia Centrale (travel time 3 hours and 54 minutes). Others require you to change trains in Pisa or Florence. You can also reach La Spezia Centrale from Roma Ostiense and Roma Tiburtina.
Once you reach La Spezia, change for the Cinque Terre Express.
Check on the Trenitalia website for details.
Milan to Cinque Terre
Approximately 3 hours, 142 miles
Milan, after Florence, is your best bet to be able to take a day trip to visit the enchanting Cinque Terre. It’s pretty easy to reach Cinque Terre by car, but it’s even easier (and faster) to reach it using Trenitalia trains.
By car: If you are renting a car, you can reach Cinque Terre from Milan in approximately 3 hours. You can either take the toll road A7 through Genoa or drive through Italy on the A1, reaching Cinque Terre from La Spezia. Both routes are good and take roughly the same time. Just check Google Maps for the fastest route suggested on the day you are traveling. The estimated one-way cost as of January 2020 is between 44 euros (18 euros toll road + 26 euros gas via A12) and 54 euros (25 euros toll road + 29 euros gas via A1).
By train: Traveling by train will take you pretty much the same time as driving, but you won’t have to worry about parking your car in La Spezia or Sestri Levante. You can get off the train in Monterosso al Mare, the biggest of the five towns, and start exploring the beautiful landscape immediately. There are a few direct trains per day from Milano Centrale to Monterosso (travel time 3 hours) with prices starting at just 9.90 euros for a one-way ticket, if you book well in advance on Trenitalia.com. Other trains require you to change trains in Levanto or Genoa.
Check out this top-rated day tour from Milan, if you fancy someone else doing all the planning for you!
Venice to Cinque Terre
5 to 6.5 hours, 246 miles
From wandering around the picturesque canals in Venice to humble fishing villages in Cinque Terre. You will experience two extremes of the Italian landscape. Both strikingly beautiful. Traveling from Venice to Cinque Terre isn’t fast. But it’s worth the effort.
By car: There are several routes to reach Cinque Terre from Venice. Depending on traffic, they will all take you between 4 hours and 45 minutes to 5 hours and 10 minutes. You can either take toll roads A13 and A15, through Bologna, arriving from La Spezia. Or A4 and A15, reaching Cinque Terre from Verona, Mantova, and Parma. The last option is via A13 and A12, driving through the outskirt of Florence and Lucca. The first option is normally the faster of the 3, but make sure to check traffic on the day of traveling.
The estimated one-way cost as of January 2020 is between 70 euros and 78 euros.
By train: Traveling by train will take you between 5.5 to 6.5 hours, but you won’t have to worry about parking the car in La Spezia. There are no direct trains from Venice to Cinque Terre. Almost all combinations of trains will require you to change trains at least once along the journey, taking a combination of high-speed trains and regional slower trains. The route from Venezia S. Lucia or Venezia Mestre via Milan includes one change, while the route via Florence requires at least two changes. Your best bet is to check on Trenitalia.com for the best train to catch on your trip day. The price of a one-way ticket starts at 35 euros.
Cinque Terre FAQ
Can you visit Cinque Terre in a day?
Yes, you can. But it is a shame to not spend more time in this picturesque place. I suggest spending at least 1 night here. If you are planning a day trip, I would avoid hiking (although you’ll miss most of the fun!) and use the train to move around the villages, or you won’t be able to see them all.
How many days do you need to visit Cinque Terre?
To make the most of your experience 3 days and 2 nights is the perfect amount of time. This will give you plenty of hours to hike the blue trail and to explore the charming streets in the villages.
How long does it take to walk the Cinque Terre?
There are plenty of walking trails surrounding the National Park. The network of 48 footpaths is over 120km (75 miles). It can take you days to explore them all. It’s up to you how much time you want to spend here.
The Blue Trail, the most famous footpath that connects all 5 towns, is one of the easiest. It’s 11km long (6.8 miles) and it will take you roughly 6 hours to walk.
Which is the easiest walk in Cinque Terre?
The easiest and quickest walk is between Riomaggiore and Manarola. This walk is known as Via dell’amore (The lovers walk). It’s only 1.1km (0.7 miles) long and takes around 20-25 minutes.
Note: Via dell’amore is closed. It should open again from April 2021.
Which Cinque Terre town is best?
Each town has it’s own unique vibe.
- Monterosso al Mare: For beach-lovers. This is the only town with a large beach. It’s also easy to access, which makes it perfect for families with children.
- Vernazza: The most popular of Cinque Terre, perfect for Instagram spots and photographers.
- Corniglia: Not many tourists decide to stay here, as it’s harder to reach. Perfect to escape the crowds and for cheaper accommodations.
- Manarola: If you love amazing views in a romantic setting, this is the town for you. Perfect for couples. Did I tell you this is my favorite town? Yes! Just a million times already. Guess what? This is where Dan and I decided to stay.
- Riomaggiore: It’s one of the larger villages and as this is the first stop on the train line from La Spezia, it’s often picked as the starting point to explore Cinque Terre. There are plenty of shops and restaurants here, percent if you are looking for a bit of nightlife.
Can you visit Cinque Terre by car?
You can get on the outskirt of the villages by car, but Cinque Terre is car-free.
The only way to travel between villages is on foot, by train or by boat.
There are car parks outside each village, but they can get quite expensive (from 10 euros to 25 euros per day). Once you park your car, you then need to walk to the historical center or take the local bus.
Finding a parking spot here, especially in the summer can be quite difficult.
Your best bet is to park your car in La Spezia and get the train to reach it. There is a paid car park right under the train station (in Google Maps: Via Fiume 143, La Spezia), which is very convenient but expensive.
There are also free parking areas:
- Piazza d’Armi: Just a 10-minute walk from the station. It can be difficult to find a spot here in the summer.
- Palaspezia (in Google Maps: Via della Pianta 114, La Spezia): You will always find a spot here. You then need to take the free bus towards the city center (which is a 10-minute walk from the station).
Your other option is to ask your hotel or Airbnb if they provide a parking space with your accommodation.
Does Cinque Terre have beaches?
Cinque Terre isn’t really known for its beaches, but when the hot summer sun hits you, I am sure you won’t mind a dip in the crystal clear, turquoise sea.
- Monterosso has the best beach of all towns. It’s the only sandy beach here, with all sun umbrellas and deckchairs.
- Vernazza has a small rocky beach, perfect to take a dip after you walked all day. You can reach it by passing under the cliff face, after turning off from the main street of Vernazza.
- Manarola doesn’t have a beach but there is a pretty harbor from which you can get into the sea. There is also some space to lay your beach towel if you don’t mind sitting on hard concrete.
- Riomaggiore has a rocky beach made of pebbles. To reach it, you need to come out from the train station tunnel, go to the harbor and turn left. Follow the only road next to the cliff edge. This beach is quite big and picturesque. Perfect if you love jumping in the sea from big rocks.
Is it too crowded in Cinque Terre?
The rising popularity of this incredible area has caused an endless procession of tourists in tiny little towns that aren’t necessarily ready for the masses. But does this mean it’s too crowded to visit? It can be, especially in the summer months, but if you pick your timing wisely, you can still enjoy this unspoiled location.
Avoid visiting in July and August if you can. And try to stay for at least one night. A lot of tourists come here for daily trips, which means that if you can wake up early, you will have more chances to have Cinque Terre for yourself.
There you have it: my complete guide to Cinque Terre
I hope this post covered most of your questions for your first visit to this wonderful place. However, if you need any more insight, or want to share your experience, leave a comment below and I will help as much as I can. And check out my essential Italy travel tips before you go.
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