Visiting Cinque Terre: Everything You Need to Plan Your Trip
Cinque Terre, a string of five towns on the Italian Riviera, is known for it's colorful seaside houses and rewarding hikes. As if that alone is not enough, it is also the birthplace of pesto and the seafood is as fresh as can be. For as long as I could remember, it was the number one place I had wanted to visit so a few summers ago I made sure to check it off my bucket list. Needless to say, it did not disappoint.
If you've decided on visiting Cinque Terre and need help working out all of the logistics, you've come to the right place! Here is everything you need to know:
ABOUT THE FIVE VILLAGES OF CINQUE TERRE
The five fishing villages, from north to south, include:
The largest village and although it was not my favorite, it is surprisingly where I took most of my photos. It has the biggest beach, one that you can without a doubt get a spot at (unlike the others which have small harbor beaches)
My favorite. Not too big, not too small - just right!
Stay here (more info on that below)
The middle village and the only one not at all accessible by sea! Nothing to write home about (sorry)
The most beautiful village of them all. There is no sand beach here but there is a gorgeous harbor and a tall rock that crazy people jump off of!
The southern-most Cinque Terre village. Beautiful and photogenic
While visiting I strongly suggest you stop by each town as they are all unique and have their own charm.
HOW TO GET TO CINQUE TERRE
Cinque Terre is located in the northern part of the Italy, situated between many different airports including Milan, Genoa, Pisa, and Florence. If you are flying into Italy to visit Cinque Terre, you can fly into any of the above mentioned airports and then take a train to Cinque Terre. If you are coming from somewhere else in Italy, you will take the train.
FROM MILAN: Before visiting Cinque Terre I was in Lake Como, so I arrived via train from Milan. This route is very popular so it runs 22 times per day and will take you around three hours. Not all options from here are direct so make sure to get the one that is if that is a necessity. Pricing varies but starts at $17. To book this route go to raileurope.com and search Milan to Monterosso (the northern most Cinque Terre town).
FROM FLORENCE: From Florence there are no directs so you will need to transfer, but no worries, I did this route on my way out and it was a piece of cake. Travel time varies as there are both high-speed and local options, and pricing starts at $19. To book this route go to raileurope.com and search Florence to Monterosso.
FROM PISA: From Pisa there are also direct trains which run a few times per day. This trip takes a little over one hour. Pricing varies but starts at $12. To book this route go to raileurope.com and search Pisa to Monterosso.
FROM GENOA: From Genoa there are many options, some of which are much faster than others (<1 hour up to >2 hours). Pricing starts at $8. To book this route go to raileurope.com and search Genoa to Monterosso.
HOW TO GET AROUND IN CINQUE TERRE
Getting from town to town is very easy and there are three ways to do it:
- BY FOOT - my transportation method of choice! Cinque Terre is famous for its hiking trails and this is the only way to see many of the famous views you see all over the web. If you do plan on hiking you will need to purchase a Cinque Terre Card, available for purchase at each train station. Pricing starts at €4.50. Do note that the trails are not always open, so sometimes you’ll be forced to take another method
- BY TRAIN - the train stops in each Cinque Terre town, runs 1-2 times per hour, and is the quickest way to get between towns (4-6 minutes). If you plan on both hiking AND taking the train, purchase the Cinque Terre Card Train which is the same as above except it also allows for unlimited train travel within Cinque Terre.
- BY FERRY - if you visit between the end of March and the beginning of November, another option is to take the ferry which offers amazing coastal views of the towns! You can find the schedule here. Corniglia is not accessible by ferry.
WHERE TO STAY
While visiting Cinque Terre, I would strongly suggest you stay in Vernazza. It was my favorite of the five towns, is mid-sized (smaller than Monterosso but busier and more lively than the other three), and is somewhat centrally located (second from the north).
If you do decide on Vernazza as your home base, check out La Rosa dei Venti. The woman that runs it is a sweetheart and the location is great.
HIKING CINQUE TERRE
Again, Cinque Terre is famous for its hiking trails which is likely one of the reasons you have decided to visit. Each of the five villages is connected by a hiking trail which differ in length and difficulty. Before you go you will need to purchase a Cinque Terre Card, available for purchase at each train station. There are regular check points along the trails so do not go without this!
Durations will vary depending on fitness level but here is how long each trail took us:
- Monterosso - Vernazza: 1.5 hours
- Vernazza - Corniglia: 1.5 hours
- Corniglia - Manarola: 1 hour
- Manarola - Riomaggiore (“Lover’s lane”): 30 minutes
If needed, you could hike all of the trails in one day, but if you have the time I would recommend splitting them up so that you have time to explore the towns between trails.
WHERE TO EAT
The food in Cinque Terre is often said to be some of the best in Italy! Do not miss the pesto, focaccia, minestrone, and whatever lemony things you can get your hands on.
- Gelateria Vernazza for gelato. The best gelato I think I’ve ever had! Try the mint and the dark chocolate
- Al Castello for dinner is a MUST. It was to die for. It's located inside the castle in Vernazza and at sunset there is no better place to be. Plus the staff is the sweetest and the food was great. Make reservations
- Il Pirata delle Cinque Terre for breakfast if you need something quick. They are a bit crazy though just to warn you
- Tutti Fritti for take-away deep fried calamari or other seafood
THE PERFECT THREE DAY ITINERARY
I stayed for three days when I visited and I found it to be the perfect amount of time. Anything less would have felt way too rushed, and anything more would’ve likely felt like too much. Here’s what I did (and what you should, too!):
- Arrive in Vernazza
- Check into La Rosa dei Venti
- Explore Vernazza for the day - walk up to the top of the castle for a beautiful photo opp, swim in the water, lay on the beach, drink wine in the piazza for happy hour
- Eat dinner at Al Castello and make absolute sure you are there for sunset
- Get some rest because tomorrow you will be hiking :)
- Wake up early to beat the rush and get the most out of your day
- Grab breakfast at Il Pirata delle Cinque Terre which is near the trail head
- Hike to Corniglia (1.5 hours)
- Stop in Corniglia for fresh lemonade and walk around town quickly. Don’t plan for much time in Corniglia
- Hike to Manarola (1 hour)
- Explore Manarola - swim in the beautiful harbor, lay in the sun to rest for a bit, take a million photos
- Eat pesto for lunch
- Hike to Riomaggiore (30 minutes)
- Explore Riomaggiore - same as above :)
- Take the ferry back to Vernazza from Riomaggiore by way of Manarola. Do this instead of hiking back because then you get to see the beautiful towns from the sea (new photo opps!)
- Get gelato at Gelateria Vernazza to reward yourself upon arrival back ;)
- Grab dinner somewhere in Vernazza
- Again, wake up early to beat the rush and get the most out of your day
- Hike to Monterosso (1.5 hours)
- Stop at the top of the hill in Vernazza to get that famous Vernazza shot!
- When you arrive in Monterosso, don’t stop at the first beach (old town). Keep walking until you get to the second beach (Fegina) which is on the other side of the bend
- Relax in Monterosso - pay for a beach chair (plus umbrella, if needed) and enjoy your day in the sun!
- Hike back or take the train