Five Lands. The literal translation of Cinque Terre, an area comprised of five fishing villages sitting along the Ligurian Coast in Northwest Italy. Cinque Terre was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997 – the same year as its in-country rival, the Amalfi Coast.
Although much more compact than the southern Amalfi Coast, the towns of Cinque Terre have their own unique charm. This Cinque Terre itinerary will help you plan a trip – ensuring you don’t miss the enchanting blue ocean, hillside vineyards and impeccable Italian cuisine. It will also prepare you for the rugged coastline and intense hikes – whether you day trip to Cinque Terre from Florence or spend an entire week.
How Long to Stay in Cinque Terre
It’s common for travelers to visit Cinque Terre as a day trip — similar to Ravello in the Amalfi Coast of Italy. But this area deserves more. I recommend two full days, as it gives you enough time to fully explore all five villages. Cinque Terre is the place where you want to relax, do a bit of hiking, eat plenty of seafood, marvel at magnificent sunsets, taste yummy wines and best of all — swim in the sea! You will thank yourself for spending at least two full days.
Cinque Terre in One Day
Many people experience Cinque Terre in one day from nearby cities, like Florence, Lucca or Pisa. While it’s not ideal, it’s doable! Since each village is less than five minutes apart from its neighbor, you could visit each of the villages (although I highly discourage it). Instead, choose two villages to explore — I recommend the picturesque Vernazza and charming Manarola. Dedicating time to only a couple of villages allows you to experience it fully without feeling rushed.
2 Days in Cinque Terre
With two full days in Cinque Terre, you can easily take the ferry (or train) to each of the five villages. Spend the first day exploring Riomaggiore and Manarola. Check out Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso on the second day. You can hike between the villages or take the ferry/train.
3 Days in Cinque Terre
Follow the two days in Cinque Terre itinerary above. On the third day, return to your favorite village. If the weather is nice, spend the morning hiking to a nearby village before heading to one of the Cinque Terre beaches in the afternoon. Or you can simply wander the village, hang out in a cafe, drink wine, eat pizza or drink more wine. A three day itinerary in Cinque Terre (or longer) can be extremely relaxing, especially if you’re visiting after a few days in bigger Italian cities or it’s part of a long-term multi-international trip. This is because Cinque Terre doesn’t have any must-see attractions (like visiting the famous David in Florence or touring the historic sites of Rome).
Towns of Cinque Terre
The furthest south and east, Riomaggiore is considered the first town in Cinque Terre. Charming and stunningly beautiful, this vibrant village has a hustle-and-bustle feel. Stop by the market for cheese/meat/olives/wine before heading down to the water to watch the sunset. No massage in the world can match that feeling of tranquility.
While in town, pop into Tutti Fritti for its delicious fried seafood in a paper cone and Mama Mia for its focaccia bread – both Cinque Terre staples.
There are plenty of cafes, trattorias and boutiques in town. There isn’t a sand beach, but that doesn’t stop visitors from laying out on the large stones (and cliff jumping into the ocean below). There are plenty of gelaterias in town. Every Cinque Terre itinerary should include eating gelato by the water!
Like the town of Ravello on the Amalfi Coast, Corniglia is a quiet town that sits high above its coastal neighbors. How high you may ask? Just under 400 brick steps. If you brave them, you are rewarded with fantastic views of the coastline and nearby vineyards. The Cinque Terre bus also runs from the Corniglia train station to the center of town should the steps be a concern.
Wander around the town’s picturesque harbor and pop into the quaint Santa Margherita di Antiochia Church. Then, sip an espresso in the town’s bustling piazza. Before relaxing on Vernazza’s tiny sand beach, climb up to Doria Castle for fantastic views of the coast.
Monterosso al Mare
The village furthest north and west is known for its large sandy beach. And for that, Monterosso al Mare is much more crowded than the other villages. Stroll past the shops, restaurants and gelaterias on the oceanfront promenade. Many more cars, restaurants and hotels can be found here.
Things to do in Cinque Terre
Cinque Terre is well known for its hiking trails, which offer some of the most spectacular views of the Italian coastline. Before hiking, you must purchase a Cinque Terre card from any train station. The most popular route is to hike the entire Cinque Terre – from Monterosso al Mare to Riomaggiore (or visa versa), which takes approximately five hours (not including the time you spend in each village, of course!). You can also hike segments of the full route – such as the trail from Riomaggiore to Manarola.
Always check for the latest trail information before embarking on a hike. Read this post from Walks of Italy for more detailed hiking info. And prepare yourself – many parts of the trails are very steep!
Spend an afternoon at one of the Cinque Terre beaches. Apart from Corniglia, each village has a “beach-like” area. Be sure to pack a quick-drying towel!
- Riomaggiore: Pebble beach
- Manarola: Stone beach
- Corniglia: No beach
- Vernazza: Small sand beach
- Monterosso: Large sandy beach. And there are plenty of umbrellas to rent here!
Eat and Drink
Fresh, fried seafood served in a paper cone can be found in every village in Cinque Terre. Nothing fancy here! Just deliciousness. It makes the perfect take-away snack. You’ll also discover that focaccia bread, olive oil, pesto and lemons are popular throughout the region. And of course, you’re in Italy after all – gelato shops are all over, as well!
Support the local economy by drinking the local wine in Cinque Terre, too. And the area is well known for its white wine and dessert wine (called Sciaccetra).
Spend at least one dinner at a restaurant or trattoria with a sunset view. I personally think the best Cinque Terre sunset is from Riomaggiore, but hey, you can’t go wrong with any village!
Where to Stay in Cinque Terre
If you’re OK with steep stairs, I think Manarola and Riomaggiore are among the best places to stay in Cinque Terre. The views in both towns (and Vernazza, too) are simply incredible. There are also plenty of cafes, trattorias and shops in each village, plus a small market for groceries.
Monterosso al Mare lacks the hills and stairs that its neighbors have, so this village is certainly the best Cinque Terre town for travelers with limited mobility and those traveling with small children.
Corniglia is the steepest and most inconvenient to reach. However, the views of the coastline are incredible! It makes for a peaceful and relaxing place to stay. Keep in mind that each village is only a three-to-five-minute train ride to its neighbor, so don’t worry so much about which town you stay in.
Another option is to stay in the much bigger town of La Spezia. The train from La Spezia to Cinque Terre is only 10 minutes (and the first stop is in Riomaggiore).
If you’re are seeking a budget-friendly accommodation, check out a bed and breakfast called Ciao Bella. It is a no-frills basic accommodation in Riomaggiore. And it was an ideal location for me — a three-minute walk to the Riomaggiore train station, one-minute walk to the main street in town and less than a five-minute walk to the water. I wouldn’t recommend Ciao Bella for a romantic getaway, but I would certainly recommend it if you simply need a place to crash in the evenings and don’t mind not having much privacy!
How to get to Cinque Terre
Arriving in Cinque Terre by Train
Most travelers arrive to Cinque Terre by train, as there is not an airport in Cinque Terre. Each town has its own small station name, so when researching train travel, you will not find a destination listed as the Cinque Terre Train Station. Instead, enter the name of the town you are staying in. OMIO and RailEurope are my go-to travel booking sites.
If you are arriving from a larger city, such as Florence, Milan, Lucca or Rome, you will switch trains in either Levanto or La Spezia. The La Spezia to Cinque Terre journey is only 10 minutes, as the first stop is Riomaggiore. From there, each town is approximately five minutes apart.
The Levanto to Cinque Terre journey is only five minutes, and the first stop is Monterosso al Mare.
How to get around Cinque Terre
Cinque Terre Train
The Cinque Terre train system is simple to navigate (unless the employees are on strike like they were for one of the days we visited). You can be in the neighboring town within three-to-five minutes by train. Buy the “Cinque Terre card” at the train station — no need to buy tickets in advance. This card allows for unlimited travel within a specific timeframe.
Cinque Terre Bus
You can also get around Cinque Terre via bus. The bus travels to all the villages except Monterosso. The bus certainly is helpful should you want to avoid the 400 steps in Corniglia.
Cinque Terre Ferry
Be sure to take the ferry at least once during your stay. The view from the sea is simply spectacular! The public ferry visits all Cinque Terre towns except Corniglia. The ferry runs during the “tourist season,” which is late March to early April.
These items can be very useful in Cinque Terre (or any town with a beach and hiking trails): hiking day pack, quick-dry beach towel, roll-up water bottle, international travel adapter, waterproof phone carrier and passport /document holder.
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