A visit to the Cinque Terre Italy: Everything you need to know. First-time visitor’s guide to when to go, where to stay, what to do, and how to get around the Cinque Terre. From five sleepy Italian fishing villages to one of the most famous coastal landscapes in the world. The Cinque Terre has been through a few changes over the years, but it still looks every bit as gorgeous as you’d imagine. It’s now a National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with up to 2.4 million people a year visiting the Cinque Terre to walk, boat and train their way through its dramatic cliffs and pretty coastal villages.
But what do you need to know if you want to tick a Cinque Terre trip off your travel wishlist? This Cinque Terre travel guide has everything you need to know to plan your holiday and make the most of your time visiting this beautiful stretch of coastline.
Where is the Cinque Terre?
The Cinque Terre National Park is the smallest and oldest National Park in Italy and was designated back in 1999. It covers an area of only 15 square miles but packs plenty of gorgeous scenery into a small space, with a mix of rocky cliffs, scenic coves, clear blue waters, terraced vineyards, and olive groves linked by a network of footpaths.
The Cinque Terre is located just south of Genoa in northwest Italy. It’s within easy reach of the airports at Genoa, Pisa, Rome, Florence, and Nice by mainline train, and there’s a local train between La Spezia and Levanto which stops at each of the villages.
People often talk about the Cinque Terre like it’s one place, but it’s actually a stretch of the Italian Riviera coastline made up of five separate villages known as the Five Lands or Cinque Terre in Italian. Running from north to south the villages are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. Each one of the five is a beauty, with pastel buildings tumbling down the hillsides and sparkling sea views, but each has its own different character.
How Long trip?
If you’re really tight on time you could ‘do’ the Cinque Terre in one day by starting early and walking straight through from one end to the other. There are a lot of day trips* available from other Italian cities like Florence, Pisa, or Milan which include travel. Or you could take the train or boat from one village to the next and spend around an hour in each.
But you wouldn’t be really doing it justice, and you’d be missing out on the best time of day. Between 10 am and 4 pm, villages are rammed with day-trippers. But come to the evenings and mornings things calm down and there’s much more of a relaxed feel.
Ideally, you’d want to spend three or four days visiting the Cinque Terre to give you time to explore each village, do a couple of half-day walks, and a boat trip along the coast. The villages have different atmospheres at different times of day, so staying for a few days gives you time to decide on your favorite and go back for sunset or dinner.
And if you’ve got more time, there are plenty more walks you can do, or you could travel further afield and visit the neighboring towns of Portovenere, Levanto where we stayed during our trip, or La Spezia.
Best time to visit
The Cinque Terre’s never-exactly quiet peak season runs all the way from Easter until October. But to avoid the worst of the crowds, steer clear of July and August. Accommodation gets booked up really far in advance in the summer and it can be really hot and dry, with average highs of 29ºC, so isn’t the best time for walking.
Shoulder season May and September is a good times for visiting the Cinque Terre, with warm days around and fewer people than in peak season. Spring sees average high temperatures around 17–21ºC and is mostly dry. October and November are the wettest months and there’s a risk of heavy thunderstorms causing landslips.
Hiking at the Cinque Terre
For centuries, the only way you could get between the Cinque Terre villages was on foot, and it’s still the best way to get around, with a constant stream of gorgeous sea views. There’s a mix of coastal and hillside paths to choose from. Though the coast paths aren’t just a walk along the seafront at least not the part that’s open.
The one flat stretch of coast path from Corniglia to Riomaggiore is closed for the foreseeable future after it was damaged in landslips back in 2011, Reopening is scheduled for July 2024. Other paths involve lots of ups and downs with some rocky ground with a few big drops and steps.
You don’t need to be really fit but do need to be comfortable walking uphill and have decent shoes most people were wearing hiking boots or sturdy trainers. The distances involved aren’t huge, but it can take longer than you’d guess from the distance as it’s so hilly. Plus you often end up waiting for people to pass on narrow stretches which slow things down. So start early or late if you can to miss the peak of walkers.
The Sentiero Azzurro or Blue Trail starts from Monterosso and takes around two hours to reach Vernazza and another two to carry on to Corniglia. From Corniglia to Manarola you have to take the high route via Volastra it takes around three hours and involves some serious climbs but the views at the top through the vineyards are well worth it.
Then from Manarola, you can walk on to Riomagiorre via Beccaria in around 90 minutes, though there’s another big climb to start.
As well as the main walks there are quieter hill paths, like the Sentiero Rosso or Red Trail from Portovenere to Levanto. Shorter sanctuary walks also run steeply uphill from the villages. And even if you’re not hiking there are lots of hills and steps in the villages.
To walk the coast path from Monterosso to Corniglia you need a Cinque Terre Card. You can get them in villages and from huts at the start of each section of the path. If you’re walking between Corniglia and Riomaggiore via the hill path you don’t need a permit.
Cinque Terre Cards cost €7.50 (1 day) or €14.50 (2 days). They include free wifi, local buses, and toilets (€1 otherwise). Or there’s a train version that also includes unlimited train travel on the Cinque Terre line between Levanto and La Spezia. They cost €18.20 (1 day), €33 (2 days), or €47 (3 days), with discounts for children, families, and the off-season.
How to get around the Cinque Terre
The Cinque Terre is a National Park, so vehicle traffic is restricted to residents only in the villages and it’s best to avoid taking a car if you can (not least because the roads are terrifyingly narrow and winding with sheer drops). If you are driving around, you can park in La Spezia or Levanto and then catch the train into the Cinque Terre.
Trains are the easiest way to get to and around the Cinque Terre, running between La Spezia and Levanto and stopping at each village. You can also connect to Genoa, Pisa, Rome, and beyond. It only takes about five minutes from one village to the next. Tickets cost €5 for a single journey (free with the Cinque Terre Train Card), irrespective of how far you go.
Trains run up to three times an hour in each direction from 5 am–11.30 pm, and you can pick up or print out a timetable. And don’t forget to validate your ticket before boarding.
There’s also a ferry connecting the villages (other than Corniglia) with Portovenere, La Spezia, and Levanto from March to November. It’s worth a trip to check out the views. A day ticket with unlimited journeys costs €35 adults/€20 children, or you can get a cheaper afternoon or single tickets. You can also rent a boat or take a sailing trip.
Where to stay
Staying in one of the five villages means you don’t have to travel each day and can soak up the atmosphere in the evenings. But because it’s so popular, accommodation is pricey even for pretty uninspiring places so book early. There aren’t many hotels except in larger villages Monterosso and Riomaggiore, so it’s mostly guesthouses and apartment rentals.
The villages are so close together that there isn’t really anyone with a better position than the others. And as you can get between them so easily it’s not really worth moving around and staying in a couple of different villages if you’re just staying for a few days.
It’s more a case of picking the village which has the right character (and has the best accommodation available to suit your budget) for you.
The largest and furthest north of the villages, Monterosso is the easiest to get to so can be very busy, especially at weekends. Monterosso is the only Cinque Terre village with a proper beach and seafront promenade. It has the widest selection of accommodation and the best hotels and is the least hilly so it’s the most accessible, but can be expensive.
At the other end of the Cinque Terre is Riomaggiore, another larger village that has a gorgeous setting with brightly colored houses set around the harbor. Riomaggiore has a good selection of places to stay, with a couple of hotels. It also has lots of restaurants and the best nightlife though it’s still fairly relaxed but braces yourself for plenty of hills.
Vernazza and Manarola are both smaller and are arguably the most beautiful of the Cinque Terre villages. Manarola is surrounded by vineyards and is a good place to watch the sunset, and Vernazza has a pretty harbor and a tiny beach. Neither have hotels so you’re looking at guesthouses or self-catering accommodations.
We stayed in Hotel Al Terra Di Mare Levanto which is a lot cheaper comparing what you get and has an easy connection by train to the Cinque Terre its about 10 minutes to the first village. We had a room with breakfast and a great view and a swimming pool which were nice during the hot days here. It's an eco-friendly hotel structured like a small Ligurian village, where you can enjoy a unique and memorable holiday experience. Rooms are around 190 Eur a night with breakfast Book Now
La Spezia has a lot more choice of hotels as it's a bigger town and you can find hotels here for under 100 Eur a night.
Apartment in the center of La Spezia hosted by a couple with a passion for travel, born in Riamagiore one of the five villages of Cinque Terre, offers you not just a place to sleep, but a place to feel at home. The apartment is near the train station Rooms are 100 Eur a night, Book Now
If you looking for something special with a sea view and near the beach, we can recommend staying in Manarola. Beautiful apartment with sea view near the train station and the beach for about 130 Eur a night Book Now
The apartment is right in the center of the town with its own kitchen and a window looking out over the colorful streets of Riomaggiore you could enjoy the good vibes and get a glimpse of the ocean. It's not too far up the hill from the train station and close to all the shops and restaurants.
Rooms are around 120 Eur a night Book Now
Otherwise, a cheaper option is to stay in neighboring Levanto or La Spezia. Both of these towns are on the Cinque Terre train line so it’s easy to get around, but accommodation, food, and pretty much everything else are cheaper as you’re not in the ‘proper’ Cinque Terre. They also have a more authentic, local feel as they’re not so overrun with visitors.
How to get there
What airport do you fly into for Cinque Terre? Your best options are Pisa and Genoa airports, with Florence and Milan also viable; from any of these airports or city centers, you can connect and hop on a train toward the coast.
Trains to the Cinque Terre from these cities, as well as others in northern Italy, are frequent and you don’t need to pay more for the slightly faster Frecciarossa high-speed trains. Typical travel times are:
Pisa - Genoa | 90 mins
Lucca - 2 hours
Florence - 2.5 - 3 hours
Milan - 3.5 hours
Verona - 4-5 hours
Venice - 5-6 hours
Rome - 5-6 hours
To find schedules and book tickets in advance, check out Trenitalia.
It's also possible to arrive by car, but no need to rent it as you can't use it in Cinque Terre.
If you go on a long road trip we suggest to rent a car and booking a hotel in Levant Monterosso or La Spezia where you can park easily your car Travel Tip | If you are renting a car in Italy
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