Cinque Terre in Italy has been on our list of places to visit for many years. But when we finally decided to make a last minute trip to the Italian Riviera, we had no idea how much time you actually need to visit all five little villages of Cinque Terre. Is one day enough for Cinque Terre?
After a lot of research we decided to spend two days in Cinque Terre area: one day visiting and hiking Cinque Terre itself and the second day exploring the nearby hidden gem, a beautiful little town Portovenere. In my previous posts I talked about visiting Portovenere and shared practical tips for visiting Cinque Terre. Today I want to share our itinerary for the best of Cinque Terre in a day.
If you are wondering if one day is enough for Cinque Terre, the answer of course depends on what you are looking for. If you want to quickly see all the five villages and hike the Cinque Terre trail, then yes, one day is enough. Of course, you can stay longer and explore deeper, but if you are short on time you can definitely see the best of Cinque Terre in one full day.
There are three ways to see Cinque Terre: by boat, by train, or a combination of boat and/or train and hiking. The train is the fastest way to get around with lots of trains connecting the five villages at regular intervals throughout the day. The boat takes much longer, but gives you a different perspective. However, some of the best views of Cinque Terre are found on land and not from the water. We only had limited time as the days were really short at the end of October/beginning of November when we visited, so we chose to explore Cinque Terre by train in combination with hiking. Find out!
For your convenience, I created a custom map of Cinque Terre, so you have a better idea where each place is located.
Take a train to Monterosso al Mare
We started our day at around 8AM with a short (20min) train ride from La Spezia where we were staying to the furthest village of Cinque Terre – Monterosso.
Visit Monterosso al Mare and hike to Vernazza
Monterosso al Mare, the most Northern of Cinque Terre villages, is the most visited in Cinque Terre, mainly due to its sand beach. Monterosso has the only somewhat noteworthy sand beach in Cinque Terre, so it attracts many tourists in summer.
The beach was completely deserted on a late-October morning. After a short stop at the tourist information centre to enquire which sections of the Cinque Terre hike were open we set towards Vernazza.
Before you reach the start of the hiking trail, you pass the old town centre of Monterosso. The small town square has that typical laid back feel of the villages along the Mediterranean. An obligatory statue (in this case of Italian hero Giuseppe Garibaldi) in the middle surrounded by trees offering some very welcome shadow (yes, even in October!) with a couple of benches where locals were catching up on the latest gossip and doing some tourist-watching. There are some restaurants and little shops here, as well as a little playground. A very cozy place!
The Monterosso – Vernazza hike starts here, just behind the communal building. If you look well you will see a tiny arrow ‘Vernazza’ pointing in the direction of a narrow path going up the hill. Once on the trail, you cannot really go wrong – there is just one path.
The hike from Monterosso to Vernazza took us 2 hours. We were hiking together with our three kids age 7-9 and they did just fine. However, some parts of the trail are quite steep and also a bit narrow, so you have to keep an eye on the children.
Vernazza is one of the most picturesque villages of Cinque Terre. There are several stunning viewpoints from the Cinque Terre trail, some 5-10 minutes before you reach the village coming from Monterosso. Even if you are not hiking the whole trail, you could walk to these viewpoints from Vernazza.
Vernazza itself is a colourful little village bustling with life. I can’t imagine how busy it must be in summer! By the time we reached the village it was around 11AM and really hot. Time for a gelato! There are several gelaterias, as well as many restaurants and shops in Vernazza. You can rent a kayak, go swimming, or just hang around and soak in the atmosphere.
TIP: refill your water bottles in Vernazza and buy some local food to take with you for a picnic along the trail. This will save you lots of time (and money).
Hike from Vernazza to Corniglia
After refilling our water bottles in Vernazza we continued further on the Cinque Terre trail to Corniglia. The hike between Monterosso and Vernazza leads mainly through the vineyards and the forest and has more shadow. This section of the hike – Vernazza to Corniglia – is probably even more impressive, as the trail is more open and you can enjoy incredible views over Vernazza (at first) and the Ligurian coast almost all the way! Vineyards are replaced by olive trees, and then vineyards again… It’s a beautiful hike! But oh so warm in the middle of the day!
There aren’t many places to stop for a picnic, but there are a few nice spots overlooking the sea about half way through the hike. You can of course continue further and have lunch in Corniglia. We did both – a small picnic along the way followed by pizza in Corniglia. Kids just couldn’t resist it when they saw the pizzas!
The hike from Vernazza to Corniglia takes about 90 minutes.
Corniglia is probably the quietest village of Cinque Terre because it’s the most difficult one to access. Located high on the hill it is the only Cinque Terre village that cannot be reached by boat. There is a train station, however, but it’s located down by the sea. So if you are coming by train, you will need to go up a couple of hundred stairs to get to the village. I think there is also a bus connecting the train station to the village, but we didn’t see it.
Since we came to Corniglia on foot, we didn’t have to mount the stairs. And time-wise you don’t waste much either, so if you want to visit Corniglia and you are moderately fit (and have walking shoes), you better hike there from Vernazza.
After our pizza lunch in Corniglia we walked down the stairs to catch the train to Riomaggiore. I’m sure glad we didn’t do this trip in the other direction!
In the past you could hike the whole Cinque Terre trail between Monterosso and Riomaggiore. But due to some mud slides a few years ago the paths between Corniglia and Manarolla and between Manarola and Riomaggiore have been closed, so now you can only walk the two sections that I described here. It seems that there are no immediate plans to reopen the rest of the trail…
Take a train to Riomaggiore
After a long wait (due to two cancelled trains), we finally got on the train and in just a few minutes we arrived in Riomaggiore. If you look at the map, you will see that we skipped one of the most beautiful villages – Manarola – at this point. But there is a good reason for it. We wanted to go to Manarola at sunset, so we decided to head to Riomaggiore first.
Riomaggiore is a rather big village, but we didn’t have much time to explore it properly. We wasted an hour waiting for the train in Corniglia and it was also going to get dark at around 5PM in the period when we visited. So upon arrival we went straight to the most beautiful place – the tiny waterfront area of Riomaggiore with the famous postcard-view that you have probably seen in the travel brochures.
If you have more time, you can explore the old town with the busy shopping streets. Also, make sure to walk a part of the famous Via dell’Amore coastal trail. Only a very small section is open to the public, but it’s really beautiful! A friend who knows Cinque Terre really well also recommended to have a drink at the local bar A Pie’ di Ma’ in Riomaggiore.
Go to Manarola for sunset and dinner
We arrived in Manarola about half an hour before sunset. Just enough time to walk through the village and get to the scenic viewpoint – the best place to be at sunset in Cinque Terre.
Afterwards we had dinner at Nessun Dorma – a very good simple restaurant with some the best views in Manarola. They don’t take reservations and there was a queue waiting to be seated, but we only had to wait a few minutes. It was the perfect end to a beautiful day in Cinque Terre.
After dinner we took a train back to La Spezia. And one train was cancelled again (low season? not enough tourists?), so by the time we reached La Spezia it was after 9PM. A long, but a beautiful day.
So, this is our sample one day Cinque Terre itinerary. As I said, there are many ways to explore this beautiful coastal area. But if you are planning a visit and don’t know where to start, then I am sure that this post will give you a good idea of what you can see and do in a day and help you plan your trip. And remember, we visited late October, when it gets dark at around 5PM. If you come in spring or in summer you will have much more time, so you can certainly make this exact same trip in one day.
TIP: Try to avoid visiting Cinque Terre in summer as the tiny villages are swamped with millions of tourists.
***For all the practical tips in regards to visiting Cinque Terre please refer to our complete guide to visiting Cinque Terre. It contains a lot of information and should answer any questions you may have. Check it out!***
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