Practical guide to visiting Cinque Terre in Italy - all your questions answered

First Timer’s Guide to Cinque Terre – All Your Questions Answered

In Italy by Jurga12 Comments

We are just back from a week on the Ligurian coast in Italy. Cinque Terre was the main reason why we booked this trip. It’s not the simplest area to visit, so I had lots of how to questions before our trip. Therefore in this post I want to address all the practical aspects of visiting Cinque Terre in order to help you plan your trip and make the most of your visit.

All you need to know when visiting Cinque Terre for the first time

What is Cinque Terre and why visit it

Cinque Terre is a small but very picturesque coastal area in Italy. If translated literally it means five lands. Cinque Terre comprises of five picturesque villages: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. 5terre is a National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site that attracts over 2,5 million tourists every year.

Where is Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre is located on Ligurian coast in Western Italy – you can zoom out on the map below to see its exact location. The closest big cities are Genoa and Pisa, each about 70-80km (50 miles), 1 hour by car. Information below will give you a better idea of how far Cinque Terre is from Rome, Florence, and Milan. It is also possible to visit Cinque Terre as a day trip from some of these cities – see below.

  • Rome to Cinque Terre: +-400km (250 miles), 4,5 h by car and about 4h by train.
  • Milan to Cinque Terre: +-200km (125 miles), 2,5 h by car and about 3-4 h by train.
  • Florence to Cinque Terre: +-150km (95 miles), 1h45 by car and about 2,5 h by train.

Due to its proximity, a visit to Cinque Terre can easily be combined with that of Tuscany. Here you can read more about the most beautiful towns of Tuscany. In one of my previous posts I also shared a sample Tuscany itinerary for one week.

What is the nearest airport to Cinque Terre

The nearest airports for Cinque Terre are in Pisa and Genoa. Also Milan and Florence can be good options, especially if you consider renting a car and discovering the other areas as well.

How to get to Cinque Terre

Below you can find detailed explanation about the best way to get to and around Cinque Terre.

Visiting Cinque Terre by train

The best and the fastest way to get to Cinque Terre is by train. Every 5terre village has a train station and it has good connections to the big cities like Genoa, Milan, Florence or Pisa. The nearest big train station where you will have to change the train if coming from most other towns is in La Spezia. From La Spezia it is just 8 minutes by train to the first Cinque Terre village – Riomaggiore.

The distances between the five villages are very small and the train ride only takes a few minutes. Trains run at regular intervals, starting from around 4AM till after midnight. However, on the day when we visited, two out of four trains we took had a delay of more than half an hour. They just cancelled every second train; probably because it was low season.

Exploring Cinque Terre by boat

Many tourists choose to visit Cinque Terre by boat. You can book a day ticket that allows you to visit four villages. Why only four and not all five? Corniglia is the only village that is located high on the hill and has no water access. The most popular town to start a Cinque Terre boat tour is La Spezia, but there are other connections as well. Note that boats only run in high season (the boats stop beginning of November).

Note that it takes much longer to get from one village to another by boat than it does by train (unless they cancel the trains of course ;)). It is still possible to visit Cinque Terre in one day, also by boat. But there would probably not be enough time left for hiking (this may depend on the boat schedule; in October it was definitely too short).

In high season, there are many companies organising boat tours to Cinque Terre and the nearby towns. Normally you don’t need to book Cinque Terre boat tours in advance. I didn’t even find an option to book a boat tour in advance for our trip; most companies only sell tickets at the harbour. In La Spezia the boats leave from the harbour

Can you visit Cinque Terre by car?

The simple answer is yes, technically it is possible to get to Cinque Terre by car. However, I really wouldn’t advise visiting the villages of Cinque Terre by car. Cinque Terre roads are narrow, parking – nearly impossible, and driving between the villages would take you forever and would leave you frustrated. On top of that, many Italian towns now have restricted traffic zones (ZTL) and entering one of those will result in a 80 EUR fine. If you are looking for a parking spot and pass the camera several times, you will be fined accordingly.

If you are planning to stay in one of the Cinque Terre villages and your accommodation has parking facilities, then you could drive up to there by car. Park it and don’t touch it till you leave.

A better option is to park your car in one of the bigger towns and take the train from there. There is a big parking garage at La Spezia train station, so it is probably one of the best options if you are traveling to Cinque Terre by car. (Secret tip: there is free parking space at the Piazza D’Armi – 10min walking from La Spezia railway station).

What is Cinque Terre card and where to buy it

Cinque Terre card gives you unlimited access to Cinque Terre trains, hiking paths, guided visits, local busses, Wi-Fi and even public restrooms, etc. You can buy separate train tickets or a hiking card, but usually it’s much cheaper and more convenient to just get a card for a day. Cinque Terre card costs 16 EUR for adults and 10 EUR for kids. Family ticket (2 adults and 2 kids) costs 42 EUR.

You can only buy the Cinque Terre card at the train stations, not at the machines. In order to avoid the crowds in the morning, consider buying the card the evening before. Don’t forget to write your name on the card and validate it before the first use. The Cinque Terre card is valid till midnight on the day that it was first validated.

Cinque Terre card and train ticket validating machine

Cinque Terre card has to be validated using one of these machines at the train stations

 

What to see and do in Cinque Terre

As already mentioned, Cinque Terre is famous for its five picturesque villages. The main reason people come here is to visit the villages, hike the Cinque Terre trail, or just enjoy the beach. But there is more to see and do in Cinque Terre. You could join one of the local vineyard tours, e.g. this food and wine tasting tour from Riomaggiore or a similar wine and snack tour from Manarola. Some places even organise pesto making classes. In summer you can go kayaking, sailing, diving, fishing, or even paragliding over the Cinque Terre.

Hiking in Cinque Terre

It used to be possible to hike between all five villages of Cinque Terre. The total hike would take 5-6 hours. However, due to land slides, several Cinque Terre trails have been closed without any indication when/if they will reopen. At this moment (November 2017) you can only hike between Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, and Corniglia. The hike between Monterosso al Mare and Vernazza takes about 2 hours (experienced hikers can do it much faster). The hike from Vernazza to Corniglia takes 1,5 hrs. Both these hikes require quite some climbing. I would classify them as moderate in normal conditions and difficult if wet or hot. The hiking paths between Riomaggiore, Manarola and Corniglia, including the famous Via dell’Amore are now closed.

We hiked Cinque Terre on the last day of October and it was really hot. If you are traveling in high season, consider hiking early in the morning or towards the evening. Make sure you have sun protection and carry plenty of water. You can refill your water bottles in every village – just keep an eye for the water taps.

You can hike Cinque Terre trail with kids, but as I said it’s not an easy hike. I would say, the minimum age for kids walking by themselves would be about 5-6 years, especially if it’s really warm.

And yes, you do need sturdy footwear to hike in Cinque Terre. Hiking boots are advised, but are not absolutely necessary. Light hiking shoes are probably better in warm temperatures.

You have to buy a ticket for walking on the Cinque Terre hiking trails. It costs 8 EUR for a day. If I remember well, it costs 5 EUR for children. Anyway, it’s better to just buy the Cinque Terre card. If you don’t take a train and do need a separate hiking ticket, you can buy it at the tourist information centres in the villages or on the hiking trails. You will pass a little cabin on your way where they check and also sell tickets.

Hiking the Cinque Terre trail with kids

Hiking in Cinque Terre

 

Which Cinque Terre town is best

Opinions are somewhat divided on which town is the best, but everyone agrees that Manarola and Vernazza are the most picturesque villages of Cinque Terre. Riomaggiore is really nice too. Monterosso and Corniglia are the least special in my opinion.

What is the best place to watch sunset in Cinque Terre

Judging by the crowds, Manarola is the best place to be at sunset. Take a look at the picture below and judge for yourselves.

Manarola in Cinque Terre at sunset

Manarola is spectacular at sunset

 

Which Cinque Terre town has the best beach

Most beaches at Cinque Terre are really tiny. The biggest and the best beach is in Monterosso al Mare.

How many days do you need in Cinque Terre

Many people wonder how much time they need in Cinque Terre and can it be visited in one day? Yes, you can see the best of Cinque Terre in one (full) day. The fastest way to get around between the villages is by train.

Unless you are planning to spend lots of time on the beach, you really don’t need more than one or two days in Cinque Terre itself. However, there are so many other incredibly beautiful places nearby that you should consider staying longer.

One town you definitely shouldn’t miss is Portovenere. It’s somewhat less busy than the 5terre villages, but very picturesque and there is more to see and do there. If you decide to visit Portovenere as well, count at least two days/ three nights for Cinque Terre.

How to spend a day in Cinque Terre

There are many ways to spend a day in Cinque Terre. It depends on which way you travel (by boat, by train), whether you are planning to hike, etc.

This is how our 1 day in Cinque Terre looked like: in the morning we took a train from La Spezia to Monterosso al Mare. We then hiked to Vernazza and Corniglia. From there we took a train to Riomaggiore. Then a train back to Manarola where we stayed for sunset and dinner. After dinner we took a train back to La Spezia.

Practical guide to Cinque Terre in Italy - all your questions answered

Riomaggiore is not to be missed

 

Where to stay in Cinque Terre

There are very few decent accommodation options in Cinque Terre itself. On top of that, it’s quite expensive to stay in one of the villages. We first booked an apartment in Manarola, but at the end chose to stay in La Spezia and visit Cinque Terre by train. The reasons why we reconsidered was the small parking in Manarola and the location of accommodation uphill far from the car (= having to carry luggage up the hill). On top of that, for 3 nights we saved hundreds of euros; not just on accommodation, parking, but also on dining. La Spezia has many more restaurants and the prices are much more affordable than in Cinque Terre. Here you can find the best deals for La Spezia accommodation.

However, if you don’t have a car, or if you don’t have lots of kids or lots of luggage to carry, and want to spend a bit more time in Cinque Terre, it can be a very special experience to stay in one of the villages. In that case, probably the best towns to stay in Cinque Terre are Manarola or Vernazza.

Where to eat in Cinque Terre

There are many restaurants, cafes, gelaterias, and little shops in all five villages of Cinque Terre. So finding where to eat in Cinque Terre should not be a problem.

If you are looking for a table with the best view and really good simple food, try Nessun Dorma in Manarola. They don’t take reservations and there is always a queue waiting to be seated, but it’s really worth it. A friend who has been to the area many times also recommended the bar A Pie’ di Ma’ in Riomaggiore.

When to visit Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre can be visited all year round, but try to avoid rainy and stormy days. The busiest season is May to September, but unless you are there for the beach, try to avoid the summer months. It’s too hot, too crowded, and too expensive.

The best months to visit Cinque Terre are probably March-April and September-October. We visited Cinque Terre in the last week of October and were surprised how busy it still was.

Actually, we didn’t dare to book our trip long in advance as many reviews said that the weather could be really miserable in Cinque Terre in November and end of October. If it rains, there is really not much you can do there. However, a week before our trip we checked the weather forecast and it looked very promising, so last minute we decided to give it a go. We were lucky to have sunny weather the whole week (30 October – 4 November) and daytime temperatures of up to 20°C (68F) and much less crowds. My mom visited in May and they had rain, so you really never know.

Note, however, that the days are really short in autumn and in winter. We arrived in Italy the day when EU changed to winter time, and the sun goes down at around 5PM in that period.

Can you visit Cinque Terre with young kids in a stroller

Even if you are traveling with very young kids, you can visit Cinque Terre. Getting around with a stroller might be a bit of a challenge though. The village streets are steep and there are quite some places that can only be accessed by stairs. We saw people carrying strollers on the stairs even at a train station, so it’s not always easy. But it is possible. When we travelled in Italy with our toddlers years ago we always packed a bicycle lock. So every time we would encounter long stairs and wanted to do some sightseeing anyway, we would just lock the stroller up and leave it behind. Our kids loved doing the stairs!

If you are in Cinque Terre with a stroller, skip Corniglia as it is located high on the hill. You have to climb some 300-400 stairs in order to get to town from the train station.

What’s the best time of the day for photography

If you are hiking in Cinque Terre during the day, it’s really difficult to get good pictures as the sun is always in front of you when looking towards the best viewpoints. The best time for pictures would be very early in the morning or very late in the afternoon.

If you are traveling by boat, then you might be able to take good pictures in the direction of the villages during the day as well, since the sun will usually be behind you. However, the best viewpoints seem to be in the wrong direction sun-wise pretty much an entire day.

What to pack for Cinque Terre

  • Reusable water bottle is a must. You can fill it up in every village. Bottled water was quite expensive in Cinque Terre.
  • Pack hiking shoes for the Cinque Terre trail
  • Swimwear and quick-drying towels for the beach
  • Sun hats, sun glasses, and sunscreen lotion are a must
  • A light day backpack might be very useful, certainly if hiking or traveling with kids
  • Take a sweater or a light jacket for the evenings in spring and autumn

I hope that this post covered most of the frequently asked questions about visiting Cinque Terre. If you don’t find an answer to your question, however, please leave a comment below and I will try to help.

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Ultimate travel guide to visiting Cinque Terre in Italy. Answers to all FAQ

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First Timer’s Guide to Cinque Terre – All Your Questions Answered was last modified: November 13th, 2017 by Jurga

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Comments

  1. Thank you sooooo much Jurga for writing all this down, Cinque Terre is definitely on our bucket list and you answered all my questions!! I’m so please you did all the hard work so I don’t have to 😉 you’ll have to tell me what La Spezia was like too as a base.

    1. Author

      🙂 That’s what I like to do, Alex. Thus the slogan – help people make the best of every trip. So it’s always good to hear that it’s appreciated.
      As for La Spezia. It’s not our favourite town in the area, not at all. But it’s rather big, very easy to access, has the best transport connections for visiting Cinque Terre, and there are many nice accommodation options at a price that is several times lower than in one of the Cinque Terre villages. On top of that, there are some really good local and not tourist restaurants where you can have a nice tasty meal for 5 EUR. There are lots of bakeries, shops, etc. And since we were sightseeing the whole day, it didn’t really matter to us that the city itself is not as nice. How do I put it, it’s more a city for locals than a vacation place.
      If I were to stay in the area longer, I would probably consider staying in Portovenere. Such a beautiful place and gives you a nice vacation feel. Lerici is also very nice. I hear good things of Levanto too. These are all more places to spend a holiday, bigger and not as busy as Cinque Terre itself, but smaller and much more picturesque than La Spezia. So it’s really about what your expectations are. Purely as a base for sightseeing, La Spezia is hands-down the best option in the area.

  2. What a fabulous post! We loved exploring Italy, however only had the opportunity of visiting the main cities. Next time we would love to see more places similar to this. Thank you for sharing this great guide.

    1. Author

      Every place in Italy is amazing and I know how difficult it is to choose where to go if you only have limited time in the country, Sharee. We have been to Italy so many times and I still feel like we just scratched the surface.

  3. Yes definitely want to go there, who doesn’t ;)? It always looks so pretty on pictures. Thank you for sharing this. We will definitely use it when we go!

    1. Author

      We were there at almost the same time then. Thanks for your feedback, Sarah. Good to know I haven’t forgotten to cover something important.

  4. Thank you so much; Cinque Terre is most definitely on my list! I’m saving this for later, and I’ll definitely be using it – such an informative guide!!

  5. I can’t believe I havent been to Italy yet. It is still my dream country considering it has so many places to see. I heard a lot of Cinque Terre and by your pictures I think I would love it. This was by far the most detailed post I have read on the place and I hope I’ll utilize it some day!!

    1. Author

      Thanks for your feedback, Shibani. I hope this list will help many people who are planning a trip to Cinque Terre, but are a bit confused about the practical side of getting there , etc.

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