My Cinque Terre travel guide has top tips on how to visit all villages, where to stay in Cinque Terre and the best way to get there.
When locals built terraces on top of small fishing villages in Liguria in the 11th century, little did they know that it would become one of the most famous coastal trails in the world. I was fortunate to visit three of the villages, although very briefly, and it is only when you see them with your own eyes that you can really appreciate their beauty. It is important to plan your visit and hopefully this guide on where to stay in Cinque Terre, and the best way to visit, will help you do just that.
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Home to five stunning villages (Cinque Terre translates to five lands in Italian): Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore, the coastline and its five villages are now part of the Cinque Terre National Park, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Believe it or not, all five villages could be seen in a day, but where is the fun in that? I suggest you allow at least three full days, and longer if you can, to explore this captivating part of Italy properly.
The best way to visit Cinque Terre:
The best way to visit the Cinque Terre is by train or boat, or if you are feeling really adventurous you could hike. It is not practical to drive as most of the villages are not accessible by car and you will need to park outside the villages and walk in. However, the train service is excellent between all towns, and journey times between villages are only four to six minutes.
Trains run every 20 minutes between the Cinque Terre villages and stop in the five villages, as well as Levanto and La Spezia. If you are visiting more than two villages, I suggest you purchase the Cinque Terre Train Card – see more on this in my top tips for visiting Cinque Terre below.
Where to stay in Cinque Terre:
If you wish to stay in the Cinque Terre villages then I suggest staying in Monterosso al Mare. This is the largest village and has a wider selection of shops and restaurants, as well as a large sandy beach – it is the only village with a beach in Cinque Terre. Some accommodation suggestions are as follows:
3-star Hotel 5 Terre: A popular budget hotel located 1km from the centre. Search prices here.
3-star Hotel Margherita: This is one of the most popular hotels and is located in the heart of Monterosso. Search prices here.
4-star Hotel Porto Roca: This is the most luxurious option and boasts a panoramic cliff-top location with a swimming pool and stunning sea views. It is a 5-minute walk to the centre of Monterosso centre. Search prices here.
Hotels are limited and most centrally located properties are unlikely to have a swimming pool. There are lots of Airbnbs and privately owned apartments here too, and in most of the Cinque Terre villages.
Many chose not to stay in Cinque Terre but in the nearby towns of Levanto or La Spezia instead. These have great train links to the Cinque Terre – Levanto is just five minutes away by train from Monterosso, while La Spezia is just nine minutes from Riomaggiore.
Accommodation is less expensive than staying in one of Cinque Terre villages, and you shouldn’t have to queue for a table at meal times…
Levanto is a quiet town with a laid back atmosphere and feels worlds apart from all the crowds in the Cinque Terre. There is a great selection of cafes, restaurants, bars, shops and bike rental.
There is a beautiful beach at the end of the main street with spectacular sunsets in the evening. It is also popular for surfing. There are two supermarkets in the town and the train station is only a 10 minute walk from the beach.
Claire (the author of the itinerary below), stayed in Affittacamere Sapore di Mare in the centre of town and across the road from the beach. It is a one bed apartment, with all mod cons, quiet, clean and very good value. There are hotel options too:
3-Star Hotel Carla: Centrally located in Levanto and a highly rated from previous guests. Search prices here.
3-star Hotel Palazzo Vannoni Located 100 metres from the sea, 5 minutes walk to the train station and boasts split-level junior suites – it is no surprise that this is one of the top rated hotel in Levanto on TripAdvisor. Search prices here.
4 Star Hotel Al Terra Di Mare: Located in a quiet area, but has a swimming pool and shuttle bus to the centre and the beach. Search prices here.
La Spezia is a port city and a stay here will give you are more local Italian experience. There is a much wider choice of accommodation options and plenty of bars and restaurants to satisfy all tastes and budgets.
The following have been recommended from previous guests:
3-star Affittacamere Il Viaggiatore: Centrally located in La Spezia and highly rated on TripAdvisor. Search prices here.
3-Star Albergo delle Spezie: Boutique hotel with 10 rooms in the centre of La Spezia. Search prices here.
4-star NH La Spezia: One of the best hotels in La Spezia, this is located in the heart of the city and been recently refurbished. Search prices here.
I was fortunate to visit three Cinque Terre villages on a cruise excursion with Princess Cruises last year, but I have yet to stay in this magical place. Fortunately a follower Claire McGuire got in touch and offered to share her Cinque Terre itinerary with me, which I think is ideal for anyone looking to explore the Cinque Terre on a short break.
This is Claire’s itinerary for five days in Cinque Terre.
How to get to Cinque Terre:
After years of dreaming and researching a trip to Cinque Terre we finally got the opportunity to visit last year. We flew from Dublin to Pisa at the end of September. There are direct flights with Aer Lingus and Ryanair, and also direct flights available from Cork with Ryanair.
The flight time from Dublin to Pisa was about 2.5 hours and when we landed we went straight to the Pisa Mover which is a short walk from the airport terminal. The Pisa Mover takes you to the main train station in five minutes and is approximately €5 one way or €10 return. Tickets can be bought at the ticket machines where you board the train.
On arrival at Pisa train station we purchased our tickets to Levanto from the ticket machines. The machines were very easy to use and the information was clear. The first train took us to La Spezia, we disembarked and got the next train a few minutes later from the same platform. This train will take you through and stop at all of the Cinque Terre Villages, should you decide to stay elsewhere.
The journey to Levanto took approximately 1hr 20 min from La Spezia. The same train will also take you further up the coast to Genoa and Portofino. There are also year round flights to Genoa from Dublin and journey times are similar – Genoa is one of the new holiday destinations from Ireland this year.
Cinque Terre Itinerary:
Day 1 – Levanto
We rented bikes (€10 each) on our first day and explored Levanto. We cycled the along the old railway line, (which is a bicycle / walking path now) to Bonassola and Framura. The bicycle path was amazing, it is flat and an easy path to cycle. It hugged the coast and we went through a series of tunnels that were well lit – we felt very safe at all times.
We enjoyed the large market in Bonassola and its beautiful beach. Framura is smaller but also beautiful and worthy of a visit. There are lots of little cafes and bars in both towns if you fancy a break from the cycling.
It only took us about 90 minutes to cycle the path and we made lots of photo stops along the way. Once back in Levanto we explored its narrow streets and watched the sunset on the beach.
Day 2 – Monterosso to Vernazza and Corniglia
It was time to start exploring the Cinque Terre villages. We took an early train from Levanto to Monterosso. This is the largest of the Cinque Terre and has two different sides to it – there is a beautiful beach on one side and a pretty town on the other.
After a while exploring the village we decided to take one of the walking paths. It was a bit of a spur of a moment decision and my God it was so worth it.
We took the walking path from Monterosso to Vernazza. It was a long walk and took approx. 90 minutes. At the beginning of the path there is a very steep climb with a few hundred steps that will take you high above the coast. Once you reach the top it levels out, but the path is very uneven to walk on and very narrow in parts.
It is a popular route and can get busy especially in peak season. I would recommend walking the route early in the day, bring lots of water with you and wear comfortable shoes.
The descent into Vernazza was spectacular. Once we navigated the many steps we arrived in the main square, which was packed with visitors and full of life. Vernazza is one of the most photographed villages and I could immediately see why. It is lined with colourful boutiques and gelaterias as well as souvenir shops.
The path leads down to a small port which as a wide selection of outdoor cafes and restaurants. We explored the village and had a lovely lunch before setting off for our next stop.
Corniglia is located in the middle of the Cinque Terre and one of the least visited villages. It is the only town that is not built directly by the sea. We took the train from Vernazza and we arrived in Corniglia station we got the local bus to take us up to the village.
You can walk up to the village from the train station but you need to climb 377 steps to get there! The bus is €2.50 or free if you have the Cinque Terre card.
Corniglia is a small quiet village with stunning mountain and ocean views. It has narrow streets with typical Italian cafes but doesn’t have as much to offer as the other villages. We took the train back to Levanto from Corniglia that evening.
Day 3 – Riomaggiore to Manarola
With just two of the villages left to explore we took an early train from Levanto to Riomaggiore.
Riomaggiore is a relatively quiet village with a tiny harbour, and is surrounded by a number of the beautiful multi-coloured houses. There isn’t much to see or do here, but I urge you not to skip it – it is worth a visit for the photo opportunities alone.
We then got the train to Manarola, our final stop on our tour of the Cinque Terre.
Manarola is stunning. It has a small harbour surrounded by colourful buildings and is a picture perfect village. It is a beautiful town to explore, and for the best views take the righthand side path along the harbour as you face the sea. This path provides fantastic views of the village. It is an easy walk and there are lots of photo opportunities from here.
Day 4 – Boat trip from Portovenere
Having explored the Cinque Terre by train, we decided to take a boat from Levanto to Portovenere. It was great to be able to see the Cinque Terre from the sea as it stopped in all five villages. The boat takes about 90 minutes and we enjoyed exploring Portovenere too.
We had lunch, soaked up the sun and visited its small quaint church. Portovenere is a small, quiet town but a lovely way to spend a few hours.
Day 5 – Pisa
It was time to leave the Cinque Terre but we couldn’t travel to Pisa without seeing the Leaning Tower! From the main train station it is approximately a 20 minute walk through the main shopping street in Pisa to the Leaning Tower. The area around the leaning tower was extremely busy so be prepared to queue if you want to visit any of the attractions in this area.
We didn’t stay long here because of the crowds, but it was nice to tick off one of the world’s wonders all the same. Pisa is a large city, and a haven for shopping, so depending on the time of your flight, it might be worthwhile spending some extra time here. We hopped on the Pisa mover at the train station and were at the airport in five minutes.
Top Tips for visiting Cinque Terre:
1. Leave the car at home.
I’m all for road trips, but the Cinque Terre is not the place for a car. Most villages are closed to traffic and car parks are usually located outside the towns. You will inevitably have to walk down steep narrow paths to get to the villages, and worse still, walk back up afterwards.
2. Purchase a Cinque Terre travel Card.
This will allow you unlimited train runs with the Cinque Terre Express trains on the La Spezia – Cinque Terre – Levanto line, and access to all hiking trails. It also saves a lot of time in trying to purchase a ticket every time you get on the train. Note some of the train station platforms are small and can get very busy so be prepared for the crowds.
3. Make sure to validate train tickets
All Cinque Terre train tickets, purchased at the train station (paper tickets), must be validated at Trenitalia’s stamping machines before boarding the first trip. Fines are expensive if you don’t adhere to this! You will find green stamp machines located in the stairs on the way to the platforms.
The Cinque Terre Card is personal and non-transferable and must be validated before you use it. The user’s name must be written on the back of the card, it must be exhibited along with a valid ID. You do not have to validate train tickets and Cinque Terre Cards purchased online (e-tickets). See more here.
4. Visit Cinque Terre off peak, but not in winter.
The best time to visit Cinque Terre is in the shoulder season, I suggest May, September or early October. It can be extremely crowded during the summer months and also very hot!
You could get rain during the winter time and some of the boat services may not be running. You may also find some shops and restaurants close during the winter months.
5. Stay in one of the towns nearby
While it may seem romantic staying in one of the five villages, it can be extremely crowded, especially during the summer months. Accommodation and restaurant prices are high, and you can see how easy it is to access the villages by train from Levanto or La Spezia.
6. Pack light and be prepared for hills
You will find that hills and steps are part and parcel of a visit to the Cinque Terre – it is not a place for anyone with walking difficulties or large suitcases! You will probably have to carry your case up and down steps and possibly flights of stairs, depending on where you are staying.
7. See the Cinque Terre from the sea
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While the train is no doubt the most efficient way to see the Cinque Terre, I also urge you to take a boat trip to see the villages from the sea. There are many different boat trips available including luxury cruises, sunset trips and kayaking experiences, as well as the ferry service between villages.
8. Take a hike
There is over 120 km of trails along the Cinque Terre coast line with 48 hiking trails available. However, the two most famous trails – Monterosso to Vernazza and Vernazza to Corniglia are only 3.5km long and take approximately 90 minutes. The hikes can be done in either direction and are a great way to see the terraced landscape and cliff top views.
You will need the Cinque Terre Card to hike these trails for most of the year, but from November 6th – March 17th they are free of charge – you don’t need to purchase the card. See more on hiking in Cinque Terre here.
9. Allow at least three full days to visit Cinque Terre
I suggest three full days to visit all five villages. You could certainly visit all five in two days, but you will want to spend plenty of time in the prettiest villages, of Vernazza and Manorola, possibly some beach time in Monterosso, and also allow time for a boat trip and short hike. If time is not an issue, by all means stay longer – check out my last tip below.
10. Explore Liguria
While Liguria may not be a household name, it is also home to Portofino, Genoa and the Italian Riviera. The celebrity town of Portofino is easily accessible by train from Cinque Terre and is a 90 minute ferry ride from Levanto. I stayed in Portofino many years ago and trust me it deserves all the hype it gets!
There is so much to do in Liguria, I suggest extending your stay and taking time to explore the towns and villages outside of the Cinque Terre while you are there.
I hope my Cinque Terre travel guide will help you plan a trip there soon. While every effort is made to ensure accuracy, descriptions and services are subject to change. Some of the links in this post contain affiliate links, where I receive a small commission if a booking is made, but at no additional cost to you.