One colourful village built into a steep hillside, surrounded by rocky vineyards on one side and the clear green and blue Mediterranean on the other would be a stunning and bucket list worthy place. So how lucky are we that Cinque Terre is made up of 5 such seaside villages?!
Despite its popularity amongst my family and friends are home in New Zealand, I’m continually surprised by how many people in the UK didn’t know what or where Cinque Terre was when I told them we would be visiting for my birthday. It seems that Cinque Terre is still managing to fly under the radar in some places!
However, if you are lucky enough to explore this jewel in Italy’s crown (and let’s face it, Italy has a lot of jewels) then you’ll definitely notice its popularity with tourists from all over the world. Cinque Terre can become a rather crowded little paradise. So much so that there’s been a rumour floating around for several years that tourist numbers will be limited to almost half of their current amount. Despite that, I’d still suggest adding it to your Italy itinerary, especially if you’re visiting nearby Pisa or Florence. Cinque Terre is the kind of place you can see in a fleeting visit, or spend much longer in. There are plenty of things to do there to keep you entertained, or just relax and enjoy the laid-back atmosphere and beautiful surroundings.
Read 31 Things to Do in Cinque Terre for more info about each village
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Getting to Cinque Terre
The closest airports to Cinque Terre are Pisa and Genoa. You can then access Cinque Terre by train in around 1.5 hours. Florence would be the next closest airport, with train access in under 3 hours. It is also possible to fly into Milan which is a 3-hour train ride, but the journey from Malpensa International Airport to Milan Central is another hour, making it 4 hours in total (we took this option, I really really wanted to go…).
Cinque Terre is easily accessible by train from Pisa, Genoa, and Florence, with many people taking a day trip to the villages from those locations. You can also consider Milan as mentioned above, or even Bologna and Turin. From Rome to Cinque Terre by train will take around 3.5 – 4.5 hours. Check XXX for tickets.
You can take a ferry to Cinque Terre from places like La Spezia but you’ll be contending with day-trippers as well so it might pay to either only have carry-on style luggage, or save the boat trips for when you’re already in the area and don’t have your bags.
The villages of Cinque Terre are mostly pedestrian only, although there are some areas where vehicles can go on the outskirts of town. If you do go to Cinque Terre by car I’d recommend staying in La Spezia or Levanto which are built for cars also, or you will have to pay to put your car in a garage in Riomaggiore or Monterosso de Mare (around €23 for 24 hours).
How long to stay in Cinque Terre
The best time to visit Cinque Terre would be during the shoulder seasons when you won’t have as much competition to contend with. Try April/May or late September/October. How long you stay in Cinque Terre really depends on what you to achieve. While it is possible to take a day trip to Cinque Terre and explore a couple of villages, I don’t think you get the full experience unless you stay for at least a couple of days. Even then there will always be more to do. You could easily stay for much longer, however, some people are also not keen on the crowds so may want to move on to quieter areas and relax elsewhere after having seen what they wanted to.
For a first trip to Cinque Terre, I’d recommend about 3 days. This way you can see a lot of it, not feel rushed, and always plan to come back later if you absolutely fall in love with Cinque Terre. Below I’ve laid out one, two, and three-day itineraries for Cinque Terre to help you with your planning, however long you decide to stay.
What to do in Cinque Terre
Cinque Terre is more than just a pretty place to go, there’s also a lot to do there. The hiking in Cinque Terre has long been a drawcard for visitors, although floods in 2011 took a toll on the walking paths and many have been out of order ever since. There are still hiking options, although they’re mostly the harder, higher on the hills tracks.
Aside from hiking, you can swim at one of Cinque Terre’s “beaches” which are actually stone beaches in the case of Riomaggiore, or mostly rocks in Manarola and Vernazza, with Monterosso being the only village with an actual beach including umbrellas for hire.
Taste the local food, take boat trips, wine tasting tours, and much more with the rest of your time! Check out my full list of 31 Things to Do in Cinque Terre for ideas.
Cinque Terre Itineraries
One Day in Cinque Terre
Sometimes when we travel we only have one day to spare for a destination. Of course, it’s always nice to have more, but if you’re travelling on a fairly packed itinerary but you’re close by, then you could still squeeze in a one day trip to Cinque Terre.
There are a few options to choose from for your day in Cinque Terre, depending on whether you’re coming for a day trip or staying one night as well.
Option 1: Village Hopping
While it’s totally possible to squeeze in a visit to all the villages of Cinque Terre in one day, you’ll be constantly clock watching and trying to get to your next destination. If you go early enough you could boat and train hop along the coast and all 5 villages, but I’d recommend picking two, or three maximum, to really get a feel for the place and enjoy yourself.
Vernazza is often lauded as the best of the villages, and it does have stunning views if you walk up the trails a little way on each side, however, I’d also recommend Manarola for more accessible views, and several restaurants with views across the town and the ocean. Throw in a stop in Riomaggiore if you have the time. It’s small and the views from the harbour are gorgeous. Stop for a snack of fried seafood in a cone or a gelato. If wine is your thing then squeeze in a wine tasting at one of the vineyards above the villages.
If you’re staying the night somewhere nearby then be sure to watch the sunset, with my favourite villages to do so being Manarola and Riomaggiore.
Option 2: Hiking Cinque Terre
Despite the easiest and shortest trails being closed, you could still conceivably hike in Cinque Terre in one day. Get in early to Vernazza and then hike over to Monterosso in time to enjoy a meal and then relax at the beach in the afternoon, or vice versa. After you cool off you could even pop down to Manarola or Riomaggiore for dinner, if you have the time.
I realise I’ve missed Corniglia out of both of these one-day itineraries for Cinque Terre. Although I did love that this village is less popular and if gave a different perspective than the others, being the only one perched on a hill rather than next to the sea, I think if you’re short on time it’s the most inaccessible and probably the one you could skip and not feel like you’ve missed out too much.
Two Days in Cinque Terre
Two days in Cinque Terre could basically involve the above two options. Spend one day village hopping between Riomaggiore and Manarola, and the next hiking between Vernazza and Monterosso. It’s also possible to hike from Corniglia to Vernazza and then on to Monterosso as well, in around 3.5-4 hours, depending on stops and fitness levels, so you could see all 5 villages that way.
If hiking isn’t your thing then you can stroll along the promenade at Monterosso instead, and travel between the villages of Cinque Terre by train and boat. Spend your extra time swimming, taking a cooking class, or wine tasting.
Having an extra day means you can spend your evening doing something like a sunset boat trip or kayak and watch the sunset as well.
Three Days in Cinque Terre
For a three day Cinque Terre itinerary I recommend one day seeing a couple of villages, and one hiking like the above two-day itinerary. If you’re wondering what to do with your 3rd day in Cinque Terre then the best thing to do would be to see where the wind takes you! Cinque Terre is also the kind of place where you can just wander, relax, and soak in the atmosphere, rather than planning it all out to a T. You could return to your favourite village, or do the activities mentioned above (cooking class, wine tasting, boat trip etc).
If you don’t do any hiking in then three days in Cinque Terre will give you plenty of time to see all five villages at a leisurely pace, and you could even venture further to the nearby UNESCO World Heritage Site of Porto Venere, or spend some time in the bigger towns of Levanto and La Spezia located just outside Cinque Terre. They can give you more of a taste of Italian life outside the compact more touristy area of Cinque Terre.
And if you have any longer than three days in Cinque Terre than that’s a bonus!
Italy is full of amazing places to visit, and having now been to Rome and Cinque Terre, two of the most popular destinations, I’m just itching to explore more of this beautiful and diverse country!
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