Are you visiting Cinque Terre? I am so happy for you! This is an incredible area of Italy. I got to visit recently with my sister and immediately fell in love with it.
Cinque Terre is a coastal area on the Italian Riviera in the Liguria region of northwest Italy. The area consists of five historic villages, each one of them gorgeous in its own way. The five villages (Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore) make up the Cinque Terre National Park, which was designated in 1999 and which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Colorful cliffside houses, terraced vineyards, scenic harbors filled with fishing vessels, rugged coastline and endless blue sea make up this stunning landscape. The scenery, world-class restaurants with fresh, local seafood on the menu, beautiful villas, bed and breakfasts and incredible coastal hikes draw visitors from all over the world.
If you are planning on visiting Cinque Terre, you are in the right place. In this post, I will share the best Cinque Terre tips and tell you everything you need to know before visiting Cinque Terre.
Don’t forget to read my post The Best Things To Do In Cinque Terre.
The Best Things To Know Before Visiting Cinque Terre
There are five Cinque Terre villages
As I have said before, there are five Cinque Terre villages (and a handful of nearby small towns). They all are connected by train, so you can travel easily between each of them (more on that later), by boat (except one of them which has no direct access to the sea) and via a hiking trail that offers stunning coastal views. Quite importantly so, they are incredibly quaint, beautiful, very colorful – allegedly, fishermen would paint the houses in bright color so that it’d be easier to spot them from the sea, and each of them with its own, unique flavor and worth visiting.
Riomaggiore is the southernmost village, and the second largest one in the Cinque Terre. It has a very small beach, and a fabulous spot from where you can admire sunset while overlooking the sea and the colorful village at the same time.
For more information, read my post An Easy Guide To Riomaggiore.
Manarola is another stunning village where you’ll find a small harbor with a nice tiny beach and plenty of good places to stay and restaurants. Many would say it has the best sunset spot in the area – and I must agree that a sunset drink at Nessun Dorma is a must in the Cinque Terre.
Head over to my post A Quick Guide To Manarola.
Corniglia is the only one of the Cinque Terre villages that doesn’t have direct access to the sea. The smallest village in the area is connected to the train station located at sea level by a staircase of 300 steps that will provide swiping coastal views. Small as it is, Corniglia is packed with excellent restaurants for all budgets.
Don’t forget to read my post A Short Guide To Corniglia.
Vernazza is the colorful village you have likely seen plenty of photos of – typically taken along the hike that connects it to Monterosso al Mare. There are some lovely churches, and even more viewpoints you can enjoy during your visit.
Check out my post A Short Guide To Vernazza.
Monterosso al Mare is the largest and northernmost village in the Cinque Terre. It’s pretty much divided in two – the Old Town, and the New Town which is where Fegiana Beach (the most beautiful one in the Cinque Terre) is located. It has a very good selection of restaurants and wine bars and – much like the rest of the Cinque Terre – a few incredible sunset spots.
Head over to my post A Useful Guide To Monterosso Al Mare, Cinque Terre.
Where to base yourself when visiting Cinque Terre
In terms of where to base yourself when visiting Cinque Terre, no one village is better than the others. The best thing about Cinque Terre is it doesn’t really matter what village you stay in because it’s so easy to travel from one to the other!
The village you choose will depend on whether you prefer something more remote or something where you can feel like you are in the middle of it all – though I must warn you: the Cinque Terre are not a party destination! All villages are scenic, all are vibrant, all have history and culture and all have some accommodations, restaurants and shops so each one makes for a suitable base.
Having said that, Monterosso al Mare is probably a good choice if you want a wide range of accommodation options for all budgets, and a good selection of restaurants.
Other places you can base yourself to explore the Cinque Terre are Levanto, which is a 7 minutes train ride north of Monterosso, or Portovenere, which is connected to the Cinque Terre villages by boat. Finally, if you want something a bit more budget friendly, consider staying in La Spezia, the largest nearby city. Plenty of guided tours and ferries depart daily from La Spezia heading out to the Cinque Terre, and it’s also very well connected by train.
Make sure to also read my post Where To Stay In Cinque Terre.
How to get to Cinque Terre
Speaking of which, how do you actually get to the Cinque Terre? There are a few ways to get there.
The nearest airport is Pisa so if you plan to fly to the region, that’s the closest you will get by plane. Pisa is about 88 miles (141 kilometers) away from Cinque Terre. If you fly to Pisa with the intention of traveling onward to Cinque Terre, you’ll need take a train from there (in theory you can also drive, but I don’t recommend doing that – more about that later).
Another very close airport is the one in Genoa, which is 57 miles (91.5 km) from Monterosso al Mare. Overall, Pisa Airport is better connected.
If you take the train the Cinque Terre villages, you’ll likely need to change trains in La Spezia or Levanto depending on where you’re traveling from. However, there are direct routes from Pisa to Monterosso al Mare (travel time is about one hour and 10 minutes).
In La Spezia or Levanto, you can also take a ferry that travels between four of the Cinque Terre villages and the town of Portovenere. The benefit of taking the ferry is you can purchase an all-day ticket that allows you to hop on and hop off between the various Cinque Terre ports as much as you want.
Traveling to Cinque Terre by car is another option but it’s not advisable. Not only is the driving and traffic on the way there a hassle, but the parking is also a nightmare! Navigating the roads can be a stressful experience for anyone who is not familiar with the area. Within the villages, the roads are very narrow and cramped and most of them are closed to non-resident traffic anyways. Parking is very hard to find and can be expensive if you do find a spot.
Unfortunately, there are no regional or national buses servicing the region of Cinque Terre.
How to move around
Once you’re settled in Cinque Terre, there are a few ways to get around the area. Each of the villages has a train station so you can move between them, just remember to validate your ticket before boarding and wait for the train behind the yellow line.
I have seen the entire railway system come to a halt in Monterosso al Mare station because a tourist leaned out to take a photo of the approaching train. The train halted suddenly, but not before the conductor told off the tourist. You really don’t want to be the person causing a delay!
The only downfall to relying on trains to get around Cinque Terre is the trains and train stations are often crowded. But as they are so frequent, you will never have to wait too long for another train where you can find a seat.
The hop-on, hop-off ferry is one of the best ways to get around the Cinque Terre region. This ferry travels between four of the villages throughout the day. It doesn’t make stops at Corniglia because, as previously stated, this village doesn’t have a harbor. The best part about taking the ferry is the views you’ll enjoy as you sail along the scenic coastline.
To book your boat tour along the Cinque Terre, click here.
For a sunset boat tour click here.
For a boat tour departing from La Spezia, click here, here or here.
Another great way to explore Cinque Terre is on foot and there’s a network of hiking trails that snake along the coast and connect the five villages. This main coastal trail is known as the Blue Trail (Sentiero Azzurro). Currently, parts of it – namely the one that connects Corniglia to Manarola and the one that links Manarola and Riomaggiore – are closed for much needed restoration works, but you can take alternative trails to hike between the villages.
The entire network consists of 74 miles (120 kilometers) of trails in the Cinque Terre National Park but the main trail that connects the villages can be hiked in one day. Hiking through the area is a great way to see the amazing coastal views the region is renowned for.
Make sure to read my post A Guide To Hiking In Cinque Terre.
I really to not recommend exploring the Cinque Terre in a car. Not only would it take too long to navigate your way along the narrow, twisty streets, but you’ll also have a hard time parking the car at times when you’d like to get out and take pictures or visit an attraction – besides, the historic center of the various villages is only open to residents traffic and in some cases not even to them as the roads are too narrow!
Best time to visit Cinque Terre
The time of year that you choose for visiting Cinque Terre will depend on many factors including your budget and what you plan on doing during your visit.
Summer is the best time of year to visit the region if you want to do some swimming. However, this time of year is also the most crowded and the most expensive, and it will be too hot for hiking.
Spring and early fall are the best times to visit the Cinque Terre region if you want to do some hiking, save a bit of money on airfare and accommodations and avoid the crowds. However, keep in mind that the occasional holiday weekend in Italy may mean crowds of tourists even in the shoulder season, and that it can rain a lot during the fall and spring months.
We visited at the end of April and while it rained quite a bit, we managed to hike as much as we wanted and fully enjoyed our visit.
How many days in Cinque Terre?
It is possible to see Cinque Terre in one day and you can do this on your own or with a guided tour. Guided day trips vary in terms of what’s included. Some of the types of tours available include boat tours, kayaking along the Cinque Terre coast, guided trekking tours and wine tasting tours.
In case you want to take a guided day trip from Florence, the following are the best options:
- Cinque Terre day trip with Transport from Florence – this is the most budget friendly option. You won’t have a guide when visiting the villages, so it’s best for independent travelers.
- Private Cinque Terre Tour w/ Pisa – this tour may seem expensive, but also very comprehensive! It includes a stop in Pisa, and hotel pick-up and drop-off.
- Cinque Terre day trip from Florence with optional hike and lunch – another comprehensive tour. For an option with just lunch included, click here. For a hiking trip, check out this tour.
- Cinque Terre Hiking Trip – the best tour if you are keen on hiking.
For more excellent tours of Cinque Terre departing from Florence, click here.
Traveling from Florence? Read my post A Perfect Day Trip From Florence To Cinque Terre.
Realistically, if you want to really immerse in the history and culture of Cinque Terre, you’ll need at least three days. This is the ideal amount of time you’ll need to take your time and do some hiking, try some of the restaurants and see the attractions. In fact, I recommend even more time to take in everything the Cinque Terre region has to offer.
If you travel during the summer and want to enjoy the area’s beaches, you might even want to add a day or two to your trip!
It can get incredibly crowded
One of the things you have to understand before visiting Cinque Terre is that it can get incredibly crowded – especially in the peak summer season. My sister and I visited at the end of April, and while that would normally be shoulder season, it was a long holiday weekend here in Italy and needless to say we found there were lots of people on the trains and in the streets; restaurants were busy but the trails were absolutely fine.
When cruise ships dock at La Spezia, the Cinque Terre get even busier with day-trippers.
Tourism has inevitably had an impact on the region, and local organizations are working on limiting the damages of over-tourism, to preserve the local environment and culture, but a lot has to be done yet.
This is to say: don’t be surprised to see many tourists around. It won’t take away from the beauty of the place. In fact, you may do your bit by visiting Cinque Terre in the off season and traveling slow, spending longer in the area and getting to enjoy the villages early in the morning or late in the evening when all the day trippers are gone.
When traveling anywhere, it’s important to be respectful. The villages of the Cinque Terre region are beautiful and pristine and the local people and your fellow tourists would like to keep it that way. Never leave any trash behind on beaches, trails, streets, or anywhere. Take your trash with you and dispose of it in designated containers.
Wild camping is forbidden everywhere in the Cinque Terre National Park and there are no designated campsites in the region. If you’d like to camp during your visit, there are campsites in some of the nearby towns and villages.
As you explore the Cinque Terre region, you’ll see grapevines all over the place. As tempting as it is, never pick these grapes as they are privately owned vines.
If you’re thinking that you’ll get the best photos of the Cinque Terre area from above by flying a drone in the national park, think again because you need a special permit. To get this special permit, costs extra money and hassle so it really isn’t worth it.
The best way to get photos of the coast is to take a boat tour or ride the ferry where you’ll get views from the water. You can also get some really great photos from atop some of the hills that can be found in the villages and on the coastal trails. All the photos you see in this posts were taken from view points across the villages, during a hike or from the boat.
Book in advance!
With so many visitors, if you want to score a good deal on your accommodation it’s a good idea to book your trip to Cinque Terre in advance no matter what time of year you plan to travel or what your budget is. This is especially true during the summer when it’s most busy.
Booking early will not only save you money on airfare and accommodations. It will also ensure that you are able to secure a place to stay as accommodations tend to get booked up during busy times.
One of the best pieces of advice you’ll hear while planning a trip to Cinque Terre is to pack light. You’ll be climbing a lot of stairs and hills so the last thing you want to be doing is lugging a heavy, bulky suitcase around.
If you must carry a suitcase, take a small one and pack only what you’ll need. If possible, a backpack is better as it’s easier to carry and much easier to navigate up and down stairs.
Leave the heels at home!
If there’s a piece of advice that’s just as important to take into consideration as packing light, it’s to leave the heels at home! The Cinque Terre region has many hills and you’ll likely be doing a lot of walking.
Trust me when I say that you will not be comfortable walking around in shoes with heels! It’s best to pack comfortable flats and sneakers to explore the villages. You will definitely need good hiking shoes or boots if you intend to hit the trails.
Check out my post The Best Cinque Terre Packing List.
There really aren’t that many beaches
If you’re thinking of visiting Cinque Terre for its beaches, you may be disappointed. This is nothing like many of the other coastal areas of Italy that have many beautiful beaches – there literally are two good beaches in Cinque Terre, and the rest are just tiny places were you can lay in the sun or swim for a bit.
While there are a few beaches in the region, including Monterosso Beach, Fegina, Vernazza Beach, Corniglia Beach and Riomaggiore Beach, many of them are indeed small or just harbors without an actual beach such as the swimming area in Manarola.
You may need to get a Cinque Terre Card
If you plan on visiting Cinque Terre for more than a day and you’ll be using the hiking trails and trains a lot, the best way to save money is with the Cinque Terre Card which provides discounts on train travel and trekking between the five villages. You’ll also get discounted admission to some attractions and have unlimited access to the buses that are available in each village.
For more information, read my post Is The Cinque Terre Card Worth It?
You’ll be eating lots of seafood
While meat, vegetarian and vegan dishes are certainly available, if you don’t like seafood, you might have a hard time finding something on the menus of Cinque Terre’s restaurants to suit your taste.
This is because fish, and every type of seafood you can imagine, are pretty much on every menu. Anchovies are a big thing here and are in almost every dish – and I promise you they are delicious!
Check out my post The Best Restaurants In Cinque Terre.
You need to try Sciacchetrà wine
Besides seafood, the other item that’s king on the menus of Cinque Terre restaurants is wine. In particular, Sciacchetrà wine has a long history and is very popular in the region. This delicious sweet wine is a fortified liquor wine that is best with cheese or dessert. The other local wine is the Cinque Terre DOC, a dry white wine that’s a blend of Vermentino, Albarola and Bosco grapes. There are many enotecas across the villages – my favorite is Enoteca Internazionale in Monterosso al Mare – were you can join a wine tasting experience or simply sit down to sip a glass of wine.
For a wine tasting tour in Cinque Terre, click here.