Cinque Terre consists of five picturesque villages located nearby each other with colorful houses squished into steep cliff. “Cinque” means five, and “terre” is land, as you can hardly guess the name Cinque Terre refers to the five villages forming it. Cinque Terre is located in the southern part of Italian Liguria region on the shores of the Ligurian Sea. We have dreamed of visiting this place for a long time, we spent 1.5 day there, but if you only have one then below you will find tips for visiting the Cinque Terre in one day.
As we have already mentioned, the Cinque Terre consists of five villages: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare (order from south to north), which in the past could only be reached from the sea. Mountains separate the Cinque Terre from the rest of the mainland, some of the villages are pressed into the mountains (Riomaggiore), and others are raised on the hills (Corniglia). Before the railway was built and later road, Cinque Terre was engaged mainly in fishing and viticulture. Interestingly, the wine from the Cinque Terre is easy to get on site, but it isn’t very popular in other parts of Europe (in contrast to the famous Tuscan or Piedmonte wines). The Cinque Terre was enlisted on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1997, and in 1999 the Cinque Terre National Park was created, which includes villages and surrounding mountain areas.
Riomaggiore – Cinque Terre
Riomaggiore is the first village of Cinque Terre from the south. The colorful houses creating it are literally squeezed into mountain ridge, and there is a small port in the center. Due to the fact there is a port, it’s not the best place for sunbathing – the smell of water may not be terrible, but it gently touches the “port”, fishy aroma. In addition, there is no beach, only rocks on which you can spread towels. Sunbathing is possible on the small beach of Spiaggia di Riomaggiore, which is “behind the mountain” and you can’t see the town from it, and this is probably the best in Cinque Terre – staring at these pastel houses! However, the port has its advantage – you can easily catch a boat that will sail with you along the entire Cinque Terre coast. We didn’t have time (or sum of money) for such attractions, but many locals recommended choosing a boat, as the Cinque Terre looks best from the sea (we’ll check it next time!). Above Riomaggiore are the ruins of a castle with a surprising name – Castello di Riomaggiore. Due to the location of Riomaggiore, the best light (tip for photographers) is there during the day, at sunrise or sunset one of the sides of the village will be bathed in the shade.
Manarola – Cinque Terre
From Riomaggiore to Manarola you can take the so-called Path of Love (Via dell’Amore), which is the shortest (20 min) and reportedly the most picturesque section of the Azure Path. It so happened that we didn’t walk this episode, because it was closed, but if you had to choose one and don’t want to get tired – bet on this one (if you find it open). Manarola is considered by many to be the most beautiful village of Cinque Terre, we liked it very much and is one of two favorite, but as the most beautiful we would rather describe Vernazza. We spent one full afternoon in Manarola, and the next day we came over for lunch, in summary – we spent the most time in Manarola. Manarola is built on a rock protruding into the sea, so the effect is impressive. A great view extends from the place called “Manarola Scenic Viewpoint“, but it’s worth going a few steps higher to “Parco giochi Paradiso“, where there is a playground and a few benches where you can take a break for food. You’ll have the best view of Manarola. Manarola is in our opinion a great place for sunset, light at this time falls perfectly on the rock and houses.
Corniglia – Cinque Terre
Definitely the least touristy and least appreciated from the villages of Cinque Terre. We read a bit about Corniglia being ugly and we can’t agree with that! Corniglia is certainly the most demanding, it has no access to the sea, because it’s higher in the mountains. You have to get to it either on foot on a route that isn’t the easiest or by train, and from the train to the village is about 15-20 minutes on foot (from the station you go up the stairs, the road from the village to the station is no longer so tiring ). We were able to catch a free bus from the station, which drove us up to the village itself – it’s a great option if you don’t want to walk or have little time. To capture Corniglia nicely in the picture you need to move away a little bit from the village – we went along the road for cars and also smashed some trekking towards Manarola. We noticed that prices in restaurants in Corniglia are slightly more affordable with less people around (although it’s worth considering we were there shortly after Italy opened its borders). We recommend entering the church of Saint Peter (Chiesa di San Petro), which has a very nice interior.
Vernazza – Cinque Terre
Vernazza is in our opinion the most beautiful town of the whole Cinque Terre, we spent relatively little time in it and we know that if we ever to go back we will devote much more time to it. We got to Vernazza along the trail from Monterosso al Mare, we didn’t see any markings anywhere, but the routes are always described from south to north, and we were walking from the north. In our opinion, this is a much better option – the view from the trail on Monterosso is nice, but the Vernazza emerging from behind the mountains is like cherry on top of the cake! The hike is like only 4 km, which we should cover in an hour fifteen minutes. In practice, at 35 degrees heat, climbing up the stairs (there are probably more stairs from Monterosso) was a truly murderous feat (well, if we didn’t drink so much wine, we probably wouldn’t suffer so much). For this reason, in the season we recommend going through this part in the morning when it’s not as warm yet. No more complaining, it was well worth the sweat! There is a small patch of beach in Vernazza, but with a view of the city. We sat on a bench and enjoyed the ice cream from the first ice cream shop we encountered (damn expensive ice cream). You can also enter the church of Saint Margaret (Chiesa di san Margherita).
Monterosso al Mare – Cinque Terre
Monterosso al Mare is the northernmost village of Cinque Terre. There are the most beaches and if sunbathing is your goal then Monterosso will probably be the best choice. You can choose either from public beaches (a smaller part which during Covid was exclusively reserved for locals with reservation) or paid ones with sunbeds (30 euros per day – umbrella plus two sunbeds). Monterosso al Mare is in our eyes the least picturesque town, but the beautiful turquoise water and rocks rising along the shore have their charm, so Monterosso al Mare also has something to offer. The town itself is “divided” in half by a mountain, these two parts are connected by a tunnel. If you are going there by train then you will arrive straight on the beach, but the more picturesque part of Monterosso is just on the other side of the tunnel. We wanted to try the famous sardines caught in Monterosso, which the sellers recommended to us at the fish market in La Spezia, but when we saw the prices of the window where seafood was sold (12-15 euros for a small takeaway snack in a cone) we backed up pretty fast (sardines at the market cost 4 euros per kilo).
How to get there and move around the Cinque Terre?
There are two options – a car or a train, while the latter is definitely handier and we recommend this option.
There are trains between La Spezia and Levanto to the north that stop at each of the Cinque Terre towns. From La Spezia to Riomaggiore (first town from the south) it takes only 10 minutes, to the northernmost Monterosso – 25 minutes. It’s even faster from Levanto, and it’s literally minutes between towns. Trains run approximately every 20-40 minutes, depending on time of the day. Trains are most crowded in the morning and we noticed that a lot of people hitting the beach in Monterosso al Mare. The most cost-effective option is to buy a full-day Cinque Terre Card for trains (we’ll talk about down below), thanks to which you have unlimited train journeys between Levanto and La Spezia throughout the day (the card works until 24 hours on the day of purchase). Single tickets pay off on average, and their price depends on how far in advance you buy – for example, the La Spezia – Riomaggiore route cost 4 euros one way (full-day card costs 16 euros).
Why not by car? We managed to get to Manarola by car, but it’s worth noting that there was virtually no tourists with the Corona virus. First of all, parking lots are located a little outside of the towns, usually the closest one is for residents, and higher you go more chances for something for tourists. Secondly, there are simply very few parking spaces and during high season the chance to find something free is probably equal to winning a lottery. Thirdly, apparently due to rain and mudslides occurring in some months, some roads are in poor condition. We managed to get to Manarola without any problems, but apparently it’s not so easy to get to Vernazza. And finally, parking lots are simply expensive! Depending on the village (its attractiveness and parking distance) you have to pay 12-24 euros per day, the cost of an hour of parking is about 3-4 euros.
On the plus we will say the views are beautiful from the road, you won’t see this perspective of train (most railway is in tunnels), unless you try long trekking in the upper parts.
Cinque Terre Card
You can buy the Cinqe Terre Card either online (here) or on site – in both cases the same price applies. We have two versions of the card: trekking card and treno card. The first one is the entrance card to the Cinque Terre National Park, the card costs 7 euros per day. The second one entitles you to enter the park and gives unlimited train journeys between Levanto and La Spezia. The prices, of course, differ from the version and how many days you buy it, you can buy for 1, 2 and 3 days. The card is personal and must be signed. It’s checked by controllers on the train and you have to show it at the entrance to each of the trekking routes. In the price of the card, in addition to the entrance to the park and trains, you have free toilets (those that are normally paid), guided tours (they have their own schedules, we didn’t use ourselves and we don’t know how it works), free rides on buses that run between villages (we recommend a ride to Corniglia from the station), discounts on entry to museums in La Spezia (Amedeo Lia, Castello San Giorgio, CAMeC, Sigillo, Palazzina delle Arti, Etnografico, Diocesano) and free internet in hot spots in the villages.
Trekking routes in the Cinque Terre
Cinque Terre is a national park with over 120 kilometers of trekking routes. The most famous is the Blue Path (Sentiero Azzurro), which runs along the coast and connects all the villages. We highly recommend going through one of its sections (we did Monterosso al Mare – Vernazza). It’s worth checking if the section is currently closed due to renovations, all current information can be found here.
Riomaggiore – Manarola – La via dell’Amore – The path of love – is just 0.9km long, the trek lasts 20 minutes. We heard that this is the most beautiful section of the Blue Path, and certainly the shortest.
Manarola – Corniglia – 2 km and 40 minute walk, but this part is often closed. The alternative is a longer and more difficult route (we did a bit in search of a place for photos) leading up through Volastra, there are about 5 kilometers to walk in 2 hours and a lot of stairs. The views are beautiful!
Corniglia – Vernazza – 3.5 km and a little over an hour walk.
Vernazza – Monterosso al Mare – 4 km and a little over an hour of trekking, from the side of Monterosso there are a lot of stairs to go, but the view of Vernazza emerging after passing it is amazing!
Visiting the Cinque Terre in one day
Many people think that 5 villages in one day is a murderous race. Although we got a bit tired, it can’t be said that we were running. First of all – if we have unlimited train journeys, it takes 2-5 minutes to get from village to village, and trains run frequently. There are five villages, but one hour is enough for slow wandering or staring at the houses, because the villages are small (you can, of course, stare at Manarola for 3 hours). Doing whole length of trekking (generally around 6 hours of trekking) and visiting the villages can be tiring, but if you are going in the summer when the day is long and you fitness allows then this option isn’t impossible. The combination of trekking (we did 1.5) with trains is a really great option and within one day we still had an hour to splash in the sea in Monterosso al Mare (on beach reserved for locals thanks to lovely bouncer lady J ), eat lazy ice cream in Vernazza or enjoy cold drinks and lunch in Manarola. These are places where, apart from wandering and admiring the architecture you can visit barely 5 museums – one day should do the trick, and if you really want to chill out and do more trekking, two days are more than enough.
Where to sleep in the Cinque Terre?
We will not tell you where to sleep in the Cinque Terre, because even at the time of the virus it was simply expensive there. If we had to choose between villages, we would definitely reject Corniglia, because there is a distance from the station to the village, and with luggage it isn’t pleasant. We highly recommend La Spezia, which is well connected to the Cinque Terre and for which the Cinque Terre Card is valid. It’s much cheaper there, both in terms of accommodation and restaurants. We rented a huge apartment with a terrace on AirBnb and even cooked fish there freshly bought in the morning at the market (high quality, quite expensive, but huge red snapper over 1kg – 21 euros, a tiny seafood cone in the Cinque Terre – 12-15 euros). We have read a lot about the ugliness of La Spezia – maybe it isn’t the most beautiful city in the world and there is an industrial port, but ugly we would not call it. In our opinion, La Spezia is fun and pleasant 🙂 Another option may be located north of the Cinque Terre Levanto, which also has a Cinque Terre card.
Cinque Terre on a budget – tips on how not to go bankrupt
A few tips on how to save in this relatively expensive place on the Ligurian coast:
Instead of the car, choose the train and the Cinque Terre card (if you have a car you have to pay for parking lots, but also for paths in the national park). Accommodation as we wrote above – in La Spezia (you can find free on street parking there) or Levanto. The most expensive food is in restaurants with a sea view, hidden pubs for locals or ordinary shops have quite affordable prices. For two large pieces of local pastry with spinach and cheese, we paid 6 euros in the store, two pieces of great quality focaccia in Monterosso al Mare 5 euros (large beer 660ml in the same spot had a price of 3.5 euros). It’s worth setting a picnic and preparing breakfast (in La Spezia two croissants and two cappuccino – 4.6 euros) and dinner at home. You can also save on water, throughout the Cinque Terre there is no shortage of city fountains with cold, drinking water, just have your bottle.
Flying a drone in the Cinque Terre
The Cinque Terre area is a national park and drone flying is prohibited there. We followed this rule ourselves, but we saw one drone guy who couldn’t resist. Signs in many places also inform about the ban. There are drones being confiscated if caught.
Where to eat in the Cinque Terre?
Nessun Dorma – a tavern in Manarola with by far the best view in the Cinque Terre. We were looking for a place that would have an even better view, but Nessun Dorma definitely wins. We looked around because it’s the most Instagrammable place in Cinque Terre and literally everyone has photos there. We have seen a lot of admiration about the fact that food is good and cheap, but let’s not fool ourselves, selling bruschetta and simple sandwiches (as well as simple boards of ham and cheese), with Italian quality products, it would be really difficult to prepare these dishes bad and tasteless. It would also be difficult to charge like for lobsters or fish so it’s just about right. Let’s sum it up, the food is tasty, but it’s not very sophisticated and is served quickly, the price is affordable (8 euros for 6 large pieces of bruschetta) and the view is beautiful. Only cocktails seemed expensive to us, for Aperol Spritz we paid 7 euros, but we compare prices to Florence, where we paid 4-5 euros.
Il Massimo della Focaccia – a small eatery in Monterosso al Mare selling mainly foccacia and sandwiches. The price of a focaccia piece starts from 2.5 euros, for a sandwich you have to give about 5 euros. We decided on the version with cream cheese, tomato and arugula and the other with potatoes (we’re recommending all bakes with potatoes in Italy! Many people are afraid of them, and they are really delicious!). Both focaccias were really delicious, and we ate them in the evening – you can imagine the smell of this place in the morning, after freshly baking these delights!
During this trip we visited also Terme di Saturnia, more information about this gorgeous place you can find here.