Not even hoards of tourists can ruin these photos, and with fewer people traveling, it might not be so bad…
The Cinque Terre, nestled high above the Italian Riviera coastline, is one of the most photogenic and popular destinations in the world. That has its plusses and minuses.
Made up of five small coastal villages, the Hollywood level dramatic scenery and laid back vibes are unlike anywhere else on earth, and the food and wine certainly isn’t too shabby either.
People flock from all over the world just to see the famously colorful houses, but it’s the stunning sunsets, rustic old world charm and captivating people which will bring you back, over and over again. It can be awfully crowded at peak times during normal times, but it is absolutely a place worth visiting, particularly in shoulder season.
Here’s how to make that visit to the Cinque Terre a breeze.
Getting To The Cinque Terre
Best Airports: The easiest international airport access to the Cinque Terre is via Pisa, Genoa or Florence. Pisa International Airport is extremely convenient, with excellent onward train and bus access to the the Cinque Terre which any novice can manage.
Take The Train: Pisa is the nearest main airport and from there you can take a short bus journey to Pisa Centrale train station. It’s incredibly easy. The PisaMover (bus) runs frequently everyday between 6am-midnight and costs €2.70 one way for the short five minute ride.
From Pisa Centrale station, hop on the train to La Spezia Centrale to bring yourself into this magical area. The train ride is quiet, pleasant and offers some special views. There are 27 direct trains daily, and the journey from Pisa to La Spezia will last approximately 1 hour and costs €8-€17 depending on cabin class.
The local train from La Spezia Centrale will then take you to all the little Cinque Terre villages: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, Monterosso and Levanto. You can purchase a day card for circa €7.50, which also includes access to the must do trekking paths and use of the Ecological park buses.
Going By Car: If you’re renting a car it will take roughly 1.5 hours to drive from the airport. One challenge: parking. Another: keeping your eyes ont he road. The Cinque Terre is extremely beautiful, partly because it’s so rugged, and parking may be limited or challenging. There are even areas where no cars are allowed at all.
Taxis will be available but from any major airport, but you’ll be looking at a pretty high rate if you go this way. Expect north of €180 for a one way journey. Trust us – the train is the way to go, and is very reliable, unless you’re a baller and don’t care.
Where To Stay In The Cinque Terre
All five villages are lovely and offer something wonderfully different and visually appealing for your Instagram feed.
Naturally, every traveler wants to experience each one, and for “stress free” the easiest way to do this is it make one town your home base and visit the others on day trips. If you want a good laugh, watch people try to lug big suitcases up the unforgiving hills. If there’s ever a destination to “pack light”, it’s this one.
You’ll understand why it’s best to pick one home base in all of about 5 seconds. With that said, you really can’t go wrong whichever village you choose.
Although there are some truly beautiful hotels, a wonderful and authentic way to experience the Cinque Terre is in an apartment or villa setting. Luxury hotels are more of a Amalfi Coast thing, than a Cinque Terre thing, in my opinion.
Local companies such as Cinque Terre Riviera offer some excellent options and makes for a local, curated stay. For even more affordable choices check out Airbnb as well.
Here’s a brief outline of each Cinque Terre village
Manarola offers the picture perfect view of the stunning pastel coloured houses and even though there’s no beach, you can sunbath on the big rocks and swim in the deep, cool waters. There’s a lovely, gentle walk around the coast and is the oldest of the five villages.
Monterosso is the place to stay if you’re looking for a beach – Fegina Beach is sandy and just moments from getting off the train, it also has the classic rows of striped beach umbrellas to liven up your Instagram account. It is the largest of the villages and offers a few more luxury hotel options.
Vernazza is absolutely beautiful – even more so in low season or mornings and evenings when there are less tourists around. It’s perhaps the most local of the group. The piazza is the main part of the village and is full of bars, restaurants, colorful houses and fishing boats. Jump into the water for a refreshing swim after exploring the pretty village.
Corniglia is the smallest of the villages, slightly quieter and offers an incredible view of all five villages. The train arrives at sea level and the village sits 100 meters above – take the Lardarina staircase of 382 steps to reach the top; it’s the most exciting (and tiring) way to get there. It’s a lovely place to visit and enjoy some local food.
Riomaggiore is split by the railway line into two. The main street is in the upper part and can be quite a workout to explore with the steep roads and steps, but it’s worth it to find the cute shops and restaurants. The lower area by the sea is the place to relax and enjoy the sunshine, beautiful boats and local seafood.
Hiking In The Cinque Terre
People journey to the of the Cinque Terre for the picturesque houses, lush Mediterranean waters and inimitable local cuisine. But the days activities can extend far beyond a glass of wine, some pictures, pasta and a swim. It’s an incredible place if you like to hike and walk, with over 100km of trails.
Hike through vineyards, olive groves and tiny, local villages, taking in the best of the scenery from high above the hills. It’s a wonderful opportunity to see parts that many people don’t get to see, as well as stunning views and tropical flowers. You can find maps and lists of the many hiking trails here.
If you’re still unsure where to go, there a plenty of guides who will be happy to show you around. Just be sure to wear comfy shoes and take water. For a good “taster” trail, start out with Monterosso to Vernazza.
Famous Culinary Delights Of Italy
As with most places in Italy, you’ll be immersed in world class food. But beyond that, the local specialities of the Cinque Terre are extraordinary. The region is the home of pesto and you should not leave without trying some on pasta, gnocchi, pizza or really anything put on the table in front of you.
The Cinque Terre got its name from the five local fishing villages, so fantastic seafood is everywhere. Lemon trees are hard to miss and make for some of the best Limoncino (limoncello to most of the world). Have some – you are on holiday after all! And wine? We are in Liguria and near Tuscany after all. Open a bottle, any bottle, and it will be remarkable.
As machines cannot be used on the terraces the grape picking process is still done by hand. They are most famous for their whites and dessert wines.
Restaurants worth trying: Ripa del Sole (Riomaggiore), Trattoria dal Billy (Manarola), Nessun Dorma (Manarola), Ristorante Belforte (Vernazza), A Cantina da Mananan (Corniglia), Ristorante Miky (Monterosso), Il Pirata (Vernazza).
Have you been to the Cinque Terre? What’s your best tip?
Thank you for this article. I’ve had this idea that going to that part of Italy can be intimidating but you made it sound simple enough to plan and execute.
All of this advice was spot on! We went there last summer (a group of 16 of us) and we rented a house just south of Vernazza. Great place for groups as you can sort of “do your own thing” and meet up for dinner! Agree with the train being easiest and when you are there, there is ferry service between the towns, with some stunning views! Part of the “easy” coastal trail was closed when we were there, so I would recommend you are in “sort of shape” if you plan on hiking as even the moderate trails can be a little challenging if you do not have your endurance built up.
Thank you Richard!
Nice guide, although le cinque terre are in Liguria not Tuscany 😉
Thank you! This is very useful info for a trip I’m planning to the area next Spring.
Small trains shuttle back and forth between the towns very frequently throughout the day, and they only take a few minutes, so getting around is no problem whatsoever. The stunning views from the ridges make the hikes well worth it, though. Don’t do the Cinque Terre as just a day trip; the locals deserve more of an emotional and financial investment from their hordes of visitors.
Stay in Portovenere.
Here’s the truth: this place is absolutely PACKED with people to the point that it completely ruins the ‘vibe’. Even the local governments are seeking solutions to this problem. After a standing-room-only trip on the train, we couldn’t even walk to one of the villages due to the gridlock of people on the sole sidewalk/walkway there. It was insane. Italy is FULL of great places which are “undiscovered” by the tour bus companies. I strongly recommend that you go there and see it BEFORE the hoards.
The article got on thing right: the only appropriate word is ‘hoard’ and not just ‘crowd’.
The best advice would be “ not to go to Cinque Terre “ at all. It is becoming a fake place, something like Disneyland. While it is fun and pleasant it is be becoming less real every year.
The best advice is to stay a little north in Levanto.
It is cheaper more real and very interesting.
Then take the train to see the the Cinque Terre. It is only a few minutes by train. Still an amazing group of towns but all I could wonder is if anyone actually lived there.
Even better walk the old train bed ( no tracks) north to the next town through tunnels and glades. I cannot remember the name but you cannot miss it. A beautiful visit worth the walk.
Great guide! I’d take the Ligurian coast over the Amalfi any day. I would definitely recommend purchasing the Cinque Terre card for access to trails and the train, after a few legs on foot, the train is a welcome break, despite the inevitable queues (some of whom you can get preference over).
I’d second the comment to stay in Portovenere, La Spezia although bigger is too industrial I fear, although Genoa is still worth considering as it offers more accommodation options & is still easy to get to the CT daily.
Also if going for pasta, have the Trofie.
Have been wanting to go there for ages. Thanks for the informative article!
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