Last Updated on September 15, 2020 by Christine Kaaloa
Cinque Terre is a world heritage UNESCO site, a string of five colorful medieval fishing villages with agriculturally terraced hills. Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, Monterroso Al Mare… Cinque Terre holds a strong mystique for travelers, so here’s things to know before traveling Cinque Terre to help you navigate it easily.
I’m going to share my Cinque Terre travel tips of how to solo travel Cinque Terre in 24 hours.
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Table of Contents: Things to Know Before Traveling Cinque Terre | 24 Hours in Cinque Terre
Watch How to tackle Female Solo Travel to Cinque Terre in 24 hours
Things to Know Before Traveling Cinque Terre
As a region which was once considered off-the-beaten-path for travelers, Cinque Terre has grown some. But it is still very unique so I still wanted to share my Cinque Terre Travel Guide. Cinque Terre consists of five seaport villages. Each village has its own character and feels like it’s fallen from a list of film locations from famous Italian movies.
Riomaggiore is the first town you’ll stop in after La Spezia Centrale. Visiting Riomaggiore you will find a cute but compact village with one narrow walking path lined with apartment buildings and some restaurants leading to the sea. It is seemingly one of the smallest of all five, but is said to have a lively nightlife in the summer. Above the train tracks, the village goes deeper and steeper into the hills with a few more restaurants and shops. Visiting Riomaggiore, a popular finger food to try is the deep fried seafood of calamari, anchovies and shrimp. Definitely try it! Visit Il Pescato Cucinato, which is said to have the freshest catch.
Next to Riomaggiore, visiting Manarola feels like the older and more settled village of the two. But it is also more touristed. Thankfully traveling Manarola feels a tad more spacious than traveling Riomaggiore as it opens wider at the mouth of the sea.
A distinctive character of Manarola seems to be that each restaurant appears to have a boat or two parked outside its establishment, as if to remind you the fresh is catch. There are many restaurants and many them are busy serving food. Also, the village feels a bit more “lived in” with apartment buildings (or rental apartments) lining the way to the port. There is a swimming hole down by the sea port and you’ll notice sun worshippers enjoying the sun and the sound of lapping waters from the swimming hole. The lack of sand has not deterred anyone from layout out on their towels. Due to the popularity of this swimming hole and ample restaurants, food prices feel a little higher than Riomaggiore.
Photo Tip: For a sweeping view of the town, head down to the sea and angle right onto the pathway hugging the hillside. The further up you travel, the greater the view is of the village and its seaport.
Corniglia is the only village which does not sit directly off the sea. It is perched on a hill overlooking the ocean and it takes over 350 steps to walk to or a 15-20 min uphill staircase climb. If you are traveling with senior parents, be kind and put them on the bus and do the stairmaster on your own. I saw a young woman who seemed adamant to walk up to Corniglia but was traveling with her elderly father who looked a feeble 65 years old. It is not my business to tell people how to treat their parents, but I certainly did not agree with her choice. Even I struggled with that climb and for that alone, Corniglia was not my favorite stop.
The village is small, the streets are narrow and building walls are built high. On crowded days, it is a bit tight for walking. There are shops and occasional sidewalk shops to interest souvenir shoppers. There is a roundtrip bus which you can use with your all day pass. A van bus seems to come every 10-15 minutes to take you to and from the village to the train station. It is free with the train and hiking pass.
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Vernazza is said to be the prettiest village. From the right vantage point from the hilltop, you will be able to get that popular instagram photo capturing the village, its silver of beach and ring-like cove. Visiting Vernazza, the walking path to the ocean feels wider than preceding villages. A unique feature is the small inlet beach and marina with docked fishing boats. During sunset, travelers like to relax on the rock wall area which looks out over the sea. During high tide, water splashes sea spray against the rocks- be careful.
Visiting Monterosso Al Mare
Monterroso Al Mare is the largest village with the longest, flattest and beach-iest. Monterroso Al Mare is a beach resort town, as the coastline has a long stretch of beach with sand. There is an old town and a new town in Monterosso.
Of all the Cinque Terre villages where the ports or marinas don’t lend easily to beach activity, Monterosso Al Mare has the most activity possibilities- picnic with friends, have the kids built sand castles and rest on floaties.
You can walk to the castle- a sightseeing attraction – to explore its old town. Unfortunately, I wanted to catch the last train back so I couldn’t explore this section. The new town offers the beach, restaurants and shops. As my video shows, you’ll see camper vans in the parking lot, so it is obviously open to travelers road tripping Europe.
Must try foods of Cinque Terre
An addition to note of Cinque Terre travel tips is the food. As Cinque Terre comprises of sea side villages, the seafood is their main foodie attraction.
- Deep fried seafood such as calamari, sardines and shrimp are a popular must try foods of Cinque Terre. You’ll notice travelers eating them as they walk or look out at the ocean. The catch is fresh and there are a lot of seafood restaurants. Expect costs to range 7 Euro and higher for a cone of fried seafood snacks. The cheapest i’ve seen were in Riomaggiore.
- Limoncello– Cinque Terre is know for its lemon trees, so it’s local drink is limoncello. Limoncello consists of lemon peels crushed with alcohol and sugar. it is one of the must try foods of Cinque Terre.
- Anchovies from Monterosso (or Pan di Ma) You’ll find it in recipes there.
Most Popular Questions about Cinque Terre
Before traveling Cinque Terre, I had expectations that it would be difficult or tricky to navigate. These questions were the questions I had and the answers are the Cinque Terre tips which will make your journey easier than you expected.
Can you day trip to Cinque Terre from Florence?
Yes. I used Florence as my home base for day trips to Cinque Terre and Tuscany. If you are visiting Pisa, Cinque Terre is even nearer.
How long is the train from Florence to Cinque Terre?
The train from Florence to Cinque Terre take approximately 2.5 to 3 hours.
How to get to Cinque Terre ?
You’ll probably want to know if getting to Cinque Terre easy? Surprisingly so. Basically, it is a train ride away.
Initially I was going to cast Cinque Terre aside, assuming it required either a car or boat to get to. It came as a shock to me that you can easily take a train to La Spezia Centrale and most of your work is done.
La Spezia Centrale station is the main station you can transfer to the La Spezia to Levanto train line. This is the Cinque Terre train line as it will stop at all five villages and Levanto is at the end of the line. You can purchase individual tickets but it is more cost effective to get an all-day pass, especially if you will be bouncing around the entire day.
Can you drive in Cinque Terre?
Cinque Terre is largely pedestrian. The only places you might see cars are central Corniglia and Monterosso Al Mare. For the most part, it is easier to get around on foot and by train.
How long do you need for Cinque Terre and can you explore it in a day?
The villages are so close together they are usually around a 5 minute train ride to the next one so it is easy to stay in one village and bounce around to the others during the day. I came from Florence for the day. Due to a cold making me reluctant to travel, I didn’t arrive into my first village until 2pm. I pretty much explored all villages superficially in five hours before heading back to Florence on the last train. If I had to do it again, I would try to arrive earlier in the morning so I could relax into my explorations and venture into the uphill pathways.
Some travelers like to vacation or take their time appreciating Cinque Terre. My recommendation is to choose a village and make it your home base for exploring the other villages. Aside from food, nightlife, the beach or hiking Cinque Terre, you won’t find many sightseeing attractions to fill your time in Cinque. Consider it your vacation getaway.
What are the most popular villages in Cinque Terre?
The cities you see the most Instagram photos of: Riomaggiore, Manarola ( there is an inlet where some like to take a dip or sunbathe by the rocks) , Vernazza has a marina and a small beach. Vernazza is said to be the most picturesque but if you ask me, they all have their picturesque moment. Monterosso is probably the most convenient and easiest to navigate as a senior or a family with small children.
Which Cinque Terre pass should you buy?
The largest question most travelers have is — which Cinque Terre should you buy? There are two Cinque Terre passes which is issued by the Cinque Terre park and you can buy one or both, depending upon your needs.
For day trippers to Cinque Terre , I highly recommend getting the Cinque Terra Carta Treno MS card . It suited my most essential needs and I was glad I bought it.
If you are staying overnight in Cinque Terre, and you enjoy hiking, get the Cinque Terre trekking card.
I will explain more about the differences between the two types of Cinque Terre passes, but all passes include:
- free use of the bus, although you will need to ask the tourist office where the pickup and drop off points are.
- free use of toilets (passes might have changed since i’ve last been and some toilets may be pay)
- Free access to the Cinque Terre WiFi
Carta Treno Ms (aka Train pass)
The Cinque Terre Carta Treno MS card allows you free use of all second class regional trains on the La Spezia Centrale to Levanto train line.Keep in mind, there are IC/ICN/Freccia Bianca trains sharing this line also. The high speed trains generally do not stop but blow through, while some of the other require actual tickets.
Walking paths in these villages can feel steep. I enjoy hiking but I felt I got my physical workout just with walking alone, especially mid-day when it gets hot and sunny out. Although the distance between Cinque Terre villages is relatively short, it is quite a bit of walking between them, so the ability to jump on a high speed train and arrive in the next town in under five minutes was a god send.
Cinque Terre Trekking card
You would buy the Cinque Terre Trekking Card if you love hiking, have ample leisure time and want to enjoy the park’s trails. As Cinque Terre is a UNESCO site and it is not only the villages but the agricultural terrain. These are actual “hiking trails”. Be prepared- the hiking can be steep and occasionally a bit rough. I saw many older hikers with walking poles and hiking between Cinque Terre villages, be prepared to hilly mountain side inclines. In fact, flips flops are banned from Cinque Terre hiking spots and if you’re caught you can receive a fine of 50Euro. This is due to the fact, the park was getting tired of rescuing hikers dressed in beachwear when some of the trails are quite rugged.
Cinque Terre Card + Cinque Terre Card Treno MS (Combo Card)
if you are staying in the Cinque Terre area, a combo Cinque Terre Card and Cinque Terre Card Treno MS can be bought at the at the Welcome Centers of the Cinque Terre National Park
Is Cinque Terre Overcrowded and Overhyped?
Once known as a lesser known destination and off-the-beaten-path jewel, the UNESCO world heritage site now sees a gargantuan flow of tourism from tour groups to cruise ships. Such a huge influx of tourism on such small villages and its coastlines has affected the environment and there have been trails which have been closed due to danger and the inability to fund proper repairs. However now that the park has instilled a Cinque Terre card, some of the funding goes to maintenance.
I find two reactions to visiting Cinque Terre- there are travelers who say it is overcrowded and overhyped and travelers who are awestruck by it. I stand between the two. I went in mid Fall (October). Italy was mildly chilly at night but the coastline was warmer. There were crowds, but it was not unpleasant and the only place they seemed like they might be a problem is boarding trains and waiting for restaurants. I imagine summer and peak season to be significantly larger in crowds and it is possible it can get. Expect the worst time of day to be 10am to 3pm when tourist activity and cruise ships are in their peak. After 4p, crowds mellow down. I hear the evenings are quite enjoyable.
If you have never been there, you will be just as awestruck as any other tourist who lands in a popular exotic spot you’ve never been or cannot compare it to such as Waikiki, floating markets of Thailand or Bali Ubud— just know that depending upon season or time of day, the crowds might cramp its beauty.
Cinque Terre Travel Tips
- Book Cinque Terre pass tickets online. The lines get pretty long at the Cinque Terre tourism office in La Spezia Centrale. To save time, book your pass in advance so you can jump onto the train to Levanto as soon as you arrive.
- There are tourist information offices at each train station so you can easily pick up a map at either or any one. However, if you’re just going from town to town you won’t really need it. It’s pretty straightforward. Just go forward and not backward.
- The trains can get confusing. There were times I still accidentally took the wrong train or got onto the wrong track and found myself going backwards instead of forwards. There are train timetable monitors up. But I still got onto the wrong track. It is helpful to remember what track you got off on.
- After getting dropped by the train, there are occasional walks you must take in order to get to the village. Often you’ll find yourself walking through a train tunnel or underpass to get to the main street of the village.
- These are mostly pedestrian friendly, so be prepared to walk a lot. As traveling Cinque Terre it is important to note that many of these villages are on an incline, some of your walks will be steep.
- Wear appropriate shoes for hiking if you are hiking between the villages. Avoid wearing flip flops. Cinque Terre bans flip flops on hiking trails and those caught will be charged a fee starting at 50Euro.
- Cars are not allowed to enter most towns and as I said previiously, the streets can be inclined. If you are staying overnight in one of these villages, pack lightweight bags or luggage with wheelies. Corniglia is the only town i’ve seen bus transport. Check the operation hours and ask hotels which is the best way to get help for your luggage.
- To avoid crowds, check cruise schedules.