Things to do in Cinque Terre, Italy
March 7, 2023
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Cinque Terre is a truly magical set of towns, nestled on the coast of Italy. Located only 2.5-3 hours outside of Florence, this seaside region is nothing like the large cities of Italy. For those of you who are not familiar with the area, Cinque Terre is more accurately a region, rather than a singular city. The region of Cinque Terre is made up of five waterfront villages: Riomaggiore, Monterroso, Vernazza, Manarola, and Corniglia. Each of these villages have distinct characteristics, adding to the charm of the Cinque Terre.
While you could spend countless days wandering these beautiful towns, it is possible to get a taste of each village in only a day! Whether you have a week or only one day, this guide will what you need to know about the best things to do Cinque Terre, Italy.
What is the closest airport to Cinque Terre?
The closest airport to Cinque Terre is Pisa, however it is also very easy to reach Cinque Terre from Florence.
Getting to Cinque Terre
In my opinion, if you do not have your own car in Italy, the train is by far the best way to get from any major Italian city to Cinque Terre. If you’re starting your journey at the Firenze Santa Maria Novella station, you’ll make your way to the La Spezia Centrale station located just outside of Cinque Terre. Oftentimes this means changing trains in Pisa, which will add some time onto your journey, but there are a few direct trains between the two stations. If you manage to catch a direct train, you can make the journey in about 2.5 hours. If you’re coming from Pisa, this journey time is cut in half.
There are also trains that connect in Pisa on the way to Spezia. While this won’t save you any time or money, it could be a good opportunity to see Pisa’s famous tour on the way. We stopped here on our way back to Florence, stored our luggage at the train station for a small price, and spent the day exploring.
Once you arrive in Spezia, you will need to transfer to a new train to make your way to one of the five coastal villages, or “cinque” terre. Travel times vary depending on which village you are starting at, however you can reach the first village of Riomaggiore in approximately 10 minutes. Once in Spezia, make sure to purchase your Cinque Terre Train Card.
Your journey to Cinque Terre will start the same with a train ride to La Spezia. However, once you arrive you are able to finish your journey on a ferry for a scenic ride. This method takes considerably longer than the quick train ride, but it’s a beautiful experience if you have the time.
You can purchase either a one-day or half-day ticket, which will allow you to hop on and off the boat between the different villages. A one-day ticket costs €30 euro. As a note, the boat does not stop in Corniglia, but you can reach it by hiking or taking the train from one of the other villages if you wish to visit.
Traveling from Florence to Cinque Terre by car is definitely one of the fastest ways, however it is not the easiest. This is because the roads in Cinque Terre are narrow and windy. It can also be quite difficult to find parking, especially cheap parking. If you do want to travel from Florence to Cinque Terre by car, I recommend leaving it at the train station in La Spezia, and finishing the journey by train. You won’t need a car to explore the area, so this will makes things much easier for you! You can reach the first town of Riomaggiore from La Spezia by train in about 10 minutes.
By Guided Tour
For the above reasons, if you only have one day to spend in Cinque Terre and won’t be overnighting before returning to Florence, then I definitely recommend booking a guided tour rather than self-driving. Here are some of the best tours:
Top-5 popular tours in Cinque Terre
- 🚗 Enjoy a private one day tour to Cinque Terre from Florence this tour
- 🌄 Discover Cinque Terre on this sunset boat tour from Monterosso
- 🌊 Enjoy a sightseeing tour on a private boat along the coast of the Cinque Terre
- 🛶 Enjoy a kayak to get active in Cinque Terre
- 🍝 Learn to cook pasta and tiramisu with this Italian cooking class led by locals
Best time to visit Cinque Terre
As a very popular destination, you will find crowds year round in Cinque Terre. The peak season is in the summer months — June, July, and August. I recommend visiting in May or September when the weather is still warm but there aren’t quite to many people. You’ll find less crowds and cheaper prices during these months as well.
It is possible to visit in the winter months (and prices will be cheap) but many trails and restaurants will be closed. It will still be just as beautiful, but you won’t be able to experience all of the best things to do in Cinque Terre.
Where to Stay in Cinque Terre
While it is possible to visit Cinque Terre on a day trip, I personally recommend spending at least 2 nights. We spent 2 nights in Cinque Terre on my last visit, which allowed us one full day to explore the best things to do in Cinque Terre without worrying too much about trains or buses. If your timeline allows, I would add a few extra days on to your time in Cinque Terre, to enjoy the slow, peaceful towns.
Luxury: The First – La Vista di Marina
If you’re looking to splurge then The First – La Vista di Marina is right place for you. With ocean-facing rooms, equipped with large balconies. If you’re traveling in a group, I recommend the penthouse apartment.
Mid-Range: Alla Marina Affittacamere
Located right by the little harbor in Riomaggiore, this cozy spot is just a 5 minute walk from the train station. The room is pretty basic, but the location is absolutely prime (and even better if you snag a sea-view room). Breakfast is included with most room rates.
Budget: Ostello Tramonti
Ostello Tramonti is a great option for travelers on a budget. Located just 2 kilometers outside of the villages, in a town called Biassa, Ostello Tramonti is an affordable hostel option. This location allowed for us to get an early start in Riomaggiore, as well as enjoy the sunset in the villages without having to rush back to a far off larger city. This hostel is the ideal location for travelers on a budget!
At the time of our visit, they offered a delicious, but small, breakfast for €3,50, as well as very delicious dinner sets for approximately €10. For the convenience of the guests, the hostel provides a shuttle to and from Riomaggiore.
The Cinque Terre Park Pass
In order to do any of the hikes in Cinque Terre you will need to buy the park pass. The standard Cinque Terre cards cost €7.50 for one day or €14.50 for 2 days. They include free wifi, local buses and toilets. There is also a version that includes unlimited train travel for €18.20 for 1 day, €33 for 2 days, or €47 for 3 days. You can find cheaper prices during the off-season. If you are trying to visit all of the villages in one day then I recommend buying this pass as soon as you arrive in Riomaggiore in the morning.
One day Cinque Terre itinerary: the best things to do in Cinque Terre
Starting your morning in Riomaggiore, hike up to the church for some epic views. The hikes takes 1.5-2 hours round trip, but I would allow time for enjoying the view at the top. We grabbed a quick slice of takeaway pizza and headed down to the rocks for a view of the water for a post hike snack.
We took the train from Riomaggiore straight to Monterosso. Here we enjoyed our first gelato of the day, before spending some time through the charming alleyways (look out for all the beautiful gigantic lemons!!) If you are on a budget, there are a bunch of small markets in Monterosso where you could pick up a panino, etc to bring along for the hike – to be eaten either along the way or by the water in Vernazza.
Our next hike of the day was a 2 hour hike from Monterosso to Vernazza. While a bit challenging in the heat of the day, it was definitely worth the views! Make sure to take into account the amount of walking that you will be doing when picking out an outfit, and more importantly, shoes for the day. While hiking boots are definitely not necessary, I would recommend wearing sneakers if you plan to do this hike.
In Vernazza we took a break at a restaurant by the water where we split a pizza before ordering our second gelato of the day.
Next, we took the train to Corniglia – unfortunately due to a missed train, a delayed train, and a sporadic bus schedule we didn’t actually have time to see anything more than the Corniglia train station. Make sure that you check the train schedule and keep an eye on the time so that this doesn’t happen to you!
Finally we took the train to Manarola, which quickly became our favorite of the five villages. It offers the quintessential picture perfect views of Cinque Terre. We started out with the loop of the city along the wooden pathway, ending in a cemetery that overlooks the water. After a quick wander we settled into a waterfront bar, Nessun Dorma, with a jug of wine and a perfect view of the setting sun.
How Many Days Do You Need in Cinque Terre?
All in all, this is a perfect one day Cinque Terre itinerary for exploring the five picturesque towns when you don’t have much time (covering many of the best things to do in Cinque Terre). Ideally, I would have loved to have 2-3 days to continue exploring Cinque Terre. However, we did not feel rushed, despite our super full day, and we still got to take advantage of a beautiful sunrise and sunset! I would definitely recommend visiting Cinque Terre even if you only have one day.
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Here are some other articles that you should check out if you’re planning a trip to Italy:
- Road Trip in the Dolomites
- 7 Spots you Can’t Miss in the Dolomites
- A Guide to Hiking Seceda, Dolomites
- How to Get to the Dolomites, Italy
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