I have some friends and family heading to Italy this summer – including D from HeartFelt Embellishments – and I always promote at least a day in Cinque Terre so I thought I’d share a guide through the towns.
To beat the tourist rush, particularly in summer, start the hike as early as you can. Even so, keep in mind that although you will see more tourists than Italians in Cinque Terre, each town remain breathtakingly beautiful regardless and is one of my favorite UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Arriving – First let me tell you what we did, but this is not remotely recommended. We took a midnight train and 2 layovers and 10 hours later, we arrived in Riomaggiore at 10am. It was totally worth it.
Whatever it takes to get there, make it work. Most people, however, will arrive from Florence. It’s about 2.5-3.5 hours from Florence depending on your connections, but you can make a stopover in Pisa for an hour or 2 with no extra charge. There are luggage stations in Pisa that you can drop off your backpacks in and tour the small town for a bit. It is recommended that you book your tickets in advance for the tower. After some iconic pictures in Pisa, hop back on the train and head into La Spezia for an inevitable connection to one of the towns.
Although we didn’t start the hike in Monterosso, I hear it is the best place to start the hike since the hike from Monterosso to Vernazza is the most difficult. You can book your hostel in Monterosso, and wake up the next morning for a full day of hiking. Technically, there are accommodation options in each town and you can easily begin the hike with a short train ride in the morning to whichever town you choose. The train from each of the small towns is less than 2 Euro so you can easily leave your luggage at your hostel / train station and return after the hike.
Accommodation – We stayed at Cinque Terre Holidays in Riomaggiore. It has fairly mixed reviews since they have multiple apartments for their hostel. We were lucky enough to get one of their best. Despite the endless stairs to our apartment/hostel, it had a beautiful view and was clean. We had heard otherwise from some of their other properties our friends were staying at. However, if we were to do it again, we would probably stay in Monterosso at Ostelle Cinque Terre (requires at least a full week in advance from a room, but more is preferable in high season. Cancellation for refund is fine with 72 hours notice).
Cinque Terre National Park Information
Cinque Terre Card – For the hike, you can get one valid for 1 day (€5). It includes admission to the trails, use of the tiny buses in some towns, the occasional elevator, and entry to a few tiny museums. There are also versions of the Cinque Terre Card that include unlimited train rides / ferries, but unless you plan on using more than 2 train rides (which you should not since you came to hike), don’t bother. The train will cost less than 2 Euros between any 2 towns. Leave your bags at the train station luggage lockers or your hostel, and it is an easy trip back to the train station or hostel to pick them up later.
– Monterosso: This is the only town with a full sandy beach (although it is still a pebble beach). It also has the biggest area of shops and restaurants compared to the other small towns. It is the biggest village and has a huge rock that some of the friends we met decided to jump off of. They also got plenty of “pf crazy American”- looks from passer-bys.
Monterosso – Vernazza: 90 minutes. This is the most difficult part of the hike with narrow trails and steep moments. It also boasts some of the best views of Vernazza.
– Vernazza: The only true port town with a fishing atmosphere and a population around 1,000.
Vernazza – Corniglia: 90 minutes. This is the greenest trail.
– Corniglia: You will have to walk up 300+ steps to get there, but this tiny town is on a hill top with a great landscape.
Corniglia – Manarola: 45 minutes. This trail is a calm trail past a beach.
– Manarola: Picture speaks for itself.
Manarola – Riomaggiore: 20 minutes. Shortest trip. When we started the hike, we went Riomaggiore to Manarola and we mistakenly assumed all the trails were this easy! This is also sometimes called “Lover’s Walk”, along the walk is an area couples can write their names or pose on Lover’s Rock along side numerous locks.
– Riomaggiore: This southern most town is my favorite. It might have been because we spent the most time here, but the water is beautiful and the main street, Via Colombo, is filled with cute cafes and gelaterias. Karen from KluTravels referred to it as the most beautiful water she has ever seen.
Eat – Pesto pasta and sciacchetrà dessert wine is the specialty. To save money, eat to-go pizzas and paninis and relax somewhere with a nice view. The sit down meals add up quickly, but try to splurge on at least one pasta meal. It is really good in this region of Italy, particularly the pesto that was invented here.
Drink – Tap water. There are fountains in each town where you can refill your water bottle. Stay hydrated on your hike, and don’t buy a new bottle each time!
Don’t forget the sun block, water, and bug spray.
Have fun and take a ridiculous amount of pictures.
Pace yourself and start early. – The hike can take up to 6 hours with inevitable stops. We started as early as possible and stopped a few times for a snack or a bite to eat. If you are pressed for time, skip the most arduous portion of the hike (Monterosso to Vernazza) via train and hike the rest. You can also take a ferry for a portion of it.
Getting Out – The trains leaving out of of Cinque Terre to La Spezia connect all throughout Italy. Plan ahead for your train ride so you leave yourself time for possible missed connections if needed to make it to your next destination. Schedules are fairly consistent so check in the morning or the day before you leave to figure out which train you want to catch, and don’t be late.
Hopefully some of it was helpful!
I just had to throw this last picture in here. In honor of the upcoming election, here’s a picture we saw in Monterosso during the past election. It is easy to see who the Italians were hoping we would vote for.