In this post we’ll cover not only how to get to Cinque Terre, but also a plethora of other information that will help you plan your visit to 5 of the most stunning villages along the Italian Riviera. For even more detailed planning information, check out our downloadable Cinque Terre Destination Guide.
How to Get to Cinque Terre
Driving & Parking in Cinque Terre
Unless you plan on exploring other parts of Italy before or after your visit to the Cinque Terre, do not rent a car… and even then, it still may not be necessary. Based on personal experience, driving in Italy is not recommended, so try to avoid it if at all possible, but that’s another blog post for another day! Train travel into and around the Cinque Terre is a cinch. Driving and parking in the Cinque Terre, on the other hand, is a pain in the rear! The drive from Monterosso (northern-most village) to Riomaggiore (southern-most village) will take over an hour on harrowing roads with plenty of hairpin turns. The stress-free train journey by contrast only takes 20 minutes. There really isn’t any parking within the villages, and though there are parking spots at the top of each village, they are few and far between and will cost you over 20 Euros a day! If you do have a car during your visit to the Cinque Terre, it would be in your best interest to leave your car in one of the secure garages at the La Spezia or Levanto train stations and travel by train into the Cinque Terre from there (less than a 10 minute train ride). Just to reiterate, you DO NOT need a car for exploring the Cinque Terre. (Trust us, we’re speaking from experience. We had a car during our visit and it was way more trouble than it was worth!)
The closest airports to the Cinque Terre are Pisa and Genova. (TIP: We found great prices to Pisa from the USA on Norwegian Airlines.) If you heed our advice and don’t rent a car, getting from these airports to the Cinque Terre via train is quite simple. Both in Pisa and Genova, there is a quick and frequent shuttle that takes you from the airport to the town’s respective train station. From there, it’ll take approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes to get to the Cinque Terre. The direct trains from Pisa Centrale to Monterosso (Cinque Terre) are infrequent, but there are frequent trains to La Spezia, where you can change trains for a <10 minute ride to Riomaggiore. Use the website www.trenitalia.com to book train travel in Italy. *Always remember to validate your train ticket before hopping on-board. For more travel arrival options and information, check out our detailed Cinque Terre Destination Guide.
Besides visiting the Cinque Terre villages as a shore excursion on a Mediterranean cruise, which we’ll discuss momentarily, there are plenty of options for visiting the five villages as a guided day trip from surrounding towns in Italy. Let someone else do the planning and check out these Cinque Terre Day Trip tour options: Full-Day Train & Boat Tour from Florence | Full-Day Trip from Milan | Small Group Tour from Pisa or Lucca | Sailing, Swimming & Snorkeling Tour of Cinque Terre from La Spezia Harbor. Keep in mind, you won’t get to spend much time in each of the five villages, as there are countless things to do in Cinque Terre and a day trip doesn’t allow much time! However, if you’re already booked in a town nearby and simply want to experience splendor of the five villages, even if only as a day trip, you do have options!
Many cruise ships offer excursions into the Cinque Terre from the ports of La Spezia and Livorno (Florence), among others. And while it may be invigorating to see all 5 villages in just a few hours, it is not recommended. We actually had the opportunity to take a shore excursion to the Cinque Terre during a Mediterranean cruise we took a few years back and while we were tempted with the thought, we decided that we’d rather explore this beautiful region of Italy on a separate, and longer, trip! If this may be your only opportunity to ever see the Cinque Terre, then go for it! It’s better to have a rushed visit, than no visit at all. But, if your schedule permits, plan to visit the Cinque Terre when you have at least 2 full days to explore, if not more!
There are numerous ways to get between the charming villages in the Cinque Terre. Choose one option or do a combination of options to experience traveling about the Cinque Terre in a variety of ways.
The Cinque Terre Train
Train travel is the easiest (and fastest) way to explore all five villages in the Cinque Terre. Travel time from one village to the next is anywhere from 4-6 minutes, with a total time of just over 20 minutes to go from Monterosso in the north to Riomaggiore in the south. Trains run in each direction once or twice every hour, starting at just after 5 am and ending just after midnight. Check the Cinque Terre Train Timetable PDF for the current train schedule. For unlimited access on the La Spezia–Cinque Terre–Levanto line, purchase the Cinque Terre Treno Card (more info on that in a bit). If you’re doing an abbreviated visit to the Cinque Terre and don’t plan to stop in every village, but want to at least see every village, even from afar, train travel would NOT be the preferred method. Much of the train line between villages is through tunnels, so you won’t see much. For the more scenic route, consider taking the ferry.
From the end of March to the start of November, the ferry takes passengers from the ports of La Spezia and Portovenere to and within the villages of the Cinque Terre, offering incredible views of the villages from the water. The journey between villages takes about 10 minutes, in addition to time required for loading and disembarking. Please note that the ferry does not stop in Corniglia, as it is the only one of the 5 villages not easily accessible by the sea. As such, the journey between Vernazza and Manarola is about 20 minutes. Keep in mind, ferry service could be canceled and adjusted in inclement weather. For more information, including current prices, check out the Cinque Terre Boat Timetable.
If you plan to spend a few days visiting the Cinque Terre, consider hiking between the villages on the designated trails. The Cinque Terre Card will provide you with access to the hiking trails within the villages. Here, the only paid portions of the trail are along the Blue Path from Monterosso to Vernazza and Vernazza to Corniglia. (There are dozens of free access trails outside of the villages.) To hike all the way from Monterosso to Riomaggiore is 6.8 miles (11 km) along the Sentiero No. 2 (Sentiero Azzurro) and will take an average of 5 hours. Of course, we recommend stopping in each village to rest, explore, and re-fuel (i.e. – eat). There is an elevation difference of over 1,600 feet (500 m) throughout the trail, so be prepared for a bit of a workout! You will find little shade along the route, so be wise with sun protection and as with any hike, bring plenty of water. If you just want to do a segment of the trail and don’t want to work up too much of a sweat, walk the path between Riomaggiore and Manarola. This portion of the trial is known as Via dell’Amore (Lover’s Lane) and is only about a mile and a half. (Update: This path is currently closed, along with the stretch from Manarola to Corniglia due to landslides. No word yet on if or when these trails will re-open.)
CinqueTerre.eu.com has put together a great overview of the footpaths between villages in the Cinque Terre.
Things You Should Know Before Visiting Cinque Terre
The Cinque Terre Card
As you may have gathered by now, the Cinque Terre Card could very well be an economically good idea, depending on how you plan to see the villages. There are two types of card: 1) Cinque Terre Card and 2) Cinque Terre Treno Card. Both give you unlimited rides on the village shuttle buses, access to all trekking paths within the National Park, and WiFi connection at the train stations. We ended up purchasing the Cinque Terre Treno Card which also offers unlimited train service between villages, in addition to the services listed above. In fact, this particular card offers unlimited travel on the entire Levanto-Cinque Terre-La Spezia line (second-class on regional trains), so if you’re coming in from the La Spezia train station, this card is definitely a good idea. Cards can be purchased at the La Spezia and Levanto train stations, at all 5 village train stations, and at the beginning of the Blue Path trailheads. For more information, including current prices, again check out CinqueTerre.eu.com.
The weather in the Cinque Terre is fairly mild with moderate winter temperatures averaging about 54 F/12 C. During the summer months, temperatures can reach an average of 86 F/30 C, and while this time of year may bring about the most sunny days… it also brings hordes of tourists. Spring and Fall are both excellent times to visit, as the crowds are minimal and the weather is pleasant. Expect a little more rainfall during these months, though the showers tend to be brief in duration. We visited in October and found the weather most delightful and the crowds minimal. We had several hours of overcast skies throughout our October visit, but the sun also made several glorious appearances.
Quick Note: There was a fairly recent announcement mentioned by several credible news sources that the Cinque Terre will soon begin limiting the number of tourists who can visit each year. If you read any of these headlines, fear not, the writer of the website Italian Fix clears up this escalated rumor in a thorough and honest blog post.
Accommodation in Cinque Terre
There are a variety of lodging options throughout the villages of the Cinque Terre ranging from luxurious hotels to a handful of adequate budget hostels. In our Cinque Terre Destination Guide, we’ll go over the pros and cons of staying in each village. Our best advice – start your search early to find the accommodation that best suits your needs and budget! We rented an apartment through AirBnB and lived like locals with an absolutely stunning view in Corniglia! Haven’t tried AirBnB yet?! Use our special link to save $ OFF your first stay! AirBnB rentals are very popular throughout the villages of the Cinque Terre. Rent a room or have an entire place to yourself!
Food in Cinque Terre
Dare we say, Italy is not the place to visit if you’re trying to eat healthy! Of course, you can find healthy options in Italy, but it’ll be really hard to resist the endless options of pizza, pasta, gelato, and wine! The Cinque Terre is quite the wine growing region with countless vineyards on the hillsides above the villages. Be sure to try Sciacchetra, a delectable white wine perfect for pairing with cheese and/or dessert. For unbelievably delicious gelato, look no further than Un Mare di Yogurt in Corniglia. It’s important to note that Italy is starting to get on-board with gluten-free options. In several restaurants throughout the villages of the Cinque Terre, you will find gluten-free pizza and pasta available (as Sam is demonstrating in the bottom left picture below). There are also plenty of options for vegetarians and vegans, so don’t let your food restrictions/desires hold you back from visiting this savory region!
Each village has its own characteristics and personality. In our Cinque Terre Destination Guide, we’ll cover why you should or should not stay in each village, along with what there is to see and do.
Monterosso al Mare
As the largest of the five villages and the only village with resorts and access to a true beach, Monterosso al Mare is the most popular (and most expensive) village to stay in all of the Cinque Terre. If arriving by train, the station drops you right in the heart of this northernmost village. This is the ideal village for people with mobility issues, as it is the Cinque Terre’s flattest village. In all others, you will be met with steep inclines and lots of stairs! At one end of Monterosso’s expansive beach, is Il Gigante, a once-majestic statue built from concrete in the early 1900s. Also from this beach is one of the only spots in all of the Cinque Terre where you can see all five villages at once.
Read more about our visit to Monterosso
The village of Vernazza has a long history as a bustling fishing community. Even today, fishermen depart from the naturally-formed harbor to collect the fish-of-the-day for many local restaurants and their families. The most iconic shot of the village is obtained from the hiking trail coming in from Monterosso. If you’re not hiking between villages, you can still access this (steep) portion of trail leading away from Vernazza, though you’ll either need to have the Cinque Terre Card or pay a small daily fee. Totally worth it, in our opinion.
Read more about our visit to Vernazza
Corniglia is the only one of the five villages not reachable by ferry. The village it situated on a promontory overlooking the Mediterranean with no direct access to the sea below. The journey from the train station into the village requires a climb of 365 switchback stairs, or you can catch a ride on the shuttle bus for a nominal fee (included in the Cinque Terre Card). Parking is extremely limited in town, so again, driving probably isn’t your best option. As the Cinque Terre’s smallest village, you can walk from one end of the village to the other in less than 5 minutes. Because of its quaint size and central location, this is precisely why we chose Corniglia as our base for the exploring the Cinque Terre.
Read more about our stay in Corniglia
Manarola is the second smallest village in the Cinque Terre (behind Corniglia), yet it is just as vibrant and charismatic as the other four. Walk along the main alley adorned with colorful buildings as you make your way to the waters’ edge. For the most iconic view of Manarola’s sea-side stacked village, follow the path from the harbor to the hilltop park and snap that postcard worthy shot! Also, be sure to visit the vineyards of Manarola – meet the winemakers and sample locally produced delicious wine for a truly memorable experience!
Read more about our visit to Manarola
Riomaggiore is the Cinque Terre’s southern-most village. If arriving by train, you’ll walk through a short pedestrian tunnel from the station to the village’s main thoroughfare, Via Colombo. Venture up staircases or down hidden alleys leading away from the main drag to get off the well-trodden tourist path. Make your way down to the picturesque harbor and take in the views of colorful fishing boats and the alluring Mediterranean. You can even schedule a boat tour of the area from here. If time permits, consider taking a food and wine tour with a local guide in this charming village or meet with a local wine maker for a vineyard tour and wine tasting.
Read more about our visit to Riomaggiore
Planning a Visit to Cinque Terre?
For less than you’d pay for a round-trip train ticket within the villages of the Cinque Terre, you can download our printable Cinque Terre Destination Guide which summarizes this post and contains loads of additional helpful information including:
- How to get to Cinque Terre by plane and train
- Helpful tips for booking train travel
- Driving and parking in Cinque Terre
- Getting around Cinque Terre: Train, Ferry, and Hiking
- Frequently Asked Questions, such as What’s the weather like? When is the best time to visit? How many days do I need? Are credit cards widely accepted? What should I pack?
- Details about the Cinque Terre Card
- Traveling to Cinque Terre with dietary restrictions
- Recommended activities for each village
- Accommodation options
- Benefits and disadvantages to staying in each village
- Money saving tips
- Common Italian greetings/expressions
- And More!
Why scour the web for hours or purchase a heavy guide book you’ll have to lug around with more information than you’ll ever need, when we’ve compiled the most relevant and important information about visiting the Cinque Terre into a condensed printable guide? (You can see a sample of the guide before buying to make sure you’ll be happy with your purchase.)
We Hope You Enjoy Your Visit to the Cinque Terre! Ciao!
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