Cinque Terre. Or: The place where colourful houses perched on steep slopes meet turquoise blue water to create a perfect postcard picture. Cinque Terre, the five magical villages along the Ligurian Coast of Italy, are simply breathtakingly beautiful.
Although: This beauty has its price and it’s called mass tourism. It is really incredible how many people horde through the small village alleyways during the day, and we would like to warn you in advance: YES, Cinque Terre is really crowded.
Nevertheless, we loved it in Cinque Terre. So, in case you’re playing with the thought of visiting Cinque Terre: Go for it! In this trave guide we let you know everything you need to know for the perfect day trip.
1. Cinque Terre: Overview of Useful Info for your Day Trip & FAQs
What is Cinque Terre?
Five villages. Twelve kilometres of coastline. A UNESCO World Heritage Site. Cinque Terre (“five lands” or “five villages” in English) stretches itself along the west coast of northern Italy, approximately halfway between Genoa and Pisa.
The Cinque Terre in order from north to south:
- Monterosso al Mare
What makes these villages so special? They are tiny, picturesque, and last but not least simply indescribably photogenic thanks the colourful façades of the houses. The villages are almost perfectly nestled against the rugged cliffs and simply their location alone is breathtaking.
Mass Tourism: Is Cinque Terre overrun?
Here we come to the not-so-happy news, namely to the question of whether Cinque Terre are really as overrun as you read about everywhere. And unfortunately, we must disappoint you. The clear answer: YES!
Millions of tourists visit Cinque Terre every year. The small villages are like an open-air museum that thousands of people pile through. We couldn’t shake the feeling when we were there that we had found ourselves in the Hallstatt of Italy – and then we must add that we were there in mid-October, so it was actually the off-season.
More than the fact that it felt really full to us, we couldn’t help but think how it must be for the locals whose homes have developed into such a hotspot in recent years. Because to be honest: What is one day trip compared to the idea that your hometown has become a victim of over-tourism.
What is the best time to travel to Cinque Terre?
This follows from the previous point: We would definitely recommend visiting the villages during the off-season. We ourselves were in Cinque Terre during mid-October and even then, it was still very busy. If anything, it probably starts to quieten down later in Autumn or during winter.
Tip number two: If possible, visit Cinque Terre during the week. A lot of locals are also romping around Cinque Terre in the weekends, especially when the weather is good.
Is a day trip enough to visit all the villages?
Theoretically it is quite possible to visit all five villages in one day. This is because the villages are really tiny and the travel time between each village takes just a few minutes on the train. (More transport tips to follow.)
So, if you assume you need around two hours per village (sometimes more, sometimes less), then you could definitely visit all five villages in one day by train.
The question is whether you want to do that to yourself. Or whether it would be more pleasant to visit select villages in a more relaxed manner and possibly also hike one or two sections. (The villages are connected by hiking tracks, we’ll get to that later.)
What would we personally recommend to our friends? Concentrate on around 3 villages and let them wash over you – that’s more than enough. We recommend: Vernazza, Riomaggiore and to conclude the day trip Manarola. In the next chapter we share our specific recommendations.
2. The five Villages from North to South (with Tips & Photo Spots)
Monterosso al Mare
The northernmost village of Cinque Terre is the one with the most beloved sandy beach in the region. That’s why so many sunbathers are drawn to Monterosso al Mare. In summer colourful beach umbrellas are lined up here and make for a wonderfully colourful photo opportunity.
Monterosso al Mare divided into two, so to speak: One part is the sandy area mentioned (the train station can also be found here) and the other is the historical village centre, which you can walk to from the train station in around 10 minutes.
If you don’t have a lot of time to sunbathe on the beach, then we would personally recommend skipping Monterosso. (Not that it wouldn’t be nice, but the other villages are a little nicer.)
Vernazza is considered one of the most beautiful villages of Cinque Terre – if not the most beautiful. And we must admit: Rightly so! We really liked Vernazza and we would rank it as our number two.
You’ll notice fairly quickly just how popular Vernazza is when you make your way with your fellow passengers from the train station towards the port. (The right way to get there is practically impossible to miss.) We recommend you also definitely take a detour into the small side alleyways. We were unexpectedly suddenly completely alone there.
Once you reach the promenade at the port, a fantastic view of Vernazza awaits you. Absolutely take a stroll along to the end of the headland for the best panorama.
The most famous birds-eye-view photo spot can be found on the hiking track towards Monterosso, just a stone’s throw away from the town centre. (Caution: When we visited in October 2021 the hiking track was closed. Unfortunately, you could only get to the first – not quite so spectacular – viewpoint.)
Two additional culinary tips: Please go and taste the pistachio ice cream in the centrally located Gelateria Vernazza. We still dream about it today! In case you get hungry, we can recommend the tiny Pippo a Vernazza. This small eatery has pasta, which you can either eat there or alternatively take away and enjoy at the port.
The next Cinque Terre village to the south is one that is most commonly left out. There is a reason for this: Corniglia’s town centre is the only one not directly at the sea nor at the train station. Instead, it is perched high above on a cliff.
To reach the centre from the train station you need to climb the 377 steps of the staircase Scalinata Lardarina. Alternatively, you can also take a bus into the centre.
In comparison to some of the other villages of Cinque Terre, Corniglia is definitely a little less spectacular. Of course, this also has its advantages, because it means that the streets are not nearly so full. However, if you want to concentrate on the highlights of Cinque Terre, then we personally would leave Corniglia out.
Raise the curtain for our favourite: Manarola. We truly liked it the best here and that is also because we experienced a dreamy sunset here. Which leads us to our first tip: Save Manarola for sunset – you won’t regret it.
The streets of Manarola are really pretty, but by far the best part is the panorama view from afar over Manarola. It’s unbelievable how the houses are built on the cliffs. A glorious postcard picture!
The sunset and excellent photo spot is not hard to find. It is located directly by the legendary Nessum Dorma pub on the northern headland, just a few minutes’ walk from the town centre. At the latest, when you see the many photographers with their tripods, you will know you’re in the right place.
Our tip: Take a beer or an aperol spritz with you from a store in town and enjoy it with a view over Manarola. Watching the colourful houses being bathed in a deep sunset light with a cold drink in the hand was definitely our favourite moment of the day.
We also really enjoyed the lesser-known view of Manarola from the vineyards that lie above. We marked this photo spot on the map further down in this travel guide.
The southernmost village of Cinque Terre is also rather photogenic. However, to be honest, Riomaggiore didn’t quite get us up out of our seats as we’d expected. The spark didn’t really want to fly, but the village is undoubtedly worth at visit.
As you arrive at the train station, you walk through a tunnel and a few minutes later you are already in the middle of the old town. There are many well-known viewpoints, especially the one in front of Café La Conchiglia. Steps lead down to the water from there where you get an equally fantastic view of the colourful house façades.
Our tip: We also found the view from the end of Via di Loca (after the cemetery) to be very pretty. Far fewer people stumble upon this spot.
3. Getting there & Local Transport in Cinque Terre
Getting to Cinque Terre
Our masterplan for a day trip to Cinque Terre: Drive to the closest large town, La Spezia, park there and then explore the region by train. That’s exactly what we would recommend for you.
We got lucky and managed to snatch a parking spot directly in the parking garage at the train station in La Spezia. The price for a good 8 hours came to around 15 euros. Not all that cheap, but you do get to board the train directly from there – and bam, just a few minutes later you’re already in the first village.
It is theoretically possible to reach Cinque Terre by car. Although: It takes a lot longer to drive over the windy roads than taking the train. And we don’t even want to imagine the stress of finding a park. In that respect: Thumbs up for the train!
Local transport from A to B
Taking the train (Cinque Terre Card)
All five villages are connected to each other by train. The travel time between the villages is just a few minutes and the intervals are very regular, around 15 minutes (main season) or around 30 minutes (off-season).
The train station is located just a stone’s throw away from the town centre in almost all five of the villages. So if you travel with the train, you always arrive right in the thick of the action.
You need the Cinque Terre Card to be able to use the train as many times as you like. (It is also possible to buy single trips, but it’s hardly ever worth it.) You can get the card at all train stations in the area or now also online.
In our eyes, the train is definitely the best, least complicated and most of all the fastest option to get from one village to the next. Clear recommendation!
Price: 16 euros (1 day), 29 euros (2 days)
Includes: Unlimited trips with the trains and buses, use of toilets, access to all footpaths
Purchase online: Cinque Terre Card (official website)
Traveling by boat
You can gain a whole new perspective of the coast from the water. Between the end of March and start of November you also have the option to reach the villages of Cinque Terre by boat. Corniglia is the only one that doesn’t have a port.
You will need a different ticket to the train ticket to travel by boat. Because the trip takes a while longer and the intervals are not as regular, we would recommend you take the train instead for a day trip.
Traveling on foot
Last but not least: One popular variation for exploring Cinque Terre is a combination of trains and hiking trails. All five villages are connected to each other via various hiking trails.
While some trails are quite relaxed, there are also more demanding routes. If you would like to hike one or two sections, then we definitely recommend appropriate footwear.
Important to note: Due to mudslides and the associated clean up and renovation work, almost all the hiking trail sections were closed when we visited (October 2021).
You can find more info about which sections are closed on the national park’s official website. Route suggestions: Hiking in the Cinque Terre National Park
4. Interactive Map: Overview of all Photo Spots & Tips
Don’t worry if you are overwhelmed by the many villages and different photo spots while planning your trip. It was exactly the same for us. Believe us: Navigating your way around when you get there is really easy because the villages are tiny, and you’ll find the way almost immediately.
Nevertheless, we have marked all the highlights and photo spots for your day trip on this interactive map. Our tip: Simply click on the top right corner to open the map in the Google Maps App on your smartphone.
5. Staying the Night in Cinque Terre
The name of our travel guide suggests that we “only” went to Cinque Terre on a day trip – more precisely with Lucca as our starting point. We found that to be ideal and would do the same anytime.
Of course, it is however also possible to stay the night directly in one of the five villages. In case you are thinking about it, you should – especially during the main season – definitely make an effort to find accommodation well in advance.
Something you should also know: The price levels for accommodation in the five villages is high. So be prepared that you will pay more for a standard room than anywhere else in Italy.
Option 1: For luxury seekers
If you are searching for a brilliant boutique hotel in the heart of Manarola (which is the most beautiful villages in our opinion), then we whole-heartedly recommend La Torretta. Everything from the service to the view is simply perfect.
You can book the hotel here: La Torretta
Option 2: Cheap & comfortable
Would you like to stay somewhere central and cosy without spending a fortune? The La Piramide could be for you. This very lovely hotel is also located in the heart of Manarola.
You can book the accommodation here: La Piramide
Option 3: A little outside of La Spezia
It is cheapest to stay a little outside of Cinque Terre. La Spezia is an ideal option because you can reach the villages of Cinque Terre in just a few minutes on the train from there. The highly recommendable La Casa dei Treni is conveniently located just around the corner from the train station.
You can book the accommodation here: La Casa dei Treni
Disclaimer: Affiliate Links
This travel guide contains our personal recommendations in the form of affiliate links. If you book or buy something through the links, we receive a small commission. This does not change the price for you at all. A million thanks from the both of us!
And now we are eager to know: Have you ever taken a day trip to Cinque Terre? Perhaps you were even there for a few days and have some additional tips? We look forward to hearing about your experiences!