5 Ways to visit Cinque Terre
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5 Ways to Explore Cinque Terre Italy

Cinque Terre, literally meaning “five towns,” in Italian, is composed of 5 small and scenic fishing villages. They are located on the Mediterranean Sea. From East to West, they are; Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso. There are also a few very small towns that sit on the steep hill above as well as additional hiking areas. Here are 5 ways to visit Cinque Terre Italy.

Google Map Cinque Terre

Why is Cinque Terre Travel Unique?

Before learning the 5 most popular ways to visit Cinque Terre, it is important to understand what it really is like, in order to choose the way that is best for you. 

The UNESCO towns of Cinque Terre are extremely scenic. They are dotted with bright colored houses, lush nature, and jaw dropping views of the Mediterranean Sea. A few towns, such as Vernazza and Monterosso have beaches that provide an entrance to the sea, while all offer picturesque villages to explore. There are many small shops and restaurants in each town, churches, and even castle-like fortresses.

Cinque Terre

Some towns are bigger than others, such as Monterosso, but overall, they are very small villages that theoretically could all be seen in a day. However, in my opinion, it is well worth lingering multiple days in Cinque Terre. Then, you can really relax and enjoy the towns at a local pace. For me, in addition to hiking, I like to spend a lazy day on the beach in Monterosso, a day or two at the hotel pool, and some time just enjoying a coffee or meal in each town. Plus, Cinque Terre is so picturesque, you will find it difficult to leave.

Especially in summer, when Cinque Terre is at its most crowded, the population swells during the day. It can be challenging to find an accommodation when a town is at its fullest, so be sure to book your room ahead! If you do choose to spend the night, many of the day crowds depart by late afternoon. Then, Cinque Terre is even more magical to enjoy. The cooler, less populated evenings, with its twinkling lights and quaint winding alleys overlooking the sea, seem right out of a fairytale.

Accommodations in Cinque Terre

Guest rooms are a popular choice for sleeping in Cinque Terre. They are generally reasonably priced and in the center of town. They vary from owner to owner and can be very nice. My favorite guest room is simple, but in a convenient location with a really friendly owner. Definitely choose the room with the large terrace! It is a great place to relax and escape the crowds. Also, this is one of the few places that offers parking.

I also really, really loved my stay at this luxurious hotel. Everything about it was nice, from the swimming pool over the sea to the beautiful terraces. And it is one of the few hotels with a pool. It also has a beach club for guests only. By staying here, it is even more appealing to linger in Cinque Terre longer.

Swimming Pool Monterosso Cinque Terre
5 Ways to Visit Cinque Terre - Monterosso Beach

A Page from Jenny’s Journal

The very first time I visited Cinque Terre was while I was studying abroad in the late 90’s.

Cinque Terre had recently been named as a travel destination in an issue of the magazine, “Bon Appetite.” It was naturally wild and still mostly undiscovered. At that time, there was no elevator down to the path in Riomaggiore. Cinque Terre was not yet officially a protected park and there was no fee to hike on the main trails (like there is today.) They were simply 5 small fishing villages, connected by steep hilly forested land. It was a place where women strolled to the market for their daily ingredients, sometimes still adorned in their cooking aprons smeared with flour. In the tiny harbors, men sat in small colorful boats, reeling in their daily catch.

It felt like 90% of the people there were locals. While as a tourist I felt extremely welcome, I was still a bit of a curious sight. As hikers stepped off the trains and sauntered into the small villages, mouth agape at the beauty and quaintness of the small towns, residents appeared to be just as in awe, wondering perhaps, what these young travelers were so interested in, in their small town lost in time.

Cinque Terre Village Life in the 90’s

There were only a few restaurants at this time, mostly filled by locals, talking, eating, and playing cards. The food was mostly the catch of the day, trofie al pesto, and focaccia. While these foods are still commonplace today, you can find more of a variety of international and vegetarian options nowadays.

There were definitely other backpackers, and of course guest rooms, but mush fewer than current day. Rooms filled up really fast and there was no real way to book in advance. A few Italy tour books had incorporated phone numbers for 1 or 2 of the home stays into their pages, but it was difficult to dial from a payphone internationally. Mostly, if you did manage to get through, the phone just rang and rang anyways. So you had to arrive, get to a town, and take your chances. But it seemed there was always someone prepared to take in a boarder. It was less formal at this time. If someone had a spare room, they’d charge you a small sum and take you in. At least that was my experience.

Men playing cards in Cinque Terre
Focaccia Cinque Terre

The Hiking Trail Back Then

The hiking trail, first built in 1931, was not well marked back then. It was mostly used by the locals to get from town to town. Rather than being carved out as it is today, the trail climbed up and down more erratically, often passing through private vineyards and land. It was less groomed and more wild.

So much so, that at one point, I took a wrong turn. I was suddenly in deep brush over the Med. My backpack, which was large and heavy, got caught on a branch. I found myself suspended high above the sea, losing my footing. Unlike now, there was no one around at all. My heart was beating so fast and my breath stopped in the hot summer air as I thought I would plummet to my death. But somehow, I managed to free myself and claw my way back up the steep hill to safety.

Years later, when I went back with my husband, I insisted we try to find (and hike) the old trail. Well… It was… interesting! It was extremely overgrown and clearly unused for years. At one point, we had to cut through thick brush (seems to be a running theme for me!), and somehow ended up jumping out of the bushes, covered in leaves, onto the new path where many people were strolling. I raised my arms and shouted, “Buon Giorno!” I am sure we were quite the sight with nature in our hair!

Hiking as 1 of 5 ways to see Cinque Terre

Even back then you could take the train from town to town, but they did not seem to stop nearly as frequently. Plus, most visitors then, came to wander village to village in the solitude of the green hills with the spectacular views peaking out over the blue sea.

Aerial View Cinque Terre

Visiting Cinque Terre in 2008

I have visited Cinque Terre many times since my initial visit and it’s always magical. Like most everything, it has changed over the years. In 2008, when I returned with my husband, we had just got married. He had never been there. I couldn’t wait to share it with him. I knew that Cinque Terre was gaining popularity. As newly weds, I didn’t want to risk sleeping on a park bench. So, I combed through information and found the name and phone number of a man who supposedly had a few apartments.
At this time, there still weren’t many commercial listings of accommodations and I wanted to stay in Riomaggiore. My goal was to hike the 5 towns as I did many years before, except sans backpack and with my husband.

Booking a Room

I called the apartment from a payphone in Spain. An older Italian man with a thick accent loudly answered, “Prego!” In my broken Italian (at the time) I did my best to explain that we needed a room for 4 nights for 2 people, domani. I meant starting tomorrow, not that night. It seemed that he said okay and I took it at face value that we would have a room upon arrival. Unfortunately, our train was hours delayed and we had no way to contact him again.

Backpacker at train station

Arriving in Cinque Terre

So, when we finally arrived in Cinque Terre, it was very late (9PM in this sleepy town). All was silent and no people were in the streets. We walked aimlessly around, trying to figure out what to do. Finally, I left my husband at the bottom of some stairs as the luggage was burdensome and set out to find a payphone. I felt like I needed to leave a breadcrumb trail to find my way back to him, but I carefully turned left and then right, memorizing my steps, until I found myself in the center of town.

Everything was closed; the lavanderia, the pasticceria, and the mercato. But, wedged next to the laundromat, was a payphone. I strolled over and went to pick up the receiver when I saw a torn white paper taped to the phone with my name, “Jennifer” on it! At first I thought to myself, “No way!” But then I read it. In Italian it said to call the number that was scribbled on the sheet, when I arrived. So I did. Moments later, a woman that must have been in her mid eighties appeared from an alley. The woman slowly made her way toward me. She introduced herself (in Italian) as the “Nonna,” and gave me a welcoming hug. Nonna waited for me to find my husband.

Lavanderia Riomaggiore Cinque Terre

Arriving at the Apartment

We all made our way up and down narrow stairs and through small alleys until we popped out at the most beautiful little garden. It was seemingly suspended over the Med. In the moonlight we could see the multitude of lemons shining on the trees as we approached the door.

Lemon Trees in 5 Ways to see Cinque Terre

The apartment was so cute with amazing views. Had I not gone to that particular payphone and found the note, we would have probably been sleeping outside the train station. It seemed so random and impossible at the time, although I guess it was the only payphone in town, so the owner banked on the fact I’d need to use it. Stories like these are one of the greatest reasons that I love to travel.

Apartment with Sea View Cinque Terre
Book A Cinque Terre Apartment NOW!

Cinque Terre Today

Today, Cinque Terre is an extremely popular location that has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a protected area. People from all over the world come to experience its beauty. The main trail now has a fee, in order to maintain it and to control the many visitors. The path between the 5 towns is now extremely well groomed and clearly marked. It also passes by many homes, gardens, and vineyards, but avoids private property.

Some locals still exist. Many run tourist related businesses such as guest rooms, shops, and restaurants, but it seems some have sold or departed too. There are many international young people that have bought flats around the area. Corniglia has a bit of a hiker hippie vibe. Summers are crowded, but in other seasons, crowds taper off a bit.

Even with the changes since the towns were first settled in the 11th century, Cinque Terre and its 5 small villages are still quaint, breathtakingly scenic, and quintessentially Italian. While it certainly has a different feel, then when the first train rolled into the Monterosso station in 1874, Cinque Terre remains a bucket list destination for sure. These days, there are 5 ways to explore Cinque Terre and each offers a unique experience.

Eco Park sign Cinque Terre

1 of the 5 Ways to Explore Cinque Terre Italy

Of the 5 Ways to Visit Cinque Terre Italy, by train is arguably the most popular.

A train stops in each of the 5 villages, and then you can reach the town by walking a short distance from the station. Trains arrive from many cities in Italy, so it is not only a convenient way to go between each of the 5 Cinque Terre villages, but also to arrive to the area from abroad.

Many trains stop in Cinque Terre daily. On average, they stop at each of the main 5 towns approximately every 30 minutes. Just be sure to look at the posted schedule as some trains are express, and will not stop in every town.

All of these factors combine make train travel an extremely easy and fast way to visit each town that does not involve hiking or much effort. This is great for people who are hoping to visit all of the towns in one day, or each town in 5 days. Therefore it is one of the most popular ways to explore.

Train Passes

You can use your Eurail Pass on most of these trains. Remember that the ride between towns is short so you’d want to visit more than one town per day to make the best use of your pass. It is also smart to use your pass on a day that you are exploring Cinque Terre and then going on to another area of Italy or other country, in the same day. These passes often offer discounts on ferries and other transportation or even attractions within the country.

This EURAIL PASS is good for whichever number of days you choose to buy, in a one month period, within Italy (or 1 country of your choice). It has excellent value as trains have become increasingly expensive. You can choose First or Second Class.

These 2 EURAIL PASSES are good for most countries in Europe. The first pass listed is for continuous days on either 15 days, 22 days, 1 month, 2 months or 3 months., where the second offers flexible travel between 4, 5, 7, 10, or 15 days anytime within 1 month or 2 months of the first date of travel, as written on your pass. You can choose First or Second Class.

Train as 1 of 5 ways to explore Cinque Terre Italy

The Cinque Terre Train Card

There are 2 Cinque Terre Cards that are available for purchase, either online or in person. Note that cards cease to be sold in person during inclement weather. Both cards allow access to hiking most of the time, free toilets within the park (otherwise 1 Euro) and a few other small perks. The difference between the cards is that one includes the train and one is park entrance only. The train card is relatively expensive, so weigh out whether you’d rather use this or a Eurail Pass. Your decision will likely be based on the days not just in Cinque Terre, but if you are traveling to other areas as well.

The Cinque Terre Treno MS Card allows unlimited travel for the day on most trains within the 5 towns of Cinque Terre. It is good for second class travel only, with the regional and regional fast trains (except for the IC/ICN/FB trains) in the route Levanto – La Spezia (and vice versa).

If you are mostly hiking, only visiting 1 town, or prefer first class, then it is likely less expensive to buy a point to point train ticket.

If you do visit by train, and only have one day, then I recommend starting at either end of Cinque Terre,(either Riomaggiore or Monterosso). Then making your way consecutively from town to town, so you don’t waste time backtracking on the train. Alternatively, choose one town to really enjoy and hit others next time.

Train Station Cinque Terre

If you are spending the night, choose which town you want to sleep in, and then plan your train direction accordingly. 

See Also Jenny in Wanderland, https://jennyinwanderland.world/accommodations/how-to-choose-the-best-accommodation/

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A Second Way to Visit Cinque Terre Italy is by Foot

Most of the area is a “car free zone” and hiking town to town is a popular activity. The towns are connected by one of the more than 40 hiking trails in the Cinque Terre area. This trail that connects the towns is well groomed and marked, and is the only one that charges a fee. The views as you hike are nothing short of magnificent.

Hiking in Cinque Terre - One of Five Ways to Explore

The Trails

Most of the hikes are steep leaving and entering town. The exception is Via Delll’amore, the path of love, which is a flat 1 km walk between Riomaggiore and Manarola. Due to a landslide, this part of the trail is closed until at least 2024.

The trail is a combination of uneven steps, rocky terrain, and dirt. It is vertically challenging in many parts, even for an avid hiker. You will encounter many hikers, especially in summer. While this may seem like a negative, it felt extremely safe to me to hike this trail solo, as it never really felt like I was alone. But if you are looking for solitude, try off season or very early in the morning.

Hiking Trail Cinque Terre

What to Know to Hike Cinque Terre

There is a fee to use the most popular trails that connect the five towns.

The Cinque Terre Trekking Card

You must buy a Cinque Terre Trekking Card, either online (recommended), or upon arrival (there can be a line). Purchase it for one or multiple days, and as a single or a family. You will need to show your pass at the checkpoint in each town. Note that while some park access is included in the Cinque Terre Treno Card, this Trekking Card is a separate card that does not include trains.

Hiking sign Cinque Terre
Hiking Tips

If you plan on hiking in Cinque Terre, proper Closed Toed Shoes Like These are required. I really love these shoes because they are extremely sturdy with a good grip, lightweight, and easy to pack for travel. They are very comfortable and can even double as sneakers.

Additionally, much of the trail is exposed to direct sun and it can become very hot. There is usually nowhere to buy supplies along the trail, until you reach the town. So, bring plenty of water! Occasionally you may find a random vendor set up on the path, but you cannot rely on it.

Be sure to wear plenty of sunscreen! We like This Environmentally Travel Friendly Brand. Also be sure to have a hat or visor and sunglasses. I highly recommend putting a bathing suit and towel in your bag; Some of the towns have sea access and in the heat, a swim is very refreshing.

Jenny’s Tip: See Jenny in Wanderland’s essentials to bring hiking list https://jennyinwanderland.world/packing/top-15-travel-hiking-essentials-to-pack/

Hiking trail - One of 5 ways to explore Cinque Terre
Trail Notes

As a note, if you only have one day, it is possible to hike all 5 towns, but it is not an easy hike, and you really need to be in reasonably good shape. One of the great things about this trail, is that if you find yourself tired after 1 or 2 towns, you can still visit the remaining towns by train or even boat. So, you can choose to stop at anytime (as long as you aren’t between towns!)

Another great option, especially if you are a less confident hiker, solo, or just want camaraderie is to see the towns with a professional guide on this unforgettable hike.

If you are not up for a hardcore hike, but want to check off the box, THIS MINI TREK with MEDITERRANEAN VIEWS AND A VINEYARD VISIT WITH WINE TASTING may be perfect!

Another Really Fun Option To Experience Cinque Terre

Another wonderful way to see all 5 towns, whether in one day, or multiple, is by boat.

There is a ferry that runs regularly throughout the day between 4 of the towns. Some ferries also connect cities on either side of Cinque Terre, such as Porto Venere, La Spezia, and Viareggio. When you disembark, you are at the port in the heart of each village. There is no need to hike! The one exception is Corniglia as it is elevated from the sea and therefore does not have a port. A train or hike is necessary to reach this village.

The boat ride can be an extremely pleasant and relaxing way to not only visit the towns, but also view the spectacular scenery from the sea. It really allows for a different perspective and some great photos. Additionally the boat ride can definitely feel cooler on hot sunny days.

Ferry in Cinque Terre - 1 of 5 ways to Explore

Ferry Tickets and Prices

In 2024, a Porto Venere to Cinque Terre roundtrip day pass costs approximately 37 EUR per adult and 15 EUR per child (6 to 11). An afternoon pass which is only valid later in the day, is about 28 EUR. If you will only be in the 5 main towns of Cinque Terre, the pass is approximately 30 EUR and 23 EUR for the afternoon only. The ferry pass allows you to get on and off the boat as frequently as you’d like. You can also buy point to point tickets that cost about 5 Euros within Cinque Terre’s 5 towns, and up to 25 Euros to reach other nearby cities.

Jenny’s Tip: Ferries usually run from late March to early November, however if Cinque Terre is really busy and the sea is not too rough, you may find a ferry operating outside these months. For 2024 ferry timetables and prices: visit the Navigazione Golfo Homepage

The ferry is a fairly affordable option, but it can be extremely crowded, especially in summer. During busy periods the lines to board can be outrageously long. But there are some additional options.

Private Boat Options

If you want to make the most of your time in Cinque Terre, it may be worth splurging a little. A private boat is amazing because there are no lines, you can come and go from town to town on your own schedule, and have all the space to take photos. This option is also great as it may incorporate other activities such as a swim in the Med. Additionally, you can often leave your personal belongings on your boat while walking around, and return for a break from the crowds. Usually the captain can provide interesting local information too.

This Private Boat Tour Stops in Cinque Terre, allows for great views and photos from the sea, and offers snorkeling, Prosecco, and a culinary tasting.

This Private Boat Tour is also very popular, offers stops for all the photos and swimming, enters some private coves, and serves the local delicacies, focaccia and pesto onboard.

Keep in mind that it is very easy to intermix any of the 3 transportation options discussed to really get a diverse experience. So, you could start off with your morning hiking from one town to the next, then after a look around, train between the next two, and arrive at the last town via a sunset boat!

This small group Sunset Boat Tour is Unforgettable! It includes an aperitivo, a snorkel, a tour from the water of the 5 villages, and a sunset from the sea.

Sunset in Cinque Terre

Other Boat Tours

If a private boat tour is not right for you, book This Boat Tour on a Traditional Ligurian Wooden “Gozzo” Boat, carved by a famous shipwright. It has a maximum of 12 people and offers magnificent views, a swim with snorkels and pool noodles, local drinks and snacks, and a guide who shares heritage and trivia.

If you prefer to be the Captain of your own ship, try This Kayaking Tour which includes sunbathing and a swim at the beach, snacks and a sunset depending on the time you reserve.

Unique Ways to Visit Cinque Terre Italy

The last 2 options offer completely different experiences, depending on your personality, desires, and budget.

Backpacking

The backpacker lifestyle is popular amongst Cinque Terre tourists and is definitely a way to experience the area. 

Visiting as a backpacker, potentially on a more economical budget, may entail staying in one of the many cute, no frills guest rooms scattered throughout the towns. Most are located within walking distance of all of the town’s amenities, so choose the town that best fits your needs. Alternatively, choose plush stops such as This Lovely Hotel.

Traveling as a backpacker does entail hiking, but not as a 1 or 2 town day hiker. This is more of an outdoor experience, where instead of leaving your belongings at your accommodation and heading out for your day, everything you are traveling with is on your back. This experience involves spending a great deal of time enjoying the trails and wilderness as well as the towns. It also likely will include a visit or overnight to the cute towns that sit high above the 5 major Cinque Terre towns, such as San Bernadino. It also may involve some of the beautiful and less traveled trails within the Cinque Terre park area.

If you are fit and able, moving between towns with all of your belongings, and therefore no concern of having to backtrack, is a very freeing feeling. Experiencing the nature, trails, and breathtaking views, as the locals did for centuries, is a very special way to tour this spectacular destination.

See Jenny in Wanderland post, How to Choose the Best Travel Backpack

Bus

I should mention that there is a bus that goes from the high up towns like San Bernadino, down to the parking areas just before the village centers and also runs to some of the other areas of Cinque Terre, I found that it tends to run infrequently and is not always on schedule, but it is available nonetheless if you do need to hitch a ride.

Bus in Cinque Terre

5 of 5 Ways to visit Cinque Terre Italy

The last way to visit Cinque Terre is on a guided tour. A tour can be helpful if you are staying in another city and are short on time, if you are traveling alone, or if you just want to meet other travelers. An Advantage of a day tour is that you do not have to find an accommodation. They can be quite full in certain months. Sometimes it just works out better to choose a major city as your “home base.” Then do all of your travels from there as day trips. This is especially great if you are staying for a period of time and rent an apartment or house.

One very unique way to visit Cinque Terre is from high above on horseback. This tour takes 2-3 lucky riders on an amazing tour from a completely different perspective.

Driving in Cinque Terre

Arriving by your own car can be scary and challenging. Roads are narrow and winding with sharp curves, high above the sea. There can be a great deal of traffic as they are mostly one lane in each direction. Note that it is not possible to drive between towns. Parking is extremely difficult and can be expensive.

If you do decide to come by car, there are a few lots in Monterosso. From there you have to take a taxi into town or walk on the road. Some street parking is available, but it is difficult to find a spot. There is also a small lot between Riomaggiore and Manarola and one in the small town high above Vernazza at the church. There is a bus along the top road above towns that runs, but it is not always on schedule. So a tour is an excellent option.

Parking Lot in Monterosso Cinque Terre

Consider renting one of these great apartments in Florence and day tripping.

Reserve this all day tour from Florence to Cinque Terre that includes all Cinque Terre towns and a mixture of train and ferry. It even includes an optional hike and time to swim in the sea.

Or Book this small group tour from Pisa now. These are both excellent options that provide transportation.

Whichever way you choose to visit Cinque Terre, it is an amazing place that has stolen my heart every time I return. Even though the towns may be small, there is so much to do and see and enjoy, I never feel like there is enough time. Buon Viaggio!


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