There are some places in the world where you arrive and find yourself disappointed; the overly saturated colors you see in blogs and Instagram don’t quite live up to your expectations once you see the real thing. This was not the case, however, with Cinque Terre. Located in Northwest Italy on the Italian Riviera lies the beautiful coastal town of Cinque Terre, which literally translates to “Five Lands” and includes the five quaint villages of: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso, listed from East to West. (It took us a good five days to finally remember the village names.)
Cinque Terre was added as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. We visited in August, which is the busiest and hottest time of the year. The best time to visit is in June and September when it isn’t too hot for hiking, and the crowds have mellowed out. We spent a total of one week in Cinque Terre and stayed in an Airbnb in a small village called Villafranca, a 40-minute drive by car to get to La Spezia train station, which is the jumping off point to travel to the five villages. Prices for Airbnb and hotels in August in the villages were outrageous, so we opted to stay outside the villages since we had a rental car. We took our time exploring 1 – 2 villages each day, and returning to our favorite village (Corniglia) twice.
How Much Time Should You Spend In Cinque Terre?
It is possible to see everything and even hike between villages in two days, but that would be rushing it. My recommendation is to stay at least three days, but if you have the flexibility and you enjoy swimming, hiking and eating seafood, then five days is the perfect amount of time to visit Cinque Terre. The towns are tiny…I’m talking, so small that you can walk through in about ten minutes. However, the magic is in the sea, and that is where we spent most of our time.
How to Get to Cinque Terre
Unless you are staying in one of the villages (Monterosso is the largest), La Spezia is the closest town and also where the train station is located. Train tickets cost €4 per person one-way, regardless of how short or far a distance you are going. You must purchase your tickets at the train station (there are self-service machines and agents as well as an informational help desk with a live person). Once you purchase your train ticket, be sure to stamp it in the green machine before boarding the train. Trains run every half hour until midnight.
Which Ticket Should You Buy?
There are several different ticket types depending on what you want to do and the time frame you have available. There is a one-day and a two-day pass, which includes unlimited train rides PLUS hiking between the villages. We purchased the day pass, which was €16 per person, valid for one day only. This was well worth it, because we did some hiking and took several train rides between the villages when it got too hot. This ticket also includes the buses that go in between the villages.
*TIP*: Don’t play dumb and try to get away with boarding the train without a ticket. There was a ticket checker on nearly every train ride, and they are serious about cracking down on people who don’t follow the rules. We saw an Aussie couple our age get caught with an expired two-day pass that they claimed they thought was good for three days. The train cop wasn’t having it. He spoke loudly and clearly, ensuring everybody could hear so that he could make an example out of them, and it sure worked! The normal fine is over €100 per person, but he “felt nice” that day and only fined them €52 per person, which they had to pay in cash on the spot. Don’t be that couple! I imagine it ruined their whole day.
Trail Maintenance and Closures
Several hiking trails between some villages are closed for trail maintenance depending on time of year and weather. When we visited, the only trails that were open were between Monterosso (the last, most Western village) and Vernazza, and Vernazza to Corniglia. The rest of the trails were closed, however, there are alternate routes (marked in red on the map) that go through the mountains and are a bit more strenuous and take longer (approximately three hours). Because we have done so much hiking on this trip, our goal was to stay by the sea for as long as possible.
We took the boat from Rio Maggiore to the next village of Manarola. Boat tickets can be purchased near the dock and cost €5 per person, only €1 more than the train, and it’s a lovely ride and much cooler than the hot, sometimes non-air conditioned trains. Ride time is approximately 10 minutes to Manarola.
Cinque Terre was by far our favourite region of Italy and one that we would return to in a heartbeat. When you spend your days eating mussels and fish straight from the source, swimming in crystal clear turquoise seas and eating gelato while walking through villages high up on the cliff side, I would say that’s a pretty good life indeed.
Aloha! My name is Lisa and I am the writer and photographer behind Cultural Foodies. In 2014 I traded rubber flip flops, bikinis and kukui nut leis for warm boots, fleece scarves and REI gear when I moved from O'ahu, Hawai'i to Seattle, Washington. I lived in the Emerald City for four years where I met my now husband, Sasha. In 2017 we left our corporate careers to travel abroad for half a year, visiting ten countries and over 50 cities. We are currently based on the island of O'ahu, Hawai'i and continue to write and travel!