“Cinque Terre” means Five Lands in Italian. It is made of five picturesque towns, perched along the rugged cliffside of the Italian Riviera. In each of the towns you will find colourful buildings, open terraces, steep winding streets, sweet elderly men whistling, dozens of fishing boats, mountains covered in vineyards and some of the best fresh produce and wine Italy has on offer. There is something so wistful and romantic about each of these towns. The streets are narrow and buildings are tall, all painted a faded pastel taking you back to eras past.
While they are filled with day-trippers from around midday to 6pm, once the sunsets a sense of quiet descends and you can hear the waves crashing into the marina below your window. The steep mountains behind each town are lined with vineyards and gather clouds quickly and regularly, meaning sunshine and calm turquoise seas one day, and misty, windy, white-capped seas the next.
Apart from getting lost within the windy streets and boutique stores in the five towns, I suggest eating as much local produce as possible, reading a good book in the afternoon sun by the marina with a bottle of local wine, hiking the trail between the towns, and watching sun set over the sea every evening.
How to get there:
FlixBus or Train
How to get around:
What & where to eat:
Local Deli, gelato, fish & chips, pizza & foccacia, Enoteca D'uu Scintu and Primo Piatto in Riomaggiore
Where to stay:
Hostels or AirBnB
Budget for 1 day:
How long to stay:
What to see & do:
Explore each town, hike from Riomaggiore to Monterosso
Portofino & Levanto
How to get there
The closest major towns to Cinque Terre are La Spezia (south) and Genoa or Levanto (north). These towns are very well connected with all of Italy and bordering countries by train, and Flix Bus also offers a connection to La Spezia from a number of other Italian cities including Milan, Rome and Venice.
Milan also has direct train connections to the last town Montenegro regularly. See Go Euro or Trenitalia for schedule information. From La Spezia you can catch the local train that takes roughly 15 minutes to the first town of Riomaggiore, and then continues to all the towns.
How to get around
The best way to travel between each town is the train, which usually runs every half hour during the peak time of the day and the busy months of the year (June – September), and tickets cost €4. You can purchase them from the ticket office or ticket machines at the stations.
Remember to validate the ticket on the platform by inserting them into the small white & green machines attached to poles until you hear a stamping sound. Do so before boarding as inspectors are common and without a stamp on your ticket, it is not valid and you will be fined.
During the summer months, trains are often overpacked with tourists so be prepared to squish on or wait for the next to come by.
Where to eat
While dining out is a must at least once during your stay, the small delis are also my weakness in Cinque Terre. Each store displays their fresh produce on stands out the front, coupled with their fresh bread baked every morning and array of local jams and preserves, homemade pesto sauce, and olives the size of plums. Grab yourself some bread, jams, cured meats and cheese, a handful of locally grown mandarins and a bottle of wine, and you’ll be set for a few days while spending not even €15.
An obvious must-have. Pistachio flavour is one of the best!
Fish & Chips
Many of the towns sell the Italian version of fish and chips; fried anchovies, calamari and fries, wrapped in a paper cone and ready to go. This locally caught seafood dish is perfect for a quick dinner when you return from a busy day exploring, and won’t break your budget with most cones costing €8.
Pizza & Foccaia
As with most Italian towns, pizza by the slice or focaccia are always a quick and cheap option for a meal. Don’t pay more than €4 for a piece as the average in the area is around €2.
Enoteca D'uu Scintu
In Riomaggore towards the top left of the town, is this small wine store stocking a wide range of locally grown Cinque Terre wines. A 375ml bottle – perfect for one – costs only €3.50!
Also in Riomaggore, is this small hole-in-the-wall shop, located towards the top of the town on the left, offers a take away box of freshly cooked pasta for only €5. Choose your pasta type; from (gnocchi, penne, linguine), and your sauce; (pesto, marinara, Bolognese), dinner is sorted.
Where to stay
There are a number of hostels in each town and countless Air BnBs. If you are sharing the costs, I recommend Vista Sul Tramonto in Corniglia – this quaint and traditional apartment has a well-stocked kitchen and a small but enjoyable terrace overlooking the vineyards and sea.
An idea of costs for a day in Cinque Terre
🏠 Hostel: €20 per night
🥐 Free Breakfast at Hostel
🥪 Foccacia for lunch: €5
☕️ Gelato and espresso: €5
🍷 Take away pasta dinner with bottle of local wine: €9
How many days to spend in Cinque Terre
At least 4 to 6 days to lose yourself in each town.
What to see and do
The five towns:
Riomaggioreis the first village from La Spezia that sits in a small valley facing the sea. Fishing boats sit patiently in the rocky marina, and the pastel, rectangular houses seem to stack impossibly on the mountainside above.
This may be the oldest of the five towns, with the San Lorenzo church cornerstone dating back to 1338. Walk from the church through the main street, then along the path on the edge of the sea for a beautiful view back over the town.
Unlike the other 4 towns, Corniglia sits 100 metres high above the sea nestled between hills of vineyards and requires a lot of stairs or the local shuttle bus to reach the town from the train station below. For this reason, day trippers often miss this town making Corniglia the most quiet and traditional village, and one of my favourites.
Vernazza is the favourite town to a lot of people and is “the picture” of Cinque Terre, often seen on the cover of guidebooks and Instagram accounts. It has a main street leading to a main square, that overlooks a protected bay to swim in, or jump off the rocks to the rougher sea on the other side of the break wall. I recommend walking the first hill of the Vernazza to Monterosso trail to get the best view back over the town.
Sunbathers flock to the paid beach, but if you continue walking through the tunnel there is another beach for free in front of the town. Monterosso also has the most restaurants, cafes and shops of all of the towns that therefore draws the crowds.
Cinque Terre is famous for its hiking trail that connects the five towns from Riomaggiore to Monterosso, and brings hundreds of day trippers to the region to walk this path. During a storm in 2010, the part of the trail between Riomaggore and Manarola was washed away, and is yet to be repaired due to an ongoing financial conflict.
I suggest starting in Cornelia, and hiking through Vernazza (stopping for a drink and quick snack) then on to Monterosso, as the final part is a lengthy descend down steep stairs to Monterosso. If you begin there, those stairs upwards will be a rough start. You do need to pay to do the hike – the path is manned from sunrise to sunset. You can purchase a hike path at any tourist information point at each of the town’s train stations and at the town square in Corneglia.
Levanto is a larger town about 5 minutes past Monterosso on the train. There seems to be more locals here compared to the 5 towns, or other Italians enjoying a beachside holiday. With stretches of sandy beaches, it is very popular during the summer months. There are plenty of quaint beachside bars to discover, perfect to watch the surfers wait for some swell with an afternoon prosecco.
Portofino is just an hour from the Cinque Terre by train. Hop off at Santa Margherita Liguria. Spend some time in SML, look around the harbour, admire the interesting painted buildings and soak up some lovely views over the town towards the mountains. You have three options getting from SML to Portafino - the ferry, the bus, or you can walk. The walk is about an hour around the coastal road, but is completely flat, easy and allows you to gaze at the incredible castle-like villas along the way.
Find a harbourside restaurant and enjoy the gentle sound of the waves against the boats in the harbour and quiet chatter of the bustling cafes. Be aware, there are no bargains here – food is pricy but enjoy the moment.
After lunch head around the harbour up to the Chiesa di San Martino church, then on to Castello Brown where you can get stunning views back down to the marina. Entrance to the Castello Brown costs around €5.
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