Visiting Cinque Terre: the complete guide

The Cinque Terre, also known as the flower Riviera, stand on the bucket list on many travelers. These five picturesque villages in Liguria are built amidst mountains and rocky landscapes that border the wild and fuming sea. Sometimes the rocks themselves are so steep that you would think the houses might slide off.
The brightly colored houses are put amidst a very beautiful nature, and it's not surprising that this part of Italy was declared a national park in 1997.
The beauty of Cinque Terre quickly got discovered with the help of photos and social media, making it a very busy place in high season. Nevertheless Cinque Terre remains a beautiful part of Italy and I certainly recommend hiking the villages and the nature surrounding these rocky towns.

 

Read more about…
 How to get around   |    How long do you need   |    Day trip to Cinque Terre   |    Hiking paths   |   Things to do in the surrounding area   |    Extra tips

cinque terre visit

What are the Cinque Terre?

The Cinque Terre are five beautiful villages located between gorgeous hiking trails.
This adventure is a top attraction in Italy for hiking enthusiasts, because you have several dozens of miles of hiking trails that connect each of the villages with each other. The five fishing villages -Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso- are all very small but also very charming.

The nice thing about these ‘five countries’ (= cinque terre) is that there is such a nice change between the towns and nature. Moreover, the colorful houses of Cinque Terre are fitting so perfectly in their environment that it looks like the towns are an all natural phenomenon.

Those looking for a city trip with a lot of sights and activities might be better skipping the flower riviera. It’s mainly the vast nature, the cute houses and the relaxing walks that make up all of the activities here.

vernazza cinque terre

Vernazza, one of the five colorful villages that belong to this national park.

How to get around in Cinque Terre

You can not fly directly to Cinque Terre, but the airport of Milan, Pisa, Genoa and Florence (Firenze) are all relatively close. From there you only have to take the train to Cinque Terre, and basically… That’s it. Now you can enjoy your holiday.

I really recommend exploring the five villages by public transport. It’s really not useful to rent a car in Cinque Terre because you can’t drive around in Cinque Terre anyway. If you do rent a car, you must always leave it in an expensive parking garage and I think that’s just a waist of money.
In addition, there are almost non-stop bus and train connections between the villages. If you prefer to travel on the water there is also the possibility to take the ferry, rent a private boat or canoe from one island to another.

Public transport in Cinque Terre

There are three possibilities of visiting Cinque Terre with the help of public transport.

Train

The easiest and most accessible way to explore the colorful cities is by taking the train.
You pay €4 per train ride. If you plan to visit all villages, you’d better purchase a day pass. It costs €16 and is valid until midnight on all trains that run between the Cinque Terre national park. On top of that you get a couple of extras with this day ticket, and thus this is probably the most economical option.

Bus

There are two types of buses that connect the villages (more or less) with each other.

The green buses cost €2.50 per ride (€1.50 if you purchase your tickets from the tourist information points and free if you have a Cinque Terre Card). Important to know is that these buses do not go from one village to another! From each of the Cinque Terre cities they make a tour to lesser known places in Liguria. The exact bus routes are these:

  • Riomaggiore – Monesteroli – Biassa – Telegrafo
  • Manarola – Groppo – Cantina – Volastra
  • Corniglia Stazione (train station) – Corniglia paese (center of Corniglia)
  • Vernazza – Sant. Reggio – Drignana – Fornacchi – S. Bernardino – Murro – Vernazzola
  • Monterosso – Santuario di Soviore

The Explora 5 Terre buses are a private bus company that runs between the different villages. They are a less crowded alternative to trains and run from 8:30 in the morning to 10:00 in the evening.
You pay a lot for these buses, however. A day pass costs €22 per person, and for kids from four to twelve you pay €17. If you combine the Explora Pass with the Cinque Terre Card you pay €26 for both.

The bus routes for the Explora buses are the following:

  • La Spezia – La Spezia Central train station
  • La Spezia – Piazza Mercato
  • Riomaggiore – Castello (above the castle)
  • Riomaggiore – Lavaccio (All the way up Riomaggiore, near the roundabout and the parking lot)
  • Manarola – Piazza della Chiesa (Near the church)
  • Groppo – Cantina Sociale (At the building of the Cinque Terre wine cooperative)
  • Volastra
  • San Bernardino
  • Corniglia (central square)
  • San Bernardino
  • Vernazza (near the parking lot)

Ferry boat

A nice way to see Cinque Terre in a different way is by boat. This is a lot more expensive than by train or bus, but the views certainly make up for the extra fee.
For a full day you pay €25. If you only want to go sailing in the afternoon you pay €20.
If you want to visit Portovenere together with the five villages, you pay €33 for a day ticket.

cinque terre ferry

The ferry is slower than the train or bus, but you get a unique view!

How long should you be visiting Cinque Terre?

How long you should spend in this part of Liguria depends of course partly on yourself and on what you want to do / see.
In fact, a visit to the five villages is perfectly doable in one day if you make smart use of the public transport. In that case I definitely recommend the Cinque Terre Card.
If you want to plan some walking routes during your visit, you have to count on two to four hours extra per walk. Visiting all villages with one of the (shorter) hikes is still manageable.

For me, three days seems ideal. With three days you certainly have enough time to enjoy the fishing villages and at the same time relax and do some hiking.
I was there five days myself, but that really is way too much. The villages are tiny, and you can’t  keep exploring them of course… If your visit to the Cinque Terre is a little too long, I recommend arranging a day trip to other villages or towns in Liguria. A little further in this article you read more about this possibility.

manarola cinque terre

Manarola, the second village that you can visit in the national park.

Cinque Terre day trip

Cinque Terre is quite touristy, and therefore also quite expensive to spend the night.
If you have booked a holiday to Florence, Livorno or Milan then you are close to the national park, so you can easily book a day trip to Cinque Terre.

A day excursions from one of the above cities takes ten to thirteen hours, but this way you see all the highlights at once and everything is perfectly arranged for you down to the last detail. For a day trip to Cinque Terre you pay between $115 / £80 / €90 and $165 / £115 / €130 per person. Please do pay attention to what is included and what is not.

You can book tours online here:

 

» All day trips to Cinque Terre

Hiking the Cinque Terre

Over the years, Cinque Terra has become one of the most visited attraction of Italy. The unparalleled, authentic villages located along the coast make you dream about la dolce vita. You must’ve absolutely hiked the Cinque Terre during a visit to the Boot of Europe. To make it easier for you, I give you an overview of the five best walking routes of Cinque Terre.

The five villages of Cinque Terre

In total, Cinque Terre consists of five towns that are all connected by an old system of hiking trails. Riomaggiore is the largest town and therefore it serves as the unofficial capital of the region. Manarola is best known for its delicious wine and Corniglia is the only village that isn’t directly connected with the sea. From here you can also take beautiful pictures of the other villages. Vernazza has a charming harbor and ditto amphitheater and finally there is Monterosso, the only place with a beach.

monterosso cinque terre

Monterosso is the largest city, and is therefore -according to me- the least picturesque.

Walking around the Cinque Terre

Walking in Cinque Terre is perhaps one of the nicest and most beautiful activities you can do in Italy. With the sea as a constant traveling companion and a beautifully varied landscape of farms and forests, every step is to enjoy. Unfortunately, since the 2011 floods, several hiking trails have been damaged, so that they can occasionally be closed (whether or not under the influence of recent weather conditions). Take a close look at the official website of the park before you plan your walking tour through the Cinque Terre. From May to September, guided walks are also offered on a daily basis.

The 5 best hiking trails of Cinque Terre

Monterosso – Vernazza

Difficulty: average
Distance: 3.5 km or 2.15 miles
Duration: one and a half hours
The path starts with a long staircase that takes you through vineyards and lemon orchards. In terms of slopes it’s very good to do, although some pieces are quite narrow, without really being protected on the sea side. The view of this sea is then again beautiful and you also pass along an old stone bridge, which is the perfect setting for some great pictures. When you’re descending you get a magnificent view of Vernazza, passing next to olive trees and fields you’ll soon notice that you’re in paradise. Finally you end up in the charming harbor of Vernazza.

Vernazza – Corniglia

Difficulty: average
Distance: 4 km or 2.5 miles
Duration: one and a half to two hours
This walk will take you to Punta Palma, which is 208 meters (682 ft) above sea level. From here you can also absorb the environment. During this walking route of the Cinque Terre you’ll get great views of the beach of Guvano, as well as the olive groves and vineyards. You end up in the small town of Corniglia.

Corniglia – Manarola

Difficulty: easy
Distance: 3 km or 1.85 miles
Duration: one hour
For this hiking tour of the Cinque Terre you walk along the railway line, which means that there are hardly any differences in altitude. After a while you end up at Holiday Village Europa, where you can even swim and enjoy a drink. If you walk a bit further you arrive at an excellent place to picnic, with a view of the nice harbor of Manarola.

Manarola – Riomaggiore

Difficulty: easy
Distance: 1.5 km or 1 mile
Duration: half an hour
This walk is also known as the ‘Via dell’Amore’ (Path of Love) and is the most popular walking route of Cinque Terre. Unfortunately, this involves a lot of tourists (especially in high season). The walking path is carved out of stone and follows the coastline. Not much later you end up in the particularly colorful Riomaggiore, which serves as the sign of Cinque Terre of which you have undoubtedly already seen a lot of photos. Unfortunately, this path is currently being renovated (2018), but it should soon open again. Keep an eye on the official website to check the progress.

Levanto – Monterosso

Difficulty: average
Distance: 8 km or 5 miles
Duration: three hours
At the end of the promenade in Levanto you follow the stairs to the castle that brings you through the pine forests and get offered a beautiful view. Then continue to Punta Mesco and follow the path to the ruins of the San Antonio Chapel and the old lighthouse. From here you also get a great panoramic view over the five villages of Cinque Terre.

cinque terre walk

During your walk through Cinque Terre you get beautiful views!

Three golden tips for hiking from uncle Sam

  • Of course, take good walking shoes with you! I noticed a couple of tourists trying to walk the Cinque Terre with flip-flops. No. Just no.
  • If you want to avoid the heat, you should go hiking in Cinque Terre in May or September. Don’t forget to take enough water with you!
  • Don’t forget to taste the Cinque Terre DOC wine (after the walk)! Bonus tip: if you’re traveling by car, be sure to keep a limit to the tasting!

hiking cinque terre

A walk in Cinque Terre takes you from rocky cliffs to beautiful nature, through cute villages. Don’t forget your walking shoes!

Things to do near Cinque Terre

Portovenere

According to some, Cinque Terre isn’t made out of five, but six villages. That sixth village should then be Portovenere.
This picturesque town is located just before Riomaggiore and La Spezia (the ‘central station’ of Cinque Terre), but can not be reached by train.
You can only go there by bus, ferry or even better: on foot.

The hike from Riomaggiore to Portovenere is in my opinion one of the most beautiful you can make in this national park. The gorgeous landscapes that you encounter along the way are indescribably magnificent!
A large part of this hike takes you along steep cliffs that lead downwards perpendicularly, but from there you also get wonderful panoramas of the blue sea that lies a few hundred feet below you.

The closer you get to Portovenere, the better the views become. From up high you can see the contours of the coast better and better, and eventually you also see the city and its walls from the air.

Portovenere is very different from the villages of Cinque Terre. You will not find colorful houses in the middle of rocky landscapes, but a cozy boulevard with nice restaurants and nice souvenir shops. In the city center itself you have some level differences but all in all it’s quite easy to walk around here.
Don’t miss out on the castle, the church and the ramparts at the back of the town. They made me think a bit of the set of ‘Game of Thrones’!

portovenere cinque terre church

The church of Portovenere. She looks beautiful from the outside, but just wait until you enter!

Genoa

Genoa is the capital of Liguria and is located only two hours from La Spezia (the ‘central station’ of the Cinque Terre region).
Although I had initially made no plans to visit this city, I am glad that I did.
Here, in contrast to the villages of the national park, there are some sights that you should definitely see. Moreover, it’s not touristy at all, and you can thus explore a real metropolis of Italy without the crowds.

Be sure to visit the Cattedrale di San Lorenzo. Especially from the outside it looks beautiful! If you’re traveling with children, you can also discover the Acquario di Genova. This is one of the largest aquariums in the world, so adults can enjoy it too!
I recommend visiting Genoa only if you can miss a full day out of your itinerary. After all, it takes you about four hours to go and return, and you definitely need a few hours to walk around the city itself.

Perhaps the name ‘Genoa’ rings a bell. That has to do with the ‘Pesto Genovese’, the local specialty. If you go to Genoa, I also recommend trying this delicacy on the spot.

genoa cinque terre

Genoa is huge! You can easily spend a few hours there.

Important to know when you visit Cinque Terre

  • Because the Cinque Terre are so popular with millions of tourists, the Italian government has decided to protect the local culture. They do so by limiting the number of tourists. Every year, only 1.5 million tourists can visit the walking routes of Cinque Terre.
  • The hiking trails can sometimes close unannounced. This is a result of heavy rain, mudflows or sunken hiking trails. There are more than enough hiking trails that you can do; so don’t get upset and just go looking for an alternative!
riomaggiore cinque terre

Riomaggiore is the first town of Cinque Terre. From the harbor you get a beautiful sunset!

Cinque Terre Card

The Cinque Terre card can be purchased at the train station of Riomaggiore. It saves you money if you plan to take the train several times between the villages. This card is valid for one day and gives you many benefits. You get an unlimited number of train rides (normally €4 per stop) to La Spezia or Levanto, free access to certain hiking trails (normally €7.50 per walk), the bus to Biassa, public toilets (normally €1 each time), and you can use the WiFi connection available in the train stations.

Kayaking in Cinque Terre

You can rent a kayak in almost every town of Cinque Terre. Prices vary widely, so be sure to compare. I rented my kayak in Vernazza and only paid €5 per hour (single kayak). In Riomaggiore I also saw a rental company, but there they charged €10 per hour.

Luggage storage

Are you in Cinque Terre just for one day? Or do you want to enjoy your last day without having to go back to your hotel? Then fortunately there is also a luggage storage in Riomaggiore. You can find this storage place at the train station.
You also have options in La Spezia. There you can leave your luggage at platform 1 of the train station.

kayaking cinque terre

Kayaking in Cinque Terre is also a good way to move from town to town. But beware: it can be tiring!

Whether you opt for a short hike, go walking all day in Cinque Terre or explore the villages by train or car: as long as you visit this beautiful region, you’re fine. The number of tourists increases every year, which unfortunately also affects the hiking trails and general atmosphere. Discover quickly why the Five Earths (as it is literally called) are among my favorite places in Italy. Have you been there yourself? Let me know your experiences in the comments section! (Or if you have any more questions, you can also use the comments for that 😉 )

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Hi, I'm Sam Van den Haute. The last three years I've been traveling the world almost constantly. Heading out for an adventure and visiting the most beautiful places are what I love to do! Let me inspire you with great stories, beautiful pictures and handy tips from my adventures and travels. On my facebook page and instagram account you'll get to see the latest updates and photos to inspire you for your next vacation.
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