Don't miss my 3-day itinerary for Cinque Terre.
So, you've found all of the instagram shots of Cinque Terre and all the blogs tell you what to do -- but what about planning all of the logistics? I watched so many vlogs, pinned so many pins, read so many blogs, and googled so many pictures, but, like, figuring out where to stay? What village? How to get around? That information was not as available.
So, glad you're here. Consider this you Crash Course to Cinque Terre.
So Tell Me About These 5 Lands?
The Cinque Terre makes up 5 seaside villages. It’s also often referred to as 5terre. From East to West, you’ve got Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso. Each has its own charm.
And….Where Should I Stay?
If you’re totally lost and confused– you are not alone. I really struggled with figuring out where to stay. Which village was the best? The worst? The most touristy? And why can’t I find Cinque Terre (or 5terre) on Airbnb or hotels.com? (Hint – search by village name).
When planning, I took to every forum, travel Facebook group, and friend I knew who had visited to ask where to stay. I really stressed over not wanting to choose the “wrong” or “bad” village. Spoiler alert –there is no wrong or bad village! They just all have something different to offer.
RIOMAGGIORE: You’ve definitely seen pictures of Riomaggiore. First village stop when coming in from La Spezia/Pisa/Florence. It is small, and also the busiest. Definitely livelier than Manarola and Corniglia. Decent number of restaurants and bars that stay open, and has a dock.
MANAROLA: This is where we stayed, only because our #1 priority was an Airbnb with the best views. We took too long deciding where to go and stay, almost everything with a view was booked. And then we found this AMAZING apartment with the most gorgeous views and we were sold.
We were SO happy with our choice. Manarola ended up being my favorite village. Quiet while having enough restaurants to enjoy an evening out. Our goal was relaxation after busy and long days of sightseeing the rest of the trip and Manarola served up exactly what we were looking for.
If you want something more lively with more nightlife, look at another village, but if you’re good with fantastic restaurants then retreating to your hotel or apartment, then I highly recommend Manarola --- and 100% recommend our apartment. It’s worth every Euro, especially if you’re on a romantic honeymoon or anniversary getaway.
CORNIGLIA: All we kept hearing was Corniglia was the only village not right on the water or with any direct access to water. So, in my head I took that to mean it was waaaay up high on the mountain. While it is high from the water (i.e. no boat/dock access) it’s not as crazy high as I expected. Corniglia came very highly recommended as the most underrated village to stay in.
While all the towns are steep once you get off the train (with the exception of parts of Monterosso al Mare), Corniglia requires a trek up 200 stairs, or in a bus to get from train station to main part of the village. So, if you or a travel companion have some mobility issues, you’re better off staying in Monterosso al Mare. If mobility is not a problem, and you’re looking for an even more quiet village than Manarola, Corniglia is the gem you’ve been looking for.
VERNAZZA: Ah Vernazza. This was the village recommended over and over and over again to us. It’s really gained in popularity as it is the village always suggested by Rick Steves. This was our first choice in part due to Rick Steves, and in part because it had some “nightlife” (aka few bars) and solid restaurant options, especially right by the water. But, in the end, views from our Airbnb ended up top priority and we missed all the best apartments.
MONTEROSSO: If mobility issues are highest concerns, then Monterosso al Mare is the right spot for you. This village is broken up in two parts – Monterosso al Mare is newer and the only part of the villages to have an actual beach. Follow the coast and go through a tunnel and you’ve found the old town of Monterosso. Lots of restaurants and the only place you’ll find a more traditional “hotel” or “resort” feel accommodation. Monterosso is the largest and one of the busiest villages.
Now, some logistics…
HOW DO I GET TO THE CINQUE TERRE? By train you’ll arrive at La Spezia train station and transfer to the Cinque Terre express train to access each of the villages. I highly recommend getting the Cinque Terre pass (you can purchase at the tourist office in the La Spezia train station, or at any of the other village train stations). This allows unlimited train rides between La Spezia and Levante, including stops in each of the five villages. It also includes free wi-fi at the train stations (although not the best), access to public restrooms, and entry into the Cinque Terre National Park – which you’ll need if you plan on doing any hiking. You can get the pass for either 24, 48, or 72 hours.
FROM FLORENCE: We arrived in the Cinque Terre by train from Florence bright and early. The quickest and shortest train ride in is once a day departing Firenze Campo Di Marte train station at 7:38 am, arriving in La Spezia at 9:11 am (double check train schedules!). Other trains have a transfer in Pisa and take longer. This made for an easier trek and maximized our time in Cinque Terre.
FROM ROME OR MILAN: You may want to come in a night earlier to make the most of your time. Recommended train from Rome (with transfer in Pisa) or Milan to La Spezia.
FROM OTHER RIVIERA TOWNS: Find a regional train that takes you into Monterosso or Riomaggiore. To access other towns you’ll need to transfer at either of those stations via Cinque Terre Express train.
WHAT IF I HAVE A CAR? Driving in any of the Cinque Terre villages is not ideal – cars are prohibited from each of the villages, so you’ll have to find parking above each village at a pricey €20 a night – and it’s pretty limited. Or there’s a parking lot in La Spezia where you can leave your car and then rely on the express train. Trains make it so easy to get from village to village. So unless you can’t get rid of a car for the rest of your trip, I highly recommend train.
GETTING FROM TOWN TO TOWN: You can hike, train, or even take a ferry. Note that as of press time (January 2018), most of the lower hiking trails – including the Villa Dell’Amore -- are closed to renovations. 2011 brought devastating flooding and landslides to the villages and the hiking trails. You can currently hike from Monterosso to Vernazza, then from Vernazza to Corniglia but that’s about it for the lower trail. You can follow trails through all five towns if you take a tougher network of trails but allocate about 8 hours for that (plus stops in each town).