If you have not crossed Cinque Terre in your Instagram and Pinterest scrolling over the years, I’d be very very surprised. This place is a hotspot for travellers to Europe and I understand why – each of the five colourful seaside villages that make up the Cinque Terre area are breath-taking. Seen from the hiking trail that connects each of the five villages, the Sentiero Azzurro, from the water or from viewpoints in the villages themselves, the multicoloured houses crammed one on top of another make for a pretty unforgettable sight. Although you could probably stay here for several days, taking your time to really explore each of the five villages, Cinque Terre can also be done as a day trip from Florence, Tuscany or Pisa. Here’s my guide to one perfect day visiting Cinque Terre!
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There’s a train system that connects the five villages, and it’s pretty inexpensive and efficient. A pass for the day can be bought from La Spezia train station and costs 16 EUR. The drive to the Spezia train station will take you just under 2 hours from Florence, or just under an hour from Pisa. Parking is very affordable. When at the train station, keep in mind that this pass cannot be bought at one of the regular machines and must be purchased at the Cinque Terre tourism centre at the station.
Another popular option for getting from one village to another is the hiking train that connects the villages, the Sentiero Azzurro. At the time of writing, the first two bits of the hiking trail (Riomaggiore to Manarola and Manarola to Corniglia) were closed. The trek from Corniglia to Vernazza will take you 1.5 hours, whereas the path from Vernazza to Monterosso is estimated to take 2 hours. Keep in mind that you MUST have proper hiking boots/shoes if you would like to hike these trails. This is mandated by the organization that runs the Cinque Terre National Park and you can face fines for disrespecting these rules. If you plan to hike on a day trip, note that you will likely have to cut out one or two of the villages – doing all five by train is tight enough as is!
a.m. - riomaggiore & manarola: After purchasing your train ticket, hop on the next train headed to the Cinque Terre villages. Get off at the first stop for Riomaggiore. From the station, head to your right towards the Vista Panoramica di Riomaggiore. Here is where you’ll get the best views of the village!
If you’re hungry, make sure to stop at one of the many stalls selling fried seafood in a cone. You’ll see tons of people in Riomaggiore toting these around, but we didn’t see them in other villages so now’s your chance!
You’ll notice pretty quickly that the weather can be extremely hot in the Cinque Terre villages, even in the fall. We visited in September and were absolutely melting! Grab a couple cold beers to accompany you on your stroll through the village.
Next up, get back on the train to Manarola. This has got to be one of, if not the most, beautiful village! The atmosphere here is buzzing – lots of people tanning on the rocks that line the water or jumping in for a cool-off. For the best viewpoint here, head towards Nessun Dorma restaurant on Google Maps. You’ll find a walkway that offers amazing views of this super colourful village.
If you plan to stop at a restaurant for lunch while in Cinque Terre, Nessun Dorma is the one! This place has lots of good sandwiches, bruschetta and cold cocktails – the perfect escape from the beating sun. Oh, and the views are pretty incredible! Expect a line-up here – we went in September and we still had to wait.
After lunch, head down to the rocks for a swim. The water is refreshing and crystal clear.
p.m. - corniglia, vernazza & monterosso al mare: Head back to the train station and get off at Corniglia, the next village along the coast. Keep in mind that Corniglia is the least visited village in Cinque Terre, and there are a couple reasons why. First off, it is probably the least accessible village in the sense that you must walk uphill for ~15 minutes to get to the village itself from the train station, or hop on a shuttle that fills up quite quickly. Not being willing to do the walk sounds quite lazy, but we were visiting in extreme heat and literally one step felt like too much. Second of all, it’s probably the least picturesque village of them all. From what I could see, Corniglia is a good place to visit the beach, and not so much to get those epic Cinque Terre views. If you’re starting to run out of time and are looking for a village to skip, this would be the one.
However if you’re like me and absolutely want to tick all five villages off your list, I won’t dissuade you! Swing by Scalinata Lardarina (a long, steep staircase with a panoramic terrace), head down to the beach or grab gelato at Alberto Gelateria.
Two more villages to go! Once arrived at Vernazza, stop for a drink in the square or head straight to the best viewpoint of the village. For this, follow signs to the hiking trail towards Monterosso Al Mare.
It’s definitely uphill but will only take you 10-20 minutes to get to. Once you’re at the viewpoint, you’ll know. I think Vernazza is right up there, tied with Manarola in terms of beauty.
The last stop on your Cinque Terre day trip is a little different than the rest! Although Monterosso Al Mare doesn’t seem to have those same iconic, colourful buildings that Cinque Terre is so renowned for, its beach is just beautiful (and very welcome after a long day in the heat). You can pay to have a lounger, or just set up shop on the beach for free (keep an eye out for the area without loungers).
The water here is insanely clear, and being in the sea around the same time the sun starts to go down is absolutely magical.
In retrospect, we would’ve started our day a little earlier (getting to La Spezia at 11:30 meant a bit of a late start!) so we could enjoy even more time just swimming and hanging out in Monterosso Al Mare.
Once you’ve had your fill of the sea, head back on the train towards La Spezia to wrap up a perfect day in Cinque Terre!
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what to pack.
✧ reusable mask - wearing a mask both indoors & outdoors (!!) in cinque terre is mandatory due to covid-19
✧ refillable water bottle to keep you hydrated in the insane heat that blesses/curses cinque terre