You’ve probably heard of the Cinque Terre before, with all sorts of different pronunciation attempts as well (the double R sound is especially hard to replicate for English-speaking tourists!)But what exactly are these famous Cinque Terre all about?!
Let’s start with the basics: People often think that Cinqueterre is just “one place” when instead the term actually refers to FIVE “areas/places”. In fact, the Italian name, Cinque Terre, translates as “The Five Lands” in English, and these refer to the following five small fishing villages along the Ligurian coast (from north to south)
Click on the Icons in the Cinque Terre map to see the details for trains, attractions &co
Lately, due to Instagram’s popularity (don’t shoot me but I hate “Instagram based” vacations!), these villages have sky-rocketed to fame as their picturesque panoramas and rainbow-colored houses provide a treat to the eyes and of course, are so much better seen in person than through a screen.
Five villages might seem daunting but don’t despair, they actually span only 170km and as such, can easily be traversed in a day if you like!
The Cinque Terre boasts stunning views and is an excellent choice for any type of traveler interested in discovering one of Italy’s most talked-about treasures. They have even been given a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation in 1997 and as a result, are visited by a staggering 2.4 million tourists per year!
Riomaggiore beautiful night view
To say that you can see all the Cinque Terre in a day might sound like a lie, but if the verb I’m using is “see”, you can absolutely do it!
As with any destination, to experience a place for real, it requires more time and a slower pace, but if you have a strict itinerary, like the Italy Road trip I’ve designed for you from Rome to Lake Como, don’t stress, you can fit Cinque Terre into it without any problem.
I know of many people who prefer to be independent and organize their own trip (and I’m among those people)…. BUT, sometimes the best way to coordinate a shorter visit is to take advantage of organized tours.
In my opinion, and after 15 years of travel experience all over the world, I know there are pros and cons when you choose one option over the other. This is one of those cases where an organized tour might come in handy (same goes for the Amalfi coast).
Sure you can do them independently, but to give you a better idea before you start planning your Italian vacation, I will write another more in-depth article where I will describe the pros and cons of both, why organized tours literally saved my vacation a couple of times and why sometimes I avoid them like the plague = Not all organized tours were born equal after all!
-The pros and cons + suggestions-
Being Italian, and loving my country to pieces, is obviously much easier for me to check out the tours, see what they offer, and decide which ones are the best in terms of quality and money. I can’t say that I’ve seen them all, but… I’m pretty close 🙂
I like the ones offered by CiaoFlorence, a trusted company that knows the area quite well and a few others I will mention in a specific article I’m writing about tours in Italy. One of the most convenient ones is definitely a cinque terre tour from Florence.
This can spare you the headache of trying to see the sights on your own and let you make the most of your time in this beautiful region. As already mentioned, I’ll write a few separate articles with the ones that are more convenient and trusted ones depending on where you are based.
Again…If tours are not your cup of tea, it’s completely feasible to make the trip on your own and there are multiple ways to arrive at the Cinque Terre from typical Italian city bases such as Florence, Milan and nearby La Spezia. (Check out more info on how to get there at the end of the post)
If you read the article till the end, I have a dedicated useful chapter on how to reach the Cinque Terre from the main cities (La Spezia, Florence, Milan), so keep reading!
Is Cinque Terre Really for Everyone?
Yep, totally! Anyone can and SHOULD visit the beautiful Cinque Terre! There must be a reason why the Cinque Terre is so popular right? That’s because it’s truly the ideal destination for everyone. Let’s see in a bit more detail why:
ACTIVE HOLIDAYS: If you’re an active traveler, the trails and <strong>hiking/trekking potential</strong> are endless. The most famous one that is called the “Blue Trail” which you can read about below, but there are others you can discover in the Cinque Terre National Park area.
RELAXING VACATIONS: If you rather have a more laid-back vacation, there are plenty of restaurants and cafés in which to sit down and relax for a meal or simply a drink and watch the daily Italian life go by. And trust an Italian here, there is a lot to observe while sitting in a café in Italy (it’s one of my favorite activities).
The “dolce far niente” a typical Italian expression that you might or might not know (depending on whether you have watched the movie “Eat Pray Love” or not). It literally means “The sweetness of doing nothing”.
Legend has it that Italians have mastered this art. No, we are not lazy, as many tourists describe us, we are truly able to enjoy life without rushing and by doing absolutely nothing ;). In this particular movie, they take everything to extremes of course, but “The dolce far niente” is definitely a part of our culture, just like the siesta in Mexico so to speak!
The Cinque Terre are the perfect setting for you to practice your “Dolce Far Niente” skills, try it!
BEACH LOVERS: Alternatively, beach bums will rejoice as these coastal towns clearly offer the possibility to take a swim, sunbathe, or even spend time on a boat visiting all the villages.
HISTORY & SIGHTS: Finally, like all Italian destinations, history buffs can take in the sights that include the likes of castles and churches galore. It has been suggested that the earliest documents on the Cinque Terre date back to the 11th century.
The walking trail that connects the five villages is one of the most popular things to do at a total length of 12km/7.5 miles.
It’s the perfect option for nature lovers and those who like to stay active on vacation as it passes through lush vegetation with varying steepness although the walk is generally considered low-average difficulty with the only requirement being a bit of endurance.
This documentary I have found online is simply magnificent and if you have 15 min to spend it will bring you right to the magical Cinque Terre, so worth watching it (heck It made me nostalgic in no time!)
IMPORTANT INFO: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
BEFORE YOU VISIT THE CINQUE TERRE SENTIERO AZZURRO.
Prospective tourists should keep in mind that some portions of the trail are closed due to flooding and subsequent mudslides in 2011, including a section of the popular “Lover’s Way” (also known as The Path of Love or Lover’s Trail) from Riomaggiore to Manarola.
Read one of the latest updates in here (the article is in Italian but you should have the possibility to translate it via Google). In a nutshell, it says that all of the Lover’s path (or Lover’s way) won’t be reopened before 2021. And bare in mind that I’m Italian and I know, sadly too well, how our efficiency in dealing with these kinds of situation is (unfortunately for you, not so good).
You can still go about half-way from Manarola to a bar in the middle but, as previously mentioned, the second part won’t be open until 2021. The section between Manarola and Corniglia is also currently undergoing work. Check for updates online before planning your trip.
Here is a link for the official website for the Parco Nazionale Delle Cinque Terre, with useful and updated info, not only for the Blue Path/Sentiero Azzurro but also for other interesting paths in the area. Maybe not as famous but usually all well worth it.
The most lively of these five cute little towns, Monterosso al Mare is an excellent starting point for those looking for a well-stocked town to use as a base. For more info on where to stay/hotels and B&B in Cinque Terre, I’ll give you my suggestion at the end of the each “chapter” 😉
Monterosso, It’s definitely the biggest village of the five, and the only one where you might see cars driving around through the center. It’s mainly flat, cradled by sloping hills, making it ideal for anyone who wants to avoid too much walking (especially steep hills & co)
Curious Fact About Monterosso al Mare: Did you know that the village Is a combination of two “different” ones? – there is the old and the new Monterosso – the former distinguishable by the remnants of the Fieschi Castle.
Things To Do in Monterosso:
For what kind of tourist is Monterosso suited for?
Monterosso caters to those looking to peruse the shops, sit at restaurants or at the beach and as such, emits a rather “resort-like” atmosphere that some love and some hate.
It must be noted that the beach is the biggest sandy beach amongst the Cinque Terre, so if sun and sand is your aim, head for the most westerly village, Monterosso al Mare and uses it as your base before moving along with your Italian itinerary.
Where to Stay? Best Hotels / Accommodation In Monterosso
Sitting next to Monterosso al Mare, some consider this to be the jewel in the Cinque Terre crown, she’s been referred to by other sites as “the diamond”, “the pearl”, “the beauty queen” and “the most popular girl at school”.
Well, you get the point…Vernazza is an absolute stunner and immensely popular with tourists thanks to her quaint harbor and Piazzetta, the perfect place to sit and feel like a movie star from days gone by.
Being so small (it has one main road), Vernazza can get extremely congested with tourists during high season, however, this is where you get all those amazing photos you see on social media.
But most importantly, this is where you can experience life as it might have been once upon a time in a traditional fishing village in Italy. The colors are pastel and the sea strikes a stark contrast against the backdrop of houses with gorgeous shades of blues and greens.
Things To Do in Vernazza:
For what kind of tourist is Vernazza suited for?
Needless to say, and this is valid for every tourist place, some of the quaintness is unfortunately lost when there are too many crowds, especially right at the harbour so don’t be scared to get off the beaten path and venture a bit further out, for example to the Sanctuary of Nostra Signora di Reggio,where incredible views awaits!
Where to Stay? Best Hotels / Accommodation In Vernazza
Heading towards the middle of the stretch is Corniglia, you have to climb the Scalinata Lardarina (a brick stairway with nearly 400 steps to conquer) to get to this village which is the only one that is not seaside.
If you’re feeling lazy, don’t fret, there’s a bus that takes you from the station every ten minutes or so. <strong>You might think of Corniglia like the Ravello of the Ligurian Coast. Because of all those back-breaking steps, pretty much one for every day you sin (kidding, but they are more or less one for each day of the year clocking in at 377 total).
Things To Do in Corniglia:
For what kind of tourist is Corniglia suited for?
This is the place to head if you want to attempt to escape the crowds of the above two villages, Monterosso al Mare and Vernazza.
Corniglia is characterized by all the greenery that surrounds it from its perch 100m high above the sea as well as by the fact that it’s the only town which offers a viewing point where the entire Cinque Terre are visible! Worth a stop just for the photo right?!
List Of The Best Things/Activities in Corniglia According to TripAdvisor popularity:
- Borgo Storico (Historic site) of Corniglia
- Chiesa Di San Pietro (San Pietro’s Church)
- Scalinata Lardarina
- Path n.6D -7a From Volastra to Corniglia
Where to Stay? Best Hotels / Accommodation In Corniglia
If someone tells you to picture a postcard of the Cinque Terre in your head, the view of Manarola is probably what you’re imagining right now – actually a hamlet of Riomaggiore (below), this is the oldest of the five “lands” and possibly the most photographed, although that’s hard to say due to the diverse beauty of all the towns, none of them are particularly camera-shy.
Things To Do in Manarola:
For what kind of tourist is Manarola suited for?
In addition to fishing and tourism, Manarola is particularly known for the wine: Sciacchetrà is a sweet, amber-colored wine cultivated in the hills and native to the Cinque Terre.
Before tourism exploded in this area, the wine was a strong second industry and it’s important for tourists to consider ordering a glass (it goes wonderfully with certain cheeses and desserts) when visiting and help support local families who have been winemakers for generations.
Where to Stay? Best Hotels / Accommodation In Manarola
This is the town that is closest to La Spezia so whether you want to see it immediately or “save the best for last” on your way back is up to you!
A lot of people prefer to do the latter so the build-up of excitement remains high the entire day and the view of Riomaggiore functions as the cherry on the cake.
It’s much more climactic and awe-inspiring ending a day-trip here as opposed to Monterosso. Also known for wine and its brightly-colored houses, Riomaggiore could be said to be Manarola’s bigger, more extroverted sister. Manarola, on the other hand, has a slightly more relaxed feeling about her.
Things To Do in Riomaggiore:
For what kind of tourist is Riomaggiore suited for?
The main street is Via Colombo and is a great option for an afternoon stroll and you can even follow it down to the tiny harbor. Don’t discount photo opportunities from out on the water either where you can capture the town head-on. The National Park Main Office is also located here.
Where to Stay? Best Hotels / Accommodation In Riomaggiore
-By Train-Buses-Tours & Public Transports-
How To Get To Cinque Terre From La Spezia:
The easiest way to arrive is by train as the villages are difficult to navigate by car and most are not even accessible or require that you park far away and walk into the village. There is a Cinque Terre Express train that connects the Ligurian base of La Spezia to all five towns and day passes can be bought in the station.
Important note when traveling by train: After buying the Ticket, before boarding ANY train in Italy, you have to validate it in one of the machines at the station, usually located at the beginning and along the platform. If you fail to do so, you might pay a fine of 100/200$! So look out for one of these:
How To Get To Cinque Terre booking a Tour (From Florence/Milan):
Alternatively, all the tours to the Cinque Terre have all their transportation logistics organized and depending on the tour, might use a fun combination of mini-buses, train, and even boat! You also don’t have to be in La Spezia or anywhere near there if you want to visit the Cinque Terre.
For example, if you are visiting Florence or Milan and you feel like checking out a group (or a tailor-made) tour to the Cinque Terre, make sure to consider these three options: a day trip from Florence to Cinque Terre, a Cinque Terre private tour from Florence and a day trip from Milan to Cinque Terre.
How To Get To Cinque Terre From Florence by train:
If you are based in Florence but you want to discover the beauty of Cinque Terre on a one-day or two-days trip by using public transport, you can certainly do so!
For a one day trip, consider that it will take at least 2 hours and a half (minimum, depending on what train you choose) to reach Monterosso al Mare, the village located on the northern part and the same amount of time to go back to Florence. This is not exactly ideal if you want to take your time to explore all the villages at a slow pace.
My suggestion is to book at least one night in one of the villages and then take the regional + the normal train back to Florence, making it a more relaxing 2-days trip.
As you can see on the map, You’ll need to take the train directed to Genova, stop at La Spezia and take the regional train that stops in all the villages. If you stay for the night you will have plenty of time to visit each village using the regional train or the express train from La Spezia.
Important note & the “Train Names Jungle” in Italy
All the public trains are run by Trenitalia, and you will find more than one option, some of them also stop in Pisa, making it a longer journey, so before buying your ticket make sure to check out how many stops your train will have along the way. You can do so by checking out the official Trenitalia website. The symbols “FA” “FB” “REG” etc, stands for the type of train. Below a quick recap as even a lot of Italian people don’t know what in the hell is the main difference between them all 😀
- REG: Stands for “Regional train”, usually slower, stops in more (or all) the small stations along the way and is more likely to be delayed (Not always but it happens frequently). There is also the “Regionale Veloce” (or “Fast Regional”). Which stops in less stations. This is obviously also the cheapest option.
- IC: Stand for “Intercity” and it’s a “hybrid” in between the Regional trains and the Freccia Trains. Faster than a Regional, slower than a Freccia and it stops in less stations than the normal regional trains. More confortable than the regional trains and has assigned seats. Prices are cheaper than the freccia trains.
- FA: Stands for “Freccia Argento”, faster, more comfortable than the previous two and it usually stops only in the major train stations before your finally destination. The “Freccia” trains tend to be more on time (but I wouldn’t bet my life savings on it, we are in Italy after all!).
- FB: Stands for “Freccia Bianca”. Same as before, not many differences between the two. Italians truly enjoy to over complicate things so we have 8.000 types of trains named differently and half the population doesn’t know the difference between them, or it doesn’t care as long as they get to their destination on time 🙂
- FR: Stands for “Freccia Rossa”. The differences between the “Freccia” Trains are minimal in my experience. Freccia means “arrow” in Italian so they are supposed to be the fastest trains available in Italy. if you are curious to know all the differences between them you can check it out in here.
Another important note. As previously mentioned, italian trains (especially the Regional ones) are notoriuous to be delayed most of the times, so if you have to change trains, make sure that you have plenty of time to make your connection, in order to find the other train on the right platform and the right direction (even I got confused some times and some stations are pretty big).
How To Get To Cinque Terre From Milan:
As with the advice given from Florence to Cinque Terre, also from Milan, given that it takes AT LEAST 3 hours minimum to get to Monterosso, I suggest you to either go with an organized tour if you don’t have much time or sleep in Monterosso or in one of the nearby villages for one night, so you’ll have a full relaxing day in Cinque Terre!
I’ve already given all the advice in the previous section, but from Milan you can find DIRECT trains, whch is at least a small bonus and will remove a little bit of stress from the journey. Always make sure to book the direct train as there are many others that will have stop and changes along the way.
With and without the crowds: High season vs offseason
Choosing the best time to visit really depends on individual preferences and what you’re hoping to do during your visit.
Cinque Terre During Fall (Off-Season) :
For those that want to enjoy the hiking trail and don’t mind the cold or they even like it, then, by all means, choose to visit the Cinque Terre during winter time.
It is your best bet as there are very few tourists, the prices are obviously way lower than in high season and you won’t have to worry about the temperatures melting you down. Needless to say, the temperatures in winter can be quite harsh, but not as bad as in the mountains.
My suggestion is to pick the months of October, November, and December, with average temperatures going from 10 to 20 degress Celsius (52-68 Farenheit)
Don’t overlook the months of January and February either, this is Cinque Terre lowest season but it gives way to a certain tranquility and calm in the villages that is almost impossible to find during the hotter months. Basically, you will be surrounded just by locals, making it an incredible and unforgettable experience!
Cinque Terre During Summer (High Season):
During summer (especially from July to August), the temperatures in Italy can soar up to 35°C/95F or more (the chart above shows the average but it is usually higher than that), making walking much more difficult, at times even unbearable due to the humidity which increases the perception of the already high temperatures.
Summer is also high season (all over Italy), so you’ll be sharing the pathways (and the views) with many more people than usual. On the other hand, the summer sun gives you the opportunity to suntan and swim in the Ligurian Sea and the sunsets are second to none.
Cinque Terre In May-June & September (Middle Season):
Needless to say, this is according to my experience, the best season to visit Cinque Terre. There will be slightly less tourists and the temperature are perfect for hiking and all the other lovely activities you can experience in Cinque Terre. If your schedule allows it, book your holiday to Italy, with a stop in Cinque Terre during Spring or by the end of the Summer/Beginning of Autumn and you won’t regret it!
HAVE YOU EVER BEEN TO CINQUE TERRE? IF YOU HAVE SUGGESTIONS OR QUESTIONS, LET ME KNOW IN THE COMMENT SECTION. THANKS FOR READING!
SAVE IT FOR LATER… PIN IT!