Beginner’s travel guide to Cinque Terre: Plan your perfect Italian Riviera vacation with these 5 tips

Mar 2, 2023

Cinque Terre. *le sigh* You’ve seen it on every single travel blogger’s Instagram, every Pinterest travel board, and every “best of Italy” Tiktok. 

Nestled just south of Genoa in northwest Italy, Cinque Terre (pronounced cheen-kweh teh-rreh) is within easy reach of Genoa, Pisa, Rome, Florence, and Nice. What is Cinque Terre? It’s a collection of seaside villages on the picturesque Italian Riviera peppered with colorful houses, vineyards, tiny beaches, and terraces on ocean cliffs. Lazy harbors filled with little fishing boats, authentic trattorias turning out coastal Italian specialties, cliffside hiking, and sweeping sea views. 

Cinque Terre’s quaint, timeless Mediterranean beauty is unmatched. So whether you’re wondering if a day trip to Cinque Terre is worth it from Florence or how long you need in Cinque Terre to fully experience it, I hope this quick guide gives you an idea of what and where Cinque Terre is, how to get there, the best time to visit, and what to see when you’re there.

Cinque Terre travel guide

1. What are the 5 villages in Cinque Terre and which ones should I visit?

People often talk about Cinque Terre like it’s one place, but it’s actually a stretch of Italian Riviera coastline made up of 5 separate villages. 

From north to south, the villages are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. Each one is a beauty, with pastel buildings tumbling down hillsides with sparkling sea views, but each one also has its own different character. Not all of the villages have beaches– in fact, the only true beach is at Monterosso- and you won’t find hotels in all of them either (Vernazza and Manarola don’t have a single hotel). 

You’ll find beautiful vineyards in Manarola, but Riomaggiore is what most people are picturing when they think of Cinque Terre. It’s one of the larger villages that has the classic Italian coastal cliffside setting, cafes and restaurants, and the best nightlife surrounding a relaxed, picturesque fishing harbor and deep blue water. When you’re planning your visit, be sure consider what you’d like to do and see before you arrive so you can make a plan for the villages.

Pro tip: If you’re coming from the US, getting to Cinque Terre or another city in Italy is a long (and usually expensive) flight. Use my step by step quick guide to learn how to use Google Flights to find the cheapest flights! And don’t forget to make sure you’re ready for a comfy flight with these long flight essentials.

2. How do I get to Cinque Terre from Florence, Rome, or Genoa?

  • From Florence: Taking the train to Cinque Terre requires a few changes along the way, but it’s still the most convenient way to get there. You’ll start at Florence SMN Train Station and take the direct Regionale train to La Spezia. Trains leave from Florence’s station every 30 minutes(ish) and arrive in La Spezia train station about 2 hours later. At La Spezia, you’ll switch to the 5 Terre Express train, a fast-regional train that runs every 15 minutes and connects all five villages. 

Pro tip: Download the free Trainline app to book trains and buses. It’s really easy to use all over Europe and was especially useful in Italy, France, and Monaco!

  • From Genoa: Get to Cinque Terre from Genoa by train, bus, taxi, or car. Taxi will be the most expensive, while train will be the fastest and least expensive. I recommend starting by taking an Intercity train from Genoa to Levanto (1 hour) from Genova Piazza Principe, in the city centre, or from Genova Nervi, a quiet, picturesque fishing district in the east of the city.

  • From Rome: A day trip from Rome to Cinque Terre is easier than you would think and usually takes ~4 hours by train. The best way to do it is to take a Frecciabianca train to La Spezia Centrale, where you’ll then get on the Cinque Terre Express, which stops at all five Cinque Terre villages along the way. You need to have a separate ticket for each stop unless you have the unlimited Cinque Terre Train Card. *When in Rome, be sure to visit this hidden gem rooftop bar at sunset!

Pro tip: If you want to check out all 5 villages, buy a Cinque Terre Train Card for the best deal. It gives you unlimited train travel and access to the hiking trails in Cinque Terre National Park if you’re into that.

3. What is the best time to go to Cinque Terre? 

The best time to visit Cinque Terre is September/October when summer tourists have left, but the weather is still warm, sunny, and dry! Spring is also a great time to visit, but may have more frequent rain. 

While the winter (November-February) may bring fewer crowds and cheaper accommodations/off season pricing, winter weather is cold in Cinque Terre and some restaurants and activities are closed for the season.

4. How do I get from village to village in Cinque Terre?

There are 3 ways to move from one village to another: walk, train, or boat. 

Train is the easiest, most comfortable, and most efficient way to get from village to village in Cinque Terre. Download the free Trainline app to easily and instantly get your tickets, or get them at the train station. 

The walking trail is 12 kilometers and runs along the coast through all 5 villages. Walking has beautiful coastal sea and cliff views, but the trails ascend and descend through the landscape and may be difficult in the heat for some depending on when you visit. If you’re walking, you also have to buy the Cinque Terre Pass, which is ~8 EUR, for hiking the trail (get it from the train stations, tourist information offices, or at every start of a trail at each village).

5. Is it worth going to Cinque Terre?

Only you can answer this question- it depends on your time and interests. To help you decide, ask yourself these questions:

  • Where are you coming from? Consider the travel time to and from Cinque Terre.

  • How long will you have in Cinque Terre? Are you the kind of person who can enjoy taking in the ambiance for a day trip, or do you need a longer trip?

  • Are you traveling with children? Cinque Terre is a quaint, bustling, relaxing seaside stretch of the Italian Riviera. You won’t find playgrounds, amusement parks, or many typical “family” activities. Consider whether you and your family can enjoy sitting outside sunny cafes, hiking or boating, relaxing with a cocktail, or spending time at one of the beach clubs in Monterosso.

  • Are you interested in the activities Cinque Terre offers? Cinque Terre is a reprieve from the bustling tours and imposing historical and artistic sites of Rome, Florence, or Pisa. Do you want to spend unstructured time strolling the villages and seaside cliffs, or do want to prioritize more structured activities?

Looking for more? Don’t miss the best-of-the-best!

Are you new here? Let’s be friends! I’m Sarah— a solo female traveler (& world’s okayest travel blogger) helping you travel the world, discover surprising destinations, & have a laugh getting off the beaten path. Scroll to the bottom of this page to sign up to stay in touch (I promise not to spam you- just to share the best travel hacks, guides, itineraries, embarrassing stories, and unmissable experiences)!

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