How to Plan an Incredible Cinque Terre Itinerary (2 Days)

The Cinque Terre – a series of five gorgeous towns with colorful buildings set on the rocky coastline of northwest Italy – is both one of the most beautiful places to visit in Italy, and one of the most unique geological settings in the country. There are only a handful of places in the world where the mountains meet the sea, and the Cinque Terre is one of them. 

If spending your days hiking along the coastline between charming towns, and your evenings with a glass of wine watching the golden glow of the setting sun wash over the colorful buildings that line the coast, sounds like your ideal trip, you’re going to love the Cinque Terre. 

We’re not breaking any news here when we say that the Cinque Terre is on a LOT of people’s bucket list, which means that the area is very crowded, especially in the summer months. 

Throughout this guide, we’re going to do our best to help you get deeper into the history, culture, and unique relationship between humans and the natural landscape that we think makes the Cinque Terre special. 

We do have one BIG tip that we want to make sure you hear loud and clear (which is why we repeat it several times throughout this guide). The best way to experience the Cinque Terre is to spend more than one day exploring it. 

The five small towns, which are overrun with day trippers and cruise ship passengers during the day who are all trying to see the same thing, are a completely different experience in the early morning and evening. 

If you only take one thing away from this guide, we hope it’s that you should spend at least one night (two is better) staying in the Cinque Terre to really experience what makes it special. 

In this guide, we’re going to cover all of the information we think you need to plan your Cinque Terre itinerary.

We’ll start with some important logistics – how many days you need, where to stay, and buying the important Cinque Terre card – that you’ll need to know. Then we’ll give you a detailed 2 day Cinque Terre itinerary, with ideas on how to add more days, or try to see it all in one day (we don’t recommend it). 

By the end of the guide, we think you’ll have a pretty good handle on all of the information you need to explore the Cinque Terre and its abundant natural beauty. 

Sound good to you? Let’s get into planning!

PS: If you’re here, chances are you’re planning a trip to Cinque Terre. Lucky you! Don’t miss our guide to the best things to do in the Cinque Terre and our guide to where to stay in Cinque Terre to help you plan an unforgettable trip based on our experiences.

Disclaimer: Some of the links in this post, like hotel links, are affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you, we make a little bit of money if you click through and book. That being said, we would never recommend something to you that we don’t stand behind 100%.

How Many Days to Spend in the Cinque Terre?

When you’re in the Cinque Terre, it will become pretty apparent to you that there are A LOT of people who are just visiting for the day. 

I’m sitting here on the balcony of our apartment in Manarola looking at the street below, which is packed with tourists who hopped off of a cruise in La Spezia and are trying to see everything there is to see in the Cinque Terre in a day.

I would highly recommend that you do not spend only one day in Cinque Terre for multiple reasons.

First, it’s sort of difficult to get to if you’re doing it as a part of a broader Italy itinerary. Milan and Genoa have the best connections by train, though it’s doable from Pisa, Florence, and Bologna too.

Second, part of the allure of the Cinque Terre is the hiking, which is going to take some time because it’s a lot of up and down as you climb in and out of the various villages.

At one point, my mom remarked that the approximate hiking time of two hours sounded too long for a two mile hike from Manarola to Corniglia. For reference, that hike took us a hair under two hours. It’s steep and slow going, but it’s magnificent.

Last, and potentially the most important reason, the towns of the Cinque Terre are a completely different place once the hordes of day trippers – many of which are in town as part of a cruise – leave for the evening (or, before they arrive in the morning).

The best time to be in the Cinque Terre is between 8:00 am and 10:00 am, and after 4:00 pm. Especially in the summer, when the oppressive heat is another factor to consider. If you do a day trip, you’ll be here smack dab in the middle of the least pleasant part of the day.

Instead of trying to fit it all into a day, we’d strongly recommend you only come to the Cinque Terre if you have AT LEAST two days to spend, ideally three. Which is a lot, we know, but we don’t really think it’s worth the journey if you only have a day. 

Getting Around the Cinque Terre

The Cinque Terre (literally “five towns”) are connected on a regional train line that runs from La Spezia to Levanto, stopping at each of the towns on the way. The entire stretch takes about 15-20 minutes, and is a fantastic way to get between towns. Trains are frequent (every 15-20 minutes), quick, and relatively affordable.

It’s called the Cinque Terre Express, and it operates like most other regional train lines in Italy.

The one decision you’ll need to make is whether or not to purchase the Cinque Terre Treno Card. Here’s the information we think you need to make that decision.

The first piece of information is that it will cost you £5 per person for each individual train ride you take. We saw people checking tickets every single day we were in the Cinque Terre, so you’re definitely going to want to make sure you have your tickets before you board the train. 

Also, make sure you validate your ticket by stamping it at the machines on the platform BEFORE you board the train.

There are two types of Cinque Terre cards available.

The first is the hiking permit, called the Cinque Terre Card. You need the Cinque Terre Card to hike the world-famous Blue Trail, which at the moment is only open between Corniglia and Vernazza, and Vernazza and Monterosso. In the itinerary below, we have you doing one stretch on each of the first two days.

The second is the Cinque Terre Treno Card (we know, the names are confusing). which includes everything the Cinque Terre Card does (hiking permit, bathrooms, and ATC buses), along with unlimited rides on the Cinque Terre Express.

There is one big advantage to having the Treno Card – you don’t have to wait in the (sometimes long) lines at the ticket machines at the station, which could be the difference between making and missing a train and having to wait another 20 minutes.

We did the math for our trip, and here’s how it works out:

  • The 1 Day Treno Card pays out if you are planning on hiking the Blue Trail AND taking at least three train rides on the day you’re buying it for.

  • The 2 Day Treno Card pays out if you are planning on hiking the Blue Trail (both days) AND taking five train rides over two days.

For what it’s worth, we bought both a Treno card (really, two, because we were there for four days) for our time in the Cinque Terre, and it paid out for us both times.

Our recommendation, if you’re following the itinerary above, is to get the Treno Card for the first two days.

If you’re worried about cost, you could do both stretches of the Blue Trail in one day (we’d do one in the morning, and one in the late afternoon to avoid being on the trail between 11:00 am and 3:00 pm). In that case, buy the Treno card for the day that you’re doing that, and pay by the ride for the other days.

You can now buy the Cinque Terre card online here, which is the best way to do it. Be prepared to download it and show it at the entry points for the Blue Trail.  

There are also ferries that connect the five towns, but they’re expensive and take longer than the train. If you want a more scenic journey, it’s a good option. If you’re looking for the most cost-efficient and quickest way to get around, it’s the train.

Where to Stay in the Cinque Terre

First of all, we have an entire guide dedicated to the best places to stay in Cinque Terre, where we go through the best towns to use as a home base, the pros and cons for each, some of our favorite finds, and a few cool places to stay that we’ve found.

If you want the long, detailed version, you’ll want to read that.

Here’s the brief version if you’re short on time and are looking to find the right place to stay.

First of all, we absolutely think you should stay in one of the five towns (a.k.a. the Cinque Terre), rather than in a place like La Spezia, Levanto, or Genoa / Pisa.

A lot of people choose to do the Cinque Terre as a day trip (we DO NOT recommend that if you can avoid it), which puts them in town from roughly 10:00 am to 6:00 pm or so.

These five towns are PACKED to the brim with tourists during those hours, and are undeniably at their best before 10:00 am and after 6:00 pm. If you only experience them when they’re at their busiest, you’re not going to be able to appreciate their beauty and tranquility.

Stay at least one night in one of the towns if you can spare it. You won’t regret it.

Second, we would absolutely not stay in Corniglia. Not because we don’t like Corniglia, but because to get from the train station up to town, you have to climb / descend an absolutely brutal set of switchbacks. Which would be awful if you had to do it multiple times a day. There is a shuttle, but it’s tiny and packed in the high season at peak times (10:00 am to 4:00 pm).

Our favorite places to stay are Manarola and Vernazza, and they offer slightly different things.

Manarola, which is where we stayed, is the quietest (especially 30 minutes after sunset) and most peaceful town of the five, and is also the most photogenic (you see it on all of the souvenirs).

It retains its small town feel, especially before and after the hordes of day trippers arrive. However, that tranquility means that there are a limited number of places to eat and drink in town, which isn’t great if you want to explore a variety of bars and restaurants.

For what it’s worth, we stayed at these apartments in Manarola, and enjoyed the view of the water from our terrace (the apartment itself probably needed some upgrades, though). 

Vernazza is a runner up for the most photogenic town of the five, and has a better selection of places to eat and drink (especially when it comes to nightlife).

Perhaps the best part about Vernazza is that it’s connected to the two best stretches of the Blue Trail that are currently open (as of late 2022), which means you can walk out your door and start on your hike.

2 Days in the Cinque Terre: Planning an Amazing Cinque Terre Itinerary

Now that we’ve covered the logistics we think you need to know before your trip, on to the itinerary! 

We’re assuming you have two full days (which probably means three nights) in the area. 

Here is a high level overview of what this 2 day Cinque Terre itinerary looks like. 

  • Day 1: Hiking from Vernazza to Monterosso al Mare, exploring Monterosso al Mare, and Sunset in Manarola

  • Day 2: Hiking from Corniglia to Vernazza, lunch in Vernazza, exploring Riomaggiore, and a sunset boat cruise

Below the main itinerary, we have more ideas on spending three days in the Cinque Terre, along with how to spend one day in the Cinque Terre if you absolutely cannot find more time in your Italy itinerary

Note: We’re going to use the English version of the Sentiero Azzurro (“Blue Trail”), which is the famous hiking path that connects the five villages of the Cinque Terre. 

Day 1: Hiking a Section of the Blue Trail and Manarola for Sunset

On your first day, hike the section of the famous Blue Trail – the hiking trail that connects all five of the Cinque Terre villages – between Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare, explore Monterosso for the afternoon, then head to the picturesque town of Manarola to catch the sunset. 

A quick note on the structure of this itinerary before we continue. 

As of 2022, there are only two sections of the famous Blue Trail that are open (landslides have caused long term closures of the other sections).

Those two sections are the stretch between Corniglia and Vernazza, and the stretch between Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare

We’re splitting them up, having you tackle one each morning, which is a more pleasant way to do it in our experience. You can totally do both on the same day if you want, but if you do it that way, you’re going to be hiking at peak times no matter which way you slice it. 

Which – and we’re speaking from experience here – isn’t particularly pleasant (it’s hot and crowded). 

If you want to do it all in one day (which does save you a few Euros because you’ll only need the Cinque Terre card for a day), we’d highly recommend the hike between Manarola and Corniglia via Volastra (which we loved) on the second day.

You can find information on that hike in the “extra day” section below the main itinerary.  

Oh, and we can’t stress enough that you should aim to get on the trail by 9:00 am or so, at the latest. You’ll beat both the crowds and the heat and have a much more pleasant time. The earlier, the better! 

Start Your Day in Vernazza at the Blue Marlin

It doesn’t look like much in terms of a coffee shop, but the Blue Marlin in Vernazza was our favorite coffee that we had while we were ambling around the Cinque Terre. It’s more of an evening spot, but they also do coffee and breakfast in the morning, and it was great. 

Since you’re hiking the trail between Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare today, you’re going to want to hop on the train to arrive in Vernazza as early as you can possibly handle. 

The Blue Marlin is right next to the train station in Vernazza, and is a good pit stop to get caffeinated on your way to the start of the trail. 

Hike the Blue Trail from Vernazza to Monterosso al Mare

Once you’re caffeinated and ready to go, time to hop on the trail!

This is the hut where they’ll check your permit, and from there you’ll start a steep, stair-filled climb. But don’t be put off – the effort will pay off with some of the best views of Vernazza you’ll find anywhere. 

The trail is narrow at times, and we did this around midday, which meant lots of waiting for people to pass. Another reason to get an early start!

The trail follows the coastline north, with some peek-a-boo views of the sea, but mostly stays forested until you get to Monterosso al Mare. However, as you descend into the northernmost town of the Cinque Terre, the views are exquisite. 

The descent down into Monterosso al Mare is a steep, narrow set of stairs, which isn’t super fun. It’s only wide enough for one person or group on the trail at a time – make sure to yield to uphill hikers! 

Explore Montrosso al Mare

When you arrive in Monterosso al Mare, you’ll enter town from the south. It’s important to understand how Monterosso is laid out. There are two parts of town – the old town and the new town – separated by a tunnel through the mountain. 

The train station and the big, sandy beach is on the newer side of town, which is on the far side of the tunnel from where you’ll come off the trail.

The old town, which is where you’ll find a better selection of places to eat and drink, is the southern side of the tunnel, and there’s a smaller beach. 

Start by exploring the older part of the city, and then make your way over to the beaches on the other end before hopping on the train to get home / to your next stop. 

Here are the places we liked: 

Enoteca Da Eliseo: An amazing wine bar with tons of wines to try from both the Cinque Terre and other parts of Italy. We asked him to help us find two glasses of Cinque Terre DOC to try that were very different, and he was more than happy to help. 

Buranco: This winery was a recommendation from Eliseo after we tried a couple of their wines (a Cinque Terre DOC and a sparkling wine, both of which we really liked). It’s a short uphill walk from his enoteca up the hill, where they have a nice little tasting room and agroturismo. 

Fabbrica D’Arte Monterosso: A great little pottery shop with ceramics, stoneware, and terracotta pieces all made nearby. They actually have two storefronts in town, and we preferred the one at Via Vittorio Emanuele, 27 (down the street from Eliseo’s enoteca). I walked away with a matching coffee mug and espresso cup, and my mom got a nice painted terracotta piece. 

Bar Lo Spuntino: Coffee with a beach view! It’s in the newer part of town along the main beach. 

Spiaggia di Fegina: The main beach in town. Wide and sandy, this is a nice place to lay out for an afternoon. There’s a lido – that’s a pay-to-sit beach club with chairs and umbrellas – in the middle, and you’re allowed to set up shop on a small area of sand at either end of the beach for free. 

Our glasses of wine and light bites at Enoteca Da Eliseo
The gorgeous pottery at Fabbrica d’Arte (we walked away with several pieces each)

Admire the Sunset in Manarola

We might be biased here, because we stayed in Manarola and absolutely loved it. Manarola was our favorite sunset spot in the Cinque Terre, and it’s where we decided to spend our last sunset. 

But you don’t need to take our word for it. At every souvenir shop in each of Cinque Terre’s five villages, you’ll find postcards, tote bags, and all sorts of other trinkets that feature a gorgeous scene from the Cinque Terre. And we’d say 75% of those feature the view from Manarola. 

Try to time your visit to Manarola so that you arrive an hour or so before the sun actually sets (you can check this time in the weather app on your phone). 

When you arrive at the train station in Manarola, first turn right and head up the hill to the church – Chiesa di San Lorenzo. The piazza right in front of it has a nice view of the city as it tumbles down the hill into the harbor and the sea. 

If you’re looking for a glass of wine before sunset, head up to A Pié de Campu, a wine bar up the hill with a nice terrace. Otherwise, head back down the hill. Don’t miss Gelateria Sorbetteria Gelateria 5 Terre on the way down, which was our favorite gelato in the Cinque Terre. 

For sunset, head out to the point (here on Google Maps). Specifically, the second level of the point, which has that postcard-perfect view you’re looking for. From there, you’ll have a front row seat to the intense colors of those famous colorful buildings as the sun gets lower in the sky. 

Day 2: Finishing the Blue Trail, Riomaggiore, and a Sunset Boat Cruise

On your second day in the Cinque Terre, hike a second stretch of the Blue Trail from Corniglia to Vernazza in the morning, pausing in Vernazza for lunch, and then head to Riomaggiore for an afternoon of wine and excellent views before ending your trip with a sunset boat cruise to see the Cinque Terre from a whole new point of view. 

Hike the Blue Trail from Corniglia to Vernazza

First, let’s talk about Corniglia. Corniglia is the only village of the five that does not have a harbor. Instead, it’s perched high on a cliff above the water. Cool, right?

Except for the fact that the train line is along the water, which means it’s a nasty climb up to the town itself from the train station. 

There is a bus that stops just outside the train station (included in the Cinque Terre Card, more reason to buy it online in advance), and if you get an early start you can hop on that and cut out the climbing. However, if you’re doing this between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm, the bus will be packed, and you’ll be better off walking. 

The hike from Corniglia to Vernazza was our favorite stretch of the Blue Trail. We did it starting at 9:00 am on a weekday morning, and saw just a handful of other people on the trail (plus, we were easily able to get a seat on the bus up the hill). We’d highly recommend an early start here. 

The hike itself is relatively easy – the easiest of the three hikes we did in the Cinque Terre (the third being the hike from Manarola to Corniglia via Volastra, which is in the “more time” section). You’ll cover two miles, and climb a total of 500 feet over the course of that distance. 

Still, you’ll want to be prepared with plenty of water, sun protection, and proper footwear. Sandals and flip flops are not allowed – we hiked this in running shoes, which had plenty of support and traction for a warm, dry day on the trail.

About two thirds of the way through, you’ll start to pass buildings as you start the descent into Vernazza. We’d definitely stop at Bar Il Gabbiano for a fresh squeezed glass of orange juice and some coffee, which you can take up to their terrace that has an excellent view of the coast. 

There’s a great viewpoint of Vernazza from the trail as it starts to descend down into town – you can find it here (you pass right by it, so you really can’t miss it). 

Exploring Vernazza

For the rest of the morning, spend some time exploring the charming town of Vernazza. You’ve already seen the other great viewpoint of the city, which is from the trail towards Monterosso al Mare, so we’d stay in town. 

You definitely will want to head to the harbor, which has a cool view of the city, including the stone church that overlooks the harbor. 

Here are a few places to eat, drink, and shop.

The Blue Marlin: It may look more like a dive bar than a coffee spot, but this cafe right near the train station served us the best coffee we had in the Cinque Terre. It also looks like a lovely place to grab a drink if you’re here in the evening, but we were there in the morning both times, so we stuck to coffee. 

Batti Batti’ Focacceria: This was an impulse stop after a morning hike. Get the pesto pizza version with tomato sauce, pesto, and melted cheese (or just the version with pesto, which is more traditional) and take it over to the harbor to enjoy. 

The more focaccia, the better (definitely NOT gluten free, though, so Matt didn’t get to partake)

Pippo a Vernazza: Up the hill on the other side of the train station, this is the place to go for an affordable lunch or dinner with a rotating selection of sandwiches and pasta dishes. We tried to stop by, but they were closed for the season at the end of October. They’re also plastic free, which I love.

An Afternoon in Riomaggiore

After you’ve spent some time in Vernazza, hop on the train heading towards La Spezia and get off at Riomaggiore. This is the last of the five villages, and it’s at the southern end of Cinque Terre National Park near La Spezia. 

We’d essentially recommend doing a big loop around Riomaggiore, starting from the train station at low elevation, making your way up to the Castelo perched on the hill high above the station, and ending in the picturesque harbor. Here’s an example of what that loop looks like. 

Along the way, here are a couple of stops we’d recommend. 

First of all, Ghemé. This is the best wine bar we visited in the Cinque Terre, and the reason it was so lovely was the fact that when we sat down, one of the owners came over, took our order, and then proceeded to give us a crash course in the wines of the Cinque Terre, from the terraced vineyards to the production methods. 

It was a fantastic experience. 

There are two wines that come from Cinque Terre that you should do your best to try – the Cinque Terre DOC (a dry white wine) and sciacchetrà (a sweet, complex dessert wine).

You can get both by the glass here, and learn about how they’re made and some of the historical and cultural context around them. 

While you’re in the Cinque Terre, you should definitely try some fresh fried fish. There are two places across the street from the wine bar to get your fix – Tutti Fritti and Il Pescato Cucinato. These are two excellent fried fish spots where you can get a cone packed full of fried fish goodness. 

We went to Tutti Fritti, for what it’s worth, and they were very friendly and helped me practice my Italian. Anchovies are the local specialty, and my mom – who isn’t particularly adventurous – enjoyed them. Huge portions, and you can get a “frito mixto” with a mix of different fried fishes. 

After those, which are both along the main drag in Riomaggiore, head up the hill and loop around past the church. You’ll have some nice views of the city, and end up at the castle. It’s not really worth going in, we think, but there’s a nice view from the terrace outside the castle. 

Your last stop before your evening activity is the harbor, where you’ll find both an excellent view of Riomaggiore, and also a horde of people trying to get the same picture.

It’s still worth going, because the view is great, but be prepared for some crowds. You can either head to the platform here, or down onto the rocks that protect the town’s harbor here

Get Out on the Water with a Sunset Boat Cruise

After spending some time exploring Riomaggiore, it’s time to end your trip on a high note with a sunset boat cruise. At this point in your itinerary, you’ve already seen some pretty fantastic views of the Cinque Terre. 

The advantage of a sunset boat cruise is that you’ll see the Cinque Terre from a different perspective. To this point, you’ve mainly seen the colorful villages of the Cinque Terre from above, from viewpoints on the hiking trail or from the popular sunset viewpoints. 

By getting out on the water, you’ll get to see them from below, which is arguably even more impressive. The colorful buildings, awash in a golden glow from the setting sun, sprawl up the mountainside, and the perspective from the water makes them seem even more magnificent. 

We’d recommend this one, which leaves right from the harbor in Riomaggiore. You’ll make your way north along the coast, taking in the beauty of all five of the towns of the Cinque Terre – with a glass of wine and some focaccia in hand – before returning to Riomaggiore. 

Not a bad way to end your trip to the Cinque Terre. 

What to Do with 3 Days in the Cinque Terre?

If you have three days (or more) in the Cinque Terre, here are a couple of things to add to your itinerary. You’ll find an even bigger list in our guide to the best things to do in Cinque Terre!

Hike from Manarola up to Volastra and on to Corniglia

Of the three hikes we did in the Cinque Terre, this one was our second favorite (after Corniglia to Vernazza), but also the most difficult by a wide margin. It takes you from the town of Manarola high up into the mountains above town to Volastra, and then back down the hill into Corniglia. 

With the portion of the Blue Trail between Manarola and Corniglia closed, this is the only way to hike between the two villages. It’s beautiful – you’re ascending through terraced vineyards with great views of Manarola at your back – but challenging.

It’s essentially a never ending set of stairs on the way up to Volastra, which isn’t doable for everyone. 

The hike is 3.6 miles with 1,350 feet of elevation gain, which puts it in the moderate category. It’s not that long, but the elevation gain is serious stuff. You need to be prepared with plenty of water, closed toed shoes with good traction and support, and sun protection if you want to do this hike. 

If you are worried about the ascent, you can take the bus from Manarola up to Volastra, and then hike downhill from there. The bus is included in the Cinque Terre card. If you choose to do this, we’d actually opt to hike back down into Manarola, because the views from that portion of the trail are way better, in our opinion. 

Important note: You don’t need a Cinque Terre card for this hike, so if you only want to pay for a single day of the card, we’d sub this hike for the hike from Vernazza to Monterosso (or do the entire Corniglia – Vernazza – Monterosso stretch on one day, and do this one on the other). 

Wine Tasting in the Cinque Terre

We’ve already covered a couple of places to sample a variety of local wines in the itinerary above, but you can also visit the wineries themselves to do a guided tasting and sometimes a tour. Here are two places to consider. 

Buranco (Monterosso): Just up the hill from Enoteca da Eliseo, this place is a producer (rather than a wine bar or shop), and was a recommendation from Eliseo. It’s a steep walk from the town, but you can taste their wine or join a hike through the vineyards. They have an excellent sparkling wine that we liked. More information here

Cantina 5Terre (Manarola): This is the winemaker behind the sciacchetrà we bought. Unfortunately, they were closed for the season when we were in town, but they do tastings, cellar visits, and more. If you do the hike from Manarola to Corniglia, this is a good stop near Volastra. You can find more information here

Learn How to Make Pesto

Pesto, which is a specialty from Liguria (the region of Italy that Cinque Terre is located in), and there is no better place in the world to try it, learn about it, and learn how to make it. 

Cooking classes are consistently one of our favorite experiences when we travel because it combines a few of our favorite things about traveling into one experience: eating, cooking, and meeting locals and learning about their perspectives, which are often different from our own. 

Unfortunately in this case, cooking classes are out of the question because Matt has Celiac Disease (which means he needs to eat strictly gluten free), and most cooking classes in Italy involve flour flying all over the place. 

However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t indulge! Here are a couple of cooking classes that we came across in our trip research that we think would be an amazing addition to your time in the Cinque Terre. 

The Great Pesto Experience (Riomaggiore): Make homemade pesto with a mortar and pestle, and then enjoy it with a glass of wine and some pasta on a terrace with great views. 

Pesto Experience at Nessun Dorma (Manarola): We mentioned this bar above as a good place to catch the sunset with an excellent view of Manarola. They also do cooking classes! It also includes some wine tasting with a sommelier. 

Get Out on the Water in a Kayak

Given the time of year, this wasn’t possible when we were exploring the Cinque Terre. However, given the choice, we’d much prefer a kayak trip to a motor boat, like we’ve done in the San Juan Islands and the south island of New Zealand

We’d opt for a kayak for the relative solitude (you can go to protected areas in a kayak that are inaccessible to other boats), exercise, and unique perspective from right on the water. 

When we return to the Cinque Terre, we will undoubtedly hop on this kayak tour. You meet your guide in Monterosso al Mare and paddle along the coast, stopping to snorkel and exploring Punta Mesco, the point of the Ligurian coast that juts out into the sea just north of Monterosso al Mare. 

You’ll have a qualified guide, a small group, and a couple of hours of peace on the water, seeing things from a different perspective than 99% of tourists who visit the Cinque Terre. Which, we think, is worth the price of admission on its own. 

Can You See Cinque Terre in a Day?

In short, no, we really don’t think one day in the Cinque Terre is enough time to see all five villages. And we really, really would NOT recommend doing a day trip from another city (like Florence, for example). Here’s why. 

Doing a day trip to the Cinque Terre from another Italian city means you’ll have a long journey to get to and from the villages, and you’ll arrive at the same time as the bulk of the crowds, so villages and hiking trails will be packed and generally unpleasant (especially in the summer). 

You’ll want to spend at least one night in the Cinque Terre, but if you think through the logistics, staying for just one night is going to be tough. You’ll arrive in the afternoon, check into your accommodations, head out to explore for the evening, then wake up the next morning and basically have to check out immediately. 

If you think about it that way, it’s easy to see why we recommend two nights or more. 

However, if you really only have one night, here’s how we’d spend it (you can use the more detailed sections above to go deeper on each thing we’re recommending). 

Arrive in the Cinque Terre in the afternoon, check in and drop your bags, and immediately head to Riomaggiorre. 

In Riomaggiore, stop by Ghemé for a crash course in Cinque Terre wines, Tutti Fritti for a fried fish cone, and walk up to the Church of San Giovanni Battista and over to the Castelo before heading down to the harbor (here) for a nice view of the city. 

Hop back on the train and head to Manarola, which is our favorite, for sunset. Walk up the hill to Chiesa di San Lorenzo, then back down all the way out to the harbor, where you’ll find the postcard view of Manarola that you literally see on all the souvenirs (the viewpoint is here). Don’t miss Gelateria Sorbetteria Gelateria 5 Terre, which was our favorite gelato in the Cinque Terre. If you can, snag a table at Nessun Dorma for sunset (they have a digital waitlist, and it’s very popular).  

Grab dinner in whatever town you’re staying in, and plan on an early morning the next day. 

The next morning, store your bags at your accommodations, and take the train to Corniglia to  hike from Corniglia to Vernazza along the famed Blue Trail (you probably don’t have time to do the entire stretch from Corniglia to Monterosso al Mare, unfortunately). 

Stop in Vernazza for lunch at Pippo a Vernazza and check out the harbor. Take the train to Monterosso al Mare, and check out the beach, the handmade pottery at Fabbrica D’Arte Monterosso, and grab a glass of Cinque Terre wine at Enoteca da Eliseo (another of our favorite wine bars in the Cinque Terre). 

And that’s all folks! That’s an action-packed 24 hours, and you WILL need a vacation from your vacation, but that’s how we’d try to see the best of the Cinque Terre in a day. 

Getting to the Cinque Terre

Like we mentioned above, there are train connections from major cities in Italy to the Cinque Terre, but they aren’t always easy.

For reference, we arrived in the Cinque Terre coming from Bologna, and headed to Milan afterwards. While both require 3+ hours, the journey to Milan is much, much easier thanks to a direct Intercity Train from Levanto (or La Spezia or Monterosso al Mare) to Milano Centrale.

In this section, we’ll cover how to get to the Cinque Terre from Milan and Florence by train, and from outside of Italy.

In any of the cases above, you’re going to need to make a transfer. 

Essentially you’ll need to arrive in either La Spezia or Levanto (depending on which city you’re coming from), which are the southern and northern gateway towns to the Cinque Terre, and make a transfer to the train line that connects them with the five towns of Cinque Terre.

The only exception is if you’re coming from Milan or Genoa and staying in Monterosso al Mare. There are direct trains from Milan to Monterosso al Mare (that stop in Genoa), but only a few times a day (at the moment, it’s every two hours starting at noon).

Getting From Milan to Cinque Terre by Train

From Milan, the best way to get to the Cinque Terre is to take the high speed Intercity Train from Milano Centrale to Levanto, which is the gateway city on the northern end of the national park. They come roughly every two hours (depending on the season) and take about three hours to get between Milan and Levanto.

From Levanto, hop on the Cinque Terre Express (more on that in a second) to get to whichever town you’re basing yourself in.

If you know your travel dates and times, it makes sense to book your leg between Milan and Levanto ahead of time. The further you book in advance, the cheaper it’s going to be (generally). 

Getting to Cinque Terre from Florence by Train

Getting from Florence to the Cinque Terre is a little trickier than Milan, but is still totally doable.

The simplest option if you’re coming from Florence is to hop on a regional train from Santa Maria Novella (the main station in Florence) that goes directly to La Spezia Centrale, where you can hop on the regional train to get to your home base in the Cinque Terre. They come every two hours, and the journey takes two and a half hours. 

You can also make a connection in Pisa, which actually turns out to be faster because you’ll take a high speed train from Pisa to La Spezia. However, if you get delayed, you could miss your connection, which we just BARELY avoided by sprinting from platform to platform. 

From La Spezia, hop on the Cinque Terre Express to get to whichever town you’re basing yourself in.

If you know your travel dates and times, it makes sense to book your leg between Florence and Levanto ahead of time. The further you book in advance, the cheaper it’s going to be (generally). 

Flying to Cinque Terre: What Airport to Choose?

If you’re flying to the Cinque Terre for a shorter trip rather than adding the Cinque Terre as part of a broader Italy itinerary, then you have a few options in terms of what airports to fly into.

In our opinion, the easiest airport to access the Cinque Terre is Pisa International Airport (PSA). From there, you’ll need to get to Pisa Centrale, the main train station in town, where you can catch a regional train to La Spezia (which is cheap, fairly frequent, and takes about an hour), connecting you to the Cinque Terre train line (more on that in a second). 

Your next best options are Genoa or Florence. Genoa Airport (GOA), which requires a bus or taxi connection to the train station, where you can catch a high speed Intercity train to either Levanto or Monterosso al Mare. Florence Airport (FLR) is your other option, but it’s going to take at least two connections to get you to La Spezia to connect with the Cinque Terre line.

Milan is another option, but we’d only recommend flying to Linate (LIN) if you plan on making the journey to Cinque Terre. Why? Because it takes an hour to get from Milan’s other airport (MXP) to Milano Centrale, which is where you’ll catch the Intercity Train, which makes the journey four hours in all. From Linate, it’s a quicker journey from the airport to the train station.

When to Visit the Cinque Terre

First, the Cinque Terre is a very popular tourist destination at basically any given time between April and October. 

To talk about it, we’re going to split the year into three time periods: shoulder season (April & May/ September & October), summer (June – August), and Winter (November – April). 

For your reference, we visited in late October, and it was lovely. 

Summer in the Cinque Terre is hot and crowded. The weather is very, very warm, despite the fact that it’s coastal. Great for getting your tan on at the beach, bad for just about everything else.

Make sure your accommodations have A/C if you’re visiting in the summer.

There’s also a TON of people in the five Cinque Terre villages, which makes the heat feel even more oppressive. There will likely be lots of families with kids who are on summer break. Book everything – tours, accommodations, trains – as early as you can.  

Shoulder season is, without a doubt, the best time to visit the Cinque Terre. For our purposes, shoulder season is April and May, and September and October.

It’s going to be a little cooler, which means being out and about in the heat of the day isn’t quite as unbearable, and there will be fewer tourists. Those tourists that are around are likely to be older (we met a lot of retired folks), as families with kids are back home for school.

The weather holds through late October, though you might get a little rain or afternoon thunderstorms. 

From November to April, things are very quiet. The weather is cooler and grayer, which means far fewer tourists. Sounds fine, right?

The biggest problem with traveling in the offseason is that many of the businesses, which rely on tourism, close for the winter and early spring. Restaurants, wine bars, tours – the majority will not be operating in the dead of winter. 

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