Cinque Terre, Italy is one of those popular tourist spots that you can’t really appreciate the beauty for until you visit for yourself. I had seen so many photos of these five little villages nestled on the Italian coast, but no photos could prepare me for seeing it in real life.
These towns look like a pastel rainbow that has touched down in five amazing spots along the Italian coast. The winding alleyways where old apartments rise to touch the sky are places you could get lost in for hours. Everywhere you turn there’s a cute little cafe to walk in and grab a snack or a gelato shop to help cool you off from the hot summer sun.
The gorgeous beaches are a perfect place to relax and waste away the hours if you like. If you’re in search of a more adventurous day then you can also hike between each village. No matter what you choose to do, be sure to soak up each moment you’re able to spend in this beautiful place.
How to Get to Cinque Terre
Train – If you’re staying in a larger nearby town like Florence, then traveling by train is the perfect way to reach Cinque Terre. The ride from Firenze Santa Maria Novella Station in Florence to La Spezia Centrale is about two hours. Not too long so you can spend the majority of your day adventuring instead of traveling.
General Tip: Trains are one of the best ways to travel around Italy. If Cinque Terre is one stop of many on your Italian itinerary and you plan to stay a few nights, then take the train from any major city.
Once you get to Cinque Terre the local train, the Cinque Terre Express, connects all five villages. This is a cheap way to quickly travel between villages and the best way if you are short on time. When sections of the hiking trail that connect the five towns are closed, this is your best option.
Car – Traveling by car will take a good bit longer and is not the best option when you look at logistics. The journey will take much longer by car than by train. Then once you arrive, the parking nightmare begins. You cannot drive in the villages themselves (other than Monterosso), but they do have parking lots at the top that are very expensive. The only other option for parking is in La Spezia then taking the Cinque Terre Express from there.
Plane – The closest airport to Cinque Terre is the Pisa International Airport. Once you arrive in Pisa, you’ll have about an hour long train ride to La Spezia.
What to Do in Cinque Terre, Italy
Hike Between Villages
A hiking trail connects all of the villages, but with only one day you would not be able to hike the whole trail. You could still choose a section or two between villages and take the train everywhere else. The trail gives you some unique and breathtaking views that you would otherwise miss.
This also gives you something active to do, but make sure that you bring plenty of water and put on sunscreen in the summer. You can find a map of the trails here. Be sure to check for closures on the trail before starting out.
Visit the Beaches of Monterosso
The village of Monterosso is best known for its beaches so they do tend to get crowded especially in high tourist seasons. The majority of the coastline at Cinque Terre is rocky instead of flat and sandy. Which means if you’re looking for a beach to relax on then you’re looking for prime real estate.
You have to pay for access to many of the beaches in Cinque Terre, but I did find a few that were free. Of course the trade off with this is that you are packed in on the beach like sardines.
The public beach that is very close to the train station in Monterosso was way too crowded to find a spot. I kept walking past it until I came to the end of the main street where it turned off from running parallel to the beach. There I found another section of beach below a statue of a giant. It was much less crowded than the one by the train station.
Eat at a Cliffside Restaurant
This was one of my favorite parts of the day and not just because eating is my favorite activity. The open air seating and view over the marina was unmatched. Pair that with the pasta and wine and it was an incredible meal.
I highly recommend doing some research and finding a great restaurant for lunch. I ate in Vernazza at Belforte overlooking the boats docked at the marina and vineyards on the other side.
If you’d like a few other ideas check out this article by Petite Suitcase for her top picks. She has the same idea as I do when it comes to finding food with a view.
Climb to Doria Castle
Climbing to the top of this castle built of stone gives you gorgeous sweeping views of the coastline and town below. It’s a different perspective from anything else to see those cliffs rising out of the ocean. There are also beautiful vineyards surrounding you that provide a gorgeous background and the greenery contrasts with the deep blue of the ocean.
Located in Vernazza, it’s a short walk from most anywhere in town. From the Vernazza train station it is only a four minute walk. If you have a data plan you can use Google Maps to get there easily. Otherwise, the people are incredibly friendly so when you stop somewhere for lunch, a snack, or a drink (it’s inevitable) just ask someone how to get there.
General Tip: When you are on WiFi you can download certain portions of Google Maps for you to use offline.
Stop for Gelato (or a Crepe)
This one is a no-brainer, what day in Italy would be complete without gelato? Seriously, I don’t think I went a day without getting gelato while I was there. At Cinque Terre, Italy though, there is something so special about walking through those winding streets savoring that sweet treat.
If you’d rather have something warm to eat then try a crepe. The nutella filled ones are to die for especially the nutella and banana filled crepes.
Visit a Winery
These vineyards lining the coast are absolutely gorgeous. I so regret not being able to visit a local winery here. Be sure to try one of their specialties, the Cinqueterre. You can either participate in a tour or pick certain wineries out yourself and go solo.
Related: Tuscany – Beyond Florence
I love doing guided tours because you get behind the scenes information on the wineries and surrounding area. Plus you don’t have to do any of the planning. The downside to a tour they don’t give you the flexibility you may want.
If you’d like to explore a winery or two on your own, you’ll have more freedom of choice. Check out this article from Decanter for the top wineries in Cinque Terre. In my research the ones I have seen multiple times are Buranco in Monterosso and Terra di Bargon in Riomaggiore. Call ahead to be sure they are open.
If you aren’t able to visit a winery, just head to a cafe or restaurant and order some local wine. There is no better feeling than sitting on a terrace, glass of wine in hand, breeze drifting over your skin, looking out over the ocean.
Take a Boat Tour
I LOVE boat tours. One of my favorite things to do if I’m near water is go out on a boat. I love the different perspective it gives you of the coast and the gentle sway of the ocean. Cinque Terre, Italy is breathtaking from land and I’m sure it’s even more captivating from the sea.
You can choose from tours between a couple hours and all day. There are some that incorporate other activities like food and wine tasting or even pesto making. The most popular ones can be found here and here, but there is a great selection on Tripadvisor.
Spending a Day in Cinque Terre, Italy
Of course you won’t be able to do all of this in one day. When I visited, I went to Manarola in the morning for the iconic view of the village and had a crepe there. Then we went to Vernazza for lunch overlooking the harbor and a visit to Doria Castle. Our final stop was Monterosso where we spent the afternoon lying on the beach, playing in the ocean, and I explored the main street a bit.
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Hiking between two of the villages is probably what I most regret not doing. Just means I’ll have to go back though. Whatever you choose to do, it’s a day that you won’t soon forget.