10 Best Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Trip to Cinque Terre

10 Best Tips for Cinque Terre

10 Best Tips for Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre is one of the most striking, vibrant, and romantic places I’ve ever been.  For years, I had been hearing people tout all of its greatness, and yet I’d never really felt much of a pull to go.  With the weekend quickly approaching, Jim and I desperately wanted to get out of town and hit the road.  We decided to drive south, and looking at the map, Cinque Terre was practically calling to us, so we went.  After leaving the highway and driving down the windy, steep road to our hotel, “oohs” and “ahs” kept erupting from us and by the time we parked, we were smitten.

From the quaint and colorful hilltop villages to the deep, fresh taste of the seafood and pasta, we had an amazing few days.  We hiked; we drank wine, and even though there were plenty of tourists, the atmosphere was relaxed and we had a wonderful time.  In some ways, though, maybe in part due to its popularity, it’s helpful to be prepared before you go to Cinque Terre.  Here are our top ten tips for having the absolute best and memorable time.

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10 Best Tips for Cinque Terre

One – Getting to Cinque Terre can be a bit challenging.

I told a friend that we were driving to Cinque Terre and she told me, “We tried one weekend, but we couldn’t find it.”  True story.  The problem is, you see, Cinque Terre is not on the map.  You have to know that it is actually a region made up of five coastal towns in the province of Liguria.  The five towns from north to south are Monterosso del Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore, so you might need to type one of those into your GPS.  Of course, many tourists will be flying or taking the train in after seeing other parts of Italy.  The closest airport is Pisa or Florence, and then you will still have to take a train to get all the way to one of the Cinque Terre towns. Shuttle buses run frequently between the airport and the major train stations in those cities, and afterwards you will need to book a train ticket to La Spezia, which is the largest city near Cinque Terre There you will change to a smaller, local train to find your hotel.

10 Best Tips for Cinque Terre

Two – The absolute best times to go to Cinque Terre are in late spring and early fall.

To begin with, and thanks to big travel shows and guidebooks, Cinque Terre is on everyone’s Italy “to do” list.  We went in late October and still couldn’t believe how many people were in the streets and on the hiking trails.  June and July is not only very hot and sweaty, but there are so many people on the trails that you hardly feel like you are hiking, more like crossing a street in New York City.  Even if you want to swim, you can still do this from the end of July and well into October.  When we went to the beach, there were not many people there, but all of them had been swimming.  The water was still warm. It had been a little rainy and windy, so getting out of the water was a little chilly, but no one seemed to mind too much.

10 Best Tips for Cinque Terre

Three- Don’t stay in the five towns of Cinque Terre.

Even with summer and the majority of visitors long gone, the hotels in the five towns had still not dropped their prices very much.  The only solution is to stay outside of the five towns that make up Cinque Terre.  We stayed in Bonassola which is a mere eight minutes on the train to Monterosso and only 20 minutes all the way to Riomaggiore. Every town within the national park was packed full of tourists from all over, America, the UK, Japan, Korea, you name it, but just going that extra stop on the train, the crowds not only thinned out, they were non-existent.  In our hotel, there were only three other parties staying, a total of maybe 10 people, and that’s all we saw in the entire town.  We had no trouble getting into a restaurant for dinner, and even better, since it was low season the waiters were relaxed and took their time to tell us stories and even recipes.  Our hotel was well situated by the train station, and it provided free parking, which believe me, we did not see anywhere else we went.

10 Best Tips for Cinque Terre

Four – Don’t bother with driving, take the train.

At this point in the post, you probably could have predicted that this was one of the tips.  The five towns of Cinque Terre do not allow cars in their centers, and even businesses had to use metal carts to haul their goods from the edge of town on in.  You wouldn’t want to drive there anyway; there are people everywhere!  Another theme of this post…Cinque Terre is a very popular destination!  Even in the late evening, after dinner, there were hundreds of people walking to and from the train stations, along the beach, and in the center of the towns.  They were busy.  Not only that, but here’s a hint.  The wine is pretty good.  You wouldn’t want to miss out on trying any of the local wines.  That would be a pure shame!

10 Best Tips for Cinque Terre

Five – Cinque Terre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and national park – hike it!

You definitely will want to do some or all of the hikes between the towns and enjoy the spectacular views of the towns from the coast.  Even people who don’t like to hike should go on the trails between the towns.  There are many different trails, but the one that is by far the most popular is the coastal trail.  It is only 11 kilometers in length from start to finish, but takes about six hours of walking because of the steepness of the cliffs.  There is also no water once you get on the trail, so bring some with you.  It is hot, hot, hot in the summer, so if you are hiking in June, July, or August, start walking very early!  For some reason, I expected the trail to be paved the entire way, which is not the case, so sturdy walking shoes are a must as well.  There is a fee to hike.  When we were there it was 7.50 €.

10 Best Tips for Cinque Terre

Six – The beaches are stunning!

It’s very hard to go to an area known for its rugged coastal beauty and not want to go swimming.  Somehow, we stayed in a town with one of the most beautiful and accessible beaches, Bonassola.  Other great places to swim would be in Manarola and Riomaggiore.  Even if you don’t want to immerse your entire body, it’s pretty difficult not to take off your shoes and soak your feet for awhile.

Seven – Eat the amazing local dishes.

Before we went, we had heard of the famous Genovese pesto and salted sardines, not to mention the amazing wines made primarily from Vermentino grapes.  We couldn’t wait to try them.  Even though I’d never before been a pesto fan, the Ligurian variety made me change my tune.  It was amazing.  I ordered it twice in the weekend, because it was so delicious.  Apparently, the soil and climate on the coast there, is the absolute best for growing the main ingredient, basil.  I loved it.

10 Best Tips for Cinque Terre

Eight – Even budget travelers can enjoy Cinque Terre.

Well-visited sights are not the best for frugal travelers, but there are a few ways to enjoy the Cinque Terre without busting your budget.  We already mentioned staying outside of the national park, and that will save you quite a bit of money from the get go.  Yes, you’ll have to take the train more often, but that won’t even come close to the money you’ll save in accommodation.  Also, in the other towns, there are more grocery stores, and you can also buy some great local sausage and bread or sardines to have a Ligurian picnic on your walk.  If a picnic is not your thing, then within the Cinque Terre, there are also plenty of walk-up food windows serving amazing pizza, paninis, and even seafood.  No, there aren’t any fast food chains, but you can still eat for only a few Euros if you only give up sitting down at a restaurant.  The Italians charge a table fee of 1-3 Euros per person, so even without ordering it’s cheaper to stand and eat.

10 Best Tips for Cinque Terre

Nine – The best way to get that stunning photograph!

While you are on the hiking trails, you do get some amazing views.  Just remember that there are lots of people all vying for that same shot.  The good thing is there will always be someone to take a photo of you and your partner without having to do a selfie!  The best shot, though, of any of the towns is from the water.  Luckily, there is a water taxi that goes from Riomaggiore all the way to Monterosso and back, that you can take and get those views for a bargain.  Buy your tickets at any of the boat taxi kiosks in all of the five towns.  Many people do use these boats as a means for getting between the towns, and of course, you can do this as well, but each time you get off you will pay a higher price than if you just take the train or stay on the boat for the entire ride. This allows you to get stunning shots of each of the towns. To get the best results, put your camera on sports mode or if you are shooting with a DSLR, increase your shutter speed to at least 1/800 to stop the movement of the boat.  A longer lens will do better here since the boat cannot hug the shore.  Many, many people ride the taxis, so it’s a good idea if you get in a long line and you make it to the front, let everyone else pass you on that run and take the next boat so you will have your choice of seats.

10 Best Tips for Cinque Terre

Ten – The absolute best part of Cinque Terre are the sunsets!  

Make sure you time this right!  If you aren’t outside walking along the beach or sitting on a sea wall, make sure that you are in a good spot with a view.  The sunsets are amazing, so pink and purple.  There are plenty of restaurants with balconies and viewpoints, but of course those are premium spots, so if you just eat before or after sunset you will be much, much happier!

Have you been to Cinque Terre?  Do you have any tips or advice to share with us?

40 Comments

    1. Noemi, I hope you follow my advice when to go. I loved it, but even at the end of October there were many, many crowds. I think you are right, so many people want to go!

  1. Yes, I’ve been to Cinque Terre, long before they appeared on everybody’s travel radar (I think it was 1983). Even back then it was near impossible to drive to any of the small towns. The main road was along the ridge, way away from the coast, and each town was accessible via a long dead-end street, winding its way down the steep hills. Once you came near the towns every bit left and right of the road was full of parked cars, hard to find any gap to squeeze into – unless you owned the then so popular tiny Fiat 500.
    Juergen | dare2go recently posted…2015: Our Year of South American Travel in ReviewMy Profile

  2. Your photos are stunning. It’s so crazy that it’s not even on the map. It’s certainly great that you can take the train. A great way to get around. I love your photos! It was worth trying to find it.
    Alissa Apel recently posted…Smarty PantsMy Profile

  3. I think your tip about staying outside of one of the top 5 towns of Cinque Terre to get away from the crowds. I was in this neck of the woods 10 years ago, and still to this day Levanto is one of my favorite towns in the world! I biked in from Pisa and remember coasting down the hill toward town with the Mediterranean on one side and the gorgeous town on the other. I cannot wait to return one day!

  4. Thanks for the great tips. The number nine is the most useful for me as I am in photography very much. I do have booked my Cinque Terre trip for the beginning of May. I will stay in La Spezia and Genoa. I am looking forward to that!

    1. Tarah, It is a beautiful area. We could have spent even more time there exploring the towns around. We did go to Lucca for the day as well, and it was also gorgeous!

  5. I want to thank you for such listing out such comprehensive details. As a traveler, I really appreciate your efforts and have made notes for my travel plans for the spring!

  6. Booked flights to Pisa this April for myself and my two boys (9 and 14) who are so excited to see The Leaning Tower and then onto Rome for The Coliseum and then Pompei. For me, it’s a dream come true to have a day at Cinque Terre!!Train from Pisa and hopefully a little boat trip and a paddle in the sea! Hoping it’s a sunny April! Thx for the great tips! x

  7. Great tip to hike it. I went with my mum in 2009 and we stayed outside of the 5 towns, and spent the full day hiking the whole thing. We then caught the train back because it got pretty late in the end, but really loved the day, and I’m so glad we chose to walk it. So many sights that you catch between each town which you miss if you were to take the train. And it feels like much more of an adventure that way!

  8. I have so much to say about this!! I haven’t written about CT ever because I’m worried about not being able to do it justice, but you did great. Driving to CT… that made me laugh. Confession though: I once fell asleep in La Spezia and had to wait FOREVER for the next train. And yes, do the hike!! It’s such an incredible place.

  9. Your beautiful pictures have sold the place to me. I love the beaches and the fact that this is a UNESCO site totally gets me excited.

    1. Ami, It is a beautiful place, and I just read that the authorities will start limiting the amount of tourists each day so maybe it won’t be quite as crowded.

  10. Great post! I’m glad that you enjoyed your stay in my region and that you actually hiked!
    Just so you and your readers know, from this week end it will be better to stay in the area from La Spezia to Levanto as per trains as the service will be limited to these seven stations and for instance from Bonassola you’d have to buy a ticket to Levanto and change train there buying another ticket for the new “Cinque Terre Express”…

  11. Oh! These pictures are so stunning! Thanks for sharing. Can’t wait to visit this beautiful place again. Cinque Terre is my never changing muse since I first visited it in 2006.

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