Do you know those ‘X places you should visit before you die’ style articles? You’ve probably seen countless of them. And I bet you’ve also seen Cinque Terre mentioned numerous times.
Last September, Cinque Terre finally appeared on my itinerary too. And fortunately, this was that kind of experience that exceeded my expectations.
It’s one of those places, you know, that you’ve dreamed of visiting for such a long time but when you finally see it in person, it takes your breath away. You just have to stop for a while and make ‘wow’ in your mind.
Nevertheless, there was a couple of things I wished I knew before going. To make the trip easier for you, here is my advice on visiting Cinque Terre.
Use it to your benefit and let me know how you liked this fascinating piece of Italy!
1. Go early or during off season
Cinque Terre seems to be super popular among people from all over the world and the five towns get crowded very quickly. If you want to enjoy it comfortably and not suffer crammed in the streets and trains with tons of tourists, consider waking up as soon as possible. Or better yet, even plan your trip for some of the less popular months (late autumn, winter). You probably won’t be able to wear shorts but you’ll get amazing shots of the popular sights without having to wait in the line. And that’s worth it!
2. Count with at least a full weekend spent in Cinque Terre
A mistake a lot of people do is going to Cinque Terre only for a day as a detour, or they even set out only a couple of hours. You have no chance experiencing Cinque Terre to the fullest if you don’t spend at least a full weekend there, trust me. It may look doable in a couple of hours on the map, but you definitely won’t see all the best things and will be extremely stressed because there is SO MUCH to do and see.
Having said that, one weekend is enough to get the most ouf of Cinque Terre but I bet you won’t be bored even if you stay a couple of days longer 🙂
3. Leave your car out of Cinque Terre
Parking is terrible, expensive and almost non existent due to high demand and locals parking their cars locally. Also, roads connecting the villages don’t count with taking you through Cinque Terre as quickly as possible. Parking situation may slightly vary during off season but driving still remains the most inconvenient means of transport here. Trains, on the other hand, are very convenient, cheap, many times more comfortable and run pretty often.
If you have a car, park it in Levanto (north of Cinque Terre) or La Spezia (south of Cinque Terre), depending on which direction you are coming from. These two towns offer free parking if you look for it and a lot of pay & display parking lots where you can leave your car and come back in the evening. Levanto is smaller so looking for a parking space will be tougher there, but it’s definitely doable. For example on Via Trento e Trieste (direction from Bonassolla) as shown below. It may look a bit far from the train station and the city centre, but it’s really not if you use the Salita S. Francesco short cut 😉
4. Go on a hike
When you’re finally all set in Cinque Terre, go on a hike. Yes, the hiking permit costs a couple of Euro and some of the trails may be closed (this changes all the time so it doesn’t make sense to mention which were closed during our visit. Instead, ask for the most recent info at a tourist office at any train station). The most popular trail is the blue one, leading from Monterosso to Riomaggiore. It takes 5 hours which may be too much for some, so feel free to pick just one or a few sections of the trail.
The first section from Monterosso to Vernazza is where the most people go so it can be pretty crowded, but nothing unbearable. The bit before entering Vernazza offers postcard-like views of this Cinque Terre town and if you’re lucky, you may meet some Cinque Terre cats on your way 🙂
The easiest part of the blue trail is the last section between Manarola and Riomaggiore (also known as La Via dell’Amore or The Way of Love), it’s supposed to take only about 20 minutes.
Unfortunately, this route was closed during my visit so we tried the wine trail in Manarola and weren’t disappointed. I would say be sure to include the wine trail or take it even further and go from Manarola to Corniglia (or vice versa), as the wine trail looks to be part of this route (and the whole trail to between these towns should take only 45 minutes, so nothing horrible).
We didn’t hike back to Corniglia but we ventured a little farther and higher from the wine trail (which ends at the intersection where you can choose whether you want to go back to Manarola to the port side, or go up the hill to Corniglia) and the views were stunning with vineyards complementing the panorama. Oh, and before I forget, the wine trail starts near the church at the top end of the village, just look for the wooden railings. Or have a look at this website which sums it up very well.
Bonus tip for those starting in Monterosso: If you’re coming from Levanto direction, you’ll find yourself in the new part of town and you’ll have to continue through the historic centre to the beginning of the trail. Most people go to the historic centre through a tunnel but there’s a much better way – avoid the crowds and go around the small hill (with a church on top) the tunnel goes through.
There’s a small path on your right which goes around and if you’ll take it instead of the tunnel, you’ll be rewarded with views of the sea and then historic Monterosso from a higher viewpoint – perfect for photography or just enjoying a better view of the town.
5. Go beyond the city centre
Whatever town you are at, if you have time (and that’s why you should be counting with a weekend at least), venture out of the city centre and tourist sights. You’ll be rewarded with a plethora of interesting sights – charming medieval streets, unexpected viewpoints, local life…
Just one example to give you a hint where to start – in Riomaggiore, go from the port straight to the end of the old town on Via Santuario where the intersection is (the whole town is quite small so it won’t take you long) and take the left to Via de Gasperi.
Now go on Via de Gasperi in direction like you would want to come back to the port, but this time with unprecedented views the most tourists don’t know about. It’s slightly uphill until you reach the end of Via Santuario, but nothing too tiring and the following stroll is definitely worth it. You can then go down to Castello and back to the port, or continue to the train station.
6. Enjoy a boat ride
After you’ve seen the whole Cinque Terre from earth, go on a boat and enjoy the views from the sea. There are several companies operating boats between the villages. Some of them offer half day or day excursions but you can opt for a cheaper option (as the official excursions are quite expensive to my taste) and use a boat for a one-way ride between the villages.
What worked for us was taking a boat trip from Monterosso to Riomaggiore and then taking train back. The boat from Monterosso to Riomaggiore costs 10 Euro and should take about 40 minutes, but ours was a bit more as we waited longer in some of the villages. But definitely count the boat option in, you’ll see Cinque Terre from new perspectives and especially Manarola and Riomaggiore look really great when you’re just about to approach them from sea.
If you have a car or a tight budget, it’s ideal to have accommodation just outside Cinque Terre with train links to the five villages. Levanto, Bonassola, La Spezia and their surroundings are all great options. A lot of tourists book a hotel in Monterosso as it has also a modern part of town with tourist facilities and nice beaches but I can imagine the crowds can be annoying.
We were staying at the La Francesca resort, perched on the hill between Bonassola and Levanto. While it’s easily accessed by car, backpackers planning to come only by train may find it harder as there aren’t many good walking paths from the nearest train station – you would need to walk on narrow, winding roads. If you’d like to know more about La Francesca, head over here to read the full review.
So, that was it. My advice on visiting beautiful Cinque Terre in Italy. If I had to pick just a couple of highlights of the trip, I would say hiking, boat trips and venturing farther from the city centres were my popular moments. What about you? Let me know how you liked Cinque Terre or if you’re planning a visit!
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