Sitting along the Italian Riviera, the Cinque Terre is a stunning outdoor destination with plenty of magnificent coastal scenery. For those looking to stretch their legs after days admiring churches and museums in Florence or Milan, visiting Cinque Terre can be a refreshing experience. It’s ideal for those looking to hike in Italy, people who can’t put their camera down and anyone who enjoys fresh seafood.
One of Italy’s most impossibly beautiful corners, here’s our guide to the Cinque Terre, full of travel tips for the Cinque Terre and how to make the most of a visit.
A Brief Background of Cinque Terre
The name Cinque Terre means “Five Lands”, referring to five beautiful villages that sit along the coast of Liguria, often referred to as the Italian Riviera. Nestled within the hilly coastal terrain, these villages were quite remote for much of their lives. Over the centuries, locals built terraces into the hillside to help them farm against their steep hill backdrop.
Although the villages overlook the Ligurian Sea, traditionally fishing was not the main trade for the villages of Cinque Terre. Instead, the main trade in Cinque Terre was growing olives and winemaking. These practices were only possible due to the manmade terraces, as they created the right conditions for the grapes and olives to grow.
Today, the Cinque Terre relies a lot on the money brought in by tourism. The area around the villages and surrounding country with its many hiking trails has been made a national park and offers some of the best hiking in the world. And, for its significant cultural and environmental importance, the Cinque Terre was named an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.
How to Get to Cinque Terre
Situated on Italy’s western coast in Liguria, the Cinque Terre is roughly halfway between the cities of Genoa and Pisa. As far as the closest airports go, flying to either Pisa or Genoa are your best bets. Both airports cater to many domestic and international destinations, although Pisa has a much bigger airport.
This is because the Cinque Terre and the neighboring towns are simply too small to justify their own airport. Once in Italy, the best way to travel to Cinque Terre is by train. To reach the Cinque Terre by train, you first have to reach the town of Levanto along the coast to the north or the city of La Spezia to the east. These two places bookend the five villages of the Cinque Terre and are the last stops at either end of the Cinque Terre’s local train. With La Spezia being the only city in the area, it tends to act as a local hub of sorts.
Train travel is a popular way to get around Italy, and since you need seat reservations on the Le Frecce and Intercity trains, it’s best to book in advance. Leave it until too late, especially in the summer, and all the seats may be taken. The other way to go is with the slower regional trains which don’t have seat reservations.
How to Get Around the Cinque Terre
When planning a trip to Cinque Terre, you’ll need to decide how you’re going to get around. That’s because it will impact how long you need to see the region and where you choose to stay. The three main ways to get around the Cinque Terre are either by train, boat or hiking.
1. By Train
Running from La Spezia to Levanto and stopping at each of the five villages is a regular regional train that takes 30 minute end-to-end. The more interesting and enjoyable way to explore the Cinque Terre though is to take the scenic coastal trails that link up the five villages.
Working out the best train ticket will depend on how much you plan to take the train in the Cinque Terre. If you plan to go everywhere by train, then consider buying the 1 or 2-day Cinque Terre Card Treno at any station along the line for unlimited train travel. Otherwise, simply look at individual trip tickets, as they may be cheaper.
2. By Boat
If you fancy seeing the Cinque Terre by boat, you’re in luck, as ferry services link up the villages with neighbouring Levanto and Portovenere. This is definitely a more expensive option than the train, but a cheaper option is to take one boat trip between villages. Ferry timetables, routes and costs can be found here.
3. By Car
As for seeing the Cinque Terre by car, it comes with some complications. Although it may be a fun and scenic drive for some, the roads throughout the national park are windy and quite technical. It also can be particularly bad for people who get car sick. Plus, the roads are often only wide enough for a single car, so you’ll need to drive with caution.
Once you’ve arrived in a village, only local cars may enter. Instead, you’ll need to park on the edge of the village. Each car park has its own hourly or daily rates, generally ranging from 15€ to 25€ per day. Alternatively, parking in La Spezia or Levanto is typically cheaper and you can take the train in from there.
Best Time to Visit the Cinque Terre
Working out the best time to visit Cinque Terre will depend on whether you want to hike, swim or just go sightseeing. If you’d like to spend time at the beach and go swimming, then summer is when the water is warmest.
The trouble is that the Cinque Terre is busiest in the summer months of July and August. What’s more, the Italian sun can be quite strong then, and hiking in that heat can be rough. Then there’s the matter that many things close down in August when Italians go on holidays.
For comfortable weather and good hiking conditions, it’s better to consider planning to visit Cinque Terre in the shoulder season months of April, May and September.
Where to Stay in Cinque Terre
If you’re planning your first trip to Cinque Terre, you may rightly be wondering what the best town to stay in Cinque Terre is. After all, with five villages to choose from and other towns nearby, working it all out can be a nightmare. Essentially though, you have one main decision to make: whether to stay in one of the Cinque Terre villages or in a nearby spot like Levanto, Portovenere and La Spezia.
Naturally, the first thought is going to be to stay in one of the five villages. When it comes to ambience and having everything at your doorstep, the villages are the best places to stay in Cinque Terre. But they’re also likely to be the first accommodations snapped up and potentially quite expensive come high season.
Towns like Levanto and Portovenere are in many ways very similar in look and feel to the villages of Cinque Terre. But since they’re not actually part of the Cinque Terre, you should find them less booked out and potentially a little cheaper.
Then there’s La Spezia, a fairly unassuming city, but a great place to go for affordable accommodation and easy access.