The Cinque Terre, comprised of Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore, is one of those mystical places that everyone dreams about. Five stunningly picturesque and precariously perched villages located along a rugged stretch of the Italian Riviera, packed with all matter of Italian delicacies to satiate even the most irrepressible hedonist. The Cinque Terre is a real life fantasy.
It’s one of those places that is so popular you almost don’t want to visit in-case the bubble gets popped, but go there regardless because you just. Can’t. Miss it.
We spent three days exploring the steep streets of the Cinque Terre and beyond, hiking between villages, cycling through tunnels, swimming, eating and drinking to our hearts’ content. Our bubble never popped.
We arrived into nearby town Levanto on a train from Florence (check out the Florence blog). With Trenitalia our journey went: Florence – Pisa – La Spezia – Levanto, which took 2.5 hours and cost €15.60 each. We were collected from the train station by our lovely host in Levanto, Valerio; without him the only option to get to our accommodation would have been walking or taxi. There’s more on Levanto in the accommodation section.
Trains frequent this stretch of coastline up to Genoa so most people use La Spezia as a base for the area. From Florence you will travel the route in the above paragraph and from Bologna you need to change in Parma. Trains are generally quite cheap but can be a little slow, not frustratingly but just not fast, due to many stops.
Buses from both Florence and Bologna are slightly cheaper, but the couple of euros difference isn’t worth the almost doubled journey time.
Ride-sharing is an uncertain option in Italy outside of the major cities but if you are travelling to Cinque Terre in the peak season (April to September) then hitchhiking could be worth a try.
Getting around the different villages is easy using the train service. The villages are between one and five minutes apart and tickets cost €4 per person per journey between each of the towns. If you are planning more than one trip per day it’s worth getting the Cinque Terre Card which will reduce your ticket costs.
Staying in the Cinque Terre on a tight budget is possible but it’s likely you will need to either raise your nightly budget or stay outside of the five main villages. To that end we stayed in Levanto, a coastal town about a five minute train ride from Monterosso al Mare. Our room in a local’s apartment was a five minute drive or 10 minute cycle from the centre of town. It cost us €46 per night using Airbnb and included a substantial breakfast and the free use of bicycles.
Levanto was a fantastic base for our time in the Cinque Terre and is a great place in its own right. It might not be quite as picturesque as the famous five, but it has a beautiful beach, good food and good connections.
Camping is possible in Levanto at Camping Acqua Dolce, depending on the season two adults in a small tent can camp for between €18.50 and €26 per night.
Due to the wealthy tourist demographic in the Cinque Terre, hostels are rare and often booked well in advance. Outside the main villages in Levanto and La Spezia you can expect to pay between €21 and €28 per bed per night. Check out Grand Hostel Manin in La Spezia and Ospitalia del Mare in Levanto. There is a hostel in Riomaggiore called Affittacamere Patrizia, but you’ll be paying €35 per bed per night for the good location.
Bnb’s are popular in the Cinque Terre. You should expect to pay between €50 and €70 per night for a double room, and between €60 and €90 for an apartment in Levanto and La Spezia, although La Spezia will be slightly cheaper. In the Cinque Terre itself you will most likely pay between €70 and €100 per night for a double room. My advice here is to look at where we stayed and try to book there, it was awesome. Also check out places like Hostelworld, booking.com and Airbnb to compare prices and read reviews.
Hotels range from €60 to €100 per night for a well rated place in the Cinque Terre, and obviously anything over €200 per night will get you something really nice. Levanto and La Spezia have a few hotels in the €40 to €60 range, but be prepared for something quite basic.
Hint – Stay in Levanto; it has easy access to the Cinque Terre, it’s cheaper and has the added benefit of less tourists.
You’re going to want to spend a few hours in each of the villages just wandering the streets, eating and swimming. My advice would be to plan to visit two villages a day, three if you’re really keen. This way you get time to relax and change plans depending on your mood and the weather. We enjoyed Riomaggiore and Manarola the most, but didn’t visit Corniglia.
Hiking is a huge attraction to the area and most of the year it’s an easy hike between all the villages along the coast. We hiked an awesome coastal path from Levanto to Monterosso, which took about three hours with lots of stops to find shade and admire the incredible views. Remember to take some food and at least two litres of water per person in the hotter months. For all the trails in the area take a look at this great blog post, and also be sure to check the Cinque Terre site for updates on closures as sections of the paths are often closed due to maintenance or landslides.
Monterosso al Mare is a nice place for a swim and some food. We ate a late lunch just off the main square and paid €19 for two people including a beer each.
Riomaggiore is stunning with steep streets. We shared fish & chips for €7 then walked around the bay to the pebble beach. Unfortunately we got driven away by rain but swimming would be good there.
Manarola is perhaps the most famously photographed town of the Cinque Terre. From the train station walk through the pedestrian tunnel and towards the harbour where you will find a steady stream of people heading to the opposite side of the main town. Here is the magic spot for your Instagram. Swimming in the harbour is common, perfectly safe and really beautiful.
Vernassa was the most touristic and seemed more overpriced than the other villages. My advice here would be to grab a couple of beers and head down to the waterfront at sunset for a nice view then head somewhere else for dinner unless you’ve got stacks of cash.
If you are staying in Levanto (even if you aren’t), you can cycle or walk through a series of old tunnels that provide pedestrian/cycle only access to Banassola further up the coast. It’s a truly stunning path through a beautiful area of tiny bays and secluded beaches. On bikes the route took us maybe an hour return with a few stops but walking would more likely take 2.5 hours to Banassola and back to Levanto.
While in the Cinque Terre make sure to sample their limoncello and grappa – it’s all first-rate.
Hint – A little tip for Manarola; there’s a restaurant on the waterfront that’s right next to Ristorante Marina Piccola, but isn’t Ristorante Marina Piccola, that leaves it’s outside area open while the restaurant is closed. It’s a great place to grab some supermarket drinks and a snack, catch some shade and people watch.
Cinque Terre for three nights;
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