I love showing people the Cinque Terre for the first time.
I’m lucky enough to do that on my group trips to the Cinque Terre , and I dig seeing their faces when they arrive.
I’ve spent a ton of time in the area as a resident, a tour guide and a traveler. Whenever someone ask me, “What should I do in the Cinque Terre,” my eyes light up and I start listing off all my favorite things.
Since I get asked a lot of questions about what to do in the Cinque Terre, I decided to post this free itinerary for you to steal and use to plan your own trip.
My DIY Cinque Terre itinerary is for four days and three nights and you can see it below.
Don’t make this #1 Cinque Terre planning mistake.
Some people think the Cinque Terre is just one place – but that’s a mistake.
First, understand that the word is used to describe an area of land, not one place.
Don’t waste your time trying to see train schedules for the “Cinque Terre”.
Don’t get confused trying to book a hotel in the “Cinque Terre”.
Know that there are five main villages that make up the zone – so before you plan your stay you’ve gotta figure out which of the five villages you want to stay in.
There are also other villages surrounding the Cinque Terre, like Levanto and Portovenere, which are not technically part of the “five lands” but are still wonderful options for a home base.
If you’re looking at the map, the Cinque Terre is located just north of the Tuscan border and takes about three hours on the train from either Florence (to the south) or Milan (to the north). If you’re flying into Italy and will be visiting the Cinque Terre first, the best airports are Pisa (easiest), Genoa or Milan.
A note to hikers: Some people imagine the villages as spread over a vast area, but this isn’t true. If you want to hike between all the villages, there is really no reason to walk with all your belongings to each of the villages and change hotels. That’s a pain in the ass. I recommend just doing day hikes between the villages (you could hike them all in one big day), and leave your gear at your hotel. It’s just a train ride away after you’re done the trail.
One last thing: the Cinque Terre is actually a national park, a protected waterway and a Unesco World Heritage site. Most vehicle traffic is restricted inside the villages. This explains why the area is preserved so well and has a way of transporting you to a simpler time…a time before neon McDonald’s signs and other weights of our modern existence.
Step One: Pick a village.
The first thing you gotta do to plan your Cinque Terre stay is to choose one of the village as your home base.
Don’t get overly caught up in which village to stay, they are all wonderful, and I’ll explain them better below.
As I mentioned before, all the villages are close. Like really close. It takes between three and twenty five minutes by train to travel between them. There are also walking trails that connect them. Current trail conditions are here.
The five Cinque Terre village from south to north:
Riomaggiore has one main street, a harbour, a rocky beach, a castle, a church, a pharmacy, and a dozen restaurants. It also has good train connections and is the closest to the main city of La Spezia. I met my husband here a decade ago, and some of my best friends live here, so I’m completely biased when I say this: it’s my favorite village.
Heading north from Riomaggiore is the second village called Manarola. It’s also a one street town, with a small harbour where you can swim. It has an incredible spit of land where the most famous Cinque Terre photos are taken from. Manarola is the smallest village; the baby of the family.
The middle child of the family is Corniglia. She’s a rebel. She’s built far above the ocean on the cliffs. To arrive at Corniglia you gotta hoof it up the 365 steps (one for each day of the year) to reach the centre of town. If you have excessive luggage don’t stay here. But saying that, it’s where to go to get away from it all.
The beauty queen of the Cinque Terre is named Vernazza. This village is the most popular girl at school; everyone wants to hang out with her and be her friend. She’s incredibly photogenic. Vernazza is a one street town with a church built on the water. She has a castle, the remains of the old wall that protected against pirates, a gorgeous waterfront piazza and a harbour with a spit of sand that you can even call a beach.
The northernmost village is called Monterosso al Mare. She’s the biggest kid in the family, and she has many streets and even (gasp) cars driving in the village. Her landscape isn’t as vertical as her other sisters, you could even spend the entire day not climbing hills and stairs. Monterosso is made up of an old town, a new town, lots of sandy beach, some larger hotels and a long seaside promenade suitable for strollers too. If you want to avoid stairs and have a more “resort” feel to your vacation then you should stay here.
Step Two: How long are you staying?
The second thing you gotta do to plan your Cinque Terre stay is decide how long you’re staying.
I recommend two nights minimum. My itinerary below is for four days and three nights. If your short on time, I would recommend reading my article, Should I Go to the Cinque Terre?
When I take people on my group trips to the Cinque Terre, we stay for six nights. And no one ever wants to leave.
Step Three: Choose where to sleep.
The fanciest hotels are in Monterosso. A great option in the region is taking advantage of the many private apartments for rent. There are also B&B’s and hostels. You can rent an apartment for 60-120 euro a night. Truly, it’s amazing what you can get for 80 euros a night here, but book ahead. At the bottom of this article, you’ll see my recommended accommodation.
Steal this: Your 3 night, 4 day itinerary for the Cinque Terre.
- This is designed for sunny weather. If you’re traveling in the cold season, read my article, Should I Go to the Cinque Terre?
- It’s based out of the village of Riomaggiore.
- The best way to travel between the five villages is with the train; traveling between each station takes mere minutes.
- You can’t see it all and do it all in three nights. I’ve given you my favourite highlights, something that I would tell a friend to do. If you’re like me, and like to relax and soak up the environment, then you’ll dig this itinerary. If you like to be active then add my optional extras (listed at the bottom) to your stay.
Arrival Day. Check-in to your hotel. Maybe you’ve had a big travel day so go stare at the ocean and drink a glass of local wine at:
- A Pie’ de Ma’ (Via dell’Amore, Riomaggiore, take the stairs at the train station)
This is my favorite drink spot in the whole world and a visit here is mandatory to your Cinque Terre experience. My recommended tipple is either local white wine, prosecco or the specialty from this area called Sciacchetra — a fortified wine made from dry grapes of the hillsides you’re surrounded by.
After that I would cruise down to the marina. Gather at the agave and watch the sunset over the harbour. Then head to dinner at:
- La Lanterna (Via S. Giacomo, Riomaggiore, overlooking the marina).
You’ll love the beautiful stone interior and the Ligurian comfort food it serves.
Rise and shine because it’s a beautiful day and you have nothing to do except enjoy it. Head down to the village and catch the morning action. Drink a coffee on the main (and only!) street. Then head to the beach in Riomaggiore for a morning swim.
- To find the beach of Riomaggiore, go down to the marina (take the steps you’ll find on the left at the bottom of Via Colombo). When you reach the marina take the stairs to the left and it will wind around to the ferry dock, and just past there, you’ll find a beach of boulders. At first they look uncomfortable, but you can arrange the rocks until you create a nice little nest. I love this beach cause it’s mellow.
For lunch, I would suggest adventuring to the village of Groppo. It’s completely out of the way, so give yourself an hour to arrive (you need to take the train from Riomaggiore to Manarola). The food is divine and made with love with local ingredients. I suggest arranging a wine pairing with lunch. Because this restaurant is very particular, it’s more like dining in someone’s home, reservations are a must. Contact Christianne, the owner to make a reservation.
- Restaurant: Cappun Magru in Casa di Marin, in the village of Groppo. You can catch a bus just outside the pharmacy in Manarola to get to this restaurant in a tiny village up the hill. Phone: 0187920563
After lunch, if you’re feeling fit, walk down to Manarola (or if want to skip the 30 minute walk simply catch the bus back down the hill). You can visit the adorable village of Manarola, it has one main street so everything is easy to see.
Walk down to the marina to see the locals at the swimming hole. Then join them! Or keep walking north along the walking path jutting out to the point and you’ll be rewarded with village views fit for a postcard. There’s also a playground if you’re traveling with children.
For dinner, you should eat in Manarola at Da Billy. Bring your walking legs cause it’s up the hill with a great view. They serve seafood.
- Da Billy, Via Aldo Rollandi 122, Manarola Phone: +39 0187 920628
Another Manarola option is on the main drag.
- Trattoria il Porticciolo, Via Renato Birolli 92, Manaraola. Phone: +39 0187 920083
After dinner head down to the local’s hangout with live music most nights:
- Cantina dello Zio Bramante, Via Renato Birolli 110, Manarola. Phone: +39 0187 920442
Train home, or if it’s open, take the walking path called Via dell’Amore. Walking the moonlit path above the swirling ocean is amazeballs.
If you haven’t heard, the Cinque Terre is famous for its walking paths. Hiking the Cinque Terre trails is a wonderful thing to do, and there are masses of trails weaving all over the region. Some are paid trails (it’s just five euros and helps maintain the park), and some are not.
My favourite trails are: Riomaggiore to Portovenere (free but long) and Monterosso to Levanto (free). My other fave ones are Monterosso to Vernazza and Vernazza to Corniglia, but you’ll need a trail pass for these. They are both suited to beginners and lazy hikers, although promise me you’ll not wear flip flops on the trail. As the signs also say, don’t wear high heels. Glad they pointed that out.
For just a taste of the trails, I would suggest you do the section from Monterosso to Vernazza. It is 3.5 km long and takes a little under two hours.
You can train from Riomaggiore to Monterosso, visit the village of Monterosso, and then hike the trail to the next village of Vernazza. In Monterosso you can swim at the beach and visit the old and new town. Bring a backpack and water for your hike. Live like a local and just grab a piece of focacca on the fly at the bakery, or my favorite, focaccia di recco. You gotta be a glutton and try the farinata too.
Spend your after hike afterglow in the village of Vernazza. It’s another one street town, and it’s pretty interesting as it’s been under extensive repairs after a landslide in 2011. But it’s still a lovely place to spend the afternoon.
For dinner, eat at my favourite seaside restaurant in all of the villages. You’ll find it down at the marina. Ask to seat on the lower balcony. If the sea is rough you’ll be cooled off with sea spray.
- Ristorante Belforte, Via Guidoni, 42, Vernazza. Phone + 39 0187 812222
Parting is such sweet sorrow.
If you’re traveling today, a great idea is to buy your train ticket the day earlier. That way, when you show up to the train, it won’t matter if there’s a long line up, you won’t miss your train! Be sure to “validate” your tickets by inserting it into the yellow machine on your day of travel or you could risk a fine.
If your travels take you north, to Milan, Turin , Genoa or into France — then you should get off the train at Bonassola. It has an amazing beach and an adorable town. I love spending an entire afternoon here, you can rent a beach umbrella and beach chair and love summer like the rest of the Italians. It is the most underrated town of the area and worth a visit.
Options and extras:
If you have more time to spend in the Cinque Terre my other suggestions are:
- Go to the market in La Spezia, on Fridays (cheapo clothes and shoes)
- Go to the market at Forte Dei Marmi on Wednesdays (designer discount clothes)
- Go to the market in Levanto, on Wednesdays (food and clothes)
- Day trip to Portovenere on the ferry.
- Day trip to Sestri Levante on the train.
- Drive to Lerici and Tellaro (if you have a car).
- Day trip to Bonassola on the train.
My accommodation recommendations.
In Riomaggiore, you can stay at a lovely sea view property with incredible views from your own private patio at Christina and Alessandro’s place, I Limoni di Thule. If you’d like more of a traditional hotel that serves breakfast, then stay with Carla and family at the Cinque Terre Residences. If you’d like to rent an apartment, contact Amy at Riomaggiore Reservations.
How I can help you go to the Cinque Terre.
- You can join one of my group trips. It’s a week of heaven with zero stress and I plan the whole shebang. Click here to read more.
- Wait for my app and guidebook coming soon.
- Ask me a question in the comments below and I’ll help you out.
Feel free to steal* this itinerary, share it with your friends, re-post it to your blog or print it out.
* Steal my itinerary for your own personal use. If you want to reprint this itinerary on your blog, awesome, but please link to this original. Grazie
Do you have a question or comment about the Cinque Terre? What is your favorite thing to do here?
Leave a comment below.
Baci + beaches,
images by Leela Cyd