It seems like 50% of Instagram accounts feature a spectacular view of those colourful casas perched on cliff edges. And when further research leads you to discover that these candyfloss houses are situated in Cinque Terre, spread over five villages in the Italian Riviera, it might leave you wondering how the heck you’re supposed to see them all. That’s where my Cinque Terre guide comes in.
It’s totally feasible to visit all five Cinque Terre villages in a one-day itinerary, and I’m going to show you how.
You see, it’s unlikely you’re planning a trip just to visit Cinque Terre. The villages are a good distance from any airport so a weekend break isn’t ideal. And only a select few people will have the luxury of time and money to spend a whole week in the region.
Nope, a day will have to do. And a day is doable!
I spent one whole day visiting the five lands of Cinque Terre (which literally translates to ‘five lands’) and even though it was long, it was worth it.
If you are DIY-ing the trip like me, navigating the transport and timings might be a little daunting. But hopefully this Cinque Terre guide will put you at ease.
Complete Cinque Terre Guide: Five Villages, One Day Itinerary
What is Cinque Terre?
Cinque Terre is made up of five small villages sandwiched between the bigger towns of Levante in the north and La Spezia in the south. If you look at them on Google Maps, the villages literally line up next to each other along the coast. Starting from the north, there’s Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. And it’s also a National Park!
Florence is about three hours southeast by train, Bologna is four hours east and Genoa is just over an hour north. We stayed in Genoa for a week and if you’re only interested in visiting Cinque Terre I recommend flying into Genoa airport.
You can actually trek between the five villages, though this Cinque Terre guide won’t be covering that. However, the infrastructure is there to do so and I bet it’s a fantastic experience. Check out this Cinque Terre guide from Earth Trekkers if you want to know more about hiking Cinque Terre.
How to get from Genoa to Cinque Terre Guide
Genoa is the best city to start your day trip to Cinque Terre. You will absolutely not be able to drive to Cinque Terre, and I wouldn’t even consider it. Travelling by train to Cinque Terre is the best way, as you’ll be taking the train between all the villages anyway.
I recommend taking a train to either La Spezia or Levanto. La Spezia is south of Riomaggiore, the southernmost Cinque Terre village, and Levanto is just north of Monterosso, the northernmost Cinque Terre village.
They are the biggest stations close to Cinque Terre and you will be able to purchase a Cinque Terre Card and have access to tourist information for Cinque Terre at either station.
At least the day before your trip, I recommend checking out timetables on Trainline Italy and search Genova Piazza Principe to Levanto or La Spezia. It will probably be an intercity train and they run differently to the UK.
You know in the UK if you buy a train ticket, and if there are no seats free, you can just stand? Nope, not in Italy. They give everyone an assigned seat on intercity trains and once all of the seats are gone, no more tickets are sold. And you have to pick a timetabled train, you can’t just board any old train.
So it’s worth checking a couple of days in advance just to see how the seat situation is doing… And you can buy your ticket easily from a ticket machine at the station, in English.
Begin your day at La Spezia or Levanto
So once you’ve arrived in La Spezia or Levanto, you can get cracking! If you have the option, I recommend arriving at La Spezia, starting at Riomaggiore and working your way up. That way, you get the big hitters like Riomaggiore and Manarola checked off first. It doesn’t make much difference, it’s just easier in my opinion.
Once you arrive at La Spezia or Levanto, you will need to buy a Cinque Terre Train Card.
Top tip: There’s no such thing as starting your day in Cinque Terre too early. Our train was set to depart around 9:00 but was 40 minutes delayed. We ended up arriving in La Spezia about 11:20, where we faced a long queue for our Cinque Terre Card. So even though we woke up super early, we didn’t get started in Cinque Terre until midday!
Buying the Cinque Terre Card
There are two types of Cinque Terre Card: The ‘normal’ one, the Cinque Terre Card which gives you free Wi-Fi and access to the trekking routes or the ‘train’ one, the Cinque Terre Train Card.
This card also gives you free Wi-Fi and access to the trekking routes but also allows you can ride as many trains as you want between the five villages all day. To follow this Cinque Terre guide, you’ll need the train version. Prices vary widely between seasons so check out the Cinque Terre Card website here for up to date pricing.
Make sure to allow time for queueing to buy the card. We visited in August and it took probably 30 minutes once we’d arrived in La Spezia to buy our cards. We could also find out about any local tourist information and any road/trekking route closures when we bought our cards.
Using the Cinque Terre Train Card
The Cinque Terre Train Card acts as a regional train ticket. This means, unlike the intercity trains, you don’t need to book on one specific train going in your direction, just whatever train you want to catch. However, you do need to stamp it before you get on your first train on the station.
You’ll see little machines on the platforms and you just pop your ticket in the slot. You don’t have the stamp the ticket again and you can forget about it for the rest of the day!
Top tip: You actually don’t have to buy a Cinque Terre train pass. If you’re not fussed about walking between any of the villages or the Wi-Fi, it may be cheaper for you to buy normal regional tickets at each individual station. However, you may find this a lot more time consuming and a lot more faff. I noticed that ticket machines often had long queues, especially towards the end of the day.
After you’ve bought your Cinque Terre Train Card, you’re off! You’re given a little timetable with the card, which is super helpful if the Wi-Fi isn’t working or you don’t want to drain your phone battery. You can now, literally, just keep hopping on trains to the next village until you’re at your final stop.
I’ll explain more about how to travel back to Genoa by train at the end of this Cinque Terre guide.
First Stop: Riomaggiore
Riomaggiore is one of the quietest Cinque Terre towns. We headed towards the main street (each Cinque Terre village seems to have one, slightly busier main street) and stopped for a mid-morning gelato at Bar Centrale.
It was bloody good gelato, and they had an Oreo flavour which has to be one of my faves. I know, I’m not very cultured, am I? There seemed to be loads of nice-looking restaurants and cafes, too.
I actually found that with all the Cinque Terre villages. Even though you’d expect the restaurants and shops to be very touristy and low-quality, I found the opposite to be true. So many shops sold unique, handmade items and the restaurants all looked like really nice places to enjoy a meal.
Of course, no Cinque Terre guide is complete without pointing out the best places for photographs. Heading down to the beach and looking back on the village is a popular choice. Also, if you walk along the train platform, away from the exit, there’s a nice little cliffside overlook of Riomaggiore.
And there’s a drinking fountain just outside Riomaggiore train station, too! These are all over Rome but do not exist at all in Genoa. How odd is that?
Top tip: You can walk between Riomaggiore and Manarola in just 20 minutes instead of taking the train. This part of the Cinque Terre trek is called Via dell’Amore (Lover’s Lane). We would have loved to walk between Cinque Terre’s two closest towns, but unfortunately, it was shut (this happens a lot, apparently).
Second Stop: Manarola
This is the most crowded Cinque Terre spot and for good reason. It’s very easy to snap very picturesque selfies and Insta-worthy photographs here. Some say Vernazza is the most photographed Cinque Terre town, but I strongly disagree.
Head down through the main street (as I said, every Cinque Terre village seems to have one) and up to Manarola Scenic Viewpoint. You can’t miss it, everyone is going in the same direction. Up the viewpoint, you’re in prime position to snap photographs of the rest of Manarola and it’s pastel-coloured homes.
Top tip: Trains run either every half hour or every hour, depending on the season. So let’s do the math: Five towns, five hours. Except you will probably need two hours wherever you stop for lunch, so that’s six hours. One hour in every village will seem like no time at all, so you need to get moving! This is why it might seem in this Cinque Terre guide like we didn’t do much in each village except wander around: you honestly don’t have much time.
Third Stop: Corniglia for lunch
I could make a whole Cinque Terre guide just about Corniglia. It was by far my favourite, but it’s not for the faint of heart. You need to walk up approx. a bazillion stairs to get to this town, it’s 100m above sea level. Honestly, Corniglia is literally on a hill and stairs were built on the side of the said hill.
When you get to the top, it’s worth it. Since it’s the middle village and (in my opinion) the best, this is where you should spend two hours and have lunch. At the top of the hill, you walk down the main street (see, they all have them) and pass cute little gift and produce shops.
And if you go right down to the bottom of the street, you’ll reach View Point Corniglia. You don’t see dozens and dozens of multi-coloured houses, but in my opinion, you see something better. Gorgeous green hill after gorgeous green hill!
We had lunch in La Scuna, which was a restaurant I found through Lonely Planet. It had a gorgeous lookout over the cliffs and it’s a good choice if you’re getting sick of pizza and pasta (though who is ever really sick of pizza and pasta). I had a really nice Veggie burger and my sister and mum had quite an attractive vegetable tart.
Fourth Stop: Vernazza
The fourth stop in my Cinque Terre guide is Vernazza. The next two towns are great places if you’re really keen to squeeze in some beach time. Vernazza seemed the best for swimming (it even had a little outdoor shower) and I’ll talk about Monterosso next.
I know I sound like a broken record, but again, head down Vernazza’s main street, right off the train station and head right to the beach to look back on the beautiful little village. Even though you won’t have much time in each village, they are all pretty small.
I’ve also heard Gelateria Vernazza sells the best gelato in all the land (the five lands, that is). I can’t vouch for this myself, but you should try some and get back to me! For research purposes, you know…
Top tip: Don’t forget to check out all five villages on Google Maps before you go. Here, you’ll be able to see where Google has put a little ‘camera’ icon over the best places to go to take photographs. One thing my Cinque Terre guide cannot do as well as Google!
Fifth Stop: Monterosso
And finally, Monterosso is the last place in my Cinque Terre guide. I think Monterosso is the most individual town as it seems more like a typical beach town with a promenade that continues all along the coastline. Whereas the other villages seemed slightly more residential. But what Monterosso lacks in a multi-coloured real estate, it makes up for in striped orange beach umbrellas.
There is a giant statue of Neptune carved into the rock at the far side of the beach, but we didn’t bother looking because it was covered in scaffolding on our trip.
Honestly, we didn’t spend a lot of time in Monterosso, but if we did I’d be stopping for a Birra Moretti in one of the beachfront cafe/bars and enjoy the sunset.
How to get to Genoa from Cinque Terre Guide
The reason we didn’t spend a lot of time in Monterosso is that we wanted to catch the next train. Be prepared to have a super long day, as we arrived back in Genoa past 21:00.
See, this is the faffy bit. When purchasing our train tickets this morning from Genova Piazza Principe train station to La Spezia, we tried to book a return ticket but couldn’t, because we had absolutely no idea when we’d be ready to go back.
So we decided to just book one-way to La Spezia, then decide when to head back later. You didn’t save any money buying a return when you bought your outbound tickets, anyway.
We ended up purchasing train tickets from Levante to Genoa at the Monterosso station (the ticket assistant was able to do this for us) and taking the train from Monterosso to Levante which was valid on our Cinque Terre Train Cards, as they cover every town between La Spezia and Levante. And once we got to Levante, we already had our tickets to carry on our journey to Genoa.
My Italian train advice
The train journeys were a little more stressful than we’d like, but I think the important thing is to check the timetables throughout the day and once you have a better idea of which train you’d like to get back, just book it at whatever station you’re at so you have it prepared for later.
Once we got to the last couple of towns (Vernazza and Monterosso) we had more of an idea what train we’d get back from Levante. So, as soon as you’re sure, I recommend booking your tickets from whatever town you happen to be in and just ask for Levante to be your first destination rather than the Cinque Terre village you’re currently in.
And don’t leave booking your tickets until right before you’re due to board the train, because remember what I said about the lines for the ticket office/ticket machines often being long.
That’s my complete Cinque Terre guide! Everything you need to know to spend one day in Cinque Terre. Have you visited the Cinque Terre? Let me know in the comments below!