Ah, the magnificent Italian Riviera! With its mild climate, relaxed way of life, delightful fishing ports, and the irresistible beauty of its countryside, this charming part of the Italian coast has captivated the minds and hearts of travelers from Shelley and Byron onwards. The Cinque Terre is a particularly rugged part of the Riviera in Liguria. Comprised of five quaint villages, a breathtaking coastline, and beautiful hillsides, the Cinque Terre (meaning “Five Lands”) is now both a National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With stunning terraces over the sea, meticulously built over the centuries, the Cinque Terre has somehow escaped the ever-present greedy hand of globalization and corporate development. Spend one day in Cinque Terre, and let it win you over with its simple, weathered, irresistible charm.
WHAT’S THE BEST TIME TO VISIT CINQUE TERRE?
If you want to spend your time at the sea, and especially if you are interested in swimming, then you the best time to visit Cinque Terre is somewhere between mid-May and mid-September. When it comes to hiking, on the other hand, your options are less limited. Then you can come as early as mid-March or as late as mid-October. Even during the winter time, you will easily find what to do in Cinque Terre. La Spezia, a nearby port city, is georgeously decorated during the holidays, and Cinque Terre is famous for the biggest nativity scene in the world.
A FEW FACTS ABOUT CINQUE TERRE
The five Cinque Terre towns, Vernazza, Monterosso, Manarola, Riomaggiore, and Corniglia, cannot be reached by car. In fact, there are no cars in the entire Cinque Terre National Park. To get there, visitors need to arrive either by boat or by rail. Each of the Cinque Terre towns has its own train station, and they’re mostly 5-10 minutes apart. To get to the first one (Riomaggiore), it takes about 15 minutes from La Spezia. From Florence to Cinque Terre, it takes about two hours and twenty minutes by car, and between two and a half and three and a half hours by train.
ONE DAY IN CINQUE TERRE ITINERARY
Follow this guide and make the best of your trip even if you’re short on time. These are the top sights and things to do on your one day in Cinque Terre.
Start Your Trip in Riomaggiore
If you want to see the best of Cinque Terre in one day, you will have to get used to making some compromises, since it simply won’t be possible to see everything. While there is no one best town in Cinque Terre, and they are all equally beautiful, you can get by with visiting only three of the five Cinque Terre towns: Riomaggiore, Vernazza, and Monterosso al Mare.
To kick off your Cinque Terre itinerary, start by visiting the first one, Riomaggiore. Of the five towns, Riomaggiore is the closest one to La Spezia. Known for its excellent wine and resilient historic character, Riomaggiore is recognizable by its picturesque wharf surrounded by tower houses. As soon as you arrive at the train station, head for Via Colombo, the town’s main street, filled with charming boutique shops and numerous bars and restaurants.
Visit the Church of San Giovanni Battista of Riomaggiore
Perched atop a hill overlooking the town from the north, you will find the Church of San Giovanni Battista of Riomaggiore, dating back to the 14th century. With breathtaking Gothic architecture and artifacts such as the wooden crucifix of Margliano, the church is definitely worth a visit. Even more impressive than the church, however, are the amazing views from the little square and the area around the church. Take your time to admire the colorful houses in the valley below.
Climb the Castello di Riomaggiore
For an even better view of the cliffs and the sea, take the narrow Via Pecunia and make your way uphill until you reach the fort. A wonderful piece of medieval Italian architecture, the Castello di Riomaggiore, one of the most significant buildings in Cinque Terre, was built in the 13th century. At the time, Riomaggiore belonged to the Republic of Genoa, which sought to strengthen its defenses by building an imposing square-based castle overlooking the sea, with two massive round towers flanking the entrance. In the early 19th century, the castle was used as a cemetery for a brief period, and now it mostly hosts various cultural events.
Head to the Beach
For a short break from sightseeing, head to the public beach in Riomaggiore, east of the town. Just follow the signs that lead to the “marina” until you reach the beautiful, rocky beach with crystal clear water. Take the time to explore the town’s charming little harbor on your way there.
If you want to spend an hour or two at the beach in the afternoon instead, consider visiting one of the other Cinque Terre beaches listed below, either in Vernazza or in Monterosso.
Cinque Terre Beaches
Since you will be visiting two other Cinque Terre towns, you don’t have to go to the beach immediately in Riomaggiore. Here are some other easily accessible Cinque Terre beaches so you can weigh your options.
Both in Monterosso and in Vernazza, there are two beaches to choose from. In Vernazza, there is a smaller sandy beach in the harbor with large flat rocks that are amazing for sunbathing. Since the beach is surrounded by the natural harbor, the water is always nice and calm. The beach is only a 2 minutes’ walk from the main railway station in Vernazza down the main street. The other beach is behind the cliff on the east side of town. When you are on the main street, turn left through the cave and walk for two minutes until you reach the beach.
In Monterosso, there is a beautiful long sandy beach in the new part of town. This is the beach you should choose if you want to spend a couple of hours at a typical beach with umbrellas and sand. Keep in mind that the chairs and the umbrellas at the beach don’t come for free, though. Still, you can just bring your own towel and pick a spot in the free area. The beach is also very easy to find – it is located directly in front of the train station in Monterosso, so you can head there as soon as you get off the train.
The other Monterosso beach is in the Old Town near the trail to Vernazza.
Grab a Bite to Eat in Riomaggiore Before Moving On
Before seeing the remaining Cinque Terre towns, make sure to try some of the amazing food in Riomaggiore. If you’re looking for something simple, yet delicious, check out Bakery Rosi Roberta Di Baudinelli in Via Colombo. The focaccias are particularly popular, with 4 toppings to choose from. You should try pairing the region’s traditional bread and pastries with some local olive oil. Dau Cila down by the harbor is a bit more high-end, with excellent pasta and only the best wine. While it is a bit more expensive, the top-notch service and the amazing view more than make up for it.
Head to Vernazza
After lunch, go back to the train station and make your way to Vernazza, widely considered to be the most charming of all the Cinque Terre towns, and even one of the most picturesque and beautiful towns in all of Italy. The town’s wide main street, Via Roma, runs in a straight line from the train station all the way down to the harbor.
Climb the Castello Doria
Similar to Riomaggiore, Vernazza also has its own castle perched on top of a cliff, called Castello Doria. To access the attraction, prepare 1,5 euro (cash only) and get ready to experience one of the most spectacular views in all of Cinque Terre. In the past, the fort was part of a whole succession of towers designed to provide early warning of any pirates approaching the coastal towns.
After the castle, climb down and check out the town harbor (Porto di Vernazza), flanked by the Castello Doria on the one side and the Church of Santa Margherita d’Antiochia on the other. The church, built in 1318, is located directly by the sea in Piazza Marconi, Vernazza’s main square. As you make your way back to the train station, treat yourself to some amazing Italian ice-cream at the Gelateria Vernazza, halfway between the harbor and the train station. With a wide selection and unique flavors such as cherry and fig, Gelateria Vernazza’s gelato is among the best in Cinque Terre.
Take the Train to Monterosso
After Vernazza, head on over to Monterosso, the biggest of the five Cinque Terre towns. Monterosso is a very popular destination owing to its long sandy beaches and picturesque seaside promenade. The two parts of the town, the Old Town and the New Town, are separated by Torre Aurora, a square medieval bastion, and the Convent of the Capuchin Friars. The locals refer to the Old Town as the Centro Storico, while the New Town goes by the name the Fegina. Although there is a number of high-quality restaurants and other places of interest in the New Town, you will want to spend the majority of your time in the quaint and charming medieval Old Town.
However, when you arrive at the train station in Fegina, instead of heading east towards the Old Town, first take a walk along the beach towards the west until you reach the famous Statua del Gigante (statue of the Giant), representing Neptune. The surrounding hills, embracing the town of Monterosso, are cultivated with olive trees and vines, which is why many visitors who are interested in Cinque Terre hiking choose Monterosso as their starting point.
Stop at the Convento Frati Cappuccini
On your way towards the Old Town, pass through the tunnel and then climb the steep hill of Saint Cristoforo to reach the Convent of the Capuchin Friars, built in 1619. The Convent has seen some hard times, including persecution by Napoleon, and has served both as a warehouse and as a hospital in the past. The nearby castle ruins, which are now a cemetery, dominate over the town’s landscape.
Also Visit the Church of San Giovanni Battista
The Church of San Giovanni Battista, between the Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi and the Piazza Don Giovanni Minzoni, is a 14th century church with a remarkably well-preserved Gothic façade with unique black and white marble stripes and a gorgeous rose window. The black and white details are also prominent on the inside, on the marble in-laid floor leading up to the altar and on the tall colons on each side of the aisle.
Try Some Delicious Pasta or Seafood at L’Osteria
Just behind the church, underneath the bell tower, you will find L’Osteria, an absolute jewel of Cinque Terre with a unique hole-in-the-wall charm. Known for its ravioli with fish and scampi, pesto gnocchi, and fish soup, this restaurant is the place to go for fresh, local seafood paired with excellent wine. With a home-made dessert to die for and amazing, friendly service, at L’Osteria, you can experience the best of Italian cuisine and hospitality.
Pick a Nice Place for a Couple of Drinks
As you may have guessed, the Cinque Terre towns are not really famous for their nightlife – or sought after, for that matter. Most visitors prefer to relax with an extended dinner at sunset. And while dancing and clubbing opportunities may be few, there are still a couple of popular bars, especially in Monterosso. One of them is Il Casello, directly at the beach, making it the perfect spot to watch the sunset. The other one is Fast Bar in Via Vittorio Emanuele, which stands out with its cheap beer and light snacks.
WHERE TO STAY IN CINQUE TERRE?
Where you choose to stay in Cinque Terre depends on your preferences and room availability. With no shortage of options, there isn’t really a best town to stay in Cinque Terre. They are all equally charming, and since they are so close to each other, you will still be able to visit the other towns no matter which one you choose to go for. That said, here are the top property picks for each of the five Cinque Terre towns.
THE BEST HOTEL TO STAY IN MANAROLA CINQUE TERRE
Hotel Marina Piccola
Via Renato Birolli 120, 19017 Manarola
Only a two minutes’ walk from the beach, Hotel Marina Piccola is the best place to stay in Manarola Cinque Terre. With characteristic stone walls contrasted with contemporary furniture, the air-conditioned rooms offer free Wi-Fi, a flat screen TV, and a private bathroom that includes free toiletries. The train station is also in the immediate vicinity. The hotel’s supreme location lets guests watch the crowds from the balconies directly over the main strip and enjoy Manarola’s breathtaking sunsets.
THE BEST HOTEL TO STAY IN MONTEROSSO CINQUE TERRE
Albergo Degli Amici
Via Buranco 36, 19016 Monterosso al Mare
In the very heart of Monterosso al Mare, this charming little hotel sets itself apart with a gorgeous rooftop garden with an unparalleled view over the Ligurian Sea. In addition to bright, air-conditioned rooms, the hotel also has an on-site restaurant with local specialties, a terrace, and vineyards and olive groves right next to the property. With sandy beaches only a stone’s throw away and beach towels provided for hotel guests, Albergo Degli Amici is undoubtedly the best place to stay in Monterosso Cinque Terre.
THE BEST HOTEL TO STAY IN RIOMAGGIORE CINQUE TERRE
La Dolce Vita
Via Colombo 167, 19017 Riomaggiore
True to its name, La Dolce Vita offers everything you can ask for to make your stay in Cinque Terre unforgettable. Only a short walk from the train station and the beach, La Dolce Vita offers fully-furnished, air-conditioned rooms with excellent Wi-Fi. Bigger than you might expect, with friendly and helpful owners, and a spacious bathroom, La Dolce Vita should be your first choice as the best place to stay in Riomaggiore Cinque Terre.
THE BEST HOTEL TO STAY IN VERNAZZA CINQUE TERRE
Piazza Marconi 30, 19018 Vernazza
Located in the very town center of Vernazza, Albergo Barbara is somewhat more affordable than the alternatives, but still retains a high level of quality, with clean rooms and private bathrooms. The view from the communal seating room is spectacular. You can enjoy looking at the sea in the evening and swim in the same spot the next day. The magnificent Albergo Barbara is the best place to stay in Vernazza Cinque Terre.
THE BEST HOTEL TO STAY IN CORNIGLIA CINQUE TERRE
Via Alla Stazione 11, 19010 Corniglia
La Posada, only half a kilometer from the beach, offers beautiful rooms with classic furniture and a view of the sea. Most rooms have a balcony, and all of them have access to the sea-view restaurant serving first-class local dishes. With a perfect location right in the town center and an unmatched view, La Posada is the best place to stay in Corniglia Cinque Terre.
CINQUE TERRE TOURS
Cinque Terre Hiking Day Trip from Florence
If you are interested in going from Florence to Cinque Terre, the best way to do it is on a hiking tour with hassle-free round-trip transportation. In addition to exploring the five Cinque Terre towns, gain access to the national park and learn valuable insights about the are from experienced and knowledgeable guides. After a moderately challenging hike, you will be able to relax on an easy-going boat cruise along the breathtaking coast of the Italian Riviera.
Cinque Terre Sailing Day Trip from La Spezia
To see Cinque Terre from a completely different perspective, consider spending a day sailing along the coastline and learning about the region’s rich history and culture. With a helpful crew, willing to share some useful sailing tips, a chance to swim in the crystal-clear sea, and a tasty local lunch, this small-group tour promises a truly personalized experience you won’t be able to experience anywhere else.
Cinque Terre Kayaking Trip from Monterosso
A similarly exciting tour, although a bit more strenuous and hands-on, this excellent kayaking trip from Monterosso lets travelers explore hidden coves and untouched beaches protected by weathered cliffs not far from the iconic Cinque Terre towns. In addition to swimming, you can also opt for the sunset option, with some excellent local wine and snacks to relax with while taking in the scenery.
EXTRA TIPS FOR VISITING CINQUE TERRE
-A €1.80 ticket lets you get from one village to another, but if you are serious about seeing as much as possible, go for the Cinque Terre Trekking Pass. For 12 euros, you will get unlimited train rides and access to all the trails.
-The trains are the most convenient way to get from one Cinque Terre town to the other. There are trains in each direction once or twice every hour.
-Keep an eye on your valuables, since pickpocketing is a pretty common occurrence in Italy, especially in areas filled with tourists.
-Make sure to get up early. In the morning, the towns are less crowded, making it the best time to take photographs.
PIN FOR LATER!
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Anca is a travel writer and the founder of One Day Itinerary - the biggest collection of travel itineraries for those who are time-limited or just want to maximize their time while traveling. Although she easily becomes homesick for Croatia, she thinks travel is essential to her happiness. She has traveled to more countries than she is years old and doesn’t plan on changing that fact. In her travel guides she aims to inspire people to travel whenever they have a spare day (or two).