Suitable for: 4 Days
The Cinque Terre (CT) is a stretch of coastline located on the West Coast of the Italian Riveira, with many visitors from all around the globe all year round. It gets real busy in summer, when tourists come to hike the famed Cinque Terre 5 cities coastal walk. Cinque means 5 and Terre means Land in Italian, so you’re literally staying in the 5 Lands. The 5 towns on the Cinque Terre are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. The views are insanely gorgeous. Before I visited the area, I had heard from others that the views in reality were not as pretty as those in the postcards. Believe me, the views are going to be amazing on the coastal hike. It definitely lived up to my expectations.
Many people do the Cinque Terre on a day trip (taking an early train to La Spezia and switching to Monterosso where the hike starts) but I would highly advise against doing that unless you are really short on time. This part of the Riveira has not only history, but fantastic views that can best be appreciated with a minimum of 2 nights. You really don’t want to be rushing around on the Cinque Terre. This gives you time not only to do the hike, but to explore the villages and select your favourites.
There is also a common debate between choosing the Cinque Terre or Amalfi Coast for your holiday. What I would say is, though I’ve not been to the Amalfi, the CT would serve as a nice destination for backpackers. I also heard that the Amalfi is more luxurious and thus things are also generally more expensive there.
Portovenere is a beautiful coastal town which makes for an easy day trip from anywhere in the Cinque Terre. I highly recommend people to visit Portovenere while they are in the CT. It is definitely a sight to see, with its amazing viewpoints which overlook the vast blue Ligurian Sea. It was quite a different experience from the fishing towns in the Cinque Terre and makes for a refreshing change. Fun Fact: Portovenere is also a UNESCO heritage site!
Taking a train would be the easiest way to get to the Cinque Terre. You would have to enter from the town of La Spezia to get the local Cinque Terre express to the rest of the 5 towns. Using the Trentitalia Website (website for the Italian Rail System), you can search for a train from your current location to the destination (where your accommodation is), all the routes will include a change at La Spezia Centrale station.
The costs depend on which kind of trains you take. A regional train to La Spezia would be much cheaper than an Inter-rail train, sometimes they will be of similar durations as well! An Inter-rail train would be cheaper if you book the tickets well in advance (3 months).
You do not need to prebook regional tickets as they will be the same price whether purchased in advance or on the day itself. Regional trains might or might not have air-conditioning and will have toilets. I am putting these information out here as I had these same questions when I was preparing for my trip.
I travelled to the CT from Bologna, switching trains at La Spezia.
You could also take a flight to nearby cities of Genoa, Pisa, Rome, Florence or Nice, then transfer on a train to get to the CT. It takes 1h 40 minutes from Genoa, 1h 20 minutes from Pisa, 4 hours from Rome, 3 hours from Florence and 5 hours from Nice via train.
It is also possible to drive into the Cinque Terre via car but the roads are narrow and winding so it might be advisable not to do so.
To get around the Cinque Terre, you have a few options but the most economical one would be the get a Cinque Terre Train Pass, especially if you are staying for more than 2 nights in the CT.
The Cinque Terre Train Pass allows you not only to hike within the 5 towns, but also free rein over taking of trains on the Cinque Terre Train Line. It also includes the taking of shuttle buses, usage of free WiFi at certain areas, and usage of public toilets which cost 1 Euro (which can really add up in Europe).
When using the train, do make sure to validate your card under the machine in the picture on the above right!
There is also another option known as the Cinque Terre Pass, which does not include the train access but all other services.
Another option would be to take the ferry service around. All the towns except for Corniglia have a harbour, so travel through would be easy. The day passes range from 20 to 25 Euros depending on the distance and they include a stop at Portovenere too! That’s really convenient as one normally has to take a bus from La Spezia to Portovenere. You can take a look at the prices and timetables here.
Adult Prices (as of September, 2018)
Normal Pass without Train
1 Day : 7.50 Euros
2 Days: 14.50 Euros
Train Pass (Low Season, 2 Nov – 31 Mar)
1 Day: 13
2 Days : 23
Train Pass (High Season 1 Apr – 1 Nov)
1 Day: 16
2 Day: 29
More information on children and family prices can be found here. There are no discounts for students.
I will make it short and simple, the descriptions are not exhaustive. Travel between the towns take only 5 minutes via the Cinque Terre Express Train.
Monterosso : largest town, largest selection of room options, only one with a proper sand beach, also where most people start their Cinque Terre hike so visitor numbers might be high.
Vernazza: church is built on the water, has a castle to walk up to, small sand beach, extremely fortified city in general.
Corniglia: smallest town, hardest to get to, only one without a harbour (no ferries here!), making it secluded and peaceful (especially at night), if you like that vibe
Manarola: known for its giant rock to cliff jump off, favourite among Europeans.
Riomaggiore: only one with a rocky beach, one main street, closest to La Spezia, also some start the hike from here (but since the road between Riomaggiore to Manarola was closed, most start form Manarola)
La Spezia: large town, not on the Cinque Terre, town used to enter the CT, cheap accommodation and more hostels (than on the CT itself), more budget friendly
Portovenere: UNESCO site, medieval town close to the CT, beautiful town directly by the coast, easy access to the sea, bordered by 3 islands
Yes , that’s the view from the hostel window.
In the Cinque Terre, although it certainly had potential backpacker vibes, the availability of hostels was still a little lacklustre. Ostello Tramonti was the only hostel had that a decent number of good reviews and boy, it exceeded my expectations. The only drawback of this hostel residing in Riomaggiore was that it was at the outskirts and thus only had a free shuttle service from the main town to the hostel that ended around 9pm, so you could not really enjoy the nightlife to your heart’s content.
This hostel did not have breakfast provided but a short shuttle to Riomaggiore and your breakfast options will be plentiful.
The room had no air-conditioning (but was surprisingly still cool and comfortable to sleep in, I don’t normally take non-airconditioned hostels) , hot showers, clean beds, and nice big lockers to put your entire backpacks if needed.
The hostel provides a free shuttle service running in the mornings and evenings. You would need to prebook the service with counter staff or email the hostel online. Morning timings start from 8.30am and the last bus was around 9pm back to the hostel.
The common room at the top floor has a fridge equipped to store all liquids and a microwave. Do remember, as always, to label your own food and drinks. There is no kitchen though. The hostel has its own restaurant but the prices are more expensive than the local restaurant and pizzeria round the corner.
The hostel also gives you a really concise map of the area, and which buses to take to get down and up back to Riomaggiore (if you miss the free shuttle timings). The last public bus goes up at 8.15pm, and if you miss your 9pm shuttle, you will have no choice but to take a taxi. The road up the hostel is winding so definitely do not walk back though Google Maps would say it only takes 30 minutes to walk. The map also shows the various attractions around the CT and tips on how to do the hike.
It is possible to do laundry in the hostel at a charge of 4 Euros. You will hang your clothes at the back of the hostel, ask the counter staff for a big basket to hold your laundry.
This was the only bad point, as you had to rely on the free shuttles and the somewhat abnormally timed buses with irregular timetables to get to and fro the hostels. The mornings would be fine but its the evenings that are a little annoying to plan. Other than that, it was situated in a great mountaineous location with wonderful views.
There is also a local Italian restaurant and another Pizzeria nearby if you want some food. Other than these, all food choices would be in the main town of Riomaggiore.
The atmosphere was great at night, with most travellers back at the hostel after 9pm, when the free shuttle ends. This results in a real lively common room at the top floor, which has a curfew at 1am. Most travellers start heading back to sleep around 11 to 12am, as the Cinque Terre hike is no easy feat.
The counter staff at reception was one of the best among all my trips so far. Damiano was a legend. You could literally go down to reception and he will almost always be up for a good talk. He would even search up train timetable requests by other guests (though you could definitely use your own Iphone’s Safari or ItaliaRail to do so). Truly a master of patience, even at situations where I would be screaming internally. Say Dexter said hello, and pass him some wine if you see him, would you? The other staff were also really polite and friendly.
Overall, this was a great little hostel to stay in during your time at the Cinque Terre. It is quite a social hostel, with nice rooms and facilities as well. Highly recommended because of Damiano too. Do stay here if you’re on a budget and would like to enjoy the Cinque Terre more like a local!
Most people either start from the first or last town, Monterosso and Riomaggiore respectively. The entire hike took us around 6 hours to complete. I am very proud to say that I did it in flip-flops (cries internally). We actually hiked the entire way from Monterosso to Riomaggiore, most people stop at the third town and take the train back or Monterosso. Below shows the starting route area along the walk.
Apparently, the road from Manarola to Riomaggiore was supposedly closed, but it seemed open (though there was a fence). I only realised this after I went back to my hostel to report my experience 😛
The views were unbelievable. Everyone’s mostly walking the same way so its not easy to get lost. The terrace fields, turquoise blue waters and the colourful coastal towns went well together.
There will be people peddling their wares / showcasing their talents along the way. We met a few playing the saxophone and there was this cute elderly old man selling orange juice midway through the hike, as I will talk about below. Very economical idea, I would say.
People actually stay on houses that are just next to the hike at some points. I imagined how fantastic their garden views would be everyday. They should consider renting out their space as an AirBnB.
The path actually got a little more difficult at the end of the hike (from Manarola to Riomaggiore). Apparently, the route was closed but we must have accidentally went through the path. Thus, the steps started getting very steep, and they were most often dirt steps, which made it extremely easy to slip on. From the third town onwards, it was literally just us and the road. We met very few people… … which was both calming and unsettling.
You don’t know how happy we were when we finally reached a main road.
We ended at Riomaggiore, the last town, which was the town I was staying at. Riomaggiore does not have a sandy beach, its only beach its a little cove thats more of a pebble beach. By the end of the hike, we were feeling so gross and sweaty, that a refreshing dip in the ocean was very warmly welcomed. If you end at Monterosso, it would be slightly better as they actually have sandy beaches to lay on.
Some fresh orange juice on the hike will definitely perk you up! I took a few shots of this elderly man who carried his wares and even had a newspaper cut-out of his business. That carton and the oranges must have been pretty heavy to carry up! Respect to him.
3 Euros for a fresh cup of orange juice, considering how he had made his way up into the hills with his heavy carton, I would say it was worth that much. However, if you’re on a budget , remember that the next town always has a water fountain to refill your bottle. I really really love this part of Italy!
I would suggest exploring the towns you pass by on another day, a good time to be in the towns would be in the evenings as that is when most of the day trippers head back and the towns regain their quiet nature. Watch the sunsets cast a rosy glow on the buildings as you sip a cocktail in one of the cafes.
You can even do some kayaking from some of the towns. I knew a dad and son in my hostel room who went kayaking from Riomaggiore down to Corniglia. I asked about the currents and they said it was manageable.
Each of the towns have their own unique sights. Many also have their own little markets with cute little trinkets and other goods.
Sights in Each Town – A comprehensive summary
It’s a must to buy wine from the finest regions of Italy here! Definitely more affordable AND of better quality. Try to get it from La Spezia’s supermarkets if you’re heading to Riomaggiore, they mark up the price in the towns. I loved my 4 Euro Moscato 😛
Portovenere is at the south of the Cinque Terre. To get here, you need to take a bus from La Spezia. It is a pretty coastal town which is neighboured a few islands: Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto. You can even dive in Palmaria. I found the Old Town pretty fascinating. It has a one particular Pesto shop that sold really go on-the-go pesto pasta that I will talk about below.
Portovenere also has a castle (above) and beautiful grotto that you absolutely must visit. History dictates that Lord Byron who once lived in Portovenere, used to swim from Portovenere across the channel to visit his fellow friend and poet Percy Shelley. And with that, the Grotto (below) was named after him. Byron Grotto is beautiful and had many sun-kissed sunbathers on the wide flat rocks the last time I visited.
Glorious views of the coast and the surrounding islands greeted me as I walked along the pier. Most people skip Portovenere for the Cinque Terre and in fact, I would not have known about it had Damiano, the receptionist at the hostel, not told me about this wonderful day trip. Portovenere is a UNESCO site that must not be missed.
You can also do boat trips around Portovenere. The most popular one is the budget-friendly option that you can find by the pier. It is purchased from a little booth that will advertise boat trips. This is very popular so try to get it as soon as you get down the bus from La Spezia. Besides this, there were also the more expensive luxurious yachts for private hire.
The boat trip takes around 1 hour and travels around the island, letting you get various views of the islands and its features. Tino is actually a military base for Italy so you can get a good look at the forts and cannons on it. Palmaria has secret coves and grottos that the boat actually goes into. The boat even approaches a statue of Mother Mary placed randomly in the middle of the ocean. I don’t even know how it went there. It literally looked like it popped up in the middle of nowhere.
You could also visit Palmaria, the largest island of the 3, which has walking trails, nice sandy beaches and beautiful viewpoints. You have to take a ferry from Portovenere, the timetable is provided on the right.
Price: 12 Euros for adults, 8 for children 6-11 years old
Timings for the ferry from Portovenere to Palmaria are also below.
San Pietro is the church located at the top of the flight of steps, you can take beautiful pictures the rock windows overlooking the sea.
This was the pizzeria that was located near Ostello Tramonti – my hostel. I order their special Cinque Terre Pizza and it clearly did not disappoint, I’m sorry that I wolved it down before I took a picture of it. They have really fast service, and that allows you to bring back the pizza to the common room if you prefer dining in the hostel.
Affordable pizza that was located conveniently just outside the train station of Riomaggiore. I totally forgot what I ordered but I remembered my pizza being super yummy and very filling.
This is to give you an example of the breakfast options in town, before you head out on your hike!
This eatery in Portovenere specialised in Pesto and boy, it was good! You get to either purchase home grown pesto sauce from there, or consume one of their pasta dishes incorporating the sauce! I chose the pasta cup as seen above and it was something I definitely did not regret! It also makes for a convenient meal, holding you pasta cup while you explore the rest of Portovenere.
Prices are given below.
This cute little cafe in Portovenere made for a nice rest stop in the evening, when my legs were feeling achy from the afternoon’s adventures. In there, you have the Apricot Crumble (4 Euros), buttery delicious croissants (1.50 Euros) and various beverages, I took a Cappuccino (3 Euros). I like the ambience and the fact that it was hidden away from the main pedestrian street in Portovenere.
The Cinque Terre is indeed a splendidly beautiful place to visit in Italy. Those gorgeous coastal villages, the vibrant colours, the rustic areas, not to mention the amazing hiking trail linking the 5 towns. I am so glad to say that I finally managed to visit this place. What this post also aimed to bring to my readers is also the beauty of Portovenere, that many visitors have not even heard of before visiting the Cinque Terre. If you can, do try to spend at least a day there! You will not regret it 🙂 and I hope you all have a wonderful time in the Cinque Terre and do tell me more about your experiences if you do visit!
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