So a few summers ago I visited Cinque Terre as a part of my backpacking trip through Italy and France. I completely fell in love with the towns and I still need to visit the biggest one Monterosso del Mare. So even though it was my first time visiting the area, it certainly isn’t going to be my last! Here is a short guide to backpacking Cinque Terre.
I say backpacking cause I backpacked while there, but I would say this guide is perfectly helpful to start planning you Cinque Terre vacation, no matter how you travel. There are also some pictures I took while visiting. If they don’t convince you, I don’t know what can. While visiting Cinque Terre, a visit to Portofino is
About Cinque Terre
First of all, a lot of you have probably seen photos from Cinque Terre, located on the northern Italian coast. Cinque Terre actually means “the five lands” in Italian as it actually consists of 5 towns all located super close together on the Italian Riviera. The towns Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore all used to be fishing villages, only reachable by boat. The locals of Cinque Terre used to make a living from fishing, vineyards and olive cultivation.
Nowadays the main income for the locals is tourism. The iconic cliffside towns and the area around are all part of a National Park as well as on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites. Visiting, it’s not hard to understand why.
Cinque Terre Wine
Even though Cinque Terre makes most of its money from tourism these days, there are still wine producers. The local wine produced is white and usually light and dry made with Bosco, Albarola, and Vermentino grapes. Still, they also produce a sweet white wine in the area called Sciacchetrà. The wine is produced on terraces in the steep slopes close to the ocean and the salty ocean spray. Due to the location of the vineyard, they are still doing all the management manually making the Cinque Terre wines more exclusive.
How to get to Cinque Terre
It’s easy to get around in Italy and Cinque Terre is close to quite a few other popular tourist destinations. Cinque Terre is just 3 hours away from Pisa(you know, the town with the big Leaning Tower of Pisa). In the north, it is easy to get to Genoa or Milan. Milan is a big international hub and just under 3 hours away by train. If you fly into Italy with Cinque Terre as your main destination, the easiest way to go to Cinque Terre is from Milan.
Driving to Cinque Terre
No matter where you come from to Cinque Terre, the easiest way to get there is by train. As already mentioned above Cinque Terre is mainly car-free. Still, if you want to drive to Cinque Terre you can. You’ll then get to drive on winding roads, past some amazing scenery, with the ocean, cliffs, vineyards and olive trees. There are parking lots outside the touristic centers of the towns. There are parking lots outside every city though you may have to search a bit. The parking fee for parking in the Cinque Terre cities range from 10 – 24 euros a day. If you have a car but want to arrive by train you can look for free parking in the nearby town of La Spezia. Check out more information about parking here.
You can also take the ferry from Cinque Terre to Portofino a town that’s definitely worth visiting if you plan on traveling in the area. Check out this Portofino guide to learn more.
How to travel in-between the towns of Cinque Terre
The easiest way to travel in-between the cities of Cinque Terre is by train. From the first of the town to the last one it doesn’t take more than 15-20 minutes. The train passes two times an hour, here is an exact timetable.
Hike between the towns of Cinque Terre
An option is also to make a day out of it and hike in-between the towns. There are various trails to choose from depending on duration and the state of the trails. Ask in the tourist information about what trails they recommend when you’re there. Some of the trails might be closed off due to landslides so the tourist information will have all the tips on trail routes.
Take the Ferry
The last options of transportation between the towns of Cinque Terre are by boat or ferry. The Ferries are more like excursion and will take you around the nearby islands too. There is also the possibilities of renting canoes to go exploring, depending on the weather conditions.
The Cinque Terre Card
If you want to spend a couple of days in Cinque Terre, it might be worth considering to buy a Cinque Terre Card. This gives you access to the hiking trail in the national park, trains and also access to the buses. This way the card is a “Cinque Terre hiking pass” as well as a card for public transportation. By example, you can take the bus from the train station in Corniglia and up to the city, which is quite the uphill walk. If you buy the Cinque Terre Card for Train it also includes unlimited traveling on the train line from Levanto to Cinque Terre to La Spezia. The cards are valid for 1-2 days and the prices for the Cinque Terre Card starts from 7,50 to 23 euros for adults.
Map Cinque Terre
If you’re coming from the south (Pisa/Lucca), as we did, Riomaggiore is the first town you’ll arrive in. It has a small rocky beach where you can go for a swim, or climb out on the rocks that protect the beach from big waves. From here you can watch the towns colorful houses change colors while the sunsets.
Riomaggiore is actually located in the river mouth of the river, Rivus Maior meaning big river. It’s from this river that the town got its name. These days you won’t be able to see the river while in town as its covered by the towns main road, Via Colombo.
Wondering what to do in Riomaggiore except for enjoying the amazing views? Walk the main street of Riomaggiore uphill and you will pass restaurants and small shops selling souvenirs as well as socal food and wine. At the top of Via Colombo, you’ll find the towns church, Church of San Giovanni Battista. From there you can take Via Pecunia down the hill again and you will pass Oratorio di San Rocco, a chapel built in 1480 to memorate those killed in a plague that hit the village. Next, to the Oratorio, you can check out the town’s castle, Castello di Riomaggiore. From the castle, you’ll get another great look at Riomaggiore.
Eat like a backpacker in Riomaggiore
It is pretty hard to get a reservation for the seaside restaurants, especially in the high seasons. BUT as low budget travelers it’s an even better idea to buy some delicious ham, cheese, olives, and local wine and sit by the seaside. From here you can look upon the beautiful city, lit up in the dark and listen to the waves. Can you think of any other setting suited for great conversations?
If you anyway want a reservation I recommend planning ahead a couple of days and call to reserve beforehand. The seaside restaurants seemed to have a wonderful atmosphere.
Manarola is the second smallest of the 5 towns of Cinque Terre. Still, it’s speculated to be the oldest town of them all. The first mentions of the town have been dated back to 1261. The town even has a local dialect ordination from Latin, Manarolese. The town is said to have gotten its name from the big mill wheel of the mill in town. Magna roea in manarolese means big wheel.
Manarola is the next town you get to when you take the train line, that takes about 5 minutes. You can hike to Manarola from one of the cities lying on each side of it, Riomaggiore and Corniglia. If you decide to hike from Riomaggiore, you walk along Via dell’Amore and you will arrive close to the train station in town.
Walk down to the port of Manarola for a refreshing swim in between the sheltered rocks. If you want to see the colorful town from a far, walk 10 minutes out of town along cliffs. You also find some restaurant on the cliffs there. Italian food and a view, not exactly a bad combination.
Make sure to check out the upper part of Manarola aswell. On the small square, Vico Volto you’ll find church San Lorenzo. The cornerstone of the church dates to 1338. Next, to the church, you can find remains of the city’s oratory as well as a bell tower.
The photo below is taken in Corniglia, the only one of five villages of Cinque Terre, not directly connected to the ocean. It’s separated by 382 steps located in the steep mountainside and lies 100 meters above the sea. Corniglia is also the smallest of the Cinque Terre towns. As it doesn’t have a harbor it used to be all about agriculture. Even though the other Cinque Terre towns are surrounded by vineyards, they are more prominent in Corniglia, even in the center of town.
Or, if you don’t feel like taking the stairs, you can catch the bus that goes continuously from the train station to the city. It’s small but beautiful and totally worth seeing. Though the town doesn’t have a harbor there are several beaches close to town. Follow the marina signs or ask a local for directions!
Vernazza is the fourth town and is a small fishing village with the only natural harbor of Cinque Terre. This lead to Vernazza having both political and economic power in the area. The town seems to have been a maritime base for an Italian family and most likely a basepoint of defense from pirates at the time. Cool, I know! Back in those days the town didn’t have a beach or wavebreaker but had the ocean all the way to their front door. The boats were tied to the houses themselves.
These days, the towns main square Piazza Marconi is located right by the beach, with the towns church Santa Margherita and the pier on the other. From the end of the pier you have a great view of Vernazza beach front.
Stay the night in Cinque Terre
So a couple of last advice I would give after being there myself; spend the night in one of these cities, as the whole mood of the place changes. From the busy, crowdy and touristy streets during the day, the pace changes and becomes calm and magical during the night. It might be a bit more expensive than staying in ex. La Spezia or one of the other places to stay near Cinque Terre, but it’s totally worth it! Where to stay in Cinque Terre depends on your personal taste. if you have the chance to try to stay in a few of them. Hopefully, this article has helped you to figure out the best town to stay in Cinque Terre for you.
You can definitely visit Cinque Terre in one day, but I recommend spending at least two nights in Cinque Terre. That way you get the possibility to really get to know the area, do a hike and also see all the towns. You can buy a day-pass for the trains and take them as much as you want during that day. This makes it fully possible to see all the cities in one day. If we didn’t have to be in France by the evening to meet a friend, we would totally have stayed longer and done one or two of the different hiking trails, and stayed in several different towns overnight. There are plenty of Cinque Terre accommodations to choose from with amazing views:)
PS. We stayed in Riomaggiore and absolutely loved it. I would say it’s my favorite town, but this might change with further visits. My Cinque Terre backpacking experience definitely made me want to go back!
Hope you’ve enjoyed this travel guide to Cinque Terre. Let me know if this spiked your interest!
If you plan on visiting more Italian Cities check out my backpacking route through 5 Italian cities.