So the summer of 2016 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.
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.
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. The easiest way to go to Cinque Terre is from Milan, especially if you take plane ticket prices into account.
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.
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 and also access to the buses in the parks. This way the card is a “Cinque Terre hiking pass” as well as a card for public transportation. By example from the train station in Corniglia and up to the city, which is quite the 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, prices for adults starting from 7,50 to 23 euros.
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.
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.
It is pretty hard to get a reservation for the seaside restaurants, especially in the low 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 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. The town is smaller then Riomarrigoe and has picturesque places that you’ve probably seen pictures. Walk 10 minutes out of town for a great view, you also find some restaurant on the cliffs there. Italian food and a view, not exactly a bad combination.
The photo above 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. 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, even though you have to go to one of the other cities to have a proper swim.
Vernazza is the fourth town and is a small fishing village with the only natural harbor of Cinque Terre. The first mention of little Vernazza in history dates all the way back to 1080, when it seemed to be a maritime base for an Italian family and most likely a basepoint of defense from pirates at the time. Cool, I know!
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 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.