Cinque Terre is arguably one of the most photogenic places in Italy (I mean, you’ve probably seen the stock photo on your computer’s desktop). If you’re traveling to Italy, a stop in Cinque Terre is definitely worth it. It’s a great place to unwind and soak in the sea, and our 2 day Cinque Terre itinerary will help you relax while also walking you through some of the best things to do in this Italian gem.
Note: This post contains affiliate links. This means if you make a purchase using a link, I may get a commission at no cost to you.
Where is Cinque Terre?
Cinque Terre is not just one town. In fact, in Italian, Cinque Terre means “five lands.” So Cinque Terre is actually a section of the northern Italian coast that is made up of five small villages.
Cinque Terre is part of Italy’s Liguria region, and is also part of the “Italian Riviera” on the Mediterranean. Because these are small seaside villages, it is a little removed from any kind of major city. But there are easy ways to get there.
How to Get to Cinque Terre
The easiest way to get to Cinque Terre is to come by train. From the train station in La Spezia (which you can connect to from many other train stations) you can easily take the Cinque Terre Express. You can also take the Cinque Terre Express on the other side in Levanto.
If you are traveling by plane, the closest airport is in Pisa. From there, you can take the train to La Spezia.
In the summer, there are also connections via ferry boat from La Spezia, Levanto, and Portovenere.
Don’t try to drive a car to Cinque Terre. The villages are small and parking is hard to come by. If you already have a car with you in Italy, plan to park it at the train stations either in Levanto or La Spezia during your visit to Cinque Terre.
How Many Days Should You Spend in Cinque Terre?
Let’s be honest. You could spend a LONG time in Cinque Terre. I’m talking weeks and months of relaxing and soaking of that Italian Riviera lifestyle.
But how much time do you REALLY need to get a good feel for Cinque Terre?
While you’ll see a lot of day-trippers visiting Cinque Terre as part of their cruise stops, you really should spend at least a few nights in the villages. In the evening, the day trippers clear out and the place gets a completely different feel.
If you’re traveling to Cinque Terre as part of a larger Italy trip, you’ll probably only have a couple of days. Our suggestion is to do 3 nights and 2 full days here if you can manage it (or longer if you have the time!)
The Cinque Terre Villages Explained
There are five villages in Cinque Terre, and here’s a brief breakdown of them, going from east to west. They all have charming streets the wander through and beautiful views.
This is the first village you’ll get to if you are coming on the train from La Spezia. This is a popular town because it is first, but it has a small a rocky coastline. It’s a fun village to wander through, but if you’re looking for beach access there is just a small rocky beach just east of the village.
This is the village you probably see the most photographs of. And it really is just gorgeous (I think it might be the prettiest of all five villages.) It has slightly better water access than Riomaggiore, but still not great.
Corniglia is unique because it is built on a hill. To access it you’ll have to either climb a bunch of stairs or take a small shuttle van up to the top (which is only accessible during certain hours of the day). We stayed here and LOVED it. Because it’s harder to access, it doesn’t get nearly as many day-trippers as the other villages.
Vernazza has more of a traditional harbor, with one of it’s most notable features being the ruins of a castle noticeable from the sea. There is a small beach on the other side of the city’s cliff here.
Monterosso al Mare
If you’re looking for a big beach, Monterosso al Mare is the place to go. Here you’ll find the shore packed with beach umbrellas, sunbathers, and swimmers. This town also can feel a bit more “touristy” because of this.
How to Get Around Cinque Terre
The easiest way to get around Cinque Terre is to take the Cinque Terre Express train from village to village. You can buy a Cinque Terre Card for €16 for one day or €29 for two days and hop on and off the train between the villages as much as you want. This card will also give you access to the hiking trails.
You can also go from town to town aboard the ferry. A daily ticket costs €30. Note that the ferry does not stop in Corniglia.
Hiking is also an option for getting from town to town. Cinque Terre is known across the world for its beautiful trails, making it a popular destination for hikers. Of course, this won’t get you from town to town very quickly though. And you’ll want to double check that trails are open before you leave — because of mudslides in recent years some trails have been closed.
2 Day Cinque Terre Itinerary
For our itinerary, we’re going to assume you get into town one evening/late afternoon and then have two full days to spend before you leave. When you get into town, just explore whichever village you’ve decided to stay in and try to sink into the relaxing feel of Cinque Terre.
You might also notice this Cinque Terre itinerary is a bit…laid back. That’s because this is a place where it’s easy (and honestly preferable) to follow your whims. I mean, we’re on the Italian coast here! Soaking in the sea! So try to fall into a mindset where you have nowhere to be at no particular time.
We’re going to hit some major highlights here, from beach time to hiking trails, but you’ll want to get your own feel for the place and find what’s best for you. Each village has a completely different feel, with different beaches and different hiking trails!
Planning a trip to Italy? Check out our 10 Day Italy Itinerary!
Cinque Terre Itinerary Day 1
One: Riomaggiore and Manarola
Hop on the Cinque Terre Express train and start with the first two villages — Riomaggiore and Manarola. Explore the streets, shops, and coast line. The charm of the Cinque Terre villages really is just in exploring them, so enjoy wandering through them leisurely.
Between Riomaggiore and Manarola is perhaps the most famous hike in Cinque Terre — Via dell’Amore. This is an easy and relatively short hike. However, it has been closed in recent years due to landslides. It is expected to reopen in April 2022 and you can check here for updates.
Take the train to Vernazza (we’ll skip Corniglia for now, because it’s a bit more of a chore to get to). In Vernazza, explore the village and maybe stop off for some gelato and/or lunch. (You can also wait and get lunch in Montorosso.)
Vernazza also has Castle Doria — the ruins of a 15th century castle. You can get a ticket to explore the ruins for €1.50. Also, be sure to take a peek at the beach behind the cliff, because you might decide to come back later!
Three: Monterosso al Mare
Next take the train to Monterosso al Mare (or hike if you’re really wanting some extra activity). Grab a bite to eat and explore the village — the streets, shops, and churches. And, of course, the beach!
Four: Beach Time
Now that we’ve explored four out of the five towns, you’ve gotten a feel for them. So a pick a town with a beach you want to spend the afternoon in. This very well might be the beach in Monterosso, which is the easiest, biggest, and most accessible beach. But you also might decide to head back to Vernazza or to the rocky shorelines of Riomaggiore and Manarola.
Five: Watch the Sunset
We recommend heading back to Riomaggiore or Manarola for sunset. With day-trippers probably heading out by now, the villages will be quieter, and these two towns get hit with the setting sun in the most beautiful way.
Cinque Terre Itinerary Day 2
Get an early start to your day with some hiking. Check the trails here to see what’s open. Also be sure to check the difficulty level and the estimated time for the trail.
Also, consider doing just part of a trail if the open trails seem too long and/or difficult. You can always hike a trail part of the way and then turn around and go back to where you started from. It’s worth going at least part of the way on a trail for some different, and gorgeous, views.
Grab some lunch at whatever town you’ve ended up in, and then take the train to Corniglia. This village is by far the quietest during the day, and has a different feel than the rest of the villages. Enjoy some quiet time wandering the streets here.
Note that once you get to the Corniglia train station, you will have to either climb up a huge set of wide stairs or take the bus (which you’ll find just outside the train station) up to the center of the village.
Three: Head Back to Your Favorite Village
Now that you’ve explored all five villages, head back to your favorite village to enjoy the afternoon. Spend some time exploring and relaxing, maybe with a bit more beach time.
Four: Take a Boat Ride
In the evening, take a boat ride. There are tons of private boats you can charter for a sunset cruise, or you can check the ferry schedule and take a late afternoon ferry to see the villages from the Mediterranean.
We did a private sunset cruise, and it was so beautiful to see the village from the water as the sun was setting.
If you’re planning on the ferry though, you might do this first and then head back to your favorite village for the evening. The ferry stops running in late afternoon/early evening.
Cinque Terre Tips and Tricks
- Check for hiking closures. Cinque Terre has some fantastic hiking, but these trails are often subject to landslides and other issues. Before you set out on a hike, check here to be sure that the hike you want to do is open.
- Get a Cinque Terre Card. A Cinque Terre Card will give you access to both the Cinque Terre Express train and the hiking trails.
- Wear comfortable walking shoes. You’ll be doing a lot of walking in Cinque Terre. The villages have lots of stairs and steep paths, so be prepared with the right shoes. If you want to go hiking, you’ll also want to make sure you have the right hiking shoes.
- Always have a swimsuit with you. I mean, you are on the Mediterranean! Wear a swimsuit (or have it with you) and pack a towel in your backpack so you’re always ready for a dip in the sea when you stumble across the perfect place.
- Be a conscious traveler. Cinque Terre has become incredibly popular in recent years, and it is not anywhere close to a hidden gem anymore. As a UNESCO World Heritage site, it has become perhaps over-toured in recent years. So be a conscious traveler. If you are day-tripper, make sure you are spending money in the community in some way — they depend on it. (Related: I thought this was an interesting article about the pandemic, Cinque Terre, and their dependence on tourism.)
- Don’t be too stuck to your itinerary. The beauty of Cinque Terre is that it is a fun place to meander through at your own pace. Our Cinque Terre itinerary is a good starting place, but don’t get too caught up in a schedule! Just enjoy the relaxing pace of Cinque Terre life.