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Cinque Terre Vacation and Other Italian Gems

Cinque Terre Itinerary: How to Spend 4 Days in Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre 4 day Romantic Vacation

Located along the Liguarian coast of northwest Italy, Cinque Terre is one of the most beautiful places in Europe. It’s easy to see why: multi-colored historical houses cling onto craggy cliffs, with steep green terraced vineyards carved into them.

Translating to mean “five lands”, Cinque Terre is actually made up of five fishing villages built into the foot of mountains along the coast. While they are no longer the isolated hamlets they once were, but there’s still a feeling of authenticity, with perfectly preserved architecture and a network of stunning trails. The Cinque Terre area is a popular tourist destination. Over the centuries, people have built terraces on the rugged, steep landscape right up to the cliffs that overlook the Ligurian Sea. Paths, trains and boats connect the villages as cars can reach them from the outside only via narrow and precarious mountain roads with great difficulty.

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To help you plan your journey, I am sharing our 4-day Cinque Terre itinerary, along with things to do in Cinque Terre and where to eat and stay in each village. This itinerary will allow you to maximize your time in Cinque Terre. For more detailed info on visiting Cinque Terre, check out my Cinque Terre travel guide.

Cinque Terre Itinerary: How to Spend 4 Days in Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre 4 day Itinerary

Best Time to Visit Cinque Terre

I recommend visiting Cinque Terre in early spring (April) or late autumn (November). With the vaccines being rolled out late Autumn in 2021 is what I would target if you want to go this year. Late Autumn and early Spring are also when it is the least crowded and prices are not too high. The weather can be unpredictable though.

We visited at the middle of May I’m 2019 and Cinque Terre was already pretty crowded. There were long lines at the train stations and restaurants. Even the hiking trails were packed with throngs of tourists.

Cinque Terre gets extremely crowded in summer, peak travel season in Europe. It’s also really hot (temperatures rising to 86°F or 30°C) and not ideal for hiking if you intend to do that. Winter is cool and uncrowded but heavy rainfall can result in landslides and unsafe hiking conditions. Restaurants and hiking trails close around end of November and open on 1st April.

cinque terre itinerary - manarola most picturesque cinque terre town


How Many Days Should You Spend in Cinque Terre?

Cinque Terre is extremely popular with day-trippers — there are many day tours to Cinque Terre from Florence, Pisa and La Spezia. However, we definitely don’t recommend doing a day trip here as Cinque Terre definitely merits more time than that. It is however easy to add on days at other Italian gems before or after which you can read about below.

We spent 4 days in Cinque Terre and still wished we had more time. If you are visiting Cinque Terre with kids, then I suggest spending a week here as kids need to travel at a slower pace and will like lots of beach time.

If you do want to hike the Cinque Terre trails, then I suggest having 1 week in Cinque Terre to slowly explore the area on foot. More details below on hiking in Cinque Terre.

riomaggiore, one of the five cinque terre towns

   


Our Cinque Terre Itinerary

Most of the Cinque Terre villages (except Monterosso) are tiny, so you can see each of them in 1 day. If you are wondering what to do in Cinque Terre, refer to my detailed itinerary below to get an idea. Which is the best Cinque Terre town? Check out my guide on where to stay in Cinque Terre.

Your starting point depends on where you’re staying. This Cinque Terre itinerary is designed for those staying in Riomaggiore or La Spezia (outside of Cinque Terre).

  • Day 1: Riomaggiore
  • Day 2: Manarola
  • Day 3: Corniglia and Vernazza
  • Day 4: Monterosso al Mare

If you are staying in Monterosso or Levanto (outside of Cinque Terre), just reverse the Cinque Terre itinerary.

  • Day 1: Monterosso al Mare
  • Day 2: Corniglia and Vernazza
  • Day 3: Manarola
  • Day 4: Riomaggiore

Cinque Terre Itinerary: Things to Do in Cinque Terre

Itinerary Day 1: Riomaggiore

The first stop on our Cinque Terre itinerary is Riomaggiore, the first village you’ll find if you’re coming from La Spezia.

You can choose to hike or take the Cinque Terre Express train to get around Cinque Terre: it only takes 4-6 minutes to get from one village to another. Scroll to the end of this Cinque Terre itinerary for more details on how to get around Cinque Terre.

cinque terre express train - how to get around cinque terre

Best Things to Do in Riomaggiore

In my opinion, Riomaggiore has the most romantic setting. Despite having the biggest population, it feels surprisingly tiny. After you leave the train station, head straight to the waterfront as that is the most picturesque part of Riomaggiore.

Snap photos of the pastel-colored buildings, sit on the steps with a gelato in hand, or meander all the way up the slopes to the left of the harbor (when facing the sea) for the best views. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also cliff jump from here.

Then walk all the way up to the higher end of Riomaggiore where the beautiful Church of San Giovanni Battista stands and enjoy the panoramic views. Alternatively, sign up for this 3-hour food and wine tour in Riomaggiore to delve deep into the culinary scene here.

the first stop on our cinque terre itinerary - riomaggiore

Where to Eat in Riomaggiore

  • A Pie’ de Ma’ — Simple and traditional, this rustic restaurant has a romantic ambiance. You can also enjoy aperitifs and wine while you watch the sunset behind the cliffs.
  • Dau Cila —Dishing up Liguarian classics, this Michelin-starred restaurant is one of the most respected places in Cinque Terre. We had the best meal on this trip here. Definitely book a table in advance!
  • Trattoria La Grotta — This family-run restaurant serves fresh-from-the-sea dishes and high quality local produce. Don’t miss the anchovies and steak tartare.

fresh pasta with shrimps - 4 days in cinque terre


Itinerary Day 2: Manarola

 For me, this is hands down the most beautiful town in Cinque Terre. If you’ve seen a photo from Cinque Terre, it was probably taken here. The colorful historical buildings slide down all the way to the rocky harbor, which can be admired from an easily walkable loop along the coast.

I recommend staying in Manarola, so you can spend your evenings sitting on one of the benches overlooking the waterfront. You’ll have the whole place to yourself!

Best Things to Do in Manarola

The town’s train station is located on the flat part of town, surrounded by shops, gelato stalls, and restaurants. Take your time to admire the narrow alleys and piazza before continuing towards the waterfront.

Follow the coastal loop that brings you up to Nessun Dorma, the most famous restaurant/bar in Cinque Terre, before ending at Punta Bonfiglio. It’s a short uphill hike, with fabulous views and a playground. In the evenings, many locals and tourists gather here to catch sunset.

Manarola is most famous for wine production. You can even hike up to the grapevines on the slopes above the town. Sign up for this wine tasting tour to sample wine made in Manarola and visit its vineyards.

itinerary cinque terre - swimming by the harbor in manarola

  things to do in cinque terre - swimming in manarola

Where to Eat in Manarola

  • Il Porticciolo — A hot favorite in Cinque Terre, this seafood restaurant has a great selection of pasta dishes and to-die-for desserts. Highly recommend the tagliatelle frutti di mare!
  • Ristorante Marina Piccola — This is my favorite restaurant on this list, with perfect views of the sunset and flavorful wine wine mussels.
  • Nessun Dorma — Perched on the waterfront hills above Manarola, this cafe is probably the most famous in Cinque Terre. It has an open terrace with literally the best views in Manarola. Sadly they don’t take reservations and lines to dine here are long.

view from nessun dorma - things to do in cinque terre

  il porticcio - one of the best restaurants in cinque terre


Itinerary Day 3: Corniglia and Vernazza

Sitting atop a 100m-high rocky promontory surrounded by vineyards, Corniglia is the only village that lacks direct access to the sea. You’ll need to climb 382 steps of Scalinata Lardarina to get there from the train station. There’s also a free bus that will bring you up, but it’s often crowded.

For most, Corniglia lacks the coastal appeal that draws so many to Cinque Terre. But that also means it is the most authentic and least crowded of them all, and prices of hotels are the most reasonable here.

corniglia - one of the least popular cinque terre towns

Best Things to Do in Corniglia

Corniglia is the smallest of the Cinque Terre towns, characterized by tangled alleys, hilly terraces and bohemian cafes. This is the most authentic town with the least tourists.

Have an Aperol Spritz at one of its many outdoor bars, scour the vintages stores or visit the Oratorio dei Disciplinati di Santa Caterina church. For the best views, hike up to Santa Maria panoramic terrace and see the whole town from above.

cafes in corniglia, one of the five cinque terre villages

   side street in corniglia, one of the five cinque terre towns

Best Things to Do in Vernazza

From Corniglia, catch the train over to Vernazza, centrally located in Cinque Terre. The main square is located right by the harbor, flanked by multi-hued buildings and dome-roofed chapels. I found this town to be the most crowded as it’s the hot favorite among travelers.

The town has a marina and a small beach where you can catch a boat or take a dip in. Visit Santa Margherita di Antiochia Church by the beach before climbing up the steps to the watch tower of Doria Castle for panoramic views of Vernazza.

day cinque terre - vernazza waterfront

Where to Eat in Corniglia & Vernazza

  • Il Pirun — This is a small, slightly hidden enoteca that serves delicious, local fare with dishes such as fried anchovies, gnocchi con pestopaccherri pasta with shrimp and zucchini, spaghetti and mussels.
  • Il Pirata — A local fixture, Il Pirata is run by two Sicilian brothers. Food is authentic and delicious: think bruschetta with pesto, baked calzoni, sausage rolls, arancini, panini and many other baked specialties.
  • Vernazza Winexperience   If you’re keen to go wine tasting, this is the best spot in Vernaaza. The location will blow you away, as this patio deck sits a couple of hundred feet above a pounding surf. Enjoy local cheese, sip locally produced wine and take in the breathtaking views.

view of vernazza from tower - one of the best things to do in cinque terre


Itinerary Day 4: Monterosso al Mare

On your last day in Cinque Terre, I recommend hitting the trails to experience the backcountry of Cinque Terre and get a sense of how people used to get from one village to another.

The hike from Monterosso al Mare to Vernazza (2hours) is considered one of the most difficult sections of the famous Trail #2: Blue Trail (or Sentiero Azzurro) due to the uphill walks – but it’s also considered one of the most rewarding, particularly the views of Vernazza from above.

monterosso al mare town

Best Things to Do in Monterosso

After your hike, reward yourself with a refreshing dip at the beach. Monterosso al Mare (commonly shortened to Monterosso) is the best town in Cinque Terre for beach lovers and families. It is the only village that has a proper strip of beach, which was beautiful and surprisingly empty during our visit in May.

From the beach, walk into the old town and visit the famous Church of San Francesco, then continue wandering through the maze-like alleys filled with produce shops, restaurants and souvenir stands. Take the back streets such as Via Zuecca, Via Gioberti, Via Milite Ignoto and Via Buranco.

Be sure to eat here as Monterosso has the best restaurants! If you’re not in a post-lunch coma yet, sign up for a kayaking tour of Cinque Terre. Monterosso is the best place to do this.

top things to do in cinque terre - beach at monterosso

Where to Eat in Monterosso

  • L’Osteria — One of the most famous restaurants in Cinque Terre, this place has huge portions of fresh pasta and seafood. Don’t miss the walnut ravioli pansotti!
  • Gastronomia San Martino — We stumbled upon this small, unpretentious diner along a narrow alley and were surprised to find outrageously good food! I had the best lasagna of my life here, as well as ravioli and clams.
  • L’Ancora Della Tortuga — Excellent place for fine dining next to the sea! This is definitely the place to go if you’re celebrating something special, or are looking for a romantic Italian dining experience. 

fresh seafood - famous in italy cinque terre


Where to Stay in Cinque Terre

Best Hotels in Riomaggiore

Who should stay here? Honeymooners looking for an extra bit of romance. Riomaggiore is very small and has a more chilled-out atmosphere. It is also the closest town to the gateway La Spezia.

 

  3 days in cinque terre - riomaggiore

Best Hotels in Manarola

Who should stay here? Photographers or those who want to have the best photos should stay here, so they can spend their evenings taking timelapse images of Manarola’s harbor without crowds.

how many days in cinque terre - manarola

Best Hotels in Corniglia

Who should stay here? Corniglia is the least popular village, but it is also the most authentic and least crowded of them all. Those looking to experience Cinque Terre without the crowds should stay here.

cinque terre things to do - corniglia

Best Hotels in Vernazza

Who should stay here? The best section of the popular Blue Trail that connects all 5 villages passes through here. I recommend hikers to stay here. The town has a marina and a small beach where you can catch a boat or take a dip in.

visiting cinque terre - vernazza from above

  5 days in cinque terre - beach at monterosso al mare

Best Hotels in Monterosso

Who should stay here? Monterosso al Mare (commonly shortened to Monterosso) is the best Cinque Terre town for beach bums and families. It is the only village that has a proper strip of beach, and the village with the least steps and slopes. It also has the widest range of accommodation choices.

  monterosso al mare - old town


Alternatives Outside of Cinque Terre

If you are looking for more budget-friendly places to stay, I recommend staying at one of the towns near Cinque Terre.

The closest towns are La Spezia and Levanto, on the southern and northern ends of Cinque Terre. Both are just a 10-minute train ride from Cinque Terre, on the same train line that passes through the five towns. You can easily travel to Cinque Terre on day trips from there.

Yes, it’s not the same staying in these towns as in Cinque Terre. You won’t have panoramas of pastel-colored houses backdropped by the blue sea. But if you are only interested in exploring and accommodation isn’t important, then check out these best hotels in Cinque Terre.

Best Hotels in La Spezia

La Spezia is the best place to stay near Cinque Terre for the budget-conscious. It’s only a 7-minute train ride from Riomaggiore, the closest town in Cinque Terre. It is a big city and a destination on its own: with a big port, a charming old town and no shortage of trattorias serving the finest Ligurian cuisine.

la spezia - best place to stay near cinque terre

Best Hotels in Levanto

Levanto is a popular beach town with a long sandy beach, and a charming old town. This town is perfect for those who want to stay in the countryside, in a Ligurian mansion surrounded by pine forests, olive groves, and vineyards. Levanto is a 5-minute train ride from Monterosso al Mare, the closest town in Cinque Terre.

levanto - best place to stay near cinque terre


How Much Does this Cinque Terre Itinerary Cost?

Cinque Terre is not a cheap destination in comparison to the rest of Italy, especially in high season. However, it is still affordable for many and that’s why the crowds keep pouring in.

Expect to pay around $150-250/night for a midrange hotel or apartment in Cinque Terre. Food is affordable in simple taverns and cafes, with meals around $8-15. But seafood restaurants are of course more expensive, with a  fried seafood platter for around $20-30.

Day tours in Cinque Terre are reasonably priced. A 3-hour wine tasting tour costs around $60, a kayak trip is around $90 and a full day boat tour costs around US$110.

What We Spent in Cinque Terre (per person*)

      • Flights — $120 for return flights to Florence from Munich
      • Car rental — $180 for 5-day rental
      • Train pass — $120 for 4-day train passes
      • Accommodation — $500 for 4 nights
      • Meals — $180
      • Boat tour — $110
      • Beer and Wine — $120

TOTAL: $1330

drinks at il castillo - vernazza

   cinque terre italy - gelato


How to Get Around Cinque Terre

There are a few ways to get around Cinque Terre. Here’s an overview, comparing the amount of time to get from one village to another via different transport modes. I will elaborate on each transport mode below.

Distance By Train By Car By Boat By Foot
Riomaggiore – Manarola 1.2 miles (2km) 2 min 11 min 5 min 40 min
Manarola – Corniglia 3.6 miles (5.7km) 5 min 27 min 1 h 15 min
Corniglia – Vernazza 2 miles (4km) 7 min 17 min 20 min 1 h 45 min
Vernazza – Monterosso 1.8 miles (3km) 4 min 39 min 15 min 2 hrs

By Train

Visiting Cinque Terre by train is the best way to visit the five villages. The Cinque Terre Express train is regular, fast and efficient, taking only minutes to get from one village to another.

The train runs daily every few minutes and it’s very easy to navigate. A single ticket costs € 4 per adult and € 2 for kids below 12 years old. You can get the ticket at the train station or on the Trenitalia app.

But if you plan to take more than four trains in a day or go hiking, the best option is the Cinque Terre train card. You can buy it at the stations. It includes unlimited train rides and access to the hiking trails. It lasts one day (16 €) or two days (29 €).

 

By Car

I would not recommend driving around Cinque Terre due to the lack of parking space and proper roads. The Cinque Terre villages are mostly pedestrianized with very few roads.

We drove to Cinque Terre, but parked our car there and explored the villages by train instead. We booked a hotel in Cinque Terre that had a parking garage, but the garage was located at the main entrance of town (near the highway), a 15-min steep walk from the apartment. It cost 15euros/day.

An alternative is to park your car near the train station in La Spezia or Levanto (closest town to Cinque Terre and just a 10-min train ride away). 

driving in cinque terre itinerary

By Boat

Visiting Cinque Terre by boat is another option, especially for those who want to get away from the crowds. But the boats only operate from April 1 to November 1, 2020.

The boats depart from La Spezia and visit Portovenere, Levanto and the five Cinque Terre towns. An unlimited ticket for 1 day in the Cinque Terre costs 27€. Tickets are sold only on the spot and only for the current day. Check the boat schedule here.

cinque terre by boat - days in cinque terre

By Foot

A network of hiking trails weave their way along the coast and up the hills overlooking the Cinque Terre villages. For centuries, they were the only way to get between the Cinque Terre villages.

They still are the best way to get around Cinque Terre, though the trails are often packed with tourists these days. Skip to the next section for more details on how to go hiking in Cinque Terre.

hiking cinque terre - things to do in cinque terre


Hiking in Cinque Terre 

Hiking in Cinque Terre doesn’t require a high level of fitness, but you do need to have comfortable walking shoes. (Hiking in flip flops is prohibited here.)

To walk the trails, you will need to buy the Cinque Terre Trekking Card, which is slightly different from the train card. It is cheaper, at €7.50 for one day or €14.50 for two days. But it does not include unlimited train rides.

The most popular (and busiest) hiking trail in Cinque Terre is Trail #2: the Sentiero Azzurro, or “Blue Trail”. It is made up of four individual paths along the coast that brings you to all five villages. You can walk the entire route in about six hours —although many prefer to spread the route out over a few days.

Cinque Terre Hikes and Distances:

      • Riomaggiore – Manarola: 1.2 miles (2km); 40 minutes to walk.
      • Manarola – Corniglia: 1.2 miles (2km); 1 hour 15 minutes to walk. 
      • Corniglia – Vernazza: 2 miles (4km); 1 hour 45 minutes to walk
      • Vernazza – Monterosso: 1.8 miles (3km); 2 hours to walk (most difficult!)

hiking in cinque terre - top things to do in cinque terre


Combining this Cinque Terre Itinerary with Other Parts of Italy

With the ease of train travel, it’s convenient to visit other parts of Italy from Cinque Terre. If you want to tag on more days to this Cinque Terre itinerary, I recommend going to Tuscany, Lombardy or Emilia Romagna which are all within a 4-hour train ride from Cinque Terre.

Here is a table I created with the distance and time taken to get to other parts of Italy from Cinque Terre. If you don’t mind traveling further, consider doing a Puglia road trip which will bring you to a spectacular but less-visited part of the country.

Distance Duration on Train Duration by Car
Rome 270 miles (430km) 4 -5 hours 5 hours
Milan 147 miles (236km) 4 – 4.5 hours 3 hours
Bologna 155 miles (250km) 3.5 – 4 hours 3 hours
Florence 103 miles (166km) 2.5 – 3 hours 2 hours
Pisa 57 miles (92km) 1.5 – 2 hours 1.5 hours

Below are some sample itineraries that you can add on to your Cinque Terre trip.

Tuscany 5-day Itinerary

This Tuscan itinerary is perfect for those who want to explore the backcountry of Italy. You’ll spend your time wandering through little rural villages, wine tasting and eating cheese at farms, and staying in townhouses made for the romantic at heart. I did this itinerary on my first ever trip to Italy 15 years ago and I fell in love!

  • 2 days in Florence
  • 1 day in Siena
  • 1 day driving Val d’Orcia
  • 1 day in Pisa

cinque terre and tuscany - small town

Lombardy 7-day Itinerary

For those who have been to Italy and are seeking new alternatives, visit the fashion capital Milan and then spend your days lounging at Lake Como in the company of celebrities and millionaires. If this is good enough for George Clooney, it sure is good enough for me.

  • 2 days in Milan
  • 2 days in Bergamo
  • 3 days in Lake Como (visit Como, Bellagio, Varenna)

lake como - from cinque terre to milan

Emilia-Romagna 8-day Itinerary

Food lovers and active trekkers might be interested in this lesser-known region of Italy. I combined my Cinque Terre trip with a hike on the Path of Gods (from Bologna to Florence) and absolutely loved it. Emilia-Romagna is a beautiful province and is famous for the regional foods and picturesque landscapes.

  • 2 days in Bologna
  • 1 day in Parma and Modena
  • 3 days hiking in the Apennines
  • 2 days in Ravenna

hiking path of gods - trekking in italy

With that, I ending this Cinque Terre itinerary with a thank you note. Thanks for reading all the way! I hope you’ve found this Cinque Terre itinerary useful. If you have any questions for me, leave them in the comments field below.


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