Practical Travel Tips: Cinque Terre, Italy

Cinque Terre is truly beautiful and you have probably seen it pop up on your Facebook newsfeed often. We spent some time hiking it when we did our group trip to Tuscany back in 2015. Adam of Adam Smith Photography recently went and here are his practical tips for Cinque Terre

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I remember seeing images of the Cinque Terre when I first started to take an interest in traveling and being completely awestruck. It was a place that immediately went on my must-see list. After spending a couple days there this past summer, I can truthfully say it is every bit as awesome as I had hoped it would be and a truly definitive Italian experience that is right up there with seeing the Colosseum in Rome for the first time.

Arriving at Corniglia on the trail from Vernazza, Cinque Terre, Italy.- Photo: (c) Adam Smith

Arriving at Corniglia on the trail from Vernazza, Cinque Terre, Italy.- Photo: (c) Adam Smith

Getting there

From the research I did beforehand, I found that the easiest way to get into the Cinque Terre villages was by train. To that end, we booked some tickets from Venice. It was about sixty bucks for the 5ish hour ride. It was pretty straightforward with the train running directly from Venice to La Spezia, where we had to make a switch for the final leg straight into the Cinque Terre. You can view timetables and purchase tickets online, but be advised that this website has some major issues taking foreign credit cards, so you may be better off buying your tickets from a train station’s kiosk within Italy. When you’re ready to leave, it’s easy to buy tickets for Pisa or Florence, which are relatively a short distance away. You can also connect to Rome with a little more time.

What does it cost?

Prices in the Cinque Terre are on par with the rest of Italy; in fact, they may even be marginally cheaper. There really are only a couple options for the backpacker looking a budget-friendly hostel. If you go with a hotel or Airbnb, plan on spending about 100 USD a night for lodging during the high season summer months for a double room. I’d recommend booking early as this area fills up quickly thanks to the huge boost in popularity given to it by a certain traveler named Rick Steves.

Where to stay

A quaint sign in Vernazza, Cinque Terre, Italy.- Photo: (c) Adam Smith

A quaint sign in Vernazza, Cinque Terre, Italy.- Photo: (c) Adam Smith

You can stay at any of the 5 villages, but if you’re coming here to hike, I would recommend staying at either end – which would be Monterosso or Riomaggiore. Riomaggiore is perhaps the most spectacular of the villages, and therefore I wanted it to be the last one that we saw. To that end, we stayed in Monterosso for two nights. While there are a number of hotels in the villages, I found AirBnB to be the best way to go for lodging in the Cinque Terre.

Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre, Italy.- Photo: (c) Adam Smith

Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre, Italy.- Photo: (c) Adam Smith

Exploring the Cinque Terre

We arrived in the early evening to Monterosso, explored the old village a bit, and grabbed a nice seafood and pasta dinner by the sea before ending the night with another stroll through town. Monterosso has a nice beach, well nicer than the other 4 villages anyways (you can get down to the water easily in 4 of the 5 stops if you want to cool off but don’t be expecting nice sand beaches). Other than beach, there really isn’t a lot to see or do there. It was the least interesting of all of the villages but with its abundance of lodging options and restaurants, Monterosso is more than appropriate for use as a base camp to explore the rest of the Cinque Terre on foot or by train.

After a nice night of resting up, it was time to fill up our water bottles and begin the epic journey through the Cinque Terre all the way to Riomaggiore. Depending on what you’re packing, you’ll need to either refill or just buy more water along the way. Believe me – I went through a lot. You’ll probably also want to bring along some sunscreen. A fair portion of the trails will be exposed to some very intense sun, so be careful or you’ll look like a lobster by the day’s end.

You do need tickets to hike here, being that the trails and all of the villages are part of a national park. You can grab your hiking pass shortly after the trail begins in Monterosso for a few euros. There are a few checkpoints along the way, where someone will want to see your hiking pass. Usually you can just wave it as you walk by.

We had heard that some landslides closed the cliff side trail in various stretches, which initially made me pretty nervous. Where would we go without the main trails? Would we have all of those postcard views if we had to take secondary trails? Aside from missing out on the famous stretch of pathway, known as the Via dell’Amore, the ‘detours’ we had to take were absolutely astonishing and only made the experience that much more exciting (the signage was really well done so there was really no way of getting lost). Seriously, these trails were much more difficult, going far up into the highlands and meandering through vineyards, lemon groves and old farms hundreds of feet above the sea and the beautiful villages down below. This was the real Italy, and I was soaking up every minute of it.

Heading down into Vernazza from Monterosso, Cinque Terre, Italy.- Photo: (c) Adam Smith

Heading down into Vernazza from Monterosso, Cinque Terre, Italy.- Photo: (c) Adam Smith

We took the time to hike down into each and every village along the way and chose to do something “Italian” in each. One stop was for pizza, one was for a spritz (a tasty and delicious adult beverage very popular in some parts of Italy) and café freddo, another for gelato before having dinner and even more gelato in Riomaggiore. The unique experience of exploring the villages on foot, rather than skipping on to the next, is SO worth it. Each offers some unique views and great photo opportunities. They have a certain medieval feel with beautiful, colored homes stacked up on top of each other, and narrow streets lined with an almost overwhelming amount of shops and cute little restaurants.

It took my wife and I the better part of the day to make it from one end to the other with all of our stops for food, drinks and photos along the way. We also decided to dip in the water at Riomaggiore to cool off after a long day of hiking. Instead of making a round trip by foot, we took a late train back to Monterosso after watching the sunset.

You don’t need to add many days to your trip to fit in the Cinque Terre – you just need to do it. Even if you aren’t fit enough, one can easily (and cheaply) take the train from village to village. Another option to turn the Cinque Terre into a full, relaxing vacation is to hike to one village each day and stay there for a night before progressing onto the next.

Whether you spend two days or two weeks on the Cinque Terre, it’s a destination and experience that you will surely never forget and simply is a must-do on any Italian bucket list.

Panoramic view from high above the sea, nearing Riomaggiore., Cinque Terre, Italy.- Photo: (c) Adam Smith

Panoramic view from high above the sea, nearing Riomaggiore., Cinque Terre, Italy.- Photo: (c) Adam Smith

About the Author:

Adam is a curious individual who spent a semester in Spain and came home with a very strong case of an incurable strain of the travel bug. He has become a budget traveling aficionado who is always on the lookout for the next great deal, which is nothing more than an excuse to pack his bags again and explore this fascinating planet. Adam spends his non-traveling time working as a case manager, photographer and freelance blogger, and enjoys sports and film. Follow Adam on his site Adam Smith Adventure, his Facebook or Instagram.


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Comments (2)

  • Brandi 7 years ago Reply

    Or just rent a car and drive down into Monterosso…..parking down by the sea will cost you about 20 euros for the day. I drive down into it every summer as we have a home in Lucca.

  • John 6 years ago Reply

    When we visited a few years ago, we found taking the train from Milan very convenient. Booking early, the discounted fare was 9 euros each way for a person back in 2014.

    I don’t know know if trails other than number 2 is really worth it if you are looking for views over looking the cities as seen on the many must see lists. Our experiences of the other trails were mostly among the trees with only visas here and there, though they were quiet isolated. Overall, we found the area a great place to relax and eat to our heart’s content, especially after trekking in the alps.

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