The Cinque Terre Guide For First Timers

There is no shortage of breathtaking destinations in Italy, and Cinque Terre is certainly one of them. Consisting of five villages, this area is a popular tourist destination that rivals the Almafi Coast. Many do a day trip to Cinque Terre for its colourful houses and coastal views. This Cinque Terre guide will cover everything from information about the villages, getting to, and getting around the villages.

While a day trip is sufficient to cover this area, this guide will also cover some ideas on where to stay if you choose to stay more than a day in Cinque Terre.

How to Get to Cinque Terre from Pisa

Sunrise at Monterosso - How to Get to Cinque Terre from Pisa
Sunrise at Monterosso

If you’re looking to explore the colourful villages of Cinque Terre, but don’t want to drive, the best way to get there is by train. Pisa is a great place to start your train journey and is also one of the best cities to be based in if you want to take a day trip to Cinque Terre.

The journey from Pisa takes about 1.5 hours, and there are several trains that make the trip each day. We took the earliest train that departed Pisa Centrale and got to Cinque Terre in time for the sunrise.

You can purchase train tickets online or at the train station, but I would recommend booking online in advance, to make sure that you are able to get the train timing you want.

We based ourselves in the city centre of Pisa so that we could walk to the train station in the morning. Pisa is a small town and you can reach many areas by foot from the city centre, which is much more convenient than waiting for trains or trams.

When you arrive in Cinque Terre, you’ll alight at Monterosso, which is the northern-most village of Cinque Terre.

Monterosso Train Station - How to Get to Cinque Terre from Pisa
Monterosso Train Station

Getting Around Cinque Terre

The villages are easily walkable to one another, there are also ways to get around Cinque Terre if you’re looking for a more relaxing experience or if you’re short on time.

Cinque Terre is a National Park and only residents are allowed to drive within it. If you’re driving, it would be best to park in La Spezia or Levanto and catch a train into Cinque Terre.

By Train

The easiest and most convenient option is the Cinque Terre Train Card, which allows you unlimited the train travel on the Levanto – Cinque Terre – La Spezia line that connects the villages. If you’re only going to be in the area for a day or two, the card is a great way to get around. The trains are reliable and run frequently, so they’re a great option for getting around.

Cinque Terre Card - Cinque Terre Guide

The Cinque Terre Train Card costs EUR 18.20 (as of 2022) for 1 day, EUR 33 for 2 days and EUR 47 for 3 days for adults. You can check you the website for detailed pricing for children and seniors. Each train ride costs EUR 5 for adults and you’ll taking the train 4 times in a day will already make the card worth it. If you’re planning to visit all 5 villages in a day, which is definitely doable, you should definitely get the Cinque Terre Pass.

The Cinque Terre Train Card can be purchased at train stations or at the Tourist Information Points in Cinque Terre, Levanto and La Spezia. We got ours once we alighted in Monterosso at the train station.

By Ferry

Another option is to take a ferry. An adult ticket for unlimited ferry rides costs EUR 30 for a day. This is a great option if you want to see Cinque Terre from the water. Ferries may not run during the winter season, so do be sure to check out the ferry timetables beforehand!

Best times to visit Cinque Terre

There is no definitive answer to this question, as the best time to visit Cinque Terre depends on what you are looking for in your visit.

If you want to avoid the crowds and have the villages more to yourself, then visit in the offseason – generally speaking, this is from November to March. However, as Cinque Terre is by the ocean, the strong winds will make it way colder. If you’re not a fan of the cold, this might be unbearable for you, especially in the winter months. Bad weather may also cause ferries/boats to stop operating, and hiking trails may also shut as well.

April to October are the best to enjoy the warmer weather and the sights and sounds of the villages in all their glory. I would try to avoid July and August as it is the peak travel season due to summer break.

The Five Villages of Cinque Terre Italy (+ where to stay?)

Map of Cinque Terre Villages - How to Get to Cinque Terre from Pisa

Monterosso

Monterosso is the largest and most developed village in the Cinque Terre. It is a popular beach resort, and has a wide variety of restaurants, cafes, and shops. Monterosso is also where you’ll alight the train if you’re coming from Pisa Centrale.

Personally, Monterosso was my favourite to explore as there were many interesting shops (which were great for souvenirs) and also a wide variety of restaurants.

Being the largest of the five villages, Monterosso has the most accommodation options but can get pretty expensive. Monterosso is the only village with a proper beachfront, so this village might be the one for you if you want to enjoy the chill beach life.

Vernazza

Vernazza - Cinque Terre Italy

Vernazza is the most popular and the most lively village in the Cinque Terre. Vernazza is a popular spot to start the hiking the Blue Trail, which is a trail between Monterosso and Cornigilia. The trail is not free and requires the Cinque Terre Trekking Card but you’re covered if you bought the Cinque Terre Train Card. Do also keep yourself up to date with the opening status of the treks as some do close due to bad weather or landslides.

Batti Batti Friggitoria Vernazza - Cinque Terre Italy
Famous seafood cone from  Batti Batti Friggitoria, Vernazza

Corniglia

Corniglia is the only village in the Cinque Terre that is not located on the coast and the only one that is not directly accessible via train. This make Corniglia the most authentic out of the five villages and there hasn’t been too much tourist influence on it. To get to town, you’ll have to climb a flight of stairs from the train station, or hike from Vernazza. This is also why Corniglia is the quietest of the villages. Corniglia is a good choice to stay if you want to be away from the tourist crowd.

Manarola

Manarola, Cinque Terre

In my opinion, Manarola is one of the most picturesque village and has the most colourful houses out of the five villages. Manarola is also home of one of the most famous restaurants in Cinque Terre — Nessun Dorma, which provides a great view of the colourful houses. As this is a popular restaurant, you’ll have to make a reservation and keep a lookout on their Instagram for information about available timings.

Honestly, I wasn’t too impressed with the service or food. If you want a photo or a spot to soak in the views, there are many spots around the restaurant that provide the same views too, for free.

Manarola and Vernazza both have many food options but there aren’t many accommodation options other than guesthouses.

Riomaggiore

Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre

Riomaggiore is the southernmost village in the Cinque Terre and is a lively fishing village with a very picturesque harbour. One of the most Insta-worthy spots in the villages can be found at the harbour. Some also choose to rent a boat to get a shot from the water.

If you want a photo at the harbour, I would suggest reaching earlier as there would be many people fighting for a good spot on the rocks. We headed to Riomaggiore once we alighted the train from Pisa and got to Riomaggiore before 8am. We got the whole area to ourselves and could get photos without having to stress about others. Do be careful on the rocks as they can be slippery.

Riomaggiore is rather hilly so if you have lots to carry, it might not be a good choice.

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