Ahh, the Cinque Terre is what Italian dreams of are made of. Are you daydreaming of sun kissed colorful homes by the seaside, fabulous seafood, gelato by the sea, pesto and limoncello for days? The Italian Riviera is not short of rugged coastline or romantic towns and villages with the villages of the Cinque Terre being one of its main attraction. The Cinque Terre is made of 5 small fishing villages all very unique and charming in its own way. The towns are no longer as isolated as they once were with the boom in tourism you can find much easier ways to access this remote place via cars, train and buses. Being part of a national park, you can find mountain trails along seaside cliffs and vineyards to walk through at your pace. Here you’ll find my guide for the beautiful place with what to see, where to eat and how to get around!
The Best Time to Visit the Cinque Terre
You may be wondering when is the best time to visit? Well that’s a great question! Knowing when to visit means you can avoid crowds, steep hotel prices and maybe even finding parking spots(which can be quite tricky here)! August is the hottest and the most expensive month to visit. If you can try to avoid August as it is the peak month to visit. The best times to visit for warm weather and warm/cool ocean temperatures is from April through September. From March through May, the water may not have warmed up enough for swimming yet. June and September the best to visit for hiking and swimming as the weather is cooler and the water is warm enough for swimming. March and October are shoulder seasons are great options to avoid crowds if you don’t mind a bit of chill and rain. Many walking trails in March may not be opened yet but if don’t plan to do much hiking, then March is perfect for you. Trails usually close by mid-october and more rain can be expected. We visited the end of June into the beginning of July and the weather was perfect though our host did mention the weather was colder than usual. There was a nice sea breeze and it was unbearably hot during the day. We even kept our windows opened at night for a nice breeze! My recommendation is to go in June or September.
How Long to Stay
If you are just visiting the Cinque Terre and not planning on exploring La Spezia or Levante, 3-4 days make for the perfect stay here. It’ll give you a chance to walk a couple of trails, go to the beach, try out some great food and explore the 5 villages at a good pace. The villages are quite small and do-able even in 1 day if you’re up for it, but that would be a pretty active schedule that will leave you without a lot of appreciation for this beautiful place. For a more relaxing, slow-paced stay, I would say 5 days max. Maybe it’s just me, but I get bored quite easily and spending long hours everyday on the beach is not my thing. Though I don’t mind as much spending a lot of time eating gelato by the beach…
How to Get There
Now that you’ve decided on going, or more importantly when to come, you’ll have to decide where you’d like to stay and how you’ll get here. The closest airport is in Genoa which is about 1.5hrs away by car. The five towns of the Cinque Terre from north to south are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. Corniglia is the smallest of the 5 and perched on top of a cliff unlike the other 4. We stayed in Corniglia while we were there and it was perfect. With the fewest tourists visiting/staying in Corniglia, you’ll be able to find parking the easiest there if you decide to drive. As mentioned, we went in June into July and the parking lot was never full. Free spaces were full but there were tons of paid spaces still available. Driving is by all means possible, though not the easiest it is actually not as difficult as you imagine. Just remember to review driving rules and signs before doing so to avoid fines and tickets. The most important thing to remember is that you will not be able to drive into any of the towns. Parking is available before and/or after each village. Do NOT park anywhere you’d like as there are officers patrolling the areas daily. Blue spaces are PAID parking spots which can be bought at the nearby meters. Prices range from villages to villages but in Corgnilia, it was about 10euros/day and free after a certain time. Yellow spaces are reserved for residents only, and white means that it’s a free for all. White spaces are limited and usually always taken unless you arrive later in the evening into the night. Many people who are staying in the villages like to move their cars into these spots as the visitors leave so they can secure a free spot for the next day(s). To get here by car, take the SS1 from Genoa and the easiest route is through La Spezia and circling back.
It is also possible to park in either La Spezia or Levanto and take the train in. Whether you drive into the Cinque Terre or decide to park in the neighboring cities, a Cinque Terre train pass is a must have as it covers all train, buses and trail fees between Levanto and La Spezia. More info HERE about it, all it includes and a timetable. The train runs very frequently and just about all day. It takes only about 30 minutes to travel the full length of the cinque Terre by train. Each town is only about 5 minutes apart. If driving isn’t your cup of tea, the train here makes it very easy to travel from city to city. We drove for multiple reasons: it was cheaper to rent in Genoa(even for the days we did not use or rental), we thought it would be easier and more convenient given our hectic itinerary, and Tuscany was our next destination so we also did not want to waste any time trying to rent a car in La Spezia. We did however, park in Corniglia for the whole time and used the train to visit the other towns.
Where to Stay
We stayed at a beautiful AirBnB in Corniglia with a balcony overlooking the town and sea. Our host Cristiana and her husband are beautiful souls what have been helpful from before we checked in to well after we checked out. I’m a bit greedy as I’d love to stay with them again on my next visit but their place is just to amazing to be kept a secret! Check out their home HERE. When choosing your place to stay it’s important to ask whether you’d like to be in a more quite place away from the noise of tourists or in a busier area? We preferred a less busy area so we cold really enjoy our stay. Vernazza and Manarola were by far the busiest we saw but it was also our favorites. Prices of rentals are also higher in both Vernazza and Manarola. Riomaggiore is beautiful but very steep and we can’t imagine having to roll our luggages up and down that hill! Monterosso didn’t have as much charm as the other villages for us as it’s primarily for beach goers. Overall we are very happy with our quaint stay in Corniglia as it was nice to have quiet nights on our balcony and being centered meant it was easier and quicker for us to get to both Vernazza or Manarola. One of my favorite tip is if you arrive by train to Corniglia is to use the bus from the train station to reach the top of the village. Otherwise there are many many many steps you’ll need to take to reach town. The bus is free with the Cinque Terre pass and drops you off at the center of town where it’s not hard at all to get to your stay especially with luggages!
What to Eat
The Cinque Terre is pretty well known for many great foods but for many people these are just some that you might recognize: focaccia bread, anchovies, pesto, limoncello and ravioli! Also try their local wine, it’s fantastic and probably made by your neighbor in the village and hard to find anywhere else but here. I have to say, the seafood platters or “frutti di mare” here were also very amazing. The region is the birth place of pesto and so you much try it here! Some of our favorite restaurants include: Il Pirata in Vernazza, Nessun Dorma in Manarola, Pan e Vin Bar in Corniglia and various gelato places throughout. On a couple of nights, we loved buying take-out pizza, local groceries(fruits, cheese, meats and antipasto), a bottle or 2 of wine and having a sunset dinner from our balcony with a bit Andrea Bocelli playing in the background. It was simply the Italian dream for us.
Check out my other posts about Italy if you haven’t already.
> Finding Sunflowers in Tuscany <
> Beautiful Sardinia and Its Thousands of Beaches <