In the picture-perfect Cinque Terre clusters of pastel-colored houses, narrow cobblestone streets, terraces laddering the cliff sides and picture-perfect harbors bring in over 2.5 million visitors to this UNESCO World Heritage site a year.
Read how to best get to – and around – this beautiful part of the world that is tucked away in a corner of Italy. You need a little persistence to get here, but you will never forget it
How Not to Drive to the Cinque Terre
The Cinque Terre is Italy’s iconic and magnificent coastline along the Italian Riviera. A rugged breathtaking landscape comprised of five villages that are all uniquely different. There are few roads to the villages of Riomaggiore, Monterosso, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Manarola but getting to the Cinque Terre without driving is easy.
For where to stay on the Cinque Terre, read my comprehensive guide: Where to Stay in Cinque Terre: A Guide to Choosing Your Favorite Village. And to learn more about Vernazza, read Vernazza Italy: The Colorful UNESCO Masterpiece of Cinque Terre. For a complete guide to the best beaches of the Cinque Terre, read What’s the Best Cinque Terre Beach?
The best time of year to see the Cinque Terre without hordes of tourists is in September and October and in the late spring of April or May. Keep in mind though that in this part of Europe the sun goes down at around 5 pm and although it’s warm it might rain.
Even if you can’t spare the time to stay in these lovely villages, there are also some excellent tours that can get you to and from the Cinque Terre villages quickly so that you can enjoy all of them in one go, like this Private Tour of Cinque Terre from Levanto by Musement.
Each one of the five towns is distinct and offers something a little different to its visitors. The closest airport to the Cinque Terre is Pisa and there are many international flights. The train station is beside the airport and easy to find as it is well signed within the airport. You can also take a train from other locations in Italy.
If you are arriving at the airport in Pisa you want to head to the Pisa Centrale train station this is where you will find the Pisa-La Spezia-Genoa line, which will take you to the Cinque Terre. You can book your Italian train tickets through the Omio or ItaliaRail websites.
I prefer Omio because of its simplicity and entirely refundable tickets but I love the options on the ItaliRail site and the same refundable ticket conditions.
My advice is that if you can’t find a good connection time with one booking site, it doesn’t hurt to try the second one. I recently found a great train from Rome to Naples at a time that wasn’t available on Omio but was on ItaliaRail.
Trains leave from Rome, Venice, and Florence to La Spezia Centrale train station which is the main hub for the towns of the Cinque Terre but make sure you check your ticket and the correct platform. Some trains only stop at one or two of the villages and others stop at all five villages.
Driving the Cinque Terre is not recommended and is actively discouraged as you cannot access the village centers by vehicle and some are completely car-free like Vernazza.
Visiting the Cinque Terre on a Cruise Ship
The nearest cruise port is La Spezia, which is also the port for Florence and Pisa so it could be added to your Florence itinerary. Cruise ships disembark on the Molo Giuseppe Garibaldi, midway along the Viale Italia waterfront. The railway station is around a 2.5 km walk from the Port so take a taxi to the station to save yourself some time.
The cruise lines will have guided excursions from the ship but as you will most likely only be in the port for one day you won’t be able to see all five villages. You can arrange your tour depending on which village you want to see but keep in mind the timing though as you may only have around 4-5 hours in port when on a Cruise ship. You can find the best ones below.
The Cinque Terre by boat
If you would like to experience arriving by sea in any of the five Cinque Terre villages why not take a boat tour or ferry trip? This is a perfectly beautiful way to see the five villages from the Ligurian sea. Boats and ferries run from April 1st to November and travel from the ports of Portovenere, and La Spezia as well as Monterosso, Vernazza, Manarola, and Riomaggiore.
Cinque Terre Cards
If you plan a visit to the Cinque Terre, get yourself a Cinque Terre Card. There are two types of cards available for purchase both in Italy and online. The cards can be bought at the information desks at every train station along the Cinque Terre route as well as La Spezia and Levanto.
Do I need a Cinque Terre Card?
The entrance is free to the Cinque Terre National Park but if you plan on visiting the five villages and spending a few days visiting the area you will make good use of it.
A single train fare between two villages is €4 and the card costs €16 a day for an adult so if you are going to travel by train at least twice in one day and add a hike to your visit the Cinque Terre Train Card is a great buy not only that but if you plan to visit during the summer you can purchase the card online and save yourself the long lines that occur during the season.
Cinque Terre Train Card Tip:
If you purchase the card at the train station don’t forget to validate it at the green stamp machine before you get on the train. If you buy online though there is no validation required as you have to specify your travel dates.
Cinque Terre Train Card
This card gives you unlimited train travel on the Cinque Terre line which runs from La Spezia through the five villages as well as the Levanto trains and all the hiking trails in the National park. The Cinque Terre card includes any of the bus services within the national park and reduced-price tickets to the civic museums in La Spezia.
Cinque Terre Trekking Card
This card only gives you access to the hiking and walking trails. It also provides use of the bus services within the park and reduced admission fees to the La Spezia Civic Museums.
There are 48 hiking trails on the Cinque Terre Coastline and you will only need the Trekking Card for the most famous trails and these are the Vernazza to Corniglia route and the Monterosso to Vernazza trail.
The Sentiero Azzurro known as the Blue Trail in English is the Cinque Terre’s most famous hiking trail. Many years ago it was a mule path that linked all five of the villages. Because this is a popular path with tourists the government is debating putting into place a limit on the number of hikers on the trail. This has not been implemented yet but probably will be in the near future. You can find more information on the Cinque Terre website.
This is not a walk-in-the-park type of hike the trail is narrow with no handrails and some of the drops are quite precipitous. Currently, only two sections of the trail remain open that of Vernazza to Corniglia and Monterosso to Vernazza, most of the other trails are not due to open until at least 2021.
- For a comprehensive post on the best accommodation options in each of the village of Cinque Terre and its surrounds, see Where to Stay in Cinque Terre: A Guide to Choosing Your Favorite Village
- And for a comprehensive post on the iconic village of Vernazza, read Vernazza Italy: The Colorful UNESCO Masterpiece of Cinque Terre.
- There are so many things to do in Cinque Terre, Italy. See all of the best things to do in the Cinque Terre, from Get Your Guide here
- If you’re on a lovers’ trip to Europe, consider that other iconic destination, Santorini. Read my Athens and Santorini posts here
- You may also wish to consider a quick trip to Florence.