Five Cinque Terre travel tips to help make your vacation live up to your expectations in a very touristy place.
Cinque Terre is the star of the Italian Riviera. The five fishing villages are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The area is known for its preserved architecture, coastal hiking trails and sea views. It’s on many traveler’s bucket lists and for a good reason.
But that also means it’s touristy. Really touristy, as in 2 million tourists a year. So here’s why these 5 travel tips for Cinque Terre are so important. Here’s what you need to know:
Travel Tip 1) Cinque Terre is Actually 5 Villages and a National Park
You won’t find trains going to Cinque Terre or hotels in Cinque Terre. That’s because while the area is known as Cinque Terre, meaning Five Lands, they are five separate villages. From north to south they are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. More on each village to follow. But the essential Travel Tip for Cinque Terre here is don’t bother renting a car. Take public transportation instead.
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Travel Tip 2) Cinque Terre is Hilly. Really Hilly
Many travellers arrive at the train station in Riomaggiore, the largest of the five villages and are then surprised to learn that their hotel is located hillside. It’s not uncommon to climb 100+ stairs to reach your hotel. Once you’ve reached your accommodation, you may have to carry your luggage up several flights of stairs.
You need to be aware of this, especially if you have mobility issues or are travelling with a heavy stroller. Every visit I’ve seen weary travellers sweating as they lug their luggage up stair by stair cursing under their breath saying I wish I would have known how many f$%*ing stairs there were and I would have packed lighter. Don’t say that I didn’t warn you.
The flattest village is Monterosso, the most northern of the villages. Staying in Monterosso is a good option if you have mobility issues or heavy luggage.
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Travel Tip 3) Don’t Travel to Cinque Terre In Summer
Cinque Terre has approximately 4000 residents but receives well over 2 million visitors a year. There’s been talk about capping the number of visitors, especially day-trippers from cruise ships. The majority of these visits occur during the summer months. As a result, accommodation is expensive and difficult to find, and it’s crowded.
It’s also really hot. And air conditioning in most places, if found at all (my last room didn’t even have a fan) could be called AC Light.
I’m a big fan of visiting most places off-season, and Cinque Terre is no exception. You’ll still get warm temperatures in spring and fall, and stores and restaurants will still be open. I haven’t been in winter, but according to a local that I spoke with, many places close from mid-November to mid-February so I’d avoid going then.
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Travel Tip 4) Do Hike Cinque Terre’s Coastal Trail
The Coastal Trail is the most famous of Cinque Terre’s many hiking trails. While the routes (as of spring 2019) from Riomaggiore to Manarola and Manarola to Corniglia are closed due to previous flood damage, you can still hike from Monterosso-Vernazza-Corniglia.
It’s a beautiful route but be prepared for lots of stairs and lots of ups and downs. Bring lots of water. Take your time and stop in each of the villages for gelato. Hey, you’ve earned it :). I love hiking in the area so much that I created a self-guided hiking tour for this gorgeous part of the Italian Riviera and beyond. Check it out.
Travel Tip 5) Discover What Each Village Offers
While each village is picturesque and they are similar in appearance, each also has its own flair. It’s important to know the difference so that when you book your accommodation.
See our recommendations for each village below. Accommodation fills up quickly so book as far in advance as possible.
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This is the southernmost and second-largest of the villages. It’s also one of the most picturesque. Follow the steps above the harbor for incredible sunset views as the sun highlights the gorgeous architecture.
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This has a popular dive spot that’s especially popular with teenagers. I’m a big fan of getting gelato and then watching all those crazy kids dive from the rocks.
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This is the smallest of the five villages. It’s also the hardest to reach. Regardless of which side you approach it from, you’ll have a 100-meter (300 feet) climb. As it’s the hardest village to get to, it’s also the least popular with tourists. So go here if you’re looking for a quieter getaway. I recommend it for a day trip or if you only have a small backpack for luggage.
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This is one of the most picturesque villages (in competition with Riomaggiore in my opinion). Cafes and restaurants line the harbour, and there’s a castle ruin. I usually stop here for lunch.
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The northernmost and largest of the villages has both an old town and a modern new town. It also has the best beaches in Cinque Terre, and the umbrellas give it a resort-like feel. It’s my least favorite of the five villages. But it’s a good option if you want to hit the beach or have mobility issues. It’s the flattest of the villages.
Monterosso offers beautiful accommodation and you can see my list of recommendations here.
How to Get to Cinque Terre and Where to Stay
The easiest way to get to Cinque Terre is from Pisa via train. Alternatively, you can also book one of these day tours which includes transportation from Milan, Florence or Pisa.
Check out our post on Where to Stay for recommendations in each village.
Follow these five travel tips when visiting Cinque Terre and you’re sure to have a bucket-list-worthy vacation!