The Cinque Terre is an incredible destination in north-western Italy. It’s a place on most people’s bucket list, and for very very good reason. Whether you’ve seen the Cinque Terre on a travel blogger’s Instagram with the obligatory wanderlust hashtag or were aware of the famous five villages long before Social Media was around, the little gem on Italian Riviera is an iconic destination and a must-visit when in Europe.
There’s a few handy things to know before you go to give you a little bit more of an idea of the lay of the land in the Cinque Terre and help you to have the best possible time there.
How Long Should You Stay at the Cinque Terre?
Well, how long is a piece of string?
We stayed in the Cinque Terre for three nights and to be honest, that was just right. We took things pretty slowly and didn’t rush around. If you arrive early on your first day, you could certainly swing your trip to cover everything in two nights, but we would advise against spending just one night unless you’re on a super tight timeline – we met one guy who day tripped to the Cinque Terre and he was already planning to go back. Part of the charm of this destination is taking time over things. A visit here wouldn’t be the same if you couldn’t relax in the afternoons watching the nut jobs (including me) cliff jump 16 metres to their near-certain death, lazily watch the sunset or take your time over a bowl of pesto gnocchi and glass of prosecco.
Before we got to the Cinque Terre a friend told me she was there for a week and needed another; we met an Aussie pair who’d been there for five days and were still loving it; and there was another girl in our hostel who had booked a year in advance for eight nights. Whilst we were ready to move on after three nights, we definitely found ourselves missing this special place once we’d left.
So, like I said – seriously, how long is that piece of string?
This being said, if you only have one day, you must visit rather than not. This gem of Italy is a must-see and it is entirely possible to see all five towns in one day via train, or if you’re more about the scenery, hike the coastal track.
Cinque Terre National Park Passes
We wanted to be really thorough here, so we’ve written an entire blog post (coming soon) with everything you need to know about passes to the National Park, so you can work out what’s the best option for you. If you’re worried about limited places to the Cinque Terre, read this! Spoiler: it will put your mind at ease.
In Which Village Should You Stay?
We stayed in Riomaggiore, which is perfect if you are planning on hiking the coast track. It’s recommended by Lonely Planet to walk from Riomaggiore to Monterosso, presumably for the scenery. Monterosso also has that jaw-dropping beach characterised by the most distinctive formation of umbrellas and is a significantly larger town – so upon staggering into the town at the end of the walk there’s no shortage of places to eat and drink to distract you from your aching legs before heading home.
It can be expensive to stay in one of the five villages but the convenience is unrivalled.
During high season, we paid €30 each a night for an average hostel in Riomaggiere with no kitchen facilities or laundry and wi-fi only downstairs in the bar. The location was unbelievable and it was clean, light and airy, but the amenities left much to be desired for the price.
Corniglia has about 300 steps from the train station to the village. There is also a very quiet beach accessible from the train station for visitors to the village to enjoy. A beautiful little village to stay in but not as accessible as the others.
Get a feel for Manorola here. Unfortunately we didn’t get the chance to hang out in this village, which is perhaps the most photographed of the five villages. It’s not a big deal – we’re sure we’ll be back!
Vernazza and Monterosso are bigger towns with more restaurants and shops; perhaps for this reason they generally seem to field more visitors throughout the day.
If you can get some great accommodation in Levanto or La Spezia for a decent price, during high season the trains run from early morning (approximately 6.30 am) to close to midnight. Also, don’t worry that you’ll be missing a great nightlife in the Cinque Terre by not staying in one of the villages. After dark, activities seems be reserved to drinks and nibbles by the marina followed by dinner and bed. Or maybe people are having wild parties in their rooms we don’t know about…
Cinque Terre Nightlife
Our experience of Cinque Terre nightlife perhaps needs to be put into context.
We’d just spent a week in a mountain village on Rhodes, Greece, with 15 old-timers. It was an amazing experience, but there was no wi-fi, no partying and definitely no people our own age.
Suffice to say upon arriving in the Cinque Terre we were ready to drink, talk about nothing to strangers and have a dance. We looked around the Riomaggiore marina, not believing our eyes – there were people our age! Speaking English! Even better – some Aussie accents thrown in! Nat and I looked at each other, a twinkle in our eyes and a thirst for a few social beverages in our throats. This could shape up to be a good night. The local Irish bar pumping Justin Bieber seemed to be just warming up when we meandered down to the water to watch the sunset.
As soon as sunset had faded, we whipped back to the same bar and downed two glasses of the house white. Our spirits high, we noticed the place was now quite empty, except for a few groups of friends and couples nursing their beers. Everyone looked very calm. No-one was noticeably on their way to getting wasted, or even really tipsy for that matter. Undeterred, we ordered another round. Everyone’s just having dinner, we decided. They’ll all be here soon.
Another glass. No punters.
Another glass. Still no takers.
One more glass. WHERE IN GOD’S NAME IS EVERYONE? WHY AREN’T WE DANCING ON TABLES BY NOW?!
Eventually we gave up and tottered off to bed.
Long story short – you aren’t missing a cranking night out by staying out of the Cinque Terre. We’d say if you can get a great deal staying in La Spezia, Levanto or Portovenere – go for it!
Eating and Drinking in the Cinque Terre
A lot of the food is pretty damn glorious in the Cinque Terre – and as per usual with most touristy places, a lot of it isn’t. Foodies who can’t stand a sub par meal should check out top restaurant recommendations here and here.
We also ate at what we believe is a highly underrated restaurant called Food and Sea in Corniglia. It doesn’t appear to have a website or even a Facebook page but it’s located off the town’s main square down a couple of steps. It’s reasonably priced and if you’re not too hungry, make like we did for lunch and grab a starter-sized bowl of pasta for around €7.50 – both the lasagne and the gnocchi alla Genovese were incredible, as was the tirimasu. Wash it all down with prosecco by the glass. Best (and most reasonably priced) meal we had in all of northern Italy! We are both notoriously fast eaters, me especially, but we actually took our time here because the thought of the meal ending was too distressing to bear. If heading here for dinner, make it early. We hear the sunsets are epic.
More Information for Budget Travellers
Prices range from about €10 – €15 for a main sized bowl of pasta at casual village restaurants and rise from there. You can also buy focaccia fresh from wood fired ovens with every imaginable topping and fritto misti (deep fried seafood) in cono d’asporto (paper cones) for between €5 – €10 for a cost-effective and delicious lunch.
In the evenings, another way to save a little money is to purchase the antipasti of your choice from one of the artisanal delis (alimentari) dotting the towns, some fresh focaccia, a bottle of wine (we found some for €3 a bottle – score!) and head for the water for a sunset picnic.
For those who want to eat as the locals do, there’s a great simple guide to Ligurian specialties here, with a number of options that won’t break the bank.
Beware: while there are an abundance of fresh produce stores, you will not find large, cheap supermarkets in any of the five villages. Most markets will stock bread, deli meats, cheeses, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages but that seems to be the extent. Travellers who generally save a significant amount of money cooking their own meals may need to simplify their diets slightly (there’s no harm in focaccia for breakfast, lunch and dinner), bring supplies from their previous stay or accept the situation and budget extra for meals out.
One Final Thing – Other Resources
What are you waiting for? Get planning!