You’ve likely heard of Italy’s Cinque Terre: five connected fishing towns located on the beautiful coast of the Italian Riviera. Joined by a hiking trail, these centuries-old villages are a popular destination for tourists looking to inject some adventure into their Italian vacation. If you are heading to Italy and plan on hiking Cinque Terre, we’ve got you covered with these 7 tips to make the most of your trip.
TIP #1: Stay in La Spezia or Levanto
For many reasons, the decision to find accommodation in one of the shoulder towns of La Spezia or Levanto is a smart idea. When we began looking for places to stay, we immediately thought about how great it would be to stay in one of the historic towns of Cinque Terre. That was until we saw the prices. If budget is a concern for you, as it always is for us, then you’ll find the accommodation in Levanto or La Spezia to be more to your liking. Our hostel in La Spezia was centrally located (within walking distance of the train station) and the town was a safe, laid-back alternative.
It’s not always easy to get information online about where the best place to stay would be if you want to be able to access the towns during the day. Once you get there, the interconnections become quite clear and are actually fairly straightforward. There is a train route, operating year-round, that runs back and forth between Levanto and La Spezia. With frequent service, this train also stops at each of the five towns that make up Cinque Terre. Wake up early for breakfast and head to the train station to spend the day hiking from town to town.
If you do stay in La Spezia, head over to the pedestrian walkway an find Mr. Molini to try the unbelievably delicious, melt-in-your-mouth, perfectly salted foccacia. Then head across the street to Gelateria Artigianale to check out the gelato shop run by a sweet elderly couple.
TIP #2: Ditch the Car
If you’ve gone the route of a rental car for your Italian vacation, Cinque Terre is where you’ll find it useless. Access to the towns by car is practically nonexistent. For experienced drivers, there are narrow, winding roads connecting the towns, but those roads stop at carparks at the edge of town. The historical core of the villages is pedestrian only with some congested, narrow hills and stairways to climb.
TIP #3: Buy the Cinque Terre Train Card
Hiking Cinque Terre could not be easier than with the Cinque Terre Train card. At € 16 per person, buying this card gives you access to the hiking trails and unlimited train rides between Levanto and La Spezia for the day. There is another card available for € 7,50 that only grants you access to the trails, but the train card is the smarter option. If you stay in Levanto or La Spezia, you will have to pay once for the train to get to the first town, and again at the end of the day to get back. Because the trail between Manarola and Riomaggiore has been closed for quite some time now, you will have to pay for the train to see both towns. When we were there, the trail between Corniglia and Manarola was also closed, so that would have been another train ticket. Lastly, even if all of the trails are open, hiking Cinque Terre means you may be focusing on completing the trails and not on visiting the towns. If that’s the case, you can prioritize the trails before you run out of energy and use the train access to visit the towns when you’re done.
Cards can be purchased at any of the seven rail stations along the train route. To avoid a long wait, get to the station tourist office when they open. Buying the card first thing at the train station also means you’ll bypass the very long lineup at the beginning of the trail. Regardless which card you ultimately chose, they each include 24-hour Wifi access at the Cinque Terre tourist stops so you can keep your install-game on point.
TIP #4: Avoid Peak Times
We thought we were so smart visiting Cinque Terre in mid-April. Our plan was to saunter onto the hiking trails and have the coastal scenery all to ourselves. Unbeknownst to us, we had scheduled our plans for hiking Cinque Terre during an Italian long weekend. The villages, trails, and lineups were jam-packed. Not once were we alone on the trail, and at times we were even hiking in a lineup. We’ve got photos to prove it.
Don’t get us wrong, we wouldn’t suggest going in the Winter because the hiking paths are often closed. However, Spring and Fall months like April, May, September, and October do have their benefits. Not only will you likely experience a more relaxed Cinque Terre, but accommodation will also be cheaper.
TIP #5: Track the Weather
Our best advice when it comes to hiking Cinque Terre and planning for the weather is to schedule two or three days in the area. Give yourself multiple options for your hiking day. If your first full day is raining, then you can fall back on your second or third day. When we were there, we had scheduled only one full day, and the forecast called for a downpour. We were crossing our fingers, toes, and eyes that it wouldn’t rain. Luckily for us, it only started to rain by the time our day was turning down. But it’s best not to gamble with such an important trip. Of course, following tip #4 and visiting in the shoulder seasons means there is a higher chance of showers, but giving yourself some wiggle room should almost guarantee some perfect hiking weather.
TIP #6: Hiking Cinque Terre… Don’t Kid Yourself
Hiking Cinque Terre isn’t the most difficult thing we’ve done, but it is no leisurely stroll. Via dell Amore – the section between Manarola and Riomaggiore – is said to be incredibly easy but it’s been closed for some time now for repairs. Between Corniglia and Manarola was also closed so we cannot speak to that either. However, we did hike the two most difficult sections and can assure you it’s a good idea to be prepared. Bring enough water, especially on a hot day, and wear sunscreen to be safe. Don’t wear flip-flops and definitely don’t wear heels.
Two people who were hiking ahead of us were complaining the whole time. They expected a simple footpath between villages, but the countless, uphill steps had them considering turning back. They asked us how much longer it would be and we joked that there remained another three hours. One of them almost started crying.
TIP #7: Drink the Lemonade!
Halfway between Vernazza and Corniglia is the tiniest, most strategically placed lemonade and juice shop. The small store has sitting room for approximately 6-8 people with views of the Cinque Terre coastline out the window. The orange juice is prepared as you order it and a container of homemade lemonade stands iced and ready to order by the glass. This is about the point when you’re ready to give up, so they have no problem getting € 3 from passersby for a glass of their main attraction.