Carved out of the rugged terrain of Italy’s northern coast, Cinque Terre gives us a remarkable glimpse into the regions past. Fishermen developed the coastline into the “five lands” for fishing and wine-making in the 11th century. Before there was the Cinque Terre train, it took at least two days of sailing from Genoa just to see these villages.
Today this UNESCO world heritage site and national park is more accessible than ever. The Cinque Terre train connects all five of the villages by weaving through mountains and coastline, making it possible to see all five villages in anywhere from 1-3 days. Even if you do decide to hike some of the trail, you’ll need to take the train for at least a portion of it.
Here’s everything you need to know for taking to Cinque Terre train before you visit.
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Cinque Terre train travel tips
View of Manrola in Cinque Terre
The Cinque Terre train is a fast-paced regional line that connects the five villages within the park to one another. You can hop on this regional train in either La Spezia or Levanto.
If you would like to be connected to ALL five villages via train, you can buy a Cinque Terre train card. It will also give you access to the hiking paths, wifi, and use of the buses within the park. This option is the most efficient and cost-effective way to see the entire park.
You can get a 1,2, or 3 day Cinque Terre Train pass, and cost will depend on low or high season. Low season is from the 4th of November to March 15th. March 16th to November 3rd is considered high season.
- 1 day: 13 EUR low season, 16 EUR high season
- 2 day: 23 EUR low season, 29 EUR high season
- 3 day: 36 EUR low season, 41 EUR high season
You can buy the card online here, or you can buy it in the train station for La Spezia or Levanto. More will be explained about this below.
There are other trains that aren’t part of this regional service that go directly from say Pisa or Genoa to Manarola. However, this won’t give you access to the entire park. You’ll then to have to buy individual tickets for each of the additional cities you visit, so it really doesn’t make the most sense.
Also, the day passes are only valid for consecutive days (as in 2 or 3 consecutive days). If you want to explore the park in non-consecutive days, it’s best to buy two individual day passes.
How to get to the Cinque Terre region
Vernazza from above
How many days you spend in Cinque Terre will depend where you plan on basing yourself. You can take a day trip from Florence. However, I recommend adding 1-2 days to your Florence itinerary to visit Cinque Terre.
However, if you have more time to base yourself in La Spezia, you can easily spend two to three days in the region. Here’s a little more about these regions by train.
La Spezia to Cinque Terre by train
The most convenient way to access Cinque Terre is by way of the nearby town called La Spezia. You probably haven’t heard of this place, but it’s a quaint Italian village about an hour outside Pisa. It’s definitely worthy of exploring itself for at least a day!
From La Spezia you can buy all Cinque Terre train passes.
You’ll have to buy the actual tickets from the ticket office in the train station, as you can’t buy them in the ticket machines. Otherwise, you can buy them online here.
The fast regional train leaves every 15 minutes, so you don’t have to check the schedule beforehand. I would just plan on getting to the station a half hour before you plan on leaving.
You’ll want to take the train that goes towards Levanto, and you’ll have to look for what platform the train will be coming on the train station’s screen. Make sure to validate your ticket in the machine before you get on.
It takes about 10 minutes to reach the first village of Riomaggiore and 30 minutes to reach the last villages of Monterosso Al Mare.
Levanto to Cinque Terre by Train
Levanto is not one of the five villages, but you can visit here if you like. If you want to enter to visit Cinque Terre via Levanto, you will follow the same instructions above, but take the train heading towards La Spezia. This is also what you will do on your way back from visiting Cinque Terre.
Florence to Cinque Terre by train
Cinque Terre is a popular day trip from Florence, and it takes about 2.5 hours to get here. To get here by train, you’ll either take one of the direct trains to La Spezia (only twice per day), or take a train to La Spezia with a transfer in Pisa.
You will follow the same exact instruction above once you actually get to La Spezia. If you’re short on time and would like to book a tour, you can do so at any of these organized day tours.
Pisa to Cinque Terre by train
Getting from Pisa to Cinque Terre is a PISA cake. You simply take a direct train to La Spezia at the main Pisa train station. It takes less than one hour to get to La Spezia. From here, you can buy your card for the Cinque Terre park.
Genoa to Cinque Terre by train
Genoa looks like it’s very close to Cinque Terre, but it’s actually much further away compared to La Spezia. In the summer there are multiple ferries that go from Genoa to the towns of Cinque Terre. I would not recommend this, as these ferries and cruise ships are degrading the water quality in the region. Besides, the train system is very accessible!
If you want to use the unlimited Cinque Terre train travel pass, you’ll have to first take a regional train to Levanto from either of the two Genoa train stations. This takes about one hour. Then, you can hope on the train in Levanto.
Milan to Cinque Terre
Even though it looks like Milan to Cinque Terre isn’t that far, it does take longer to get here by train. You’d first have to take a train to Genoa, which will take about two hours. From here, you’d have to take a train to Levanto that takes about 1 hour. Likely it would take you about 3.5 hours one way.
You can take a look at any of these train to get to the Cinque Terre area here.
Cinque Terre Villages Connected by train
If you’re trying to decide how long you want to spend in Cinque Terre, it will depend on how much you want to see and do. It’s doable to see all five villages in one day, but you’ll have to move at a faster pace.
If you see Cinque Terre in two days, you can move at a leisurely pace and see all of the towns. You can easily see three villages in one day, and two the last day. This would also leave you time for a little bit of hiking.
If you consider yourself a slow traveler, or someone that plans on doing a bit more hiking, the Cinque Terre 3-day pass is for you. This allows you to hike between a few of the villages, which can vary from intermediate to advanced hikes for upwards of two hours each. You’ll also be able to take in each of the villages at a leisurely pace.
Here is a little bit of information about each of the Cinque Terre villages
(Photo via Flickr)
The first of the five Cinque Terre villages (coming from La Spezia) is the charming, vibrant town of Riomaggiore. The train conveniently drops you off right in town, only a stone throw away from the pebbled beach and vibrant houses. You have several restaurants, bars, and small shops, but you can easily see the town in less than an hour and a half.
For the best views, head to Vista Panoramica di Riomaggiore or right below this points on some of the rocks. It’s a perfect place for a picnic!
Perhaps my favorite of the five villages is Manarola, only a five minute train ride from the first village. This fishing town is larger than Riomaggiore and slightly more photogenic, if that is even possible. You’ll find a wider variety of restaurants, shops, and cultural landmarks here. It’s also a great places to try to Focaccia bread, a specialty to the region that is made out of chickpea flour!
For the best views in Manarola, check out the lookout point right in front of Nessun Dorma and the walkway along the sea leading up this way.
Corniglia village and vineyards. Photo via Flickr
If you’re willing to go the extra mile for wines and authentic Italian village life, Corniglia is for you. It’s definitely not as touristy as the other towns, but it one of the only towns that still captures the slow coastal lifestyle. This village is also home to several local vineyards and wine bars.
The only downside is that the train drops you off at the very bottom of the hill, and then you have to walk about 20 minutes up. However, this is where the park’s bus comes in handy, which you can take up or down to the train station.
For one of the best views, head to Terra Rossa Wine Bar pictured above. It’s magical at sunset!
Vernazza is another one of the more touristy of the villages, offering vibrant hues juxtaposed next to rock formations carved from the ocean’s waves. The town itself is probably one of the best places for shopping, and a nice bay with small fishing boats. I did find the food here to be overpriced, so I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re on a tight budget.
Vernazza is not as steep compared to some of the other villages, so to get that postcard perfect view you’ll have to climb part of the hiking trail. If you take the trail that leads to Monterosso Al Mare that goes down by the water, NOT the paths that go up towards Drignana or Vernazzola, you’ll find the perfect view from the trail.
Please remember to stay on the trail and not climb the fence. Some instagrammers did this, and created a whole craze of people getting too close to the edge.
Monterosso Al Mare
(Photo via flickr)
Last but not least is the biggest town within Cinque Terre: Monterosso Al Mare. This is by far the best town if you want to actually be at the beach within Cinque Terre. The pebbled coastline extends practically through the entire village. At least while we were there in October, it felt less touristy, similar to Corniglia. There was a local event going on for kids, and all the families were barbequing in the town square. Only a couple people were with us while we eat gelato on the beach, though I’m sure this is different in the summer months.
The best views in this area are either on the beach or up where you take the hiking trail from Monterosso Al Mare to Vernazza.
-If you do plan on hiking between any of the villages, please look ahead of time to see how long it takes, and wear supportive walking shoes. Also, take into consideration that many of the trails end up taking more time than the signs say. We hiked from Vernazza to Monterosso Al Mare at a moderate pace and it took us about 2.5 hours. It also was a difficult hike that I wouldn’t recommend for anyone with asthma or any type of knee issues.
The best time to visit Cinque Terre
Shops around Vernazza, without the masses in October.
High season: May-September
Shoulder season: March, April, October November
Low Season: November- February
If possible, I highly recommend avoiding the months of July and August. The entire high season itself the park and the Cinque Terre train can be completely packed. The only real reason to visit in the summer is if you’d like to swim in these places, but you’ll definitely have company.
Late October was the perfect time to visit. Walkable streets without the crowds, a cool breeze, and beautiful sunsets over vineyards.
If you’d like to do a bit of seaside walking and avoids most of the crowds, I really loved being here in fall. It was perfect hiking weather, in fact I actually got hot in what I was wearing. Even when the forecast predicted downpour of rain for three days, we ended up getting sunshine every day. Mostly everything was still open, and I can assume this would be the same in the spring.
If you’d like to have the park practically for yourself, the low season may be for you. This would also be an ideal time to visit if you’re thinking of doing a lot of trekking throughout the region. Even though more things would be closed, I can imagine that it would be romantic and quiet in its own way.
- Taking the Cinque Terre train card support this sustainable form of public transportation (including the eco buses!)
- Make sure to stay on the path when hiking. They are there for a reason.
- Consider traveling in the shoulder or off season.
- Consider staying outside of the park itself to help preserve its authenticity.
- Bring a reusable water bottle with you, and recycle all waste in the bins.
- Read more about responsible travel here.
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