When I first started planning our trip to Cinque Terre, I kept thinking about visiting Cinque Terre as a day trip from Florence. It was suggested on multiple tour websites and offered as such, but I just couldn’t wrap my mind around visiting Cinque Terre in a single day. I eventually decided that we would stay a few days, at least for our first trip.
By evening on that first trip to Cinque Terre, I completely understood why you need to actually stay in Cinque Terre to truly appreciate how amazing it is. We were already planning to come back to La Toretta. It comes down to this: when the daytrippers have gone home, you have the villages of Cinque Terre entirely to yourself.
The restaurants are (basically) empty (except for locals). The views are completely unobstructed. It’s quiet. And, it might just be the most relaxed I’ve been in a long, long time. I’m not a Cinque Terre expert (yet), but here are a few travel tips to help make your Cinque Terre itinerary memorable.
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Cinque Terre 3 Day Itinerary
We’ve visited Cinque Terre for 3 days and 4 days. I think that you need need at least three days to get the most out of your visit and see all of the five villages. I don’t think that you can see all five villages in one day and remember any part of it. When you are trying to figure out how many days to spend in Cinque Terre, you need to know what you want to see most.
On the shorter trips, we’ve skipped Corniglia because it’s a little more time consuming to get to the village from the train station (the gelato is worth it). You can read more in my complete guide to Cinque Terre, but I wanted to give you an idea how an ideal itinerary would work.
Day One in Cinque Terre
Pick up your Cinque Terre Train card at the train station or tourist information office. This will allow you unlimited transportation between the villages, including the Cinque Terre hiking trails. It’s 100% worth it.
Morning: I recommend using the Rick Steves Cinque Terre book and taking self-guided walking tours of all the Cinque Terre villages. These walks can be enjoyable in the early morning (with beautiful sunrise views) before the crowds or in the late afternoon, after the day trip crowds leave. They are also great when the other Cinque Terre trails are closed!
Typically, Tom and I choose one walk for the morning and one for the evening before sunset. No matter how many times we do them, they never get old.
Lunch in Cinque Terre: Pick up some focaccia for a lunch before heading back to La Torretta to rest during the heat of the afternoon. I’ve shared some of the best focaccia in Cinque Terre. (My favorite focaccia is in Riomaggiore.) I enjoyed the focaccia so much that I learned to make Italian focaccia at home (with my bread maker).
Late Afternoon: My favorite villages to watch the sunset in Cinque Terre are Vernazza and Mararola. Blue hour is especially beautiful, too.
Day Two in Cinque Terre
Morning: Start your day learning from locals! We recommend either a pesto-making class in Cinque Terre or taking a wine tasting in Cinque Terre. We’ve done both and you can read about our Levanto pesto class and the Cinque Terre wine tour on the blog. No matter which activity you choose for your second day, you’ll want to follow it up with a leisurely afternoon. We recommend staying at La Toretta when visiting Cinque Terre so you can use their hot tub, which overlooks the wine terraces of Manarola.
Mid-Late Afternoon & Dinner: Hike the trails between Monterosso al Mare and Vernazza. We didn’t plan this perfectly, but it turned out that we finished around sunset, so we got to watch the pastel skies fade to blue before descending in Vernazza harbor for a delicious dinner at Gianni Franzi. The late start to our hike made it feel like we had the trails to ourselves!
Before heading out, make sure to check the national park website to make sure the trails you are considering are open.
If you’re not feeling up to dinner, I think Vernazza has the best gelato in Cinque Terre and you’ve definitely earned a sweet treat!
Day Three in Cinque Terre
This is the most important day of your trip to Cinque Terre. It is the day to relax! You’ll want to finish seeing the Cinque Terre towns that you missed, but you also want to prepare for wherever your Italy itinerary takes you next.
The Cinque Terre speed of life is far less frantic than Rome or even Florence. Take a few more leisurely walks. Visit the quiet cathedrals. Enjoy the promenade of Monterosso al Mare at sunset. Take a long leisurely meal at one of the delightful harbor restaurants. The slower place of life in Italy’s Cinque Terre is truly Italy at its best.
Favorite Cinque Terre Restaurants
I have a more extensive Cinque Terre restaurant post, but here are a few of the top experiences that stand out to me right now. Truthfully, it is one of those places where the cheap food is the most delicious food, but sometimes it’s worth splurging on a table with a view.
Gianni Franzi in Vernazza
We THOUGHT the pesto we had our first night in Manarola was good (until we learned to make our own pesto)… and until we came to Gianni Franzi. This is where it’s at. The wine is reasonably priced, the pasta is cooked to perfection, and the pesto is tasty. The house wine is cheap and the service was efficient and friendly. (They were incredibly apologetic that melon wasn’t in season, but the proscuitto was just as tasty without the melon!)
I just realized that I didn’t grab any pictures of our meal… which just goes to show how tasty it was (or how much wine we had been drinking). It’s right on the Vernazza harbor and provides some pretty incredible views at sunset.
We really enjoyed watching some kids play soccer in the small area near the restaurant – it just felt exactly like life should be. I don’t know – it’s hard to explain.
After one particularly memorable dinner, we were able to hop on up to the lookout point at the end of the trail between Monterosso al Mare and Vernazza to grab some great pictures of Vernazza at night.
Belforte in Vernazza
The service at Belforte was absolutely incredible. The trofie con pesto was divine – it’s very different than you’ll find at other restaurants in the villages. I can’t explain except to say that it tasted more cheesy – in the best possible way! There’s a certain showmanship that comes with seafood dishes. Tom enjoyed the squid ink pasta. That’s one of his favorite things about eating Italy– figuring out what a place (or restaurant) is known for and trying a speciality in its place.
All that said, the staff really made this restaurant though. They were so friendly and helpful and didn’t seem at all bothered that we arrived late in the evening. We didn’t feel rushed, and everything from the bread to the pasta was fresh.
Gelateria Il Porticciolo in Vernazza
If you’re looking for amazing cinnamon gelato (hard to find – I’ve now found it in Venice and Vernazza), head down to the Vernazza harbor. Grab a cup, sit on the seawall and people watch until your heart’s content. Or until you need more gelato. It’s SO good and the scenery can’t be beat. For more options, I’ve scoured all the villages for the best gelato in each of the Cinque Terre villages. Il Porticciolo didn’t get ranked on our 2018 trip because I couldn’t catch it when it was open, but it is definitely on the list.
Snacks from the Coop
We found a small Coop grocery store in almost all the villages. These are great for picking up water and snacks. Some of my favorite things to grab at the coop are various types proscuitto and salami (Milano is my favorite), Kinder Duplo candies, and Mulino Bianco Baiocchi cookies. These are all things that I can’t find at home.
Where to Stay in Cinque Terre
There aren’t a lot of five star hotels in Cinque Terre. Some bloggers will tell you to stay in La Spezia, which isn’t the same experience as staying in one of the five coastal villages. I’m a firm believer in staying in the places that you intend to visit, so I was really excited when I stumbled upon La Torretta, lovely boutique hotel in Manarola.
Their staff is unbelievably kind and accommodating, the location can’t be beat, and the rooms are absolutely lovely. We’ve stayed here 3 times, referred friends to their property, donated to their staff during the pandemic, and can’t wait to go back again soon.
La Torretta Manarola
On our first stay, we emerged from the Manarola train tunnel to find that La Torretta had a golf cart to meet us (and our luggage). As we wound up the hills away from the tourists, we realized we had picked the best place to stay in Cinque Terre. We were greeted with prosecco, fresh local treats, and an ocean view.
Even better? We were invited to relax on the terrace and take in our first views of Manarola while they handled the hotel paperwork. Once they processed our paperwork, we were shown to our classic room, which had its own terrace, a stocked mini bar (included in the room rate!), and another bottle of prosecco for us to enjoy!
Breakfast is included so we enjoyed a European breakfast each morning before heading out. This meant that Tom would go downstairs to enjoy breakfast and bring a few things up to the room for me. (I wake up quite a bit more slowly than he does on vacation.)
Once we knew where La Torretta was, we didn’t have any trouble making the walk down to the village. (On subsequent trips, we actually dragged our luggage up the hill!) We could feel the burn on the return trip up. It works for burning off all the pesto and pasta! In addition to rooms with private balconies and terraces, there is also a hot tub for guests to enjoy. There’s nothing more relaxing than soaking your muscles and watching daytrippers on the trails of Manarola.
After three stays, I can confidently say that La Torretta offers amazing views, comfortable rooms, and unparalleled service. It’s easy to see why it’s one of the highest rated hotels in the area!
How to Get Around Cinque Terre
Cinque Terre Card (Treno) – We didn’t find out about this until halfway through our first trip, but it has saved us a lot of money ever since we found out about it! Seriously. Buy this card, even if you are just going to be in Cinque Terre for one day. It gives you the ability to hop on/off the trains between villages.
Individual tickets were approximately 4 Euro a piece so it added up quickly! Word to the wise – although the rides are short and the trains are crowded during the day, we definitely tickets being checked. You need to buy a ticket and validate it. We saw multiple people fined 50 euro for not having a ticket.
Buy and validate your ticket or get the Cinque Terre train pass. It’s not worth the headache. It also gives you a free wifi code to use in the stations; we found it to be pretty reliable.
We bought our passes at the Levanto train station after we finished learning to make pesto in Cinque Terre, but you can find it at all tourist information offices. We just didn’t know to ask for it.
Cinque Terre Trekking Card – There is a second card available for the hiking paths between the villages but it doesn’t include the trains. If you are a serious hiker, this might make sense for you. We made the hike between Monterroso al Mare and Vernazza. There was a checkpoint at the beginning of the trail to pick up a pass. These can be picked up at train stations or other tourist offices.
Note: Not all trails have been reopened so get an updated map and check your plan.
Cinque Terre Boat Transportation
You can take a boat between the Cinque Terre villages, but we are generally visiting Cinque Terre too early in the season. They don’t run quite as frequently, though they do go between some of the other towns along the Italian Riviera like Portovenere. The boats are often cancelled if the sea gets rough, so it’s always good to have a back up plan for transportation!
Things to Do in Cinque Terre
Cinque Terre Hiking
We’re novice hikers. We enjoyed the Monterroso al Mare – Vernazza hike, but we were thankful that we are in really good shape. It started out pretty easy, but there are a lot of stairs, narrow paths, and it can be a little intimidating at times. That said, it is completely worth it for the views, and it wasn’t uncommon to see residents peddling wine and cold limoncino. (We skipped out on that – alcohol while hiking didn’t seem like a good idea.)
The trail doesn’t go directly along the coast – it dips inward and around before emerging on the side of a cliff. Eventually, it circles back around to the postcard view of Vernazza. It took us about 3 hours to make the hike between the two villages. We started late in the afternoon when the trail was pretty empty. By the end of it, we emerged near Vernazza around sunset which was beyond amazing.
Cinque Terre Cooking Classes
Thus far, most of our visits to Cinque Terre have been during shoulder season, so a lot of options aren’t available. That said, learning to make pesto in Cinque Terre has been one of my favorite things we’ve done!
This pesto class is in Levanto, which isn’t technically one of the 5 villages of Cinque Terre. It is only a 15 minute train ride from Manarola though. Make sure you give yourself enough time to peruse the shop after your class. I sent home a lot different pestos, pastas, and things that I haven’t been able to find at home. Pesto makes a great souvenir from your trip.
Relaxing in Cinque Terre
If you read my blog (or know me in real life), you know I’m really bad at slowing down. I’m constantly going, doing, moving, and while that’s good in my work life, sometimes, I just need to stop.
While in Cinque Terre, we sat on our terrace and drank wine. We sat on seawalls, ate gelato and watched people (braver than us) jump off of cliffs. At sunset, we sat on trails and watched the sun disappear into the ocean. We took long, leisurely meals with lots of wine and tried multiple things on the menu. Simply put, we just enjoyed being in Italy.
People always say that visiting Cinque Terre changes you and a lot of people end up staying longer than they plan to. I didn’t believe them. Looking back, I can see that there is a really good life in Cinque Terre… one that I wouldn’t mind emulating more.
The best part about staying in Cinque Terre is being able to relax. You don’t have to go-go-go to get to the next village. You can go there, sit, and enjoy it. All of the villages are beautiful, and you should take some time to enjoy them all.
Slow Down with Your Cinque Terre Itinerary
You need to stay in Cinque Terre because it’s a slower pace and a chance to relax and enjoy the good things in life, because the food is delicious, because you don’t want to spend all your time on crowded trails, because you have to see a sunrise or a sunset in Cinque Terre at least once in your lifetime, and because there’s no way to really experience its magic without staying overnight.
Don’t make the mistake and day trip it.
Take your time… and maybe I’ll see you there again soon.