Europe, Travel

How to see the highlights of Cinque Terre in a day

Cinque Terre (literally translating to “Five Lands”) is a picturesque portion of coast on the Italian Riviera and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Five beautiful fishing villages make up Cinque Terre – Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore.

This place has been high on my bucket list for a long time so when I visited Genoa recently, I travelled to Cinque Terre for a day. If you have more time I would recommend spending a few days in Cinque Terre to really do it justice, but it is possible to see some of the most beautiful parts in just one day.

I managed to cover quite a lot of ground during my visit, stopping off at four out of the five villages. This is my itinerary for making the most out of a day trip to Cinque Terre:

Getting there

Taking the train is the easiest way to get to and around Cinque Terre. A train line connects all five villages directly with Genoa, Pisa and Rome. If you’re travelling from Genoa, you can take a local train to one of the villages, or take an express train directly to La Spezia and then a local train back to your Cinque Terre destination.

I recommend picking up a Cinque Terre Card which gives you unlimited train travel between Levanto, Cinque Terre and La Spezia. This pass will also give you access to the hiking trails in Cinque Terre. At the time of writing it costs €16 for a one-day pass during peak season.

I started my day by taking the train to Monterosso al Mare and purchased my Cinque Terre Card from the train station there.

Hiking from Monterosso to Vernazza

The hiking trails in Cinque Terre are said to be some of the most beautiful in Europe. Even though I travelled to Italy in the middle of summer I was still determined to do some hiking during my visit to Cinque Terre. The Blue Trail is probably the most well known walking trail and connects each of the five villages. Unfortunately, during my visit the trail was closed between Corniglia and Riomaggiore, so I decided to hike the first section of trail, from Monterosso to Vernazza.

Starting from Monterosso train station, I walked along the beach in the direction of Vernazza. There are a few signs on the way to direct you to the start of the hiking trail.

If you don’t purchase the Cinque Terre train card that I mentioned earlier, it costs €7.50 to access the hiking trail. There are checkpoints at the entrance to the trail in each village.

I didn’t realise this before I started the hike, but the section between Monterosso and Vernazza is the most challenging of the whole trail. It’s very steep and you have to climb uphill and downhill. Be sure to wear sturdy walking shoes and take a bottle of water with you – I recommend bringing at least 1 litre.

I’m not a seasoned hiker so I found the steep uphill climb at the beginning difficult, although this was probably exacerbated by the hot weather. The views on the hike were incredible though so it was definitely worth the arduous climb. The estimated walking time on this hike is around 2 hours, although I think it may have taken me a little longer than that as I did stop for a few breaks (to rest and take photos!).

Taking a break in Vernazza

I needed a bit of a rest after that hike so I got myself a gelato and spent a bit of time relaxing on the harbour. I went to the first Gelateria I saw which was Il Porticciolo, conveniently located right on the harbour. I lucked out because their gelato was amazing and looking at the reviews online later, it seems to be one of the best in Cinque Terre.

The narrow lanes are a trademark of Vernazza so I spent a bit of time exploring and getting lost in them, before heading to the train station and on to my next destination.

Vernazza to Manarola

I took the train to Manarola, which I think is the most beautiful of the five villages. Obviously I am not alone in this view as it was very crowded, and the walking path which offers this view of the village was filled with tourists all scrambling to get that perfect shot.

Wanting to escape the crowds, I decided to take another route. As you head towards the water, the path to the viewpoint with all the tourists continues to the left. I decided to take the path going right which leads up a steep hill. At the top of the path is a cemetery which offers a similar view to the viewpoint below, but without the crowds.

If you continue up past the cemetery you will find a path that winds through the vineyards and offers a different perspective of Manarola.

Manarola to Riomaggiore

Running short on time, I hopped back on the train at Manarola to head to my last destination for the day – Riomaggiore. From the train station I followed the signs down to the harbour.

Of the four villages I visited, Riomaggiore was the most challenging to photograph. The best view you can get is from the sea but since I didn’t have a boat at my disposal I walked up the steps to the left of the harbour to get this view.

Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to visit the fifth village – Corniglia. But this just gives me a reason to go back!

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