Rick Steves Pocket Italy's Cinque Terre


By Rick Steves

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Make the most of every day and every dollar with Rick Steves! This colorful, compact guidebook is perfect for spending a week or less in Italy’s Cinque Terre:
  • City walks and tours: Six detailed tours and walks showcase the essential sights of each village, including Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Riomaggiore, and more
  • Rick’s strategic advice on which experiences are worth your time and money
  • What to eat and where to stay: Enjoy local wine and seafood antipasti, chat with locals at a family-run trattoria, and admire views of the ocean from your hotel
  • Day-by-day itineraries to help you prioritize your time
  • A detailed, detachable fold-out map, plus individual village maps throughout
  • Full-color, portable, and slim for exploring on the go
  • Trip-planning practicalities like when to go, how to get around on public transit, basic Italian phrases, and more
Lightweight yet packed with valuable insight into the history and culture of Italy, Rick Steves Pocket Italy’s Cinque Terre is a tour guide in your pocket.

Expanding your trip? Try Rick Steves Italy!



The Cinque Terre at a Glance

Map: Cinque Terre Area Public Transport

Planning Your Time

When to Go

Before You Go

Tucked between Genoa and Pisa, in a mountainous and seductive corner of the Italian Riviera, lies the Cinque Terre (CHINK-weh TAY-reh)—five villages carving a good life out of difficult terrain. With a traffic-free charm—a happy result of natural isolation—the Cinque Terre offers a rugged alternative to the glitzy Riviera resorts nearby.

Each village fills a ravine with a lazy hive of human activity. There isn’t a Fiat or museum in sight—just sun, sea, sand (well, pebbles), wine, and pure, unadulterated Italy. Choose a home base according to just how cut off you’d like to be from the outer world: resorty Monterosso, cover-girl Vernazza, hilltop Corniglia, photogenic Manarola, or amiable Riomaggiore.

The Cinque Terre at a Glance

The Cinque Terre

▲▲Monterosso al Mare Resorty, flat, and spread out along the coast, with a charming old town, a modern new town, and the Cinque Terre’s best beaches, swimming, and nightlife. It has the most restaurants and the most comfortable hotels.

▲▲▲Vernazza The region’s gem—the most touristy and dramatic—crowned with a ruined castle above and a lively harborfront cradling a natural harbor below.

Corniglia Quiet hilltop village known for cooler temperatures (it’s the only one without a harbor), fewer tourists, and a tradition of fine wines.

▲▲Manarola Mellow, hiking-focused waterfront village wrapped in vineyards and dotted with a picturesque mix of shops and cliff-climbing houses.

▲▲Riomaggiore The most workaday of the five villages, with nightlife, too.

Near the Cinque Terre

Levanto Town popular with surfers and families for its long beach; has speedy trains to the Cinque Terre, and offers an easy, level hike (or bike ride) to the sleepy villages of Bonassola and Framura.

Sestri Levante Charming town on a peninsula flanked by two crescent beaches.

▲▲Santa Margherita Ligure Easygoing old-school resort town with just enough urban bustle, a handful of sights, and close proximity to Portofino.

Portofino Yacht-harbor resort with grand scenery and easy connections (by boat, bus, or on foot) from Santa Margherita Ligure.

▲▲Porto Venere Enchanting seafront village perfect for a scenic day trip (by boat or bus).

La Spezia Beachless transportation hub, with trains and boats to the Cinque Terre and buses and boats to Porto Venere.

Planning Your Time

The ideal stay in the Cinque Terre is two or three full days; my recommended minimum stay is two nights and an uninterrupted day.

The villages are connected by trains, boats, and trails. There’s no checklist of sights or experiences—just a hike, the towns themselves, and your fondest vacation desires. Read this chapter in advance to piece together your best visit, mixing hiking, swimming, trains, and boat rides.

Cinque Terre in Two Days: You could spend one day hiking between towns (taking a boat or train part of the way, or as the return trip). Spend a second day visiting any towns you’ve yet to see, comparing main streets, beaches, and focaccia.

Here’s a sample day: If you’re based in Monterosso, take a morning train to Corniglia, hike to Vernazza for lunch (where you could explore the town, hike to the grand-view cemetery, or cool off at the beach), then catch the boat back to Monterosso to stroll the beach promenade. And that’s only one day out of dozens of memorable Cinque Terre combinations you can dream up.

On any evening, linger over dinner, enjoy live music at a low-key club (or summer opera in Vernazza), try a wine tasting, or follow one of my self-guided town walks. At sunset, take a glass of your favorite beverage out to the breakwater to watch the sun slip into the Mediterranean.

With More Time: You may be tempted to add the nearby coastal resort towns of Levanto, Sestri Levante, Santa Margherita Ligure, and Portofino (to the north), and Porto Venere (to the south, anchored by the major transit hub of La Spezia). If you carve out a day and an overnight for Santa Margherita Ligure, you can fit in an afternoon side trip to Portofino. A day trip to Levanto (by train or a hike from Monterosso) with an excursion to Bonassola and Framura is fun. For double the beaches, visit Sestri Levante. South of the Cinque Terre, lovely Porto Venere merits a day trip.

Day-Tripping to the Cinque Terre: Speed demons could store their baggage, take a hike in the morning, have a waterfront lunch, laze on a beach in the afternoon, and leave by evening to somewhere back in the real world. But be warned: The Cinque Terre is inundated with cruise-ship groups doing the same thing. The best way to enjoy the Cinque Terre is to be here before and after the daily day-trip deluge. (Ironically, some travelers decide against an overnight because they’ve heard the Cinque Terre is crowded—then day-trip in, only experiencing it with those terrible crowds.) The charm of the region survives—early and late.

When to Go

In early spring, from mid-March through April, the Cinque Terre is typically all yours. Later spring and fall are peak season, with the best weather and the most crowds. Book rooms ahead during the busiest times: holidays (including Easter weekend and April 25—Liberation Day), May, June, all summer weekends, September, and October.

July and August are hotter and generally a bit less crowded. The winter is really dead—most hotels and some restaurants close from November to mid-March.

Before You Go

You’ll have a smoother trip if you tackle a few things ahead of time. For more info on these topics, see the Practicalities chapter (and www.ricksteves.com, which has helpful travel tips and talks).

Make sure your travel documents are valid. If your passport is due to expire within six months of your ticketed date of return, you need to renew it. Allow up to six weeks to renew or get a passport (www.travel.state.gov). Beginning in 2021, you may also need to register with the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS).

Arrange your transportation. Book your international flights. It’s worth thinking about buying essential train tickets online in advance, getting a rail pass, renting a car, or booking cheap European flights. (You can wing it once you’re there, but it may cost more.) Drivers: Consider bringing an International Driving Permit (sold at AAA offices in the US, www.aaa.com) along with your license.

Book rooms well in advance, especially if your trip falls during peak season or any major holidays or festivals.

Consider travel insurance. Compare the cost of the insurance to the cost of your potential loss. Check whether your existing insurance (health, homeowners, or renters) covers you and your possessions overseas.

Make time in the Cinque Terre to wander, eat gelato, and simply be. Happy travels!

Call your bank. Alert your bank that you’ll be using your debit and credit cards in Europe. Ask about transaction fees, and get the PIN number for your credit card. You don’t need to bring euros for your trip; you can withdraw euros from cash machines in Europe.

Use your smartphone smartly. Sign up for an international service plan to reduce your costs, or rely on Wi-Fi in Europe instead. Download any useful apps you’ll want on the road, such as maps, translators, transit schedules, and Rick Steves Audio Europe (see sidebar).

Pack light. You’ll walk with your luggage more than you think. I travel for weeks with a single carry-on bag and a daypack. Use the packing checklist in the appendix as a guide.

The Cinque Terre

Map: The Cinque Terre


Tourist and Park Information

Arrival in the Cinque Terre

Helpful Hints

Getting Around the Cinque Terre


Map: Cinque Terre Hikes

Main Coastal Trail



Above the Main Coastal Trail

Manarola-Corniglia via Volastra

Extending the Coastal Trail




To the South

Riomaggiore-Porto Venere

Long, Cross-Regional Hike

▲▲High Route Between Porto Venere and Levanto

Other Cinque Terre Walks and Hikes

Sanctuary Trails

This breathtakingly scenic six-mile stretch of coast was first described in medieval times as the “five lands” (cinque terre). Tiny communities grew up in the shadows of castles, which doubled as lookouts for pirate raids. As the threat of pirates faded, the villages prospered, catching fish and cultivating grapes. But until the advent of tourism in this generation, the towns—Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore—remained isolated. Even today, each village comes with its own traditions, a distinct dialect, and a proud heritage. Other Italians think of locals here as “mountain people by the sea.”


The Cinque Terre is now a national park (founded in 1999), where all can enjoy the villages, hiking, swimming, boat rides, and evening romance of one of God’s great gifts to tourism. While the region is well-discovered and can get jam-packed, I’ve never seen happier, more relaxed tourists.

This chapter focuses on how to navigate the Cinque Terre, using a mix of trains, boats, and hikes. Chapters on each town follow, with all the specifics you need for your visit. For general advice on travel in Italy, see the Practicalities chapter.

Tourist and Park Information

Each town’s train station has a Cinque Terre National Park information office, which generally also serves as an all-purpose town TI and gift shop. They can answer questions about trails (including conditions and closures), shuttle-bus schedules, and so on.

Useful Websites: The park’s website is ParcoNazionale5terre.it. The “download” section of CinqueTerre.it has park info as well as boat and train timetables. A blog worth a look is CinqueTerreInsider.com, written by resident American expat Amy Inman; it’s filled with up-to-date practicalities for visitors to this always-in-flux region.

Arrival in the Cinque Terre

By Train: The five towns of the Cinque Terre are on a milk-run line, with trains coming through about every 30 minutes; most trains connect to the Cinque Terre from La Spezia or Genoa (local train info tel. 0187-817-458, www.trenitalia.com). Big, fast trains usually speed right past the Cinque Terre, although a few IC trains connect Monterosso to Milan or Pisa.

Unless you’re coming from another Cinque Terre town, you’ll change trains at least once to reach Manarola, Corniglia, or Vernazza. From the south or east, you’ll probably transfer at La Spezia’s Centrale station. From the north, you’ll transfer at Genoa’s Piazza Principe station, Sestri Levante, Levanto, or Monterosso.

For details on riding the train between Cinque Terre towns, see “Getting Around the Cinque Terre,” later in this section; for information on arrival in each town, see the “Arrival” section in each town chapter. For outbound trains, see “Monterosso Connections” on here and “La Spezia Connections” on here.

By Train After Parking Your Car: Don’t bring a car to the Cinque Terre; you won’t need it. Given the narrow roads and parking headache, the only Cinque Terre town I’d drive to is Monterosso (and then only if my hotel had parking). Park your car in the nearest big city and take the train in—it’s safer, cheaper, faster, and smarter. Parking is easy in Levanto or La Spezia (La Spezia has a fine modern underground garage at the station).

Helpful Hints

Pickpocket Alert: At peak times, the Cinque Terre can be notoriously crowded, and pickpockets (often female teens in groups of three or four, frequently dressed as tourists) aggressively and expertly work the most congested areas. Be on guard, especially in train stations, on platforms, and while you’re on trains, particularly when getting on or off with a crush of people. Wear a money belt, and keep your things zipped up and buttoned down.

Money: You’ll find ATMs and banks throughout the region. Use ATMs attached to actual banks. Shops earn a commission by hosting rip-off ATMs on their premises.

Markets: Market days perk up the Cinque Terre and nearby towns from around 8:00 to 13:00 on Tuesday in Vernazza, Wednesday in Levanto, Thursday in Monterosso, Friday in Santa Margherita Ligure, and Saturday in Sestri Levante.

Booking Services: Arbaspàa, based in Manarola, sets up wine tastings, cooking classes, fishing trips, and more (www.arbaspaa.com; see here). Cinque Terre Riviera, based in Vernazza, books rooms and apartments throughout the region, Vernazza opera tickets, cooking classes, and more (www.cinqueterreriviera.com; see here). BeautifuLiguria, run by Anna Merulla, offers various excursions (www.beautifuliguria.com).

Local Guides: These guides are knowledgeable, a delight to be with, and charge from €125/half-day and €210/day: Andrea Bordigoni (mobile 393-133-9409, bordigo@inwind.it) and Marco Brizzi (mobile 328-694-2847, marco_brizzi@yahoo.com).

Rainy Day Activities: Explore the towns, taking trains to connect them; splurge for a tasty meal; or nurse a coffee or drink at a harborfront café while watching the roiling waves. If you hike, avoid the steeper trails in the rain; rocks can be slippery.

Baggage Storage and Delivery: You can pay to store bags at or near the train stations in Monterosso, Vernazza, and Riomaggiore. Near the Cinque Terre, you can store bags in Santa Margherita Ligure and in La Spezia. To transfer luggage from the station to your accommodations, call ahead and arrange with Roberto Pecunia; he’s based in Riomaggiore but works in any of the towns (mobile 370-375-7972).

Taxi: Cinqueterre Taxi covers all five towns (Matteo mobile 334-776-1946, Christian mobile 347-652-0837, www.cinqueterretaxi.com). The pricey 5 Terre Transfer service is handy if you need to connect the five towns or beyond (Luciana mobile 339-130-1183, Marzio mobile 340-356-5268, www.5terretransfer.com).

Getting Around the Cinque Terre

Within the Cinque Terre, you can connect towns by train, boat, or foot. Trains are the cheapest, fastest, and most frequent option. But don’t get stuck in a train rut: In calm weather, boats connect the towns nearly as frequently—and more scenically.

By Train

By train, the five towns are just a few minutes apart.

Tickets: A train ride between any two Cinque Terre towns costs €4. You must buy a new individual ticket for every train ride, and tickets are valid only on the day of purchase. You can buy tickets and check schedules online (www.trenitalia.com), at train-station windows or ticket machines, or at Cinque Terre park desks. When you buy a ticket, make a note of the train number, as that’s how the station monitors identify incoming and departing trains. Don’t wait to buy a ticket at the last minute: Ticket machines can be broken, and there can be very long lines at the window.

The €16 Cinque Terre Treno Card (described later, under “Hiking the Cinque Terre”) can be worthwhile even if you don’t hike, as it allows you to catch trains at the last minute without ticket concerns. It pays for itself if you take four rides in one day, but its value comes more from convenience than economy (https://card.parconazionale5terre.it).

Trains are covered by the Eurail Pass, but it doesn’t make sense to use up a valuable travel day here.

Using Tickets and Cards: Validate your ticket (or park card) before you board by stamping it in one of the green-and-white machines located on train platforms and in station passages. Conductors here are notorious for levying stiff fines on tourists riding with an unstamped ticket. (Train tickets bought online or with the Trenitalia app are validated—you don’t need to stamp them.) Red-vested track-side staff can answer your train-related questions.

Schedules: In peak season, trains connecting the five towns generally run two to three times hourly in each direction, but the frequency declines after about 20:00. Note that some trains do not stop at all five towns. Check schedules in advance (shops, hotels, and restaurants often post the current schedule, and many hand out paper copies). Study the key to know which departures are only for weekdays, Sundays, and so on. These schedules also tell you which towns any given train will stop in. Trains from Levanto, Monterosso, Riomaggiore, or La Spezia sometimes skip lesser stations, so confirm that the train will stop at the town you need. (Train numbers starting with 21 or 24 generally stop at all five towns.)

At the Platform: Monitors display next departure times, listed by train number and final destination (but they do not show intermediate stops). They also show if a train is late—in ritardo—and by how many minutes; SOPP means “cancelled.” Trains are indicated by their final destination: Northbound trains are going to Levanto, Genova, or Sestri Levante; southbound trains are headed for La Spezia. To be sure you get on the right train, know your train’s number and final destination. Northbound trains use the tracks closest to the water; southbound trains use the tracks on the mountain side.

Getting Off: Know your stop. As the train leaves the town previous to the one where you want to get off, go to the door and get ready to slip out before the mobs flood in. Note that stations are small and trains are long—you might get off deep in a tunnel, especially in Vernazza and Riomaggiore (just head toward daylight). If train doors don’t open automatically, open the door yourself: Push the green button, twist the black handle, or lift up the red one.

By Boat

From Easter through October, a daily boat service connects Monterosso, Vernazza, Manarola, Riomaggiore, Porto Venere, and beyond. Though they can be very crowded, these boats provide a scenic way to get from town to town (operated by 5 Terre-Golfo dei Poeti, tel. 0187-732-987, www.navigazionegolfodeipoeti.it).

Because the boats nose in and tourists have to disembark onto little more than a plank, even just a small chop can cancel some or all of the stops.

Trains connect the towns.

Use a ticket machine to save time.

Swimming and Kayaking

Every coastal town has a beach—or at least a rocky place to swim. Monterosso has the Cinque Terre’s biggest and sandiest beach, with umbrellas and beach-use fees (but any stretch of beach without umbrellas is free). Vernazza’s main beach and new beach are tiny—better for sunning than swimming (some people swim in the deep water off the breakwater). Manarola and Riomaggiore have the worst beaches (no sand), but Manarola offers the best deep-water swimming. Levanto, just a few minutes’ train ride past Monterosso, has big and broad beaches, with even better ones an easy bike ride away, in Bonassola and Framura. And Sestri Levante, farther north, has two beautiful beaches.

Pack your swim gear. Several beaches have showers. Don’t tote your white hotel towels; most hotels will provide beach towels (sometimes for a fee). Underwater sightseeing is full of fish. Sea urchins line the rocks, and sometimes jellyfish wash up on the pebbles (water shoes and goggles sold in local shops). If no one is swimming, it’s likely because of stinging jellyfish. Ask, “Medusa?”

You can rent kayaks or boats in Monterosso and Riomaggiore. While experienced boaters have a blast here, if you’re not comfortable navigating a tippy kayak, this is not a good place to learn.

Tickets: Ticket prices depend on the length of the boat ride (€7 for a short hop; up to €18 for a five-town, one-way ticket with stops). An all-day Cinque Terre pass is €27; to add Porto Venere, it’s €35, plus an extra €5 for an optional 40-minute scenic ride around three small islands near Porto Venere (2/day). Buy tickets at the little stands at each town’s harbor.

Crowd-Beating Tips

Italy’s slice of traffic-free Riviera has been discovered, frustrating both locals and conscientious visitors. Groups—both day-tripping tours and cruise-ship sightseers—create the most dramatic influx. Avoid the worst of the logjams by following these tips:

Time your visit carefully. April can be ideal, with fewer crowds and cooler temperatures for hiking (although it can be too cold to swim). The busiest months are May, June, September, and October; July and August are slightly less crowded, but packed on weekends. Avoid holiday weekends (Easter and Italian Liberation Day on April 25) if you can.

Make the most of your time early and late. Take advantage of the cool, relaxed, and quiet morning and evening hours. Starting a hike at 8:00 or at 16:00 or 17:00 is a joy. Cruisers and day-trippers start pouring into the Cinque Terre around 10:00 and typically head out by 17:00. Those midday hours are your time to hit the beach, or find a hike away from the main trails. At midday, the main coastal trail is a hot human traffic jam. Beyond the busy coastal trail, there are plenty of hikes where you’ll scarcely see another tourist.

Sleep in the Cinque Terre—not nearby. Levanto and La Spezia are close and well-connected by train, making them popular home bases. But it’s easier to enjoy the Cinque Terre early and late—when it’s quiet and cool—if you’re sleeping here.

Be careful on crowded train platforms. At peak times, be cautious, stay well behind the yellow line, and be alert for pickpockets. Spread out to less crowded areas to wait.

Hire your own boat. If regularly scheduled boats are jammed, consider hiring your own boat to zip you to the next town. Captains hang out at each town’s harbor, offering one-way transfers to other towns, hour-long cruises, and more.

Schedules: Boat schedules are posted online and at docks, harbor bars, Cinque Terre park offices, and hotels. Boats depart Monterosso about hourly (9:45-18:00), stopping at the Cinque Terre towns (except Corniglia, the hill town) and ending up about 90 minutes later in Porto Venere. Boats from Porto Venere to Monterosso run about 8:30-17:00. In high season, three boats per day depart from Levanto to Porto Venere.

Private Boats: To escape the crowds—or for a scenic splurge—hire a captain to ferry you between towns. For example, at the harbor in Vernazza, you can pay around €50 to hop to any other Cinque Terre town. Split the cost among a few fellow travelers, and you have an affordable water taxi. Captains offer their services at the harbors in Monterosso, Vernazza, Manarola, and Riomaggiore (see specific listings in the Monterosso and Vernazza sections).

By Shuttle Bus

ATC shuttle buses (which locals call pulmino) connect each Cinque Terre town with its closest parking lot and various points in the hills (but they don’t connect the five towns to each other). The one you’re most likely to use runs between Corniglia’s train station and its hilltop town center. Rides cost €1.50 (€2.50 from driver), and are covered by the Cinque Terre park card (described in next section). Buy tickets and get bus schedules at park info offices or TIs, or check times posted at bus stops (also online at www.atcesercizio.it). As you board, it’s smart to tell the driver where you want to go. Departures often coordinate with train arrival times.

Boats connect the towns.

Shuttles link to parking and hikes.


On Sale
Sep 1, 2020
Page Count
200 pages
Rick Steves

Rick Steves

About the Author

Since 1973, Rick Steves has spent about four months a year exploring Europe. His mission: to empower Americans to have European trips that are fun, affordable, and culturally broadening. Rick produces a best-selling guidebook series, a public television series, and a public radio show, and organizes small-group tours that take over 30,000 travelers to Europe annually.  He does all of this with the help of more than 100 well-traveled staff members at Rick Steves’ Europe in Edmonds, WA (near Seattle). When not on the road, Rick is active in his church and with advocacy groups focused on economic and social justice, drug policy reform, and ending hunger. To recharge, Rick plays piano, relaxes at his family cabin in the Cascade Mountains, and spends time with his son Andy and daughter Jackie. Find out more about Rick at http://www.ricksteves.com and on Facebook.

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