How to explore the Cinque Terre | 5 Quirky little towns

On this trip to Italy we head to the west coast of  where we based ourselves at La Spezia.  From here we explored the Cinque Terre and Pisa.  You can read more about our Pisa visit here. 

Cinque Terre Riomaggiore
Cinque Terre Riomaggiore

How do you get to La Spezia?

We drove down to La Spezia as part of our Italian road trip.  If your not driving you can fly into either Pisa or Genoa.  Pisa airport has a train link with La Spezia. Italy has an extensive and relatively cheap rail network which makes it practical to reach the area from most places in Italy. 

Where did we stay in La Spezia?

Previously on this trip we’d been camping but after an evening of searching for a campsite in the area we decided to look for a hotel.  In the centre of La Spezia we found the Hotel Venezia which fit the bill perfectly.  It wasn’t the fanciest of hotels but you know what, it was right by the railway station and that was perfect for exploring. The room and bathroom were clean.  The staff were lovely and it had free parking.  So we checked in and parked up and got ready to explore the area by train, by boat and on foot. 

What’s the best way to explore the Cinque Terre?

Our first venture out was to the 5 ports, the Cinque Terre.  Along with every other tourist in the area we boarded the train that would take us to the towns of Riomaggorie, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza & Monterosso al Mare.

Train info for Cinque Terre

You could get a day ticket that was valid for all stops along the line. The trains run every 20 mins so if you miss one you won’t have long to wait till the next one. However, at certain times of the day the platforms can get pretty busy so sometimes its best to wait for the next one rather than squeezing on. 

You can also walk from town to town and mix it up with the train as there are some really well kept footpaths between each of the towns and you can find some more information here – Cinque Terre Hiking.  Alternatively you can take a boat from La Spezia to the towns and vice versa and this handy timetable is very useful Cinque Terre boat timetable.  There are so many ways to see and travel to the individual towns and there is lots to explore.

There is no entrance fee to the Cinque Terre National Park. There are 48 hiking trails and you will only need a special ticket, a Cinque Terre Card, for the two most famous trails: Monterosso – Vernazza and Vernazza – Corniglia.  All other trails are free. The Cinque Terre Trekking card costs 7.50 Euros a day and the Cinque Terre Train Card costs 16 Euros a day and can be bought from any of the train stations along the route or online here. From November until Easter all the hiking trails are free of charge.

The Cinque Terre Ferry
The Cinque Terre Ferry

Here’s a quick guide to the Cinque Terre towns

Riomaggorie

This is the first town you’ll come to on the train line and It’s considered to be one of the most peaceful and quiet villages of the Cinque Terre. Riomaggiore is a cascade of multi-coloured houses, all tightly clustered around a tiny natural harbour carved out between the rocks.

The next town on the line is Manarola which you can access by train or if you want to be a bit more active you can walk.  There’s a famous path Via dell’Amore (Lover’s Lane) which is very scenic path and gets you to Manarola in 20 mins. It’s a great path to walk with some fantastic views.

Riomaggiore Cinque Terre
Riomaggiore Cinque Terre

Manarola

This is the second town on the line and has a tiny harbour with a boat ramp.  Like the other Cinque Terre towns it has wonderful picturesque multicoloured houses facing the sea and a tiny piazza cluttered with quaint little bars and seafood restaurants.

There is a path here also that links Manarola to the next town on the line Corniglia and again you have the choice of taking the train or walking through the lush green countryside of Cinque Terre.

Manarola Cinque Terre
Manarola Cinque Terre

Corniglia 

This town is located in the middle of the five towns. It is the only village which is not built directly on the sea Its build on a cliff 100 metres above sea level. Corniglia has some lovely picturesque and winding lanes through the town and has the least amount of tourists so is sometimes quieter than the rest.

Corniglia is connected to the other villages of the Cinque Terre by some great footpaths and of course the train leaving you to choose your transport options. I must say when we walked on some of the footpaths the were almost deserted and a pleasure to walk. 

Corniglia Cinque Terre
Corniglia Cinque Terre

Vernazza 

My favorite of the towns, Vernazza has a natural pier with an amphitheatre shape making it maybe the most photographed village of the Cinque Terre. The tiny port is surrounded by colourful houses and the charming piazza is lined with really good restaurants and bars. I must say Vernazza and Monterosso were the 2 towns with the most choice for restaurants and cafes and we’ve had some cracking meals here as well as fantastic gelato and on a few evenings watched the sun set with an aperitivo. 

Vernazza Cinque Terre
Vernazza Cinque Terre

Monterosso al Mare

The last of the Cinque Terre on the line and is the biggest of the five towns and has the most amenities. In the old town you will find seafood restaurants and nice shops. Monterosso has the only long and sandy beach in the area where you can rent chairs and umbrellas or canoes or paddle boards to explore the many coves around the coast. Its here we first sampled one of the most famous Italian seafood dishes  Fritto Misto and we used the beach a couple of times.  The sea is a delight to swim in so don’t forget your swimming costume.

Cinque Terre Monterosso
Cinque Terre Monterosso

La Spezia – what does it have to offer?

Before I finish this blog post I want to tell you a little bit about La Spezia and the town we were based in. La Spezia is a port in the region of Liguria and on the border of Tuscany. It has a massive maritime history with a large part of the current Italian Navy being based here.  La Spezia has maritime museums, art museums and great walks down by the waterfront and through the town.

The Main Street has all shops a regular city would have as well as the usual tourist shops selling local Ligurian fare such as limoncello, oils and of course the obligatory fridge magnets.

The Italian Naval Base, La Spezia
The Italian Naval Base, La Spezia

La Spezia – The Food 

La Spezia does have a large tourist trade as its the gateway to the Cinque Terre as described above and some really cool restaurants. Two of our favourites I would love to recommend are: La Taverna del Metallo  this quirky little restaurant/pub is tucked away up a side street in the centre of La Spezia.

It had some great reviews and they weren’t wrong. Great food, a fantastic selection of meats, cheeses, fantastic wine and a good all round experience. The only downside and its not really a downside unless you’re really clumsy The restaurant is lit by candlelight and its advisable to keep your napkin on your lap as its easy to set it alight with the naked flame on the table. Oops!

Trattoria Bellavista was a wonderful little find and again had some great reviews. The lovely thing about this restaurant was that they didn’t have a published menu. The menu was created on the day with whatever ingredients they could get from the market. They then devised a varied menu for you to choose from on the night.

Lovely people, lovely restaurant and excellent food. Chris had the best wild boar ragu he’s eaten anywhere and emailed the restaurant when he got home for the recipe, which they sent and once we’d found a wild boar supplier, we had the dish at home. Perfecto!

Our view

La Spezia is an ideal place to base yourself to explore the Cinque Terre you can easily reach the five towns by train. Also towns further afield such as Florence and Pisa.

Booking resources for your trip

Flights

You can compare cheap flights on the Expedia platform or here on the Aviasales website.  Both will give you a good idea of how much its going to cost you to get to your chosen destination.

Accommodation

We have always tended to use Booking.com having said that if your on a tight budget another good site to try as a comparison is Hostelworld, If your looking to compare different sites you can do that on Hotellook, we tend to look on here first to make sure we are getting the best deal.

Tours & Tickets

You can book your visits as you go at the entrance to your chosen attraction or site.  Or you could use the following links to book in advance or just to find out what your choices are in the area. GetYourGuide and Tiqets are our go to choices you could try Viator to see how they compare.

For a full list check out our resources page. Don’t forget always shop around to find the best deal for you. What works for us should be good for you but it’s always reassuring to check.

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