Back at the end of August, I unexpectedly flew to Italy and was able to spend three and a half days in coastal Italy. It was one of my favorite trips ever, and below you can find my Cinque Terre guide to the tips and tricks I wish I had known before going!
Cinque Terre is incredibly easy to get to from Pisa. You just take the train to La Spezia, where you can change to the train line that connects the 5 towns. In La Spezia buy train passes for the days you’ll be in Cinque Terre, which makes exploring all the towns super simple. The passes are 13 euros for one day, or 23 for two, and include unlimited access to the trains, hiking trails, and (spotty) wifi. The trains run from Levanto to La Spezia and stop at each of the five towns along the way.
Where to stay
Because I booked so late, my options for staying in/around Cinque Terre were quite limited. Nearly all the hostels were completely booked, even in the surrounding towns. I booked the only place available, Affittacamere Patrizia. It had some reviews that made me hesitate, but lacking other options I didn’t have much of a choice.
Though it ended up being expensive, it worked out because had I booked earlier I would have tried to save money by staying in La Spezia or Levanto, and the quiet early mornings and late evenings, before the crush of tourists arrived, ended up being the most magical hours of the trip.
The place was strange—I booked two nights and I stayed in separate buildings each night—a bit annoying because I had to respect check in/out times, and arrange to pick up/drop off my bag around their front desk opening hours. The first night I was literally sleeping in the front room—there were three bedrooms and a bathroom off where I was staying, and the front door opened to my bed and one other.
The second night I was in a new house, staying on the top floor in the kitchen, but it had a great balcony and it was the only bed in the room, so it was nearly like having my own apartment. If I had more notice I’m not sure I’d stay there again, but I wouldn’t hesitate to return in a pinch. However you can learn from me and book early, and plan on staying in one of the towns to get the full experience. I’d recommend Riomaggiore, Coniglia, or Vernazza.
Riomaggiore was the quietest of the towns, and it was quite small. The food was delicious and the place was stunning, probably the most beautiful of them all—this is where I stayed and I’d definitely be happy staying there again. There’s less to do than the other towns, but as a base it’s pretty perfect. It’s built on a giant hill, so be prepared for a steep incline to get anywhere! It had a good amount of rocks to use as a mini beach, and a few places to jump in as well. (Mom, that’s for you!)
Manarola felt quite young and hip. It was lively and had a fun vibe. The harbour had a place where it was possible to jump off, so people who were braver than I dove off the rocks. I think a lot of people list this as their favourite town, and while it was up there for me, it wasn’t the top of my list.
All the guides I read suggested skipping Corniglia if you were short on time, and I considered it. I’m so happy I didn’t! It was quite unlike the other towns—it’s high above sea level and there’s no beach access. However that gives it really nice views, and the town felt a bit more chilled and artistic. There were some cute shops, unique looking bars and coffee shops, and it had more shade than the other towns. If it wasn’t such a hike to the train and/or nearby towns, I’d consider staying here. I hiked in from Manarola and out to Vernazza, and both hikes were incredible but very hard—and the walk up to the town from the train was stairs on stairs on stairs. Be prepared for a work out, no matter how you arrive.
I loved Vernazza. It had two beaches, one hidden through a rock tunnel that was created after a huge rock slide, and another spot along the harbor next to the cliff that leads to Monterosso. The food was good, the gelato better, and I spent more time here than anyway other town.
Honestly, Monterosso wasn’t my favorite. I didn’t go until my last day, and by then was already so in love with the other four towns, I’m not sure I gave it a fair shot. I spent the least time here, and it felt much more city-like than the others. It’s the only one that has a sand beach (I HATE sand, but maybe this is a selling point for someone else), and it was set up more like a resort, which is also not my vibe. It looked big and like there would be some great shopping, so maybe spend a bit more time there than I did.
What to eat
You only need to go to one place, and that’s Gelarteria Vernazza. I tried the others, and none came close.
I did some real searching, but didn’t find anything other than pastries and yogurt as breakfast options. Eggs were not a thing as far as I could tell—if someone finds them please let me know in case I ever go back!
I had dinner both nights in Riomaggiore, which was great. All the food I had there was delicious, and recommend Trattoria la Grotta and Pizzeria Da Mam’angel if you’re looking for good food that isn’t going to break the bank.
I know gelato technically is dessert (though I utilized it as a lunch), but Monterosso is also well known for Torta Monterossina Ricetta, which I tried at Pasticceria Laura and it was SO good. It was the best part of the town for me.
Bring books! I only brought one (The Story of the Lost Child, by Elena Ferrante, which I highly recommend), and there was so much time for reading I blew through it, and struggle to find other English books available in the towns.
I hiked Corniglia to Vernazza and Monterosso to Vernazza. They were fantastic, and if you’re in any kind of shape I highly recommend them and any other hikes that are open. They had stunning views and were a great work out—honestly both were much harder than I anticipated, and I planned poorly and did the first one right at noon, when the sun was directly overhead. Plan to go earlier in the morning, or later in the afternoon, bring a lot of water, maybe a snack, and definitely be prepared to sweat. Luckily there are beaches at either end with some seriously inviting water, and there is a cafe high in the cliffs at the midpoint of the Corniglia/Vernazza hike.
One of my favorite things to do when I visit a place is collect some kind of art, so I can bring a piece home with me. There was a really cute art store in Vernazza owned by Antonio Greco where he shows his work. I got two prints there, which make me insanely happy whenever I see them. One was by Antonio, and the other was the Imago Cinque Terre poster. I get compliments on them all the time. They were affordable as well!