Cinque Terre Tips
For your trip to Cinque Terre the first decision you have to make is what time of year to go. I went in August which is in peak season so absolutely packed with people on the trains between villages. This can be uncomfortable and really not good if you have children and are carrying a pram/buggy. I chatted with a local hotel owner who advised that October is the best time as it is much quieter and the weather is still good. August is also very hot so we didn’t do any of the beautiful walks. So I think looking at out of season would be better.
Next you have to decide whether to stay in one of the villages or whether to try and do it all in a day trip or even stay somewhere else such as La Spezia and get the train into the villages which is very easy to do.
If you want to stay in one of the villages you then have to decide which one! I chose Riomaggiore because I read that it is quite fun in the evening. This is true, there are lots of restaurants and a few bars, there is a gorgeous view from the bar in the harbour called La Conchiglia, saw a wonderful sunset from there. Also there is a bar next to the train station called A Pie De Mar which also has lovely views of the sea. I was obsessed with all those pictures you see of the painted houses in the harbour, so I found myself a room with a view in the harbour! We stayed in the Scorci di Mare in the Terraza room, this has two terraces on both floors (the bedroom is up some stairs), so we could have breakfast with a view, and was in a perfect location; see some photos below.
We stayed four nights in Riomaggiore so that we did a maximum of two villages a day. I really didn’t want to have to rush it all, and wanted to be able to be free to decide on the day what we wanted to do. My favourite thing about traveling is being able to wander and not have a strict timescale. Although definitely get a train timetable as there is a last train every day and if you miss that to wherever you are staying you will be stranded!
The train only takes around 5 minutes between each village and costs €4 for one stop or you could buy the day ticket for €16. There are massive queues for the train ticket machines, a good tip would be to buy for the next day if you know what you are going to be doing. You can specify the day and time of your ticket when purchasing.
One thing to note is that Riomaggiore is full of steps and walking into the village from the harbour is almost vertical. We had assistance from the train station to carry our luggage as it is just impossible to negotiate all the steps especially if you don’t know where you are going. Better to pack as light as possible!
For our second village to experience we chose to go to Manarola in the afternoon for a late lunch. That famous view you always see in pictures with the houses can be accessed by heading towards the cemetery up the hill. There is a walkway up past the harbour, you can’t miss it and will see lots of people walking there. Best spots for pictures is high up on the walk way, at Nessun Dorma or higher at the cemetary. Nessun Dorma is the famous wine bar at the top of the hill with fantastic views of the houses and harbour. We got there around 2pm there was a small queue but did not have to wait long. We were lucky enough to get a table with a view! The food isn’t exciting but the drinks are good.
Manarola seems very pretty and compact, I think this could be a good place to stay over for your Cinque Terre experience. There were lots of restaurants and bars and shops and lots of people swimming and diving in the harbour. Also didn’t seem too busy apart from the train station which was a nightmare!
In August, Vernazza was absolutely packed full of people. The only place which wasn’t full of people was in the harbour near the boats, as you can see in the picture below. We got the ferry from Riomaggiore to Vernazza and just stayed for lunch before getting the train. Huge queues everywhere and waited a while for a table for lunch in the harbour. I really would not recommend staying here in August, definitely go out of season!
We decided to go to Corniglia on a cloudy day when it was cooler because there are over 382 steps to climb up from the station! You can see from the picture below. It has been designed so that it isn’t too steep though and there are spaces to stop, sit down and take your time so it is doable even if you are very unfit. You also get time to stop and admire the view. There is a bus service but you would have to wait around and queue up.
Corniglia is lovely to walk around, lots of cute bars with lovely outside areas and views. I enjoyed local wine and snacks there, a very nice way to enjoy an afternoon! There is a panoramic terrace in the center of the village where you can see all the other villages, worth going to. Plenty of shops, restaurants and bars, just lovely to wander around.
Due to the steps issue getting to the village from the train station and that the village itself has lots of steps I don’t think I would consider staying over here unless you have packed light and are able bodied and don’t mind lots of exercise!
Monterosso Al Mare is the lovely beach village. I think this would be a perfect base to stay over especially if you want to have a beach day. There were a lot of different areas on the beach (you can see from different coloured parasols) where you can pay for a sun lounger and get access to showers etc. for a fee. The beach is actually quite small and very busy but again off season will probably be wonderful.
So for your Cinque Terre visit I would recommend staying in Riomaggiore, Manarola or Monterosso Al Mare. You could do it in one day but would be exhausted, might be better to just choose two or three villages to concentrate on if a day is all you have. Better to stay at least two or three nights to be able to really enjoy your time. And don’t forget all the villages are full of steps apart from Monterosso so if you are bringing a huge suitcase Monterosso would probably be the best one to stay at.
Wish you a wonderful Cinque Terre experience!
If you have any more tips, please feel free to add them in the comments section below.