Last Updated on October 26, 2023 by Ingrid & Alex
Colorful villages perched on the edge of rocky cliffs in the heart of the Cinque Terre National Park. It is easy to understand why hundreds of thousands of tourists flock here every year to admire the beauty of the Ligurian Coast. If you too are planning to visit soon, I put up this complete 3-day Cinque Terre Itinerary that will help you organize your time.
From choosing the best way to get there to finding the best accommodation and planning your days one by one, here is where you will find it all.
Panoramic views, rocky beaches, wine tasting, beautiful villages and so much more.
Because I loved every moment spent in Cinque Terre, I want you to have a great experience as well.
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How to Get to Cinque Terre – the nearest airport to Cinque Terre
Since the villages are fairly remote, flying to Cinque Terre won’t be possible, but you have the option of flying to a city nearby (such as Milan, Pisa, Florence, or Genoa) and taking the train.
The best way of traveling to Cinque Terre is by train because you will have easy connections no matter where you are coming from, with Pisa as the closest airport.
Another option would be to rent a car and make your way towards the National Park.
PISA TO CINQUE TERRE BY TRAIN
The fastest ride, so if you have the choice of landing in Pisa, go for it! That’s because the train ride will take between 1 and 2 hours (depending on the train), with only one change requested.
FLORENCE TO CINQUE TERRE BY TRAIN
Depending on the connections it could take from 2h15 to 4h for this ride, and you could change the train once or even 3 times.
Read also: The perfect day trip to Cinque Terre
MILAN TO CINQUE TERRE BY TRAIN
That’s just a roughly 3h30-4h train ride from Milan Central Station to one of the 5 Ligurian cities. You will most probably need to change the train at least once (Genoa or Levanto), but most of the time the train comes at the same line so there won’t be any trouble with that.
GENOA TO CINQUE TERRE BY TRAIN
If like us, you have chosen to spend a day in Genoa, you will have plenty of options to get to Cinque Terre by train, having to spend only around 1h30 on the road.
Driving to Cinque Terre
Get ready to drive on winding roads, along the coastline, but also to search for a parking space. While many times you might have heard that the Cinque Terre cannot be reached by car, that is not completely true.
That being said, you must know that you won’t be able to reach the center of town in most cases, so you would have to leave the car slightly outside of town.
Where possible, parking fees are quite high, ranging between 12 and 25 EUR for a day, with Riomaggiore and Monterosso as the most expensive places for parking your car.
If, however, you come here by car and choose to stay overnight, ask your accommodation provider if they offer free parking as well, included in the price. But, that wouldn’t mean you won’t have to walk as well, or at least climb some stairs to get to your hotel, since the best ones are located in the city center.
Getting to Cinque Terre by Train
As mentioned above, the easiest and faster way to get to the Cinque Terre is by train.
The Cinque Terre Express links Livorno to La Spezia and passes through all of the 5 famous villages. Don’t expect to see much from the train, and when you are traveling during the peak season, expect crowds.
By train, the villages are only a few minutes apart, and most of the train stations are minutes away from the city center – with Corniglia as the exception.
You can buy a daily ticket that will allow you unlimited train travel until midnight on the same day, or even 2 or 3-day passes. Children and families have special fees and you can save on the ticket so ask at the train station.
When to visit Cinque Terre – The Best Time to Visit Cinque Terre
I would avoid visiting the Cinque Terre during summer, because that’s not only when most people go, crowding the streets, but also when temperatures are at their highest.
Opt instead for the shoulder season and visit during April-May or September-October. We visited in April and it was perfect, yet some villages were still a bit too crowded for my taste.
Where to stay in Cinque Terre
While we chose to stay in Riomaggiore and chose an apartment with a view of the sea and the colorful buildings below us, all villages have their advantages and stunning accommodation options.
I have put together a comprehensive guide for each town that will help you choose the best place to stay in Cinque Terre. It is not only packed with useful information, but I have also chosen a few options for each location.
Day 1 of your 3-day Cinque Terre Itinerary
When we first took the train from Levanto everyone was asking about Vernazza, that’s how we figured this was one of the most popular towns for travelers. For travelers to stay in, that is.
And when we got here, later on, we discovered a beautiful town indeed with lots of pretty buildings, stranded on the cliffs in the most iconic manner possible, and amazing views that would take your breath away.
All that, with the hectic buzz owed to the hundreds of people running around the streets.
Admire the Doria Castle Tower, which once served to protect the village from pirates, pay a visit to the Church of Santa Margherita d’Antiochia with its tiled dome, spend some time at the beach, or go hiking.
Hike from Vernazza to Corniglia
We chose this hike because it was one of the easiest, more like a walk along the coast, heading to Corniglia – the highest village of the Cinque Terre and the most underrated town. It offers panoramic views in the middle of the National Park that you won’t forget.
The hike was easy, on a walking path with some stairs, that offers sweeping views and that took us through the clouds and all the way to Prevo – the highest and most impressive spot on the Blue Path.
Maybe the less touristic town of the 5, mainly because of the hundreds of stairs you need to climb from the train station and the fact that the city is not reachable by sea, Corniglia holds a special vibe to it. However, since Corniglia is placed at the beginning (or end) of the Blue Trail, one of the most popular coastal trails, there are times of the day when the narrow streets might get a bit more crowded than usual.
I felt that this was the most authentic Italian village of the 5, with locals sitting around in the small Piazzetta where we stopped for a glass of white wine and delicious focaccia, talking between themselves in the local dialect and just making the best out of a beautiful April afternoon.
You can have lunch here and taste some authentic dishes with some delicious wine, just before you take the stairs to the railway station and make your way to the next stop on your itinerary for the day.
See the sunset and have dinner in Riomaggiore
The Southernmost village was one of my favorite places to see the sunset. Walk by the small rocky beach, and climb on the rocks set in the water, because that’s where you will get the best views from. As the sun sets, the colorful buildings become even prettier if that is even possible.
On top of that, in my opinion, Riomaggiore was one of the less crowded villages on the Cinque Terre.
Don’t leave without seeing the Church of San Giovanni Battista or the castle of Riomaggiore, or having dinner at one of the 2 restaurants by the sea, one of which has Michelin stars and it’s almost always crowded.
Day 2 of your 3-day Cinque Terre Itinerary
Start your day in Monterosso al Mare
Unlike the other villages in the Cinque Terre, Monterosso a Mare is not on a hill and it has the largest beach in the Cinque Terre, just don’t expect a sandy beach.
This town is somehow atypical for the Cinque Terre and you won’t get the iconic views you might in one of the other 4, but it is still a beautiful village. Strolling on the streets of the old town, within the walls of the ancient fortress, and admiring the colorful buildings can be a perfect way to spend your time in Monterosso.
Shop for souvenirs, stop for lunch and enjoy a fresh “fritto misto” (deep-fried fish and seafood), or spend a few hours on a kayak tour around the coastline.
Allegedly, the best view you will get over the city is the beginning of the hiking trail to Vernazza starting from the old town of Monterosso.
Evening Aperitivo At Nessun Dorma in Manarola
After a few relaxing hours at the beach or exploring Monterosso, hop on the train and make your way to Manarola.
Hike the hill through the vineyards, and stop for aperitivo at the famous Nessun Dorma. Don’t forget to book a table in advance, since this might be one of the most famous places in the whole Cinque Terre.
Don’t leave Manarola behind without going on a wine tasting tour. A local sommelier will take you along the vineyards and will introduce you to the flavors of the different types of local wines.
As evening approaches, consider going on a sunset boat trip from Manarola. You will be joined by a small group, and you will have the chance to admire the stunning landscapes from the boat – my favorite way of touring coastal destinations. See more here!
Day 3 or your 3-day Cinque Terre itinerary
Visit La Spezia
Skipped by many tourists visiting the Cinque Terre, La Spezia was such a nice surprise for us. We went there because we had to visit the main train station in town and exchange some tickets, but since we were there we decided to explore a little.
The old town city center is typical for a medium-size Italian town, with a pedestrian area, packed with terraces, cafes, gelaterias, and restaurants. Buildings have impressive arcades, and you shouldn’t skip the San Giorgio Castle, or the Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta.
Our favorite area was the waterfront, with the Naval Technical Museum, the Parco Giardini Pubblici, and the port packed with luxury boats.
From there, you will be able to take boats leaving to different parts of the Cinque Terre.
Take the boat to Porto Venere
My all-time favorite destination in Cinque Terre, but not quite. Porto Vener is a town set in the Cinque Terre National Park, but not officially part of the 5 famous colorful villages.
As colorful as all the others, set on the waterfront, with a small rocky beach and some of the best hotels in the region, Porto Venere deserves a few hours of your time.
We climbed the slopes behind the main buildings, all the way to the Doria Castle, snooped around the small souvenir shops, and tasted one of the best ice creams I’ve ever had!
From Porto Venere, you can visit also Palmaria Island or the islands of Tino and Tinetto.
That should be quite enough to fill one half of the day, after spending the morning exploring La Spezia. Optionally, before coming to Porto Venere, you can also pay a visit to the small town of Lerici – see the castle of Lerici and discover a less explored small Ligurian town.
Other activities worth having in Cinque Terre
When in Italy, you cannot miss any activities linked to food. Food is delicious in general, but especially in Liguria – with pesto Genovese at its core, and focaccia on a second place.
Try a cooking class and learn how to make fresh pasta and impress your friends and family once you return home. See more here!
Go to a local’s home and learn how to make a traditional local dish, together with tiramisu from scratch. See more here!
If you are visiting the Cinque Terre for a special occasion, don’t leave without taking some unforgettable pictures that will last a lifetime. Book a professional local photographer who will know all the best photo spots in the Cinque Terre, and will also have the right technique to immortalize the moment in the best way. The photo session is perfectly designed for honeymoons, family trips, engagements, anniversaries, and anything in between. See more here!
The Best Views in Cinque Terre
If you’ve traveled so far you shouldn’t leave without taking a few pictures with some of the best views in Cinque Terre.
No matter if you are looking for the Instagrammable spots of Cinque Terre, or you are simply passionate about photography, here are the places you shouldn’t miss.
The small harbor in Riomaggiore offers so many stunning photography spots. No matter if you sit on the stones below the colorful buildings or make your way to the rocks in the water, at sunset you will be rewarded with one of the best views.
The paved road heading up the hill from the harbor in Manarola will reward you with one of the best views in town. In the same village, as you reach the top of the hill, head towards Nessum Norma – order some of their delicious food together with a glass of Aperol Spritz and have your camera ready!
No matter which hike you choose to go on, nature will reward you with some breathtaking views. Hike from Vernazza to Corniglia, or from Manarola to Corniglia, and let yourself be seduced by the beauty of the Cinque Terre National Park.
The beginning of the trail that leads from Vernazza to Corniglia will offer the best view in the whole of Vernazza.
Other Cinque Terre and Italy travel guides
An easy-to-follow 2-day Cinque Terre Itinerary
The Perfect Tuscan Road Trip
The ultimate list of day trips from Genoa
One day in Genoa, all the things to do and see
Cinque Terre or Amalfi Coast: which one is better?
How to plan the perfect day trip to Cinque Terre: from Florence, Pisa, or Milan
Where to go wine tasting in Cinque Terre