Italy! What a generous and memorable country this is – and one of the most popular places with visitors is the region in and around beautiful Tuscany. There is an absolute wealth of delights for the visitor to explore in this gorgeous area, and while places like Florence, Pisa, San Gimignano, Lucca and Siena are home to countless historical and cultural attractions, world-class galleries and museums, and stunning Renaissance architecture, if you’re looking to go a little more ‘off the beaten path’ in Italy, one of the best things to do is take a day trip to Cinque Terre.
While not actually located in the province of Tuscany, it’s still possible to visit this beautiful string of villages in Liguria, in the ruggedly beautiful coastal region that’s become known as the Italian Riviera, in one glorious day from a base in Florence. Of course, if you’ve got the time and inclination to spend a few days in this little piece of coastal Italian paradise, then all the better! Lucky you! You’ll be spoiled for choice when it comes to finding a lovely place to stay and you’ll find wonderfully warm local hospitality – but be warned, it’s a very difficult decision, because each of the five villages has its own, very distinct character. Some people have their favourite, but it’s often not until you’ve been there that you’ll be able to know which is yours!
In this blog post we’ll give you an overview of the most important things to know about this magical place and answer some questions about location, attractions, beaches and also how to get to Cinque Terre, whatever your preferred mode of travel.
Sit back, relax and enjoy the ride!
A Brief Overview
The name literally translates to ‘five lands’, but it actually refers to the entire area of coastline, including the five villages and the surrounding hillside. It’s a national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and unsurprisingly is becoming increasingly popular among tourists! But don’t let that put you off: it remains largely unspoilt, and is completely and utterly beautiful.
The five villages in the area are:
Monterosso al Mare
How Do I Get to Cinque Terre?
In years gone by, this gorgeous place was a very well kept secret, due to its geographical isolation. Today, however, it’s become a must-see destination, with tourists coming from all over the world to soak in the jaw-dropping beauty and sublime ambience of this little jewel of Liguria.
If you’re flying in from anywhere and heading directly to Liguria, the closest airports are in Pisa and Genoa. The most popular way to make the rest of the journey is by train to La Spezia, with rail connections from Rome, Pisa and Genoa along Italy’s west coast. If you’re flying into Milan you can get a train to Genoa and then change to connect.
The local train runs from La Spezia to Levanto along the coast, and stops at all the five villages along the way. It’s quick and easy to navigate, but don’t miss your stop!
You could hire a car at your arrival airport and drive all the way there, but while this does give you some independence, it certainly also presents some challenges not only in terms of some quite hairy roads you’ll have to navigate on arrival, but also some logistical challenges when it comes to parking, which is very expensive. It’s not really recommended and private driving is actually discouraged in the area.
Florence to Cinque Terre
While there are plenty of options to stay in any of the five villages (three days is considered a perfect length of time if you want to see and do it all), the majority of visitors come on a day trip – and most of those will be staying in a base in Florence. It’s entirely possible (and very popular) to experience the beauty of the region in one long but very enjoyable day from Florence, and be home in time for a late dinner.
The most hassle free way of having a relaxed and enjoyable experience is on an organised guided tour, which means you won’t have to worry about any of the details like driving, parking and tickets to the national park. We’ll talk about your options for that a little further on, but for those looking to go it alone, firstly we’ll cover some of the other options you can consider when it comes to how to get there from Florence.
It is possible to get there by train from Florence, however bear in mind you may have to make changes, so be sure to plan ahead and keep your eye on the schedules and timetables. The downside of taking the train is that it will often be crowded, particularly very early, when you’ll need to set off, and also Italian trains can sometimes be unreliable. (You’ll need to ensure you coordinate your return journey correctly so you don’t miss any of your connections.)
The journey takes around two and a half hours, although it can often push up to three when you factor in delays and other hiccups. Once you’re there, you can easily move between the villages by train, with an express pass covering all five. However, don’t forget that by travelling between each via train, you miss out on the opportunity for that wonderful hike.
Top Tip: If you’re going by train, keep a close eye on departure times and make sure not to miss the last train back – you don’t want to be stranded out in the five villages without accommodation…
As touched on previously, with all the freedom hiring a car on holiday can give you, this probably isn’t your best option to get there from Florence, for a couple of different reasons. Firstly, there are very few parking spaces, and of the ones there are, most are reserved exclusively for residents of the five villages. Secondly, you’re likely to struggle even getting there, as the roads are so winding and narrow that, in some places, two cars can’t even pass each other. An experienced driver can make the journey safely, but anyone new to the area is likely to struggle. When you’re in a foreign country (particularly Italy!) unless you’re a very confident driver, it can be quite stressful to try and navigate the roads and road rules.
Now that we’ve talked about some of the challenges when it comes to getting from Florence to Cinque Terre safely and easily, it’s about time we recommended the best way to do it. As with many other things in foreign countries, you’re best off using an experienced local guide and a pre-booked tour like this one, which solves the problem of getting there and ensures you get a chance to explore all the highlights of the area on foot. Travelling with a local also means you won’t waste any time trying to work out what to do next – they’ll have all the inside information and you won’t miss a thing!
On this trip with Walkabout Florence, you won’t have to worry about any of the logistics, all you need to do is show up at the meeting point in the morning and we’ll take care of the rest!
Once you’ve met your friendly driver and the rest of your group, you’ll board a comfortable air-conditioned vehicle and settle in for the relaxing (approximately 2.5 hour) drive. You’ll arrive and enter the national park at the highest village, Manarola, and of course you won’t have to worry about any of the details like parking or paying for a ticket, as that’s all taken care of. You’ll hop on the train for a quick ride to the next village, Corniglia, and begin the iconic hike along the spectacular coastline between the villages. (You can also go by train if you’re not taking part in the optional hike.)
There’ll be plenty of free time to explore, swim and have lunch along the way as you take in the breathtaking scenery.
Top Tip: If you are hiking you should certainly come prepared for some moderate exercise – hikes along the rugged coastal path are not for the faint of heart! There are no formal restrictions on hiking in the area, but guides will not accept young children or those with mobility issues.
Take to the Water
Perhaps the best part of the guided trip, though, is the opportunity for a ferry ride that takes you back along the coast between the villages. Far more picturesque than the train, this allows you to get a very different view of the picture-perfect villages with their pastel-coloured houses clinging to the rugged cliffs. It’s a fitting and memorable way to finish the day.
You’ll then hop back on the train for the short trip to La Spezia, where you’ll board your coach for the trip back to Florence. Feel free to have a snooze on the way home!
Is Cinque Terre worth visiting?
Now that you know the basics of the region, as well as how to get there, you may be feeling inspired to visit. But with holidays usually at a premium, if you’ve only got a limited amount of time on your Italian itinerary, you need to be sure the places you visit are worthwhile, right?
The question as to whether the region is worth visiting is one that, naturally, is very personal – although it has to be said that when it comes to this stunning area we’ve never had someone say they regret spending a day there. It’s more likely to be people wishing they could stay for a week, a month, or the rest of their lives!
This stunning destination is on countless bucket lists of visitors from all over the world and, for many, it really does represent that ‘once in a lifetime’ experience that’s been anticipated for years. And the thing is, this really is one place that lives up to the hype.
It’s a pretty hard ask for a destination to remain authentic in the face of extreme popularity with tourists, but these five villages do indeed recall the ambience of their fishing port roots. Even though the charming streets can become a little jammed packed with tourists at certain times of the day in peak season, the region has managed to retain its local flavour, simply because the villages really are home to around 3,500 local residents, in total.
The crowds are a fact of life in summer, but the joy of embarking on the coastal hike between the villages is that you get a wonderful respite and, if you time your walking just right, you’ll be able to enjoy the trail with fewer people (tip, set off from one village to the next while everyone else is having lunch!). For those who are a little more flexible with timings, you might want to consider coming in the winter when there are fewer crowds and everything is a lot more relaxed.
To answer the question of whether it’s worth a visit, if you’re looking for a day trip (or longer) to tick off any off the following, the answer is most definitely yes:
UNESCO protected landscape
Incredible photographic opportunities
Authentic culture and history
Superb accessibility on our Walkabout Florence guided tour
Five villages, five different personalities
The best day of your life!
So, yes, this IS a place that’s worth visiting. Whether you’re doing it on a day trip (as most people are) or you’re lucky enough to have the time and opportunity to stay for a few days, you’ll never run out of things to keep you occupied – even if it is doing nothing and just staring at the view!
But you don’t even have to take our word for it – a quick Internet search reveals reams and reams of people extolling the virtues of this unforgettable location that has, over the decades, been the muse of artists and poets, and won the hearts of everyone from royalty and international celebrities to local Italian tourists.
A word of warning though: one visit is never enough, because once seen, this gorgeous place is never forgotten and you’ll be planning your next trip before you’ve even left! That’s amore…
Are There Beaches in Cinque Terre?
This is one of the most common questions people ask, and because it’s coastal, the answer simply must be a resounding yes, surely? Well of course it is, but the situation may be slightly different from what some people expect.
Because of its landscape and geography, you shouldn’t expect to see one big long stretch of pristine white sand lining the bottom of the cliffs; it’s really not that kind of location. But you most definitely can enjoy the most delightful dips in the ocean, from around May to October – or outside these times if you’re very brave!
There are lots of small rocky beaches and pebbly coves all along the coast here, but to simplify things, here’s what to expect in each of the five villages.
Vernazza: The main beach in Vernazza is situated right in the tiny harbour, making it a lovely place to swim in the calm, protected waters. While it’s small, it is very picturesque and as well as the sand, there’s an area of flat rocks where you can sunbathe to your heart’s content. There is also another nice option to swim off the rocks (with access through a cave!) on the eastern side of the village, but there’s not much in the way of sand.
Monterosso: You have a few options here, including the one that’s considered to be the best out of all the beaches in the region. Close to the ‘new town’ (and right in front of the train station) Fegina is a lovely long sandy beach, complete with umbrellas and lined with cafes, restaurants and ice-cream shops. There’s also another popular and well-facilitated beach in the old town, which has both private and public areas. It also has umbrellas and there’s a boat rental area very close. Both of these do get quite busy though, so it’s a good idea to book ahead if you plan on some serious sunbathing. A third option is Il Gigante, which has safe swimming and is popular with families.
Corniglia: If you’re looking for a bit of solitude, Guvano is a good option. A word of warning though, it is renowned as a nudist beach so if you’re not a fan of that, stay away. For this very reason though, it is often very peaceful and sometimes entirely deserted. There is also another lovely pebbly bay at the bottom of the cliffs, which is sheltered and very pleasant for a swim.
Riomaggiore: It’s worth noting that swimming is not permitted in the busy port at Riomaggiore. There is a nice secluded beach just a short walk away, though. It’s very rocky, with lots of pebbles and boulders, so it’s not ideal to sunbathe, but it is a really lovely place to swim and feels quite isolated, despite being so close to the village. Well worth seeking out.
Manarola: Even though there’s no real beach in Manarola, there’s a wonderful opportunity just a few minutes’ walk from the train station to go swimming in the stunning harbour. It’s lovely and deep, with lots of rocks to sun yourself on and even a ladder to get there! There’s also what’s known as the ‘back beach’, which is usually very quiet and a fantastic place to do some snorkelling.
So, there you have it: all the insider tips you need to take a lovely relaxing dip while you’re hiking (or taking the train) between the five villages.
How long do you need in Cinque Terre?
If we said ‘your entire lifetime’ that might be pushing it a little for most people – although once you arrive that could indeed be your greatest wish! In reality, the majority of people who visit come on a day trip, but for the lucky ones with time to spare, staying for a few days makes for an absolutely wonderful escape from the stresses of busy modern life.
A one-day visit
If time is of a premium (which it is, for most people) don’t despair, because one day really is sufficient to get an overview of this stunning region – particularly if you book on to our guided tour, which we’ve designed so you get the very most out of the experience without wasting time. If you’re coming from Florence it’ll be an early start and a late return, but it’ll be a day to remember, that’s for sure.
Once you arrive, if you’re planning on doing the hike between the villages you’ll need to set off pretty much straight away. But remember, if you don’t feel up to the hike you can easily hop on the train between any and all of the villages along the way.
The beauty of being on an organised day trip is that we know exactly how to spread the timings out to ensure you get the chance to see everything, do what you want in the villages, enjoy a break for lunch and shopping and even fit in a swim! You won’t feel rushed at all and we’ve designed the itinerary so you won’t feel like you’re clock-watching, even though you only have the day to see everything.
So don’t be intimidated by the thought of such a big day. While it’s fun and tiring (in the most wonderful way) it’s certainly not overwhelming. Booking on a guided tour also means you won’t waste any time with the logistics of travelling from Florence and trying to organise your own itinerary. It’s the perfect solution for those who only have a day!
The ultimate: a two-night, three-day visit
Ah, the lucky people who can enjoy an extended stay are in for an absolute treat. You have so many options to organise your time if you have at least two nights and three days, or more. You might like to make a base anywhere along the coast from Porto Venere to Levanto (at the beginning and end of the so-called Riviera), or in any of the five villages along the linked coastal hiking trail. Vernazza is the most popular, but also the most crowded, while Monterosso is the largest and has some great accommodation options for families.
With a little more planning, you might like to experience a couple of options and stay in a different place each night! It’s entirely up to you.
Really, this is one of those places where you can spend as much or as little time as you have. If you do only have the day, however, it’s a good idea to do some research so you know exactly what you want to see and what you don’t mind missing. But anyway, there’s always next time…
Who goes to Cinque Terre?
It’s no secret that most places in Italy are popular with pretty much every kind of traveller and all kinds of people; because who doesn’t love Italy? Cinque Terre is no different and it’s a destination that appeals across all demographics.
The secret is the ‘something for everyone’ character it has – and that’s not just a throwaway statement. Everyone from single travellers to groups of friends, families and romantic couples find so much to love here. Stunning landscapes, photogenic Instagramable scenery, invigorating hikes, relaxing walks, traditional culture, interesting history, beaches, swimming, shopping, dining… the list goes on.
And while if you choose to hike between the villages you do need to be of reasonable fitness, for those coming with younger children or older family members, because the train connects the villages, it means it’s a destination that really is suitable for everyone.
So, are you convinced? Well if you’re ready to start planning your day trip (or longer), here are a few bonus tips for what to bring with you! This list presumes you’re visiting in the warmer months, which is the most popular time, but it really rings true for any time of the year.
Get yourself a small backpack so your hands will be free to take all those wonderful photos, and then tick off these items and we guarantee you’ll thank us!
A camera or smartphone! (And charger in case you need to recharge in a café)
Lashing of sunscreen (and don’t forget to reapply)
A wide brimmed hat (the sun can be very strong)
At least a litre bottle of water
A lightweight towel
A light, long sleeved shirt
Your swimming costume
In addition, make sure you dress appropriately for the hiking component, which means lightweight, comfortable clothing and good walking shoes with a decent grip – definitely no flip flops!
We Are Walkabout Florence
We hope this post has inspired you to start planning a visit to this truly beautiful part of the world. From a little-known and hard to get to destination, it’s become one of the most loved and sought after sites in Italy – and for very good reason.
Here at Walkabout Florence, we’re committed to ensuring our guests have an unforgettable experience while on any of our tours, and our guided day trip to this most picturesque part of the world continues to attract praise and rave reviews from our very happy guests.
We aim to keep the experience as authentic as possible and, being proud locals, we’re able to design the most fulfilling and fun trips to ensure you enjoy all the highlights in a relaxed and laid back way. We don’t believe in rushing from one place to the next, we make sure you have quality time to soak up the sights and sounds that will remain in your heart forever.
If you’re ready to start planning your holiday, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us and let us help you organise your itinerary and book your day trip from Florence. Book via our website or give one of our friendly team members a call and we can promise you the adventure of a lifetime!