25/05/2024

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How To Spend One Perfect Day In Cinque Terre

14 min read
How To Spend One Perfect Day In Cinque Terre

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Cinque Terre is a beautiful region on the Italian Riviera and showcases a different side of the country. It’s quaint, colorful, and steeped in history.

Though there are actually five towns in Cinque Terre, you can easily see the region in one perfect day.

looking at harbor and colorful buildings of Riomaggiore
Riomaggiore

How is it possible to spend one day in Cinque Terre you ask? In this guide, we’ll show you how!

We visited Cinque Terre for two nights, staying outside in La Spezia. Even with catching the train in and out we saw and did a lot. We had one full day in Cinque Terre, and we feel we hit all the highlights.

But first…

Is One Day in Cinque Terre Enough?

colorful buildings of vernazza on harbor
Vernazza

You’re probably wondering whether you can see all of Cinque Terre in one day, and the answer is yes, as long as you don’t mind not seeing every town. 

Aside from Monterosso al Mare, which is the only town with a beach, the other villages offer similar vibes, so you don’t need to see every one of them to enjoy the best of Cinque Terre.

However, you do need a full day to explore Cinque Terre. In one day, we were able to see three of the five towns, skipping Corniglia, which is only accessible by a steep staircase or train, and Riomaggiore which was furthest away. 

We could have traveled to Riomaggiore after Manarola to experience the nightlife, but we were happy to call it a day after the sunset.

You’ll also want to get accommodation for the night before, and possibly the end of the day too, so you can really enjoy all the region has to offer.

hotel on cliff face
hotel on the cliff face

You can always see Corniglia and Riomaggiore in the morning of the second day, so if you want to see all five towns, set aside 1 full day and one-half day to see it all.

I recommend staying in Monterosso al Mare for two nights and using this as a base to get around. From here, it’s easy to visit the other four towns either by hiking, by boat, or by train.

If you are short on time and want to see all five towns in one day, your best bet is to book a guided boat tour from La Spezia, which will take you to all five towns – though you will miss the gorgeous hike to Vernazza!

One Day in Cinque Terre Itinerary

Now you know where to base yourself and how long to set aside, let’s get into how you can spend one perfect day in Cinque Terre…

Stop 1: Monterosso

rocky headland and crystal clear waters and white sand of Monterosso beach
So sparkly!

Begin in Monterosso al Mare and wake up bright and early for a full day of exploring. Start your morning by wandering through the charming streets of Monterosso’s Old Town. Admire the colorful buildings, browse the local shops, and soak up the atmosphere of this picturesque village.

Don’t miss the opportunity to indulge in the local cuisine for breakfast. Grab a bite to eat at one of the traditional trattorias or sample some famous pesto dishes, which is a specialty of the region. 

There are several bakeries along the beachfront offering you a quick and easy breakfast to take onto the beach with you. 

bougainvillea draped over restaurant awning with people at tables
Good bakery where we got pastries to go
coffee and a beach view
Coffee with a view

At the far end of the beach, near the rock that sits out in the water (our favorite view), are some sidewalk chairs offering the best coffee view in Monterosso. They have smoothies for the kids, or if you prefer something different. 

Be sure to visit the Church of San Giovanni Battista, located in the heart of Monterosso, and marvel at its beautiful architecture and step inside to see the stunning interior.

After that, relax on Monterosso Beach, also known as Fegina, which is a beautiful sandy beach and the only one in the Cinque Terre region.

caz and savannah swimming in the beach

There is a small section of free beach at Spiaggia Fegina which is where we laid down our towels. As we arrived first thing in the morning, there was room, but it filled up quickly. 

The rest of the beach are lidos, which are Italian private beaches or clubs. You pay a fee to use the beach as well as the loungers and beach umbrellas. I can see this being worth it if you spend the entire day there. 

looking at monterosso beach and colored buildings from the ocean
Spiaggia Tragagia, Monterosso

There is also another beach, Spiaggia Tragagia, which is left from the station and around the corner. We didn’t know it was there until our boat tour! 

Don’t miss The Giant at the northern end of Fegina beach. It’s a 14m high sculpture of Neptune. We also enjoyed the view of it from our Cinque Terre boat cruise. 

kayaks on monterosso beach
The Giant watching over the sea

Whether you prefer swimming in crystal-clear waters or simply lounging on the beach, it’s a perfect way to start your day.

Monterosso was by far our favorite of the Five Lands. When we arrived, we were blown away by how beautiful it was, and were disappointed we did not stay here. 

In all the articles I read on Cinque Terre before I came here, most gave it little more than a paragraph that said it had a swimming beach. None painted the picture of its beauty, coastal charm, and resort style feel.

I enjoyed the other Cinque Terre towns a lot, but I wasn’t wowed by them. I was for Monteroso. 

Sadly, we only had half a day here. 

caz and craig standing at view overlooking beach

We were intending on a quick swim before departing on the hike to Vernazza. We soon scrapped those plans and decided to use those two hours to relax on the beach and cool off from the hot sun! 

Next time I will take a kayak tour from here, spend an entire day here chillaxing, and book accommodation here and use it as a base. Using this as a base, would give us more time to dedicate to the hike, which we do wish we did, but were okay with missing. 

By mid-morning, you’re going to need to lace up your hiking boots as you walk to the next stop…

Stop 2: Hike to Vernazza (or take the train)

looking over rocky beach
Views from the trail

One of the most popular things to do in Cinque Terre is hiking. There is a beautiful 7.5 mile coastal trail, aptly named The Blue Trail (Sentiero Azzurro), which connects all five towns of Cinque Terre.

Arguably the most beautiful portion of the trail is from Monterosso to Vernazza, which offers stunning vistas of the Mediterranean Ocean.

It’s estimated to take 2 hours to hike from Monterosso to Vernazza, but fast hikers can do it in 1.5 hours. The distance is only 2 miles and reaches an elevation of 175 meters. 

kayakers and swimmers in vernazza beach

It’s quite an easy hike, but if you’re visiting in the summer and the weather is hot, you might want to take the train instead.

There is very little shade on the trail, so you may find it too hot to hike. And I’d suggest reasonable fitness and sturdy shoes. They won’t let you hike without them. 

In the peak summer months, you will need a hiking pass to walk any section of the trail. 

The Cinque Terre hiking card costs 7.50 euros for a one-day card and 14.50 euros for a two-day card.

Cinque Terre Treno MS Card, gives you access to the hiking trails together with unlimited train travel on the Cinque Terre Express train. The card costs 18.20 euros for a one-day card, 33 euros for a two-day card.

Stop 3: Vernazza

looking at colored buldings of vernazza from shore
Vernazza from the sea

If you left in mid-morning, you should arrive in Vernazza just in time for lunch. Grab a bite to eat at one of the local restaurants or cafes, and taste the fresh seafood dishes or indulge in delicious gelato.

We found a restaurant called Bar Gianni Franzi on the harbor with beautiful views and a great menu at reasonable prices. Note, most restaurants here will be on the more expensive side. 

Anchovies are one of the specialties of this region, so I ordered a delicious anchovy and tomato dish. As with any Italian meal, it’s delicious and comes with simplicity. Fried seafood is also a Ligurian specialty (and you’ll find it a lot in the snack bars) Savannah ordered a bowl of this. The menu will feature heavily with seafood and ancient Ligurian dishes.

bottle of cinque terre wine on table next to glass

Craig and I also ordered a half bottle of local wine. It’s quite extraordinary to see the vineyards clinging to the mountain faces all along the Cinque Terre coastline here so we could not at least try it. 

Note, that Cinque Terre wine is expensive. They are known for their sweet, and rare Sciacchetrà, a dessert wine that has been made since the Middle Ages. Since that’s not something we enjoy, we settled on a dry white, which I found refreshing and delicious. 

After lunch, take a leisurely stroll through the charming streets of Vernazza. Admire the colorful buildings, browse the local shops, and soak up the authentic atmosphere of this picturesque village.

looking at colored buldings of vernazza from shore
Vernazza is gorgeous

We found this to be the most picturesque of the villages on the water. Its harbor is a bit wider and more spacious. So walk around it and enjoy the stunning views of the harbor. Watch the fishing boats bobbing in the water and take in the picturesque scenery. 

You can also find a spot to sit and relax while enjoying the sea breeze and enjoy that Gelato.

Around to the right of the harbor is a popular swimming area. There is no beach. You will have to enter by way of an easy rock scramble. There are a few rocks here perfect for a little cliff jumping. This was Savannah’s favorite place in Cinque Terre because she jumped off the rocks here. It was a really nice place to swim. 

If you’re up for a little adventure, you can walk part of the Blue Trail here. We recommend you at least do this, if you’re not hiking from Monterosso to Vernazza.

overlooking the town and beach of vernazza
beautiful views of Vernazza incl Doria Castle

As we did not do the hike, we walked 10 minutes up the trail, which winds behind the village, and along the cliff top. You get beautiful views out over the water and looking back over Vernazza. It’s uphill, but relatively easy. 

Or, you can go in the opposite direction and climb up to Doria Castle for panoramic views of Vernazza and the surrounding coastline. 

Stop 4: Afternoon Boat Trip

savannah on boat smiling with riomaggiore in background

If you hiked earlier in the day, then you’ll want to do something relaxing in the afternoon, so we recommend climbing onboard a boat trip to explore the rest of Cinque Terre.

We caught the train back to Manarola where our afternoon two-hour boat tour with Captain Cosimo began (leaving at 4pm) on his small boat. There were only four other people who joined us. 

caroline and kalyra taking photos on boat
On our Cinque Terre boat tour

It involved dancing to a fun playlist, unlimited beer and wine, a bit of history, three swims (including exploring a small sea cave) and stunning views. 

I loved seeing the five towns from the perspective of the sea, especially when we turned around at Monterosso and could see all five towns in one panoramic view. 

coastline cinque terre national park
The expansive view

The other benefit of doing a small group boat tour is that you can escape the crazy crowds on land. 

(Read more about that here)

There are also other boat tours that take you from town to town, but they are 8 hour tours with limited time at each town, and they are much bigger ferries. 

For not that much more, you get a more personal and private experience on these smaller boat tours. 

small boat moored to the marina

You can also catch the ferry from Vernazza to Manarola, passing Corniglia along the way. The ferry doesn’t always stop at Corniglia, but you can see the town from the ocean. 

The main attraction of Corniglia is the 382 steps leading up to it, which after hiking from Monterosso to Vernazza sounds too exhausting, so we were happy to keep going to Manarola.

boat moored in sea off Riomaggiore
A smaller ferry

The ferry is only 20 minutes, offers incredible views of the coastline, and allows you to see the unique architecture and vibrancy of the colored buildings from a different perspective.

Again, if time and budget allows, I would do the small group boat tour. It was one of the highlights of our entire European summer trip and our top thing to do in Cinque Terre. 

It’s normally cheaper to book your tour online, but you must make sure you check your details carefully as tours get booked up and it’s not always possible to book them last minute. This was the tour we ended up doing.

You can also book a private boat tour of Cinque Terre, which would be much more relaxing and intimate, albeit more expensive. It might work out cost-effective though if you have your own group of six.

Here are some popular boat tours of Cinque Terre:

Stop 5: Sunset at Manarola

savannah taking photo of the sunset
Sunset views

The last stop of the day is Manarola, which offers some of the most awe-inspiring views in Cinque Terre. (conveniently Captain Cosimo dropped us off here)

The combination of its colorful buildings, dramatic cliffs, and the sparkling Ligurian Sea creates a picturesque backdrop for a memorable sunset.

Manarola is known for being a more laid-back and tranquil place, and as the day winds down and the golden hour arrives, this peace and serenity is best captured.

bar on hill at manarola
Nessun Dorma on the hill

Walk up the trail heading north to the top of the cliff – you will see all the people on the trail. There is a really popular bar there, Nessun Dorma that serves drinks and charcuterie boards. People love to go here for its amazing views looking back over Manarola. 

They do not take reservations. Instead you join the waitlist via their app. As we didn’t have wifi this was useless for us, and the lines were incredibly long. 

I would skip it, and instead just enjoy the sunset from their playground at the very top of the cliff. There is a small open grass area where many come to sit and watch. 

orange sun setting behind the mountain at manarola
The other sunset view

What makes this even better than Nessun Dorma is you can see the sun setting over the sea AND the golden colors on the MAnarola buildings. With the position of the bar on one side of the cliff face, you can only see Manarola Harbor. 

I would get some snack food from Manarola town (and perhaps a bottle of wine if you can get one from a store) and take it up to the viewpoint for a much better sunset experience. We wish we did that. 

We ate at a restaurant that was overpriced and not good enough to recommend to you! 

Otherwise, there are plenty of local restaurants or trattorias serving fresh seafood dishes and traditional Italian cuisine to enjoy while savoring the lingering beauty of the twilight sky.

In the main street of Manarola, there is a gluten free and dairy free place selling crepes and ice cream. Their crepes were delicious! 

Stop 6: Nightlife in Riomaggiore (optional)

colorful homes on the harbor

If you still have some energy left, you can catch the train to Riomaggoire, the last of the five towns of Cinque Terre.

Riomaggiore offers a vibrant and unique nightlife experience and is home to a variety of lively bars that come alive after the sun sets. You can enjoy a refreshing drink or sample local wines while immersing yourself in the lively atmosphere of the town.

Many bars and restaurants in Riomaggiore feature live music, creating a vibrant musical backdrop for your evening. Sip cocktails and immerse yourself in the music, while socializing with other like-minded travelers.

colorful buildings on narrow road leading to harbor
The streets of Riomaggiore

We visited Riomaggiore on the evening before this day in Cinque Terre and enjoyed the bustling main street running through town. We spent some time relaxing in a bar for Aperitivo Hour with an Aperol Spritz and some snacks watching the world go by! 

If you’re visiting in the summer, you might even find a festival taking place in Riomaggiore, which often involves music, dancing, and local traditions. It’s the place to be if you enjoy a night out.

Tips for Visiting Cinque Terre in One Day

overlooking riomaggorie
Vernazza

To make the most of your trip, here are some words of advice for visiting Cinque Terre in 1 day…

  • Check the weather before hiking. If you’re visiting in the summer months, be mindful that Italy can get quite hot and there is usually very little cloud cover, so you might not want to hike and opt for a train instead.
  • Carry plenty of water and stay hydrated.
  • You will need a decent pair of hiking shoes – they do ask and have signs saying you are not allowed to hike without them. I’m not sure if they check, but it’s for your own safety to wear them. 
  • Know the train times. Trains come every 20 minutes, which isn’t a long waiting time, but when you only have one day in Cinque Terre every minute counts. Be sure to note down which trains you need to take to stay on schedule.
  • Likewise, know the ferry times too. The ferry is a great way to get around Cinque Terre, but like the train, you need to know which ferry to get to stay on schedule.
  • Pack lightly. As you explore Cinque Terre, you may encounter steep hills and stairs. To make your journey more comfortable, it’s advisable to pack light and bring only essential items. This will make it easier to navigate the terrain and enjoy your time in the villages.
  • Wake up early. Not only to avoid the crowds but also to make sure you can maximize your day and give yourself time to stop and enjoy a place you like. You will not fit in all our suggestions and have a great time if you don’t start in Monterosso by at least 9am. 
  • Keep an eye on your little ones. Cinque Terre can get quite busy, especially during the peak season, so make sure you keep your eyes on your little ones to avoid losing them in the crowds.
  • Book in advance. Gone are the days when you could rock up and book a boat tour of Cinque Terre on the day. If you don’t want to miss out, book in advance. We recommend at least a week before.
  • Plan for a longer stay. If your Italy itinerary isn’t fully set, then allow yourself the option to stay longer. To fully explore all of the villages in Cinque Terre, you might need at least two days in the area. 
  • Check the map below for accommodation options, including hotels and vacation rentals, in the Cinque Terre National Park.

Final Thoughts

craig smiling on boat
Thumbs up

Cinque Terre is a really unique region and one that will enchant anyone who visits. If you only have one day in Cinque Terre, then we hope this guide helped you make the most out of your visit.

We know that not every traveler is blessed with time, so we’ve done our best to include all the highlights and give you a real flavor for this gorgeous region.

More Italy Travel Tips

You may be interested in these guides for nearby destinations:

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