How (Not) to See Cinque Terre in One Day
Five colorful towns along the Italian Riviera make up the Cinque Terre, one of Italy's most famous destinations. And even though it’s just a couple hours from Florence by train, there’s no way you’re going to see all five towns in one day trip. My own Florence-to-Cinque Terre day trip might have ended with my little group stuck in Pisa until 2am - a great story in retrospect, but probably not how you want to spend your vacation.
If one day is all the time you have, jump to the bottom of this post (I’m not offended!) for the plan I’d recommend - but even that will be easier if you can stay a night or two in one of the villages or in neighboring Levanto.
Getting Around Cinque Terre
Cinque Terre is a protected national park and UNESCO world heritage site, so driving is very restricted. The trains that run from town to town are the quickest way to get around, and from the end of March to the beginning of November ferries also run along the coast, offering some pretty spectacular views.
A series of hiking paths also connect the villages, about eight miles in total - the trail between Monterosso and Vernazza is meant to be the most scenic. Due to weather and rockslides, trail closures are frequent. The famous Via dell'Amore path that links Riomaggiore and Manarola has been closed for a couple years, and doesn't look to be reopening anytime soon.
Things to do in Cinque Terre
Even though it’s one of the most popular destinations in Italy, Cinque Terre still has an impressive old-world charm. These aren’t the rustic fishing villages they once were, but they’re completely free of chain stores or restaurants, and plenty of the unsightly aspects of modern life.
Move from town to town however you like - hike the trails, ride the ferry, take the train. Each village has its own charming maze of streets, local restaurants, and colorful buildings - you really can’t go wrong. Below are the best things to do in each place, but wherever you are, you must stop to watch the sunset over the sea.
The Five Towns of Cinque Terre
RIOMAGGIORE is the place to watch the sunsets in Cinque Terre - the smallest village, and very photogenic with its tomato-red buildings. Settle in for dinner with a view at A Piè de Mà, or pick up a pizza for a picnic on the harbor rocks.
MANAROLA is home to the harbor you've seen all over Pinterest, and there are always some daredevil rock jumpers to watch (or join!). Enjoy a fantastic view over an Aperol spritz at Nessun Dorma, or find some excellent seafood at Trattoria dal Billy.
VERNAZZA is perhaps the prettiest of the five towns, with a domed church and a castle tower framing the pastel harbor. Have a light breakfast or lunch at Lunch Box, relax at Gianni Franzi wine bar, or book a table at the incredibly romantic Ristorante Belforte for dinner. Take in the panoramic views, either from the top of Castello Doria tower or from the foot of the hiking trail to Monterosso al Mare.
CORNIGLIA sits high above the water, and visitors follow 365 steps (one for each day of the year) up the hillside to reach it. With no harbour, you'll have to arrive by train, but there's often a small shuttle running up to town for those who can't take the stairs. The slightly inconvenient location may be why this village is quieter than the rest, making it a peaceful afternoon retreat. Make it even sweeter with a visit to Alberto Gelateria.
MONTEROSSO AL MARE is a sprawling town compared to its neighbors, and feels a little more modern. It is home to Cinque Terre's only proper beaches, and Spiaggia di Fegina is begging you to spend a day under one of its striped umbrellas. When it's time to break for a meal, leave your towel on your lounger and head to Da Eraldo.
If You Only Have One Day
I’m not going to lie to you, this will be a very full day. The kind of day you want to rest up for, and follow with pasta and a nap. You might want to skip a stop or two for some flexibility. But here’s how to see the best of Cinque Terre in one day:
Arrive to Vernazza as early as possible, and walk through this pretty town in the morning light. Get a takeaway breakfast at Lunch Box before you make the hour-and-a-half hike to Monterosso al Mare. At Spiaggia di Fegina, skip the lounge chairs in favor of a quick dip in the water and a rest on the rocks.
If you're a fan of seafood, a cone of fritto misto makes for the perfect lunch before boarding the ferry towards Riomaggiore. Sail past Corniglia (you don't have time for those 365 steps!), but spend an hour or two in beautiful Manarola before you end the day with a sunset dinner at A Piè de Mà in Riomaggiore.