If you have ever read any other of my blog posts you will know how much I hate organised tours. Why pay so much more money when travelling than is needed when you can experience the same and usually more by touring independently. I first became aware of Cinque Terre after seeing photos of those five beautiful villages online. Some people might say that it is impossible to see Cinque Terre in a day but I am not one of them. In December I spent three nights in Pisa and only had one full day available to visit Cinque Terre and it was an easy, stress-free experience.
I have written about my day and would love it if it helps anyone who will be visiting the area to plan and to be able to have an enjoyable trip.
Our day started off early at our hotel in Pisa. After having breakfast we made the short five minute walk to Pisa Centrale station to catch our train to La Spezia Centrale. As we had already purchased our tickets in advance the day before, we simply checked the information board to find out the platform number we would need.
I have written about how to purchase train tickets in Italy in this blog post.
We had decided to book the high speed Frecciabianca service to La Spezia Centrale which takes about 45 minutes which is approximately half the time of the slower regional train. It did cost more at €14.50 (the regional train costs €7.20) but the time saved more than makes up for any extra cost. Our train had a short delay but because of the quick journey time, it didn’t affect our plans at all.
Once we arrived at La Spezia Centrale station, we followed the signs for “Tourist Information” and made our way to Platform 1 where the Cinque Terre Point office is located.
Once inside the office we purchased our one day Cinque Terre Treno cards for €12 each. These cards allow you unlimited second class travel on regional trains between Levanto and La Spezia as well as use of the park buses, access to the hiking trails as well as use of wifi. We were also given a train timetable, a map of the area as well as information on the current status of the hiking trails – many were closed when we visited.
After leaving the office we made sure to validate our tickets using the machines located on the platform.
We had a short wait before our train arrived to take us to our first stop of Riomaggiore. The journey took under ten minutes. Even though the train was not busy, many people got off the train here. If you arrive in Cinque Terre without purchasing a Cinque Terre card, then there is another Cinque Terre Point office where you can purchase them at the exit of the station – I have read that this office does get very busy during the summer months so the best advice is to buy any tickets you need at La Spezia Centrale.
Also next to the exit of Riomaggiore station is stairs leading to the entrance of the Via Dell’Amore where you can walk to the next village of Manarola however this was one of the walks that was closed when we visited. This was our only disappointment of the day as it would have been nice to walk to Manarola as it was a beautiful sunny day.
After leaving Riomaggiore Station we walked uphill and followed the path along the coast. We could look down at the station where we had just arrived before heading around the front of the cliff to the actual village. One word of warning about Riomaggiore – there are a lot of steep steps involved in the walk to the village centre. There are a lot of signs in the arrow alleys though so it is very easy to find your way around.
One thing that was immediately noticeable was how few people there were to be seen – one incredible advantage of visiting in the off-season. I cannot begin to imagine how crowded it gets during the summer months especially as some of the streets and paths are very narrow. A lot of shops and restaurants were closed or open with limited hours but having peace and quiet as well as being able to photograph the villages with no one in shot was much better for me personally.
After taking countless photos of the beautiful harbour at Riomaggiore we made our way back to the station to catch the train to the next village of Manarola. We didn’t have long to wait before the next train and after a short two minute journey we arrived at Manarola Station.
At the exit of Manarola Station is the other entrance to the Via Dell’Amore for the walk back to Riomaggiore. After a short walk through a tunnel from the station exit, you get to the main street of the village.
For a long time I knew that the iconic Cinque Terre photo that I wanted was the view of Manarola. However when we got to the harbour, the sun was in completely the wrong place to take the best photos. We worked out which way the sun was heading and decided that we would head back to Manarola late afternoon and watch the sunset as the photos then would come out much, much better.
As we would now be heading back to Manarola later in the day (and because it was December so sunset was quite early) we decided to skip the next village of Corniglia. Corniglia is the only village in Cinque Terre that is not located on the water so after leaving the station there, you have to walk up nearly 400 steps to reach the village. As that would take some time and we still had another two more villages to visit, we headed onto Vernazza.
Eight minutes after leaving Manarola, we arrived in Vernazza. It is only a short walk from the station to the harbour.
We walked out to the furthest point of the harbour where were able to sit and relax in the sunshine with a drink that we bought in one of the shops in the village. From this point we had a great view of Vernazza as well as being able to see Monterosso al Mare further along the coast.
After leaving Vernazza, we took the short four minute train ride to Monterosso al Mare which is the last of the five villages in Cinque Terre. It was extremely quiet here – we only saw a handful of people whilst we were there. The station is located in the new part of the town but a short walk through a tunnel brings you into the old town.
After purchasing a couple of bottles of the local Sciacchetrà in a little shop in the old town, we headed back to the beach in the new part of the town to take some photos of the coastline. From here we could see the other four villages of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia and Vernazza. If you have a telephoto lens, you would be able to take some great photos from this point.
After a short wait for a train at Monterosso al Mare we headed back to Manarola. As soon as we got there, we could see straight away that the sun was in a much better position for photos. There was more people there than what there was earlier in the day who seemed to have had the same idea.
To get the iconic photo of Manarola, you will need to take the pathway from the waterfront alongside the cliff. The view changes slightly the further you walk so there are plenty of photos to be taken.
Heading back to Manarola for sunset was the best decision we could have made as the view of the village was so much better than earlier in the day. As the sun broke through the clouds, the whole of the coast was bathed in an amazing golden light. I took so many photos but none of them seem to do the view justice – it was so much more incredible to see with your own eyes.
The following photo is the actual sunset from that afternoon. There is no Photoshop involved – the clouds did actually turn that incredible fiery red. Of all the sunsets that I’ve seen around the world over the years, this was definitely the most spectacular and beautiful I’ve seen in my entire life.
After sunset we were both starving so headed to a wonderful little restaurant called Il Porticciolo along the main street in Manarola for dinner. I had Caprese with Balsamic Vinegar to start followed by a Pesto Ravioli all washed down with a glass of Prosecco. Absolutely delicious. My mouth is watering thinking back to that ravioli as it was so good!
After dinner we headed back to the station to catch the train back to La Spezia Centrale. Whilst we were waiting we were able to use the machines to purchase our train tickets from La Spezia to Pisa. As we would have had a long wait for a Frecciabianca train, we booked first class seats on the Intercity service which cost €13.50 each. The journey back to Pisa Centrale took just under an hour and having a bigger seat and some legroom to stretch out after a long day was very welcome.
So there we have it – how to do Cinque Terre in one day. It is completely possible and you don’t have to rush around at breakneck speed in order to see each village. Even if you are on a cruise and have docked at La Spezia, it will be possible to see so much during your time in port – the fact that most cruises are during the summer months means you will not have to worry about the sun setting as early as it did for us. You can also experience Cinque Terre without having to do any research as they provide all the maps and timetables that you need when purchasing the Cinque Terre card.
So no matter what time of year you intend to visit Cinque Terre, you will have an amazing day. Just don’t forget your camera!