On my recent trip to Italy, I stayed in the centre of Florence using the capital of Tuscany as a base for wider travels in the region. Over the course of four days, I visited 11 towns in the surrounding areas, and four of those were in the Cinque Terre region.
Cinque Terre means “five lands” and, as the name suggests, it is made up of five different villages: Monterosso al Mare, Corniglia, Manarola, Vernazza and Riomaggiore. These beautiful and colourful villages line the Ligurian coast of Italy and Cinque Terre was unsurprisingly declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.
A visit to Cinque Terre, the “Italian Riviera”, is very doable in one day if you’re simply hoping to get a glimpse into these beautiful little villages. Staying in Cinque Terre is very expensive so for those looking to visit Cinque Terre on a budget, a day trip is definitely the best way to visit.
If you’ve tried looking up how to get from Florence to Cinque Terre you may have drawn a blank. If you’re looking to travel via train then you’ll need to go via either Pisa or La Spezia and go the rest of the way by car. The villages themselves are well connected with a small train service but it’s getting there in the first place that’s the difficult part!
As such, I decided to book a guided tour to Cinque Terre from Florence to take all the effort out of the planning process. I participated in a day trip to four of those five towns with Ciao Florence who kindly provided me with discounted tickets.
Cinque Terre is two and a half hours away from Florence by car so we woke up very early to get to the meeting point at Florence train station for 7am. After that, everything was planned for us.
If you’re wondering why most people only visit four out of the five villages, it’s because Corniglia is not adjacent to the sea, unlike the other villages of Cinque Terre.
Here’s what I got up to on my day trip to Cinque Terre:
We started the day in Manarola, the oldest and second smallest of the villages of Cinque Terre. It was still early in the morning and this town was just beginning to wake up. We walked past locals queueing to buy their daily bread from the back of a small truck. It was a world away from the big cities I’m used to and it was amazing to see that they’d kept that village charm in such a touristy destination.
As you walk further down into the town, you’re greeted by the colourful houses that Cinque Terre is known for. The town is very small so you’ll quickly reach the sea front and a winding path that leads round the side of the cliffs. If you follow this round for a few minutes and then turn back to face the way you came, you’ll be greeted with a magnificent view of Manarola and the sea.
There’s pretty much nothing else to do in this part of town in the morning if you’re not getting breakfast so take your time walking around the path, admiring the view. You can then head back into the sleepy town for a much needed coffee after that early start! Or if, like me, you don’t drink coffee, you can enjoy a nutella waffle at Bar Enrica.
Vernazza offers a slightly different experience as it is the only natural port of Cinque Terre. Of course it is also home to the infamous coloured houses but it is known for being one of the truest fishing villages on the Ligurian coast.
There’s a very small beach at Vernazza which is in the harbour itself, just off Piazza Marconi. Even in October we found Italian men sunning themselves in their swimming shorts around the port!
Vernazza’s history dates back to 1080 and there’s an old church, chapel and even a small old castle to explore. Doria Castle was built in the 15th century to protect the village from pirates.
Monterosso al Mare
Monterosso al Mare is the westernmost village of Cinque Terre and the best place to make a pit stop for lunch. It’s the most “resort like” of the five villages and it’s very popular with holiday makers because of its numerous hotels, restaurants and beaches.
The restaurants vary hugely in price but they line the entire beach so there are plenty of options. I opted for Bar Gio 5 Terre which has covered outdoor seating so you can enjoy lunch whilst looking out to sea. The pasta here is cheap but super tasty and filling and you can try the amazing pesto pasta that this region is known for.
After lunch there’s the old town and new town to explore, both of which boast long beaches for tourists to enjoy. The beach in the new town is larger and a lot nicer so I’d recommend setting up your blanket on this one.
In the old town there are lots of narrow streets filled with tourist shops selling the trinkets you’ll find all over Italy. You can also visit the Church of San Giovanni Battista, which is made from black and white marble, just like the Duomo in Florence.
From Monterosso al Mare you can take a boat to Riomaggiore, from which you can enjoy a view of all five villages of Cinque Terre from the sea. This was included as part of the day trip with Ciao Florence. It’s hard to appreciate the beauty of the coast line and the amazing way they’ve built these coloured houses into the cliffs from the villages themselves so this boat trip is my top tip for visiting Cinque Terre!
Riomaggiore is the steepest of all the villages and there are a lot of stairs involved. There are more restaurants and tourist shops here but otherwise you can simply enjoy the view of the sea and the coloured houses. These are definitely some of the brightest and because they are all so tightly packed together, you can that postcard view of Cinque Terre.
There’s a shop selling battered sea food and other nibbles here called Mamma Mia that is worth a quick visit. There are also lots of ice cream and froyo places dotted around and it’s just the right point in the day for a sweet pick me up.
My tour of Cinque Terre finished up in Riomaggiore and we then headed to La Spezia to catch the coach back to Florence.
Should You Book a Guided Tour to Cinque Terre?
If you’re wondering whether a guided tour is right for you then here’s the low down on the pros and cons:
The pros of guided tours are that everything is planned for you taking the stress out of your day. You don’t have to worry about transportation to all the places you’re visiting and you get the added benefit of a local’s insight into the area.
On the other hand, guided tours can be more pricey than planning the trip by yourself. You also get less freedom to decide how long you spend in each place.
In total I went on three guided tours in Tuscany with Ciao Florence but the Cinque Terre one is definitely their best and most worth looking into. As the villages are scattered around and you can’t access them directly from Florence via public transport, an organised coach trip is a huge plus. It’s one of the best day trips from Florence so definitely try squeeze in a visit to Cinque Terre if you’re travelling in this region of Italy.
*Ciao Florence provided me with discounted tickets for the Cinque Terre tour in exchange for coverage. I paid for the other two tours myself. All opinions are 100% my own.