Posted Date: March 30, 2021
The Cinque Terre are 5 picturesque towns sitting along the coast of the Italian Riviera. These towns have become one of the most popular destinations in Italy over the past few years.
A day trip from Florence to Cinque Terre is very doable. You will have enough time to get a feel for the area and to visit at least 4 out of the 5 towns, plus a hike along the coast.
Here is our how-to guide on how to make the most out of your day trip, including hiking tips, train passes, and the best towns to visit.
How to Get from Florence to Cinque Terre
The Cinque Terre are located 150km Northwest of Florence. It takes around 2 hours 30 minutes to get there by train.
While it is possible, I would not recommend driving to Cinque Terre, especially for a day trip. You cannot drive into any of the towns and the parking lots are located on the mountain above the towns. There will be a lot of extra steps and walking involved that you won’t have time for on a day trip.
To make the most of your day trip, catch an early train from Firenze SMN to La Spezia – the nearest major train station to the Cinque Terre.
There are two routes from Florence to Cinque Terre – a direct route from Firenze SMN –> La Spezia or Firenze –> Pisa –> La Spezia. Either route is fine but most of the earlier train rides include a stopover in Pisa.
We hopped on the 7 am train and arrived at 9:30am with a stopover in Pisa. Our return ticket was booked for 8 pm, so we had plenty of time to enjoy our time along the coast.
Tip: Buy your train tickets from Trenitalia online in advance to avoid paying higher prices. The optimal time to purchase train tickets is at least 3 weeks in advance.
Cinque Terre Card
The Cinque Terre Card is your all-access pass to the trains and hiking paths around the 5 towns. There are two types of passes:
- The Cinque Terre Train Card – full access to the trains for the entire day + the hiking trails (€16 for adults)
- The Cinque Terre Trekking Card – access to the hiking trails only (€7.50 for adults)
We got the Cinque Terre Train Card, so we could both hike and take the train.
To purchase the card, you can either buy it online or in-person at La Spezia train station when you arrive. Because Cinque Terre has become an extremely popular tourist spot, I would highly recommend buying your card online in advance to avoid the lines at the train station.
The lines will get long and you won’t have any time to waste on your day trip. Purchase them in advance, print them out, and you will be good to go. Make sure to fill out your name and any other information on the pass before you hop on the train just in case an officer checks your pass.
If you’d like, you can print a timetable for the train schedule in advance here or you can pick one up at La Spezia station. It only takes between 4-6 minutes to travel by train between each town.
Beware, high-season (May – September) is crowded. We visited at the end of September, and we could barely get on the trains because they were so packed (see photos below). If this is the case for you, prepare for extra time to get between each town since you might end up missing a train due to the crowds.
Note: There is a ferry that runs between all towns except Corniglia. I have personally never taken a ferry in Cinque Terre because of time constraints, but it’s an option if you really want to do it. Here’s the link to the ferry company and the current timetable.
Hiking the Cinque Terre
There is a hiking path that starts in Riomaggiore and ends in Monterosso al Mare. The most popular trail is the Blue Trail, which is 7.5 miles (12 km) long and takes you to each of the five towns.
Sadly, there were mudslides a few years ago, so the trails between Riomaggiore -> Manarola and Manarola -> Corniglia are closed. These trails are scheduled to reopen in April 2022, but I suggest checking out this site for updates.
Two of the trails are still open for hiking. The trail between Monterosso al Mare -> Vernazza (3.5km / 1.5 hours to hike) and Vernazza -> Corniglia (4km / 1.5 hours to hike).
We hiked between Vernazza -> Corniglia on our day trip to Cinque Terre, and we absolutely loved it! We had views of the coast the entire way and the path wasn’t too difficult. If you like to hike, make time to hike one of these trails – it was one of our favorite activities!
Day Trip to Cinque Terre Itinerary
Once you arrive at La Spezia, you will want to hit the ground running to make the most of your day trip. There are a couple of ways to spend your day. You can either start at Riomaggiore (town closest to La Spezia) and make your way to the other towns from there. Or start at Monterosso al Mare or Vernazza and make your way back to Riomaggiore.
In this itinerary, we start in Monterosso al Mare and end in Riomaggiore. I prefer to start at the town furthest away and make my way back – this is how I have done it both times I’ve been to the Cinque Terre.
If you don’t plan on going to the beach or swimming, then you can skip Monterosso al Mare and start in Vernazza. This is what I did on my day trip from Florence, so we would have more time for hiking.
If you do plan on going to the beach, then end your day in Monterosso and cut out the hike.
Of course, if you are here to just explore the towns, then you should have plenty of time to wander around and take your time visiting the 5 towns.
Start in Monterosso al Mare
Monterosso al Mare is the largest of the 5 towns and is known for its beaches. This is the place to relax and spend some time swimming or hanging out at the beach.
If you want to swim, then it would be best to arrive here later in the day when it has warmed up. However, that is also when the crowds start to arrive. Starting your day off in Monterosso means you will have the beaches and town practically to yourself.
Once you are ready to head to the next town, you can choose to either hike to Vernazza or take the train. The hike from Monterosso to Vernazza is a 1.5-2 hour, 3.5km hike. I personally have not hiked this trail but have heard that it is nice.
We chose to take the train and to save the hike for the Vernazza -> Corniglia trail.
Vernazza is, in my opinion, the most spectacular of the 5 towns. It’s also the most crowded.
For the best views of Vernazza, head up to the trail towards Monterosso for the most famous view looking down on the town. Of course, if you hiked the trail from Monterosso, then you will see the views on your way into Vernazza.
We stopped for an early lunch in Vernazza to fuel up before our hike to Corniglia. We picked up a couple of pizza slices from Batti Batti’ Focacceria – it’s reasonably priced and filling.
After exploring the quaint streets and eating pizza at the port, we made our way up many steps through the town to continue our journey to Corniglia.
Hike to Corniglia
The trail to Corniglia from Vernazza is 4km and took us about 1.5 hours. It is a dirt trail with a few uphill and downhill climbs. Overall, I would say it’s a pretty moderate hike.
By this time, it was mid-afternoon and it was hot. Make sure to fill up your water bottle at a public tab in Vernazza to have enough for your hike. You will need it!
The views of the coast are incredible on this hike, and you pass vineyards and orchards along the way. We also stopped at a small store that was serving fresh orange and lemon granitas – the refreshment we needed to keep going!
If you end up taking the train to Corniglia instead of hiking, then take note that you will have to climb up 382 steps to get to the town from the station. It sits atop a hill and isn’t as easily accessible as the other towns.
Take the train to Manarola
Since the trail is closed between Corniglia and Manarola, you will need to catch the train from Corniglia.
Manarola is one of the most picturesque towns and is known for being the best out of the 5 towns to watch the sunset. You can find the best view by walking towards the water and turning right to walk up a path along the cliff.
If you brought your swimsuit, this is also a good opportunity for some swimming or rock jumping. You’ll find many people swimming in the small port near the rocks.
If you are hungry and want to pick up an early dinner, I have heard the restaurant Nessun Dorma is an incredible restaurant with great views of Manarola.
Last but not least, take the train and head to Riomaggiore. At this point, you might be a bit rushed to make your train home, especially if you made a visit to all 5 towns. You should have enough time to walk along the main street and head down to the water for a fantastic view of Riomaggiore from the water.
We probably spend the least amount of time here out of all of the towns since it is pretty small.
Once you are done here, take the train back to La Spezia to catch your train back to Florence.
Tips on Visiting the Cinque Terre
- Book all tickets ahead of time to avoid waiting in long lines, especially for the Cinque Terre Card.
- Visit in March, April, or October to avoid the crowds during the high season (May-September).
- Pack a refillable water bottle – you can fill up your water bottle at the public taps in each town. If you can’t find the tap, just ask someone working at a shop or restaurant and they can help you.
- Take sunscreen and a hat – it gets hot in the summer. If you are hiking, take snacks, sunscreen, and a hat to protect yourself from the heat.
- Bring your swimsuit just in case you want to swim!
- Take hiking shoes if you plan on hiking. The trails are not meant to be hiked in flip-flops or sandals because they are dusty and rocky at certain points.
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