Cinque Terre: How To See It In One Day

After traveling through Europe for many years with my family, attending a two week wedding in Thailand, taking a cruise through Alaska, hiking for miles in the mountains of Hawaii and being adventurous all over the world, I can honestly say that no place quite compares to the beauty of Cinque Terre. Here's a look into the best 12 hours of my travel life.

If you are ever in northern Italy, I highly recommend you adjust your trip in order to fit in at least one full day in Cinque Terre. For years I've bookmarked Pinterest pictures of this incredible area in Italy, never knowing where exactly it was or if I would ever get the opportunity to go there. I kept telling myself that one day when I have an established career and lots of money, I'll make it happen. I still can't believe my eyes when I look back on my pictures.

After booking a spur of the moment trip to Milan, my roommate and I did some research and decided to visit the place we had both been dreaming of for a very long time. The best part? It was actually affordable and easy to do on a student budget. I'll include a breakdown of the costs towards the end of this post (Keep in mind that I visited during 'off-season.' Prices are likely to increase during the Summer months). 

 Manarola, Cinque Terre.

Manarola, Cinque Terre.


Here's everything you need to know: Cinque Terre is a string of seaside villages along the Italian Riviera coastline. It consists of five small villages/towns:

  • Monterosso
  • Vernazza
  • Corniglia
  • Manarola 
  • Riomaggiore

Once you're within the general area of Cinque Terre, each town is accessible by train and it's fairly simple to get tickets and find the stations. The cost to get from town to town is around 2-3€ and they run quite frequently so it's unnecessary to check timings beforehand. There is also a hike trail that runs between the towns. If you have more time in Cinque Terre then you should look into that as it's supposed to be incredible.

My roommate and I stayed in Milan and did Cinque Terre as a day trip during the second week of March. The weather was perfect (not too hot but definitely warm enough to wear shorts and a light long sleeve). We had originally wanted to spend the night, however, we decided against it as we didn't want to drag our luggage along and change our flights. We started our day by taking the 6AM train from Milano Centrale to La Spezia Centrale which is about a three hour ride. La Spezia Centrale is the closest train station that gives you access to the five towns of Cinque Terre. Our intentions were to sleep during the morning ride but the views along the coast made it impossible to close our eyes.

 6AM Train from Milan - La Spezia

6AM Train from Milan - La Spezia

We arrived in La Spezia at around 9AM. Most shops and restaurants were closed due it to being so early. We wandered around and enjoyed the serenity of the quiet streets. 

We didn't have many expectations for La Spezia as it isn't officially part of the 5 Cinque Terre towns, however, we were pleasantly surprised. We were only in the city for a few hours but I would go back in a heartbeat. It was a nice change from being in the hustle of Milan. I'm used to seeing touristy cities filled with construction, noise and lots of people. This was quite the opposite. 

Each building is formed with vibrant colours and simplicity. You could tell that majority of the locals have been living there for quite some time. 

 La Spezia, Italy.

La Spezia, Italy.

 La Spezia, Italy.

La Spezia, Italy.

We wandered through La Spezia with no map and no plan and ended up passing through Porto Mirabello where we admired all the palm trees. The port overlooked the entire city. It felt like we were somewhere tropical.

 Porto Mirabello - La Spezia, Italy.

Porto Mirabello - La Spezia, Italy.

After spending a few hours in La Spezia, we headed to our first Cinque Terre destination: Manarola. I honestly had to step back and blink a few times to make sure I was standing infront of reality. The pictures don't do it justice. We followed a trail that runs through the high points of Manarola, giving you the perfect panorama view of the town and is an optimal place for photos. 

 Nessun Dorma - Manarola, Cinque Terre.

Nessun Dorma - Manarola, Cinque Terre.

 Manarola, Cinque Terre.

Manarola, Cinque Terre.

If you follow me on social media then you most definitely saw the lunch I had in Manarola. 

 Nessun Dorma - Manarola, Cinque Terre.

Nessun Dorma - Manarola, Cinque Terre.

Behind the scenes of the fancy 'luxurious' lunch I had above a postcard worthy view: It only costed me 12 ($18 CAD) for my meal and wine. Can you believe that? I've paid more for street food in Amsterdam. The restaurant is called Nessun Dorma and it's the perfect spot to grab a bite to eat and a glass of wine (or two). You can check out their website here. If you are traveling during peak season in the summer months, I suggest having an early lunch as this is one of the main hotspots to eat/drink at and gets fairly busy. The staff were incredibly friendly and the food was phenomenal (get the tuna salad and bruschetta). 

Shortly after lunch, we headed to our last stop: Riomaggiore. It's hard not to fall in love with the Cinque Terre towns. I noticed that Riomaggiore is a little more relaxed - there were less people and the area in general was rather calm. 

 Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre.

Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre.

 Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre.

Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre.

After walking through the town for about an hour, we decided to have a break and grab a coffee/dessert at Enoteca Dau Cila. (You can check them out on Trip Advisor here). Not only was the view stunning, but hands down, the best tiramisu and cappuccino I've ever had. There are a few other restaurants in this area so you won't have a problem finding a variety of options for meals, snacks or a drink. The location was perfect as we sat on the patio which overlooked the Tyrrhenian Sea. 

 Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre.

Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre.

When planning our day, we knew we wanted to stay for sunset. I'm glad we decided to see it from Riomaggiore as it was absolutely breathtaking. We bounced back and fourth from a few different areas to try and find the perfect spot and we ended up parking ourselves on a few rocks near the water.

For all of those traveling on a tight budget, here is a cost breakdown of my 12 hours in Cinque Terre:

Trenitalia (Train) - Milano Centrale to La Spezia Centrale 19.90€ 

Trenitalia (Train) - La Spezia Centrale to Manarola 2.10€ 

Trenitalia (Train) - Manarola to Riomaggiore 2.10€ 

Nessun Dorma (Restaurant) - Lunch & Wine 12.00€

Enoteca Dau Cila (Restaurant) - Coffee & Dessert 6.20€ 

(We grabbed a light dinner from the train station when we arrived back in Milano).

If you have any questions about visiting Cinque Terre or Italy (I've seen almost all that the country has to offer from previous travels), feel free to comment on this post or reach out to me in the Contact tab. Happy traveling!

-S.