After spending a week on the Amalfi Coast, I was curious to see how the Cinque Terre would compare. The two regions are the most celebrated stretches of coastline in Italy, and I’d say their popularity is pretty much equal. As it turns out, the two are quite similar in many ways, but there are some important differences between them.
The biggest difference between the two is that while on the Amalfi Coast you get around by bus, in the Cinque Terre you get around by train. This means that it’s much quicker and easier to hop between towns in the Cinque Terre than it is on the Amalfi Coast. It’s more comfortable, too, because the trains aren’t as crowded as the buses on the Amalfi Coast (although the seats on the train are almost always full and there are usually some people standing in the aisles).
When you arrive in the Cinque Terre, the first thing you do is buy a Cinque Terre card at any one of the train stations in the towns. This card gives you access to all the trails in the area and lets you ride the train between each of the towns for free as often as you want. It also gives you access to the toilets and the wifi in the train stations (although I never could get the wifi to work in any of the stations). You can choose to buy a card that’s valid for one day (16€), two days (29€), or three days (41€).
If I could give you one piece of advice about the Cinque Terre, it would be to NOT buy a three-day Cinque Terre card. I made the mistake of splashing out 41€ for a three-day card and later found out that all the trails except the Blue Path (the most popular trail) are free to hike. So really, I was paying 14€ a day just to ride the train around. Tickets for the train rides between each city are only 4€, and I knew I wasn’t going to be riding the train more than three times a day. Plus, the only trail that you have to pay for, the Blue Path, can easily be done in a single day. So it doesn’t really make sense to buy a pass that’s valid for longer than one day. Buy the one-day pass and hike the Blue Path, then just buy individual train tickets on subsequent days.
Hiking the Blue Path is definitely the one thing you should do if you do nothing else in the Cinque Terre. The first two parts of the trail — from Riomaggiorre to Manarola and from Manarola to Corniglia — are unfortunately closed until 2018, so you’ll have to skip them. Take the train to Corniglia, then hike to Vernazza, and from there hike to Monterosso. The trail is super easy to find as soon as you exit the train station in Corniglia. The views along the trail, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, are killer.
If you bought a two-day Cinque Terre card (which is only worth it if you plan on riding the train quite a few times), then you can spend your second day hopping between the five towns by train. Although they’re all quite similar in many ways, each town has its own unique vibe, so make sure to visit them all!
After you’ve seen all there is to see in the five towns, I recommend hopping on a bus and heading to the town of Portovenere for an afternoon. The bus stop is only a few minutes’ walk from La Spezia train station, and the ride only takes about 35 minutes. Portovenere is a beautiful town with great views of the sea. You can easily spend a couple of hours exploring Doria Castle and the Church of St. Peter.
My next and final stop on this trip (where did summer go?!) is the romantic city of Venice. Fingers crossed I meet a cute boy who invites me to take a sunset gondola ride with him along the canals. (I’m not getting my hopes up about that one.) Stay tuned!