I can’t believe it’s been almost 2 months since I began my Italian adventure and first laid eyes on Cinque Terre. Of all the places I’ve been, I think that the towns of Cinque Terre definitely takes top prize in absolutely breathtaking views no matter where you look. It also doesn’t hurt that the regional food is delicious. Even though I had an amazing time in Cinque Terre there are definitely some things I would do differently and others that I wouldn’t change for the world. Below you’ll find the do’s & don’ts I’ll be using to plan my next trip there (which yes is already in the works!).
- Get in Shape Beforehand – Even if you are not hiking the trails, you will still be getting a workout while in Cinque Terre. If you aren’t in the greatest shape, now is the time to start doing some walking and stair climbing so that your body doesn’t go into exercise shock before you even get to your hotel!
- Try the Anchovies, Pesto, & Local Wines – I don’t care if you think you don’t like anchovies, the ones you get in the States are NOT the same as the ones that you get in Cinque Terre fresh out of the Ligurian sea. I tried them salt cured and lemon cured and they were both out of this world. The pesto is also another must try. The local wines are definitely a bit different than your typical white wines, but pair perfectly with the local cuisine!
- Go to Winexperience & Belforte – Both Wineexperience and Belforte are in Vernazza high up on the cliffs above the sea. At Winexperience, I recommend getting there a bit early so you can watch the sunset. They have both wines by the glass and flights of wine along with a few appetizers. I recommend trying a flight of local wines along with the anchovy platter! Belforte is one of the most recommended restaurants you’ll find in Cinque Terre and it totally deserves the recognition. Be sure to stop by to make a reservation the day before you plan to go (or be prepared to come back the next night) since they book up fairly quickly. You’ll definitely want a table outside to enjoy the beautiful view. We went at lunch, and personally I think that’s the best time to go and really enjoy the view. If you can convince your dining partner, be sure to order the selection of 5 fishes appetizer to start. You also can’t go wrong with squid ink pasta for your main! Be sure to plan to spend at least an hour and a half eating both at lunch and dinner!
- Rent a Kayak or Paddleboard – While I brought a bathing suit, I really didn’t figure I’d end up wanting to go swimming, kayaking, or paddleboarding, but just one look at the beautiful water made me wish I had more time to enjoy it. You should definitely not repeat my mistake and plan to spend at least a few hours enjoying the water. Montorosso has a beach where you can rent lounge chairs while Vernazza, Manarola, & Riomaggiore have less traditional beaches. No matter what after a morning of climbing hills and stairs, you’ll definitely be glad to be cooling off in the water!
- Take the Ferry – While the train may be cheaper, the views you get while riding the ferry make it worth every penny! You can buy one way, round trip, or day passes so be sure to take a look at the price and decide which makes most sense for you!
- Explore the Towns in the Morning – We explored Montorosso in the morning and it was like a ghost town. Sure some of the stores hadn’t quite opened yet, but there was also zero crowds to weave in and out of. Since Cinque Terre is a huge destination for day trips and tour groups, from about 10am to 5pm the towns can be a bit on the over crowded side, but before 10am they are much more quiet and relaxing so be sure to take advantage!
- Get Lost Exploring – Since the invention of the smart phone, it’s a bit harder to get lost these days, but the towns in Cinque Terre are definitely a place where you can put away the phones and maps and just wander. I promise you won’t be able to get too far off the beaten track so the worst that can happen is you’ll walk up 3 flights of steps and reach a dead end that has a beautiful view!
- Read Up Before Going – You’re already on the right track for this one since you’re reading this post, but I am in no way shape or form an expert on Cinque Terre. Bianca’s posts on the Italian Fix were definitely some of my favorites. She helped me not only plan what I wanted to see but also had great restaurant suggestions! There are also a ton of other blogs and travel guide books/sites to help you get an idea of what trails to take and what hidden corners to explore!
- Don’t Try to see everything – Somehow I showed up to Cinque Terre thinking in about 26 hours I would be able to see the major highlights of all 5 towns, and boy was I wrong. Be sure to tailor your trip to the time you’ll be there. If you’re staying less than 2 nights you should really focus on only 3 towns at most. We ended up seeing four but didn’t really get to explore in depth any of them other than Vernazza where we were staying. My next trip back I’ll definitely be planning to spend at least 5 nights so I can spend a full day in each town and get to do some hiking and lounging by the sea!
- Don’t Use the Ferry as your Only Mode of Transportation – The ferry is definitely a great way to see Cinque Terre and it obviously made it onto my DO list, but don’t plan on taking it in between every town unless you want to climb a lot of extra steps. We took it from Vernazza to Riomaggiore to Manarola before heading back to Vernazza. In both Riogmaggiore and Manarola, we added a lot of extra steps that we wouldn’t have had to climb if we’d taken the train. I would recommend taking it between Vernazza and Montorosso and maybe you’re home base, but other than that just hop on and make the loop and enjoy the beautiful views!
- Don’t Assume the Major Trails will be Open – While I knew my aunt and I wouldn’t be doing any serious hiking, I was hoping we could do the easiest trail, the Via dell’Amore, which is between Riomaggiore and Manarola. While the trail has unfortunately been closed for a few years due to a mudslide, I was happy that I found this out before my trip and planned other things to do. You can check the status of each trail plus find out a lot of other useful information like difficulty and distance here.
- Don’t Forget Bug Spray – I have to admit that this is something I didn’t think of going in September, but the zanzare (yes I learned the Italian word for mosquitoes) absolutely loved me. Luckily the hotel room had a mosquito zapper since there were no screens, but unfortunately that didn’t protect me while we were out to dinner.
- Don’t Forget to Validate your Train Tickets – So this is more of a tip for Italy in general, but make sure you validate those train tickets (and bus tickets too!). We saw so many tourists have to pay fines because they didn’t validate their ticket before getting on board. The machines are fairly well marked and most tickets say on the back whether or not they need to be validated.
- Don’t Wear Yourself Out on the First Day – Whether you’re hiking or not, it’s super easy to push yourself beyond your limits in Cinque Terre between the steep hills and SO MANY steps! Be sure to pace yourself on your first day and wear appropriate shoes, otherwise you’ll be hurting the rest of your trip.
- Don’t Spend Less Than Two Nights – We only spent one night and if you’re coming from more than 2 hours away, you’ll really end up missing out. While we managed to fit a lot into 28 hours, even one more night would have allowed us to see all 5 towns (instead of just 4) and not rush when seeing things or worry about train/ferry schedules. If you’re on a budget, you can always stay in a town that’s not too far away such as Genoa or La Spezia the first night so you can arrive first thing.
I can’t wait to go back to Cinque Terre and spend more time exploring, hiking, and enjoying the water! Have you been to Cinque Terre? What else should we add to our list of dos & don’ts?