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Cinque Terre Day Trip: How to Plan

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A Cinque Terre day trip is one of our favorite things to do while we are in Florence. Escaping the heat and enjoying the beautiful Mediterranean Sea is something we could do over and over again. We have probably made about 10 different trips to Cinque Terre and we have stayed the night. So as you might imagine, we have become quite proficient in planning a Cinque Terre day trip from Florence. 

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How to Plan Cinque Terre Day Trip

Most people who visit the major cities in central to northern Italy (from Rome to Florence and even to Milan), find themselves longing for the seaside villages of Cinque Terre. The problem is, how do you plan a day trip from Florence to Cinque Terre. Planning a day trip to Cinque Terre from Florence will require a bit of research and a lot of energy. Or, you can just follow the tips below!

From Rome and Milan, a day trip to Cinque is quite difficult as the journey is 4+ hours by train. However, from Florence, you can reach Cinque Terre in about 2.5 hours by train. So how do you do it? Well, here are our tips for the most efficient way to do Cinque Terre as a day trip!

Staying in Florence? Check out our Florence travel guide!

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Florence to Cinque Terre Day Trip

If you try to buy a train ticket from Florence to Cinque Terre you’ll quickly find that Cinque Terre isn’t an available destination. From Florence, you can either train to Pisa and then La Spezia, or directly from Florence to La Spezia. La Spezia is the main coastal town just south of the Cinque Terre and from there you can take a short regional train to any of the 5 towns. Depending on the time of day, it may be faster to travel through Pisa or it may be faster to travel directly to La Spezia. Be sure to check the total travel time and arrival time before purchasing your ticket. Just because one train departs a few minutes before the other does not mean that it will arrive before the other.

Booking Train Tickets From Florence to Cinque Terre

You 2 train options from Firenze SMN to La Spezia Centrale are a direct regional train from Firenze SMN to La Spezia Centrale or a route through Pisa with 1 change.

Firenze SMN to La Spezia Centrale

If you’re certain of your departure and return times, you can easily purchase your train tickets from Florence to Cinque Terre online. Typically, if we aren’t certain of our travel times, we will wait until we arrive at the train station to purchase our tickets. However, because the trains from Florence to Cinque Terre run through La Spezia, they’re all regional trains. In Italy, regional trains have only 2nd class cabins, and no seats are assigned. As such, your regional train ticket is an open ticket. You need to punch/validate the ticket before departure. Do note that some of the trains may require a reservation as the Pisa to La Spezia route does run as a fast train.

Firenze SMN to Pisa Centrale to La Spezia Centrale

If you’re traveling through Pisa, note that you will be required to book an additional reservation as the leg from Pisa to La Spezia is a fast train and requires you to book a seat. The reason for traveling through Pisa would be that it is faster in certain cases. While it requires a change of train, you can sometimes arrive in La Spezia faster than the direct regional train from Florence.

If you prefer to wait until you get to the train station, the automated machines are quite good and you can pay with your credit card.

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Start early

Each day there are direct trains from Florence SMN to La Spezia Centrale at 06:08 and 09:53. Granted, train times might change depending on the season so be sure to download the Rail Planner app and check the timetables. The app is an offline database and as such doesn’t require wifi or data, so you can check train times without service. Score!

In order to ensure you have a chance to see most of the towns, we advise you to take the 06:08 train, however, if you need to leave during the 07:00 or 08:00 hours, you’ll take the route through Pisa.

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Have a return plan

Italian trains can sometimes be canceled or delayed and in Cinque, this is unfortunately very common. Check the train timetables and be sure to know your return options. Depending on which town you are in before leaving Cinque Terre, be sure you know how long the train takes to arrive in La Spezia. It is probably smart to make room for a 10-20 minute train from any of the towns in Cinque Terre to La Spezia, and then time to make a connection to catch a train from La Spezia to Florence (which might require a change in Pisa). Our best advice is to leave 1 train of cushion. Don’t take the last train (you might get stuck without a train home)! Rather, eat an early dinner and take the penultimate train to ensure that you don’t get stuck.

If you miss the last train from La Spezia to Florence, you will be stuck in La Spezia or Pisa. Because of a canceled train in Vernazza, we once ended up training from Vernazza to La Spezia and arriving after the final train had departed for Florence that night. We had to organize a €250 taxi to Pisa with 5 different strangers from 5 different countries and from there we took a bus back to Florence. This took HOURS, cost us way too much money, and stressed us out. So, make sure you leave some room for error since the Italian train system isn’t perfect.

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Know what towns you want to see

Cinque is Italian for 5, so as you can expect, there are 5 towns in Cinque Terre. If you’re making a day trip, we suggest you see the 3 most popular, which we believe are also the 3 most beautiful: Manarola, Vernazza, and Monterosso al Mare. If you get off a train in a given town, know that you’re in that town for 45 minutes to an hour until the next train comes. Trains generally run once per hour each direction between the towns.

If you have time, be sure to visit Riomaggiore and Corniglia as well, but know that there is far less to do in the towns.

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Do the hike…but only part

The hike between Vernazza and Monterosso is one of the most beautiful hikes in the world and hiking Cinque Terre is one of the most appealing reasons to visit. It can be time-consuming, especially if you are only doing a day trip! However, you can get the gist of the hike by simply hiking from the center of Vernazza up to the vantage point over Vernazza (which offers the most beautiful view in Cinque Terre). This should take no more than 10 minutes each direction versus the potential 2-4 hours one might spend to hike between Monterosso al Mare and Vernazza.

*Do note that you will be required to purchase a Cinque Terre trekking card to hike certain portions of the trail*

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Eat dessert before dinner

There are very few things in this world that are more enjoyable than a delicious homemade gelato on a hot day. After hiking and swimming in the hot Mediterranean sun all day,  you’re going to want to treat yourself to a delicious gelato. When we are in Italy, we eat gelato every day – usually 2-3 times per day. Considering you will likely have to rush to your train after dinner, be sure to treat yourself to dessert before dinner. Gelateria Vernazza is the best gelateria in Cinque Terre.

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Eat an early dinner

Eating dinner before 20:00 or 21:00 is not particularly common for Italians. Most restaurants in Italy don’t even open until about 19:30. However, if you want to have time to enjoy your meal and ensure that you don’t miss your train, you’ll want to sit down for dinner by 18:00 or 18:30. If you have followed our suggestions thus far, you’ll be hungry by this point of the day anyway. Any time we wake up around 05:00 and spend the day hiking and swimming, we tend to eat an earlier dinner anyway. There’s a huge benefit to eating an early dinner in Cinque Terre anyway….you’ll beat the crowds. Be sure not to get too caught up in wine and conversation. Otherwise, you might miss your train and have to get a hotel for the night. Hm…at the end of the day, maybe that wouldn’t be so bad?

Getting back to Florence

The summer train timetables are sometimes different than those throughout the rest of the year. As noted above, be sure to check the Rail Planner app for up-to-date schedules. Typically in high seasons, the last direct train from La Spezia Centrale to Florence leaves at 19:09.

There are trains that go from La Spezia Centrale > Pisa Centrale > Firenze SMN at 19:23, 20:03, and 21:23. If you miss the 21:23 from La Spezia, you won’t be getting back to Florence until at least 02:34 the next day.

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36 Comments

  1. Carine says:

    Hello,
    Did you do a day trip to cinque terre in winter? Jan or Feb

  2. Gretchen says:

    My daughter is thinking of spending two days in Cinque Terre. Is there enough to do for a 2 day visit? Where is a good place to stay the night?

    • If she likes to eat, drink wine, and lay by the sea, then yes. If she would get bored in a town that shuts down early at night and is quiet and charming, maybe just a day trip. Personally, we could spend a good bit of time in Cinque.

  3. Selina says:

    Hi,

    Would it be possible to do a day tour from Florence covering Pisa leaning tower followed by Cinque Terre and back to Florence on the same day?

    Thanks.

  4. MJ says:

    Hey..thanks for this useful information! I wonder is it possible Florence – Cinque Terre and then continue my way to Rome from La Spezia, I checked the schedule and there’s an overnight train either Manarola & La Spezia around 11.45 PM, since you said the town will shut down earlier at night so what do you think the best way to wait until my train departure? Since I am planning to go alone. What do you think?

    Cheers,
    MJ

    • Thanks for the question MJ – it’s a good one. You’ll want to double check because to the best of my memory the overnight train is like 5-6 hours long or something ridiculous (not sure if there are sleeper trains). But yeah – Florence to La Spezia – Cinque in the morning is feasible and then I would say you could honestly take the 19:30 or 20:00 train toward Rome from La Spezia. Download the Rail Planner app (it’s available offline and helps with timetables).

  5. Damir says:

    Hy,
    my girlfriend and I booked 2 nights in Genoa this summer. We are planing to spend one day in Cinque Terre (CT). The plan is to take early train from Genoa and to come at 9.00 to CT. In every village/city in CT we would like to spend 1-2 (it perhaps of what we can see in each city). From each city we would go with train, and maybe one or two rout on foot. what do you thing is it possible to see every city in one day? And how good is train connection from Genoa to CT

    • Hey Damir,

      Your question is a bit confusing as you seem to be asking a couple different questions. We have seen all 5 towns of Cinque Terre in just 1 day…not 1 day for each town. We have never stayed the night in Cinque Terre. Not sure of the train between Genoa, check the timetables online.

  6. rabab says:

    hello
    would it be possible to plan a day trip from Sanremo to Cinque terre? or should it be a least two days?
    Do you think it is worth visiting for one day? would it be so difficult for a foreigner? I only speak English

  7. Alexis Ochoa says:

    Hello 🙂
    Any restaurants in either Manarola, Vernazza, and Monterosso that you recommend?
    Thank you.

  8. Francine Schraier says:

    Plan to visit Cinque Terre for one day! Arriving by ship to Livorno on 8/26/17! Plan to have private driver meet us at port, 2 hour drive to Cinque Terre and then we’re on our own till we meet driver to return to ship for 8 pm departure. We know it’s a better value to take the train; concerned about train schedules and making it back to ship on time. Per your recommendation is it realistic to see Manarola, Vernazza and Monterosso? What about Riomaggiore? It’s been suggested we take a coastal cruise from Manarola to Monterosso; thoughts? We also have option to use guide for the day in addition to transportation. We’d prefer to do this on our own. Looking forward to hearing from you! Appreciate your wisdom!

    • Hey Francine! Not sure what time you’re being dropped off in the morning, but you could feasibly see Manarola, Vernazza, and Monterosso in a period of an afternoon. There is a train that runs in between the towns hourly. If money isn’t a concern, however, you might enjoy the boat between Manarola > Vernazza > Monterosso. We have never leveraged a water taxi, so I can’t advise on price. I wouldn’t expect it to be cheaper than 100 EUR though.

      The trains in Italy are somewhat reliable (sometimes a bit delayed, but usually not a problem). The trains running through Cinque Terre, however, can be a bit off. Not usually an issue, but something to be cautious of. Note that we suggested always taking 1 train before your last option in case it’s canceled or delayed. You can also make it from Livorno CLE to La Spezia CLE in an hour (and then take a short train from there to Manarola)…but that puts you almost at the 2 hour mark as well, so if you don’t mind the cost, the private car would be nice.

  9. melissa says:

    We also plan to visit CT for 1 day while in port at La Spezia. We’d like to take an early train all the way to Monterosso and work our way back to La Spezia, hopefully using ferry for part of it and not dead set on seeing every village if we are pressed for time. Any itinerary you could suggest? Have 2 teenage boys and ok to do a short hike if it’s worth the view.

  10. Marlene says:

    Thanks for all your advice. Extremely helpful, esp the part of the hike to focus on!

  11. sophia says:

    Do you think it is ok to drive up to visit Cinque? We have hired a car but I am not sure about the parking situation?

    • Hi Sophia! I’d try a quick Google search because I have no idea. I don’t believe most of the towns are accessible by car, but I know that some are. I would imagine it easiest to park at the train station in La Spezia and then take the train from there (20 minutes or so to the first towns).

  12. Gabriel See says:

    Hi,

    We will have 4 days in Florence during our tour to Italy in June 2018.
    So we decided to have 1 day trip to Cinque Terre to visit 2 cities perhaps.
    We should buy tickets to Cinque Terre at La Spezia Station or Firenze SNM Station?
    Please advice, thank you.

  13. Taina O says:

    Hello,

    We will be doing a 2 week Italy trip in May,
    We want to see the leaning tower in Pisa and spend a day in Cinque Terre, how would you recommend we go about this? Should we leave from Florence and spend a day in cinque, return to Florence and then the next day do a separate trip to Pisa? Is there any way we could do both in one day to save the back and forth? Also, would you know if in May it will be warm enough for swimming? Thank you 🙂

    • Personally, I’d skip Pisa and enjoy your time in Florence and Cinque.

      If you are set on Pisa, it’s only like an hour from Florence, so super easy to do separately. You can, however, train through Pisa on your way to Cinque (but again, that would waste time you could spend in Cinque).

      Yes, it is warm enough for swimming in May.

  14. Sano says:

    Hi!
    im going to Florence this coming April 30- May 2 and i plan to take a day trip to Cinque terre with a surprise proposal for her.
    Can you please give me some details about how your fiance did it ? Thank so muchQ

    • Hey Sano I’m happy I’m seeing this comment now just before you take off for Italy! I looked into a local photographer in Positano and paid him to hide out near where I planned to propose. I’m sure you can find a local photographer in Cinque Terre. If not, hand your camera to someone and mention you’re going to propose and ask them to take pictures. -Michael

  15. Bhavita says:

    Hi there! Thank you for all the useful tips! So my husband and I are going to Rome and then traveling to Santa Margherita Ligure. We arrive in Santa Margherita Ligure around 4pm. We are in SML from 4pm until 9am the next morning, then leaving for Florence. We were told we will need to take a cab/train from SML to get closer to cinque terre. I know it’s a super short trip, but seeing as how we are short on time, what would you recommend is the fastest way to see most of cinque terre? We were thinking we may go see 1-2 towns that evening and try to do 2-3 towns early in the morning. Is there any tips on what we need to prioritize or how we should structure our time to make the most of the short stay?

    • Hey Bhavita! Why are you going from Rome, past Florence, to Santa Margherita, and then back to Florence? The train from SML to Cinque Terre is short and easy. I would do that.

      But if I’m being honest, I think you’re trying to cram too much into the very short window of time you have. If your day goes as my travel days usually do, you won’t arrive in SML at 4pm. You could MAYBE train into Cinque for dinner but you need to know that the trains stop running about 10pm and the town shuts down around then as well. Check the train timetables because I’m not sure exactly when the trains start from SML to Cinque in the morning. You can travel through Cinque Terre on your way to Florence, but know that nothing (shops, restaurants, etc.) will be open. If you want to just swim/take pictures/etc, then this works. But again, I think you’re trying to cram too much into a 17 hour window.

  16. Avanish says:

    Hi dear,
    My daughter wife and myself are spending about 12 days in Italy and will be in Florence in 2nd week of June for 3 days, we have one more day to spare :), before we move to Venice. Would you suggest we do a day trip to CT and come back to Florence or stay at Vernazza / Manarola? And is there a train connection from Venzerra / La Spezia to Venice?

    • Hi Avanish! A day trip to CT would be an awesome way to spend your last day! You’ll have to check the timetables to Venice, but I would assume it would be much easier to get to Venice from Florence (it’s only 1 hour 40 minutes from Firenze SMN to Venezia). You’d probably enjoy not lugging your bags to CT, changing hotels, and having to then do the same the next day on your way to Venice, so its probably smarter to keep your accommodation in Florence. Just a thought.

  17. J says:

    Hello!

    My partner and I will be staying in Florence for 4 nights was intending to cover pisa and cinque terre ( given that they are nearby).
    Was wondering if that is a good idea to enjoy

    Thank you!
    Grazie

  18. Ines says:

    Hi , I will go to Cinque terre in June. About how much is the train cost between La Spezia and the small Villages?
    Do I need to buy train ticket in advance? To go from la Spezia to the towns?
    Is there a ticket to visit all 5 towns or need to buy a ticket for each of them?

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