How to Do Cinque Terre in a Day

How to do a short day trip to Cinque Terre from Milan.

While in Milan back in March, I decided to do a day trip to Cinque Terre. I would have LOVED to stay at least a night there, but with very limited amount of time, we have to pick our travel battles.

I only had a total of five hours in Cinque Terre. Instead of trying to visit all five towns, I chose to spend longer amounts of time at two towns – Monterosso and Manarola. Monterosso, for its beaches, and Manarola for the money shot.

From Milan to Cinque Terre

There are direct trains from Milan to Cinque Terre, and would take about three hours per way. That means a total of six hours of return travel time. Which is more than the amount of time I actually had in Cinque Terre itself. Sad, but like I said – pick your travel battles.

I took the earliest train available at 6am from Milan Central Station, and arrived into Monterosso al Mare station at about 9am. Monterosso is the first of the five Cinque Terre towns.

Train Travel Between Towns 

Upon arrival at Monterosso, make your way to the tourist office. It is located at the train station itself and faces the beach. Ask for the train schedule. The quickest and most convenient way to travel between towns is by taking the train. The trains  are the best way to travel between towns since each stop is a short five minutes away.

I was there on 31st March, and the trains ran hourly. I could have rushed to visit all five towns, but that would have required intense amounts of timekeeping and coordinating – I couldn’t miss even a single train or I might miss my train back to Milan.

If I’d just gone a day later, on 1st April, the trains would run every half hour. I probably would have been able to visit more towns if that were the case.

Before you leave the tourist office, you might want to ask for a cute chop for the passport. Cinque Terre’s chop, though not official, is one of the cutest I’ve seen.

Hiking in Cinque Terre

While at the tourist office, ask which hiking routes are open. I really wanted to do a quick hike while at Cinque Terre, but I read online that a lot of the paths were close. Landslides and flooding and such are quite common.

Specifically, I wanted to do the easy hour-long hike from Riomaggiore to Manarola. The only hike available then was the Vernazza to Monterosso route, and that would need at least two hours. I decided to skip hiking altogether since I don’t have much time this time round. I think hiking would have been a lovely way to travel between towns.

Do note that you do need to purchase a park pass if you choose to hike the trails.

Monterosso – for the Beaches

Five quaint fishing villages make up Cinque Terre – Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. This collection of mini seaside towns is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Not only are the villages beautifully preserved, the marina park is also protected. This explains why the waters were so incredibly clear and clean! I could not get over how blue the water was.

Monterosso is characterized by its long, sandy beaches.The moment I exited the train station, I immediately saw the pristine beach. As I arrived early, the beach was empty.

The beach bunny in me stirred but she shrank back when I touched the waters… Cold. I imagine this be one of my future beach bum spots in the warmer months. When I returned here at about 1pm when its warmer, the beach filled up with sunbathers and sunseekers.

I had lunch at one of the sea side restaurants as well. The food was nothing to boast about, but I did enjoy sitting by the sea and enjoying the salty breeze. 

Manarola – for the Money Shot

There’s an idyllic scene that is often used as a quintessential Cinque Terre shot on the Instagram. That specific scene is located in Manarola, and that was one of the reasons why I chose the village over the rest.

Quick Tip: For better photos, try to arrive noon and beyond. The mornings are not prime time to take the money shot, due to backlight.

While waiting for the sun to come up a bit more, I explored the town with its steep hills and brightly-coloured buildings. Some souvenir options to consider here include food ingredients (such as my favourite Italian pepperoncini), pasta, spiced olive oils and a lot of artisanal handmade soap.

I made a pitstop at 5Terre Gelateria, which specialised in vegan and dairy-free products. I could use a morning coffee so I ordered the Affogato and topped it with lactose-free white chocolate gelato. Very yummy. The gelato was not too sweet and despite being lactose-free, still had the milky richness. Highly recommended.

As I explored further upwards, I came across a peaceful cemetery perched atop a cliff. To spend your last days on earth up here… doesn’t seem like a bad idea.

I also had a quick lunch/snack at the Nessun Dorma Café. I ordered anchovies since it was  the regional specialty. It was SO SALTY. Did not enjoy that one. The café does have some solid views, so I wouldn’t say it was a wasted meal.

Conclusion: I highly recommend an overnight stay to at least stop by all five pretty villages. While I loved my very relaxed time in Cinque Terre, I agreed it was too short. One of the reasons why I didn’t want to stay longer was because Cinque Terre terrain is not exactly conducive for traveling with heavy luggage.

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