Geonva was our first stop in Italy via the train from Monaco. It was a pretty short and lovely ride along the coast. Immediately upon arrival, Genova gave us that small-town, old Italy feel. We were fortunate enough to stay in a Piazza in the center of the city. It was pretty special being able to rent an apartment in Piazza dei Guistiniani because we could feel the history and importance of the building as soon as we pulled up and saw the gorgeous entryway. That’s the joy of using AirBnB in Italy instead of the typical hotel experience - you really get a good bang for your buck!
The entire city of Genova is easily covered in 1 or 2 days, depending on how much you want to see. It seems all the cities we’ve visited in Europe (thus far) have a “mini train” that takes you through the top attractions and Genova is no different. On our first full day, we road Il Trenino Pippo , a 45 minute train tour that cost €8 per person. There were no stops along the way but it helped us understand the size and layout of the city.
There are 13 main sights to see in Genova but the only ones we were intrigued by are as follows:
1) Porto Antico – This is the main harbor or port area which is lively and lovely. You catch all the boat tours from here, there are cafes, restaurants and tourist shops galore in this area. You will also find the Aquarium here. While we were in Genova, they had a street food festival going on as well; so, we had the opportunity to try local foods from local vendors which was overpriced but still fun, just like any U.S. street fair.
2) Via Garibaldi and Via Cairoli streets have an impressive network of palaces and residences which are considered UNESCO World Heritage Sites. All were built between the mid-sixteenth and late eighteenth century with the purpose of promoting the city’s urban development and offering properties for the privileged. Some of the buildings are now museums that welcome visitors. These buildings belong to the system of museums of Strada Nuova. The highlights are: Palazzo Rosso, Palazzo Bianco, and Palazzo Tusi. The Genoa Museum Card gives you 1 day access to all the Strada Nuova museums AND free admission to 20+ museums throughout the city for €12 per person. If you are a museum buff, this is your best bet!
3) Gelata Museo del Mare – A huge maritime museum (largest in the Mediterranean) with reconstructed ships, artifacts, a submarine and an opportunity to learn about the lives of sailors, passengers and immigrants. It’s indoor and outdoor as well. An excellent museum visit for the whole family (€12 per adult/€7 per child).
4) In the center of Genova is the Piazza De Ferrari which is the intersection point for Genova’s busiest streets and can’t be missed because of its huge splashing fountain. From here, you can walk down Genoa's principal street, Via XX Settembre, and adjacent streets to see the outstanding Art Nouveau facades and experience the shopping.
5) Cathedral di San Lorenzo – A Romanesque cathedral built in the 1100s, built to hold the remains of St. John the Baptist. It’s quite a beautiful cathedral, the prettiest in Genova in our opinion.
6) Casa di Colombo – This is house where Christopher Columbus lived as a child. There is not much to see here but it’s a quick little detour.
As you can see from our write up and any research you do on the city, the majority of sites to see in Genova revolve around noble palaces built from the 16th to 18th centuries.
The most fun way for us to see it all was to “get lost” in the winding streets of the city. There are many gems to stumble upon including antique shops, boutiques, pizzerias, pubs, cafes, and many excellent restaurants.
Wandering the streets of Genova without a plan is your best bet. You can cover all of the main attractions on foot in about 1 day.
On our last day in the city, we discovered the Righi lift or officially the Zecca-Righi Funiculare, a cableway built in the 1800s that takes you to the ancient forts of the city. Exit the lift and walk on the path up. After about 15 minutes, you will be walking along the fortress walls and will catch the beautiful views of the Bisagno Valley before descending to the Righi-Zecca funicular, aboard which you can return to the city. The beauty of the photos was well worth the extra hike/walk!
Genova’s claim to food-fame is that it’s the birthplace of Pesto, a sauce made from olive oil and basil. You must try pasta al pesto while in Genova!
Focaccia is also very popular in Genova and Liguria. Focaccia is a flat, oven-baked bread that’s similar to pizza and typically topped with olive oil, salt, herbs, cheese and vegetables and/or meat.
And finally, because it’s a coastal town, Genova offers a plethora of amazing shell fish, especially mussels and grilled mixed fish platters.
The one restaurant we really enjoyed and highly recommend is La Buca di San Matteo. The ambiance and service were nice and the food was traditional Ligurian style.
Aqaurium & Porto Antico
By far, the most memorable thing we experienced while in Genova was our day trip and ferry boat ride aboard the Golfo Paradiso (http://www.golfoparadiso.it/) which took us on a full-day tour of the Italian Riviera from Porto Antico to Camogli, San Fruttuoso, and Portofino.
The best deal is the Green Line tour so you can see as much of the coast as possible in 1 day. The boat leaves at 9am and operates on most days during the summer months but can sometimes be shut down due to weather and winds. Check out the link above for tour options, dates, times and pricing. It's well worth it!
Camogli was our first stop on the tour. It is a small, charming fishing village worth a visit. These days, it Is mainly a tourist location with excellent shops, restaurants and a few beach areas. 2 hours on shore is plenty to experience this town before you hop back aboard the boat and head to San Fruttuoso, an old seaside monastery that you would never find unless you know where you’re going! Adding to its exclusive nature, you can only reach San Fruttuoso by sea or on foot, hiking the local nature trails from the National park of Portofino. From our experience, a quick 1 hour visit was enough, unless you want to enjoy the beach and swimming on the Liguria coastline. It’s the best beach area of the 3 stops on the tour.
Finally and most memorable was our stop at Portofino! Portofino is the definition of a beautifully manicured coastal town. And because of this, It’s one of the most popular port towns in the Italian Rivera. Be enchanted by the multi-colored buildings and the turquoise sea backed by Monte Portofino. Head to the center of Portofino, and enjoy the people watching and luxury yachts anchored in the harbor. You are sure to see a celebrity or two while in Portofino!
Discover the castle and the Church of San Giorgio and enjoy magnificent views of the Mediterranean coastline with its steep cliffs. Then, make sure to stop into the high-end and elegant boutiques if you have money to spend OR enjoy lunch or dinner at one of the amazing restaurants in Portofino. We had a wonderful lunch at the Hotel Piccolo on the terrace, overlooking the sea. The view was magnificent and the food was just as good!
All in all, Camogli, San Fruttuoso and Portofino all provided a wonderfully memorable experience along the Italian Riviera, all for the very reasonable price of €23 per person. You can even take boat trips further down the coast and see the Cinque Terre as well!
We will be covering off on Cinque Terre during our stop in La Spezia. So stay tuned for more highlights from the Ligurian coast as our Italian tour continues.
If you have a chance to visit Genova or the Liguria region of Italy, don't miss Portofino!
Taking the train into Lake Como was a breeze from Genova with only 1 transfer in Milan. Once we arrived, we jumped in a quick taxi to our AirBnB apartment and met our wonderful host Rita. We were blown away by the modern, well-decorated and cozy accommodations which were only a 10-minute walk to the heart of Lake Como. AirBnB is an excellent option for Lake Como travelers on a budget as our nightly rate was only €100, whereas local hotels cost at least double or triple that amount. We found it quite easy to experience the beauty of Como on a budget and here’s how.
Once we got settled in, we went out to explore the town on foot. There are many restaurants, boutiques, and cafes lined up and down the pristine streets brimming with flowers and well-dressed people. It’s easy to walk the entire town in just a couple of hours and we enjoyed walking the boardwalk and perusing the boats. On our walk, we discovered the Funicolare Como-Brunate lift and decided to take it (€2 round trip per person) up to the top which is a town called Brunate. If you can snag the window at the front of the lift, you can see spectacular views as you climb to the top of the mountain.
As soon as you exit the lift, you can wander the small town for exquisite photos of Lake Como. We were fortunate to get up there just before sunset, and since it was off-season, we were able to easily find a table with a perfect view at Capolinea Bistrot Caffe & Cucina (Via Volta 68/70). Granted, the food was not the best we’ve had while in Italy; but, if you select a traditional favorite like Pasta Bolognese or Lasagna, you won’t be disappointed. It was here where we saw the most beautiful sunset of our lives. Check out our photos in the gallery below. This was probably the highlight of our 3 days in Lago di Como just because of the sheer beauty!
On our 2nd day, we decided to take the Lago di Como Public Transportation Ferry Boat (aka. Gestione Navigazione Laghi) at 9am to explore the left “leg” of the lake. It costs €25 per person for the mid-size lake package which covers all of the most recognizable towns (eg. Bellagio, Varenna, Menaggio, Cadenabbia, S. Giovani, Villa Carlotta, Tremezzo and Lenno) and more!
Lake Como is so large that it’s impossible to cover it all in 1 day. In fact, if you take the slow speed ferry from Como to Bellagio, that ride in itself is about 2 hours. But, you can pay an extra €4.40 per person, per leg to take the fast boat which gets you there in about 45 minutes. Our goal was to hit 3 lake towns in 1 day which is definitely possible, but it takes some planning and you must keep an eye on the ferry schedule as they are not always as regular in some of the smaller towns.
Obviously, we are tackling this trip with a limited budget. If you happen to have more disposable income to spend in Lake Como, we recommend getting a private boat tour so that you can see more of the lake and visit more towns (including Lecco). This will provide you with much more flexibility than the ferry boats offer.
Our first stop was Bellagio and it is definitely a must see! We found great joy in wandering the town, walking through the shops and enjoying a nice breakfast on the water. It is a very upscale town with beautifully manicured streets and we couldn’t help but ponder how every tiny street could be so cute and picturesque. There is a perfect photo opportunity (the one on all the postcards) you can snap of Bellagio from the end of the boardwalk.
From Bellagio, there are many ferry options to 6-8 other nearby towns. We opted to check out Varenna as our 2nd stop. If you are feeling energetic, you can walk from one end of town to the other AND climb up to the castle at the top of the hill. It’s quite a steep climb; thus, we stopped at the 2nd look out, took some photos and turned back to town. We had a lovely, decadent lunch overlooking the water at the Nilus Bar (16 Via Garibaldi). Mike had the best spaghetti alla carbonara ever and I had a ham, spinach and camembert crepe, baked in the oven that was to die for! It really was a memorable experience and one we recommend highly.
Unfortunately, we didn’t keep good track of time and we missed the ferry boat to our next stop and ended up having to wait 1.5 hours longer to catch another boat. But we couldn’t really complain, considering how lovely the town of Varenna is!
Our 3rd and final stop on the ferry (due to time constraints) was Tremezzo. There are several beautiful and notable resorts in Tremezzo; but, otherwise, we found it the least captivating of the 3 destinations. Unless there is something you really want to see here, we recommend skipping it and instead, heading over to Menaggio…so, you can maybe catch a glimpse of George Clooney!
Luckily, when we caught the 6pm ferry back to Como, we had a terrific open-air spot where we could take amazing photos and see all the little towns built in the mountains, along the way. We drove right past George Clooney’s house and got a pretty good picture of it too. The ride back to Como on the fast boat was 1 hour of unforgettable beautiful views.
Overall, our time in Lake Como was better than we could’ve ever expected. It is a magical place that everyone should visit in their lives.
Lovers in Bellagio Lake Como
On our 3rd full day in Lake Como, we decided to take a day trip to Milan, which is only 40 minutes via train IF you take the direct train. We made the mistake of taking the regional train which stopped about 15 times en route and made our journey twice as long as we anticipated and much less comfortable without air conditioning in the train cars.
We knew we had a very limited time to spend in Milan; so, we headed straight for the Duomo cathedral. It’s just as spectacular in person as you would expect from the photos. We wanted to take a tour of the Duomo so we stood in line for tickets and were told that we couldn’t go inside the church because my attire was not conservative enough.
So, here’s my warning to you: LADIES, make sure your shoulders are covered and your legs are covered to just below the knee. You can purchase a kimono if you like but we opted to skip the church visit and just buy the €9 per person tickets to climb the terrace veranda. Honestly, it wasn’t really worth the spend because there aren’t many excellent views from the top due to the fencing and scaffolding all around the church. It is quite interesting to see the spires up close and personal though. So, it all depends on your level of architectural and historical interest when deciding whether or not to take the tour.
Next, we wanted to see the oldest mall in the world and it just so happens to be about 20 steps from the Duomo. With towering glass ceilings and opulent marble flooring, it’s quite the sight to see. If you are in the mood to shop, this is THE spot. You could easily spend the entire day shopping the amazing designer stores that are seemingly endless and line every street for blocks. The window displays are captivating in and of themselves and it’s such a treat to see all the latest fashion coming out of Milan.
Personally, we didn’t have the budget to really enjoy the shopping but we still enjoyed the window shopping and people watching.
We heard that while in Milan, we had to try a traditional Panzerotti; so, we went to the most famous place Luini (Santa Radegonda 16) with a stand up counter and a line-up out the door. I ordered the Panzerotti Margherita and it smelled deliciously of buttered dough, tomato and mozzarella. But, to be frank, the taste was just MEH. It was pretty blah and definitely not my favorite snack in Italy. But, with a low price tag of €3, it was still tasty enough.
Overall, it would probably have been better if we chose to spend 2-3 nights in Milan to really soak up all the city has to offer; but alas, we settled for a day trip which was quite enjoyable and a HUGE change from the calm, peacefulness of Lake Como. Our train ride back to Lake Como was easy breezy as there are trains coming and going every 30-40 minutes. We were back at our home in Como just in time for a late dinner.
After a few days in Lake Como, we hopped on the train headed for the small town of Verona and made it there in about 2 hours with 1 short transfer in Milan. As soon as we arrived in Verona, we grabbed a taxi to our AirBnB in the heart of the city. It was immediately obvious how small the city is and that we could cover all the sights in 1 day.
That first evening, we wandered around the neighborhood which was right around the corner from Piazza delle Erbe, the #1 tourist destination in Verona. It was originally the Roman Forum filled with market stalls. Today, there are countless street vendors selling typical touristy fares and surprisingly nice clothing and accessory options. The architecture of the square is beautiful and the main feature is the fountain in the center which dates back to Roman times. It’s fun to walk the square and have a drink or meal at one of the many cafes and restaurants. We enjoyed the people watching in Piazza delle Erbe. Just keep in mind, that if you choose to eat/drink there, you will be paying the tourist prices.
If you walk through the Arco della Costa, you arrive in Piazza di Signori, a much smaller square with historic buildings and a statue of Dante in its center.
Continue walking and you will naturally find the Lamberti Tower which provides probably the best overview of the city. You can climb to the top or ride the lift for €8 per person. The climb is about 200 stairs so it’s not too difficult.
But by far, Verona’s most popular attraction is the infamous balcony from Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. The 13th century house rumored to be Juliet’s home (and balcony) is in a courtyard off Via Capello. You cannot miss it because there are crowds here all day every day. You can see the balcony and the statue of Juliet for FREE until about 6:45pm daily. You’ll notice droves of people flocking to take a photo of the statue while touching Juliet’s breast – it’s rumored to be VERY good luck. True fans can also visit the Casa di Giulietta Museum.
There are vendors selling heart-shaped locks for €6 each along with a permanent marker so that lovers can customize their lock and secure it in the courtyard. Mike and I did this here for the very first time. It was fun to see all the love notes scrawled on the walls and stuck to the wall on band aids and even attached with chewing gum. Ironically, the area is so jam packed with tourists that it is just about the least romantic spot in the entire city of Verona!
We also stumbled upon the house rumored to be that of Romeo’s family, which is now a restaurant called Osteria al Duca, known for serving the traditional dishes of Verona.
The 1st century Roman Arena is another of the most popular attractions in Verona. It is one of the largest in Italy, built in the 1st century. That being said, it’s unmissable. In the summer months, the arena hosts an Opera Festival featuring many famous operas.
Any finally, Giardino Gusti dates back to the 1400s, planted by the Giusti family. The gardens and fountains are a lovely place to spend an afternoon picnic. And from here, you can get some nice views of Verona.
And for those who love shopping, you may not expect Verona to be such a wonderful destination for fashion! If you walk through old town and Via Mazzini, you’ll find everything from high end shopping like Valentino and Gucci to mainstream shops like H&M and Foot Locker.
During our 2 day stay in Verona, we walked the town in the evening and during the day. It’s a very easy city to get around in and you can pretty much see it all in a ½ day. We recommend Verona for lovers especially and those who have time for a day trip out of Milan or Como.
Anyone who has ever dreamt of going to Italy on holiday has undoubtedly put Venice on the top of their list and there’s no mistaking why. It is like no other city in the world…completely suspended over water. No cars, no freeways, no subways…just hundreds of canals, boats and gondolas. This distinctive factor is what gives Venice a mysteriously laid-back vibe and entices tourists from all over the world.
Even though we visited Venice in mid-September, it was crawling with tourists, mostly couples, holding hands, walking the streets, riding the gondolas and enjoying glasses of wine and Aperol Spritz at the cafes.
It happened to rain 2 days during our stay which put a damper on our fun in some ways, but also made it a tremendous adventure. We thought we came prepared with rain coats and umbrellas but we were not prepared for the flooding we would experience in Piazza San Marco.
On our 1st of two full days in Venice, we had planned our own walking tour of the city. We knew the top tourist attractions and grabbed a walking tour map from a local travel agency but decided to do a self-guided walking tour so that we could do it at our own pace and save €20 per person. Plus, while in Italy, the locals always recommend us to “get lost” in the streets of the city and that is exactly what we did.
We set out from our canal-view AirBnB in Cannaregio, the northernmost of the six historic districts of Venice and began heading toward Piazza San Marco which was about a 25 minute walk. Along the way, it’s easy to get lost in the narrow, winding streets of Venice. After you pass the hundredth pizzeria, souvenir and glass store, you can easily forget your way home. As we approached San Marco Square, we started to notice hundreds of barefooted tourists and vendors selling plastic booties; but, it wasn’t until we saw the massive flooding that we realized it was impossible to “walk” through Piazza San Marco without wading in six inches of ocean water. We ended up purchasing the rain booties for €10 each and braving the flood waters which turned out to be really fun. Once we walked to Saint Mark’s Basilica (closed for visitors during flooding) and meandered through the square, we made a left and continued up the boardwalk to cover the rest of the city sights.
The city is relatively small which makes a walking tour quite fun because every few hundred meters, you discover another beautiful piece of history. Some of the loveliest bridges with the best views of the city are Rialto Bridge, Bridge of Sighs, the Venetian Arsenal and Ponte dell Accademia. You don’t have to try too hard to find them either. If you explore and get lost in the city, you will naturally come upon all the major gems.
If you want to see a panoramic view of the city, you should visit San Marco Campanile which is a large tower in San Marco. There are also countless museums in Venice. Although we didn’t chose to take in the art museums during this trip, the most well-renowned are the Gallerie dell Accademia which houses a variety of Venetian paintings and are, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and the Murano Glass Museum which will teach you about the history and craft of glassmaking which is HUGE in Venice.
There are also countless churches to see dating back from the 16th and 17th centuries. Obviously, Saint Mark’s Basilica is most noteworthy; but, some others which caught our attention are Santa Maria della Salute, San Giorgio Maggiore and Basilica San Giovanni e Paolo.
If you have great weather and a little extra time while in Venice, check out a boat tour of the Venetian lagoon or head over to Burano, which is another island known for its brightly colored fisherman’s houses and seafood restaurants. The least expensive way to get there is to take one of the express ferries near St. Mark’s.
We stayed in the city for 3 nights and found that to be the perfect amount of time. You can certainly shorten your visit but we recommend staying enough time to really soak up the uniqueness, beauty and history of this great city!
By far the most common and desirable activity to do while in Venice (aside from eating Italian food and gelato) is to take a gondola ride! A 30 minute gondola ride will run you €80 for up to 6 people. You can pay an extra €30 to be serenaded while you are chauffeured through the canals. This is a very romantic thing to do an quite memorable; however, it is also the most expensive activity we found in Venice!
We learned some very interesting facts about the history of gondolas and gondoliers that we’d like to share. For centuries, gondolas were the primary form of transportation in Venice. These days, there are about 400 licensed gondoliers in the city and they have one of the most highly paid occupations available. Not just anyone can be a gondolier. For many years, it was passed down from father to son but these days it’s even more difficult. Each and every gondolier must belong to the infamous Gondolier’s Guild which is very elite. In order to become a member, each gondolier must find an experienced mentor, practice 400 hours and pass a rigorous exam. And can you believe that an average gondolier can expect to earn at least $150,000 per year? Gondoliers certainly know ALL the interesting facts about the history of Venice too. So, make sure to splurge on a gondola ride while in Venice if you have the budget!
During your time in Venice, you certainly won’t have a hard time finding excellent food. There may be more Gelato shops than restaurants, so get ready to sample to all the flavors from Nutella and Twix to Blackberry and Mint. Our favorite was the pistachio gelato.
Not surprisingly, Venice specializes in seafood and pasta dishes. Here a few common dishes you'll find while in Venice:
Of course, there is a laundry list of amazing restaurants in Venice and an even longer list of mediocre restaurants as well. Due to our limited budget, we weren't able to try the likes of Osteria Boccadaro, Trottoria Pontini, or Enoteca Ai Artisti; however, we had 1 absolutely fabulous lunch, along a lovely canal with excellent food, a romantic ambiance and fabulous service. If you stumble upon Ristorante Alla Conchiglia, definitely stop in for a traditional Venetian dish!
And finally, we must give a shout out to our favorite bar in Venice called Birreria Zanon! It's small, neighborhood dive bar with amazing music and the friendliest staff ever. We had a lot of drinks and even more laughs and we even had the pleasure of hanging out with the owner. It was wonderful to spend some time getting to know the Venetian locals.
If you have an extended stay in Italy and enjoy traditional pasta dishes as much as we do, then a quick pit stop in Bologna should be on your itinerary. Bologna is known as the gastronomical capital of Italy and is the original home of Tagliatelle al Ragu or Pasta Bolognese as we call it. Though we didn’t find the city of Bologna overly captivating, we did enjoy the medieval quarter with the main attraction being the Piazza Maggiore and the two towers – Torri Asinelli e Garisenda.
The Two Towers of Bologna were built in the 12th century. The tallest of the two towers is Torri Asinelli and stands 97 meters high or 500 stairs if you want to climb it. You can see a panoramic view of the city from the top of the tower. It’s a MUST SEE! The smaller tower is called Torri Garisenda and stands 48 meters high. It has a serious lean as well. it was originally over 60 meters high but 12 meters were taken off due to the instability of the ground underneath.
Throughout the ages, the towers of Bologna were a symbol of power for local noble families; but, In modern times, they were used by scientists and during war times, they were used as look outs. Today, they are the largest tourist attractions of Bologna aside from the food.
So, let’s get to the FOOD! We had the opportunity to eat in a number of wonderful restaurants while in Bologna but our absolute favorite was Osteria La Traviata, a quaint, romantic, family-owned, traditional Bolognese restaurant that will not disappoint! We also had a fabulous dinner at Ristorante Cesarina located in the historic city center. They serve traditional Bolognese cuisine in a warm, friendly and elegant environment. These 2 restaurants are definitely worth a try and we did not need a reservation, although we recommend one if you are traveling to Bologna in August or planning your dinner after 8:30pm.
Here are a few recommendations for what to eat while in Bologna:
No doubt, everyone who visits the west coast of Italy has the Cinque Terre (5 Lands) on their list of top attractions and rightfully so. These 5 fishing villages (Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso) are tucked away in a such a unique and magnificent fashion such that they are built along ocean coves into the mountainscape. 4 of the 5 towns are completely inaccessible by car and the only way to reach them is via train, hiking trails or by boat. We tackled the Cinque Terre by train and by boat and will provide the pros and cons in this section to help you plan your ultimate Cinque Terre adventure.
First things first, there are some important things to keep in mind before planning a trip to Cinque Terre:
1. Consider the season: The busiest time to visit Cinque Terre is June through August as this time also has the best weather but also massive crowds. We visited Mid-September which allowed for smaller crowds but also gave us some challenging winds and rain. October through February will undoubtedly provide even smaller crowds but you will need to be prepared for no entry by boat and a high probability of cold, wind and rain. The best way to avoid droves of tourists is to visit during off season and either early in the morning or after 6pm at night.
2. Decide your preferred method of transportation before arrival: As I mentioned previously, you can visit and explore Cinque Terre via 3 methods of transportation – Train, Walk/Hike, or Boat.
3. Choose your Home Base wisely – You should select your accommodations based on how you prefer to get around the Cinque Terre. To make it very easy and inexpensive, we recommend staying in La Spezia which has the largest train station in the area. From La Spezia, you can get to Riomaggiore in about 5 minutes via train. If you like, you can also rent an apartment or a few hotels within the Cinque Terre, but be prepared to spend quite a bit more for less value in your accommodations. Monterosso offers the most variety and is the only town in Cinque Terre accessible by car. We found Manarola and Vernazza to be the most beautiful towns so if you feel the need to splurge, stay in either of those 2 towns.
Please Note: it is NOT necessary to stay in the Cinque Terre to fully enjoy it. Each town is VERY small and can be explored quickly within 1.5-2 hours. It is also wonderful to make The Golf of Poets your home base so you can enjoy the Riviera and Cinque Terre in a more laid-back, less touristy manner with beautiful accommodations at a value.
4. Give yourself enough time to explore the area – Although the Cinque Terre is not a very large territory, it is hard to really see it ALL and ENJOY it all in just 1 day. Plus, if the weather happens to be windy or rainy during your 1 day trip, you will certainly miss out! We recommend 2 nights MINIMUM for your visit. We felt 4 nights offered the best opportunity to see Cinque Terre as well as the surrounding (just as gorgeous) towns of La Spezia, Lerici, and Portovenere.
Having visited the Cinque Terre by both boat and train, I can tell you that we enjoyed our day trip by train the most! Riding in a boat is always fun; but, the photos were not nearly as magical and the journey from town to town is quite a bit longer allowing you a maximum of 1 hour per town. So, if you have a choice, we highly recommend traveling to each town by train and then exploring the towns on foot. There is NO bus or car access to or from Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia or Vernazza. Monterosso is the only town that is accessible by car.
Each of the Cinque Terre villages have some similarities being filled with fishing boats and colored houses set into the mountainside; but, they also have their own unique charm. Below are our highlights from each of the towns in order from South to North since we were staying in Lerici.
The 5 lands of the Cinque Terre are located on the west coast of the Italian Riviera and either cling to the cliff face or are concealed in miniature inlets perfectly blending into the unique, unspoiled landscape. The entire area has been designated a National Park and proclaimed as heritage of mankind by UNESCO.
Upon arrival in Riomaggiore, it’s bright, beautiful colors stop you in your tracks as well as its dramatic positioning on the cliff side. It is the largest of the Cinque Terre which makes it the most fun to explore on foot. Walk down to the tiny harbor and on to the rocks near the water to see the postcard perfect view of Cinque Terre. But take note, if the tides are high and the winds are strong, the walking paths will be closed and the ocean swells with be beautifully terrifying! You don’t want to miss the exquisite beautiy of Riomaggiore, especially at dusk!
In our opinion, Manarola is the most beautiful of the Cinque Terre villages and from many different angles too. With acres and acres of grapevines growing in the mountainside, Manarola is famous for its sweet Sciacchetra wine. It also is home to many medieval relics, a lovely church and excellent hiking. We enjoyed walking the narrow streets and venturing up into the small walking paths of the vineyards reaching high above the town. By far our best and favorite photos come from Manarola, specifically from Punto Bonfigliolo which offers a perfect, backlit panorama!
Corniglia is the only village in Cinque Terre we did not stop to visit. There is no harbor which means boats cannot stop there and we also chose to skip this town when on our train tour. Reason being, it’s the smallest of the Cinque Terre and the least picturesque in our opinion. It sits atop a 100 meter high rock promontory and is quite difficult to reach. It does have all the charm of the other villages with narrow alleys and colorful 4-story homes though. To reach the village center from the train station, you must climb 350+ stairs! Good luck!
Upon arrival in Vernazza, it looks similar to the other Cinque Terre towns; however, the most beautiful views cannot be seen from the marina. Near the village center, you can visit the Santa Margherita Church with its lovely bell tower and then wander further to the Doria Castle (€1.50 per ticket), a medieval defensive tower you can climb up for panoramic ocean views. Vernazza contains the only natural port of Cinque Terre and is also known for its colorful elegant homes. For the most incredible view, climb up to La Torre restaurant for an aperitif or traditional Italian meal at sunset. You will not be disappointed! Vernazza offers several striking views to capture beautiful photos.
Monterosso is the last of the 5 Cinque Terre and is accessible by boat, train and car. However, traveling by train is by far the easiest and fast way to get around. You can also hike from Vernazza on a rather challenging yet beautiful path. It’s by far the easies townt to reach and has the most hotel accommodations as well as the largest beach area for summer vacationers. It isn’t as picturesque as the other towns, but makes an excellent home base while exploring the Cinque Terre region. The town is divided into 2 parts: old town and new town which are separated by a single pedestrian tunnel. Many restaurants, shops and cafes line the streets, making it a wonderful destination for tourists to the area.
As a final note on this region of Italy, it is also possible to visit to the charming towns of Portovenere, Lerici, and San Terenzo while exploring Cinque Terre. These towns are just as lovely, quaint and colorful; however, they typically attract a lot less tourists. We found that all these towns offer a similar fishing-village vibe and laid-back Italian-culture. If you have more than 3 days in the region, we highly recommend exploring these lesser known port towns so you can get the full Italian Riviera experience. And if you’re looking to visit Cinque Terre but want to make a quieter town your home base, we highly recommend Lerici, San Terenzo or Portovenere accommodations. We stayed at a wonderful 14-room, oceanfront hotel in San Terenzo which was definitely a highlight of our time in Liguria. Hotel San Terenzo is a 4-star hotel with oceanfront balconies and a small town, cozy feel. The staff were amazing, the views and sunsets were exquisite and to top it all off, in mid-September, the rates were surprisingly low at €140 per night. We very much enjoyed a relaxing and beautiful week in Cinque Terre and The Golf of Poets!
The beautiful view of Riomaggiore in Cinque Terre Italy!