Travelling to the Cinque Terre can be draining on the wallet. Accommodation prices are at a premium in these tiny but popular villages, and there is an access fee for the coastal trail. But it is possible to visit the Cinque Terre on a budget, particularly if you visit outside high season (mid-June to mid-September). After all, the main attractions—the views, the sunset, swimming in the sea—are absolutely free.
CHEAP PLACES TO STAY
Which village to stay in?
If you’re determined to stay in one of the five official villages of the Cinque Terre, then Riomaggiore is probably the cheapest village to stay in the Cinque Terre. It’s lively and tends to attract the student crowd. Monterosso is best for groups as its larger and popular with Italian holidaymakers. Corniglia is romantic but lacks sea access so you can find some cheap cosy rooms. If you’re staying more than one night in registered accommodation you might qualify for a discounted Cinque Terre Card. As a general rule hotels are overpriced and no-frills guesthouses (affittacamere) and apartments offer better value. Staying in one of the smaller villages up in the hills (such as Volastra) can also yield great discounts.
Read Cinque Terre: A Practical Guide for a more comprehensive overview of the villages.
Whilst accommodation prices are generally high, the popularity of the area with backpackers means that there are a few decent options for budget travellers. I stayed at the Ostello 5Terre in Manarola. It’s a bit institutional and basic but in a great location at the back of the village. Twin, triple, and family rooms are available too.
Small and simple Ostello Corniglia has male and female dorms as well as a few private rooms. These are the only ‘proper’ hostels with communal facilities within the main villages.
If you don’t need facilities, just a cheap sleep, then you can find some dormitory rooms in shared apartments such as Affitacamere Patrizia.
If you don’t mind being up in the hills (but still within the Cinque Terre National Park zone), two new hostels with superior facilities have opened in the past few year: 5 Terre Backpackers in Corvara and Ostello Tramonti in Biassa, up behind Riomaggiore. Both have gorgeous views and run a shuttle bus service down to the main villages for guests.
Staying Outside the Cinque Terre
Just a few minutes on the train from the five villages that make up the Cinque Terre, accommodation prices drop and you’ll find a wider range of options in several larger surrounding towns. It’s also easier to find ingredients if you want to cook your own food. Both La Spezia and Levanto train stations are included in the extended Cinque Terre Card train pass, making them convenient for accessing the villages.
Stay in La Spezia
La Spezia is a large working port town, just 10 minutes on the train from Riomaggiore. For easy access and cheap rooms, La Spezia is your best bet. It’s big enough for range and variety and has its own old town area with plenty of good eats. The best hostel option here is the Grand Hostel Manin.
Stay in Levanto
If you don’t want to pay the premium prices but still want to watch the stars glistening over the water at night then consider Levanto. Bookending the western side of the Cinque Terre, Levanto is small beach resort town just minutes on the train from Monterosso. It’s larger than the Cinque Terre villages but still charming and has a great sandy beach. There is a hostel in Levanto called Ospitalia del Mare.
Stay in Portovenere
The folks behind the hostel in Manarola have now opened a sister hostel Ostello Portovenere in Portovenere. Again, twin, triple, and family rooms are available. The hostel also acts as an Environmental Education Centre – this potentially means schoolkids, but also organised nature and food-related activities. If (when) I head back to the Cinque Terre there is where I’ll stay – I adore Portovenere. It’s just as picturesque as the Cinque Terre villages but avoids much of the crush and has some fantastic restaurants. However, first-timers should be aware that, unlike La Spezia and Levanto, Portovenere is not connected to the villages on the train line.
GETTING AROUND CHEAPLY
With day passes required for the trail and train, prices can quickly add up. Here’s how to do it on the cheap.
Hike the Coastal Trail in one day
You’re required to buy a one or two-day Cinque Terre Card to walk on the famous Coastal Trail between the five villages (currently €16 including trains, €7.50 without). Bear in mind that sections of the trail might be closed due to landslides (check the Park Authority website before you go), so it makes sense to hike the open sections of the Coastal Trail in one day to save on card costs. You can then spend the rest of your trip exploring trails which are free to access.
Use the ATC buses to explore the hills behind the villages
Single bus tickets are about half the price of the train. Catch the bus up to Volastra, Groppo, or San Bernadino, and then take one of the trails back down. Check at the Tourist Information offices for schedules.
Visit Portovenere by bus
The beautiful Portovenere is a popular day trip by ferry but for a cheaper ride you can catch a bus from La Spezia.
I was surprised at how well I ate on a budget whilst in the Cinque Terre. Large cheap plates of pasta were available at Ostello 5Terre – ample fuel for hiking. I had several dinners of lobster linguine that didn’t break the bank; there are plenty of €10 menus that include a glass of wine. Coffee and gelato is cheap. Tap water is drinkable and there are fountains in each village, no need to buy bottled.
Grab a takeaway snack
With so many perfect picnic vistas here’s no need to eat out for every meal. Each village has bakeries selling focaccia, farinata, arancini, pizza, and ready-made pasta dishes to take away. Some restaurants also offer takeaway at a discounted price. Fresh fruit is also widely available. You’ll also find fried seafood to take away, and of course gelato. Grab a bottle of local wine and a pizza and watch the sunset.
Stock up in La Spezia
If you’re in town for a while and want to do a bigger shop, the food market in La Spezia is much cheaper than the stores in the villages. You’ll find it on Piazza del Mercato, every morning except Sundays. Consider a trip if you’re souvenir-shopping.
THINGS TO DO ON A BUDGET
Beach bums beware of the sun lounger prices in Monterosso the only Cinque Terre village with a decent beach. Rates can be ferocious in July and August, but there are a few public sections of the beach where you can lay your towel for free. If you must have a sun lounger then go in the afternoon to take advantage of half-day rates, or head outside the five villages to the cheaper towns of Levanto or Bonassola.
Riomaggiore and Vernazza have small sections of pebbly beach with no charge attached. Manarola has superb deep rocky swimming but no beach.
If you don’t want to shell out for a Cinque Terre card for every day of your trip, make use of the trails which are free to access such as the Way of the Sanctuaries. You can travel to start or finish points using one-way tickets on the train or buses.
For a cheaper alternative to the Coastal Trail you’ll find the same scenic sea views on the free stretch of trail which continues from Monterosso round to Levanto. A single train ticket to Levanto is only a few euros.
There are also great walks outside the National Park around Tellaro and Framura.
Related read: How to Escape the Crowds in the Cinque Terre
CINQUE TERRE AS A DAY TRIP
Contemplating doing the Cinque Terre as a day trip from another city? Personally, I think it’s best to stay at least 2 days – it’s really worth staying overnight if you can manage it. But if you’re based in another city and prepared to get up early then it is possible to visit the Cinque Terre in a day.
Trains from Pisa to Riomaggiore, the nearest of the villages, take a minimum of 1hr 20mins and cost from €26. Change at La Spezia for the Cinque Terre Express.
Trains from Florence to Riomaggiore via La Spezia take a minimum of 2.5 hrs and cost from €40 return.
Trains from Genoa to Monterosso al Mare take a minimum of 1hr 40 and cost from €20 return.
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