The Cinque Terre consists of five beautiful hillside towns (Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso) on the west coast of Italy. This area is extremely picturesque and shouldn’t be missed. However, it is also a bit expensive. There are only a few hostels and most accommodations and sit down meals are pricey. Fortunately, with such breathtaking scenery, you will be able to find plenty of nature walks, trails, exploring, and vineyards in the surrounding areas that make it possible to visit on a budget if you stick to these free activities and the cheap food. This part of Italy is probably my favorite, and during the summertime, there is nowhere else I’d rather be!
Hostel prices – You should expect to pay around 20-25 EUR a night for a 4-6 bed dorm room and around 50 EUR for a private room. The price usually includes free WiFi and linens. The region isn’t cheap, and there are only a couple of hostels between the five towns (Hostel 5 Terre in Manarolo is the biggest). If you want to find more hostel options, you need to stay in nearby La Spezia.
Budget hotel prices – A night in a 2-star budget hotel in a room that sleeps two starts around 60 EUR (expect to pay 20 EUR more in the high season). Included in this price are basic hotel amenities, like a private bathroom, free WiFi, and television. Some offer free breakfast. For the most options, stay in Monterosso. On Airbnb, you can find shared rooms starting around 25 EUR per night and entire apartments starting around 55 EUR per night.
Average cost of food – Cinque Terre is an expensive place to eat. Generally, restaurant meals cost between 25-35 EUR for a meal with drinks. Most restaurants open for lunch, close for their siesta, then open again around 7pm for dinner. At most restaurants, add 3 EUR for the “coperto” (sit down fee) that covers service and the bread at the table. You can get cheap wine at the store for around 5 EUR a bottle and pizza, paninis, or my favorite focaccia for 4 EUR, and a whole pizza for 12 EUR. With these kinds of amazing local ingredients to work with, a picnic on the coast is one of my favorite ways to eat in the region. If you’re feeling ambitious and staying somewhere with a kitchen, consider cooking your own food. You’ll pay about 60 EUR per week for groceries that will include pasta, vegetables, chicken, and other basic foods. If you find a discount grocer like Eurospin, In’s Mercato, LD Market, Lidl or Penny Market, you’ll pay a lot less.
Transportation costs – Cinque Terre has several ways to get around. There is a system of walking and hiking trails that connect all of the towns that are my first choice – trails vary in difficulty, so bring your sturdy shoes! A train also link the towns. If you’re going between all five, purchase a Cinque Terre Card (17 EUR for the day). This card grants unlimited access to the trains, buses, and the footpath that connects the villages for a day. I love to hike between the five towns, and then take the train back to my accommodation for a rest! If you decide to ride the train, make sure you get a ticket because they are serious about checking and give hefty fines.
Suggested daily budget – 50-70 EUR / $60-80 USD (Note: This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating and cooking, and using local transportation. Using the budget tips below, you can always lower this number. If you stay in fancier accommodation or eat out more, expect this to be higher!)
Money Saving Tips
- Hike the area – The hiking trails are the best and cheapest way to see the area.
- Eat the pizza and paninis – Sit-down meals in this region are very expensive. Stick to cheap sandwiches and pizza if you want to save money. Picnics from grocery stores in town made up of fresh pesto, cheese, and focaccia is the way to go! (Though, the food is really good here so do try and splurge on a restaurant meal at least once – anchovies and pesto are the local specialties.)
- Get the Cinque Terre Card – You’ll get access to all the hiking trails, shuttle buses, and WiFi for about 8 EUR per day. You also can get the Cinque Terre Train Card, which includes all of the same perks with unlimited train travel around Cinque Terre for 17 EUR per day.
- Pass on the bread – Some restaurants will charge you extra for bread or breadsticks on the table but not tell you about it until the check comes, and you’ve polished it off. Send it back if you don’t want to be tempted.
- Buy lots of wine – You can buy a great bottle of wine for 4 EUR. It’s a lot cheaper than drinking at the bars in this area (which are pretty expensive).
Top Things to See and Do in Cinque Terre
- Hike the Cinque Terre – Any traveler or local will tell you that you must hike the Cinque Terre in order to really appreciate the area. In fact, most people come to the Cinque Terre to go hiking. The views are amazing and simply can’t be described until you see them yourself. The coastal walk (the blue trail) is the easiest path and the best way to see the towns. If you want something more difficult, walk the red path through the steep hills and vineyards. (Path #8 is the most difficult.) Get access to all the hiking trails, shuttle buses, and WiFi for about 8 EUR per day with the Cinque Terre card.
- Go swimming – The water is so blue that you will just want to jump in. The cool waters also attract the locals, especially the children who like to jump off of the nearby rocks. During Italian holidays, the beach areas get very crowded.
- Rent a kayak – Being on the water makes the cliffs more dramatic, the colors more intense, and the water a deeper shade of blue. It’s a very different way to see the five towns. Rentals start at 5 EUR per hour.
- Visit Torre Guardiola – This is a bird watching center and nature observation center located just southeast of Riomaggiore marina on Fossola Beach. There is quite a bit of local flora and fauna to be seen here, as well as lots of pretty birds flying about. There is a beautiful trail that leads down to the coast from the center which ends at a great swimming spot. Admission is 1.50 EUR. It’s open 9am-1pm and 4pm-7pm (except August). It’s also closed during winter.
- Have an authentic Ligurian beach picnic – Grab yourself a basket and shop around town for some local goodies. There are some great little restaurants the serve fresh, hot focaccia and plenty of cheap local wines available. After that head to one of the beaches, where you can eat, swim, and be merry.
- Check out Chiesa di Santa Margherita – This is a picturesque harbor with a waterfront piazza that makes a great spot for people-watching and for taking a break. The gothic church, Santa Margherita di Antiochia can also be found here. Originally built in 1318, it has a bell tower that is still intact.
- See the Nativity in Manarola – If you happen to be visiting between December 8th and the end of January, this scene is worth a quick visit. The Nativity Manarola is the world’s biggest lighted nativity scene, and their opening ceremony is a big event. Many locals come out and light candles.
- Go camping – The spring through early fall is a beautiful time of year to go camping here, and bookings tend to fill up quickly. There are a few campgrounds to choose from that offer inexpensive tent set-ups, which include beds and linens. Camping Aqua Dolce is a hotspot near town, but also very close to the beach.
- Have a seafood dinner – You won’t find any fresher seafood than from a restaurant overlooking the water. It may be expensive, but it’s worth a splurge at least once. Try the prawns!
- Explore castle ruins – In Monterosso, you can visit the ruins of a 16th-century castle built as a defense system after a Saracen attack. The ruins lie near the cemetery on San Cristoforo Hill.
- Visit the churches – Every town along the Cinque Terre has its own collection of churches which vary in age and architectural style. Take a peek inside the Church of San Lorenzo (Manarola), Santa Margherita di Antiochia Church (Vernazza), or San Pietro (Corniglia).
- Learn about Italian naval history – The Technical Naval Museum is located in La Spezia. The collection takes up two levels and contains a lot of information and artifacts from the province’s naval history and naval warfare. Admission is 1.50 EUR and it’s open daily from 9am-7:30pm.