You will often hear that the Cinque Terre is car-free, you cannot enter the villages, you should not come by car, etc. Well, actually, it is only partly true. Most of the villages are really for walking only but you can enter in some areas. For example, you can drive through the central part of Corniglia or some areas of Monterosso. You can reach every village by car, park at the entrance of the villages and then walk from there.
Actually, I love driving around the Cinque Terre. For me, it's so much fun! The view from the road is stunning, the roads are winding through vineyards and olive groves so it's a really scenic drive. You can stop at several viewpoints to enjoy the amazing panorama.
The coastal road above the villages is comfortable for 2 cars in most places (see the photo above), and it's good quality. Then from this road, you will turn off onto smaller, narrow roads leading to each village. Those roads are really winding and at certain points you need to stop as there is room for one car only. You can see the road to Corniglia on the photo below. You may find it scary, I find it breathtaking.
At the same time, I have to admit that I hate to be a passenger in a car around here. Unfortunately, I get motion sickness on everything that moves, also in the car, unless I am driving. So sitting on the passenger seat on these roads for me is a nightmare. So I always hang on to the wheel…
To sum it up, don't worry and come by car if you are an experienced driver, if you don't mind narrow and winding roads, if you love driving on scenic coastal roads, if you don't mind spending your time looking for parking places and if your passengers don't get carsick. Otherwise, it's much better and easier to arrive by train. You car will be parked most of the time anyway so you can save on car rental costs and parking fees as well.
OK, so if you are arriving by car, you will be driving on one of the Italian motorways towards La Spezia. In La Spezia, you will turn onto the coastal road.
Important! At the moment, the coastal road in the middle is closed. To get to Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia and Vernazza, you have to come this way, via La Spezia. But to get to Monterosso, you have to exit the highway at Levanto-Carrodano. Also, do not use the Brugnato exit as the road from there to the Cinque Terre is closed as well!
It is true that you cannot enter the historical centre of the villages by car but you will find a car park in every village. These are partly protected but even if there is no guard around, you do not need to worry, the area is safe. Local inhabitants also park here. So you need to leave the car in the parking lot and walk or take the local green buses.
When you are looking for a parking space, pay attention to the colour of the lines. Yellow lines mean resident parking, blue lines mean paid parking for guests (see photo below) while white lines mean free parking.
Parking in Riomaggiore is very expensive so it's better to arrive by train. If you have a car, you could park in another village and take the train from there, it only takes a few minutes. The parking area is at the entrance of the village, at the top of the main street. It's quite a walk up from the center and the sea. There is a green bus to and from the center. There is a small office where you have to buy your parking ticket.
If you book a room or apartment in Manarola with me, I can help you book a garage in Manarola for 22 EUR/car/day. The number of garages is limited so please enquire well in advance. The garage is in the same area as the resident parking. When you first arrive in Manarola, you will come to a gate. The guest parking is before that gate. This gate is usually open between 7:00-10:00AM and 2:00-4:00PM so travellers can drive further down to Manarola to load or unload the luggages. In the tourist season, there is usually a person at the gate so even if it's closed, you can ask for a 20-minute permit to enter. But make sure you drive back up right away, and do not park in the resident parking area, otherwise you might get a fine.
There are usually free parking spaces further up along the road but watch out for the "no parking" signs, especially around the curves. You could also consider driving up to Groppo or Volastra. Parking is free there so you could leave the car there and take the bus down or walk down. Of course, check into your accommodation and unload your bags first.
In Corniglia, quite a few accommodations have their own parking space in the village. So if you arrive by car, Corniglia can be a good choice for you. I can offer you several apartments with free parking. Otherwise, parking is along the road in Corniglia. There is a bigger parking area before you reach the village. And if all seems full, drive through the center and go further down towards the railway station, there are usually empty spots there. You have to buy your parking ticket from a machine. There are 2 machines, one at the parking area before the village, the other one just as you enter Corniglia, at the start of the walking path. You can get a daily ticket or also by the hour, you can switch between the 2 tariffs with the button at the top.
The roads to Vernazza were badly ruined in the big floods a few years ago and still have not been fixed. I drove down to the village once and it was really scary, even for me. Even parts of the road were missing. So I do not recommend arriving to Vernazza by car. Park in Monterosso, Levanto or La Spezia instead and take the train to Vernazza. In case you really want to drive to Vernazza: the lower parking is for Vernazza's inhabitants only. You can drive down with your luggage, unpack, then take the car back to the upper parking. There are only about 60 parking spaces so you might not find a spot, especially on weekends and during the main season. From there, you can walk down – about 1 km – or you can take the local bus. UPDATE: I drove to Vernazza from the direction of Corniglia and that road was ok. I asked the person selling the parking tickets and he said this road is better than the one coming from the direction of Monterosso. So if you have to drive to Vernazza, better to arrive via La Spezia, turning off towards Corniglia, and then Vernazza. The problem is, this was in July and the parking was absolutely full.
In Monterosso, there are two parking areas, one in the old town and another one in the new town, by the sea. Find out where your accommodation will be and choose the parking which is closer. When you are driving to Monterosso, at one point there will be an intersection. Turn right to go to Fegina or turn left for the old town (Centro storico). The Fegina parking is really big, it's right by the sea and quite close to the railway station. So it is also a good option if you are staying in other villages but prefer to park in Monterosso and take the train from there. In the historical center, just at the end of the pedestrian area, you will find the Loreto parking which is actually a parking house.
There is a large parking area right behind the railway station. You can pay with coins at the machine or at the railway station.
You can park in these villages even if you don't stay there, and walk down to Manarola or take the green bus. The villages are very small so parking spaces are limited. Also, please respect the area for resident parking and only use the spots marked with white lines.
There is a parking house right under the railway station so it is very comfortable. But there is also a free parking area in Piazza d'Armi, only a 10-minute walk to the railway station. As far as I know, there is also a shuttle bus to the railway station every 30 minutes in case you have big luggage. If you come to the Cinque Terre for one day and are planning to take the boat from La Spezia, you can find parking spaces right in front of the harbour.
Remember, wherever you park, you will still need to walk. In case of most accommodations, there will be steps as well. So here is a tip: pack light or have a strong man in your company.
And one more thing: I last checked the prices in July 2015, and they change from time to time. So prices can be a few euros higher when you arrive. If you notice any changes, please send me an email about it, I would really appreciate it.