Important! Please read this if you are booking a tour on this website. Recently we've had some unfortunate cases of people missing their tour because trains were late or they took the wrong train. Please check train timetables in advance and please get to the village, where the meeting point is, in time. It's better to arrive early and enjoy a nice cup of coffee while waiting, than taking the last train, rushing and missing your tour. Remember, you are in Italy! Trains can be late. Also, please make sure your train will stop in the village where you are heading. Long distance trains do not stop in each village. I recommend that you read carefully this page about travelling by train, it will surely help you get to your destination in time. Also, always ask the train personnel and not the other travellers, as they might give you the wrong information.
If you are just planning your trip to the Cinque Terre and would like to check train schedules, you can do that on www.trenitalia.com. But don't look for Cinque Terre as you won't find it. You have to enter the name of one of the five villages: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza or Monterosso.
Sometimes, if you are planning well ahead of time, you won't find any trains for your dates. That's because those timetables are not uploaded yet. In this case try to search for a closer date. Most trains will be the same, but schedules do change by the season, so make sure you doublecheck closer to your travel date.
If you are coming from an airport or one of the main cities of Italy, you can choose between InterCity trains, Frecce trains (modern high speed trains) and regional trains. The high speed trains are amazing, you can get for example from Naples to the Cinque Terre in 6 hours. In many cases these Italian trains are more comfortable than flying, with less hassle. And also more sustainable! If you are coming from another European city, you should check the sleeper train options as well.
If you are taking a Frecce or InterCity train, you will have to change trains in La Spezia, Monterosso, Levanto or Sestri Levante. These long distance trains usually rush through the Cinque Terre National Park and don't stop, or they might stop in Monterosso. You have to take the local Cinque Terre Express train to get to the other villages.
The easiest, fastest and cheapest way to travel between the villages of the Cinque Terre is by train. (Of course, you can also drive, take the ferry or hike.) The line connecting the five villages is part of the main Italian railway line between Rome and Genoa so there is at least one train going in both directions every hour, even in the low season (November to March).
Between April and October the Cinque Terre Express is running back and forth between La Spezia and Levanto, stopping in every Cinque Terre village. There is a train every 30 minutes in both directions. You can get a free printed train schedule at the train station in every village, it's very useful to have it with you. Otherwise you can check the timetables on www.trenitalia.com.
A single ticket costs 5 EUR for the Cinque Terre Express train, which is ridiculously expensive, but there is nothing we can do about it. So it's 5 EUR if you go from Riomaggiore to Manarola (2 minutes), but it's also 5 EUR to get from La Spezia to Levanto (30 minutes). If you are planning to take the train several times a day, it's better to purchase the Cinque Terre train card. Children aged 4-15 years get a 50% discount. Children under 4 can travel for free, if they are sitting on the parent's lap. Tickets are cheaper during the winter months.
Well, it really depends on your plans. Are you going to visit several villages in a day, by train? Or are you going to take the ferry as well, or hike some sections? You have to do the math. I wrote more about this on my Cinque Terre card page, so please read it for details.
There is a ticket office in every village, and also some machines. However, there are long lines in the villages to buy the tickets, and also at La Spezia Centrale train station. So especially if you are buying your ticket to leave for another city or for the airport, and you know which train you'd be taking, it's better to buy your tickets in advance, online. You can also buy the Cinque Terre card online, to avoid queuing.
Between the villages, the train travels in the tunnel most of the time, under the terraced hills so unfortunately you can only enjoy the beautiful view for a few seconds, between two tunnels. So if you'd like to enjoy the view while travelling between the villages, it's better to take the ferry. It is important to know that sometimes trains (especially the long ones) stop partly in the tunnel but you still have to get off. I have seen many tourists hesitating or even staying on the train because of the strange stops. (Of course I helped them whenever I had a chance.) There are big signs for every village so if you pay attention, you can't miss your stop.
The journey between the villages only takes a few minutes:
There is no train station in Portofino. You have to take the train to Santa Margherita Ligure (1-1.5 hours) and then take the bus or boat to Portofino.
As there are only two platforms in the villages of the Cinque Terre, it is easy to find your way around. If you want to go towards Monterosso (and Levanto), you will have to follow the sign "PER GENOVA". If you travel towards Riomaggiore (and La Spezia), look for the "PER LA SPEZIA" sign. From the stations, you can usually see the sea which makes orientation even easier. If you are facing the sea, Monterosso, Levanto and Genova are to your right while Riomaggiore and La Spezia are to your left.
Arrivals and departures are shown on TV screens. Only the final destinations are shown which may be unknown, far away cities. At every railway station, you will find a large yellow poster on the wall with detailed information about all the trains. So you can see if the train going to a certain final destination will stop in the village where you want to go. You can also check how many stops the train will make and what is the last stop before your destination so you will surely get off at the right place. Arriving trains are shown on a large white poster.
There is another type of poster which may be useful if you travel to a faraway destination with an IC or Freccia train and you have prebooked seats. These trains can be very long and it is not funny to run from carriage 1 to carriage 9 with your backpack or suitcase, competing against the whistle of the conductor. On this poster, you can see which way the train will be going and where is carriage 1. Don't think that – logically – it is always right after the engine. You are in Italy!
By the way, another good advice if you are travelling around Italy by train. Once you figure out the right platform, take off your heavy backpack and comfortably sit down on a bench, don't think that you can relax. It happened quite a few times that with a group of 10 people we had to rush from one platform to the other, up and down many steps, because they kept changing the platform numbers. So always keep an eye on the TV screens and listen to the announcements.
Another important thing in Italy: you have to validate your ticket at the railway station with the automats before getting on the train. Regional tickets can be used any time so it will only be valid if the machine stamps the actual date on it. So only validate your ticket when you are actually going to use it. Now you can buy the tickets for the Cinque Terre Express for a certain time and train, but you still need to validate the ticket.
If you have a booked seat for a certain date for an InterCity train, there is no need to validate but to be sure, I always do. If you don't have a validated ticket, you can get a serious fine, unless you convince the conductor with your beautiful smile. If you forget, and only realize when the train is already moving, look for the conductor, tell him you have forgot and ask them to validate. This always worked for me. Fines mean a serious income for Trenitalia (Italian Railways) as many tourists have no idea about this system.
It is a very important rule that you can never cross the tracks, you always have to use the underpass. Shouting railway employees and a possible penalty are not the only reason to keep this rule. In Italy, the fast trains don't even slow down, they simply speed through the stations. If you don't hear the announcement of the arriving train, it will surprise you. So don't ever walk on the tracks and always stand at least 2 meters from the rails, especially with children. You should never stand inside the yellow line.
Watch your bags on the trains and at the railway stations. Unfortunately there are some thieves specialized in tourists. The sad thing is that they are often kids and young girls. So keep an eye on your backpack and never keep your wallet in your back pocket. If you are careful, you will be safe.
If you travel by train in Italy, it is good to remember this word: SCIOPERO (strike). If you see or hear this world, you can expect some chaos. It is one of my "favourite" words; I had to face this challenge quite a few times. Strikes are often on Friday, this way they can have a nice long weekend. A strike does not mean there are no trains at all but there are only a few, on certain routes and with big crowds. In my experience, the employees sitting in the ticket office and the information booth take striking very seriously. They don't want to help and they insist that there are no trains running and I shouldn't even buy a ticket. I always insisted on buying my ticket, and although it took longer and sometimes I did not have a seat, I always managed to get to my destination. Of course, only try this if you are adventurous enough!
Yes, it is possible, but your dog will have to wear a muzzle and leash. Smaller dogs on your lap can travel for free, for bigger ones you need to buy a ticket with a 50% discount.
Yes, it is possible to take your bike on the regional trains.