Visiting Cinque Terre by Cruise Ship
Scroll through Instagram for even 2 minutes and there’s no denying that Italy’s Cinque Terre has been having a MAJOR moment. Cinque Terre (CHEEN-kwah TERRrrrr-ee) - translates to “five lands”. All 5 towns - Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso are quite different and each is definitely worthy of a separate visit. On our Celebrity cruise, we only had time to visit one town, Monterosso al Mare.
The nearest cruise port is La Spezia, which is also the port for Florence and Pisa, which we visited on our last cruise. While I was planning, Cinque Terre seemed confusing to get to from La Spezia with ferries, busses and/or trains involved, soooo I decided we’d play the “safe route” and do a group tour from the ship instead. Taking a group tour is generally something I rarely-to-never do (I’m just a hippie at heart and being part of a group stresses me out!), but figured it would be the best option to minimize the stress of planning. Most private tours were either sold out or quite pricey ($900USD for 4 people). Looking back, I wish I would have taken the time to plan our day to have had more time there (shopping and eating) than in-transit. :D
Porto Venere, a Hidden Gem
From where the ship docked, we hopped on a 20-min bus ride that took us to Porto Venere where we spent about 2 hours. Porto Venere is a beautiful little coastal town with a charming area of shops down the main street, Via Capellini. The striped Gothic Church of St. Peter awaits you at the end, and had an incredible view of the Ligurian Sea, and the brass door decor/knockers were so detailed and incredible! A bit down the hill from St. Peter’s we even found a stunning hidden grotto where we took some of my favorite photos of the whole trip. Two hours in Porto Venere was really nice, but given the choice, I think I would have much rather just hopped straight to Cinque Terre, I was too excited get there!
Porto Venere to Cinque Terre
The ferries come on a schedule, which at peak season are about an hour apart (aka not frequently enough!). JOD Tip: when on the ferry, try to get a seat on the right side of the boat for the best views as you sail past each town.
Monterosso is the largest and westernmost village of Cinque Terre (and also the most touristy). It’s divided up into two distinct parts, the old town (where the ferry docked) and the new town, separated by a walkable tunnel and the medieval Aurora Tower. Right in the port was a busy beach, Bagni Alga, restaurants, and a really cute open air market where I bought a handmade magnet for my ages-old magnet collection.
JOD Tip: Cinque Terre is the birthplace of pesto, so we spent the first hour of our two free hours having lunch at Ristorante de Ely. Yes, it was absolutely divine with the best handmade gnocchi I have ever had - but sitting down to eat took up too much precious time. Next time I’d have gotten it as take away and eaten it back on the ship.
Getting that “insta-worthy” shot from high above the town was my second priority, but that was not going to happen in the hour we had left. I figured my best bet for snapping a pic of me with the cutie pastel houses in the background was to head north towards the bigger beach I saw as we were docking and hope for the best. Our time was winding down quickly and the temps were rising even faster. Finally I managed to grab a shot on some seriously slippery boulders with the pastel houses in the background, from near the beach Bagni Fegina.
My Final Thoughts?
I definitely think Cinque Terre is far too spectacular to only spend two hours there! I recommend visiting when you can dedicate a few days (or weeks? :) there. The sunsets are divine - also to wake up there, relax on the colorful beaches, and mangia on all the pasta, pizza (and limoncello!) your heart desires. If your only shot is to see Cinque Terre by cruise ship, please hire a private tour guide that can take you directly there to maximize your time on the picturesque coast. Here’s a few suggestions :)