Italy with kids: Cinque Terre itinerary for families

On a trip to Italy with kids, you’re likely to devote a good deal of time to art and history in Florence and archeological ruins in Rome. Afterward, escape the intensity of the city with this three-day Cinque Terre itinerary for families.


Day One: Florence to Cinque Terre

We took a morning train from Florence to Lucca and spent several hours walking around this lovely walled city. It’s definitely worth the side trip. There is a baggage check place right across from the station where we left our bags. From there you can just walk into the town or rent a bike from the same place. 

Then we took a train from Lucca to La Spezia (you can get one ticket that is Florence to La Spezia and just get off and on again) where you change trains for the towns of Cinque Terre. Be sure to get off at La Spezia Centrale station, not La Spezia Milgliarina.

In La Spezia, make sure you take a local train that stops in Riomaggiore (Genoa-La Spezia line). Check the train schedules because they don’t all stop at the little Cinque Terre towns.

We stayed 2 nights at Affittacamere Le Giare which I found through Trip Advisor and booked through Being off-season many places were closed. But this was a wonderful little apartment where our host was waiting for us and made dinner recommendations. We had time for a walk around the town using Rick Steves’ guide.

Note: you can also go from Milan to Cinque Terre.

Day Two: Village to village hiking

We awoke to rain but it cleared up by 9:00 and we found a café in town for breakfast. All the Cinque Terre villages cater to American tourists who come in droves in the summer so there are many cafes trying to serve American or English breakfasts.

You can go from village to village three different ways: by train, hike or by boat. Boats only run in season (and we visited in winter) and most of the train trip is through tunnels, obscuring views between village stops, so we opted to hike. The entire hike is approximately eight miles one-way, which is do-able with older kids and teens, when broken up into a leisurely day.

The first two sections of the hiking trail were closed: Riomaggiore to Manarola is only a 20-minute walk and has been closed for years; the second section, Manarola to Corniglia takes a little longer but is less scenic.

We took the train from Riomaggiore to Corniglia and started our hike from there. Finding the correct trail out of Corniglia toward Vernazza proved to be a bit of a challenge but after climbing a long set of switchback steps up to the town center, we found the red and white stripes on the stonewalls that serve as trail markers.

Tip: It’s a beautiful hike up out of Corniglia and you are able to look back at the village perched on the cliffs. Stunning!

The hike from Corniglia to Vernazza takes about an hour and a half but it is rocky, with some stone steps and somewhat hilly. You hike through vineyards and ravines. No one was on the trail when we were there, which made it pretty magical. In summer the crowds must really take away from the remote beauty, which is why we enjoyed an off-season visit. In another hour we came to Vernazza where we stopped for a delicious pizza lunch at a busy café right by the harbor.

Finding the continuing trail from Vernazza to Monterosso was easy. But the hike to Monterosso was the most difficult of all. It took us about an hour and a half with lots of ups and downs and muddy areas. But most of it is along cliffs with amazing views.

Monterosso is more of a resort town than the others. It is built on flat land and divided into two parts—the old and new. There are long stretches of beach and umbrella rentals, etc. It is also the only Cinque Terre village that is on a main train route. It was our least favorite.

To return to Riomaggiore, we took the train (they come about every hour, more often in summer) and rode it straight through from Monterosso to Riomaggiore. We were back in time to shower and rest up before a nice dinner by the harbor.

Day Three: Manarola back to Rome

We were headed back to Rome today for our morning flight out the next day, but before we left Riomaggiore we took the train to the second village that we could not hike to due to trail closures, Manarola. What a perfect morning outing! We found a little café for some pastries, but not much else was open. It was very quiet. Rick Steves’ walking guide took us up through the town and into the vineyards and graveyards with stone terraces. 

We took the train back to Riomaggiore, got our bags and then took another train to La Spezia where we changed trains to get back to the Rome Termini.

In summary:

  • Visit Lucca coming or going to Cinque Terre
  • Walk as much of the trail as you can and what you can’t, go back to by train and visit the villages that way.
  • Don’t think you’ll have views on the train because you don’t.
  • Pick one village as a base because they are all so close together.
  • Go off-season. We were told April was the best.