Planning a Trip
By Train -- You often cannot coast directly into the Cinque Terre towns, as they are served only by the most local of train runs. You'll generally find that you must change trains in nearby La Spezia (one or two per hour; 8 min.) at the coast's south tip, or in Pisa (about six daily; 1 1/4 hr.). This is true of the one or two trains per hour from Rome (total 4 1/2-5 hr.) or the hourly ones from Florence (2 1/2 hr.). There are one or two direct trains per hour from Genoa to La Spezia (1 hr., 40 min.); many more from Genoa require a change in Levanto or Sestri Levanto, both a bit farther north up the coast from Monterosso.
By Car -- The fastest route is via Autostrada A12 from Genoa, exiting at the Corrodano exit for Monterosso. The trip from Genoa to Corrodano takes less than an hour, while the much shorter 15km (9 1/4-mile) trip from Corrodano to Monterosso (via Levanto) is made along a narrow road and can take about half that amount of time. Coming from the south or Florence, get off Autostrada A12 at La Spezia and follow CINQUE TERRE signs.
By Boat -- Navagazione Golfo dei Poeti (tel. 0187-732-987 or 0187-730-336; www.navigazionegolfodeipoeti.it) runs erratic service from the Riviera Levante towns, as well as from Genoa, mid-June to mid-September, though these tend to be day cruises stopping for anywhere from 1 to 3 hours in Vernazza before returning (though you can usually talk them into not picking you up again for a day or three).
By Foot -- The best way to see the Cinque Terre is to devote a whole day and hoof it along the trails.
By Train -- Local trains make frequent runs (two to three per hour) between the five towns; some stop only in Monterosso and Riomaggiore, so check the posted "Partenze" schedule at the station first to be sure you're catching a local. One-way tickets between any two towns are available, including one version that is good for 6 hours of travel in one direction, meaning you can use it to town-hop -- or you can buy a day ticket good for unlimited trips.
By Car -- A narrow, one-lane coast road hugs the mountainside above the towns, but all the centers are closed to cars; parking is difficult, and where possible, expensive.
There are public parking facilities; Riomaggiore and Manarola both have small parking facilities just above their towns and minibuses to carry you and your luggage down. The cheapest option is the big open dirt lot right on the seafront in Monterosso. The priciest is the garage in Riomaggiore.
By Boat -- From the port in Monterosso, Navagazione Golfo dei Poeti (tel. 0187-732-987 or 0187-730-336; www.navigazionegolfodeipoeti.it) makes 8 to 10 trips a day between Manarola and Riomaggiore (a 25-min. trip), all stopping in Vernazza and half of them stopping in Manarola as well.
The tourist office for the Cinque Terre is underneath the train station of Monterosso, Via Fegina 38 (tel. 0187-817-506; fax 0187-817-825). It's open Easter to early November and again at Christmas daily 9:30 to 11:30am and 3:30 to 7:30pm. Even when it's closed or in the off season, posted outside the office is a rather handy display of phone numbers and other useful info, from hotels to ferries.
Useful websites for the region include www.cinqueterrenet.com, www.cinqueterre.it, www.aptcinqueterre.sp.it, and www.monterossonet.com.