Visiting Cinque Terra on your Own

...is actually very easy

Source


Most of the tours I saw were well over $100pp, were extremely basic and were rushed based on the reviews that I read. You will want to pace yourself through the villages if you don't plan to stay overnight.
Here's how:

Transport-

From Florence, purchase a return ticket to Riomaggiore via La Spezia Centrale, on the regionale train with only 1 transfer, if possible. I booked mine a few months in advance of my trip via the Trenitalia website.

Here's the route that I booked: departing at 07:36 and arriving at 09:32, with only the main transfer
It cost a few more Euro, but I got to sleep in an extra hour, and saved tons of time


Note about the site: while you're able to change the language, the stations are still in Italian. For example, I departed from Firenze Campo di Marte for this particular trip. You need to know the Italian name of your departure station; the hours are in what we call "military time":

The Trenitalia website
Honestly book ALL your trips through Italy here


From La Spezia Centrale, you will board the express train to the nearest village, Riomaggiore. This transfer should already be included in the cost of your ticket. Just follow the herd of other passengers across the track to the express train. You don't have to disembark at Riomaggiore, but it is the first village on the route.

The regional train from La Spezia to the villages
WARNING: they get duuumb crowded with day trippers!


When I arrived in the early morning there weren't any train personnel checking tickets; however, as it got busier, they were definitely around, and were stopping people to see if they'd purchased village tickets. You can purchase the Cinque Terra train card at any station, or online in advance. You can also buy individual tickets to each village in person at any station, or you can try your luck. I never got stopped by any of the personnel, but quite a few others did, and they were fined if they were caught riding without a ticket.

This pass provides you one-day access to all 5 villages
You can also purchase a single ticket at each station for 4 euro
Either way gives you flexibility to move at your own pace
The train en route thru the villages
IMO this is the most efficient and time saving way to go


There are popular hiking trails through the villages, which also require purchasing an access pass, but y'all know I aint about that.

Views from the beginning of the hiking trail at Riomaggiore
This is the only one I climbed for a view

Things to do-

While many people do opt to hike the trails, I personally believe that the villages are best viewed from the water. I booked a very last minute boat tour with Enjoy Cinque Terra and I recommend them.





View from my boat tour
See the difference?
Besides people watching under the shade, you can eat and shop around in the villages, and that's about it. Some people took a dip in the waters and lounged on the rocks if it was shallow enough.

I ate gelato DAILY while in Italy




The villages-

Cinque means five in Italian; there are 5 villages to see. If you only plan to visit for the day then you'll need to start early. Based on my time of arrival, I had a good hour or so to have breakfast and explore between Riomaggiore and Manarola (the second village) before the crowds flooded the villages.


Riomaggiore, before the crowds
People do live here :)

Crowds forming at the train station
For perspective: the train will pull in packed already

You can find something to enjoy in all of the villages, but Vernazza and Manarola seemed to be the most popular and the busiest; most boat tours will depart from one of these two.

Monterosso was also popular but more so among those who were staying overnight; Corniglia and Riomaggiore were quiet compared to all of them.

Monterosso, the last village on the train line
It seemed to appeal to couples and overnighters


Whatever you decide, you're in for a real treat, and you can do it on your own for 1/4 the cost of a tour; hope this helps.