Getting there and doing your own trip is not only pretty straightforward, it will also save you a ton of money.
Seeing how the local tours (in Florence, which was my anchor city for this trip) were charging over 100 euros per person for a tour to Cinque Terre, we decided to DIY our own in order to cut down on costs!
In doing so, we managed to spend only 1/3 of what we would have originally spent if we went with the tour group. Here's how we did it:
- Purchase a train ticket to La Spezia (we used trenitalia). If you're unable to get the express train, you may need to do a stopover transit like we did in Pisa. The price for this train will depend on where you're coming from and how early you book the tickets. In our case, we came from Florence (Firenze S. M. Novella) and bought the tickets 30 minutes before boarding, which cost us about 28 euros per person.
- Get off at La Spezia and head to the ticket office to purchase tickets for the "Cinque Terre trains". If you're visiting multiple towns, a tourist day-pass would be the most convenient, which we bought for 13 euros per person.
The Cinque Terre trains have 6 stops in total: La Spezia --> Riomaggiore --> Manarola --> Corniglia --> Vernazza --> Monterosso --> Levanto. The middle 5 stops are the names of the 5 towns (Cinque Terre literally translates into Five Towns) that tourists often visit. Sit on the left side of the train for astounding views of the ocean!
When you're at the La Spezia station, head over to the customer service counter where they have a dedicated staff to help tourists heading to Cinque Terre, and check with them what time you have to leave Cinque Terre by in order to catch your connecting train back to Florence / Venice / your anchor city where you're staying for the night!
For us, we had to leave Cinque Terre by 7pm in order to catch our train back and arrived back in Florence at 10.40pm. We didn't want to get back any later than 11pm as we were worried about walking on the streets too late at night, given Europe's reputation for pickpockets!
Also note that you should probably allocate about 3 hours of travelling time (especially if you're not taking the fast-speed express train to La Spezia) each way, so do plan your schedule properly and set off early in order to cover all the towns! We overslept and only left our hotel at 11am, so in the end we only managed to cover 3 out of 5 towns, instead of our original plan to (ideally) cover all 5.
Here are some more photos to share from our DIY budget trip: