1. Go by train.
To do a proper tour of all the towns, start on either end – Monterosso or Riomaggiore. You can choose to hike the entire route in one day (it takes around 6 hours) and then take the train back when you reach the last town. Or, stay overnight in a town or two along the way to break up the hike and take it all in.
If you prefer not to hike at all, you can easily see each town by train. Time between towns by train is only 5 minutes. Just hop on and hop off. As a popular day trip from Florence, you can see all of the 5 towns for as little as $20. Depart from station Santa Maria Novella to La Spezia Centrale and board the Cinque Terre Express. Piece of cake. The train system in Italy is pretty inexpensive and reliable. Read more here on how to get around by train.
2. Eat somewhere with a view (but consult TripAdvisor first).
3. Don’t go in the middle of summer.
The last time I saw so many people in one place I was in line at Disney. The sweltering heat and shoulder to shoulder crowds made it difficult to take in the majesty of the town. Between mid-April and early June are the sweet spots for enjoying a swim and a hike. Crowds will be at their worst June through August. Mid-September to early October is less crowded, but not all trails may be open and the rainy season begins. Staying in a town overnight is a great way to enjoy the town after the day trippers go home. However “high season” runs April-October, so book a room at least three months in advance.
4. Be prepared to walk.
Although we came by car, the parking closest to the town is reserved for residents. The descent into the town by foot took around 15 minutes. Plan to encounter lots of inclines and stairs. Even if you aren’t hiking, due to the vertical nature of these towns you will be walking uphill a lot. Other than the regional train system there are no taxis or other forms of transportation – so keep that in mind when you’re packing! But, despite all the hiking or walking you’ll do, I think you’ll agree that the breathtaking scenery is so worth the effort. Not unlike the satisfaction of winning over an elusive mate, the beauty of the Cinque Terre is awarded to those who are the most determined to see it.