Nestled on the northern coast of Italy is a slice of heaven known as Cinque Terre. With its pastel colored villages, teal blue waters, and jagged cliffsides that extend into the Meditteranean, its picturesque beauty and sweeping landscapes will leave you without words. In English, Cinque Terre translates to “Five Lands.” This is because there are five fishing villages that make up the coastline here: Monterosso, Vernazza, Manarola, Corniglia, and Riomaggiore. Each village is as unique as the next, with a variety of distinct characteristics and things to offer visitors that gather here in the summer months. From my recent visit, I’ve been able to put together a complete guide covering everything you need to know about visiting Cinque Terre, from the best places to eat to the best sights to see.
Where to stay:
If you’re visiting Cinque Terre, it’s most likely that you’ll want to see all 5 towns while you’re here. However, I highly suggest choosing one town to stay in as your home base and then visiting the other towns during the day. I say this because the towns of Cinque Terre are quite hilly and it’s a pain to have to drag a suitcase up an endless flight of stairs or a cobblestone hill. Since the towns are so close, you can easily visit them via the train, boat, or even by hiking.
We chose to stay in the town of Monterosso al Mare since it is the largest town, had the nicest beaches, and the best parking options. We stayed at this AirBnb, which was freshly renovated (a rare find in some parts of Italy), quiet, and close to everything you need. I would highly recommend it!
How Long to Stay:
I recommend staying at least 2 nights here to get the most out of your visit and be able to fully enjoy every village. If you want to spend some extra time laying out in the sun, swimming, or taking a longer hike, then I would suggest 3 nights here.
How To Get To Cinque Terre:
There are two ways to get to Cinque Terre: car or train. Although we arrived by car since we were coming from Switzerland, I think the train is easier since it stops directly in each town and you don’t have to worry about the hassle of parking, which can be very difficult here.
Depending on which direction you’re arriving from within Italy, you’ll connect to the regional Cinque Terre train line in either Levanto (from the North) or La Spezia (from the South). If you’d like to book your tickets in advance you can buy them on Rail Europe, which will tell you the best route and trains to take depending on your starting and end points.
Rome to Cinque Terre: About a 4.5 hour train ride with one train running per hour. You will have to change at the La Spezia station.
Milan to Cinque Terre: About 3 hours direct, with some trains changing in Genoa.
Florence to Cinque Terre: Leaving from Firenze S. M. Novella station, the ride is about 2.5-3 hours and usually involves a few changes in either Pisa and/or La Spezia. Some people do this as a day trip, so leave as early as possible since it will be a long day.
La Spezia to Cinque Terre: A short 15-30 minutes by train, with 2-3 trains arriving per hour.
Getting from town to town is fairly easy and there are three ways to do so: by train, by ferry, and by hiking.
Train: This is the quickest and cheapest option for traveling between villages. The local trains run every 20-30 minutes during the summer months and every hour outside of the summer period. Each village is just 5 minutes from the next, with one way fares costing €4 each way.
Ferry: This is a slower, more costly option. However, you must do it at least once while you’re here since it’s a great way to see the towns from the ocean. A day pass for the ferry costs €25 and €5 for a short trip to the next village.
Hiking: This is a great way to experience the Italian coastline and see the towns from a new perspective. The most popular trails are the “blue trails” that connect each village. If you’re planning on hiking any of these trails you’ll need to buy a Cinque Terre Card. You can buy this card at any of the train stations located in the five villages for €7.50. You can also buy a day pass for just €16, which gives you unlimited train and “blue trail” access. (Note: Only 2 of the 4 trails are open, Monterosso to Vernazza and Vernazza to Corniglia, because of storm damage)
Monterosso Al Mare
Monterosso, the largest town of the five villages, is renowned for its turquoise blue waters and rocky beaches dotted with colorful umbrellas. It offers a “modern-resort like vibe” and has the most accommodation options, which is why most visitors tend to stay here. In comparison to the other towns, Monterosso is not as quaint and is more spread out across flat land, making it easier to roll a suitcase around.
We spent most of our mornings and afternoons here, relaxing in the sun at a lido (a beach club), and strolling along the seaside boardwalk. It’s important to note that most of the beaches here (where you see the sun chairs and umbrellas) are private. So if you’re planning to spend some time in the sun you’ll have to pay for a sun bed, which you can reserve the night before (a must if you want a good spot). However, if you don’t want to pay, there are a few slivers of the beach that are public, but they fill up quickly with locals who arrive there by mid morning.
Out of the five towns, Vernazza was my personal favorite. Lined with pastel colored buildings that open up to a beautiful piazza and the sea, there’s something so quaint and charming about this village that makes it stand out. Some of the best views of Vernazza can be found in the first 15 minutes of the hiking trail that goes toward Monterosso. Here, the trail will lead you to a viewpoint that overlooks the entire village and the emerald blue ocean – a view so breathtaking that it simply can’t be missed. It’s a great spot to watch the sun go down and get that postcard worthy shot you see all over Instagram and countless European guidebooks. This is part of a paid hiking trail so make sure to have some Euros with you or cash on your Cinque Terre Card. However, we arrived at 6p.m. and did not have to pay since the checkpoint was already closed.
If you’re interested in seeing another perspective of Vernazza, head back to town and take the trail that leads to Corniglia. Since this spot is before the paid hiking trail starts, you don’t have to worry about having a Cinque Terre card.
Arguably, one of the most romantic villages of Cinque Terre, Manarola is full of colorful streets and hillside vineyards. While there is no beach here, there is a small harbour where you’ll find flocks of people swimming and basking in the sun on every rock and inch of the boat ramp they can find.
If there’s one thing you must do in Manarola, it’s visit Nessun Dorma. Here you can dine while enjoying some of the best views in town, which is why it has become so popular on social media. Getting here is simple: Just follow the path from the marina and up the hill until you get to the bend, then take the stairs where you’ll most likely see a line of people waiting outside the restaurant. When it comes to ordering, go for the pesto bruschetta – it’s easily some of the pesto I’ve ever had in my life.
Filled with dramatic seaside views, Riomaggiore is the rustic gem of Cinque Terre. Out of all the towns, Riomaggiore has the most authentic feel to it. Here, you’ll get a glimpse into local Italian life where fisherman push their boats through the village streets and women hang laundry from their windows. The best thing to do here is grab a take away pizza or a cone of seafood and enjoy it on the rocks while watching the sun go down.
Hidden high above the Mediterranean amongst the rolling hills and vineyards is the little village of Corniglia. Since there is no harbor here and requires a bit more effort to reach, it is significantly more quiet compared to the other villages. To get here, you’ll need to climb 365 steps from the train station below or take the shuttle bus that appears from time to time.
If you found this guide helpful or if you’d like to see me write about something in particular please let me know in the comments!