Displaying some of the most dramatic coastal landscapes in the world, these five colorful Italian fishing villages are nestled into the curves of a six-mile stretch of rocky cliffside. Each village is car-free and there isn’t a museum or chain store in sight, leaving travelers to soak up the nature and culture. Since 1997 Cinque Terre has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and its popularity only continues to grow.
After moving to France, visiting this side of the Italian Riviera had been at the top of my bucket list. Coming from Nice, it took six hours by train to arrive in La Spezia, the closest main city to Cinque Terre. It’s also easily accessible from Genoa, Pisa, Milan and Florence. With the warm weather approaching now is the perfect time to start planning your visit.
What You Should Know
Cinque Terre is a region – not just one particular place. There are five (cinque) small villages that make up the stretch of coastline. Running from north to south the towns are Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. Each one is incredibly beautiful with their own distinct personality.
Monterosso al Mare is made up of a New Town, an Old Town, sandy beaches, swimming and nightlife. Most tourists tend to stay here because it offers the most accommodations and has more of a resort-like feel.
Vernazza has one main street with a church built on the water. There’s a ruined castle above the waterfront piazza that makes it the perfect place to grab some food and people watch.
Corniglia is the smallest village, built high above the ocean on the cliffs. You have to walk up over 300 steps to make it to the town center, but it’s less crowded and worth the effort for the spectacular views.
Manarola is where the most iconic Cinque Terre photos are taken. It’s great for hiking or watching the sunset and there’s a small harbor. Surrounded by vineyards, Manarola is well-known for its locally produced wine.
Riomaggiore is one of the larger villages featuring a bustling main street, a rocky beach, nightlife and several restaurants. It’s the closest to the main city of La Spezia.
Where Should You Stay
I stayed at the Grand Hostel Manin in La Spezia. It’s less crowded and the prices tend to be cheaper if you’re on a budget. Another less expensive alternative is the neighboring city of Levanto. Both of these cities are on the Cinque Terre train line.
If you prefer to stay within Cinque Terre, Monterosso has the most accommodation choices from luxury hotels to family-run rentals. Personally, I would recommend staying in Vernazza or Riomaggiore but you should plan to book in advance because there aren’t as many options and they go quickly.
The train is the easiest and fastest way to go between the five villages during the day (it only takes about 5 minutes to go from one village to the next). It runs in each direction 1-2 times per hour. I suggest buying the Cinque Terre Treno Multi-Service Card (€16 for one day, €29 for 2 days) since it includes unlimited train runs on the La Spezia – Cinque Terre – Levanto lines and gives you access to all the hiking trails and public restrooms. Without the card you will spend €4 each way, €1 for restroom use, and separate fees for certain trails. Don’t forget to validate your tickets in the green machines BEFORE boarding the train or you risk getting a fine.
As far as hiking goes, there’s a mix of coastal hills and paths between the Cinque Terre villages open year-round. If you don’t plan on using the trains you can buy the Cinque Terre Trekking card (€7.50 for one day, €14.50 for two days). The most popular trail is #2, the “Sentiero Azzuro” (blue trail) and it’s made up of four individual paths that follow the coast line. Unfortunately, for the past few years two of the paths have been closed due to a major landslide: the “Via dell’Amore” (lover’s lane) flat trail that connects Riomaggiore to Manarola as well the path from Manarola to Corniglia. Hopefully the plans to reopen the paths in the coming years are a success. There are plenty of other trail options varying in difficulty, just get a map from wherever you are staying.
From the end of March until the beginning of November there is a local ferry service which connects the villages (other than Corniglia since it does not have water access). You can buy an unlimited all-day pass or single tickets.
11 Things to do in Cinque Terre
There’s not much to do when it comes to sight-seeing and monuments because the main attractions of the Cinque Terre are the colorful towns themselves. It’s meant to be a slow-paced vacation filled with sunbathing, eating, drinking wine and the occasional hike or two. Here’s my checklist!
1. Try the seafood (pairs perfectly with some white wine). The cones of fried calamari and shrimp were my favorite.
2. Do a tasting at one of the wineries.
3. Paraglide from the hill above Monterosso.
4. Climb the tower at Castlello Doria and admire the views.
5. Get a postcard-perfect picture in Manarola.
6. Taste focaccia bread from one of the bakeries.
7. Wake up early, watch the sunrise and try one of the hikes.
8. Sample the local fortified wine called Sciacchetrà.
9. Grab some gelato and hangout at the beach in Monterosso.
10. Have dinner at Trattoria Dal Billy.
11. Take a private boat tour (drinks included).
Other Tips, Information and Advice for Cinque Terre
On the low end you can get by spending €40 a day (lodging not included) but it’s easy to spend more.
Bring comfortable walking shoes. There’s tons of steps and hills even if you don’t go hiking.
With the train it’s possible to see all the villages in one day. I’d suggest spending two to three days here to take it all in at a relaxing pace.
Purchase some fresh pesto, olive oil or limoncello to take home with you.
Off season is the way to go if you want to experience Cinque Terre without too many crowds. July and August are the busiest months.
Here are some essential Italian phrases:
Buongiorno (bwohn-johr-noh) Hello / Good Morning
Arrivederci (ah-ree-veh-dehr-tshee) Good bye
Per favore (pehr fah-voh-reh) Please
Grazie (grah-tsee-eh) Thank you
Mi scusi (mee skooh-zee) Excuse me
Until the next city!