Nestled between the mountains of Pisa and Genoa lies the Cinque Terre (Chink-weh Tay-Reh). With miles of stunning hiking trails alongside the sea you’ll quickly fall for its irresistible Italian charm. This guide has everything you need to navigate the Cinque Terre to help you plan an unforgettable getaway. In the spirit of Italy, go pour yourself a glass of wine – sit back and enjoy this guide on what not to miss in Cinque Terre!
About the Cinque Terre
Cinque Terre translates to “Five Lands” in English. The five villages that make up the Cinque Terre are Riomaggiore (ree-oh-mah-jor-ay), Manarola (mah-nah-roh-lah), Corniglia (cor-neel-yah), Vernazza (ver-naht-sah), and Monterosso. Cinque Terre is a dream destination if you savor sunshine, nature, the ocean, wine, and delicious pesto.
The Cinque Terre sits on a cliff tucked between Pisa and Genoa. The mountainous land stretches six-mils along the Italian riviera. Pisa will be your closest airport, but the Cinque Terre can easily be reached by train from any major Italian city.
The Five Villages, from South to North
What Not to Miss in Cinque Terre in Riomaggiore
Riomaggiore is a fishing village made up of colorful pastel buildings perched up on a cliff. Riomaggiore has my favorite snack in all of the Cinque Terre – fresh fried fish in a cone!
Sunset at the Marina
Without a doubt the most picturesque jaw-dropping spot in Riomaggiore is the Marina. The Marina glows during sunset as the light sunlight flickers against the buildings.It offers some of the best postcard worthy photos that capture the magic of the Cinque Terre.
To get to the Marina, just hop off the train stop and walk through the main tunnel. You’ll be greeted with the sounds of the waves crashing against the rocks.
What Not to Miss in Cinque Terre Manarola
Manarola was my favorite village in the Cinque Terre Because of its charming and romantic feeling. It’s one of Cinque Terre’s steepest villages, but the higher you go you’ll find the crowds becoming less and less.
Manarola is the largest producer of wine in the Cinque Terre region. All you need to do is look up to see all the rows of vineyards as you hike along the trials. To really grasp the beauty of the region, I recommend this AirBnB experience hiking with a local Italian guide Erica up to “Wine Heaven”. You can book the Stairway to Wine Heaven AirBnb experience here.
Along the hike up to the town of Volastra, Erica will stop and tell you stories about the wine that’s produced in Manarola. Once you reach the top, you’ll visit a working winery and taste wine while sitting in a beautiful vineyard overlooking the ocean.
This is a great AirBnb Experience to start your day with if you plan to continue to hike the Cinque Terre. From the top at Volastra you can continue down the mountain to Corniglia in a little less than two hours.
This pesto class at restaurant Nessun Dorma is a must-do if you’re a pesto lover! The view alone from the restaurant is stunning. The pesto making class is held in the morning from 10:30-12:00 before the restaurant opens. After you finish making your pesto, you’ll enjoy a charcuterie board of meats, bread, cheeses and wine with your pesto.
What Not to Miss in Cinque Terre Corniglia
Corniglia is known as the sleepy middle village that sits atop a 300 ft. rocky cliff. It’s the only Cinque Terre village without direct access to the sea. Nevertheless, Cornelia is perfect for strolling the narrow alleys and taking in the colorful four-story houses.
It’s less visited than the other villages, but it’s pleasant for visitors because of the cooler temperatures and a charming courtyard.
Good To Know: Corniglia is located high on a cliff, but the train station is below with a 385 footpath zigzagging to the top. If you would rather not walk, you can hop on the shuttle bus to the top that’s usually timed with the arrival of the trains. With the distance from the train station to the village, it’s harder to hop around between the other towns. Therefore, because Corniglia is more isolated, I wouldn’t recommend staying there.
Hiking from Corniglia to Vernazza
The best part of Corniglia is it’s a great starting point if you want to hike the coastal trail to Vernazza. From Corniglia to Vernazza budget around 2 hours for the hike. You’ll need to purchase the Cinque Terre Trekking Card for 7.50 in cash which you can do at the guard post at the entrance to the trail. Along the hike, you’ll find a handful of cafes to purchase water and food.
What Not to Miss in Cinque Terre Vernazza
Vernazza is the jewel of the Cinque Terre. It’s perfect for what Italian’s call the passeggiata-strolling lazily together and enjoying the ambiance. There’s no better place to soak in the magic of Vernazza than the harbor. Find a spot near the water at the harbor and listen to the ocean while you’re surrounded by the crayon-colored buildings.
Hiking from Vernazza to Monterosso
From Vernazza, you can hike in toward Cornelia or Monterosso for stunning views! The best spots are about 10 minutes up from the town just past the park ticket checkpoints. For the best lighting, go in the early morning. The view from the trial toward Cornelia has the best views with the round tower castle poking up with Monterosso in the backdrop. If you want to enjoy a view from up here you can have a drink at Bar la Torre.
What Not to Miss in Cinque Terre Monterosso
Monterosso is known for its stretch of beaches and colorful umbrellas perched up along the water. It’s the only Cinque Terre village that’s split between a new town and old town – both linked together by an underground tunnel. In Monterosso you’ll find a beach resort atmosphere with a lively nightlife of wine and beach bars.
Have a Beach Day
The largest beach in the Cinque Terre is in Monterosso’s new town. You’ll see the beach right as you exit the main train station. This is the only beach where you can spot all five villages that make up The Cinque Terre.
If you don’t have a towel you can rent chairs and umbrellas for 20-25 euros. Light lunches and drinks are also served at beach cafes to sunbathers at their lounge chair. You’ll also find kayaks and stand-up paddle boards to rent here.
Explore the Old Town
Walk through the tunnel connecting the new and old town and be transported into Monterosso’s charming and colorful old town. Wander through the old town and enjoy a glass of wine at Enoteca da Eliseo – a local favorite wine bar. You’ll find fresh lemon trees all around the town which are a specialty of the region.
4 Important Cinque Terre Hiking Tips
The five Cinque Terre towns are a hikers paradise! They’re connected by trails marked with red-and-white paint stripes. Many of the trails have stunning views of the coastline.
- You’ll need to buy a Cinque Terre Trekking Card (7.50 for one day of hiking) for the main coastal trails between Riomaggiore and Monterosso. You can purchase the cards at the train stations, or at the trailheads. At the trailheads they only accept cash!
- Before planning your hike, check the weather forecast and confirm if any of the trails are closed. Official closures are noted on the national parks website – and are posted the park-information desks in each town’s train station.
- Don’t venture on a trial without the proper attire! Water, sunscreen, a hat, towel (for sweat), and proper shoes are a must. The Cinque Terre National Park banned hikers wearing flip-flops on the trials, but sandals with strong straps are fine.
- When deciding on which hikes to take, my two recommendations are the trails from Corniglia to Vernazza and Vernazza to Monterosso for the best views of the ocean and through the scenic vineyards.
Where to Stay in the Cinque Terre
Vernazza: Vernazza is charming and filled with culture. For example, during July and August they have a summer Opera series in the evening. Vernazza has the best selection of restaurants to keep you entertained and full all night long.
Monterosso: Monterosso is a great spot if you’re looking to spend time at the beach. It has the most bars that are open late if you’re looking for more nightlife. Monterosso also has more options to connect by rail nonstop to neighboring cities – rather than stopping in each Cinque Terre village.
Manarola: Manarola is my top choice for home base, and I’m so glad we stayed here! The town is so romantic and perfect for strolling in the evenings. We enjoyed the great selection of restaurants for dinner. We booked this budget friendly AirBnB which was perfect for two travelers. It was so close to the train station which was nice to avoid climbing up steep hills with luggage. The host and accommodations were lovely.
Riomaggiore: Riomaggiore is the largest of the towns, and has the most options for guest houses. Riomaggiore is also great for sunsets, but in my experience Manarola and Vernazza had nicer options for a relaxing dinner.
Corniglia: Corniglia is on a hilltop, and is a great home base for hikers. If you have several pieces of luggage, you will need to take the shuttle which runs from the train stop to the top of the hill.
Helpful Cinque Terre Travel Tips
When to Visit
Spring and fall is peak season in the Cinque Terre with the best weather and the busy crowds. The end of September used to be smaller crowds, but that has really shifted more towards the first two weeks of October. July and August are very hot, and with limited air conditioning in most restaurants, it might not be as comfortable. If you visit between April-October, advanced hotel, or AirBnB reservations are a must.
How Long to Stay
In my experience, three full days is the perfect amount of time in the Cinque Terre. Leaving enough room for a day of hiking, relaxing, and a cooking class or two! If you want to stretch it out, five days would be fine as well, but with so much to see in Italy, I think you can cover the important sights in three days for the Cinque Terre.
Transportation around the Cinque Terre
Within the Cinque Terre you can connect the five towns in three ways: by train, boat, or hiking. Trains are the cheapest, efficient and most frequent option. Boats connect to the towns, but the waters around the Cinque Terre can be rough, which means they don’t run as often. Hiking takes the longest, but this way you can enjoy more pasta!
*Bonus* Best Day Trip you Can’t Miss from Cinque Terre
Portovenere is often nicknamed the “sixth” Cinque Terre – but with far fewer crowds! This stunning hidden secret Italian Riveria town has everything you love from coastal views, beautiful churches, and a colorful quaint fishing village. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and I can say with confidence it’s definitely worth the detour before or after your Cinque Terre trip.
How to Get to Portoverne
The reason you’ll find far fewer crowds at Portoverne is because it’s not connected by train. To get to Portoverne you’ll need to arrive by boat, car, or bus! Check out this guide here for an overview of all the different transportation types to Portoverne.
We took the 11P bus from La Spezia for only €3 per ticket which leaves every 20-16 minutes. You can buy bus tickets at any tobacco shop (Tabaccheria) and stamp it in the machines once you get on the bus. The total journey takes less than an hour.
When to Go and How Long to Stay in Portoverne
You can easily see the main sights and have lunch, or coffee in the Portoverne in around 3-4 hours. I recommend visiting Portoverne on your way back from Cinque Terre because you’ll need to up back in La Spezia to catch the bus to Portovenere. We stored our luggage in the hotel we stayed at in La Spezia, but I recommend this luggage storage near the train station here.
What to Do in Portovenere
Visit the Church of Saint Peter
Perched along a rocky cliff in the Ligurian Sea is the Church of San Peter is the crown jewel of Portovenere – from a distance, it almost looks like a castle. It was consecrated officially in 1198. It’s worth a visit to enjoy the simple but beautiful facade outside and see the statue of Saint Peter inside.
Walk up the steps toward the Church of Saint Peter and you’ll see a set of arched stone windows – from a distance you can see Riomaggiore and Manarola!
Wander the Beautiful Streets
The main street, Via Giovanni Capellini, is a charming cobblestone maze filled with gelaterias and boutiques. You’ll also find a few low-key places to eat l recommend like La Bottega del Pesto who serve up fresh pasta with homemade pesto to-go.
Climb up the Steps to Doria Castle
The Doria Castle dates all the way back to the 12th century. It’s an impossible landmark you can’t miss when you arrive to Portovenere. We paid the €5 entrance fee to go inside the castle.
The Doria Castle was the center of the battle between Pisa and Genoa in the 13th century and later, between the 15th and 17th centuries it underwent major reconstructions again. The views from the top are spectacular and the garden area is lovely just outside the castle for a picnic, or just to relax.
Final Thoughts on the Cinque Terre
No matter how you decide to spend your time in the Cinque Terre, you’ll love every minute of your trip. The pastel-colored houses on the cliffs, car free streets, and ocean breezes immerse you in the true magic that is Italy. One thing is for sure- you can never go wrong with a trip to the Cinque Terre.
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