Found along the Italian Riviera, the Cinque Terre is a stunning destination with magnificent coastal scenery. After days of admiring churches and museums in Florence or Milan, visiting the Cinque Terre is a refreshing experience – especially if you love to hike, can’t put your camera down when you’re on vacation, or simply enjoy fresh seafood.
If you want to explore one of Italy’s most impossibly beautiful corners, follow this guide to the Cinque Terre. You’ll find plenty of travel tips for the Cinque Terre and learn how to make the most of your visit.
A Brief Background of Cinque Terre
The name “Cinque Terre” means “Five Lands,” referring to five beautiful villages along the coast of Liguria (also known as the Italian Riviera): Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso. Nestled within the hilly coastal landscape, these villages were quite remote for much of their history.
Over the centuries, locals built terraces into the hillside to help them farm against the steep terrain. Although the villages overlook the Ligurian Sea, their main trades historically were growing olives and making wine rather than fishing, and the terraces created the right conditions for the olives and grapes to grow.
Today, the Cinque Terre’s economy relies a lot on tourism. The area around the villages is now a national park that offers some of the best hikes in the world. For its cultural and environmental importance, the Cinque Terre was also named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.
How to Get to Cinque Terre
The Cinque Terre is in Liguria on Italy’s western coast, roughly halfway between the cities of Genoa and Pisa. Pisa International Airport and Genoa Airport both cater to many domestic and international destinations (though Pisa’s airport is much bigger), so you can fly to either city.
Once you’re in Italy, the best way to travel to the Cinque Terre is by train. First, you have to reach the coastal town of Levanto or the city of La Spezia. These two places bookend the Cinque Terre (to the north and east respectively) and are the first and last stops for the local train. Being the only city in the area, La Spezia acts as a local hub of sorts.
You need seat reservations on the Le Frecce and InterCity trains, which you should book well in advance. You may not get a seat if you wait too long, as train travel is a popular way to get around Italy, especially in the summer. You can also take the slower regional trains, though, which don’t have seat reservations.
Recommendation: You could also visit the Cinque Terre on a day trip from Florence or Milan. This Cinque Terre day tour from Milan comes highly recommended. If you’re coming from Florence, check out this Cinque Terre day tour.
How to Get Around the Cinque Terre
When planning a trip to the Cinque Terre, you need to decide how you’ll get around once you’re there. This will affect how much time you need to see the region and where you should stay. While the most interesting way to explore the Cinque Terre is to hike the scenic coastal trails linking the villages, you can also get around by train, boat, or car.
The regular regional train from La Spezia to Levanto stops at each of the villages, taking 30 minutes end to end. The best ticket option depends on how much you plan to take the train in the Cinque Terre. If you plan to go everywhere by train, consider buying the one- or two-day Cinque Terre Treno MS Card at any station along the line. If you’ll only take the train a couple times, though, individual trip tickets will be cheaper.
If you fancy seeing the Cinque Terre by boat, you’re in luck, as ferry services connect the villages with neighboring Levanto and Portovenere. This is definitely a more expensive option than the train, but you can save some money by just taking one boat trip between villages. You can find the ferry timetables, routes, and costs here.
Driving around the Cinque Terre presents some complications. Although it may be a fun and scenic drive for some, the winding roads throughout the national park are somewhat tricky – and particularly bad for anyone prone to carsickness. Also, many of the roads are only wide enough for a single car, which can be hazardous if you encounter any other vehicles.
Only local cars may enter the villages themselves, so you’ll need to park at the edge of your destination village. Each parking lot has its own hourly or daily rates, generally ranging from €15 to €25 per day. It’s typically cheaper to park in La Spezia or Levanto and take the train to the villages.
Best Time to Visit the Cinque Terre
The best time to visit the Cinque Terre depends on whether you want to hike, swim, or just go sightseeing. If you mainly want to spend time at the beach and go swimming, summer is probably your best bet, as that’s when the water is warmest. The downside is that summer is the Cinque Terre’s busiest time, especially July and August. August has the added disadvantage of many locals being on holiday, so various businesses are closed.
You’ll certainly want to avoid the summer if hiking or sightseeing is your priority, as the Italian heat can be quite strong and makes walking around rough. For comfortable weather and good hiking conditions, it’s best to visit the Cinque Terre in the shoulder season – April, May, or September.
Where to Stay in Cinque Terre
If you’re planning your first trip to the Cinque Terre, you may be wondering what the best place to stay is. With so many options, working out accommodations can be overwhelming. Start with the main decision: whether to stay in one of the Cinque Terre villages or a nearby town, such as Levanto, Portovenere, or La Spezia.
Your first preference is probably to stay in one of the five villages, which is understandable! When it comes to ambience and having everything at your doorstep, the villages are the best places to stay in the Cinque Terre. But this means they’re likely to be the first accommodations snapped up and quite expensive, especially in the high season.
Levanto and Portovenere are similar to the villages in look and feel, but they’re not actually part of the Cinque Terre, so you should find them less booked out and a little cheaper. Then there’s La Spezia, a fairly unassuming city that offers affordable accommodations and easy access to the Cinque Terre.
Below are some of our favorite accommodation options in the Cinque Terre area:
- Grand Hotel Portovenere is a luxurious five-star hotel within a former monastery that dates back to the 17th century. Overlooking the Portovenere harbor, the hotel boasts some exceptional views. Its rooms have the look and feel of a classy boutique hotel, and the attentive staff members enhance the experience.
- Close to the beach of Monterosso, La Rosa Dei Venti exemplifies the style of buildings in the Cinque Terre. This guesthouse is a good value for a stay in the villages, offering clean, comfortable rooms with a simple style.
- Budget and hostel options are few and far between in this part of Italy, but Ostello Porto Venere manages to be both affordable and ideally located in Portovenere. This hostel offers both dorms and private rooms, all with scenic views, Wi-Fi, and air conditioning.
For more accommodation options in the Cinque Terre, check out Booking.com. This site consistently offers the best rates, and its customer service is on point.
Where to Eat in the Cinque Terre
The Cinque Terre is just as much about the food and wine as the sightseeing. You not only get to enjoy the regional Ligurian cuisine, which favors seafood and pesto, but can try local treats as well.
With so many vineyards in the Cinque Terre, it’s little surprise that local wine is on the menu. The area produces mostly white wine, with the local specialty being the sweet Sciacchetrà. A fun street food you’ll find here is a seafood cone, which is just what it sounds like – a waffle cone full of assorted seafood for you to munch as you walk.
Of course, you’ll find plentiful dining options throughout the five villages and surrounding towns. Rio Bistrot in Riomaggiore is a great example of the eateries here. Just up from the harbor, this restaurant serves regional cuisine and local staples like pesto ravioli and seafood pasta.
Guide to Hiking in the Cinque Terre
The Cinque Terre National Park has 48 hiking paths you can explore. The most popular are the four trails that connect the villages, but others take you up into the backcountry and provide longer alternatives. With so many options, it’s little wonder that hiking is one of the best things to do in the Cinque Terre.
Trails in the Cinque Terre come in three degrees of difficulty: tourist, hiking, and skilled. Each individual path has a number, such as 592-2, which leads from Manarola to Corniglia. This path is part of SVA2, the Cinque Terre’s coastal route.
You’ll want to bring a few things with you for a hike here. Naturally, you need good hiking shoes if you plan to take the tougher trails or walk a lot. You’ll also need to bring a refillable water bottle that you can refill as you go. The sun is surprisingly intense here, so wear a hat and apply sunscreen regularly.
One of the most important Cinque Terre travel tips concerns landslides. Due to the steep coastal terrain, landslides are somewhat common along the hiking trails. When they happen, the park may close that stretch of trail for the safety of hikers. To see which hiking trails are currently open, as well as weather warnings, consult the park’s website.
Sentiero Azzurro (SVA2)
The most popular route is the Sentiero Azzurro (Blue Path), as it takes you along the coast. Going by the reference marker SVA2, the route leads from Riomaggiore to Monterosso. It’s possible to hike this 11-kilometer trail in a day, even with short stops in each village.
Riomaggiore to Manarola (592-1)
This cobblestone stretch of the Sentiero Azzurro is known affectionately as Via dell’Amore (Pathway of Love). Either end of the route starts by the train station of the respective village and follows the coastal cliffs in between. The gentle 1.1-kilometer walk takes around 25 minutes.
Manarola to Corniglia (592-2)
Starting at Manarola’s train station, this route passes through a tunnel into the village itself. From the village’s waterfront, you’ll follow the cobblestone pathway uphill and along the coast before climbing up a large staircase into Corniglia from the station. At 2.2 kilometers long and with multiple changes in elevation, this path takes roughly an hour and 15 minutes.
Corniglia to Vernazza (592-3)
Reaching the more challenging sections of the route, you’ll take Via Serra, the trail by the Church of San Pietro. When you cross the road, you’ll pass a park checkpoint and continue inland over a small bridge. You’ll then hike uphill through olive trees and picnic areas. Eventually, the towering ruins of Doria Castle will come into sight, and stairs will lead you down into Vernazza. At 4.1 kilometers, this is the longest stretch and has plenty of elevation changes, so it takes about an hour and 30 minutes.
Vernazza to Monterosso (592-4)
Once you’re in Vernazza, take the steep alley that leads up past the Church of St. Margaret of Antioch. Following a series of valleys, the scenery alternates between groves, vineyards, and wild scrubs. As you pass over a rocky spur, Monterosso will come into sight. This is another relatively tough trail with plenty of climbing, taking around two hours for the full 3.7 kilometers.
Best Things to Do in Cinque Terre
Many of our tips for traveling to the Cinque Terre have focused on hiking so far, but that’s not all you can do there. All five colorful village are so interesting and distinctive, each offering its own things to do beyond savoring the idyllic coastal atmosphere.
Depending on how much you plan on doing, you can see the Cinque Terre in as little as a day. Of course, properly immersing yourself requires several full days. With that in mind, here are the best places to visit in the Cinque Terre for each of the five villages.
Often the first village tourists see, Riomaggiore is a compact cluster of homes along two main streets weaving their way down to the sea. It’s common for visitors to clamber over the rocks by the water and head to the viewpoint at Via San Giacomo for photos of the village. The pretty pastel houses around the tiny harbor are a great first taste of what the Cinque Terre has to offer.
The classic view that comes to mind for the Cinque Terre is typically the village of Manarola. Slightly removed from its pretty harbor, the village seems to rise out of the rocky coast and almost faces back toward the land. Although its narrow lanes are nice to explore, most choose to wander along the coast to the Manarola Overlook Viewpoint and admire the contrast of the colorful homes against the green terraces and gray rocks.
High above the water and surrounded by vineyards, Corniglia is distinctive for being the only Cinque Terre village without an immediate waterfront. Visiting Corniglia is just as much about the wonderfully fertile land around you as it is the nearby sea. The sea view is still a standout feature here, though, as Viewpoint Corniglia is the only place you can see all five villages at once.
A wonderful blend of everything that makes the Cinque Terre charming, Vernazza is perhaps the most fascinating village here. It certainly has a photogenic waterfront, with the quaint boats in its harbor, the small beach, and the rocky breakwater. Then you have the colorful buildings running out onto the peninsula and up to the intriguing tower of Doria Castle. Best of all, thanks to its orientation, you can appreciate Vernazza from both sides by heading a short way along the trail in either direction.
Monterosso al Mare (often known simply as Monterosso), the largest of the villages, sits at the northwest end of the coast. Monterosso is defined by its beautiful strip of beachfront that tends to be the region’s most popular. Away from the beach, you’ll find more delightful old-world houses and architecture, including the impressive striped Church of San Giovanni Battista.
Get Insured Before Traveling to Cinque Terre
Make sure you purchase travel insurance before traveling to Cinque Terre. You never know what will happen and trust us, you don’t wanna get stuck with thousands of dollars in medical bills. As a wise man once said, “If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel.” So don’t leave home without it. We use and recommend SafetyWing.
Even if you don’t get travel insurance with SafetyWing, please make sure to get travel insurance from somewhere.
So, now you’re armed with our travel tips for visiting the Cinque Terre! Knowing what to do in the Cinque Terre, you can now experience all that this awe-inspiring place has to offer.