Sitting along the Italian Riviera, the Cinque Terre is a stunning outdoor destination with plenty of magnificent coastal scenery. For those looking to stretch their legs after days admiring churches and museums in Florence or Milan, visiting Cinque Terre can be a refreshing experience. It’s ideal for those looking to hike in Italy, people who can’t put their camera down and anyone who enjoys fresh seafood.
One of Italy’s most impossibly beautiful corners, here’s our guide to the Cinque Terre, full of travel tips for the Cinque Terre and how to make the most of a visit.
A Brief Background of Cinque Terre
The name Cinque Terre means “Five Lands”, referring to five beautiful villages that sit along the coast of Liguria, often referred to as the Italian Riviera. Nestled within the hilly coastal terrain, these villages were quite remote for much of their lives. Over the centuries, locals built terraces into the hillside to help them farm against their steep hill backdrop.
Although the villages overlook the Ligurian Sea, traditionally fishing was not the main trade for the villages of Cinque Terre. Instead, the main trade in Cinque Terre was growing olives and winemaking. These practices were only possible due to the manmade terraces, as they created the right conditions for the grapes and olives to grow.
Today, the Cinque Terre relies a lot on the money brought in by tourism. The area around the villages and surrounding country with its many hiking trails has been made a national park and offers some of the best hiking in the world. And, for its significant cultural and environmental importance, the Cinque Terre was named an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.
How to Get to Cinque Terre
Situated on Italy’s western coast in Liguria, the Cinque Terre is roughly halfway between the cities of Genoa and Pisa. As far as the closest airports go, flying to either Pisa or Genoa are your best bets. Both airports cater to many domestic and international destinations, although Pisa has a much bigger airport.
This is because the Cinque Terre and the neighboring towns are simply too small to justify their own airport. Once in Italy, the best way to travel to Cinque Terre is by train. To reach the Cinque Terre by train, you first have to reach the town of Levanto along the coast to the north or the city of La Spezia to the east. These two places bookend the five villages of the Cinque Terre and are the last stops at either end of the Cinque Terre’s local train. With La Spezia being the only city in the area, it tends to act as a local hub of sorts.
Train travel is a popular way to get around Italy, and since you need seat reservations on the Le Frecce and Intercity trains, it’s best to book in advance. Leave it until too late, especially in the summer, and all the seats may be taken. The other way to go is with the slower regional trains which don’t have seat reservations.
Recommendation: Cinque Terre can also be visited on a day trip from Florence or Milan. This Cinque Terre day tour from Milan comes highly recommended. From Florence check out this Cinque Terre day tour.
How to Get Around the Cinque Terre
When planning a trip to Cinque Terre, you’ll need to decide how you’re going to get around. That’s because it will impact how long you need to see the region and where you choose to stay. The three main ways to get around the Cinque Terre are either by train, boat or hiking.
1. By Train
Running from La Spezia to Levanto and stopping at each of the five villages is a regular regional train that takes 30 minute end-to-end. The more interesting and enjoyable way to explore the Cinque Terre though is to take the scenic coastal trails that link up the five villages.
Working out the best train ticket will depend on how much you plan to take the train in the Cinque Terre. If you plan to go everywhere by train, then consider buying the 1 or 2-day Cinque Terre Card Treno at any station along the line for unlimited train travel. Otherwise, simply look at individual trip tickets, as they may be cheaper.
2. By Boat
If you fancy seeing the Cinque Terre by boat, you’re in luck, as ferry services link up the villages with neighbouring Levanto and Portovenere. This is definitely a more expensive option than the train, but a cheaper option is to take one boat trip between villages. Ferry timetables, routes and costs can be found here.
3. By Car
As for seeing the Cinque Terre by car, it comes with some complications. Although it may be a fun and scenic drive for some, the roads throughout the national park are windy and quite technical. It also can be particularly bad for people who get car sick. Plus, the roads are often only wide enough for a single car, so you’ll need to drive with caution.
Once you’ve arrived in a village, only local cars may enter. Instead, you’ll need to park on the edge of the village. Each car park has its own hourly or daily rates, generally ranging from 15€ to 25€ per day. Alternatively, parking in La Spezia or Levanto is typically cheaper and you can take the train in from there.
Best Time to Visit the Cinque Terre
Working out the best time to visit Cinque Terre will depend on whether you want to hike, swim or just go sightseeing. If you’d like to spend time at the beach and go swimming, then summer is when the water is warmest.
The trouble is that the Cinque Terre is busiest in the summer months of July and August. What’s more, the Italian sun can be quite strong then, and hiking in that heat can be rough. Then there’s the matter that many things close down in August when Italians go on holidays.
For comfortable weather and good hiking conditions, it’s better to consider planning to visit Cinque Terre in the shoulder season months of April, May and September.
Where to Stay in Cinque Terre
If you’re planning your first trip to Cinque Terre, you may rightly be wondering what the best town to stay in Cinque Terre is. After all, with five villages to choose from and other towns nearby, working it all out can be a nightmare. Essentially though, you have one main decision to make: whether to stay in one of the Cinque Terre villages or in a nearby spot like Levanto, Portovenere and La Spezia.
Naturally, the first thought is going to be to stay in one of the five villages. When it comes to ambience and having everything at your doorstep, the villages are the best places to stay in Cinque Terre. But they’re also likely to be the first accommodations snapped up and potentially quite expensive come high season.
Towns like Levanto and Portovenere are in many ways very similar in look and feel to the villages of Cinque Terre. But since they’re not actually part of the Cinque Terre, you should find them less booked out and potentially a little cheaper.
Then there’s La Spezia, a fairly unassuming city, but a great place to go for affordable accommodation and easy access.
Below are some of our favorite accommodation options in the Cinque Terre:
- Grand Hotel Portovenere – This luxurious five-star hotel watches over the Portovenere harbour and boasts some exceptional views. Formerly a 17th-century monastery, rooms have the look and feel of a classy boutique hotel, and the staff is very attentive.
- La Rosa Dei Venti – Close to the beach at Monterosso al Mare, this guesthouse is found in a building true to the style of the Cinque Terre. Reasonably priced but also a good value for the money, rooms are clean, comfortable and enjoy an uncomplicated style.
- Ostello Porto Venere – Budget and hostel options are few and far between in this part of Italy, but this hostel manages to be both affordable and an ideal place to stay. Located in Portovenere, you have your choice of dorms and private rooms, all offering scenic views and equipped with Wi-Fi and air conditioning.
For more accommodation options in the Cinque Terre check out Booking.com. They continuously offer the best rates and their custom service is on point.
Where to Eat in the Cinque Terre
Besides all there is to see, the Cinque Terre is just as much about the food and wine. Not only do you get to enjoy the regional Ligurian cuisine that favors seafood and pesto, but you get to try local treats as well.
With so many vineyards, it’s little surprise that local wine is on the menu. The wine produced in the Cinque Terre is mostly white wine, with the local specialty being Sciacchetrà, a sweet dessert wine. On the food front, a fun street food that you’ll find in many places is a seafood cone, full of assorted seafood for you to munch on as you walk.
Throughout the five villages and surrounding towns and cities you’ll find plentiful options for places to eat. Rio Bistrot in Riomaggiore is an example of the kind of place you should look for. 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
Throughout the Cinque Terre National Park, there are 48 different hiking paths that visitors can explore. The four most popular are the trails that connect the five villages, but others take you up into the backcountry and provide longer alternatives to the main four. With so many options, it’s little wonder that hiking is one of the best things to do in Cinque Terre.
Trails in the Cinque Terre come in three degrees of difficulty: tourist, hiking and skilled. Also, each individual path has a number like 592-2, for Manarola to Corniglia. Some also belong to a route like SVA-2, which refers to the Cinque Terre’s coastal route.
When hiking here there are a few things you’re going to want to bring with you. For starters, you’ll want good hiking shoes if you plan on taking the tougher trails or plan on walking a lot. You’ll also need to bring a refillable water bottle along that you can fill up as you go. It also pays to be sun smart, so wear a hat and apply sunscreen regularly to avoid getting burnt by the surprisingly intense sun.
One of the most important Cinque Terre travel tips relates to hiking and 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. For information on which hiking trails are open, as well as weather warnings, consult the park’s website.
The Sentiero Azzurro (SVA-2)
The most popular route, taking tourists along the coast, is often called the Sentiero Azzurro or “Blue Route” and goes by the reference marker SVA-2. Taking you from Riomaggiore to Monterosso, it is possible to hike this 11km long trail in a day, even with short stops in each village.
592-1 Riomaggiore to Manarola
Starting gently, this stretch of the Blue Route is known affectionately as Via dell’Amore. Either end of the route starts by the train station of the respective village and follows the coastal cliffs in between. The complete stretch of this 1.1km walk is across cobblestone and the gentle walk should take around 25 minutes.
592-2 Manarola to Corniglia
From Manarola station, this route passes through a tunnel into the village itself. By the village’s waterfront, follow the cobblestone pathway uphill and along the coast before climbing up a large staircase into Corniglia from the station. At 2.2km and with plenty of changes in elevation, this path should take roughly 1 hour 15 minutes.
592-3 Corniglia to Vernazza
Reaching the more challenging sections of the route, you’ll leave Corniglia from by the Chiesa di San Pietro along the Via Serra trail. Crossing over the road, you’ll pass a park checkpoint and continue inland over a small bridge. You’ll begin to climb uphill through olive trees and picnic areas. Eventually the Tower of Vernazza will come into sight and stairs will lead down into Vernazza. This is the longest stretch at 4.1km and it has plenty of elevation changes so it takes about 1 hour 30 minutes.
592-4 Vernazza to Monterosso
Once in Vernazza, head for the Santa Margherita di Antiochia Church and take the steep alley that leads up past it. Following a series of valleys, the scenery alternates between groves, vineyards and wild scrubs. Passing over a rocky spur, Monterosso will come into sight. Another tougher trail with plenty of climbing, it will take around 2 hours to walk the 3.7km path.
Best Things to Do in Cinque Terre
Many of these tips for traveling to Cinque Terre have focused on hiking the trails, but that’s not all there is to do there. As each colorful village is so interesting and distinctive, you’ll find different things to do in each, beyond just savoring their idyllic coastal atmosphere. Because yes, you’ll likely find yourself wandering and staring in awe at how unbelievably charming the villages of the Cinque Terre are.
Depending on how much you plan on doing, the Cinque Terre can be briefly seen in as little as a day. Of course, to properly immerse yourself would require at least several full days. With that in mind, here are the best places to visit in Cinque Terre for each of the five main villages.
Often the first village people see, Riomaggiore is a compact cluster of homes along two main streets that weave their way down into the sea. It’s common for people to clamber over the rocks by the water and head to the southern viewpoint 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.
To many, the classic view that comes to mind for the Cinque Terre is actually the village of Manarola. Slightly removed from its pretty harbor, the village seems to rise out of the rocky coast and actually almost faces back towards the land. Although its narrow lanes are nice to explore, most choose to wander along the coast a little to the Manarola Scenic Viewpoint and admire the contrast that the colorful homes make against the green terraces and grey rocks.
High above the water, Corniglia is distinctive for being the only Cinque Terre village without an immediate waterfront. Surrounded by vineyards, visiting Corniglia is almost more about the wonderfully fertile land around you than the nearby sea. I say almost, as the viewpoint from the village’s pointy end is the only place from which you can view all five villages.
A wonderful blend of everything that makes the Cinque Terre pretty, Vernazza is perhaps the most fascinating village here. Whether it’s the quaint boats in its harbor, the small beach or its rocky breakwater, it certainly has a photogenic waterfront. Then there’s the colorful buildings that run out onto the peninsula and lead up to the intriguing tower of Castello Doria. Best of all, thanks to its orientation, Vernazza can be appreciated from both sides a short way along the trail in either direction.
Monterosso al Mare
Likely the largest of the villages, Monterosso sits at the northwestern end of the coast. As much as anything, Monterosso al Mare is defined by its beautiful strip of beachfront that tends to be the region’s most popular. Still, 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 recommend World Nomads.
Even if you don’t get travel insurance with World Nomads, please make sure to get travel insurance from somewhere.
So, there you have it – our best travel tips for visiting Cinque Terre. Now that you know what to do in Cinque Terre you can experience all that this awe-inspiring place has to offer.