Ah, Italy – the land of romance, pasta, and gelato! We all know and love the iconic cities of Rome, Florence, and Venice, but have you ever ventured off the beaten path to discover Italy's hidden treasures? Cinque Terre, also known as the "Five Lands," is a slice of heaven on earth that will take your breath away!
Nestled on the rugged coastline of the Italian Riviera, Cinque Terre boasts jaw-dropping scenery, charming villages, and delicious seafood. In this post, we'll share all the insider tips and tricks you need to know to plan the perfect trip to this enchanting part of Italy. Get ready to fall in love with Cinque Terre!
THE FIVE VILLAGES
Nestled between the cities of Genoa and Pisa in the breathtaking region of Liguria, lies the enchanting Cinque Terre – five vibrant and picturesque villages perched on the coast. These unique and colorful villages are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, attracting curious travelers from all over the globe.
The villages – Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore – are a series of coves nestled between steep cliffs, and it is their rugged beauty and isolation that make them the highlight of the coast. Originally, the only way to connect the villages was via a series of hiking trails, which were created to facilitate their access to the inhabitants. These hiking trails are still today a great way to hop from one village to another, and they offer a more convenient and authentic experience than traveling by car. With each village offering its own unique charm and atmosphere, visitors can spend days exploring the colorful buildings, savoring fresh seafood, and enjoying the Mediterranean sunshine.
But don't let the quaint and traditional appearance of these villages fool you. Each one is home to a variety of attractions and activities, from hiking the scenic trails, to swimming in the crystal clear waters of the Ligurian Sea, to indulging in the local cuisine and wine. And at the end of a long day of exploration, what could be better than enjoying a refreshing drink while watching the sunset over the stunning landscape? So, whether you're an avid hiker or simply seeking a serene escape, the Cinque Terre is the perfect destination for a one-of-a-kind Italian adventure.
MONTEROSSO AL MARE
The Cinque Terre's Resort Town. Monterosso, situated at the northernmost point of Cinque Terre, is the first village accessible by train when departing from Levanto. It may seem like the odd one out when compared to the four other villages, but don't let that fool you – Monterosso has its own charm and unique ambiance that makes it a must-visit destination for any traveler exploring the Cinque Terre.
Monterosso is the largest and most developed of the five villages in Cinque Terre, with two distinct areas worth exploring. The "old town" (Borgo Antico) features narrow alleyways and colorful houses, perfect for a leisurely stroll, while the "new town" (Fegina) offers a more modern atmosphere with its bustling streets, cafés, and restaurants. Monterosso's stunning beach is the longest in the Cinque Terre, where you can soak up the Mediterranean sun and enjoy the crystal-clear waters of the Ligurian Sea. At night, the beach transforms into a vibrant hub of activity, with a lively nightlife that both locals and tourists enjoy. For a perfect mix of beach vibes and traditional Italian charm, Monterosso's "Resort Town" has something for everyone!
| For more information about Monterosso, check our post here |
The Jewel of the Cinque Terre. Vernazza is undeniably stunning, with a perfect combination of everything the other villages have to offer. Its small sandy beach, vibrant old town, and breathtaking viewpoints make it the loveliest of the five villages, and a must-visit destination for anyone traveling to the region. The village is also home to the ruins of a castle, which adds to its charm and gives visitors a glimpse into its fascinating history.
One of the things that makes Vernazza so special is its picturesque marina. With colorful boats bobbing in the water, it's the perfect place to soak up the Italian atmosphere and feel like you're in a movie. Despite its popularity, Vernazza manages to maintain its intimate and charming vibe, making it the ideal spot for those looking to wander through a quaint little town and take a dip in the sea. Whether you're a history buff, a beach lover, or simply seeking a dose of Italian charm, Vernazza is not to be missed!
| For more information about Vernazza, check our post here |
The Laid-Back Town of the Cinque Terre. Unlike its bustling sisters, Corniglia is a quiet village that is perfect for those seeking a more tranquil and peaceful getaway. Perched on top of a rocky hill with no direct access to the sea and no swimming point, fewer tourists tend to visit this village, which allows for a more authentic and secluded experience. The smallest village of the Cinque Terre, Corniglia has managed to preserve its charm and authenticity due to its isolated location. It is a place where you can truly disconnect from the outside world and immerse yourself in the tranquility of the Italian countryside.
Despite its small size, Corniglia still offers plenty of things to see and do. The village is home to a number of charming cafés and gelaterias where you can enjoy a sweet treat while taking in the stunning views of the surrounding hills and vineyards. You can also explore the narrow, winding streets of the old town and discover the unique architecture and history of the village. In Corniglia, time seems to stand still and the pace of life is much slower than in the other Cinque Terre villages. It is the perfect spot for those who want to relax and recharge in a peaceful and laid-back atmosphere, away from the crowds and noise of the other villages.
| For more information about Corniglia, check our post here |
The Iconic Town of the Cinque Terre. Manarola is often the first village that comes to mind when people talk about the Cinque Terre. Along with Vernazza, it is widely regarded as one of the most picturesque and charming villages of the five. The village boasts a stunningly beautiful and colorful marina that makes for an ideal spot to take some unforgettable photos. It has just the right balance of all the qualities that make the Cinque Terre so special, including a lively old town, picturesque alleys that lead to breathtaking views of the surrounding cliffs and mountains, and inviting spots for a quick dip in the clear waters.
Manarola is the perfect place for travelers who want to soak up the charm and laid-back ambiance of a quintessential Italian village. The colorful houses and winding streets of the old town are a delight to explore, while the marina is a hub of activity with fishing boats coming and going and locals chatting animatedly. Manarola is also a great base for hiking enthusiasts who want to explore the surrounding hills and vineyards that are renowned for producing some of the best wines in the region. With its perfect blend of scenic beauty and character, Manarola is truly an iconic gem of the Cinque Terre that captures the hearts of visitors from all over the world.
| For more information about Manarola, check our post here |
The More Real Village of the Cinque Terre. Riomaggiore may be the most ordinary of the five villages in Cinque Terre, but it has its own unique charm. As the first village you reach when departing from La Spezia, Riomaggiore welcomes visitors with a more authentic and laid-back atmosphere. While it may not be as picturesque as some of its neighbors, it still has plenty to offer. Explore the colorful old town, relax by the tiny marina, and discover the hidden beach. For the most iconic view of the village, head to the wave breaker rocks and watch the sunset over the Mediterranean.
Riomaggiore is the perfect spot for those who want to experience the vibrant culture of a typical Italian seaside town while also finding a quiet spot for a swim in the sea. Take your time to wander up its main street, discovering colorful shops and restaurants along the way. With its unique blend of simplicity and charm, Riomaggiore is a must-see for anyone visiting Cinque Terre.
| For more information about Riomaggiore, check our post here |
WHEN IS IT BEST TO GO?
The Cinque Terre's stunning landscapes and well-connected train system have made it a popular destination for tourists. However, this also means that the area can get overcrowded during the summer months, with day-trippers filling up the narrow streets of the villages from around 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. To avoid the crowds and fully enjoy the charm of the Cinque Terre, we recommend visiting during the off-season months of May/June and September/October. Additionally, early mornings and late evenings are the best times to explore the villages without the hustle and bustle of the crowds. So, plan your visit accordingly!
HOW LONG SHOULD YOU STAY?
Determining the perfect amount of time to spend in the Cinque Terre can be challenging. However, we believe that a stay of two to three days is ideal to truly soak up the atmosphere of the area. But keep in mind that the crowds can get overwhelming during the high season, so it's best to plan your visit during the off-season months of May/June or September/October. During your stay, you can choose to explore all five villages in one day by hopping on and off the train, or you can take your time and visit only one or two villages per day. If you prefer a more leisurely pace, we suggest hiking from one village to the other, taking time to explore the charming back alleys and even taking a refreshing dip in the sea!
WHERE SHOULD YOU STAY?
To truly experience the magic of the Cinque Terre, we strongly advise staying in one of the five villages instead of opting for nearby La Spezia and traveling to the villages by train. While many tourists choose this option, they miss out on a big part of the experience. Walking through the quaint, colorful streets after dark provides a different perspective, allowing you to enjoy a less crowded and bustling atmosphere. Our personal recommendation is to stay in Riomaggiore, the southernmost village of the Cinque Terre. It offers excellent accommodation options and a great selection of restaurants. Vernazza and Monterosso are also great options to consider as a base for exploring the area.
HOW TO GET FROM ONE VILLAGE TO THE OTHER?
When it comes to exploring the Cinque Terre, there are several transportation options available, each with its pros and cons. The villages are well connected, so it's easy to move around and enjoy all the sights, regardless of which mode of transportation you choose.
- By train: it is the most convenient and efficient ways to explore the Cinque Terre. The train line that connects the five villages is affordable and runs frequently, making it an excellent option for visitors who want to cover as much ground as possible. A single train ticket costs 4 EUR per person per ride, while an unlimited train pass for a day costs 16 EUR per person (more information here);
- On foot: if you're feeling adventurous, hiking is a great way to explore the Cinque Terre. With trails ranging from easy to challenging, you can experience the region's beauty up close while enjoying stunning views of the coastline, vineyards, and hills. The Cinque Terre National Park charges a fee of 7.50 EUR per person per day to hike the trails, but it's a worthwhile investment for an unforgettable experience (more information here);
- By boat: to get a unique and beautiful perspective of the villages, taking a boat trip is an excellent option. Boats run regularly from early morning until late afternoon, allowing visitors to experience the coastline from a different viewpoint. Unlimited boat trips cost 27 EUR per person per day, making it a great value (more information here).
- By car: driving is not advisable when visiting the Cinque Terre due to the narrow roads and limited parking options. Although each village has car parks, they are expensive and scarce. We recommend using the train, boat, or hiking options, which are more enjoyable and stress-free alternatives.
Finally, we highly recommend getting the Cinque Terre Train Card to get the most out of your visit. This card provides unlimited train rides and access to all the hiking trails for just 16 EUR per day per person. With this card, you can explore the Cinque Terre at your own pace, without having to worry about purchasing tickets for each ride.
In summary, there are many transportation options available for exploring the Cinque Terre, and each has its pros and cons. Whether you prefer to travel by train, hike, or boat, there is always an option that suits your style and budget. Regardless of which mode of transportation you choose, be sure to take your time, relax, and soak up all the beauty and charm of the Cinque Terre.
Considering the information provided, we have prepared three itineraries for you based on the number of days you plan to spend in the Cinque Terre. These are just sample itineraries, and there are many other ways to explore the villages.
For a one-day stay in the Cinque Terre, we suggest visiting Monterosso, Vernazza, and Manarola. Exploring these three villages allows for a more leisurely pace rather than rushing from one place to another.
Begin your day in Monterosso by discovering the old town and enjoying the beach. In the afternoon, take a train to Vernazza to explore its quaint alleys before hopping on a boat to Manarola. Here, stroll through the vineyards, take a dip in the marina, and watch the sunset from the breathtaking viewpoint (keep in mind that it can get crowded).
For a two-day stay in the Cinque Terre, we suggest visiting Monterosso, Manarola, Corniglia, and Vernazza. This itinerary covers four villages, which strikes a good balance between exploration and relaxation, giving you a taste of what the Cinque Terre has to offer.
On the first day, we suggest spending the morning in Monterosso exploring the old town and enjoying the sandy beach. Later in the afternoon, take the train to Manarola, where you can stroll through the vineyards, take a dip in the marina, and witness the stunning sunset.
On the second day, begin by exploring the charming alleys of Corniglia and treating yourself to some gelato. Then, take the hiking trail towards Vernazza around noon, where you can enjoy a refreshing swim and explore the village. Finally, watch the sunset from the hill of the castle, which offers stunning views of the surroundings.
If you plan to stay in the Cinque Terre for three days, we highly recommend visiting all five villages, Monterosso, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Riomaggiore. With three days, you'll have enough time to explore each village at a leisurely pace. For the first two days, you can follow the itinerary we suggested above.
On the third day, start your day by visiting Riomaggiore, a tiny but charming village. Spend some time exploring before heading to the marina or beach for some sunbathing. This is also a great day to fit in some more hikes or revisit your favorite village. For us, we couldn't resist going back to Vernazza for another round of exploring!
HIKING THE BLUE TRAIL
As stated earlier, the villages of the Cinque Terre are linked by hiking trails, which have been utilized for centuries and are marked with red and white paint. These trails are commonly referred to as the "Blue Trail" (Sentierro Azzurro). To access the hiking trails, you will need to purchase the Cinque Terre Trekking Card, which costs 7.50 EUR per day per person (additional details can be found here). It is worth noting that if you already purchased the Cinque Terre Train Card, you do not need to purchase the Trekking Card.
THE MAIN COASTAL TRAIL (RIOMAGGIORE - MONTEROSSO)
The trail that runs through the five villages of Cinque Terre connects the northernmost village of Monterosso to the southernmost village of Riomaggiore. It takes about 4 to 5 hours to complete the entire hike, but it can be done in either direction. However, some sections are easier in a particular direction, so it's advisable to seek local advice before starting the hike.
The most picturesque and rewarding part of the trail is said to be the portion between Corniglia and Vernazza, which offers breathtaking views. We personally experienced this stretch and found it to be amazing, though we were quite tired by the end and were thrilled to take a dip in Vernazza as a reward! You can find more detailed information about each of the five villages in their respective posts.
Getting to the villages of the Cinque Terre is quite easy as they are well-connected to larger cities of the Italian Riviera and other major cities in Italy. Here are some details on how to reach the area:
- By plane: the nearest airports to the Cinque Terre are in Genoa and Pisa, with Pisa being the closest international airport. While it's possible to fly into larger cities like Florence and Milan, they are not the most convenient options;
- By train: if traveling from Pisa, a stop in La Spezia is necessary, with the journey taking about an hour and costing 10 EUR. From La Spezia, there is a direct train line to the Cinque Terre, with the trip to Riomaggiore taking only 7 minutes and costing 2 EUR. From Genoa, there is a direct train line to Monterosso, with the journey taking around an hour and costing about 7 EUR;
- By car: it's possible to reach the Cinque Terre by car, but keep in mind that cars are not allowed in the villages, so it's not the best option. Additionally, parking spots are limited and expensive. However, for those who choose to drive, here are some approximate travel times from nearby cities: Pisa (114 km, about 1 hour and 30 minutes), Genoa (94 km, about 1 hour and 40 minutes), La Spezia (34 km, about 45 minutes), and Sestri Levante (45 km, about 55 minutes).
As previously mentioned, it is highly recommended to stay in one of the five villages of the Cinque Terre to fully immerse oneself in the experience. During our trip, we chose to stay in Riomaggiore, which is the southernmost village of the Cinque Terre. This charming village served as an excellent base with great accommodation options and a wide range of dining choices. We stayed at L'Ancora in Riomaggiore, which costs between 80 to 150 EUR per night during the high season. The rooms were clean and the location was perfect, situated just a five-minute walk from the marina and the main attractions. Additionally, we believe that Vernazza and Monterosso would also be excellent bases for a stay in the area.
Below is a list of places that we enjoyed during our visit to the Cinque Terre, starting from the southernmost village to the northernmost:
- Tutti Fritti (Riomaggiore): this place is known for its delicious seafood cones, which are a popular snack among local residents. The cones are filled with a variety of seafood, including shrimp and calamari, and are served with a variety of sauces;
- Alberto Gelateria (Corniglia): this gelateria is known for its homemade ice creams, which are considered by many to be the best in the Cinque Terre. In addition to traditional flavors, they offer unique flavors such as Miele di Corniglia, which is made from local honey;
- Gelateria Vernazza (Vernazza): another popular gelateria, this place offers delicious homemade ice creams with a variety of original flavors such as rice, ricotta, and fig;
- Trattoria da Sandro (Vernazza): this restaurant is known for its Trofie al Pesto con basilico di Prà, a delicious pasta dish made with homemade pesto sauce. They also offer other traditional Ligurian dishes such as focaccia and seafood;
- Gastronomia San Martino (Monterosso): this restaurant offers fresh food with a daily-changing menu that includes excellent and affordable homemade dishes from the region. They are popular among locals for their takeaway food and offer a range of options including pasta, seafood, and salads;
- Pasticceria Bar Laura (Monterosso): this pastry shop is known for its delicious Monterossina, a chocolate pie that is a local specialty. They also offer other pastries and desserts, as well as coffee and other beverages.
Have you explored the stunning Cinque Terre yet? We want to hear all about your adventures! Did you fall head over heels for these charming seaside villages? Share your thoughts and insider tips in the comments below, we can't wait to hear from you!"