Cinque Terre is one of my favorite places I have ever visited. The five villages that make up this area are built on the steep hillsides overlooking the Italian Riviera. There are no busy streets, no museums, no fancy stores, and no busy life. Instead you get to enjoy the sea, the food, the people who are incredibly friendly, and the views…..oh the views.
The villages, listed from north to south, are:
Monterosso al Mare
Known to have the best beach and more shops, restaurants, and hotels than the other villages. This can make it more crowded, but is still worth a visit. Walk through the old part of town where you can find the San Francesco church.
This is where we chose to stay for our visit and is my favorite village of the five. The main street leads down from the train station to a main square that overlooks a natural harbor. We enjoyed climbing up the tower of Castello Doria and visiting the Santa Margherita di Antiochia Church. We also enjoyed the food, the people, and the nightlife.
The only village not on the water. There are gorgeous views from the hilltop village once you make it up the hundreds of steps from the train station.
This tiny village is so picturesque. We started a hike from here to Corniglia that was a highlight of my whole time in Italy. You have to hike when in Cinque Terre to truly enjoy the area.
This is the first village from La Spezia. From here starts the “via dell’Amore,” which means Lover’s Lane and is a trail to Manarola taking only 20 minutes.
Take the train from La Spezia, which takes roughly 15 minutes to the first town of Riomaggiore, and each town after that is just a few more minutes. The train is my favorite form of transportation in Europe because you can store your luggage and then sit back and enjoy the views.
Train: The easiest and quickest way to travel between the villages is by train. There is at least one train going in both directions every hour but not every train stops in all five villages. Make sure to ask before hopping on a train and also make sure to stamp your ticket on the platform. Tickets cost a few euros.
Hiking: There are many trails connecting all five of the villages. The coastal trails were closed while we were there because of heavy rain, which can cause damage to the trails. There was a huge flood in 2011, which also caused a lot of damage to the trails and they may not all be up and running. Cinque Terre is a National Park so you have to pay an entrance fee to hike the trails. You can buy the passes at the train stations and choose between a hiking only pass or a hiking + train pass.
Boat: The boats were not running when we visited because of the rough sea. You can rent boats in Riomaggiore and take yourself around or catch the ferries from village to village.
When to Visit:
I enjoy visiting in the spring or fall. The crowds aren’t as bad as the summer months and the weather is perfect for hiking. Summer is also great for sun bathing and lounging but gets very crowded.
What to Eat:
Being that Cinque Terre is on the coast, seafood is fresh and plentiful. All restuarants serve delicious seafood dishes and you can grab some fried anchovies to eat on the go. This region is also the birthplace of pesto and focaccia so try some pasta or pizza with fresh pesto on it and grab some focaccia for a snack.
How Many Days:
Many people make day trips from Pisa, Florence, Milan or other big cities. Tour buses come for the day as well as cruise ships. While seeing Cinque Terre for part of one day is better than not seeing it at all, you will not get the full, wonderful experience. I highly recommend two nights to really enjoy this area, hike a few trails, enjoy the amazing food, see each village, and lounge on a beach or a boat.
Again I recommend Rick Steve’s Italy book. He has a very thorough section on Cinque Terre and gives great recommendations.
Take a backpack. When exploring for the day you will want to pack lots of water, your camera, and Rick Steve’s book.
Train stations offer free wifi with the Cinque Terre park card (the card you will need for hiking)
We arrived late morning from Florence and went straight to our Airbnb. We dropped our bags and left our room to go explore Vernazza. We ate at Belfort, sitting out on the terrace with a stunning view of the Mediterranean Sea. The food was great but it was the view and our waiter that really made our lunch incredible. We then hiked up to the cemetery, which is perched high above the sea, climbed the Castello Doria, and visited the church in the main square. We then went to Vernazza Winexperience where Alessandro served the guys wines from both Cinque Terre and other parts of Italy. Later that night we enjoyed hanging out with other travelers and locals at the Blue Marlin.
On our second and only full day in Cinque Terre we decided to go explore the other villages. We bought the hiking + rail pass from the train station and rode to Riomaggiore where we grabbed some breakfast and tried to hike the “Lover’s Lane” trail, only to get to a spot where it was blocked off and closed. We snapped some pictures of the village and then hopped the train for Manarola.
From Manarola we decided to hike the terraced vineyards up to Volastra and then on to Corniglia. We were grateful for the cloudy, cool day as this hike was steep and long. We hiked through yards, olive groves, and orchards. Volastra, a charming small town, marked our halfway point. We took a short break for some lunch which tasted so incredibly delicious. It could have just been our exhaustion and all the calories burned but we thoroughly enjoyed it all.
After lunch we bought more water and then continued on through woods and lush greenery to Corniglia. We had so much fun on this hike and I cannot recommend it enough. The views of Manarola, Corniglia, and the sea could not be beat from this hike. We loved seeing the different way people live and farm this area. We got an up close look walking through it all.
From Corniglia we walked down the hundreds of steps to the train station below and rode to Monterosso al Mare. Here we walked around the town and stopped for some yummy and well-deserved drinks. I had a fresh smoothie and what I like best about getting drinks in Italy is that they are usually served with snacks. We enjoyed a sea view, snacks, and drinks while resting for a bit before heading back to Vernazza by train. We had dinner at Trattoria del Capitano just above the train station and met some other travelers and enjoyed a delicious meal.
On our last day in Cinque Terre before catching the train to Venice, I returned to Trattoria del Capitano for some incredible pastries. I brought them back to the boys who were sleeping in and then went to the launderette because I had run out of clean clothes. I attempted to start my laundry but had some trouble because I didn’t read the directions completely. Luckily the launderette is right next door to Trattoria del Capitano so I walked in and asked the owner for help. He left his restaurant to come help me do my laundry. He was so friendly and nice, which is what I love about the people in Cinque Terre. Once my laundry was done we hopped the train to Venice.
I wish we would have had more time to enjoy this part of Italy. Let me know if you have any questions or want any help planning your next trip.