“Cinque Terre” translates literally to “5 Lands” which refers to the 5 coastal villages that lie along the rugged yet beautiful Liguria in the Italian Riviera. The Ligurian Coast, an arm of the Mediterranean Sea, is located in northwest Italy, just north of Florence and south of Turin and Milan. Cinque Terre is considered a ‘National Park‘, listed as an UNESCO World Heritage. Picturesque fishing villages, once only accessible by foot through rocky paths, has now become one of the most popular travel destination in Italy. I recently spent a week exploring throughout the eastern strip of Liguria with 5 days spent in Cinque Terre.  In this post, I share with you Cinque Terre in a Nutshell.

Although I went during high season season (July), I was still in awe of it’s natural beauty, the tales of this land, as well as the energy in the air. And not to mention, the local food was delectable!

Cinque Terre in a Nutshell

Riomaggiore, the most southern coastal village of the Cinque Terre towns.

Cinque Terre in a Nutshell

Cinque Terre in a Nutshell

I am writing mainly about the 5 main coastal villages that make up Cinque Terre from North to South but there are other villages and towns which you must visit:

  • La Spezia, bustling town directly east of Riomaggiore, good for shopping and nightlife
  • Portovenere in the very south which is quaint and idyllic for a day trip

You will have to personally decide which village best suits your travel style. There is no right answer when it comes to where to stay and spend your time in Cinque Terre. Use one village as a base and search for accommodation there. Since day trips are easy to do (within a few minute train ride to the next village), I would recommend basing this decision on what you prefer to do at night since transportation is more of a hassle then.

Cinque Terre is not particularly known for it’s nightlife and you certainly won’t find any major clubs or discos. People come generally to relax and soak in the charm of the area. However, beach parties could break out at any given time in Monterosso or a dance party at a bar. If you want more of a nightlife, stay in Monterosso or Riomaggiore (the most busy villages). Or better yet, in La Spezia (not one of the 5 islands but parties go on much later, just a 7 minute train from Riomaggiore). If you want a romantic setting which is quiet at night, stay in Vernazza or Manarola.

Cinque Terre in a Nutshell

Monterosso al Mare

Beaches of Monterosso

Beaches of Monterosso

Monterosso Cinque Terre

Monterosso is the only village that has actual sand beaches and is made up of 2 towns. “Old Town” is where you get off on the ferry with adorable restaurants, cafes, tons of souvenir shops, cobblestone steps and a church in the center. The “New Town” is where most of the new hotels & nicer beaches are. The 2 towns are connected by a short road tunnel.

While the beaches aren’t anything to write home about, it is nice to lay out on actual sand (versus rocks at the other villages) with an easily reach into the warm sea. It’s also the largest of all the villages so if you prefer more options in restaurants, bars and things to do, I’d recommend staying here.

Monterosso Beach Cinque Terre

Crowded Public Beach at Monterosso

There is only one public beach which is incredibly crowded and not as well-kept. Most the other beaches are managed by hotels/restaurants which charge a sunbed and/or umbrella fee starting at 10-20 euros. It’s well worth the cost but be prepared to have cash. You can also order food and drinks on these beaches so enjoy and relax for a whole afternoon!

  • Stay: I recommend Simona’s Airbnb. 2 bedroom, 2 queen size beds, full kitchen, airy/good vibes – good for 4 people. Perfectly located in the center of Monterosso’s Old Town yet away from the noise.
  • Other things to do:
    • PhotoTour
    • Wine Tours or Wine Tasting of Cinque Terre’s famous DOC wine in an ancient wine cellar
    • Big Game Fishing
    • Take a Kayak for a Full Day and/or Sunset and Wine Tour

What to eat in Cinque Terre Monterosso Cinque Terre Art in Cinque Terre


Vernazza

Vernazza is that sunset/evening photograph you see of Cinque Terre in all the postcards. Sleepier, romantic town with smaller boats that light up it’s night sky. Vernazza is the best place to stay for couples wanting a more romantic setting. The restaurants, even in the peak season, will strictly stop serving food by 10pm (with one pizza shop near the water which will serve a little later for take-out).

Forget any chance of finding a bar here, come to Vernazza to relax and have quiet walks at night along the sea.


Corniglia

Corniglia is the only village that sits high atop the cliff (300 feet from the Ligurian Sea). Smaller and quaint, a good place to stay if you truly want some serenity and good hikes. The other 4 towns all slope directly into the sea. This serves for a beautiful view but access to the beach will take a bit of a more tedious hike. There is one small beach where one can swim and sunbathe at. As you hike through Corniglia, you will inevitably pass lemon trees, fragrant smells of flowers depending on the season and witness vegetation of all sort. Corniglia is accessible by train + a 365 stair climb (1 step for every day of the year) or via bus (typically runs from 7am-8pm).

Corniglia Cinque Terre

Photo Courtesy of https://oddviser.com/italy/genoa/corniglia


Manarola

Manarola is the spot for romantic travelers that’s typically less crowded than Vernazza (the other romantic village). This is where you can still witness everyday village life with fishing boats lining the shore. The Cinque Terre White Wine “Sciacchetrà” is mainly produced here with it’s famous grapevines that accentuate this pretty village.

Manarola Cinque Terre

Photo courtesy of https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/italy/galleries/italy-best-beautiful-villages/manarola

Manarola is less traveled by mainstream tourists. Many sophisticated European travelers will hide out here for a few weeks. There is a nice little swimming area, with nearby caves, coastline and underwater rocks to explore by way of swimming or kayak. Anchovies are a specialty here so be sure to order it on your visit!

  • Other things to do:
    • Pesto Lab: Learn the traditional method to make the Ligurian Pesto
    • PhotoTour or Photo Shooting
    • Wine Tours: Meet a winegrower and hike through the vineyards and taste the wine in unique panoramic places // Every day at 11am / $50 per person for 4-10 people
    • Cinque Terre by Boat: Enjoy a romantic cruise on a modern “Gozzo”” (traditional Ligurian Fisherman Boat) // Everyday at 10am or Evening (sunset) / $70 per person – drinks included

Riomaggiore

Maybe researching where to stay in Cinque Terre is giving you a massive headache because they all sound bueno and you just want to choose a damn one. Then I say just stay at Riomaggiore, you really can’t go wrong with this adorable town! While I visited most the villages, this was my favorite one. Still very touristy, it’s smaller, more quaint and cozy. And some hope of nightlife is available if you’re a night owl like me.

The village sits on a stretch of one main road, “Via Colombo“, which is hilly but a small bus does run every 20 minutes or so that you can take uphill. Small restaurants and bars line up the street (open until about 1am). The sunsets here are spectacular and the chimes from the bell tower adds to the epic charm of the town.

  • Stay: Locanda del Sole for about $160 a night. Cozy, quiet location on the top of the hill which I would highly recommend (prepare for a hike though!). My room was on the top floor with a patio deck where I relaxed in the evenings with a glass of wine and enjoyed the sound of nature. The friendly owner Enrico will help with all of your questions about hiking, dining and transportation. Simple Breakfast is included. Use Ebates to get up to 7% cash back on your Expedia (or many other site bookings & shops!).
  • Experience: Bachyard. Music + Sunset in the Vineyard. Book directly or through Airbnb experience. Emanuele will pick you up at the top of the hill in Riomaggiore and drive you to his home 30 minutes up the mountain for an evening of delicious local bites, good wine and live Bach music played on the piano.

Cinque Terre in a Nutshell Cinque Terre in a Nutshell Cinque Terre in a Nutshell


 Porto Venere

While Porto Venere is ‘technically’ not listed as one of the 5 villages, this medieval town on the southern tip of Liguria is a must visit. Known as the “Gulf of Poets“, the residents of Cinque Terre love their neighboring village as one of the most spiritual, special parts of the riviera and urged that I must make this day trek. Only accessible by boat, Porto Venere is a quieter, cleaner harbor town. Stop by for an aperitivo or gelato at one of the dozen shops lining the coast.

Take a short stroll to the Church of Lorenzo, Church of Saint Peter, Lord Byron’s Grotto and Doria Castle.

Porto Venere is about an 80 minute ferry ride from Monterosso, or 40 from Riomaggiore. Hire a boat or check the ferry schedule of when to depart from wherever you are staying as well as the last departure. Our last departure was at 5:30pm so I recommend going earlier in the day.

  • Other things to do:
    • Rock Climbing with Stunning Views: A thrilling way to get close to the gorgeous coastal landscape // Everyday at 8am on request / $300 exclusive tour for 1-3 people
    • Dive in the protected marine area at San Terenzo (Lerici): Feel the silence and the weightless sensation among colorful fish and corals // Every day for 3 hours / $110 per person

Modes of Transportation

Taking a Flight to Cinque Terre

The closest airports are Genoa, Piza and Firenze. Once you arrive by flight, you can take a bus or train directly to any of the Cinque Terre villages. As a starting point, check on Skyscanner for the cheapest flights, you may find flights for $20-30 but keep in mind luggage fees may be another $30-40.

Trains are Typically Faster & Easier

To Cinque Terre

You can get to Cinque Terre via Train from anywhere in Italy (or even surrounding countries). Check Train prices VS Flights to see what is more practical considering cost, time and luggage.

Ie: Milan Centrale to Genoa is only about 1.5 hours and Genoa to Sestri Levante (the major train stop before getting into Cinque Terre) is about 40 minutes. I find this easier to do than flying and having to go through security, check in a bag, etc for the same amount of time.

Traveling Within Cinque Terre

Most trains run every 20 minutes or so between each village. The train tracks run along the sea so it’s a gorgeous scenic route in any direction you go. There is mainly 2 directions they go – south and north. But the train schedule can be tricky and you cannot assume that because they are going one direction that they will stop at every village. Check the schedule and see the route which includes the stop you are going to.

For example, going north, you will look for trains in the direction of Levanto or Genoa. Going south, you would look for Riomaggiore or La Spezia (southeast).

The trains run less frequently after 9pm so make sure you check before planning your night out. Depending on the village, some trains will stop at 10pm and not run again until 3 or 4am. More popular spots such as Riomaggiore during busy season will run until 1am, and again at 3am.

You can either buy a train day pass, multiple-day pass or one-way passes at around 4 euros each. You can do this at the train station from the machines or workers – no need to book ahead of time.

  • Note: The train staff do not often check your tickets. But if they catch you without a pass, they could fine you anywhere from 25 to 50 euros.

Ferry for the Scenic Route

Taking the ferry is a beautiful way to be on the water for cheap. One way may cost about 18 euros and roundtrip 25-30 euros. Book the ferry ahead of time as it can be sold out and check the schedule as well before going. The ferries don’t run as often as the train but you should take it at least once to enjoy being on the water. To get to Porto Venere, which I highly recommend, can only be reached by boat, so save the ferry for this day adventure!

Cinque Terre in a Nutshell

Hire a boat for the day. It’s pricier than a Ferry but splitting among friends can be affordable and a good way to hop to the islands on your own time.

Hiking Cinque Terre

It is inevitable that you will do a lot of walking in Cinque Terre as cars not allowed inside most of the villages and taxis can be very pricy. Many people who come to Cinque Terre come for the hiking. Whether you prefer a leisurely stroll to some scenic lookout views or are an avid adventure hiker, there’s a path for everyone.

But if you are going specifically to hike, check if certain trails are open ahead of time as they close from time to time due to landslides or other reasons.

  • Some of the hiking trails (blue trail) require a park entrance fee for about 7.50 euros which you can buy from the toll booths. Or an all day Train & Hike Pass for about 12 euros.

 

It’s Best NOT to take a Car to Cinque Terre

What makes Cinque Terre still incredibly charming even with all the tourists is it’s rugged landscape and lack of cars. There is a highway above the towns one can get around in but during your stay, there really isn’t a need for a car. Taking a car (or taxi) between villages also takes a lot longer than train rides (30 minutes vs 7 minutes) and can be extremely costly. If you prefer, you can bring a car here, but will have to find a parking spot that may be far from your hotel/airbnb. La Spezia has some cheaper options for parking lots where you can leave your car.


Where to Stay in Cinque Terre?

Prices will be higher within Cinque Terre, so if you prefer to stay somewhere less expensive, look into La Spezia, less than a 10 minute train ride to Riomaggiore. There is plenty of night life and cheap authentic eats throughout La Spezia so it’s fun to return to at night.

Airbnbs Provide a more Affordable, Authentic Experience

I used Airbnb on the majority of my trip in Italy. It’s way more affordable and you get to sleep in neighborhoods where the locals are! Witness their day to day and smell the aroma of their fresh cooking all day long. As usual, I recommend booking any listings with at least 10 reviews over a 4 star. Read through the reviews to see if the place is a good match for your travel needs!

  • To get $40 off your first Airbnb booking, go through my referral link!

Hotels

There are nice hotels (of all star ratings) throughout Cinque Terre you can check on Expedia or any hotel sites. For the value, I would still prefer to get an Airbnb though (especially if you have more than 2 people to share an apartment with).

  • Camping is an option as well – rent a tent from one of the campgrounds.

Practical Tips Before You Go

  • If you can manage, avoid going in the summer months of June-August.
    • These are obviously crowded times in most tourist destinations around the world as it’s summer break and the easiest time for families to take vacations.
      • This is especially the case in Cinque Terre as I went in July and felt overwhelmed with crowds as well as a spike in hotel/airbnb/restaurant prices.
    • Flocks of cruise ships come for the day, typically from 10am-4pm.
    • July and August is when many Europeans take their month off for ‘holiday’ which adds to the crowd.
      • When to go instead: March-May, September-October. Just before or after the crowds have gone but the weather is still nice. The winter months may suffer heavy rains which means hiking trails will be closed and views aren’t as nice.
  • As in all of Italy, be on the look out for Religious, Music and Food Festivals. In Cinque Terre, there are Lemon festivals in May and Anchovy Festivals in September, usually in Monterosso!

What to Pack

  • Bug Spray. Mosquitos can be a problem so make sure you are protected!
  • Comfortable, Supportive Hiking or Walking shoes. Even if you don’t plan to do a vigorous hike through the villages, you will do a good amount of walking. The streets are hilly with many steps to get through. And trust me, you will want to explore as every corner you turn is a beautiful new gem awaiting to be discovered.
    • On the same note, bring flip flops & sandals since you are on the water!
  • Bathing Suit! Go for a swim (or skinny-dip) any time of the day (or night). Jump off mini-cliffs. Rent a kayak, a boat or a jetski. Go floating on the water. Sunbathe on the rocks with a bottle of wine.
    • Most hotels or airbnbs will provide you with a beach towel so no need to pack it (save space in your luggage). Otherwise, you can buy one for $7-10.
  • Camera. Cinque Terre is too beautiful not to take photos.
  • Sunblock!
  • Credit Card & Debit Card with no foreign transaction/ATM fees. Most places will take credit card so I recommend using it as much as possible to rack up those points as well as get the best exchange rate!
Cinque Terre in a Nutshell

Hiking in Riomaggiore

 

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