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Latest update: 2 October 2023

Is Cinque Terre in Italy as beautiful as the photos on Instagram lead you to believe? Yes. Are you the only one who wants to visit the rocky coastal strip with the five fishing towns? No. Cinque Terre is Italy’s worst kept secret (but well worth the effort). In this blog, you will find everything you need to prepare for your visit to Cinque Terre.

What and where is Cinque Terre?

Cinque Terre is in northern Italy, in the coastal region of Liguria. It is just above Tuscany, between Genoa and Pisa. You have the Cinque Terre National Park, and the world-famous villages are in it – on the rocky coastline of about 15 kilometers long. The towns (except for one) are directly on the water. The colored houses stand out beautifully against the clear blue sea. The houses are built on rocks and cliffs, and that makes them unique. So unique that in 1997 both the national park and the villages were put on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

You probably understand that more people want to see Cinque Terre. You can definitely visit Cinque Terre in one day. It is often swamped in the train that passes the towns, and in the towns of Cinque Terre too. So mentally prepare yourself for that! And for making beautiful pictures. Check this out ↓

Visiting Cinque Terre

The towns of Cinque Terre

The five Cinque Terre towns are (from north to south) Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. You can easily visit all five towns in one day, provided you take the train. The distances between the towns are short by train. I take a snack or a drink in each village, walk around and then continue. I don’t have to rush, and I make a nice day trip out of my Cinque Terre visit. If you want to walk everything (from town to town), count on 9 hours of walking. If you’re up for that, it’s probably wiser to allow at least two days for your visit.

Monterosso al Mare – the largest Cinque Terre town

The largest town is the most northern village: Monterosso al Mare. It is certainly not the prettiest village in Cinque Terre. It doesn’t have those impressive cliffs with the colored houses. Nevertheless, this is the place to be if you want to enjoy the beach (if it doesn’t rain as it did during my visit). There is a long promenade along the coast, and there are plenty of restaurants and cafes.

Monterosso al Mare scoglio di Monterosso

From the train, you end up on the largest beach of Monterosso al Mare called Fegina. The rock you see off the coast is called scoglio di Monterosso. If you follow the boulevard to the left from the train station, you can get a good cup of coffee at Bar Lo Spuntino. Do it the Italian way: stand and sip at the bar. That saves you the sitting fee – a small fee for using a chair and table. Pretty standard in Italy.

Google Maps location

Cinque Terre scoglio di Monterosso

Walk a little further along the beach and continue towards the monastery Convento Frati Cappuccini. Choose the stairs that lead up. You walk uphill for about ten minutes to arrive at the monastery and a cemetery (Google Maps location).

When you go down again, choose the other way back to end up at the second beach of Monterosso al Mare. You can also reach that beach via the boulevard. Just follow the boulevard and go through the tunnel. On this beach, you will also find many companies where you can arrange a boat trip to see all the villages of Cinque Terre. I recommend booking online in advance. Check your options here.

Sea view at Monterosso al Mare

Vernazza – the most beautiful Cinque Terre town?

The square of Vernazza is right on the sea. The buildings with peeling paint give the village character. Embraced by a small sandy beach, this town is considered by many to be the most beautiful of the five Cinque Terre villages. But I beg to disagree; I think Manarola is the best Cinque Terre town. Of course, Vernazza is beautiful too, but if I have to choose…

Vernazza Cinque Terre

From the train station, walk down the main street of Vernazza. This is where you’ll find all kinds of shops and restaurants. To avoid the crowds, you should definitely take a side street.

Fancy a snack? At La Bottega del Frito (Google Maps location) you can buy a cone of fried fish. Somewhat pricey, but tasty (and greasy).

Fried fish Vernazza

Corniglia – the greenest Cinque Terre town

Corniglia is the Cinque Terre village that people sometimes want to skip. Why? More than 350 steps are a deterrent. Corniglia is on a high rocky hill above the water. From the train station, the road automatically leads you upwards. From the stairs, you already have a beautiful view of the next Cinque Terre village: Manarola. You can also go up by bus for one euro.

Corniglia is surrounded by vineyards, which you’ll quickly see walking through the town. This is the greenest village in Cinque Terre with beautiful views. From the Terrazza di Santa Maria, you can even spot all five towns of Cinque Terre.

Make sure to check out Via Fieschi because it has many nice restaurants, bars, and cafes. The ones with outdoor seats and terrific views are obviously the most popular and usually overcrowded. That is why I end up at the small KM0 (Google Maps location), where there is no other guest to be seen. That allows me to chat with the barmaid (an Amy Winehouse lookalike) over a locally brewed beer. She is secretly glad that it is quiet. Every day is crazy in terms of crowds in Cinque Terre, she says. Today it is raining, and it is not only those steps that scare people off but also the weather.

Manarola – the most photogenic Cinque Terre town

Manarola is actually most beautiful when you admire it from a distance. Find a hiking trail and follow it a bit for the ultimate Cinque Terre picture. Many people head for Nessun Dorma café (Google Maps location) because of the view. This must be extremely beautiful at sunset. Make sure to get there early or reserve a table.

Visit Manarola Cinque Terre

Of course, you also have to walk through the main street (Via di Mezzo). Again, there is a good chance that it will be bustling. Follow the road a bit uphill instead of towards the water for the quieter area. The road is a bit steep. Continue until San Lorenzo Church. If it’s open, you can visit it for free (and find some cooler air) before conquering the busy center.

Riomaggiore – the smallest Cinque Terre town

At Riomaggiore station, you can either walk directly towards the small harbor or take the lift up and follow a path to view the Cinque Terre town from a distance. Both are worthwhile and doable in terms of distance. Riomaggiore is only 10 km2 in size.

There are some fishing boats in the harbor, and there is a small pebble beach. If you want to work on your tan, be prepared to be very close to other sunbathers. I wouldn’t choose to sunbathe here myself. It is not really a nice and quiet place: you’ll surely end up in a lot of Cinque Terre pictures. If you’re looking for a beach in Cinque Terre, I’d go to Monterosso al Mare.

Walk along the harbor towards the rocks and squeeze yourself among the selfie-making tourists to take your own selfie!

Cinque Terre: from north to south or vice versa?

I think Manarola and Riomaggiore are the most beautiful towns of Cinque Terre. That is why I recommend starting at the least picturesque village of Monterosso al Mare and traveling from north to south. I can also imagine that you might want to take a few hours at the beach on a nice day. Then Monterosso al Mare might be more convenient to end up in. For the best sunset, you have to be in Manarola. Fortunately, you travel super fast by train from one Cinque Terre town to another, so you can always easily return to your favorite.

The best way to visit Cinque Terre

If you have one day to spare, the best way to visit Cinque Terre is by train. If you have two days, you can walk or combine walking and the train. And maybe you’ll even have time to take a boat trip and see Cinque Terre from the water, or add some beach time?

Cinque Terre by car

Visiting Cinque Terre by car is a bad idea. The fishing villages of Cinque Terre are difficult to access because the streets are very narrow, and far too many people are walking around. Instead, park your car at Levanto or La Spezia station and take the train to Cinque Terre from there.

Cinque Terre by train

The train has a good connection with all Cinque Terre towns, and the distances are short so you can easily visit Cinque Terre in one day.

  • Levanto – Monterosso al Mare = 5 minutes
  • Monterosso al Mare – Vernazza = 4 minutes
  • Vernazza – Corniglia = 4 minutes
  • Corniglia – Manarola = 5 minutes
  • Manarola – Riamaggiore = 9 minutes
  • Riomaggiore – La Spezia = 9 minutes
Train Cinque Terre

You can buy individual train tickets or the Cinque Terre Treno card on-site. With that pass, you can enter all hiking trails in the national park, and travel second class between Levanto and La Spezia. A day pass for adults costs €18,20, for two days, you pay €33 and for three days €47. The Cinque Terre Treno Card is cheaper for children. Order your Cinque Terre train tickets here if you like it (and want to save yourself a queue at the ticket office). You can still buy them online on the day itself.

Hiking in Cinque Terre

You can walk from town to town via the blue route of the Cinque Terre National Park. In total, this route will take you about eight to nine hours. Remember that the path is not sheltered, and it can be quite hard to take on during hot days. Between Manarola and Riomaggiore, you can also divert to Via Dell’Amore. When you get there, swerve to the red route. It’s a lot tougher, I’m told.

If you want to hike, you need a Cinque Terre Trekking Card. It only costs €7.50 for one day and €14.50 for two days. Buy the Cinque Terre Trekking Card online.

Fun fact: there is a slipper ban on the hiking trails of Cinque Terre. If you do go out in your slippers, you can be fined up to € 2,500! The ban is a pretty good rule actually. The hiking trails are not easy (you have to climb and descend quite a bit), and that causes accidents. Because the hiking trails are so narrow, the emergency services have to turn out with helicopters. You can imagine that that is very expensive. More importantly: it’s for your own safety.

Discover Cinque Terre by boat

It is also possible to take a boat trip and view the Cinque Terre towns from a distance. I advise you to book this in advance to ensure a spot on board. I haven’t done a boat trip myself, but you might want to look at GetYourGuide. It has a sunset boat trip too. Sounds good right?!

It is also possible to use the boat as a kind of ferry to visit all the Cinque Terre villages. A day ticket costs €35 from La Spezia. It gives you unlimited access to the boat. You can also buy individual tickets between the villages. Check the current times and prices.

Port of Riomaggiore

Tips to avoid the crowds in Cinque Terre

Wander all alone through the picturesque streets of Cinque Terre? I don’t think so. Cinque Terre is overrun by tourists. Of course, it’s worth trying to have the realm a bit to yourself. My tips to visit Cinque Terre a bit more quietly:

  1. Get up early. Of course, more people do this, but it does help a little.
  2. Buy your Cinque Terre Card online. Then you won’t have to queue on arrival.
  3. Avoid the high season. Even at the end of May, it is already quite busy.
  4. Go when it rains. Don’t be put off by some rain. Hopefully, other people will decide not to come, making it a bit quieter in the towns. And who knows, it might even clear up! In my photos, you can see that I had a lot of rain in Monterosso al Mare, and a few hours later, I had plenty of sun in Riomaggiore.
  5. Spend the night in one of the Cinque Terre towns: Cinque Terre attracts many day trippers. They leave again in the evening, and then you have the opportunity to discover one or more of the fishing towns a bit more quietly.

More travel inspiration for Italy

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First published: October 2019. The article has been updated since.

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