Latest update: 28 July 2022
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 located 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 located 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. It is often swamped in the train that passes the towns and in the towns themselves too. So mentally prepare yourself for that! And for making beautiful pictures. Check this out ↓
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.
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 Los Puntino. 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.
Walk a little further 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. 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. Maybe you can book a sunset trip? Check your options here.
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 pinnacle. Of course, Vernazza is beautiful too, but if I had to choose…
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 you can buy a cone of fried fish. Somewhat pricey, but tasty (and greasy).
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 located on a high rocky hill above the water. From the train station, the road automatically leads you upwards. On the stairs, you already have a beautiful view of the next 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.
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, 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, 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 cafe because of the view. This must be extremely beautiful at sunset. Make sure to get there early or reserve a table.
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 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.
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?
Cinque Terre by car
Visiting Cinque Terre by car is a bad idea. The fishing villages 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.
- 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
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. 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.
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:
- Get up early. Of course, more people do this, but it does help a little.
- Buy your Cinque Terre Card online. Then you won’t have to queue on arrival.
- Avoid the high season. Even at the end of May, it is already quite busy.
- 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.
- Spend the night in one of the 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
Useful links for your Italy trip
- Travel guides. I love the practical travel guides from Lonely Planet, buy them at Bol.com or Book Depository. The latter has longer delivery times but is often cheaper.
- Flights. Be sure to check out Transavia, but do compare all your options! Definitely check out Momondo, Skyscanner, and Kiwi.
- Trains to Italy. Travel by train to Italy from the Netherlands with NS International.
- Local transport. Book busses and trains in Italy with Omio or Busbud.
- Accommodation. All-time favorites: Booking.com, Natuurhuisje, and Airbnb. Or try BelVilla. Rather stay in a hostel? Try HostelWorld.
- Activities. You book the best tours and activities with GetYourGuide and Viator. For tours with locals, go to WithLocals or Hi,hi Guide. And for bike tours, try Baja Bikes.
- Car rental. My go-to car rental companies are EasyTerra and Sunny Cars as they have all-inclusive / worry-free offers.
- Travel gear. Buy your gear at Bever or Decathlon, or simply at Bol.com.
- Package deals. Rather go on a catered trip? There are plenty of choices. For the Dutch, try: ANWB vakanties or Tui, Sawadee, Corendon or will you choose Vakantie Discounter?
Some of the links on this site are affiliate links. If you buy something through these links, I might receive a small commission – at no extra costs to you of course!
First published: October 2019. The article has been updated since.