Italy

The 5 Villages of Cinque Terre

You’ve seen the pictures right? The pretty pastel coloured houses perched high on the rugged cliffs with the sparkling sea below. The beautiful  Cinque Terre, or ‘five lands’, is the stretch of the Italian Riviera coastline made up of five fishing villages each with their own distinct character. It’s a National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site, drawing 2.4 million visitors a year to hike, boat or train their way through the picturesque coastal villages. Do you have it on your bucket list? If you don’t you really should. Here’s everything you need to know to plan your next trip and make the most of your time while there.

Vernazza, one of 5 villages in Cinque Terre | The 5 Villages of Cinque Terre
Vernazza, one of the five villages in Cinque Terre

If you are tight on time, you could see all five villages in one day, but that makes for a very early start to a very long day. We stayed 2 nights, which allows for a good 1.5 days of touring. It seemed to be the right amount of time, but still at a fast pace. Depending on when you go, we visited in the shoulder season, we still found it full of tourists. Between 10am and 4pm the villages are jampacked with people, but in the evening, it was calm, quiet and much more relaxing. So I definitely recommend spending at least one night. 

Tour the 5 Villages of Cinque Terre, Italy

Starting from north to south, the villages are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. By train, it takes about five minutes to travel from one village to the next. Or there is a ferry service, which connects all the villages but one, Corniglia. I can only image the views from the water. Unfortunately for us, the water was too rough to take the ferry. Or you could walk village to village, but of course you need to allow for extra time. Now, let’s take a tour of each of the five villages. 

Monterosso

Monterosso, one of the 5 villages of Cinque Terre Italy

Monterosso is the biggest and busiest of all the villages. It has a resort-like vibe with noticeably more restaurants, shops and places to stay. It’s the only flat village and offers two beautiful beaches, one sand and one pebble. The village is split into two distinct neighbourhoods, the Fegina (beach area or new town) and the Vecchio (historic center or old town) which are connected by a picturesque promenade and a tunnel that cuts through the rock. When you arrive by train, you will be in the Fegina neighbourhood.

The parish church of St. John the Baptist (1282–1307) in Monterosso, Italy | 5 Villages of Cinque Terre
The Church of San Giovanni Battista built in 1200

The beaches at Monterosso run along most of the coastline and  is full of tourists and locals with the green and orange stripped umbrellas. This is the largest village of the five and offers many restaurant and accommodation options. 

Vernazza

Vernazza, one of five villages in Cinque Terre, Italy

Vernazza is scenic and charming. It has a one-street with many narrow laneways and a maze of stairs. The best part, almost all of the pastel coloured houses have sea-facing views.

Vernazza, one of five villages in Cinque Terre, Italy

Vernazza is the closest of the five villages to remain a ‘true’ fisherman’s village with its natural harbor and abundance of colourful boats. It’s home to Castle Doria, a 15th century lookout tower, which was allegedly used to protect the village from pirates. There is also a beautiful Santa Margherita d’Antiochia church built in 13th century. 

Vernazza, one of five villages in Cinque Terre, Italy

Corniglia

Views from Cornigli, one of five villages of Cinque Terre Italy

Corniglia is the smallest of all the villages and the most unique. It is sits atop of a rock formation about 100 meters high off the sea. When you reach it, by train or hiking only, you will have to climb 382 stairs to reach the village center. It is quaint and quiet. The best part of all is it leads you to a large sea-facing terrace where you can view all five villages at one time.

Corniglia is the smallest of all the villages of Cinque Terre, Italy

Manarola

Manarola, one of five villages in Cinque Terre Italy

Manarola is the oldest and probably the most instragramed village of the five. If you arrive by train, you will go through a short tunnel and then can do one of two things – go left and go towards the sea, which is where you will find most people venture to, or turn right and take the steep hill where you will be amongst the hillside grapevines with a scenic view over to the village. That’s my recommendation. 

Views from Cornigli, one of five villages of Cinque Terre Italy

Once you make your way down to the sea, take the walking path out to the point. This is the place to take that beautiful, picture postcard shot we all instantly recognize in photos.

Riomaggiore

Riomaggiore, one of five villages in Cinque Terre, Italy

It is incredibly photogenic with its steep colourful tower houses that frame its tiny habour. This village has the best views from the sea (and at night), so if you were to take a ferry this would be a good destination to arrive/depart from. It is well known for its locally-produced wine and varying shades of blue water.

Riomaggiore, one of five villages in Cinque Terre, Italy

Aside from the vast number of people who visit these tiny picturesque villages and the underwhelming options for accommodations, you still need to add this destination to your travel bucket list. It is unbelievably charming and beautiful. 

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23 Comments

  • Michael Hodgson

    “If you are tight on time, you could see all 5 villages in one day…” OR if you are simply feeling adventuerous and have a bit of fitness, you could do as we did one day and simply run the trail along the coast connecting all the villages, stopping in each along the way for a few photos, a cup of tea or a beer or a sandwich, and then run back to where you are staying. Not recommended unless you love to run of course and you must get a very early start to the day.

    • The Holidaymaker

      Thanks for your comment Michael. As a runner and hiker, I would have loved to have done that. Unfortuntely when we were there the trails were quite muddy. I can only image the views, such a fantastic way to see it! Thanks for stopping by and reading the post.

  • Candy

    Corniglia looks like an amazing place to explore. I love visiting small villages as they are always so unique and special. The rock formation looks like such an awesome site to see in person.

    • The Holidaymaker

      It is amazing how different it is from the other 4 villages; and it has amazing views as you are very high up and on the edge of the cliff. Thanks for commenting, and definitely you should add it to your place to go and see.

  • Carmen Edelson

    I am so in love with the Cinque Terre! I’ve been a few times but would like to spend at least two weeks there next time. Corniglia is on my list, still never been!

    • The Holidaymaker

      Wow, two weeks, that would definitely be a relaxing holiday. Corniglia is small, but it is definitely worth visiting. The stone work, the narrow passage ways, the views – make this a unique village to see. Thanks for commenting.

  • Nicola Hilditch-Short

    This is a great guide, mostly because you see so many photos of the same view of this amazing place and never really get to know much about what it really is and what its like. I love the idea of exploring all these little villages within what always looks like such a huge place. Seeing the details of everyday life as well as taking in the panoramic view. it makes me want to visit even more!

    • The Holidaymaker

      Thank you for your comments Nicola. It is definitely worth visiting. Appreciate you taking the time to share your kind words.

  • Jenn and Ed Coleman

    I guess you could run through Cinque Terra but really, it seems like the sort of place you would really want to meander. I could see slowly travelling to each one and staying the night all five. That way you could see everything in both morning and evening light.

    • The Holidaymaker

      Yes, it is the kind of place to slow down, if you had the luxury of time. Riomaggiore at night from the water’s vantage point would be the best, and we missed out on that opportunity. Thanks for commenting.

  • Susanne

    I’m a total fan of Italy. My previous vacations there were always gorgeous. This region has been on my wish list for a long time, so I’m looking forward to reading you such a great report. Thank you!

    • The Holidaymaker

      Susanne, I couldn’t agree more about being a fan of Italy! It’s such a beautiful country to travel to. Thank you for taking the time to comment and share your kind words.

  • Heather

    Cinque Terre is definitely on my bucket list. I never stopped to think of its meaning but it makes sense all of a sudden. Light bulb! I would want to see all 5 villages and probably take more than one day so I didn’t have to rush and could get all the photos I wanted. But if for some reason I had to choose, then I would want to see Manarola and Vernazza the most-for the photos and to visit the one most like a true fishing village!

    • The Holidaymaker

      Thank you Heather for taking the time to read my post and comment. It is funny how everyone has a favourite village, personally I find it hard to pick a fvourite as they are so different and you appreciate what they each have to offer. Thanks for stopping by.

  • Himanshu

    That picture is one of the most inspiring travel photographs for me. The colors, hues and location make it a must visit for me and your article further give me more reasons. Cinque Terre is now high on wish list and great to know they are UNESCO heritage sites too. Can we do all five lands in a day?

    • The Holidaymaker

      Yes, I supposed you could, but it would mean that you are not really exploring each village in any great lenghth of time, and it would have to be an early start and late day. You would also have to take the train between each village and not experience any of the walking trails or boat. Thank you for taking the time to visit the site and hope you one day get to see this beautiful place.

  • Kevin | Caffeinated Excursions

    You are so right that even avid travelers have most likely only seen the famous picture without knowing anything about these fascinating villages! I feel like I could spend a whole week here and still want to stay longer to see more. They sure look beautiful, thank you for sharing!

    • The Holidaymaker

      You are right Kevin, the more time you can spend in this area, the more time you can explore it to its fullest! Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on the post.

  • Nina

    Really nice one! This is one of the best areas of Italy. Even though it gets packed during the day, it is amazing at night when the day trippers leave. To really enjoy any of these town is to stay in one of them for at least one night and explore them then.

  • Sue

    I’ve never visited Cinque Terre but it is on my list & this is a great guide. I love the idea of walking between them all & taking my time. Wondering how challenging this would be? Also although there is a lack of accommodation as you say, an overnight stay sounds like a great way to see a different aspect f the villages without the onslaught of tourists. Looking forward to it… when I finally make it there.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      If you choose to walk between them, you will need days to spend in the area. Some are close proximity – where you can walk within an hour, but others require longer. We stayed 2 nights, and didn’t feel like it was enough time. Thank you for stopping by and commenting.

  • Jay Artale

    What a fabulous image. I’d love to find a little spot by the water and get my water colours or sketch pencils out and try and capture the quirkiness of this coastline. It’s visually stunning from afar, but it sounds like it’s beautiful on the inside too! I still haven’t been to Italy, and I know there are some fabulous cities to visit .. but if I ever make it to Italy, this is where I need to head first.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Thank you Jay for your comment. If you are an artist, then I couldn’t think of a better spot to capture these postcard perfect views.

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