You’ve seen the pictures right? 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 that is made up of five towns each with its own distinct character. It’s a National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site, drawing millions of visitors every year. Tourists can hike, boat or train their way through the five Cinque Terre towns. Let’s get to know each of the five villages of Cinque Terre.
The 5 Villages of Cinque Terre
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. Of course, you could walk from village to village, but for that, you’ll need to allow extra time. Hiking Cinque Terre is one of the biggest draws to this area. The best option for exploring Cinque Terre freely is to purchase the Cinque Terre Card. This will give you unlimited train travel on the La Spezia – Cinque Terre – Levanto railway line and access to the two chargeable Cinque Terre trail paths from Monterosso to Vernazza and from Vernazza to Corniglia. There is no entrance fee to the Cinque Terre National Park.
Now let’s take a tour of each of the Cinque Terre villages.
Monterosso al Mare
Monterosso is the biggest and busiest of all the villages. With a resort-like feel, Monterosso has noticeably more restaurants, shops, and places to stay. It’s the only flat village and offers two beautiful beaches – a sandy beach and a pebble beach. The town is split into two distinct neighbourhoods, the Fegina (beach area or new town) and the Vecchio (historic centre 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.
Top Things to do in Monterosso
The most popular attraction in Monterosso is the beach! Monterosso’s beaches run along most of the coastline and are full of tourists sunbathing under the green and orange striped umbrellas. Another must-visit site is the Church of San Giovanni Battista. It’s considered one of the oldest churches in Cinque Terre.
Vernazza is the closest of the five to remain one of the best fishing villages with its natural harbour and abundance of colourful boats. It’s often referred to as the quaintest and steepest village. Uniquely, it only has one street – straight from the train station down to the sea with narrow laneways, called caruggi, and a maze of stairs. This means almost all of the colorful houses have sea-facing views.
Top Things to Do in Vernazza
Vernazza is home to Doria Castle, the oldest surviving fortified castle. What remains mostly today of this 11th-century ruin is a circular tower. To get there, head up the steep narrow staircase by the harbour. On the opposite side of the harbour visit a small Ligurian-Gothic church. The sea views through the narrow arched windows from inside this 12th-century church are incredible. The boat tours are popular in Vernazza as a good starting or ending point.
Corniglia is the smallest of all the villages and the most unique. It sits atop a rock formation about 100 metres high off the sea. When you reach it, by train or hiking only, you’ll have to climb 382 stairs to reach the village centre. It’s 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.
Top Things to Do in Corniglia
There are two incredible lookout points in Corniglia. The first is Belvedere di Santa Maria with its 180-degree sea views. To find it, follow Via Fieschi through the village until you eventually reach the clifftop balcony. The second is La Torre. This viewpoint overlooks the coastline to the next village over which is Manarola. To find it, look for a staircase that leads you to Piazza Taragio.
Manarola is the oldest, busiest, and probably the most instagrammable village of the five. If you arrive by train, go through a short tunnel and then you can do one of two things. Go left towards the sea, which is what most people go first, 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, take the walking trail to the right first and then head to the sea.
Top Things to Do in Manarola
Visit Piazzale Papa Innocenzo, a small piazza with a bell tower that was once used as a defensive lookout. One of my favourite memories is hearing the bell chimes ring while sitting in the busy square eating ice cream. Sitting on the piazza is Chiesa di San Lorenzo, a church dating back to 1338. Why not enjoy a wine-tasting tour to sample the local wine? Lastly, the best viewpoint in Manarola is Punta Bonfiglio. Take the walking path by the sea where you can look back at this picturesque village.
Riomaggiore, the most eastern village, is incredibly photogenic with its steep colourful tower houses that frame its tiny harbour. 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. Riomaggiore is a rather large village, and also serves as the HQ for the national park office.
Top Things to Do in Riomaggiore
Head to the small secluded beach in Riomaggiore. The short trail to the pebbly Fossola Beach. The shoreline is rugged and photogenic with the waters framed by steep hillsides. Visit Chiesa di San Giovanni Battista, a church dating back to 1340. Take a wine-tasting tour set in a scenic vineyard.
How many days to spend in Cinque Terre
Many will ask… can you do Cinque Terre in a day? And, if you are tight on time, you could see all five villages in one day. But, it does make for a very early start to a very long day. Ideally, you will want to stay at least 2 nights, which allows for a good 1.5 days of touring. That is the right amount of time, but still at a fast pace.
Depending on when you go, we visited in the shoulder season, there will still be a lot of tourists. Between 10 am and 4 pm, 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.
Where to stay in Cinque Terre
The only downside to visiting Cinque Terre is the accommodations. You will not find a single 5-star property in any of the 5 villages, and 4 stars are still a little underwhelming. This curated list is the best accommodations I could find in Cinque Terre.
- Marymar – Monterosso al Mare. Bedroom with inner courtyard view mere steps to Monterosso Old Town beach
- Mada Charm Apartments – Vernazza. Few steps from Vernazza Beach, a charming studio apartment with a sea view
- La Ripa Camere Vernazza – Vernazza. Sea-facing rooms with a 2-minute walk to the beach
- La Terraza Sul Blu – Corniglia. 1-bedroom apartment with sea-facing room and large stone terrace
- L’Emporio Rooms – Manarola. Comfortable rooms with kitchenette and city view. Short walk to the beach
- Affittacamere Le Giare – Riomaggiore. Located in Cinque Terre National Park, and is a short walk to the Riomaggiore Train Station with lovely terrace views of the town and sea
Tip | If you want to do your own accommodation search, click here.
Is it worth visiting Cinque Terre? Yes! This is one of those destinations that you need to add to your bucket list. Here are my highlights of what to do in Cinque Terre Italy.
- One of the most romantic things to do in Cinque Terre is to take a sunset boat tour to see the village lights twinkle at night
- A must-do in Cinque Terre is to admire the view, and my favourite can be seen from the Manarola Scenic Viewpoint
- One of the best places to visit in Cinque Terre is Portovenere. Take a day trip to this UNESCO World Heritage site
- Be sure to visit Vernazza as it is a must-see in Cinque Terre – why? Many consider it the prettiest village in Cinque Terre
- Do at least one of the many hiking trails for the most scenic views of the coastline. A couple of popular walking trails are the Vernazza Corniglia trail and the Corniglia Manarola trail
- Take part in a wine-tasting tour, either in Riomaggiore or Manarola
As a holidaymaker…
Don’t let this popular tourist destination deter you from visiting Cinque Terre Italy. There is a good reason why so many people visit here. Add this picturesque place to your travel bucket list as it’s unbelievably beautiful.
For a complete guide to help plan your trip to Italy check out things you need to know before you go!