Cinque Terre will take your breath away. After all, these are the five villages which have captured the imaginations of artists, writers and poets for centuries. Pastel-hued houses cascade down hillsides tumbling towards the sea. And tranquil clifftop walks with awe-inspiring views link all the villages together. Cinque Terre is for creatives, outdoor enthusiasts, and nature lovers. You’ll discover charming specialty stores selling homemade pesto and hand-painted ceramics. Dine by the seafront on fresh seafood and pasta. Then feast on gelato in the town piazza with locals. Our Cinque Terre Travel Guide will fill you with inspiration to add this destination to your bucket list. And as you wander through the narrow streets of Vernazza, Riomaggiore or Manarola, you’ll fantasize about staying forever in this tranquil corner of Italian paradise.
How to visit Cinque Terre
Most visitors traveling from outside Italy to Cinque Terre fly into Genoa, Florence, or Pisa airports. All are under 2 hours’ drive. If you opt to fly into Pisa, you can catch the train from Pisa Centrale to Monterosso Al Mare in Cinque Terre. Alternatively, change to the local train at La Spezia, it operates frequently throughout the day between all five villages. It’s possible to drive to Cinque Terre, although all village centers are closed to car traffic. If you’re staying in Manarola or Riomaggiore you can park at the top of the hill and catch a minibus or walk into the center to your hotel. If you fancy arriving at Cinque Terre in style, travel by boat from La Spezia or Levanto. Services operate between early April and late October offering a unique perspective of the villages and incredible photo opportunities!
How to Get Around Cinque Terre
There are several ways to get around Cinque Terre. Hiking is a popular option! Dedicated trails between the villages offer panoramic vistas and a wonderful way to connect with nature. The shortest route is from Riomaggiore to Manarola which takes around 45 minutes. Meanwhile the longest route is between Manarola to Corniglia, which takes 1.5 hours. You can also travel between the five villages by local train. The Cinque Terre Express operates services between mid-March and late October. And if you purchase a rail card it offers unlimited travel on the La Spezia – Levanto line. Renting a car can be handy if you plan to visit outlying areas such as Portovenere, Portofino, Rapallo, and La Spezia. However, the villages of Cinque Terre don’t permit cars so you’ll have to park at the top of the hill and walk down into the villages. Eco-bus services operate within individual villages taking you to local sites, so if you have mobility issues you can still get around. Alternatively, most villages along the coast offer boat trips during the summer season, allowing you to hop on and off while exploring at your leisure.
Cinque Terre Villages
Perched on a hillside, its candy-colored houses tumbling down the hill, Riomaggiore is a sight to behold. A great base for Cinque Terre first-timers, Riomaggiore is the first village to discover when heading north from Pisa or La Spezia. It’s well-known for its characterful streets and charming harbor, and marina. In fact, the village’s beauty inspired paintings by Telemaco Signorini! You can visit historic churches, enjoy a boat ride, learn to dive, or simply sip wines and feast on seafood. If you plan to use Riomaggiore as a base, the Cinque Terre Express train operates to all five villages. Alternately, enjoy a leisurely walk to Manarola along the Via dell’Amore pathway.
The peaceful village of Manarola is a haven for creatives and those seeking a tranquil retreat. Historic buildings feature hidden art galleries and speciality shops and there’s a tiny piazza packed with fine Italian and seafood restaurants. The sleepy, steep village is a perfect spot for romantics, with leisurely hillside walks, fine dining, great views, and Gothic Ligurian churches to explore.
Corniglia sits in the center of Cinque Terre, the highest of all five villages. The picturesque Roman village sits 100 metres above the sea and is surrounded by lush terraced vineyards. It boasts two secluded beaches between rocky coves and a rich agricultural tradition. Visitors can explore the 18th century square, Parish of San Pietro, and Oratory of Santa Caterina. There are a handful of wine bars, gelaterias, trattorias, and charming guest houses overlooking the sea.
The highlight of any Cinque Terre Travel Guide! Lauded as the prettiest in all of Cinque Terre, Vernazza is a quaint fishing village founded around 1000 A.D. A medieval castle sits atop the hill, built to protect villagers from pirates. And above, abundant olive groves thrive, producing some of the finest olive oil in Italy. To appreciate the full extent of Vernazza’s beauty, approach from the sea. Colorful buildings lining the shoreline come into focus as fishermen bring in their catch of the day. Meanwhile, tourists and locals mingle in the piazza while dining on delicious Ligurian fare.
Monterosso Al Mare
The final and largest of the five coastal villages, and Cinque Terre Travel Guide will tell you that Monterosso also has one of the best beaches! Nestled between hills cultivated with grapevines, lemons and olive groves, this is a perfect base. The village is divided into two parts. The new section, Fegina, is tourism-driven, with excellent hotels and restaurants. It is recognizable by the giant statue of Neptune which sits along the terrace of a hilltop villa. Monterosso old village is characterized by labyrinth narrow streets and sandy beaches populated with locals and tourists alike. Highlights include the Gothic-Genovese Church of San Giovanni Battista, 17th century Soviore Sanctuary, and a statue of San Benedetto d’Assisi. If you visit in May, you can immerse yourself in all things lemon-related at the local Lemon Festival. The village is decorated with thousands of lemons and everything you dine on that weekend will be citrus-infused!
Food, Drink & Nightlife
No Cinque Terre Travel Guide is complete without highlighting the local cuisine. Most restaurants of Cinque Terre boast local Ligurian style dishes made with fresh local ingredients. The region is famous for seafood and pesto. You can feast on delights such as squid ink pasta and gnocchi with pesto. Or enjoy the local specialty fritto misto – fried fish of the day served in a paper cone. Piazza lined trattorias and romantic hilltop restaurants serve a range of pasta, meat and fish dishes. Cafes offer a range of flavors of sorbet and gelato. So you’re sure to find something to tempt your taste buds! When it comes to nightlife, Cinque Terre is quieter than most Italian seaside resorts. It’s a place to dine by the water’s edge, sip wine at sunset, and indulge in animated conversation with friends. However, if you’re seeking livelier options Monterosso Al Mare and Riomaggiore boast several popular bars open until late.
If you’re staying in Riomaggiore it’s just a 10 minute train ride into La Spezia. This bustling palm-lined promenade city has a sprawling weekly Friday morning market near the train station. It’s the ideal place to buy clothing and souvenirs. Within Cinque Terre’s villages you’ll find a Tuesday market in Vernazza and a Thursday market in Monterosso. All villages boast a selection of galleries, hand-painted ceramic shops, and stores selling trekking gear. There are several places to purchase local olive oil and wines. And at Il Laboratorio del Pesto in Levanto, just outside Monterosso Al Mare, you can learn how to make pesto as the Italians do!
Sanctuary of Montenero
The impressive 14th century hilltop Sanctuary of Montenero near Riomaggiore offers incredible vistas over the sea. Nestled between lush countryside and shaded by trees, the sanctuary is the perfect place to enjoy an outdoor concert or picnic.
Technical Naval Museum La Spezia
A short journey from Cinque Terre is the bustling coastal city of La Spezia. The city boasts tree-lined boulevards, a busy harbor, and colorful markets selling local produce and clothing. The Technical Naval Museum of La Spezia is a must for those who enjoy technicalities and engineering aspects of all things maritime. Its main exhibits focus on the equipment of the Italian Navy Special Forces which are still stationed near the city.
When Genoa was a republic it strengthened its shoreline defenses by building castles along the coastline. One of these castles is in Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre – a UNESCO World Heritage Site which once protected the village from invaders. It was constructed in the late 1200’s by Marquis Turcotti and is now open to the public, offering incredible views of the Ligurian coastline. Views from the castle are particularly breath-taking when accompanied by a bottle of wine and a glorious sunset.
Many accommodations in Cinque Terre offer stunning views from hillside locations and there are accommodations to suit all budgets. Whether you wish to stay in a family-run B&B, an apartment, or stylish boutique hotel, you’ll find them all here. If you’re travelling with family or seek hotels with more amenities, look to Monterosso Al Mare, or the nearby La Spezia and Portovenere.
What to See Near Cinque Terre
Once you’ve visited everything on our Cinque Terre Travel Guide, the coastal city of La Spezia is a short car, boat or train ride away! The city offers interesting museums, basilicas, a 13th century castle, and public gardens by the waterfront. Around 40 miles northeast of La Spezia, outdoor enthusiasts can visit Appennino Tosco-Emiliano National Park. Here you’ll discover hidden lakes, abundant wildlife, and chair lifts to transport you to the top of the mountains. Alternatively, lively Portovenere sits aside the Bay of Poets between La Spezia and Riomaggiore. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the town is popular with Italian tourists who come to enjoy the beautiful beaches during summer months. Enjoy the dolce vita as you dine on open terraces and partake in wine tasting. Don’t miss a visit to Byron’s Grotto – named after the writer and poet Lord Byron – who spent his summers here and gained inspiration for his works!