Planning a Trip to the Cinque Terre

We first visited the Cinque Terre 15 years ago when we traveled through Italy for our 20th anniversary. The 5 towns of the Cinque Terre absolutely took my breath away. I had wanted to go there ever since I first read about these beautiful villages along the rugged coastline of the Italian Riviera. I love the brightly colored buildings tumbling into the sea, the terraces carved out of the hillside to grow grapes, and the spectacular seafood, pesto and focaccia that is unbelievably delicious in this region.

Hiking near Manarola

On that trip, we flew from the U.S. to Florence, picked up a rental car, drove to Vernazza, parked the car outside of town, and walked to our hotel where we stayed for 2 nights. I remember enjoying a glass of wine at the end of the harbor while waiting to check into our room. We enjoyed a fresh seafood dinner on the piazza with a cool sea breeze in the air. It was awesome.

We used jet lag to our benefit and got up early the next day to start hiking. We ended up going all the way to Riomaggiore (taking our time to explore each little village a bit on the way), taking a ferry back up the coast to Monterosso and then hiking back to Vernazza. We were exhausted, but extremely happy when we sat down to our second dinner of fresh fish in the piazza by the sea.

We have since returned, and this past summer we stayed 5 fabulous days, knowing that we wanted to take our time. We hiked more trails, dined by the Mediterranean, ate more gelato, enjoyed more fried seafood in a cone, and took more breaks this time, so we could soak it all in.

Whether you have a day, or a week, or longer, spending time here will bring joy to your life. You will make wonderful memories, and if you’re like me, you’ll want to return again and again. Planning your time well is the key to getting the most out of your visit.

5 Towns of Cinque Terre

There are 5 stunning hillside villages in the Cinque Terre. Monterosso al Mare is the most northern town. Moving north to south you will come to Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and then Riomaggiore. Each one is similar, yet unique. There are both train and boat connections between most of the towns, making it very easy to visit them all.

They are also linked by footpaths which connect all 5 villages. The Sentiero Azzurro is closest to the water, easiest, and most famous. It is about 7.5 miles long if you hike from Monterosso to Riomaggiore. A devastating flood in October 2011 has caused the southernmost sections to remain closed, but the trail between Vernazza and Corniglia is open. You can also hike the trail between Monterosso and Vernazza, although some signs say it is closed. There are also upper trails between villages that are open, and command spectacular views for those who are ready for some steep climbs.

The trails lie within a national park, so you will need to pay to enter. It’s easy – there is someone in the booth at the entrance of the open trails who will sell you a ticket for about €7.50 for one day.

Monterosso is the largest of the 5 villages, and has the only long and sandy beach in the area. You can rent chairs and umbrellas and enjoy the sun and the waves crashing against the rocky coastline. Or you can sit and enjoy a spritz while people watching. That’s always a great option.

The beach at Monterosso

Vernazza is probably the most photographed village in the Cinque Terre. It has a natural pier and a tiny port surrounded by colorful traditional Ligurian houses. The inviting piazza is a spectacular place to enjoy a leisurely lunch, a spritz for apertivo (do you see a theme here?), or a late seafood dinner. 

The port view in Vernazza

Corniglia is the middle village, and the only one that is not right on the sea. This lovely town is perched up on a cliff 100 meters above the Ligurian Sea. Corniglia probably has the least number of tourists, making it a little quieter than the other villages. The train station is right on the water, with the town high above the platform. Visitors climb nearly 400 switchback stairs in order to reach the village.

Corniglia from above

Manarola marks the beginning of the famous Via dell’ Amore (Lover’s Lane). It is a beautifully scenic footpath that takes you to Riomaggiore in only about 20 minutes when it’s open. The main part of the trail is expected to be closed until approximately May 2024. The village of Manarola has a tiny picturesque harbor with a boat ramp. Colorful houses face the sea and the tiny main piazza has lots of seafood restaurants ready to serve you

The harbor at Manarola

Riomaggiore is one more example of a beautiful village with colorful houses cascading into the Ligurian sea. They are gathered around a lovely natural harbor that is carved out between the rocky hillside.

From the bottom of Riomaggiore

These villages have overcome the disadvantages of a steep, uneven terrain. This history of people living in this region over the past millennium is absolutely remarkable. The area is truly a cultural landscape of incredible importance, with spectacular scenery all around. You will love it!

Best Places to Stay in Cinque Terre

It’s wonderful to stay in one of the 5 villages overnight and experience how quiet they can be after most of the visitors have left for the day. That said, there are limited accommodations, and they can be rather pricey. It’s best to plan early, and reserve your spot in the town of your choice as soon as you have your dates set. This is especially true if you are traveling there between May to October, as rooms book up quickly. 

There are more options in La Spezia and Levanto, and prices there tend to be a little lower. You can easily reach the 5 towns by train from either of these villages as they are on the same train line. Portovenere is another wonderful option, and deserves visiting in its own right. There are good boat connections, and many towns and some little islands close by.

Our terrace view in Vernazza

We tend to stay in Vernazza and love it. If you stay there, be prepared to climb a lot of steps to your accommodations. Last time we were there we stayed on the top floor of a building just off the main piazza. We climbed 71 steps each time we went to our room. It had a fabulous view from our very own terrace at the top, but we definitely earned our fresh pasta as we hiked all day, and then climbed lots of stairs before we could roll into bed at the end of our day! The accommodations, while very nice, were quite modest, and extremely reasonable at about $100 per night.

How Long Will You Plan to Stay in the Cinque Terre?

The answer to this question is very unique to the people traveling. You could take a day trip to the Cinque Terre from Florence, and have a wonderful time, but I recommend staying longer. There is something very special about wandering the quiet, cobblestone streets and listening to the waves crash against the nearby rocks while enjoying your dinner, that is more enjoyable after most visitors have gone. It’s also nice if you don’t have to think about getting to your next location right away.

So, stay a while. Try to stay at least 2 nights. If you can stay longer, do. If you have the time and energy, stay as long as you can. If you can stay 4-5 days or longer, you’ll get to settle in and relax, take some incredible hikes, dine on fresh seafood every night, and truly soak in the ambiance of this beautiful slice of Italy.

What Should You Plan to Do While you are Visiting the Cinque Terre?

Whether you are able to stay in the Cinque Terre for a day, a couple of nights, or most of a week, you will have the chance to experience the beauty of this majestic area in a few primary ways. These include taking hikes, boating on the Ligurian Sea, and dining on fresh seafood and pasta every chance you get.

Spectacular views while hiking the Cinque Terre

Hike in the Cinque Terre – You can hike a lot, or a little, while experiencing amazing views. So, we recommend hiking as much as you are able, limited only by time and energy. You will not run out of spectacular viewpoints. Visit the Tourist Information Office in any of the towns and get some advice, pick up a hiking map or book, fill up your water bottle, slather on some sunscreen, and start hiking. You won’t have to go far before you reach another village where you can enjoy a gelato, or a glass of local wine, or a delicious meal.

Get Out on the Water in the Cinque Terre – You may want to take a ferry between towns, rent a boat to explore secret coves where you can swim and snorkel, or take a boat to a nearby island for dinner. Whatever you choose, having the chance to see these five villages from the perspective of the water is refreshing, beautiful, and fun!

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Enjoy the Food and Wine in the Cinque Terre –  We are all about the food here at Euro Travel Coach, so we simply can’t recommend this aspect of the region enough. The Cinque Terre is the birthplace for pesto, so enjoy it on pasta, on focaccia, or any other way it is presented. You’ll see vines planted on ridiculously steep terraces throughout this region, so you know there is good wine here! Enjoy it! Most of the wine is white and pairs beautifully with seafood. And there is simply nothing better than dining on fish that was caught just that afternoon, so take your time and truly savor it.

You will want to plan your time well in order to make the most of your day(s) in the Cinque Terre. But take the time to soak it all in – and plan to return for more.

Cinque Terre dreams!

Do you want to explore the Cinque Terre? We can help with that! Remember that we are always available to you and your friends and family for custom trip planning to Italy and all of Europe. We are experts in creating custom travel itineraries and leading small group trips in Europe. Feel free to reach out via email — I’m always available to talk about travel!!

Betsy Ball – Betsy is co-founder and partner of Euro Travel Coach (ETC), which crafts custom European vacations for independent travelers and leads small group trips to Europe. She is a passionate and culturally curious traveler who thoroughly enjoys sharing her love for exploring Europe with ETC clients. Prior to founding ETC, Betsy taught International Business at Tarleton State University in Texas (part of the A & M System) where she led study abroad trips to multiple European countries and other worldwide destinations. She retired from teaching two years ago and now travels 9 months of the year in Europe. She has a degree in hotel, restaurant management from Michigan State University and an MBA from Southern Methodist University in Dallas. She also holds a Level 3 certification from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust.

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