As one of the most photographed regions of Italy, the Cinque Terre features high up on the bucket list of many travellers and this year I finally explored this beautiful region for myself. My Cinque Terre Travel Guide includes tips on accommodation and travelling between the villages as well as some dining suggestions and general info about visiting the area.
The Cinque Terre, on the Ligurian coast of Italy, literally translates as ‘Five Lands’ and is the term used to describe five ancient fishing and farming villages that cling to the cliffs along a 15 kilometre stretch of coastline. With their brightly coloured buildings that look like they are about to tumble into the sea, the Cinque Terre villages are real life postcards but each village is different from the rest.
In 1997 the area was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is part of the Cinque Terre National Park.
Given its beauty and popularity, the villages are particularly busy and the majority of tourists we encountered were Americans and Australians. We visited in early July and the trains between villages were often very full (especially from about 11am to 4pm) so I would be very hesitant to visit during the second half of July and any time in August.
Each of the Cinque Terre villages - Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore - are linked by walking trails but most visitors arrive by train. Cars are banned from the villages (and there are few streets and even fewer parking spots, anyway!) so the railway line provides a vital service. The villages can also be reached by ferry.
During my three day visit to the Cinque Terre I explored all five villages, arriving on foot, by train and by ferry. I wrote more about the Cinque Terre walks I did in another article but below is my take on each of the villages.
The most northerly of the Cinque Terre villages, Monterosso is the largest and has a good selection of shops and restaurants and plenty of accommodation options. It’s also home to an attractive church - built in the traditional Ligurian black and white marble. The train station and main beach are a 10 to 15 minute (mostly flat) walk via a boardwalk to the main town and ferry dock.
Much flatter than the other villages, Monterosso is a great place to start your exploration of the Cinque Terre. The long beach is sandy with plenty of umbrellas and sun lounges available for rent but if you prefer retail therapy Monterosso, with its Medieval centre, should satisfy your needs.
Where to eat: Trattoria de Oscar - bookings recommended as there are only a few tables. I had the best pannacotta EVER!
Where to stay in Monterosso: Find accommodation here >>
Often the favourite village of travellers, and therefore one of the busiest, Vernazza is well known for its small harbour ‘stacked’ on either side with gelato coloured buildings. Around the harbour, bright umbrellas shade diners in summer and row boats bob up and down with each wave.
Castello Doria keeps watch out to sea as it has done for over 1000 years. A climb to the top of the Castello’s tower (€1.50 per adult) provides spectacular 360 degree views of both the town and the sea as well as Corniglia in the distance.
On a warm day swimmers brave the waters in Vernazza harbour for a dip as there is no beach but when the sea is rough, it’s best to stay well clear of the harbour walls as the waves can be huge. From the station, a five minute walk (longer if you stop and browse the souvenir shops) is all it takes to reach the harbour.
Where to stay in Vernazza: Browse accommodation here >>
The only Cinque Terre village without direct access to the sea, Corniglia quickly became my favourite. Less accessible than the other villages (it can only be reached by train), Corniglia had a sleepier, less touristy feel to it. Yes, there were quite a few tourists there but far fewer than elsewhere.
On a hot sunny day we also appreciated the shade from the buildings on the narrow ‘main’ street. A large terrace at the end of the town is the perfect spot to take photos of Vernazza and Manorola and the deep blue Ligurian Sea.
To reach Corniglia from the train station, allow at least 15 minutes as you have to climb 365 steps up to the town. If steps aren’t your thing, a bus service is provided for €2.50 per person (each way).
Where to eat: Bar Nunzio - in summer, a few tables are set up under a large, shady tree in the 'square' on the main street. The bruschetta was delicious.
Where to stay in Corniglia: Click here for latest hotel prices >>
Believed to be the oldest of the Cinque Terre villages, Manarola sits on a rocky outcrop overlooking the sea. The town’s charms include its charming cobbled streets and a quaint fishing harbour where you’ll still see fishermen mending their nets and bringing in the day’s catch. The harbour is also a popular swimming spot amongst visitors - and my husband can be counted amongst them.
The Church of St. John the Baptist and the bell tower both date back to the 14th Century, and with its fairytale scenery it’s easy to see why Manarola is often called ‘the jewel in the crown’ of the Cinque Terre.
Where to stay in Manarola: Browse accommodation in Manarola here >>
Riomaggiore’s tightly packed buildings climb from the small harbour up the steep cliffside to the terraced grapevines above. Definitely my least favourite of the five villages, I’m not sure what I didn’t really like about it but it just seemed to have less appeal than the others.
This is perhaps surprising as one of the quintessential photos of the Cinque Terre - and probably one of the reasons I was attracted to the area in the first place - is of Riomaggiore harbour from the sea!
From the train station, the centre of the village can be reached via a walkway through a tunnel and there’s also an outdoor path which winds its way around the cliffside - be warned, though, there are lots of steps.
Where to stay in Riomaggiore: Search accommodation and current prices here >>
Have you heard about nearby Portofino and wondered if it's also worth a visit? This post will help you decide.
Getting around the Cinque Terre by train
The most popular way to access each of the villages is via the excellent train service that operates between all the villages. Trains are regular (at least one per hour in each direction during summer) and cheap.
Individual tickets cost about €1.80 per adult per sector (between each village) or you can buy a Cinque Terre Trekking Pass (approximately €12 for one day, €23 for two days) which covers unlimited train journeys between the villages and access to the walking trails (which are part of the Cinque Terre National Park) for the duration of the pass.
Important information about purchasing train tickets for the Cinque Terre line
- All tickets for Italian trains must be validated prior to travel by inserting them in the GREEN validating machines which can be found on the platforms. The Cinque Terre pass ticket must be validated prior to the first use. Fines apply for non-validated tickets.
- Queues can be very long at the ticket counters at the railway stations. Allow plenty of time to purchase your tickets and I suggest buying multiple tickets at once so you don’t need to queue up each time. This is one advantage of the Cinque Terre Trekking Pass.
- Train tickets can be purchased from either the main ticket counter or the Cinque Terre National Parks counter at railway stations. Most staff at the National Park counters speak English whereas Trenitalia staff may not. Most stations close at 7pm.
- When purchasing your tickets/Cinque Terre pass, pick up a timetable for the Levanto to La Spezia line at the ticket counter.
- Announcements on the platform and on board trains are made in both Italian and English.
- The trains running on the Cinque Terre line are often very long and some of the platforms are quite short. Your carriage may stop in a tunnel so watch if other passengers are disembarking. At stations where the platforms are too short for the train, announcements will be made instructing passengers to disembark from the middle carriages only, so pay attention.
I put together this video of the Cinque Terre:
Ferry access to the Cinque Terre villages
Approaching the villages by boat gives a completely different view of the towns and the regular ferry service between Levanto and La Spezia makes this possible. A one day hop on/hop off ticket costs around €26 per adult (travel allowed in both directions) or €15 one way. Ferries stop at Monterosso, Vernazza, Manarola, Riomaggiore and Porto Venere.
Where to stay at the Cinque Terre
We based ourselves at Levanto, just a few kilometres north of Monterosso for our stay. As we were arriving at the Cinque Terre by car, this suited us as parking was available at our accommodation.
We chose the lovely Villa Valentina for our four night stay and used the trains to access the Cinque Terre villages. You can read my review here and click here to check current prices at Villa Valentina.
Most of the five villages offer only 3-star, family run hotels so if you are looking for something a bit more upscale, Levanto is a good option.
On our final day in Liguria we took the ferry from Monterosso all the way to Porto Venere and were instantly smitten. Do try and include a visit to Porto Venere in your Cinque Terre itinerary.
Cinque Terre specialties not to be missed
Local seafood including anchovies and sardines, pesto, and the local white wine, Sciacchetrà, which is usually drunk as a dessert wine.
Walking the Cinque Terre trails
I've written a separate article on hiking the Cinque Terre paths.
If you can't spend more than one day at the Cinque Terre, the following day trips are a great option.
Now, over to you .... which is your favourite Cinque Terre village and why did you like it so much? Please tell me in the comments below.
All information and prices subject to change.
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