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Best towns in Cinque Terre

Updated: Apr 1

About the author - I have spent the last 15 years traveling around to over 30 countries and now I want to share my knowledge and expertise with others so they can fall in love with Europe too.


view of Vernazza, Italy harbour

The Cinque Terre – a collection of five picturesque towns nestled along the rugged Italian Riviera, is a picture perfect part of northwest Italy. This UNESCO world heritage site is ideal for hiking, water activities or just lazing the days away. With their vibrant colors, cliff side views, and delicious food, the towns of Cinque Terre offer everything you could ask for in an Italian coast vacation. In this travel guide, we'll navigate through the best towns in Cinque Terre, providing you with all the tips and insights to make your adventure an unforgettable one. From awe-inspiring hiking trails to enchanting boat rides, and everything in between, we've got you covered.


Cinque Terre

When to go

I know this is said all the time when talking about Europe, but if you can go to Cinque Terre during the shoulder season you will have a much better experience. It can get extremely busy and hot during the summer, not to mention more expensive. Of course, if summer is your only option, it is absolutely still worth visiting. Many visitors are day-trippers, so if you stay overnight, you can enjoy quieter evenings and mornings. Accommodations can sell out, so if you are going during the high season, book early.


Riomaggiore from the water

Getting There and getting around


Before we dive into the heart of Cinque Terre, let's talk about the journey to get there.


By train

The most common starting point is the La Spezia train station. La Spezia is a coastal city located just south of Cinque Terre. You can easily reach La Spezia by train from major cities like Florence, Pisa, and Genoa. From there, conveniently located regional trains will whisk you away to each of the five colorful towns that make up Cinque Terre: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore.


Expert tip: If you will be traveling often between the towns, remember to grab a Cinque Terre Card. This will grant you unlimited access to the hiking trails and train rides between the towns. These can be purchased at all the train stations and tourist information points. There are options for 1, 2 or 3 day passes. If you know your itinerary, price out the options and see which one will be most cost effective for you, or if you should just purchase single ride tickets. If you are traveling between November 4th to March 15th the train is free so you don't need to purchase tickets.


By car

We always rent a car in Europe because we enjoy the freedom it affords. Arriving in Cinque Terre by car is a journey in itself. The coastal road winds through lush vineyards and olive groves, offering breathtaking views of the Ligurian Sea and the charming villages perched precariously on the cliffs. A car allows you to navigate at your own pace and explore the hidden gems between the villages, but it also comes with some challenges. Parking, for example, can be difficult in the compact towns. Cars are banned in the villages so find a public parking lot and then wander the towns on foot. Also, the winding roads can be narrow and traffic can be rough, so be cautious and patient. Check the time it will take between villages if you are driving. A three minute train ride, for example, becomes a 40 minute car ride.


Hiking Trails:

Now, let's talk about the crown jewel of Cinque Terre – the hiking trails that connect the five villages. Cinque Terre is famous for its breathtaking coastal trails. These ancient pathways wind through vineyards, olive groves, and cliff side panoramas, providing gorgeous views of the water. Make sure to wear closed toe shoes and leave early to beat the heat.


Via Dell'Amore in Cinque Terre

  • Via Dell'Amore (Lover's Lane): Lover's Lane runs between Riomaggiore and Manarola. This easy, paved coastal trail only takes about 20 minutes and is a leisurely stroll perfect for soaking in the romantic ambiance. Along the way, you'll find love locks adorning the railings, a testament to the trail's name. Consider visiting during sunset for a perfect way to cap off your day.

  • Sentiero Azzurro (Blue Trail): This iconic trail stretches along the coastline, connecting all five towns (Lover's Lane is the last - or first section - depending on which direction you are headed). The path is well-marked and varies in difficulty. While some sections are easy, others are more challenging. You will be rewarded with sweeping views of the colorful villages and the azure sea as well as the 400 hectares of terraced hills. Expert tip: As you walk, notice the carts called Treninos that go up and down the groves and vineyards carrying tools, grapes and olives. For hundreds of years this area has been mainly agricultural growing grapes, olives, lemons and vegetables. The terraces transformed the steep hills into crop producing land.

Vernazza, Italy in Cique Terre

  • If you are planning to walk only part of this trail, I highly suggest you walk between Monterosso al Mare and Vernazza. This section of the trail is up and down a bit and will take between 1.5 and 2 hours to complete. It is an easier hike if you go from Vernazza to Monterosso but arguably prettier to go the other way. The views above Vernazza, looking down on the harbor are out of this world.

  • The sections of the blue trail between Monterosso and Vernazza and Vernazza and Corniglia are paid sections. Often, after the Autumn rains, parts of this trail are closed, some for long periods of time. The trail between Manarola and Corniglia, for example is scheduled to be closed until 2025. Check HERE to see the status of the trails.


Expert tip: There have been discussions about limiting the numbers of visitors on the paid sections of trails. As of the writing of this post, this has not been implemented, but check to make sure. If they do begin to limit visitors, there will be a list where you can sign up for entry.


Vernazza from above

  • High Path of the Cinque Terre (Sentiero Alto): For a more secluded experience, consider the High Path. This old mule trail perhaps dates back to Roman times. It meanders through the hills, offering unparalleled vistas and a tranquil escape from the bustling crowds. The whole path takes about 10 hours but you can break it up or just do one section. There are many secondary paths that cross with Sentiero Alto leading towards the sea.


Boat Rides:

A boat ride is an absolute must when you are in the Cinque Terre. I really can't overstate how magnificent it is to see the colorful villages tumbling down the hillsides from the water. Boats run between the towns regularly. You can check online or at the pier. Summer months are crowded, so plan ahead. Sunset cruises are also offered if you want a touch of romance.


Cinque Terre from a boat

The regular availability of trains and boats gives you the ultimate flexibility. Mix and match hiking, riding the train and catching a boat between the different towns.


Expert tip: Manarola to Vernazza: This boat ride is particularly enchanting, offering splendid views of the colorful villages perched on the cliffs. In my opinion it is the best boat ride between the villages.


Of course, there are many private boat tours to choose from as well if you want a longer ride, or food and drinks while you enjoy the water. Kayaking is another way to enjoy the water.


The 5 towns:


Ok, let's go over the different towns and what they have to offer.


Monterosso al Mare


Monterosso beach

This is the largest and arguably most vibrant town. Monterosso is known for its lush vineyards and lemon trees and is the flattest of the villages. There are several beaches to enjoy, both public and private. Because it is the largest town, Monterosso is a great home base with many accommodations, restuarants and shops. While it is still picturesque, I find it less charming than some of the other towns.


Vernazza


Vernazza, Italy

Often considered Cinque Terre's crown jewel, Vernazza captivates visitors with its picturesque harbor and vibrant pastel-colored buildings. This is my favorite of the towns. Wander into its maze-like streets and discover hidden viewing spots offering panoramic vistas of the village and the Ligurian Sea beyond. The Doria castle and Belforte tower, which dates back to the 15th century, was built to protect the village from pirates. The town square, Piazza Marconi, is a great spot to people-watch and there is a small sandy beach to lounge on. Vernazza is surrounded by olive trees, which are said to produce some of the best olive oil in the country. You sill find a few accommodations available but no big hotels.


Corniglia


Corniglia

Perched on a cliff, Corniglia offers a quieter atmosphere. This is the only town not directly located on the waterfront. To get there from the train station, you will need to climb the famous Lardarina staircase with its over 300 steps. But don't be worried. The stairs are not steep and there are benches to rest along the way. There is also a shuttle bus available if you can't climb the stairs. The village is surrounded by terraced vineyards and has gorgeous views of the water. Take a leisurely stroll through the village, relishing in the peaceful solitude making sure to visit the charming town square and the cliff side church of San Pietro. There are a few small accommodations for rent if you want to have this town as your home base.


Manarola


Cinque Terre sunset

Manarola is undoubtedly the most romantic town in Cinque Terre as it is known for its stunning sunsets. The Church of San Lorenzo is a highlight with its beautiful Gothic architecture, but the main attraction is simply the charming alleyways adorned with vibrant bougainvillea flowers and the sea views. The town is all ups and downs, no real flat spots, so be prepared. The trail running by the town cemetery has some of the most stunning views of the town. Be sure to check it out. You can find a few places to stay but accommodations are limited.


Riomaggiore


Riomaggiore harbor

The southern most town, Riomaggiore is is bursting with a lively spirit. The iconic colorful houses cascade down the hillside, creating a stunning backdrop for your exploration. Don't miss the medieval castle, Castello di Riomaggiore, offering panoramic views of the town and the sea. The enchanting alleyways are filled with vibrant murals and sought-after local artisans. Try cliff-jumping off of a rock formations into the clear water. Along with Monterosso, Riomaggiore is a larger town with numerous places to stay.


Which towns are the best towns in Cinque Terre?

Although all of the towns are amazing I do have my favorites. Each village is charming and all has a slightly different flavor. You will enjoy every one. If you have a few days in the area, try them all and see which are your favorites. If you are limited on time though, you will probablyhave to choose. In this case, I would choose Vernazza and Manarola. These are my two favorites, and I promise, you won't be disappointed. They are both absolutely delightful and full of character... a real joy to wander and explore. There are few accommodations available however, so if you want one of these to be your home base, book early.


Cinque Terre, Italy

Local Food:

No journey is complete without savoring the local flavors and Cinque Terre is no different. It has some local specialties for you to enjoy.

  • Pesto - Cinque Terre is the birthplace of pesto. Enjoy this iconic sauce with freshly made trofie pasta or spread it on crusty bread.

  • Limoncino - This lemon-infused liqueur is a refreshing treat on a warm day. Pick up a bottle as a souvenir to remind you of the citrus-scented coastal breeze.

  • Anchovies -The local anchovies are a delicacy not to be missed. Try them fresh or pick up a jar of anchovy-infused products as a unique and flavorful souvenir.

  • Sciacchetrà Wine - Produced from the steep terraced vineyards, Sciacchetrà is a sweet dessert wine unique to the region. Take a bottle home to enjoy a taste of Cinque Terre long after your journey ends.

Corniglia from the water

Cinque Terre, with its five enchanting towns, hiking trails, boat rides, stunning sights, and delectable local delicacies, represents an unmissable destination for any adventure-seeking traveler. So, pack your bags, lace up your hiking boots, and embark on a journey of a lifetime!


Ready to travel to Cinque Terre? Contact us at eurotravelsbydesign@gmail.com and we will custom design the perfect itinerary for you!



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