There’s an inexplicable beauty in building a life in extreme or unlikely natural environments.
Like Rocacmadour in France, the five hugely popular Cinque Terre villages have made themselves at home, perched along cliff edges that plummet straight down into the glittering Mediterranean Sea.
The Cinque Terre National Park is a well deserved UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it consists of five villages (in Italian it stands for “Five Lands”); Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare. Each consisting of a unique arrangement of warm hued buildings and narrow streets and passageways.
CURRENCY | Euro
TIME NEEDED | 1 – 3 days (it’s possible to see the villages within a day, but for a more relaxed time an extra day or two, or even a week, would be perfect)
SEASONS & WEATHER | Mild in winter, hot in summer. visit anytime, but spring, summer, autumn should guarantee better weather. (If you visit in winter be aware that some shops/attractions may be closed).
LANGUAGES | Italian, but English is widely spoken
HOW TO SAY HELLO | Ciao
HOW TO SAY THANK YOU | Grazie
TRANSPORT | Walking and the Cinque Terre express train
NEAREST AIRPORT | Genoa, Pisa, Milan & Florence are the closest, to get to the Cinque Terre you will need to take a train to La Spezia.
NEAREST TRAIN STATION | La Spezia Centrale. Once you arrive in La Spezia Station you can purchase a ticket for the Cinque Terre express train called the ‘the Cinque Terre card’.
You will need the ‘Cinque Terre Card’ to enter the area. Two tickets are available: the trekking card, or train card! You’ll need to book for the number of days you will be staying in the area.
If you’re doing the Cinque Terre within one day, it’s recommended to get the ‘train card’. This way you can hike between the villages (some hiking trails with incredible views!), then if you need a speedier ride to get back in the evening you can hop onto the train which stops at a small station at each village.
Where to begin?
Each village has its own unique feature or charm, so have fun exploring each and finding your favourite! It would be best to either start in Riomaggiore and work your way up the coast, or start in Monterosso and work your way backwards, rather than darting between villages.
I visited the Cinque Terre within a day, starting early and leaving after dark. Starting in Riomaggiore, and making my way down to Monterosso. After seeing each village, I then stopped in Manarola for dinner on the way back to La Spezia as it was my favourite!
The 5 Villages
I’ve listed some of the best viewpoints, places to eat and things to do in each village. As well as some general great accommodation options too!
The closest village to La Spezia, Riomaggiore was believed to have been established around the 13th century which is why it has such historic charm. The village was originally built around a small stream which flows out to sea via the tiny beach, however it is now hidden below the main high street which leads up the hillside. You’ll emerge onto this street via a small tunnel that leads away from the train station.
Things to do in Riomaggiore | Head down to the harbour for a swim. Visit the Castle (Castello di Riomaggiore). Explore the sloping Main Street and hop into bakeries and small artisan shops. Pause at the Church of San Giovanni Battista to admire a view of the town. There is a dive shop if you fancy snorkelling or checking out the underwater views too!
Accommodation in Riomaggiore | From affordable apartment rentals like SeaRoom (£), to luxury apartments like La Vista di Marina (££££). Hotels with beautiful views include Hotel Villa Argentina (££) and Alla Marina Affittacamere (££).
For Food | La Conchiglia (£) had amazing focaccia which was perfect for a quick lunch before moving on to Manarola, there was also a market in town with lots of fresh fruit. If you fancy pizza try Kepris Pizzeria (£), and for a something a bit special try Rio Bistrot (££-£££) which has a beautiful view of the harbour.
Best Viewpoint | La Conchiglia is also right next to a viewpoint back across the village!
Definitely my firm favourite and possibly the most recognisable village of the Cinque Terre. It’s warm hued houses perched upon the cliffs, are quite literally ‘picture postcard’ perfect.
Things to do in Manarola | Head down to the harbour for a swim (it’s a little less swimmer friendly than Monterosso, but still an incredibly beautiful place to jump in). Wander up through the Main Street, stopping at the church Chiesa di San Lorenzo. At the top of the road wander across to the Nessun Dorma Cantina, where you can book a wine tasting or pesto making class!
Accommodation in Manarola | Manarola is the second smallest village so accommodation mainly consists of apartment rentals and guest houses. La Torretta Lodge (£££) is an absolute beauty, whereas Posidonia Cinque Terre is a little bit more affordable. Ca’ D’Andrean (££) is a boutique hotel with its own lemon grove!
For Food | Nessun Dorma (££-£££) and Ristorante Marina Piccola (££-£££) have prime positions down in the harbour, but if they’re busy try Cappun Magru (££-£££).
Best Viewpoint | Head down towards the harbour and follow the path around to the right. From here you’ll be able to get amazing photos back across the village. It’s hard to take a bad photo of Manarola!
Sat proudly above the coast, Corniglia is a little less visited than the other villages due to its smaller size and lack of a harbour big enough for the ferry to dock. Coupled with the 350+ steps from the station, this village is often a little quieter than the others.
Things to do in Corniglia | Because it’s a little quieter it’s a great place to stop for lunch or coffee and just admire the coastal views. The Church of S.Pietro has a beautifully delicate interior. There is another set of steps which lead down to a tiny marina, offering impressive scenes of a foaming sea in high winds, but access may be restricted and care should be taken. At the end of the Main Street there is a viewpoint which gives a beautiful view down the coastline.
Accommodation in Corniglia | For Corniglia try the guest house Affittacamere Le Terrazze (£) or Il Timone (££).
For Food | Bar Pan e Vin (£) has great coffee and lunch options, and for something a little fancier Terra Rossa (££-£££) and Bar La Terza Terra Corniglia both have amazing reviews and a great view!
Best Viewpoint | To view the whole village the best view point is either from the sea or as you’re whizzing along on the train from Vernazza, however you’ll need a good zoom! If you wander along Via Stazione whilst in Corniglia and look back you’ll have a nice angle with some of the terraces below too.
Along with Monterosso, Vernazza is one of the oldest villages, believed to have been before the early 11th century. It’s an incredible thought when you imagine all the lives lived in this small harbour and the amount of times the terraces have been tilled and planted with grape vines.
Things to do in Vernazza | Head down to the beach for a swim. Admire all the boats in the harbour (it’s one of the only true fishing villages of the Riviera!). See the picturesque Santa Margherita di Antiochia Church that sits right next to the sea. Visit Doria Castle for a tiny fee, it was built in the 15th century as a lookout for pirates, it also offers up a different vantage point of the coast, vineyards and of the harbour. Rent a kayak! It’s a great way to get a unique view back across the village and explore the coastline.
Accommodation in Vernazza | Full of a great selection of guest houses and apartment options, try Appartamento da Detta (£) or the stylish Giuli Camera Vista Mare (££).
For Food | Gelateria Il Porticciolo is a great place to stop for gelato and wander along the harbour! For tasty quick bites like piadina or focaccia try Piadiamo Vernazza (£), for great seafood or pasta Pippo a Vernazza (££-£££) and for a lovely view try Camere La Torre (££-£££) it’s a little bit of a hike so bring cash just incase!
Best Viewpoint | Head to the very end of the harbour wall for a beautiful view back across the city. Or head up the path to the right handmade of the church to a beautiful vista from above the village.
Monterosso al Mare
Monterosso is much more level than the other villages, which has allowed more of a beach to form, making it the perfect place for a swim. It feels a little more like a town than a village, with more road access, however it still has the beauty and charm you would expect from a coastal village on the Italian Riviera.
Things to do in Monterosso al Mare | Swim! Monterosso has some of the best beaches for swimming in the Cinque Terre, some areas are paid, however there are free spots too. Just to note that the sun disappears in the late afternoon, so if you’re hoping to swim here arrive a little earlier! There is an impressive statue called the Statua del Gigante located at the end of the beach. The Convent of the Capuchin Friars and the Church of San Giovanni Battista are set in the old city and are both beautiful.
Accommodation in Monterosso | As Monterosso is the biggest village, you’ll have a little more option when it comes to accomodation. Try the beautiful Hotel Marina (££) or Marymar (££-£££) guest house!
For Food | Gastronomia San Martino (£) offers great seafood and pasta dishes, L’Osteria (££-£££) another great dinner option with amazing desserts!
Best Viewpoint | The most iconic scene of Monterosso al Mare has got to be those orange parasols. A great viewpoint is near Scoglio di Monterosso (Monterosso Rock), a large rock jutting out of the sand along the beach, where you can capture the rock, the sea, the parasols and the warm coloured buildings in the background!
A Few Top Tips For Visiting The Cinque Terre
Book well in advance if you plan to stay here, the villages are only so big, so hotels and accommodation are limited. If hotels and B&B’s seem full, don’t forget to check for private accommodation on Airbnb! If prices seem a little too steep, check out accommodation in La Spezia or Levanto too.
There is a boat that can take you between the villages, so for a unique view try hopping on the ferry between a village or two! You can even hop on a ferry service from the harbour in La Spezia which stops first at Portvenere then at Riomaggiore and the other villages (note that it cannot dock in Corniglia).
Remember that locals still live here so respect any no entry signs and refrain from peering through windows, hopping over fences or wandering into vineyards that aren’t public. Also, I’m sure you don’t anyway… don’t litter! 🙂
Stay for the sunset if you can. If you’re only here for one day, try and make sure you have enough time to watch the sun go down before you leave. No matter which village you find yourself in, it will be magical.
Bring some cash as some smaller sellers or market stalls might not accept cards and ATM’s are limited!
Don’t forget your swimmers! I somehow completely forgot to take swimmers when packing a bag for the Cinque Terre. Concentrating so much on the idea of walking around and not pausing to swim. Honestly the water is so inviting on a hot day, you’ll regret not jumping in!
Check the hiking trails before setting off (ask in the tourist information centres) and before making set plans as they can sometimes be closed due to rock falls or unsafe pathways. The coastal walk from Manarola to Cornigilia was closed when I was here.
These villages are beautiful, world famous, and easy to access, so expect crowds in the peak season (June to September). Travelling in winter, or the should seasons will be a little less busy.
If you haven’t quite had your fill of beautiful coastal villages, check out Lerici and Tellaro, a short way down the coast on the other side of La Spezia. They have beautifully perched buildings and all the charm of the Cinque Terre villages, but will be much quieter!
The Cinque Terre National Park area is now very geared towards tourists, and plans are even in place to help maintain the number of visitors within the area, to control crowds and general wear and tear on pathways.
However, as humans, we generally have a similar vision of beauty and appreciation of unique architecture, so don’t be too put off by the idea of crowds or a place being ‘too popular’. It’s beautiful, go and enjoy it!