Your ultimate guide to the best things to do in Cinque Terre, where to stay and where to eat!
Cinque Terre, much like its “counterpart” in the south of Italy, the Amalfi Coast, is high up on many travelers’ bucket lists of places to visit. The five towns that make up Cinque Terre in the region of Liguria (Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso) are so popular that officials will start limiting the number of tourists that are permitted to visit.
The five towns that make up Cinque Terre are incredibly enchanting; they offer a visual explosion of rainbow-coloured houses perched high up on rugged coastline, glistening aquamarine water that line the shores as well as lush green national park areas between each town – it’s no wonder that the area was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.
Each of the towns has its own distinct personality and it is worth exploring Cinque Terre over a few days, although it can get extremely crowded during the summer months. Wondering what to do in Cinque Terre? Read this complete Cinque Terre travel guide for practical tips to help you plan a perfect visit – how to get to Cinque Terre, things to do, where to stay, the best beaches in Cinque Terre and what you should see!
What you should know before you visit Cinque Terre
1. How long to stay in Cinque Terre
It is extremely easy to travel between the towns in Cinque Terre and each town itself is relatively small; you can easily explore each of the 5 villages of Cinque Terre in a few hours’ time and most towns only have one main street. We planned to stay in the region for 10 days and that would have been way too long if we had not explored other fantastic towns in the region such as Portovenere, Levanto, Bonassola and Portofino.
While you might need a full week or more to explore other places in Italy like the Amalfi Coast, I would recommend staying in Cinque Terre for 3-6 nights. If you’re pressed for time, you could explore Cinque Terre in 2 days.
It is possible to do a day trip to Cinque Terre from Florence (and many people do), but you need to be mentally prepared for a seriously long day of travelling. If at all possible, I would recommend that you carve out a few days to spend in this part of Italy.
2. Where to stay in Cinque Terre
Should you stay in Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza or Monterosso? When deciding the best place to stay in Cinque Terre, it is important to bear in mind the proximity of the hotel to the local town’s train station. For example, if you choose to stay in Corniglia you will have to walk 382 steps between the train station and Corniglia town or catch a bus (but the schedule is infrequent).
If your heart is set on staying in one of the five towns, click here for even more hotel options and current rates!
3. Where to go swimming in Cinque Terre
Though Italy is known for its stunning coastline, there aren’t actually a ton of beaches in Cinque Terre. There is one long stretch of beach in Monterosso called Fegina Beach or Spiaggia di Fegina (and a smaller one in the “old” part) that can get fairly crowded, and a fun rocky swimming spot at Manorola (pictured above). I personally wouldn’t recommend swimming at the port in Riomaggiore as we have seen the waves get very rough along the coast.
For a beach day head northeast of Cinque Terre to Levanto or Bonassola instead.
4. The food in Cinque Terre
We found that the restaurant options were somewhat limited compared to the Amalfi Coast and other Italian cities, and the majority of the restaurants we visited were fairly average (and $$$), but there were some standouts! Also, I hope you like pesto because it is the region’s local specialty!
5. ATMs in Cinque Terre
Bring cash. Most places don’t accept card or have a spending minimum and there aren’t many ATMs.
6. How to find your way around Cinque Terre
Cell signal is pretty shoddy even though we had a local SIM card, make sure you use the offline maps feature in Google Maps to navigate.
Planning a trip to Italy? Click here for 14 things you should know before you go to Italy!
How to get to Cinque Terre and getting around
Getting to Cinque Terre isn’t as complicated as it might seem. The closest airports to Cinque Terre are in Pisa, Florence or Genoa, but the best way to get to Cinque Terre is by train. You can get there easily by taking a train from Pisa to La Spezia or Florence to La Spezia and then taking a local train from La Spezia to Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza or Monterosso.
Trains: Trains between towns are frequent and it takes on average <5 minutes to get from town to town, but single rides are not exactly cheap. Your best bet is to purchase a Cinque Terre Card as it also includes entry to the Cinque Terre hiking trails (and wifi!).
Save the Cinque Terre train timetable to your phone before you travel to make your life easier, and also make sure that you validate your ticket before you get on as inspectors frequently do spot checks.
Ferry: You can also travel between towns by ferry.
Car or scooter: I would not recommend hiring a car as most towns do not allow you to drive in without a valid resident permit. Hiring a scooter is pricey (50 Euros a day), but allows you to ride straight into town and the drive between towns is extremely picturesque.
Hiking: Hiking in Cinque Terre is one of the best things to do in Cinque Terre. Walking between towns is popular but paths are often closed for maintenance. Make sure you check the status of the path before you go.
Not all paths are created equal either and vary in difficulty, click here for a Cinque Terre trail map. The short walk between Riomaggiore and Manarola is popular and is known as “Lover’s Lane”, but was shut when we were there this summer.
Hiking between Monterosso and Vernazza/Vernazza and Corniglia was challenging with lots of steps up (and down) and I would recommend that you choose one hike to do a day, rather than attempting multiple segments in one go.
Bring good running or walking shoes (flip flops have been banned!), a bottle of water, sunscreen and a hat. In order to access the coastal paths you will need to purchase a Cinque Terre Card and present it at the checkpoints at the beginning of each trail.
The Five Towns of Cinque Terre
If you’re planning a trip to Cinque Terre, here’s a quick overview of each of the five towns (or villages) so you can make the most of your time exploring this amazing region!
Riomaggiore is probably best known for its colourful marina and stacks upon stacks of brightly painted houses. There are a number of accommodation options and the main street is very close to the train station, so Riomaggiore is a good option if you’re looking for a base for your visit.
We stayed at La Dolce Vita, conveniently located right on the main street. The room was spacious, comfortable and had a little balcony overlooking the heart of town. The only thing is that they do not offer breakfast, but it was easy enough to wander downstairs and pick up freshly baked pastries. Click here to book your stay at La Dolce Vita or head on over here for even more Italy hotel booking tips and recommendations.
At the foot of town is a set of stairs leading down to a tunnel. Follow the tunnel and it will take you to Riomaggiore’s beautiful marina. There are steps on either side of the port but take the stairs on the left to get to the view point where you can get that classic Cinque Terre money shot. Keep walking past the bar at the view point and follow the steps down to the rocky shore. Watching the sunset with a classic pizza and bottle of vino is one of the best things to do in Riomaggiore.
Il Pescato Cucinato is a small fish & chip shop, make sure you get here early and try their cod because they sell out fast! Da Paolino is a small takeaway shop that sells small squares of pizza by the slice as well as arancini balls – we were here almost every morning. Try the pesto mozzarella pizza for the perfect amount of grease.
There is also a beautiful little church at the top of the town, follow the main street all the way up and take a left turn. This path offers a slightly different view of Riomaggiore from above. If you keep going you will see the remains of an old castle and while there’s not much of it left to speak of, it’s a great place for panoramic ocean views.
Manarola is picture perfect – it is the oldest of the five towns and was our favorite spot to swim. The marina has a rocky coastline with crystal clear (cold!) water as well as a shower to rinse off the salt water. We saw people snorkeling here as well so bring your gear along! The famous Church of San Lorenzo can also be found in the upper part of the town.
Corniglia is different from the other towns of Cinque Terre in that it is perched up high up on a hill. We were offered a glimpse of this seaside town on our hike from Vernazza but didn’t spend too much time here. There’s supposed to be a small beach by the train station, but to get to and from the train station you will need to battle 382 steps along the Lardarina, a long brick flight of stairs.
I personally wouldn’t recommend finding accommodation in Corniglia for this reason. For those looking for a refreshing beverage and an unbeatable view, head to Bar Terza Terra.
Booking tip: There are plenty of accommodation options within Cinque Terre, but unless you love walking up and down hundreds of steps you might want to avoid staying in Corniglia! Click here for more accommodation options in Cinque Terre!
Seriously, could Vernazza be more picturesque? Vernazza is easily recognizable by its protected V-shaped port and is home to the Doria Castle, a lookout tower built in the 15th century to protect the village from pirates. Vernazza is surrounded by lush vineyards and olive oil trees, two important industries for the region in addition to fishing.
My recommendation? Buy gelato from one of the shops around the marina and sit by the bay to take in all the beauty.
5. Monterosso al Mare
Monterosso is the largest of the five towns and is actually divided into two sections: the old (Centro Storico) and the new – where you can find the train station, several beach clubs and a large stretch of public beach – Spiaggia di Fegina. For this reason, Monterosso is also significantly busier and livelier than the other towns, but offers the classic beach umbrella shot for you avid Instagrammers.
Most of the beach clubs rent out umbrellas and deckchairs at outrageous prices, so you’re better off trying to find an empty spot on the public beach directly in front of the rock, or on the smaller beach on the eastern side of town.
You can also rent a kayak and paddle around the coast, which is what we did – we got to hop out of the kayak and swim in quiet little coves and bends around the coastline – away from the crowds.
One of the best restaurants we ate at in Cinque Terre was in Monterosso – Ristorante Via Venti in the old part of town – and we also had amazing pizza at Pizzeria La Smorfia (try the pesto pizza!).
What else should I know about visiting Cinque Terre?
You don’t have to stay in Cinque Terre to visit Cinque Terre! In fact, hotels in the 5 towns of Cinque Terre are significantly more expensive. Instead of staying in Cinque Terre for the entire time, we opted to move from Riomaggiore to Levanto, which is one town over from Monterosso (5-7 minutes by train).
We used Levanto as a peaceful base for exploring the coast (plus, it has a beautiful beach and awesome restaurants!). The Cinque Terre towns can get extremely crowded so it’s nice to be able get away from it all in the evening.
If you’re looking to do the same thing, look no further than Villa Caterina in Levanto, a wonderful family-owned property with beautiful gardens and rooms. It is a short walk away from the train station or you can rent a scooter to zoom your way around the coast. Click here to book your stay at Villa Caterina in Levanto!
If your heart is set on staying within the 5 towns, check out La Dolce Vita in Riomaggiore. It overlooks the main street and offers a spacious and reasonably priced room as well as private terrace.
You can also click here for even more hotel options in Cinque Terre, just remember that I personally wouldn’t recommend staying in Corniglia (so you don’t have to schlep up and down those stairs every day)!
Planning your perfect trip to Italy? Click here for even more Italy hotel booking tips and recommendations!
Amalfi Coast or Cinque Terre?
Last but not least, I’ve been asked this question several times and it all depends on how much time you have any how you plan on getting around. Though both the Amalfi Coast and Cinque Terre are UNESCO-listed sites, they are very different in terms of landscape.
Getting there and getting around: If you are flying into Rome, Cinque Terre is much closer and easier to get to by train as the Amalfi Coast does not have a dedicated train system – you will need to travel to Naples, Sorrento or Salerno first.
The towns in the Amalfi Coast are also more spread out, which makes it is easier to travel between towns in Cinque Terre by local train or bus; you’ll need to take ferries, the bus or drive between towns in the Amalfi Coast.
Cost and places to stay: You can expect accommodation prices within the Amalfi Coast to be slightly higher. However, like Cinque Terre you don’t have to stay in one of the Amalfi Coast towns – you can opt to stay in Sorrento instead.
Views: The Amalfi Coast and Cinque Terre are both stunning and photogenic in their own ways.
Crowds: As Cinque Terre is considerably smaller than Amalfi Coast you’ll find that the crowds are far more oppressive and overwhelming during the peak season in Cinque Terre. It’s easy to get off the beaten track in the Amalfi Coast and find quieter towns to explore.
How many days are needed: While you can visit the towns of Cinque Terre easily in 2 to 3 days, you’re going to need at least a week in the Amalfi Coast to make the most of your time there. In my opinion, there is more to do and see in the Amalfi Coast. It’s also easy to do day trips to the neighboring islands of Capri, Procida and Ischia from the Amalfi Coast.
Food: This may be an unpopular opinion but I find the food in the Amalfi Coast infinitely better than the food in Cinque Terre.
So, what’s the conclusion? I may be biased but I am in love with the Amalfi Coast – it’s a destination in Italy that I could go back to, year after year after year. Though the five towns in Cinque Terre are very picturesque and worth traveling to at least once in your life, I don’t feel any immediate urge to return to Cinque Terre, mainly because the crowds during the peak summer months were pretty horrendous.
You’ll have to make up your own mind – if it’s your first time to Italy then you may find it easier to travel to Cinque Terre, but if you’re comfortable with venturing a little further than Rome then you should head to the Amalfi Coast. One thing is for sure – it is difficult to try to fit in both the Amalfi Coast and Cinque Terre in the same Italy trip unless you have more than a month in the country.
Hope you found this Cinque Terre travel guide helpful! Have you visited Cinque Terre? What are your tips to travelers visiting the area?
You might also find these Italy travel guides helpful:
- Visiting Italy for the first time? Here are some Italy travel tips you must know ahead of your trip!
- If you’re visiting Cinque Terre do not miss a day trip to Portofino…
- …and don’t forget about the stunning port city of Portovenere!
- Looking for other colourful spots around Italy? Burano is absolutely rainbow-riffic
- Researching accommodation for your trip? Read on for incredible Italy accommodation options – nearly 20 awesome hotels in Italy tried and tested by yours truly!
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