17/06/2024

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Guide To Visiting The Unique 5 Towns Of Cinque Terre

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Guide To Visiting The Unique 5 Towns Of Cinque Terre

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Visiting Cinque Terre is a dream come true for many travelers seeking a romantic and unforgettable experience in Italy. 

This cluster of five colorful fishing towns and villages perched along the rugged Italian Riviera coastline is one of the most magical places we visited on our European trip this summer.

caz posing in front of colorful houses on clifftop
Manarola, Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre was Kalyra (our teen) pick for our European summer vacation. And when we first arrived and saw the crowds, I was concerned we made the wrong decision.

Not at all. The crowds quickly spread themselves across the five lands and we had a wonderful two days exploring the Cinque Terre National Park. 

The breathtaking scenery paired with the dramatic cliffs, azure waters, and vibrant terraced towns with colorful designs and sea views, create an awe-inspiring backdrop that will leave you in awe.

But if you’ve never been to Cinque Terre before and you’re not sure how to get around and what each of the 5 towns of Cinque Terre have to offer, then keep reading to learn about visiting Cinque Terre’s five towns!

Where is Cinque Terre?

lounge chairs and umbrellas on beach
Monterosso Beach

Cinque Terre is a sunny, coastal region located in the northern part of Italy, by the Ligurian Sea, just a few hours south of France. 

It consists of five towns: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. 

Cinque Terre is known for its picturesque coastal beauty, cobbled streets, beautiful beaches, and rugged coastal cliffs. It’s classified as a National Park and has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997.

This popular tourist destination attracts millions of visitors each year, all looking to feel the allure of this enchanting and historic region.

How many days do you need in Cinque Terre?

kayakers and swimmers in vernazza beach

You can see much of the highlights of Cinque Terre in 1-2 full days, but to really feel the magic of this region we recommend spending at least 2 to 3 days to fully explore the five towns and enjoy the beautiful coastal scenery. 

You could easily choose to stay for 3 or 4 nights and not get bored. This allows you to have more time in each village and take things at a leisurely pace. 

However, if you’re short on time, you can still get a good taste of Cinque Terre in a day or two by focusing on the most popular towns. Here’s our itinerary guide for one day in Cinque Terre.

The 5 Towns of Cinque Terre & What Makes Them Special

There are five towns that make up Cinque Terre, each with their own vibe and reasons for visiting. 

Below are what you can expect from each of the five towns of Cinque Terre… 

Monterosso al Mare

people sitting on the beaches of Monterosso al Mare with rock in the water

Monterosso al Mare is the largest village (though still small) in Cinque Terre. It is said that Monterosso was inhabited since 643, when the people from the hills migrated to the safety of the sea, seeking refuge from barbarian tribes. 

The town was also named after the leader of the tribe who had red hair, as “Monte dei rossi” literally translates to “Mountain of the ginger-haired.”

looking at monterosso beach and colored buildings from the ocean
Monterosso

Over the centuries, Monterosso has witnessed various transformations and influences. In the 19th century, the construction of a railroad line by the Italian government opened up Monterosso to the outside world, becoming the main gateway for travelers to access the village and other Cinque Terre towns. 

This development played a significant role in shaping Monterosso as a popular tourist destination.

What sets Monterosso al Mare apart is that it’s the only Cinque Terre village with a beach, Fegina, and it’s also home to several historical landmarks. You can see remnants of ancient fortifications, such as the Soviore Sanctuary, which dates back to 1220, making it the oldest religious building in Liguria. 

Monterosso’s medieval charm is further enhanced by its narrow winding streets, colorful buildings, and quaint squares.

people sitting at restaurant table
bougainvillea draped over restaurant awning with people at tables

Like the other towns in Cinque Terre, Monterosso is also embraced by lush vineyards and terraced landscapes. The village is known for its lemon trees, producing the famous limoncino liqueur, which you must try when in Monterosso.

In all the content I read on visiting Cinque Terre before our trip, none really described Monterosso as more than a place with a beach if you need a swim. 

We were blown away by its beauty upon arrival and wish we knew in advance. We would have definitely based ourselves here to explore Cinque Terre and taken advantage of a relaxing beach experience. 

caz and savannah swimming in monterosso

We canceled our Cinque Terre hike, instead preferring to swim in the cool waters rather than hike for 2 hours in the hot sun. As we were short on time, we had to choose.

Craig and the girls said it was the best decision I made all trip. I’m not sure if that’s a compliment or insult!!

What would you choose?

Vernazza

looking at colored buldings of vernazza from shore
Vernazza from the sea

Next stop is Vernazza, whose origins can be traced back to around 1000 A.D, but rose to power in 1276 when it was ruled by the Republic of Genoa.

The castle, Belfort, served as an active maritime base for many centuries, helping Vernazza in protecting the Ligurian coast from pirates and establishing a naval stronghold.

What makes Vernazza special is its well-preserved medieval character and stunning coastal scenery. The Belforte Castle, built in the mid-1500s, stands as a testament to Vernazza’s defensive heritage and offers panoramic vistas of the surrounding area.

overlooking colorful buildings of vernazza and small harbor beach

Vernazza also boasts a vibrant harbor where fishing boats sway gently, reflecting the village’s long standing connection to the sea. Anyone who visits Vernazza can indulge in freshly caught seafood from the handful of restaurants in the village.

We found Vernazza to be the prettiest of the five towns in terms of its village area – not the swimming/beach area. The harbor here is much wider giving you more space to walk around. 

We had a delicious lunch here with fantastic views and some of the local wine – great but pricey! Leave room in your budget for it as it is quite unique. 

looking over rocky beach
The rocky swimmign beach
savannah jumping into the water

Savannah loved Vernazza the best out of the five towns because she got to jump off small rocks into the water in the swimming area. There is no beach here, only large boulders and rocks for you to climb over and enter the water from.

Don’t worry if you don’t want to cliff jump, you can get in the water without doing this. 

Corniglia

colored buildings of corniglia on top of hill
Corniglia – the town on the hill

Corniglia is an ancient Roman village perched on a rocky promontory overlooking the Ligurian Sea, offering breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding landscapes.

Corniglia’s history dates back to Roman antiquity and is believed that the village was named after the Roman family “Gens Cornelia,” indicating its Roman origins. 

However, the earliest documents of the village date back to the 13th century, with some documents mentioning the castle in the village.

What makes Corniglia different from the other towns in Cinque Terre is its geography. It sits on a cliff and is not directly connected to the sea, whereas the other towns are surrounded by the Mediterranean waters. Corniglia, however, is surrounded by lush vineyards and stone terraces. 

caroline and kalyra swimming in sea off shore
Swimming off the Corniglia coastline

To reach Corniglia, visitors must climb the famous Lardarina, a long staircase consisting of 377 steps, or take a shuttle bus from the train station. Because there is no boat access, it’s usually less busy with tourists.

The village is also renowned for its terraced vineyards, where the famous white wine of the region is produced. These vineyards, painstakingly cultivated over the centuries, create a picturesque backdrop for the village.

The charm of Corniglia lies in its relaxing atmosphere and unspoiled beauty. It offers a more authentic and peaceful experience compared to its bustling neighbors. Wander through its narrow streets, admire the pastel-colored houses, and soak in the serenity of this charming village.

Corniglia was the only town we did not visit, but we saw it from the sea on our Cinque Terre boat tour. 

Manarola

colored buildings of manarola on cliff face
Manarola

Manarola holds a captivating history and a unique charm that is unlike its neighbors. This small village, considered one of the oldest among the five towns of Cinque Terre, is nestled on the rugged cliffs of the Ligurian coastline.

The origins of Manarola are believed to date back to Roman times, and is said to be named after an old waterwheel (named magna rota in Latin) which dates back to the 1300s.

Over the centuries, the village thrived as a fishing and agricultural community, relying on its fertile land and the abundance of the sea.

colored buildings of manarola

Manarola’s historic significance can be seen through its architecture and layout. The houses, perched on the rocky outcrop, create a stunning visual display of vibrant pastel colors against the backdrop of the deep blue sea. 

Narrow alleyways wind through the village, leading you through charming squares and hidden viewpoints that offer incredible vistas.

What attracts people to Manarola is its mesmerizing beauty. As the sun sets, the village transforms into a magical spectacle with its illuminated buildings casting a warm glow over the harbor. 

This captivating scene has earned Manarola the reputation of being one of the most romantic destinations along the Italian Riviera.

savannah taking photo of the sunset
Sunset views
orange sun setting behind the mountain at manarola
The other sunset view

Like Corniglia, Manarola is also renowned for its local wine production, particularly the sweet Sciacchetrà wine which is produced on the terraced vineyards that cling to the steep slopes surrounding the village. 

Manarola is also popular for cliff divers. Like most Cinque Terre towns, the harbor and swimming area is quite small. Many people sunbathe on the boat ramp here and enter the water for swimming that way. 

people sunning on boat ramp next to water
people on rocks jumping off into water
This is one of the small rocks for cliff jumping

There are quite high rocks that brave ones jump off. We were content to watch! 

Whether it’s strolling along the famous Via dell’Amore, tasting the flavors of the local cuisine, or simply basking in the tranquility of its surroundings, Manarola is one of the most beautiful of the five towns of Cinque Terre.

Most of the boat tours leave from Manarola. Here are some popular boat tours of Cinque Terre:

You can also book a private boat tour of Cinque Terre, which would be much more relaxing and intimate, albeit more expensive. It might work out cost-effective though if you have your own group of six.

Riomaggiore

looking at harbor and colorful buildings of Riomaggiore

Riomaggiore is another historic village, believed to have been founded by Greek refugees in the 8th century. The village is renowned for its colorful houses that cascade down the rugged cliffs, creating a stunning landscape. 

Over the centuries, Riomaggiore has maintained its traditional atmosphere and preserved its architectural heritage.

One notable historical landmark in Riomaggiore is the Castle of Riomaggiore. Built in the 13th century on the orders of Marquis Turcotti, lord of Ripalta, this castle stands as a testament to the village’s rich past and offers panoramic views of the surrounding area.

colorful buildings on narrow road leading to harbor
caz and girls walking down street in Riomaggiore

The village features a bustling harbor, where fishermen bring in their daily catch, providing fresh seafood for the local cuisine. 

Exploring Riomaggiore’s narrow streets and alleys reveals charming shops, restaurants, and cafes, offering a taste of traditional Ligurian delights.

Captain Cosimo, our boat tour guide, told us that Riomaggiore is the oldest of the five villages in Cinque Terre. 

rocky beach with peop;el swimming in the water
The hidden beach

If you walk around the corner, on the small coastal path, you’ll find a smaller rocky beach popular for beachgoers and swimmers. It’s a much better swimming spot than in the harbor where the boats come in and out. 

For more ideas on things to do in Cinque Terre, read our complete guide here!

How To Get Around Cinque Terre

trainline beside coast

Most people choose to get around Cinque Terre by walking. Cinque Terre is famous for its hiking trails that connect each village. 

The most renowned trail is the Sentiero Azzurro, or The Blue Trail, which is a 12-kilometer path that offers stunning coastal views and connects all 5 towns of Cinque Terre. Hiking allows you to explore the towns at your own pace and discover hidden gems along the way.

Of course, if you are visiting in the height of summer and it’s too hot for hiking, then trains are the easiest and most convenient way to travel between the five towns of Cinque Terre. 

boat moored in sea off Riomaggiore
A smaller ferry

If you want to hike, you’ll need the Cinque Terre card, which is essentially a hiking permit (you don’t need a pass during the off-season.) The hiking pass costs 7.50 euros for a one-day card and 14.50 euros for a two-day card (adults

Cinque Terre Treno MS Card, gives you access to the hiking trails together with unlimited train travel on the Cinque Terre Express train. The card costs 18.20 euros for a one-day card, 33 euros for a two-day card.

The Cinque Terre Express train runs frequently between La Spezia and Levanto, stopping at each village along the way. It’s a quick and efficient mode of transportation, allowing you to easily explore each village. Trains run every 20 minutes, so you never need to wait long for a train.

A one-way ticket between two towns costs 5 euros for adults and 2.50 euros for children per journey, so if you plan to catch the train a couple of times, the Cinque Terre card is worth it.

How to See all Five Towns in Cinque Terre: Boat Trip

caroline smiling on cinque terre boat tour
Cinque Terre Boat Tour

Another option for getting around Cinque Terre is by boat, which runs throughout March – November. Ferries operate between the 5 towns of Cinque Terre and provide a unique perspective of the beautiful coastline. 

It’s a great way to enjoy the breathtaking views and experience the charm of the towns from the water. You can see the timetable for the ferries here.

Of course, you can also get around Cinque Terre on a boat tour, which is a great way to learn more about the history and geography of the region. 

We had a fantastic two-hour afternoon cruise with Captain Cosimo. It involved dancing to a fun playlist, unlimited beer and wine, a bit of history, three swims (including exploring a small sea cave) and stunning views. (Read more about that here)

Where to Stay in Cinque Terre

looking at monterosso beach and colored buildings from the ocean
Monterosso

When it comes to deciding where to stay in Cinque Terre, the place that you choose largely depends on what vibe you are after. 

Monterosso al Mare is the most popular choice, since this is the largest and most tourist-friendly village in Cinque Terre. It has a beautiful beach, plenty of restaurants, and a lively atmosphere. It’s a great option for families or those who prefer a more resort-like feel. See accommodation options here.

If you are looking for nightlife, then Riomaggiore is a better village to stay in. For a quieter stay, consider Manarola which is central to the five towns and has a charming, romantic vibe.

Vernazza is also a laid-back village and has some beautiful sunsets. It’s not the most popular of the five towns to stay at but that might be the reason why it’s special.

We almost booked an apartment in Cornigila but decided to rent an apartment in La Spezia, outside of Cinque Terre National Park and caught the train into the Five Towns. It’s an option if you can’t find somewhere to stay in Cinque Terre.

Final Thoughts

craig drinking coffee on beach
Thumbs up for Cinque Terre

Visiting Cinque Terre is a great way to experience the enchanting blend of natural beauty, rich history, delicious cuisine, and authentic Italian charm that can only be discovered in northern Italy. 

Whether you’re visiting for a day or five days, there’s no doubt that it’s a destination that will leave a lasting impression and create memories to treasure forever.

We hope this guide gave you a better insight into the 5 towns of Cinque Terre and what makes each of them special. Don’t miss these things to do in Cinque Terre.

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